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His head hurt. There was nothing else to say, that really just summed it up. He could wax on about how it feels as if howitzers are firing or Sherman tanks were rumbling through but he was never a man of many words. Why go through all the extra work when it all came back to one thing; his head, it hurt.

It started right between his eyes, and for the first few hours pinching the bridge of his nose brought a small amount of relief. The real relief would come when he could turn in the budget worksheets he had been trying to finish all morning. His other paperwork—case updates, personnel reviews, requisitions—he had knocked out that morning before his team arrived. This, the budget worksheets were a thorn in his side, one that was nudged not so gently earlier by Jen’s assistant Cynthia.

Taking his glasses off, Gibbs rubbed his eyes, pressing them back into their sockets, before looking at his team. His sight was a little blurry for a moment, his eyes protesting the pressure he put on them, but it was clear they were getting restless, no active case at the moment and all of their required paperwork was in. If they weren’t called out, Tony and Ziva had fire arms rectification to complete this afternoon and he would probably send McGee along to practice at the range.

Gibbs surveyed the rest of the bullpen, taking note of new faces and nodding to a few he recognized. McGee was on the phone, talking in some foreign language involving acronyms that Gibbs couldn’t keep up with. In the corner of his vision,  Gibbs saw something fly across the aisle from Ziva’s desk to Tony’s. Tony gave a small squeak as whatever it was met its mark and looked ready to retaliate when he noticed Gibbs.

“Oh, hey Boss. Ziva and I were just um…” Tony trailed off, waving his left hand between him and Ziva as if it explained everything.

“Going to lunch.” Gibbs answered for him. Going to lunch, leaving, taking McGee with them before their petty argument escalated and Gibbs was forced to consider bodily harm. HR frowned upon bodily harm, and he really didn’t want to sit through any more seminars about getting along in the workplace.

“We were?” Tony gave him a confused look before catching on. “Of course Boss, come on Ziva.”

“Boss?” McGee was off the phone and looking questioningly at Gibbs, seeing Tony and Ziva getting ready to leave.

“Lunch, McGee.” Ziva answered, securing her weapon on her belt and snagging the jacket off the back of her chair.

Gibbs jerked his head to the right, motioning for McGee to go with the other two.

He waited for them to leave, the elevator doors softly grinding shut, before using both hands to scrub his face and rub at his temples.  That small budget worksheet stress induced headache was doing it’s best to go into a migraine. Pain, searing down the middle of his scalp to the base of his skull and wrapping around the right side of his head. Maybe lunch was a good idea, coffee at least, his stomach suddenly felt unhappy at the mention of food. But coffee, it usually helped his headaches, and maybe one of those pills the Gelfand had given him when Gibbs finally admitted that sometimes, the pain didn’t go away.

 


 

He should have knocked on wood this morning. Gibbs wouldn’t say that he was paranoid, or superstitious, he left that up to Abby, but he did believe in covering all of his bases. He should have knocked on wood this morning after thinking they would have an easy day. He knew it was the headache/migraine talking but he was actually looking forward to letting his team knock off early and have the weekend off.

The three had made it back from the firing range, bickering with each other as they came off the elevator and Gibbs was getting ready to send them home and out of his misery when his phone rang. It wasn’t dispatch for a change, or Cynthia asking for paperwork—he’d dutifully turned that in two hours before—it was Stan Burley. Gibbs worked with him for five years before Burley transferred to Agent Afloat on the USS Enterprise. Now Burley was stationed at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico and found himself with three dead civilians, a dead Marine Sergeant, and enough weaponry to invade a medium sized country.

After hanging up with Burley, Gibbs told them to ‘grab their gear’ and tossed the keys to the sedan at McGee.  The nearly hour drive to Butts Corner, Virginia was quiet as McGee, in shock from being allowed to drive—Gibbs never let anyone drive—didn’t make any attempt at conversation. Gibbs left his team working the house with Burley’s team and headed back out to the truck to collect more evidence markers and to see if Ducky had managed to arrive. Both Ducky and Palmer had terrible luck when it came to driving to crime scenes, it didn’t matter who drove. Reaching the back of the truck, Gibbs took his hat off and scrubbed at his head. His head was still killing him, the pain splitting right down the middle and settling at the base of his skull. He’d had just taken one of the pills from Gelfand when his team got back from the firing range.

