Okay, so somehow Saturday turned into Sunday and then Sunday turned into Wednesday, and this managed to fall to the back burner with everything that happened last week out here. Needless to say, it's nice to get back to some form of normal, just in time for this story to be complete. Hope you all enjoy it, and the next time you get a chance, thank a first responder for everything that they do. It's not always an easy job, but someone's got to do it.
Without further delay, here is - finally - the last chapter of Emergency Response.
Chapter 4 – Advanced Level Support
If Gibbs thought that their troubles were over when his agent had woken up briefly on the asphalt, he was sorely mistaken. Buckles had been quickly clicked into place across Tony's chest, hips, and legs; the young man was lifted onto a stretcher before Gibbs could even process that they were moving. Shock, blood loss, pain, and coming back from the dead had combined to sap whatever strength DiNozzo had left in his reserve and threatened to pull him back down to unconsciousness. As the doors to the bus shut and the engine started, Christian had turned his head enough to watch what was happening to Tony.
The medics had heartily suggested that Christian ride in front where the seat had a belt, but the boy had been significantly revived by the oxygen and his grip on Gibbs' hair – which had been painful enough on scene – had only intensified. It was a safe bet that he was going to be missing quite a few of those hairs before Christian was back in his father's arms. Tony's condition had pre-empted a lengthy debate with the EMT's, and when the boy showed no signs of giving up his personal security blanket-slash-hero and Gibbs had simply sat them both in the back of the rig, they'd ignored protocol over the severity of the situation. It briefly crossed Gibbs' mind that they hadn't even attempted to pry him from his agent's side.
Now, Gibbs was sitting by DiNozzo's head trying not to listen to the medical babble being relayed over the radio – his aching head could only take so much abuse. He wasn't sure whether or not he'd be better off at the moment with Ducky sitting next to him translating what was being divulged about Tony's condition. Ignorance was bliss in most cases, but the pallor of his agent's skin coupled with the blood that stained through the gauze taped to his temple was making Gibbs itch with the need for good old fashioned English updates. Blood pressure readings and pulse and respiration rates meant little to the Marine, and he concentrated more on the tone in which the numbers were delivered. There was a calm, detached cadence to the young man's voice, but years of interrogating suspects allowed Gibbs to hear the urgency behind the professionalism. It was enough to set the older man teetering more precariously on the edge of his own level of patience – or lack thereof at the moment. Heaven help the EMT – who looked like he should still be in high school – if he didn't start giving Gibbs some answers within the next few minutes.
Some semblance of self-preservation must have filtered through the kid's focus on his patient, and he offered up a smile and a quick, "this is all to be expected, sir," before applying another square of gauze to the growing stack already pressing down on Tony's temple.
Gibbs didn't have the energy to scowl at being called "sir". Instead, he just nodded and turned his gaze to where he was still holding Tony's hand. He was sure that DiNozzo would have some kind of sarcastic comment about getting in touch with his feminine side at the gesture, some quote from yet another film the taciturn agent had never bothered to watch – or wouldn't admit to if he had, indeed, sat through it at one time or another. It didn't matter; Gibbs simply didn't care at the moment if he was acting out of character. The only movie that was coming to mind at the moment was one of Diane's favorites, Backdraft, and Gibbs remembered the ending well enough to not want to draw on the similarities at the moment. "You go; we go" had more meaning today than it ever had in the comfort of his own home.
Tony's eyes kept fluttering and Gibbs wondered if it was selfish of him to hope that the young man would fight his way back to consciousness. He could have hoped for alert, but the momentary glimpse of clarity on scene had quickly faded into a shock induced haze that volleyed back and forth between inane babble and eerie silence. Even Christian seemed to tense when DiNozzo trailed off – as if each time might be the last. Neither one of them needed to be a medical genius to understand that the young man on the stretcher was still dangerously close to not making it to the hospital – despite the EMT's earlier reassurance.
