AN: Was going to be a one-shot, as usual…
All the Other Acronyms
He knew he was a federal agent, because the silver haired guy had told him so, and he hadn't any particular reason to doubt him… He knew his name was Tony because people kept saying it to him, with looks of puppy-dog pleading, as if the oftener they said it, the sooner he'd remember. He knew he'd been hurt, because of, among other things, the drain stuck in his back, which had snagged painfully when he moved. They'd taken it out yesterday afternoon before he went down for the prescribed tests, along with all the other paraphernalia, and got him up to walk round his room a little. It was, Doctor Blamire had told him, the only thing he could do right now to give him a semblance of control back in a life that he felt was running away from him. He'd been grateful for the understanding, even if he hadn't been particularly demonstrative about it.
He knew that he'd been ill because of the injuries; again the silver haired guy, Gibbs, had told him so…. Apparently his lungs worked just fine when he was well, but were always at risk if he wasn't, because of the pneumonic plague he'd once had. It was at that point that he'd started to believe the man, because nobody could make up a stupid story like that. It had to be true. So he wasn't some international spy being interrogated in some weird way, like in some movie.
He knew what real spies did, or he thought he probably did; he felt as if he'd maybe run up against one or two sometime. He knew what pneumonic plague was; he knew what a federal agent was. He'd heard of NCIS, like all the other acronyms, and he knew they – or he – didn't like the feebies. The FBI. The alphabet soup. As he flexed his hands and imagined one, he knew he was at ease with a handgun. He was clearly right-handed.
He was a Senior Field Agent, an SFA…here we go with the acronyms again… He knew what else that one stood for, and it was precisely what he could remember just now.
He could speak Spanish and Italian, and not mix the two up. He was pretty certain he wasn't married.
He believed that all these nice people who kept visiting and being nice to him, saying nice things, and bringing him nice things, and being hurt but nicely patient when he wasn't nice back, were his friends. They said they were, and they were making such an effort, taking such care, walking on eggshells round him, wanting him to remember, willing him to remember, and they absolutely hadn't a fucking clue what it was like not to remember.
He sagged back against the pile of pillows… His life had begun yesterday morning, when he'd opened his eyes to harsh lights and pain, and a voice at his side that had said, "DiNozzo! You with us?"
Who the hell was that? And who the hell was he?
The silver haired guy had told him not to worry, shooed a lot of other people out of the room and fetched the doctor. Who had shooed him right after them.
They'd settled that he'd be called Tony, since he had to be called something.
"When you were admitted, Tony, you had a fever of 103 degrees, three highly infected wounds including a deep knife wound in your back, multiple other cuts and bruises, cracked ribs and sternum, blood loss, dehydration, and no doubt hunger and exhaustion, although they're not so easy to diagnose on a patient who's deeply unconscious. There would have been shock to contend with when you were first injured, and you'd had a bang on the head, although I can't say that was immediately responsible for the memory loss, since when you radioed for help, you knew who you were at that point."
"I don't remember a radio."
"No… I think the amnesia is down to a contribution from all of these factors – "
"How long will it last?"
The doctor looked sympathetic. "I wish I had a foolproof way of telling, Tony. I'm sure –"
"Is there a chance I'll never remember?"
Dr. Blamire's hesitation had been tiny, but the injured man saw it anyway, so the physician's next words didn't carry the weight that they should have done somehow.
"I've never known a patient personally who didn't regain at least some of the lost memories over time," he said truthfully, hoping that was enough to reassure. "I'll arrange for a cat scan later to see if there's any swelling that needs to reduce; that'll give us some more information. We'll do an MRI as well, it can't hurt to have as much information as possible. The best advice I can give you is, try to stay calm, even though that must be very difficult right now. I can prescribe a mild sedative if that would help."
The patient shook his head hard, then winced. "No…" he said firmly. "I need to think…"
They hadn't let anyone see him for the rest of the day; it had been his wish. He'd recalled the crowd that was in his room when he woke up, and he knew he couldn'thandle them just then. The MRI had been noisy, the cat scan disorientating, and although he appreciated that he was getting the best treatment possible, his mood swung between fearful and frantic. In the evening he'd had to relent; the thinking, punctuated by fitful dozing interrupted by the hissing of the BiPAP, was that what it was called… another bloody acronym… had brought nothing of any help, and much frustration; and the nurses were beginning to give him reproving looks behind Dr. Blamire's back. They should try lying where he was.
"Your friends have been waiting all day to see you," Nurse Dawn told him in that sweet tone people reserved for recalcitrant children. He wanted to yell, I haven't any friends, but he wasn't a child, recalcitrant or otherwise, so he'd pushed himself up in the bed and put a brave face on it.
These people, his friends, right… their reactions had been so different, yet all the same. He must know them, right… because he could predict, after one look at each of them, how they were going to handle the problem. As if he wasn't the one who had the said problem in the first place.
The young guy… slightly wary, introduced himself with his surname.