Ducky arrived right as Gibbs stepped out of the truck. He nearly stumbled and fell as the ME’s van turned smoothly to park next to their truck, the sunlight bouncing off the windshield and right into his eyes. Gibbs recovered easily, hoping no one noticed, and waited for Ducky and Palmer to exit their vehicle.

“Jethro!” Ducky called as he rounded the passenger’s side of the van. “We would have been here sooner but Mr. Palmer turned to soon and we had to back track from Clifton.”

Gibbs gave a small smirk, it was always something, and not even one of those fancy GPS devices was able to help.

The back doors on the ME van opened and Palmer stepped out, turning to pull the gurney out and load gear on it. “I’m sorry Dr. Mallard, but I honestly thought the directions said turn left on 645, not State 641.”  

“No matter Duck, you’re here now.” Gibbs cut them off before they could get going on who was at fault or it tailspun into another story. “Three civilians, one Marine, all dead, are waiting.

“Quite right, Jethro.” Ducky reached over and picked up his kit from the gurney.  “Mr. Palmer gather everything we need, and…”

“Make arrangement to transport the other bodies, I’m on it Dr. Mallard.”

Palmer led the way back to the house as Gibbs and Ducky fell into step behind him. They were just shy of the front porch when Gibbs felt a hand on his arm pulling him back slightly. He looked down at the hand on his arm, following it upward until he came to the worried face of his older friend.

Ducky’s voice was quieter than usual, but heavily laced with concern.“Are you all right Jethro?”

“I’m fine.” He lied, even though he was well aware that of all people, Ducky would not buy it.

“You told me you were fine when you almost bled out after being shot.”

“I’m not bleeding and all my limbs are attached. I’m fine Duck.”

Ducky stared at him, eyes crinkling as he looked him over before giving a small ‘Hmph’ and turning to go help Palmer with getting the gurney up the few stairs into the house.

Gibbs sighed and pulled his hat off again. Balancing the evidence markers on his left forearm he carefully squeezed the bill between his hands, helping it to achieve a good curve; he hated breaking in a new hat. Settling it back on his head, he was getting ready to step up on to the porch when something caught his attention. A reddish smudge on the white frame around the cellar doors.

Gibbs quickly stepped into the house, exchanging some of the evidence markers for a camera and some swabs before heading back to the cellar doors. He worked quickly, the gravel in front of the doors digging into his knee as he knelt swabbing, labeling, and photographing; he’d need to see if they could lift some finger prints from off the door and around the frame. Carefully Gibbs scouted over the area around the door, looking for any other evidence that might have been left behind. He almost missed it, a footprint, in dirt on the other side of the gravel path he had been kneeling in.  

He smirked to himself, he wouldn’t even need Abby’s help to identify the type of shoe, Gibbs could recognize the familiar tread of a Converse Chuck Taylor All Star any day.  Placing a marker and photographing it, Gibbs spotted another footprint this time with blood. He placed a marker and photographed, repeating the procedure as he followed the trail that led up to the woods on the far west side of the property.

Stopping, Gibbs looked back at the house, debating on whether or not to keep following the trail, or return for get back up, or at least tell someone where he was going. He’d head slap a member of his team if they went off without telling someone. Gibbs put the camera strap around his neck and let it hang, using his now free hands to adjust his hat as he debated what to do. Sighing, he pulled his cellphone from his belt and flipped it open, he’d call Tony, have him meet him here before following the trail any further.

Finger hovering over the green call button, Gibbs heard a noise and swung around to face the trees, squinting, trying to see what caused the noise. His headache, that had subsided a little as he followed the trial, chose that moment to come back to life. A spark of pain blazed across his skull and he missed the movement on his right.