It was during one of Tony's bouts of semi-conscious muttering that Gibbs started looking anxiously at his watch. He hadn't heard anything about an ETA to the hospital and he couldn't help thinking the sooner the better. Tony was mumbling something about not being eaten by the "dragon bear", whatever that was supposed to be, but it was the barely controlled look of panic in his eyes that had the NCIS agent silently willing the ambulance to move faster. Not many people were privy to the man behind Tony's many masks; Gibbs had been the exception from the beginning. He was sure that the young man floating on a cloud of shock and pain meds had no intention of dropping his masks now. Whatever DiNozzo was imagining, it was a sure bet that it was something better discussed amidst work on the boat and dusty jars of bourbon – alone and in Gibbs' basement. Tony being able to form a coherent thought would be a plus, although Gibbs had worked with less.
Christian squirmed in Gibbs' grasp and mumbled something into the oxygen mask. His eyes were still watery and red, but it seemed the safety of the ambulance set some of his fears at bay.
"What was that, Bud?" Gibbs lifted the mask slightly so he could hear the boy better.
Christian's smile was impish and a hint of mischief was returning to his eyes. He was slowly starting to look more like the boy grinning in his school picture rather than the terrified victim that first Tony and then Gibbs had found.
"Are we there yet?"
The barked laugh that escaped from the agent only managed to make his charge scowl and the EMT jump. Gibbs was about to find out an answer when the sound of worn brakes being engaged reached him. The engine cut out and they were on the move again.
The relative quiet of the ambulance was long forgotten as Gibbs was efficiently separated from his agent and directed to bring Christian straight back into an exam room in the Emergency Department. Acting in loco parentis for the boy afforded Gibbs the right to remain with his charge until the elder Thompson could be contacted, but it presented him with a division of priorities. Morrow needed to be updated, the Admiral needed to be directed to the hospital, and Gibbs needed to be continually apprised of DiNozzo's status. All of this would be infinitely easier without being sequestered in a room painted in colors so bright that they actually hurt Gibbs' eyes. Pediatric examination room or not, the NCIS agent was pretty sure at least one of his ex-wives would have something to say about the ridiculous color scheme.
Regardless, there wasn't much Gibbs could do until someone directed him to an outside line. For the time being, he allowed himself a moment's respite as he settled back against the raised head of the bed and finally took the weight off his beleaguered knees. He really was getting too old for this kind of stuff.
Gibbs was sure he had just gotten Christian settled against his chest and blinked when his shoulder was jostled. The nurse at his side looked as if she weren't much older than the EMT had been, but the soft smile was welcome after the stress of the last two days. Sitting up carefully, Gibbs swung his legs off the bed and stood shakily to his feet.
Christian eyed the woman warily, but finally relinquished his grip on Gibbs' shirt and hair when the agent moved to transfer him to the bed.
"Think you can let the nurse take a look at you now?" Gibbs softly directed the question at Christian, smiling reassuringly at him when the boy nodded his hesitant acquiescence. Bright blue eyes tracked him as the agent backed out of the way.
"Phone?" Gibbs' voice was much more gruff and succinct when aimed at the nurse.
Her timbre of voice didn't change from the soothing tones she used with Christian, but the look she threw at Gibbs was icy at his less than stellar mannerism. Clearly, she didn't appreciate the intricacies of the language known as 'Marine'. "Across from the door. Dial 9 for an outside line."
Gibbs nodded and turned to step away, but thought better of it. "Christian, I'm just going to call your Daddy so he can come get you, all right? You'll be able to see me from the door, and I'll be right back."
The boy's eyes widened at the mention of his father, and he nodded enthusiastically. It was all the prompting Gibbs needed.
Once in the hallway, Gibbs dug out the business card with Admiral Thompson's personal cell scratched onto the back. Protocol dictated that he report in first, but after the number of times Thompson had called in to Gibbs' and Tony's cell phones, the senior agent felt justified in the breach. Family came first.
The Admiral was understandably choked up at the news, and vowed to meet Gibbs at the hospital as soon as he could get his driver to get them there.