"Hey, Tony. I'm McGee." He lifted his hand to offer it, thought better of the idea, then braved it anyway. Tony shook politely, knowing that there was something about him that made the younger man nervous. He wasn't sure he liked that thought; but there was nothing he could do about it right now… nothing he could do about anything, really – he was less than twenty-four hours old.
"Hi, McGee." He tried to feel some recognition, he really did… his gut told him the young man would overcompensate for his nerves by talking too much… he was looking at him hopefully, and the others were watching intently. The goldfish bowl sensation was horrible; he felt bile rising in his throat, and had to swallow down on it, struggling to stay calm.
"I er… you left your cell phone on when you dropped it… out on the mountain… that was good, because it got us to the area in time to help you when you called. You er.. you don't remember… but I'm the IT guy… I tracked you."
"I… er… right, thanks for that, McGee." He was sincere; he tried to sound sincere, but the younger man backed off, looking disappointed. The other two people who'd stepped into the room with him came one each side of his bed, the elderly man stopping briefly to study the information on the chart at the foot. The woman, meanwhile, gave the injured man a smile that was almost proprietary, which didn't surprise him, but did seem to nettle him slightly. She was going to lecture him.
She sat down on the edge of his bed and purred. "So, Tony… it was a good joke, but it is time to end it now, yes?"
Joke? He didn't know what to say. The young guy was nervous of him, and the exotic lady was suggesting that he was the sort who'd play amnesiac, and keep his friends sitting outside his room waiting for a whole day. He went cold inside with revulsion, and again he was fighting down the nausea. This was bad. If he did get his memory back, would he like him? He really didn't sound like a good guy…
The young woman's beautiful, imperious face creased in a frown as she read his expression. "You really do not remember me?" There was still a hint of disbelief in her tone and more than a hint of annoyance.
"No… I'm sorry." He attempted to sound placating, but thought that not much other than tiredness actually emerged.
The short, elderly gentleman who'd been looking at his medical information soothed gently. "Now, Ziva, you really mustn't tease Tony, he doesn't need it right now. I'm Ducky," he added, turning to the patient. "Doctor Mallard, the ME at NCIS." He looked wisely down at him. Medical Examiner, the younger man thought, putting in the capital letters. Acronyms, bloody acronyms… was it only an acronym when it made a word? The doctor was winding up for a long speech, he knew somehow, and prayed that he could concentrate long enough to take it all in. "Your vital signs are improving all the time, dear boy, which is excellent. I don't doubt that as you get better, so your memory will improve. I don't want you to worry about anything, just get plenty of rest."
Something in the sick man's expression made the corner of the soft spoken… Scotsman, right? Yeah… something made the corner of the Scotsman's mouth turn up slightly. "I know, Anthony –" Oh, that was new, someone called him by his full name. And he didn't usually like that, he knew. But from this man, maybe it was OK? "I know, Anthony, that you think that's unlikely to happen with all of us around… we just felt it might help you to know that we're your friends, even if you have no recollection of it just now, and we'll be here if you need us. Now we should leave."
Right now it didn't help at all; he was trapped in a room with people who knew more about him than he did himself, which would have been nasty enough even if what they'd revealed about him so far had been good. He managed a grateful smile for the good old man, but it was laced with bewilderment and panic, and he had no idea how it wrung the kindly doctor's heart to see it. "Come, Ziva, Tim, we should – "
"Toneeee… I went back to the lab to run some tests, so when they said we could see you – well, they could see you, cuz I wasn't here for them to tell – well, I didn't stay long, I left Major Mass-Spec doing the work – and I'm sorry I wasn't here when everyone else was. Well, except Gibbs of course but he's been interrogating the one they captured alive, to find out what happened to you before you got to that Ranger Station, and – " The woman who'd exploded into the room and rushed to seize his hands stopped abruptly, with a look of horror. "Oh, Tony… you haven't the faintest idea of what I'm talking about, have you?"
He looked at the extraordinary goth whirlwind – well, seemed he knew what a goth was – with the intense greeny-grey eyes that pleaded with him to say something she wanted to hear, and he absolutely couldn't do it. He clenched his teeth, closed his eyes and rolled his head to the side away from her, and everyone else in the room. "'M sorry," he croaked. "Go 'way… please, all…"
The woman gave a soft moan of distress, but got the message when he pulled his hands away. What was the point of physical contact if it didn't express comfort? He had none to give, and wanted only to sink back into his miserable, introverted little hole. They didn't want him to come out of it, they wanted Tony, and he had nothing in common with him other than the name.
McGee's voice sounded both protective and reproving. "Come on, Abs, there's nothing you can do… if he doesn't want –"
Ducky's voice was sharp. "Timothy, enough. Don't let your anxiety make you unjust. We should leave, we're – "
"Yes, you should." It was Dr. Blamire's voice. "I didn't give permission for a visit yet, and I certainly wouldn't have allowed four people at once. Special Agent DiNozzo requested no visitors before he was ready, I should have thought, Dr. Mallard, that you would have respected that."
"Indeed, Dr. Blamire, and I do apologise. I'm afraid I let anxiety come before good sense."