 


 

Tony hated hospitals, not that he thought someone liked them. He didn’t know one person who voluntarily went to one. Not counting the people that worked there that is, and visitors. He was there voluntarily right now, but he didn’t like the reason. Seeing a new born baby, that was a good reason to go to the hospital, he’d done that a few times with frat brothers and some good friends from work. Unfortunately his current reason for being here was that Gibbs was unconscious.

Tony knew that McGee had driven the sedan out to the crime scene because Gibbs’ head was probably about to explode. He knew about the headaches and the medicine that Gibbs occasionally took for them. Since his return from Mexico, he and Ducky had kept a worried eye on Gibbs. They were both aware that Gibbs had not quite remembered everything, and wasn’t as ‘fine’ as he said he was. Tony had gone to Gibbs’ house one morning when the boss had not shown up at work and found Gibbs on his couch, face shoved into the back cushion in an attempt to block out as much light as possible.

He wouldn’t describe Gibbs as a fidgety person, but he was rarely completely still. It was eery to see him so still, and Tony’s stomach clenched as he remembered the last time Gibbs was this still—after the explosion on the Bakir Kamir. It was too soon and Tony was afraid that Gibbs had run out of luck.  Gibbs had joked that he had been blown up twice, and that he didn’t think he had a third one in him. But was being beaten with a tree branch equal to getting blown up? Tony hoped it didn’t, he couldn’t handle it if Gibbs woke up with no memory again, or with something else wrong, and he knew that Abby wouldn’t handle it either.

He carefully pried himself out of the chair and stretched out. The muscles in his back and legs protested the awkward position they had been forced into. If only they made the chairs more comfortable, then again, how else would the staff convince people to leave when visiting hours were over. Tony had used his badge and considerable charm to persuade the staff to let him stay in the room with Gibbs and not in the waiting room at the end of the hall.

The door slid open and Tony looked over to see the nurse slipping in. She smiled at him and he smiled back, watching as she checked the monitors, adjusted the pillows under Gibbs’ right arm, then fiddled with the IV line for a moment before flashing Tony a smile and quietly leaving. Sighing, he raked his hands through his hair and looked over at his boss, willing him to wake up.

Tony felt bad for not keeping better tabs on Gibbs at the crime scene. Of course he knew that the Boss was capable of taking care of himself, but it didn’t stop him from worrying just a little. It wasn’t until after Ducky had finished examining the bodies and readied them for transport that he realized that he had not seen their fearless leader since Gibbs dropped off the evidence markers and picking up a camera. Tony made a quick check of the house and checked in with Stan Burley before he pulled out his cell phone and called Gibbs.

He didn’t answer and Tony didn’t hear the phone ringing anywhere in the house. It was easy to pick out Gibbs’ phone, it was the only one with the carrier standard ring tone. Gibbs didn’t know how to change it and not even Abby was brave enough to mess with his cell. Tony had walked outside calling his boss’s cell phone again as he looked around the vehicles and other law enforcement officers that were on site.  Making a loop around the house, Tony spotted the trail of evidence markers from the cellar doors leading off towards the crop of trees on the west side of the property.

Cell phone in hand, Tony tried Gibbs one more time as he followed the trail of markers towards the woods. When he still didn’t have an answer from Gibbs, he called Stan, filling him in on the evidence markers, trail, and that he was pretty sure he’d found where Gibbs had gone. He was still on the phone with Stan when he found Gibbs, about ten steps into the woods, unmoving curled up on his left side. He screamed at Stan to get Ducky before dropping next to his boss.

Gibbs’ jacket had several tears, his new ball cap was several feet away, there was blood, most of it covering his face and the dirt around his head. Tony knew that head wounds bled a lot, but it offered little comfort when he saw the bloodied end of the tree branch nearby.  He had made a quick sweep of the immediate area, he was torn between searching farther for whomever was responsible or staying with Gibbs. Ducky arrived with Stan and his team, and Tony ended up staying to help Ducky, while Stan and company searched the woods.