That taken care of, Gibbs dialed in to Morrow's office out of instinct, waited as patiently as he could manage as the director's secretary connected him, and reported in. Unable to give an update on either Christian's or DiNozzo's conditions, the phone call was short. Both calls were completed in a matter of minutes.
The delay was long enough for the young nurse to complete basic triage of her patient and Gibbs stopped her on her way out of the room.
"The doctor will be in to see him shortly, Agent…" her tone was far cooler now that the boy was out of earshot.
"Gibbs. I need to be kept updated on my agent's condition as well. He was brought in with Christian." His tone was no less gruff than before.
"And you need to be cleared too, sir. I'll let the desk know where you are." She was gone before Gibbs could bristle at being called 'sir' for the second time that day or to deny his own need for medical attention.
Gibbs submitted to the ER attending's examination with as much patience as he could muster. Considering the stress of the last two and a half days, the NCIS agent was surprised that the doctor made it out of the room in one piece. The tell-tale red tinge to the younger man's ears spoke to the gruff nature that the Marine employed, but Gibbs didn't give it a second thought. If grown men couldn't handle his level of intensity, well then they didn't deserve to try and waylay him from finding out about DiNozzo.
He heard Christian snicker as the door shut with a hasty click, and gave him a sideways glance. The boy had the sense to look bashful at being caught out, but the smile didn't leave his eyes. With the terror of the past few days fading from his young memory, like any young child, Christian was starting to test the boundaries his temporary protector would set.
"You sure scared him good, Agent Gibbs." The grin leaked into the boy's tone of voice and simultaneously set Gibbs' mind at ease as well as reminded him of a certain agent of his that had no regard for the Marine's standoffish nature.
"Did I, now? Well, I guess…" he didn't get to finish his sentence as Christian started wiggling to get off the bed and let out a high pitched squeal.
Gibbs turned from the chair he had been resting in post-examination just in time to see the Admiral scoop his son up tightly into his arms. As the father dropped to his knees with Christian's head buried in his shoulder, Gibbs noticed the tears that were starting to well in the man's eyes. The iron-faced man refused to let them fall, but the relief that emanated from Thompson in waves tempered the stoicism that years in the Navy had drilled into him. The NCIS Agent tried his best to push aside the resentment that crept up on him. He'd shed plenty of tears over the loss of Kelly and Shannon, and couldn't help wondering what it would have been like if he'd been able to hold his daughter one more time.
Corralling Kelly and Shannon back into the vault of memories took a little longer than Gibbs had planned, but when they were safely locked away again, he was able to focus on the reunion in front of him. Christian's voice was picking up in volume and intensity as he told his father all about Tony.
"You should've seen him, Daddy! He came busting through the door just like Superman and beat Mr. Delaney up! Even after he got hurt and everything. He scared him so bad that Mr. Delaney had to hide him and run away and then Agent Gibbs came and found us! Then Agent Gibbs had to kiss him and make him better so the firemen could get us all out. They took him someplace else when we got here, though. Can we go see him, Daddy? I wanna ask him if he can come to show and tell with me at school. The other kids will think he's the coolest. Can we? Please?"
Thompson would probably have given Christian the world if only he'd asked, but the Admiral was having trouble keeping up with the story. He looked over the boy's shoulder in askance.
"He's talking about Agent DiNozzo. He was hurt rescuing Christian." Whatever else he might have said was aborted when Gibbs caught sight of the ER nurse from earlier approaching them.
"Agent Gibbs?" the nurse had the grace to tone down her own annoyance at their previous encounter. "Agent DiNozzo is awake. If you'll follow me…"
Gibbs didn't look back, even when he heard the boy tell his father to follow along. Christian was taken care of. Now, he had another lost charge to look after.
DiNozzo looked nothing like the larger than life hero that Christian's story had painted him as. Gibbs imagined the normally cocky agent would be basking in well-earned glory – despite the fact that he'd spent most of the rescue unconscious. The young man had died momentarily, after all. Gibbs figured he'd earned the right to crow a little.
