Tony was lying on top of a grave.
He was bleeding.
But he wasn't dead and he wasn't dying, and so he didn't mind. He wasn't upset that he was flat on his back in this place of death because the ground was cool and soothing in contrast to the heat and humidity of the day. So he didn't mind that he was resting in this place of eternal rest with no one but the dead for company.
It kind of felt like home.
The head wound was superficial. A minimal amount of blood leaked from the cut over his left eyebrow and dripped down his temple and into his hairline like crimson tears.
But his eyes were dry as he stared up at the cloudless blue sky. The silence, the wetness on his face and the horizontal position had him thinking of the long nights he had lain in bed in a big empty house waiting for his mother to come tuck him in. He realized the sky was the exact same color as the dress his mother had been buried in.
He could not remember, though, if his memories were before or after she died.
Tony did remember wishing the burial dress had been something green to match her eyes, so like his own that he sometimes spent an extra minute in front of the mirror at home on his more lonely mornings, looking for signs of her in him.
But she had chosen the blue dress herself and wanted to be buried in it.
Her note had told them so.
She had picked out the blue dress and written the note when she knew she was dying. She had known she was going soon.
They had not.
So it had been a shock to find that she had carefully hung the blue dress in her bedroom before carefully propping the note on the nightstand—and then carefully hanging herself a few feet away.
An eight-year-old Tony had stood staring at the copious dark hair covering the corpse's face and he felt a glimmer of hope that this thing wasn't really his beautiful mother.
The stunned voice of his father a moment—an eternity?—later had shattered that fledgling hope's delicate wings before it could even get off the ground. "She said she wanted this house because the open rafters were rustic. Like in the magazines where everything was perfect."
Little Tony hadn't understood the words at the time, but adult Anthony—lying as peaceful as death on a stranger's grave—gave his mother, ever the actress, credit for her abilities.
Tony knew from whom he had inherited his masks.
He just wished she had waited until a more natural time to pass on the family heirlooms.
Tony held his feet stiffly together and crossed his arms over his chest as he pictured his mother in her coffin. The blue dress had been high-necked and covered the bruises at her throat as perfectly as if she had tried it on, twirling in front of the dressing-room mirror with the specific purpose in mind of tying a thick rope around her slim neck.
Tony was certain she had.
Even in death she would want to hide the ugliness that was her life—or in this case, the end of that life. Only Tony's current company would come out victorious in a hiding contest against his mother when she had been alive.
You simply can't out-hide the dead.
He thought about the corpse lying six feet beneath him and hoped he or she wouldn't mind his resting on its resting place. He hadn't had time to check the name on the stone as he fell face-first into it while chasing their fleeing suspect.
Thoughts concerning the outcome of that chase and the whereabouts of the rest of his team were lost to the buzzing in his head, the sound like flies feasting buffet-style from a smorgasbord of rotting corpses. The buzzing had him suddenly thinking of Emily Dickinson and he smiled, wondering what Kate would think of his making a poetry reference instead of a movie one.
As if Kate had anything going through her head these days besides maggots.
Thoughts of Kate turned to thoughts of walking McGee down to autopsy to say goodbye. Tony himself had said the goodbyes he needed to on the rooftop, but the probie didn't have that chance. Tony didn't want him to miss it. So he had gone down there, put a comforting hand on Tim's shoulder and moved his thumb slowly, soothingly back and forth as they talked to the corpse who had once been their partner, their friend. Tony had seen the thumb thing in a movie once and it seemed nice and comforting, but he suddenly couldn't remember the film's title.
And that had him slightly worried.
He raised a hand to his head and blinked in shock when he saw that it was already covered in blood. He didn't remember touching his head but figured he must have and just forgotten about it.
"Nothing to worry about, Anthony. Likely just a concussion, my dear boy," he imagined Ducky saying. He put a smile on the old doctor's face for good measure.
"Hell, DiNozzo. Lying around on the job again?"
That voice didn't sound imagined, and Tony raised his head slightly from the sweet-smelling green grass of the grave and smiled up at his boss.
"Hi yourself," Gibbs grunted back at him. "We've been looking all over for you."
Tony kept smiling. His mother would be so proud. "Sorry. You mind if I just lie here for a minute? It's comfortable."