Tony shook himself, trying to get the image out of his head of his seemingly invincible hard ass Marine boss laying crumpled and bleeding. He looked over at Gibbs again, wishing he could do some type of Yoda-Jedi trick and make him to wake up. If that didn’t work, perhaps he just needed to call in Mike Franks to order Gibbs to do so. Tony was sure it was some Boss-Probie magic and figured if it worked for him —Gibbs ordering Tony not to die — surely it would work with Franks and Gibbs.

The door creaked and Tony turned to see Abby entering as quietly as she could.  Tony walked the short distance from the windows to meet her at the foot of the bed. She threw her arms around him, and Tony returned the hug.

“Hey Abbs.”

“Oh Tony! Ducky told me and I was so worried. I mean Gibbs, actually having to go to the hospital is never good. The last time that happened was when he was in the coma, and then he forgot everyone, and I don’t care what he says he’s still not okay. He still gets headaches, did you know that? They can be really bad at times.” She paused long enough to draw in a deep breath. “I hope this isn’t like that. I don’t know what I would do if Gibbs woke up and didn’t remember anything again. That was horrible Tony. Please tell me this isn’t going to be like that.”

‘Or perhaps Abby could guilt Gibbs into waking up.’ Tony thought to himself as he gave Abby another hug. He didn’t want to tell her that he was afraid of the same thing.

“Gibbs’ll be fine Abbs. He’s not in a coma, he was awake earlier, he’s just resting now.”

Which was kind of true. Gibbs had been awake earlier, or his eyes were at least open and moving. Gibbs had opened his eyes while he and Ducky were helping the medics secure him to the backboard but despite repeated attempts he never responded to anyone, never made a sound or twitched a finger. Ducky seemed to take it all in stride, continuing to talk to Gibbs on the way back to the house and the awaiting ambulance.

Tony on the other hand, was internally freaking out, only the need to find the bastard that did this had kept him from losing it. Stan and his senior agent, Charlie Jones, found the bastard all right, holed up in some brush a hundred yards away from where they found Gibbs. Tony watched as Stan and Charlie made it back to the house, Corporal Ashley ‘yes I am a guy’ Jacobson hopping on one foot between them, his left knee dislocated thanks to one Leroy Jethro Gibbs, if the boot print on the Corporal Jacobson’s pants was anything to go by.

“You had better not be sugar coating things.”

“I’m not Abby. Gibbs will be fine, cranky and sore as hell but fine. An impressive gash on his head that needed a few stitches, moderate concussion, lots of bruising but no internal bleeding, and his arm will need surgery, but they are waiting a little longer before taking him to surgery.” Tony sighed and ran a hand down his face. “I’m sure he’ll be awake and growling at both of us for standing around and gawking at him in no time.”

“Gibbs doesn’t growl Tony.” Abby told him, her voice almost back to its usual happy tone.

Tony scoffed. “Maybe not at you, but the rest of us, he growls.”

“You know his bark and growl are worse than his bite. He likes you guys.” Abby patted his arm then drifted the few feet to the head of Gibbs’ bed. She spoke to him, low enough that Tony could not make out what she was saying, then kissed cheek before walking back over to Tony and started to dig around in her bag.

“Here,” Abby held out a white paper sack and a bottle of juice. “Sister Rosita sent it for you when I stopped by on my way over here. I told her that Gibbs was hurt and that you were still here, because you know you always have Gibbs’ six, even when he’s being insufferable. And she wanted to make sure that you would have something to eat, and I guarantee you that the sandwich and brownie are like a million times better than anything in the vending machines or cafeteria. And you need to eat Tony, keep up your strength because who else will rein Gibbs in when he comes back to work too soon.”

Ducking his head, Tony smiled and gave Abby a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, and thank you to Sister Rosita and the rest of the nuns as well.”

“You are welcome!” Abby gave him a smile before turning to look back at Gibbs and frowning a little. “I wish I could stay with you, but I have to get to the lab. There’s all the evidence that you and Stan’s team collected and the photos that need to be analyzed and I want to make sure everything is perfect! There’s no way bad forensics will let that man get away with hurting Gibbs.”