The elder agent sure as hell didn't expect to see Tony looking more and more like a kicked puppy as Admiral Thompson had been falling over himself to thank DiNozzo for bringing his son back to him. Gibbs had kept out of the limelight, not needing the open praise for a job well done. The Admiral had seemed to understand that a handshake and a quiet "thank you" were more than enough for the Marine who had handed his son back to him. The fact that he and DiNozzo were around to see Thompson get to hug his son one more time, to be able to take the boy home and watch him grow up – well, that was enough for Gibbs. His teammate, on the other hand, usually needed the verbal reminder that he'd done well. Up until now, Gibbs had assumed the man just had an insatiable need to be the center of attention – he'd seen it often enough working with him over the past year.
Gibbs knew Tony had his masks, his easy deflections away from his true character. He hadn't pushed too hard in the past, content to know that when it all came to a head, DiNozzo would be right in the thick of things acting every bit the professional and tenacious investigator that he was. Perhaps that needed to change. Clearly, Tony needed to understand where he stood as an agent at NCIS, as a member of Gibbs' team, as a part of the eclectic group that Abby kept referring to as family.
He wisely held his tongue until a now-sleepy Christian called out his last goodbye from where his head rested on the Admiral's shoulder. Gibbs could picture Kelly curled into Shannon's shoulder, complete with a thumb stuck securely in her mouth, and it took him a few minutes to put the lid on those memories. He had present issues to deal with and they came in the form of one Anthony DiNozzo, Jr.
"What is it, DiNozzo?" He kept his tone gruff and nonchalant. One thing he'd picked up fairly quickly was that to show open concern to Tony was tantamount to sending him sprinting in the other direction. What would happen to the young man in his current state, Gibbs wasn't sure, but he wasn't about to tempt fate any more today.
Gibbs expected deflection. He expected a smartass remark or a flippant assurance once again that he was 'fine'. He expected some sort of movie reference or bad attempt at an accent.
But the metaphorical roller coaster that Tony had been on in the past few hours had already bowled through most of his defenses. When he spoke, the words were quiet and resigned. Gibbs wondered how much of that was the smoke-abused trachea or the pain that was being masked through IV medication, and how much was emotional response.
"You shouldn't have done it, Gibbs."
"Done what?" He had a sneaking suspicion as to exactly what Tony was referring to, but before he jumped the gun, Gibbs wanted to see what the young man would say.
Tony sighed and it seemed to Gibbs as though he was shrinking further back into the pillows behind him before he spoke. It was as close to running as the younger man could manage at the moment, and the movement didn't go unnoticed.
"Risked yourself and Christian. He was the priority. You should have gotten him out safely and made sure he was okay."
Gibbs bristled at the matter-of-fact tone that DiNozzo was sporting. Does he really think so little of himself?
"Christian is fine. He was fine at the time as well. You were unconscious, not breathing, and had no pulse. Check your ABC's, DiNozzo. That made you the priority." Gibbs didn't think he would need to justify his actions to anyone, least of all his subordinate. Morrow hadn't even questioned his decisions and there had been a two-star Admiral breathing down both their necks at the time.
The look on DiNozzo's face suggested that the fact that the seven-year old had been frightened was enough to make him the priority. He grew wise enough not to comment on that with a perfectly timed and pointed glare from Gibbs. The younger man simply dropped his gaze and turned his head away before he spoke again.
"It shouldn't have gone down like that. I shouldn't even have been a thought. You should have taken Christian and beat it out of there. I mean…"
"DiNozzo." Gibbs' gruff call was ignored.
"Who knows what could have happened. There was no guarantee that you getting me out would have changed things, right Boss?"
"Tony." Exasperation started to tinge the older man's voice.
"You should have just taken Christian and gone. That's it." Tony didn't even sound as if he cared that doing so would have resulted in his death.
"DiNozzo." Enough was enough. Gibbs took a step forward and raised his hand to smack some sense into the back of Tony's head.
"Jethro! I swear if you even think about hitting the back of his head right now, I won't be responsible for my actions." The medical examiner had just walked in the door at that moment.
