Charting a New Course
Summary: When Gibbs is hurt in the line of duty, it causes both he and Tony to rethink everything…including their relationship.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: Okay, so here is a new NCIS fic for my friends. This story has been percolating for a while, but since there aren't really any spoilers, you can consider it being set loosely somewhere in the last couple seasons. As always, this is SLASH. There will be four parts to the story and I hope you enjoy! Jules
Tony watched in horror from his position behind a car as the suspect they had been following popped out from behind another vehicle and swung a crowbar. He landed it squarely on the back of an unsuspecting Gibbs' head. He was too far away to stop it and too far away to call out a warning to Gibbs. By the time he was in shooting distance, there was nothing he could do. It felt like everything stopped moving as Gibbs' body was thrown forward to the pavement and the blood began to pool around him. It couldn't have been more than a second, however, because the petty officer hadn't even had time to lift the weapon for his second strike when Tony's voice called out to him to drop the weapon. The idiot didn't listen, instead he reached for a pistol in his waistband, and Tony took great satisfaction in placing two rounds in the fucker's chest.
"Agent down!" Tony shouted into his earwig's mic and then was on his way to Gibbs' side.
The minutes that followed were a blur of voices and activity and the paramedic asking him a thousand questions. Tony answered them all and refused to leave Gibbs' side. Fuck the dead suspect. Fuck the case. Fuck protocol. Gibbs was seriously injured and nothing else mattered. The ride to the hospital was like a nightmare. Gibbs wasn't responding to anything the paramedics tried. All they could do was keep reviving him when his heart stopped beating and try to minimize the blood loss.
Once at the hospital, there was more rushing around and more voices asking him questions until they finally reached the operating room doors and Tony was left in the suddenly still quiet of the hospital corridor. He stood there for long minutes just staring at the blood on his hands and wondered, not for the first time, why the hell they did it. Between Gibbs and himself, they had more injuries in the line of duty than any other three full teams combined. Why did they just keep coming back for more? Every time Gibbs was hurt, it was like a part of Tony was being torn in two. And it just got harder every time knowing that each time one of them cheated death, they got closer to that one time when they wouldn't be so lucky.
Tony looked at the petite young nurse who addressed him. "Yeah."
"Come with me," she said gently. "I'll show you a place you can get cleaned up. And I think we might even have a set of scrubs that would fit you. You'll be more comfortable while you wait for your…"
Tony knew she was waiting for him to fill in that blank but he wasn't so sure he could. Boss didn't nearly cover the extent of the relationship between the two agents. Friend was inadequate as well. They weren't lovers. There was no blood tie between them, so he couldn't call him family. And yet, Leroy Jethro Gibbs was closer to him than any family Tony had ever seen. He was like the other part of Tony's soul.
"Partner," Tony finally settled on. Let her think what she would of that. He held Gibbs' medical proxy, just as the older man held his. Despite the fact that they had both reconciled with their fathers and established some sort of relationship—more like a truce in the case of the two Anthony DiNozzos—they were still the closest thing to family to each other that they had. Tony trusted Gibbs with his life whether on the field or in a hospital bed and he knew that the feeling was mutual.
Looking back at the nurse, he offered her a halfhearted smile. "Thanks."
He followed her to the staff locker room for the surgical wing and she found a clean set of scrubs in his size and then left him to shower alone. Tony moved mechanically, trying not to think about the way the water at his feet ran red with Gibbs' blood as he let the hot water flow over him. He tried not to think about anything but the vision of that man as he swung the crowbar simply would not leave his head. He didn't even know he was crying until the sobs shook his body enough that he had a hard time standing. Tony slid down the shower wall and let the water continue to wash over him while he cried.
Tony lost track of time as he stared at the waiting room walls. His mind was running through all the memories he had of him and Gibbs. It wasn't like a movie, playing in neat little chronological flashbacks. No, this was more like a stream of consciousness thing. He remembered the first time that they met, working that homicide case up in Baltimore, and then flashed to a single look that they had shared over cowboy steaks. Sometimes he relived entire scenes, like the way they had gotten drunk and cursed the world together in Gibbs' basement the night after Kate's funeral. Other times, it was just a moment in time, seemingly unimportant at the time, but had stuck in Tony's head nonetheless, like the brief moment their eyes would meet after a shared joke at Ziva or Tim's expense.
Tony knew who had come even before he saw the man and his annoying toothpick. "Director Vance."
Vance took a seat on a chair two seats from Tony's. "I expected that as senior agent you would be out there following up on this case."
Tony shrugged. "The bad guy is dead. Let the others deal with the cleanup. I have other things to do."