The wire-tense man in the bed spoke up in the interests of justice. "Dr. Mallard's been suggesting they should go for a while… things just got a bit out of hand. 'S OK…"
The physician looked at the patient's pale face and agitated breathing, and nodded to the other doctor. Understood. Now please, get them out of here. Listening in to the injured man's lungs, he asked, "So why did you let them in? I felt myself that your original idea of getting some peace was best."
He didn't want to tell tales; but then again, he didn't want to go through that again. "Well… they'd been out there a while… I was guilted into it really…"
"By the nurses? Not their decision. I'll have words…"
"No… they didn't mean…"
"Mmm. It's not going to happen again. Tests came out fine, by the way. Hmm, your temperature's up slightly." He wrapped the BP cuff round his patient's arm. "…And you're hyper-tensive. My advice? Sleep. I'll give you something if you like."
It was easiest to acquiesce.
They'd still come to see him the following day, singly, in pairs, bringing him books, magazines, the sort of food they said he liked, not staying long because they were afraid of provoking him… they needn't have worried now, he'd realised that he was a guy who was used to exercising self-control – oh, and he could fake it with the best of them. He was as polite as he'd been remote the previous day.
The silver haired guy came and talked to the doctor, put his head round the door and said he'd come back later, which saddened him, because for some reason, he was the one he hoped would stay.
Dr. Blamire gave him something to help him sleep around ten; the cracks in the determined façade were beginning to widen.
Four hours later; two o'clock in the morning… he heard breathing, and cracked an eye open. The silver haired guy was there again, same as that morning. Just as that morning, he was instantly aware that the sleeper was awake.
"Hey…" he held a hand up, palm out. "You want me to go, I'll go. No problem."
He replied with the first thing that came into his mind. "Need the head."
"Can you walk?"
"I'll help you as far as the door, then you're on your own."
"This nightie got an arse in it?"
"Hell, no… but who's to see? OK, OK, I'll find you a robe." The gruff guy was as good as his word, and as his unofficial charge wobbled into the bathroom, he stuck a bag through the doorway. "You might want these. Take care of the arse problem."
The younger man sat down heavily on the toilet seat, and looked curiously into the bag. As well as toiletries, there were boxers, soft grey sweatpants and a hoodie, and he sat for a moment, squeezing the warm, comforting fabric, and feeling utterly lost. The garments seemed familiar… but there wasn't a thread of memory there. He was a blank canvas, an infant… he shuddered and repressed a sob.
When he emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, dressed in the comfortable garments, he managed to meet the older man's eyes for the first time. They were icy blue, highly intelligent, and held a reserved compassion, which he couldn't bear, so he looked away again.
"Thanks…" he said softly to the floor. "Are these mine?"
"Sure are. I stopped by your place and picked them up."
"Where is my place?"
"Out by Fort Dupont Park…" He was watching him carefully as he spoke. "Nice spot."
The younger man shrugged apologetically as there was clearly not even a glimmer of recognition. He sat down on the edge of his bed, hunching his shoulders, eyes slightly moist. He fisted the tears away angrily.
"Yeah, that's my name, apparently."
"I won't ask if you're OK… I know you're not. D'you want me to go?"
"Tell me who you are."
"The name's Gibbs, remember? NCIS."
That was the important acronym, somehow Tony knew it. He was thinking of himself by name now, because this man Gibbs had said it. It still rang no bells, but at least now it meant something.
"I'm your boss. And your friend." He held up a hand again, as Tony began to speak. "It's OK that you're not mine. You don't know me. Ducky told me they gave you a hard time, wanting you to remember."
"Well… they're my friends, right?"
"This isn't about them, it's about you."
"You sound as if you don't really want to know."
"The young guy, McGee… seems like a nice guy – he's afraid. No. Nervous. I make him nervous. And the beautiful foreign lady. Ziva. She thinks I play malicious jokes. If that's me…"
"Jokes, yes. Malicious? Never. You used to make McGee nervous when he was a probie. Toughened him up – he gives as good as he gets these days. Just doesn't know how to handle this."
"And Abs? I wouldn't let her hold my hands."
"Abby. Our forensic scientist. She adopted you eight years ago when you joined my team. You're like a brother to her."
"I can't remember," Tony muttered despairingly. "You'd think I'd remember…"
"You sure you want to go on with this? I'll go if you'd rather rest."
Tony shook his head. "No… I'm fine. What… why are you smiling?"
Gibbs shook his head gently, and the smile lingered. "You're my Senior Field Agent. I depend on you, and when you remember, you'll understand how much. You've a talent for getting into scrapes – like this one. Tony, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard 'I'm fine' from you, I could retire. D'you need to rest? Shall I come back tomorrow and tell you more?"
"I… I should let you get some rest."
"Told ya… it's not about the rest of us. What do you want me to do?"
The younger man was diffident. "Well… how did I get like this? Tell me what happened?"
AN: Probably just one more chapter… don't think it's got much more growing to do.