Gibbs aborted his movement so quickly that it looked as though his hand was attached to a rubber band. He noticed the smirk pull at the corner of Tony's lip and was both grateful to see it and simultaneously annoyed. A quick glare reminded the younger investigator that he should have the good grace to look abashed for the audacity of finding humor at his boss's expense.
"And don't think you're going to get out of a lecture, young man." Ducky turned his quickly melting ire on DiNozzo. "I believe I told you specifically about the dangers of receiving a second blow to the head so soon after the first. You're lucky you didn't cause any permanent damage."
A soft smile directed at Tony assured both Gibbs and DiNozzo that the older man didn't expect anything less given the situation. It didn't mean he hadn't been worried and the best way to remind Tony of that was with the stern concern. After all, trying to talk to Tony about his health was almost as bad as telling Gibbs he should lay off the caffeine.
"Don't you mean any more permanent damage, Duck?" Gibbs' quip was met with a withering look from the older man.
DiNozzo took it all in stride, strengthening his smirk and pulling yet another mask more firmly in place as he responded. "Well, next time I'll make sure to let the raving lunatic know that repeated blows to my head are on your list of 'don'ts'."
Gibbs wasn't entirely sure if Tony was being defensive or sarcastic. Either way, it was pissing him off. He turned to Ducky, and pointed at the door.
"I need the room, Duck."
Ducky didn't move for a moment. "Jethro…" he trailed off, and Gibbs wasn't sure about what would have come out of his mouth next.
"I promise I won't do any permanent harm, yet. Just need to straighten a few things out." The last part of his promise was delivered in a far gruffer tone than he'd intended, but was meant to get the point across. Gibbs waited until Ducky had reluctantly walked out of sight before he turned on his agent again. The glimpses under Tony's masks continued to surprise him today – was that fear in his eyes? It only took an instant for Tony's face to drop back into carefully disguised indifference and Gibbs couldn't be entirely sure he'd actually seen the emotion flash in the green eyes.
He was sure, however, that he saw the almost imperceptible flinch from DiNozzo as Gibbs took a step forward. He stopped in his tracks and lowered the tone of his voice until it sounded soft, even to his own ears. He had spoken to frightened children more forcefully.
"You may think that little of yourself, DiNozzo, but try to remember that the rest of us don't." He deliberately stressed the word 'us' in attempt to reassure Tony that he cared as well. It seemed to settle the young man enough that he risked stepping forward again. When DiNozzo didn't react to the movement, Gibbs dropped down into the uncomfortable plastic chair next to the bed. "You did your job today, and you did a damned fine job of it. Don't think for a second that I don't see that. And to that little boy? And his father? You were a bonafide hero today."
Gibbs expected a non-committal nod. He hoped for acceptance. He should have known better. DiNozzo didn't fit any mold Gibbs tried to carve out for him.
"Yeah, some hero I am. I managed to not only piss off an ex-SEAL and almost get a kid killed, but also managed to actually get myself killed. If you hadn't been around, Christian would be dead and Admiral Thompson would be…" he trailed off with wide eyes before he finished that thought – be in the same boat as you. Mourning his child's death.
"He's not, DiNozzo. You found Christian. You distracted Delaney from whatever he was about to do with the boy. Do you think he was in that room to make sure Christian was comfortable? He started a fire. He left his hostage tied to a chair. Delaney was going to kill him, Tony. If it weren't for you, Admiral Thompson wouldn't have his son anymore." Gibbs watched him shut down – he could almost see the walls come crashing back into place – and it didn't take Tony's next comment for him to know that he hadn't gotten through to the young man.
"Still think you should've gotten the kid out first and then come back for me…if it was safe." Tony's voice was quiet and the air of defeat in his words settled poorly in Gibbs' gut.
His hard-ass Marine stare wasn't getting through. Maybe sarcasm would – God knows DiNozzo had both responded to it and dished it out in the past.
"Couldn't. Christian was kind of persistent about keeping you around. Seemed to think that you're worth it or something."