Gibbs lifted a shoulder and sat beside his prone agent. "It's not a gutter."
Tony's smile turned to a grin. "My father always used to say I'd end up in one."
Gibbs just nodded. "I know."
Tony's smile faded as he wondered how Gibbs knew that. His boss hadn't been around when Tony had said that in the sewers that day, but Tony shrugged it off. Gibbs was nothing if not occasionally mystical.
There was what seemed to Tony a long silence.
"You with me?" he heard Gibbs ask.
"I feel kind of weird," Tony answered after a moment.
There was a sigh and Tony opened his eyes to see Gibbs raising an eyebrow at him. "You're lying bleeding on a stranger's grave, Tony. You should feel weird."
Gibbs laughed, but it sounded kind of like a cough, and Tony wondered if Gibbs had lied about never getting sick. Tony was tempted to tell his boss not to breathe on him. He seemed awfully close.
But instead he just said, "I need to get me one of these."
"A grave?" Gibbs asked, and he suddenly sounded almost worried. But this was Gibbs. It was much, much more likely the man was getting a cold than getting worried. "You don't need a grave, Tony. You're fine."
Tony touched a hand to his head. "Bleeding a little," he said with a little sigh. "Probably gonna ruin another suit."
Gibbs produced a handkerchief and dabbed at the blood running down DiNozzo's temple. "Better?"
Tony smiled and thought he saw Gibbs flinch. He wondered if he had blood in his teeth. His father usually had that same look when Tony smiled at him after getting smacked in the mouth for some indiscretion or another.
"Much." He hesitated, luxuriating in the feel of the cool ground against his body, overheated from the mid-summer chase through the cemetery. "But I really do need a grave."
Gibbs opened his mouth to say something, but Tony cut him off.
"Everyone needs a home, Gibbs."
"Then buy a house, DiNozzo," Gibbs snapped. "You don't need a grave. You're not dying."
Tony gave Gibbs a half-smile. "We're all dying, Gibbs."
"No, really, Boss," Tony interrupted, hoping Gibbs wasn't really angry with him. He always hated it when Gibbs was seriously mad at him. "I just want to know where I'm going to spend eternity. If I buy a plot now, I'll know. I really should have done it already, I guess. You never know what might happen. But when I buy my plot, I can spend time there and get to know it and learn to love it. Like a home."
"Stop talking, DiNozzo. That's an order. Along with the standing order of you not dying on me." A pause. "You're scaring me."
A giggle bubbled up in Tony's throat and he coughed a little. "Nothing scares you, Boss."
Gibbs' eyes seemed to soften a bit, the blue going slightly darker, as if it were suddenly wet. "You scare me all the time, Tony."
There was something about the look in Gibbs' eyes, the tone of his voice that made Tony shiver suddenly under the hot, bright summer sun. He reached out a hand that seemed too cold for the season and squeezed Gibbs' warm one.
"Can we go now, Boss?" he whispered. "I don't like it so much here anymore."
"Sure, Tony," Gibbs said, squeezing back. "Anything you want."
Gibbs rounded the corner and saw DiNozzo lying still as death on top of a grave.
Then he saw the blood and stopped breathing.
And so they were for a moment, both mimicking the silent company all around them: Tony with his position and Gibbs with his breathlessness.
Fortunately, the agents' situations were only temporary.
Gibbs got his breath back and slowly approached where Tony lay. Gibbs had a sudden flashback of Kate lying peacefully in the coffin that would be her new home until the end of time. He also had flashbacks of her lying not so peacefully on that rooftop, a halo spreading from her head like the old-time paintings of Catholic saints. Only this careless painter had done the beatific halo in red instead of the traditional golden hue.
But then he stopped breathing again as he made his way closer and took in the surreal tableau that practically slapped him in the face.
Tony was flat on his back on the grave, his hands crossed over his chest as if he were already lying in a coffin six feet under. Gibbs could read a partial name on the stone casting shadows over his agent's deathly pale face.
Gibbs stepped closer and cursed Abby for putting silly thoughts of premonitions in his head as he read the rest of the name: DiPietro.
But Gibbs' relief was short-lived as he realized exactly why DiNozzo's hands were crossed over his chest.
He was trying to stop the bleeding.