Vance, surprisingly, let that slide. "How's he doing?"
"They haven't come out to say yet," Tony said. He continued to stare at the picture of a sailboat on the opposite wall. "Abby know?"
"She's cussing up a blue streak because I told her I wanted the evidence catalogued before she came over here. I don't want there to be any questions about how things were handled after the fact."
"It was a clean kill," Tony said tiredly. "Justified. He'd already wounded Gibbs and was reaching for his gun when I fired."
"I know," Vance said. "We've got the whole thing—audio and video—recorded on the surveillance tapes. You were by the book. And before you beat yourself up too badly, you couldn't have done anything differently to prevent the attack on Gibbs."
Tony snorted in disgust. He knew that. It didn't feel that way, but he knew that he couldn't have done anything to prevent the fucker from hitting Gibbs. The problem wasn't that he blamed himself. The problem was he blamed the job.
"I'm putting in for a leave of absence," Tony said.
Vance was quiet for a moment before he nodded his agreement. "Okay. How long?"
"No idea," Tony told him. "As long as it takes."
Again, Tony let the person he was talking to come to his own conclusions. He knew that Vance was probably thinking that he was intending to stay gone while Gibbs was in the hospital, and possibly for a little while after he was released, to care for him. Assuming he survived. But in truth, Tony needed time to consider what the fuck he wanted out of his life. Did he really want to spend the rest of his life chasing after bad guys? He was getting too old for this shit. The only thing that kept him coming back to NCIS was the fact that his colleagues were more like a family to him than anything he had ever had before. And Gibbs.
"I'll need your statement on the shooting," Vance said. "And I'll have the paperwork for the leave sent over for you to sign."
"Just have Tim bring it when he comes," Tony said. "He can take my statement then too."
"You'll let me know when you hear something?" Vance asked. He knew that his presence was not entirely welcomed by the agent and he would respect his feelings in this instance.
"I'll call," Tony said. "Or I'll make sure someone else does."
Vance stood up and headed for the door. He paused, however, and looked back at Tony. "He's a tough bastard."
"But he's not invincible," Tony said. Vance nodded and then disappeared out the door.
One by one the rest of the team arrived. Abby was first. She had rushed through processing the evidence and had arrived in a flurry of tears and anxiety. Tony didn't really have the wherewithal to cope with her fears on top of his own, so he was glad when Ducky arrived. He was in better shape for comforting the Goth. Tim and Ziva arrived together. They reported that they had processed everything at the scene and had then gone on to process the dead man's apartment. Tony only half listened to their report. And then he gave his statement to Tim and signed the leave papers that Vance had sent along. McGee had looked at him a little strangely when he handed over the papers, but he hadn't asked about the leave and Tony didn't offer anything.
When the doctor finally came out, Tony was the first on his feet. "How is he?"
"Mr. DiNozzo?" the doctor asked and Tony nodded. "Agent Gibbs is out of surgery and is in stable condition. As you know he has suffered a severe traumatic brain injury due to a depressed skull fracture. The damage was extensive, resulting in a subdural hematoma and diffuse axonal injuries. We believe we were able to repair much of the damage; our surgical team was able to relieve the buildup of pressure from the blood around his brain. We also repaired some of the damage done by the initial assault. Unfortunately, anytime you are dealing with a brain injury of this magnitude, it is impossible to tell the long term effects that it will have. The DAI alone often presents in unpredictable ways. He may wake up from surgery with nothing more than a headache. That is unlikely, however."
"What is likely?" Tony asked.
"The occipital lobe and the cerebellum, the areas of the brain that was most affected by the initial injury, control many important functions," the neurosurgeon said. "It could impair his ability to communicate. It could leave him blind. It could affect his motor skills. It could affect his ability to think or reason or his emotional control. We can make guesses based upon our scans and tests, but the truth is we simply won't know until he wakes up."
"But he will wake up?" Abby asked.
"I believe so," the doctor told her with a sympathetic smile. "There is a good chance, in cases such as this where the head trauma is so extensive, that he could slip into a coma. But, having said that, Agent Gibbs actually awoke twice during the surgery. It's a good sign."
He looked around the room filled with people and said, "Agent Gibbs is in recovery right now, but we will be moving him to the ICU in just a short while. I'm afraid only Mr. DiNozzo, as his legal next of kin, will be allowed to sit with him, but you will each be given the opportunity to have a short visit once we have him settled. I'm going to limit visits to five minutes per person, and only once every three hours. Mr. DiNozzo, I'll have a nurse come get you once he's been transferred."
