Thanks to Iantalia for reassurance and Twinx for fussiness and suggestions. This is an 8 chapter fic, and I will try to post every couple of days. Please feel free to review or PM with comments.
Looking back, Gibbs thought he should have worked it out earlier. The clues were there, if he'd looked hard enough, scattered through the previous weeks. Tony had been distracted. He'd occasionally arrived late in the mornings, and twice had been late returning from lunch. And there were the quiet conversations with Ducky that stopped when Gibbs walked in. Most telling was a "please call" message from the hospital for which Gibbs never received a proper explanation.
Tony asked for the Friday off, another rare occurrence that made Gibbs' gut start humming. But they weren't on call that weekend, so he acquiesced and resolved that come Monday he would ask some hard questions and not stop asking until he got answers.
When Monday morning came Tony arrived in the bullpen looking noticeably worse for wear, moving slowly and with dark circles beneath his eyes.
Was that why he wanted Friday off? Gibbs fumed, surprised. Just so he could have a big weekend?
Just as Gibbs was about to call his Senior Agent into the elevator for a serious heart to heart, his phone rang. A body took precedence over his curiosity.
The body in question was a Marine private and he lay in the doorway of an abandoned warehouse near the docks. Cause of death was obvious – a gaping gunshot wound to the chest.
The team spread out to canvass the area, and Ducky crouched down over the body to take the liver temp. Suddenly the door to the warehouse burst open and a scrawny figure exploded past the doctor and sprinted away. DiNozzo was closest. Instinct kicked in. It only took a few seconds for him to catch the fleeing figure and bring him down with a tackle.
But as the two figures fell they rolled, and when they hit the ground Gibbs heard an unexpected sound - a loud cry, a yelp, of pain from his agent. Calling for Ducky, he sped over to them. The suspect struggled frantically, thrashing out with one leg as DiNozzo, lying on his side, hung on grimly to the other. Gibbs grabbed the suspect and within seconds had him face down on the ground and handcuffed. Then he turned his attention to DiNozzo, who lay on his side drawing rasping, laboured breaths.
"Tony!" Gibbs dropped to his knees, running his hands over his agent's chest and back, searching for the stab wound or other injury. He found nothing. But Tony's eyes were clenched shut, his face grey and clammy.
He looked up and opened his mouth, but Ducky was already dropping to his knees behind Tony. The ME pushed Gibbs' hands away, pulled Tony towards him and cradled him in his arms.
"Breathe, Tony," he instructed, bending down to speak softly into the agent's ear. "Just breathe evenly and slowly. Concentrate on my voice. The pain will fade. It's fading now. Relax your face, your hands, your legs. Just relax your body, and breathe."
Tony's face softened and his breathing slowed. Finally he opened his eyes and blew out a long, slow sigh. He moved to rise but Ducky halted him.
"Kneel, don't sit," the ME suggested gently, "and take it slow."
Tony did as instructed, moving onto his knees. Gibbs reached to steady him and Tony grasped his forearms. Their eyes met. After a moment they moved as one, both rising to their feet. Tony swayed unsteadily for a moment before righting himself and releasing his grip on Gibbs' arms.
"Thanks Boss," he murmured.
Ducky stood behind him, one hand resting on Tony's back. "Go and wait in the van, Anthony," he instructed quietly. "I'll take you home on our way back to headquarters. Mr Palmer can go on without me and prepare the body for autopsy."
Tony simply nodded, dropped his head and began walking slowly, stiffly, towards the van.
Gibbs had barely opened his mouth when Ducky raised his hand. "I am not discussing this with you Jethro. I'll examine Anthony when I get him home. If I feel it is necessary, I'll write him a sick certificate. I will inform you if he is fit for duty, and if not, when he will be. Beyond that, if it is unrelated to the job, all matters pertaining to his health are subject to doctor/ patient confidentiality".
With that Ducky turned on his heel and followed Tony. Gibbs clenched his jaw. With a body in the van and a suspect in cuffs now was not the time for questions, but the time was damned close. Ducky might get away with hiding behind doctor/patient confidentiality, but there was no way Tony would be so lucky.