From the second Gibbs had heard the gunshot echo among the silent graves moments earlier, he had hoped, he had prayed to a god he hadn't believed in in a long time, and he had wanted.
But he had also known.
"Hell, DiNozzo," he said, not realizing he had spoken out loud. He ran to where his agent lay, hands pressed weakly against his own bleeding body. The amount of blood soaking his agent's chest, belly, shirt and the once-green grass below him had Gibbs wanting to throw up.
Tony suddenly seemed to sense his presence and his green eyes fluttered open, awash in pain and fear—and the irrepressible spirit that was all DiNozzo.
Gibbs dropped to his knees with a grunt, wincing at both the ache in his joints and the gasped words from his agent. Gibbs slid closer, feeling Tony's blood soaking into his pants, and he tried to swallow his fear and get to work. He nudged Tony's crossed hands aside and pulled the agent's shirt open, flinching outright when one of the undoubtedly expensive buttons bounced off his agent's name on the headstone.
The bullet had punched through Tony's upper abdomen, just under and slightly to the left of his sternum. The bleeding was heavy, but as Gibbs risked a few seconds to watch, he saw that the blood flowed instead of spurted, which would likely mean arterial damage. Gibbs knew if that bullet had hit mere inches to the left, it would have torn through the abdominal aorta and Tony would have bled out before Gibbs had any chance to save him.
Gibbs just pressed down hard and hoped he still had that chance.
Tony's eyes flew open at the contact, his bloody hand coming up to grip Gibbs' wrist as he gasped in pain. "Gibbs," he panted, "hurts."
Gibbs felt tears prick the corners of his eyes and he blinked hard, unwilling to let Tony see his terror. "I know," he said softly, pushing down harder. "I know, Tony."
The fear that was banded around Gibbs' chest like rings on a bourbon barrel squeezed tighter as Tony's eyes slipped closed. Gibbs could feel him struggling to breathe under the brutal, life-saving pressure on his chest, but he asked anyway.
"You with me?"
Tony opened pain-filled eyes and nodded, but he couldn't find the breath to speak. His thoughts were scattered, his mind wandering and he thought he heard Gibbs talking to him. He couldn't make out the words, though, so he closed his eyes again and retreated back into his head. It had always been safer there.
Gibbs watched those green eyes close and swallowed his choked cry that rose at the thought that he may never see them again. Or that he might look into them and find only cold, unseeing death where there had been twinkling, vibrant life before.
"Eyes open, DiNozzo," he tried to bark. But his voice was as weak as he knew Tony's pulse would be if he could move a hand to feel for it. "Come on, Tony. Talk to me."
Tony's eyes were open again and suddenly very serious. Gibbs never wanted to see that look ever again.
"Have… a will," Tony panted through the pain and pressure. "Never got around… to buying a plot… though."
Panic sliced through Gibbs' chest in a sad mimicry of the bullet that had torn through Tony's. "A grave?" He choked out, feeling his arms start to shake and wondering if it was Tony's words or the strain of keeping the man from bleeding to death. He summoned courage and calm from some place he was ashamed he had access to when his hands were slick with the blood of the man he loved like a son. "You don't need a grave, Tony. You're fine."
Tony's hand fluttered at his side before dropping weakly back onto the verdant grass. "Bleeding," he whispered.
Gibbs looked down into Tony's frightened eyes and wanted to put his head back and howl out his rage at this horrible injustice. But there was still hope the ambulance would get here in time, that Gibbs could yell at Tony for lying down on the job, that Tony could yell back for ruining yet another suit.
Gibbs realized Tony was whispering something and he leaned down, instantly contrite when Tony groaned under the increased pressure.
"Shoulda… bought a plot."
Tony was looking straight into Gibbs' eyes when he whispered, "Everyone needs a home, Gibbs."
"Then buy a house, DiNozzo," Gibbs snapped, his rage bubbling to the surface. Tony sounded like he was done. Like he was giving up. And that just wasn't acceptable. Tony was not going to die here—not now, not like this. Gibbs would face down the Reaper and behead him with his own scythe first. He had always planned on going long before Tony so he could look down and watch Tony raise a family in the house he planned on leaving him. In the house he had never fulfilled that dream in himself. His voice was rough with emotion as he continued, forcefully. "You don't need a grave. You're not dying."