DiNozzo snorted his opinion of that but Gibbs plowed forward before Tony could even think about speaking.
"And so do I, Anthony." Gibbs' voice was gentle and sincere. He hoped the blunt endorsement would get through. The surprised look on Tony's face seemed to show that it worked. Gibbs wasn't overly surprised though, when it didn't stop Tony from protesting.
"Look, DiNozzo. I don't know where you got this hare-brained idea that you're expendable, but if all I'd wanted for a teammate was a tool or a diversion, I'd have left your ass out to dry in Baltimore and gotten Abby to make me a robot."
DiNozzo continued to look downright bashful at the endorsement and tried to cover it with humor. "Yeah, that would have worked. You'd tell it to bust down a door and it'd dance a jig or something."
Gibbs glared. He was sure that Tony was missing the point on purpose. He was sorely tempted to ask if Tony thought his ability to follow orders was any better than this hypothetical robot, but had a nagging feeling that the younger agent would miss the sarcasm right now. He was cut off by Tony's backtracking before he could test out the theory anyway.
"Not that I could do any better with it – has nothing to do with your technology skills, Boss. It would probably shoot me instead."
Gibbs couldn't help it; he snickered. The image of the robot out of the old Lost in Space television series shooting DiNozzo in the foot – or somewhere slightly…higher and more embarrassing – came to mind and ruined the serious idea he'd been trying to beat into Tony's psyche. He could tell that he probably wasn't going to get through Tony's thick skull with words any time soon. He'd just have to keep it in mind to show him.
"Keep it up, DiNozzo. You keep trying to convince me you're not worth it and next time maybe I'll listen." There was a hint of humor in the sardonic rebuke. Gibbs kept his tone light as he continued. They both needed the comic relief right now. "Jesus, I thought you were a pain when you're conscious, but you're an absolute nightmare as dead weight."
Gibbs blanched suddenly as the absolute severity of his words nearly floored him. He'd come so close to losing DiNozzo just hours before. He didn't even have to concentrate to picture what Tony's face had looked like as he lay clinically dead in the stairwell each time Gibbs restarted CPR. He didn't have to imagine what the young man would look like on Ducky's autopsy table. He'd seen it through the smoke and haze. All kidding aside, Gibbs was damned lucky that the worst thing that had come from today was a pro forma investigation into Delaney's death and Morrow's insistence that he pick up another team member. It could have been so much worse.
And DiNozzo wanted him to take that all with a grain of salt and throw it aside? For something as trivial as his own health? If he was going to keep the younger investigator around, Gibbs had to make Tony realize exactly where he stood on leaving people behind. When he spoke again, his words were strained with a level of conviction that he hadn't realized he was still capable of. His tone was soft and determined, as if nothing he had said to DiNozzo before had ever held this much importance.
"You listen; and you listen good, DiNozzo. Because I'm only going to say this once." Gibbs waited until Tony's eyes met his and his quirky smile stilled. The younger man's face was still too pale underneath the bruises and gauze for Gibbs' liking, but there was at least some color replacing the gray visage that was permanently etched into the Marine's brain. When he was sure that Tony was paying complete attention, he continued in the same quiet tone.
"I don't care what the situation turns into or what kind of reasoning you or anyone else may have. You're a member of my team now and it's going to stay that way for a good long time if I have anything to say about it." Gibbs paused to make sure there was no way DiNozzo could doubt him. "It will be a cold day in Hell before I leave you behind anywhere, Anthony. You got me?"
He could see that Tony wanted to protest. Gibbs could read the emotions playing across the younger man's face – Tony clearly wanted to get through to Gibbs that he wasn't worth all that. That no one had ever been that insistent on his survival before. Ever. But the hard stare and the depth of compassion in Gibbs' steely gaze were cutting to the quick. If Gibbs had to put a label on the tone he was using, it would have to be resolute – or maybe even as far as grave. No one could mount a defense against that level of sincerity. So the Marine watched as Tony did the only thing he possibly could – the one thing that Gibbs was laying all of his chips down on.
Tony believed him.