Disclaimer: Out of this story, all I own is the plot. The rest is borrowed from Bellisario et al with no offence intended and no (well, very little!) harm done.
No beta readers were harmed in the production of this story.
Five times that Anthony DiNozzo met his guardian angel.
A Very Special Guardian Angel
1 - Knee
Tony feigned sleep.
It was easier that way. It meant he didn't have to see the pitying looks or have to listen to faltering well wishes from people who didn't know him beyond the sports he played and had no idea what to say to him now that those sports were beyond him. It also meant he could avoid the doctors and their talk of reconstructive surgery and endless rehab that would have him still on crutches for a graduation that might not even happen.
Feigning sleep also had the benefit of getting him out of those ever-awkward conversations with whichever bimbo his father had dispatched. For someone who had made a big production out of cutting him off, Tony couldn't help but be wryly amused by the level of interest his father continued to display. Even if it was probably more a matter of schadenfreude-
"Now this couldn't have happened if you'd only gone to Harvard Business School like I wanted."
-it was still attention. Attention that his father had once sworn to never give.
The downside, though, was obvious. Being left alone meant being left with thoughts that were entirely too dark and depressing. He had no future now: the dream of pro sport had vanished in a haze of too much pain and not enough morphine. OSU were still trying to determine if he should be kicked out, given that he no longer fit the qualifications for the sports scholarship, so there was no certainty that he'd have a degree to fall back on - and even if he did, he had no idea what he'd do with it. Teach, he supposed - except that he couldn't think of anything worse. He'd probably end up one of those bitter and jaded gym teachers who only existed to make their students' lives hell.
There was, of course, always the option to go crawling back to his father and beg for a job there. That was almost as much of a non starter as being a gym teacher, though. The prospect of a good twenty or thirty years of hearing "I told you so" was about as appealing as having that ass from Michigan tear his other ACL for good measure.
Except he couldn't really call a guy who'd apologised five ways from Sunday and gone out of his way to help him find a specialist an ass.
Probably would never want to buy the guy a drink, but he wasn't an ass.
Tony allowed himself a small sigh and shifted a little on the bed. Just that small movement sent a stab of pain through his mangled knee, making him wince.
"Daddy would tell you to take your pain killers," said a childish voice.
Tony's eyes snapped open in total surprise. Sitting on the hard plastic chair beside his bed was a pixie-like child with piercing blue eyes and long red-blonde hair. "Who- who are you?"
The child offered a beaming smile. "I'm Kelly."
He ran the name through his memories, trying to see if there was anyone he knew who had kids, much less one as old as Kelly. What was she? Seven? Eight? Seemed unlikely she'd be the daughter of anyone he was in college with and he didn't know any of his professors well enough that they'd want to visit him, much less send their daughter in on her own. Not to a total stranger. "What are you doing here?"
"Visiting you, silly," she said as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
"Me?" he echoed. "I don't know you."
"No, you don't," she agreed. She reached out and lightly patted him on the arm. "But I know you and I wanted to come."
Tony shifted again, and winced as his knee complained. The steady blue-eyed gaze seemed too old for her childish face. "How?" he asked.
Kelly didn't answer. Instead she tipped her head on one side. "You really should take your medicine, you know," she observed instead. "It'll make you feel better."
"It'll make me loopy and say stuff I shouldn't," Tony retorted.
Kelly slowly righted her head and sighed. "You have to look after yourself," she said. "He'll be counting on you one day."
Tony frowned. "Who will?"
"Daddy," said Kelly as if the answer was obvious.
Now Tony was reasonably sure he was dreaming. "You're not my sister. I don't have a sister. Don't even really have a father."
Kelly's response was to giggle. "Not him, silly."
Bemused, Tony stared at her for a moment. Then sighed. If this was a dream, there wasn't much point expecting things to make sense.
"And you have to stop hiding," the little girl continued, her tone taking on an admonishing quality. "You're not a coward."
"Haven't exactly got much to look forward to."
"But that's where you're wrong," said Kelly earnestly. "You have lots to look forward to."
"Yeah. Pain, crutches, surgery-"
"I don't mean that," the girl retorted with an impressive eye roll. "I mean good stuff. Good people. You just have to be patient."
Tony sighed. "Don't exactly do patience, kid."
Kelly smirked. "It'll be okay," she promised. She glanced over her shoulder at something only she could see, then looked back. "Mommy says I have to go now." She reached out and gently squeezed his arm. "Promise me you'll take your medicine."
Under a heavy stare that definitely had a hint of wisdom far beyond Kelly's handful of years, Tony found himself nodding obediently.
It earned him another beaming smile as the child slid off her seat. "I'll see you soon, Tony." She paused in the doorway. "Oh, and make sure you listen to the coach."
Listen to the coach? What?
A light touch to his shoulder and a gentle uttered, "Tony?" had him waking with a start. It had been a dream, then. One very, seriously, whacked-out dream. He blinked a couple of times and realised that one of the younger nurses was leaning over him with his latest round of painkillers in her hand and a wary expression on her face.
"I wasn't going to wake you," she began, clearly judging she had his attention, "but it's time for your meds and Coach Miller's here to see you. Says it's important."
Tony's first impulse was to tell the nurse exactly what she could do with the trio of little white pills and, while she was at it, that she could also tell Coach Miller to go to hell, too. Promise me you'll take your medicine and listen to the coach. The echo stopped him short and made him reconsider. It did feel weird to follow advice probably given to him by a figment of his own imagination, but, on the other hand, it wasn't as if ignoring the rest of the world had exactly got him anywhere and maybe it would be nice if every flinch wasn't accompanied by a flash of red hot pain.
"Guess I'll be good," he murmured and was rewarded by a bright smile from the nurse when he appropriately swallowed all three pills.
"I'll send the coach in, then," said the nurse.
A moment or so later, as the edges of the pain in his knee were beginning to dull, Coach Miller appeared in the doorway. Unlike all his previous visitors, Miller was actually smiling like he meant it. "DiNozzo. Sorry I haven't been by any sooner, how're you doin'?"
Tony shrugged. "Surgery's scheduled for tomorrow."
Miller nodded. "Sooner it's done, sooner you can get into rehab and back on your feet."
"Won't be playing pro, though."
Miller's smile faded just a touch. "I hear you on that, and it sucks – I know it. I do have some good news, though."
"Sure could use some."
"Been speaking with the student affairs department and the Dean and we've been able to figure something out, so you can finish your degree. Gonna take a lot of hard work between now and graduation, but I figure if there's anyone at OSU who can do it, I'm lookin' at him right now."
For a second, Tony teetered at the edge of the cliff. Take a leap of faith and do as Kelly asked or follow his first impulse and tell Miller to go to hell. Listen to the coach. He took a breath and jumped. "What do I have to do?"