The doctor left after that and everyone was subdued. Tony retook his seat and waited for the nurse. Tony could hear the others talking in hushed voices, but he wasn't concerned with whatever it was they were saying. He was too busy thinking about the fact that Gibbs could be facing some seriously life-altering impairments as a result of this injury. Unable to communicate, blind, unable to walk properly, unable to think properly… He wondered how Gibbs would cope if any of that was the case. Gibbs was such a fiercely independent and strong person. How would he react if he had to rely upon others for the rest of his life?
"Why did he say that Gibbs woke up during surgery?" Tony asked Ducky, interrupting the hushed conversation.
"Any time they perform neurosurgery, it is preferred to have the patient awake and alert so that they can gauge their response to certain direct stimuli," Ducky explained. "They use a local anesthetic rather than putting the patient under general anesthesia. It is quite common for the surgeons to have conversations with their patients through an entire procedure."
Tony nodded and went back to brooding. He ignored the worried looks the others were shooting him. He knew that he was behaving out of character. He knew that they expected him to be more talkative, more supportive, as he usually was during a crisis. He knew that they had expected him to take charge of the investigation and worry about Gibbs after it was done. He knew that they were concerned for him, but he just couldn't bring himself to reassure them.
When the nurse finally came to take him to the ICU, Tony was relieved to leave them behind.
"I'll stop by your place and bring a change of clothes," Abby said.
Tony paused in the doorway. His place. "My stuff is at Gibbs'. In the spare room. My building was condemned a couple months ago and I've been staying there."
The fact that none of them knew such a simple fact about his life seemed irrelevant to Tony in that moment, but they all looked shocked. He wasn't about to explain so he just followed the nurse down the hall to the bank of elevators.
The ICU was like every other ICU that Tony had either visited or occupied himself, so there were no real surprises. And Gibbs looked a lot better this time than he had when he'd been blown up. The only real sign that he had been injured at all was the fact that his head was wrapped in gauze bandages. Gibbs was unconscious when Tony took the seat beside his bed and clasped his hand, but that movement seemed to cause him to stir.
"Gibbs?" Tony said quietly. Gibbs' eyes didn't open, but the fingers on his hand twitched and then tightened slightly around Tony's. Tony sighed. "You're going to be alright. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere until you get better. The doctor said that there could be some damage from the injury, but he doesn't know you like I do. You've got the hardest head of any person I've ever met or even heard of. It'll take more than a little bit of steel to do any real damage."
Tony sighed again. He knew that talking to an unconscious patient was supposed to benefit the patient, but he was never really sure that it was true. "You know, I put in for a leave. Vance thinks it's because of you. And maybe it is in part, but mostly it's because I'm just so sick of waking up in the hospital or watching over you when you are. But I'm not going anywhere."
There was another squeeze from Gibbs and Tony wondered if that was just coincidence, or a response of some kind. "Can you hear me, Gibbs?" Another squeeze. Tony's heart began to beat a little faster. "Can you wake up for me? Just open your eyes?" There was no response, but Tony thought he saw a slight shift in Gibbs' face, as though he was struggling to comply with Tony's request, before his face went lax again. "It's okay, you can rest for now. I've got your six."
Gibbs' hand slackened and Tony was sure that he was asleep once again. He sighed and sat back in his chair to watch Gibbs sleep.
The others were allowed to visit, and Tony sat stoically through each five minute period. He accepted the hug that Abby offered and listened as Ducky offered comforting words. He let Ziva watch him warily without comment. He even gave McGee a nod of encouragement when the younger agent looked uncertain about leaving Tony alone again at the end of his visit. He knew that they were worried about Gibbs, and about him. He cared about them and didn't wish to add to their concerns, but in those hours all Tony could focus on was Gibbs and having him awake and aware once again.
The neurosurgeon came along with a neurologist and they examined Gibbs. Nurses came and went, checking vitals and changing the IV. Tony sat through it all and when they were left in peace once more he would talk. The topics varied widely: the cars that Tony liked; the movies that were scheduled to be released that summer; the latest changes in the NCIS handbook; Ohio State's chances to go to a bowl game that year; and the newest models of handguns.
As the evening slipped into late night, the topics changed, became more personal. Tony spoke of his childhood and his early years as a cop. He told Gibbs about how much it had meant to him to have someone like Gibbs see potential in him and take a chance on him when they first met on that case in Baltimore. He told his friend about his doubts about continuing to do the job that had meant so much to him through the years.
At some point, Tony fell asleep with his head resting on the side of Gibbs' bed and his hand still holding the other man's.