Tony's half-smile made Gibbs' heart lurch up into his throat. "We're all dying, Gibbs."
"No, really, Boss," Tony interrupted, sounding dreamy and faraway. "I just want to know where I'm going to spend eternity. I can spend time there and get to know it and learn to love it. Like a home."
Gibbs swallowed hard and felt the first tears slide down his face. He was glad Tony's eyes had closed during his whispered, halting ramble. Gibbs knew he was already hurting him; there was no need to scare him, too. "Stop talking, DiNozzo," he ground through teeth clenched against his pain and fear. He realized he didn't want Tony to think he was mad at him and added softly, "That's an order. Along with the standing order of you not dying on me."
Tony didn't respond, and Gibbs' pulse went through the roof as he wondered if Tony's was gone. Gibbs couldn't feel the man's breathing under his hands because he was pushing so hard against the bleeding hole in Tony's chest. But the thought of easing up on that pressure was terrifying. So Gibbs pressed down harder, the force enough to break ribs had the wound been any higher, hoping to get some sort of reaction, even if it was pain.
Because pain meant life and the thought of Tony lying lifeless under his bloody hands had fresh tears streaming down Gibbs' face.
"Please don't do this to me, Tony," he whispered, hearing the wail of the approaching ambulance and feeling a twinge of renewed hope. "Don't leave me like this. I'll get you assigned to Rota and then you can leave, go chase pretty girls on the beaches and forget to call me. Just not like this. Please. You're scaring me."
Tony's lips twitched and he coughed, spilling bright red blood from his mouth. Gibbs felt the warm, wet pressure of Tony's hand on his wrist again, and he realized he hadn't even felt it slip away. Green eyes were staring up at him when he looked down again, and he realized he would do anything to take away the pain in them. Anything Tony wanted.
" 'S gonna be okay, Gibbs," Tony whispered as just the medics swarmed around them, taking in the amount of blood covering the grave and hoping this would be one of the ones they could save. "See?"
The skilled medics had IVs in veins and pressure dressings on wounds before Tony was even loaded into the ambulance, and Gibbs found himself rushing to climb inside.
He didn't want to be left behind.
The drugs were powerful and strong and had Tony's head swimming—but he figured that could be the blood loss, too. The fear that had set his every nerve ending on fire at seeing that terrifying softness in Gibbs' eyes was slowly fading away. He felt Gibbs' hand latch onto his, and Tony ignored what he knew was his blood slathering the slick grip.
He had every faith that Gibbs would pull him back from the grave.
It wouldn't be the first time.
Drug-induced memories of his time in the hospital after the plague swam lazily through his head as he tried to block out the shouts of the medics and the wail of the siren. Instead, he focused on the memories, specifically the night Gibbs came to tell him he would be going home soon.
"They're springing me? For real?" Tony asked, sitting up so quickly it made him dizzy.
Gibbs reached out a hand and pushed him gently back down onto the bed. "Easy, Tony," he said, sending shivers down Tony's spine at memories of his boss coaxing him to breathe. "Not if you fall out of bed and break your neck."
Tony just lay back and grinned. "Home," he said, feeling giddy as a kid on the last day of school. The smile vanished and he looked suspiciously at Gibbs. "This isn't some hallucination, is it? I know I've been a little oxygen-deprived lately, but they promised no brain damage. I really get to go home?"
Gibbs smiled at him and rolled his eyes. "No hallucination, Tony. You're going home soon." A slight shadow passed through the blue eyes. "My home, though. The doctors don't want you to be alone yet."
Gibbs watched Tony carefully for his reaction, expecting disappointment or anger and protests.
But Tony just smiled, settling in to get some much-needed rest.
"I'm going home soon."
Tony swam up through the memories and found Gibbs' bright blue eyes looking down at him. Tony was shocked to see tears streaking down the face that always meant absolute strength to him. Gibbs looked immensely sad and also incredibly weary—an aged king with the weight of his heavy crown weighing him down.
Tony didn't want Gibbs to be sad. Not for him. So he put some force behind the grip he still had on Gibbs' bloody hand and said the first thing that came to mind—the thing that had made Gibbs smile so peacefully after all of the pain and fear of his brush with death.
"Don't worry, Gibbs," he said, trying to smile. "I'm going home soon."