“I’ll tell Gibbs that you were here, and I’ll be sure to bring you a Caff-Pow! when I come in to HQ later.”

“You’re the best Tony.” Abby gave him another hug before she left.

Tony retook his  seat next to the bed pulling the table over for his sandwich and brownie. He took a few bites of the sandwich before breaking off a small piece of the brownie and popping it in his mouth. Leaning back as he chewed he had to agreed with Abby, it was a million times better than any of the food at the hospital. Swallowing he reached for his drink, taking a healthy slug before looking back over at Gibbs.

“You better not make a liar out of me boss.”

 


 

Ducky was the lone rider in the elevator when the doors opened on the fifth floor. It was late afternoon and the floor was quiet as he stepped off and made his way over to the nurses station. He had wanted to be there this morning, before Jethro went into surgery, but Agent Balboa’s team had caught a hot case and he was needed in autopsy. Mr. Palmer was not quite ready to fly solo yet, and Dr. James Matthews, who worked part-time, was not available.

Stepping up to the nurses station, Ducky smiled and waited for the young lady to finish her phone call. While he had spoken very briefly on the phone with the surgeon’s resident earlier, Ducky was keen to see if there were notes in Jethro’s file yet. He talked with the nurses briefly while looking over Jethro’s chart, pleased to see that his friend had eaten some food at lunch and was starting to drink more water.  He bid them good bye and continued down the hall to Jethro’s room.

Ducky pushed open the door, walking over to the chair in the corner and moved it closer, draping his overcoat across the back.  Jethro had woken up several times over the past two days, each time more coherent than the first, and had put any fears to rest that he had lost his memory again.

“Ahh, Jethro, you do look better today.”  He looked over his friend before sitting down, taking in the relaxed features of sleep. The bruises had reached their peak color wise, and would soon start to fade. The bandage covering the gash on his head was smaller, the swelling in his face had decreased; overall he looked like he was on the mend.

“I do apologize for not being here this morning, but Agent Balboa landed a case and Dr. Matthews is still out of town. I fear it will not be long before Mr. Palmer is up to doing more on his own, though he still has much to learn. I saw Dr. Baker’s notes about surgery this morning.” Ducky paused to scrutinize Jethro’s right arm, taking in the metal pins that protruded and attached to the fixation bar, the discolored skin shiny and stretched due to swelling.

“Yes, his notes say that everything went well. He did have to use an external fixator, but he felt you would have a better outcome. You’ll be back to working on your boat soon enough.  Meanwhile, you will have plenty of time to get caught up on some reading. Cecilia at the library said they had not seen you in some time, and your books you had on hold were going to be re-shelved had I not picked them up on the way here. I left them on your coffee table and brought the two you had there. I know how you like to finish a book before starting another one. Though, I do implore you to find a new way to mark your pages. Really Jethro must you dog ear the corners, it’s not like you don’t have enough gum wrappers you could be using instead.”

The door opened and Gene, one of the nurses, stepped in, smiling as he made his way over.  Moving away from the bed Ducky smiled back and waited as Gene checked vital signs, IV and the swelling in Jethro’s fingers. The entire time he worked, Gene repeatedly tried to get a response from Jethro but was unsuccessful.

“Tell me Dr. Mallard, has he always been this difficult?” Gene smiled again as he made his chart notations.

Ducky shook his head. “I’m afraid so. However, that stubborn streak has served him well on numerous occasions.”

‘Also to his detriment.’ Ducky kept that thought to himself. Jethro would sink his teeth into a case and hold on tight, no matter how wild the ride might be. There was a litany of cases that Ducky could cite as an example; Jethro’s quest to find and kill Ari after Caitlin was shot and his pursuit of serial killer Kyle Boone were the most prominent ones that sprung to his mind. Jethro had changed a lot in the length of time that Ducky had known him. Then again, everyone changed over time; Ducky, was certainly not the same man that shoved the French cop off the cliff. Jethro was not the same young man, who joined the Marines & married Shannon, and he definitely was not the same agent that first captured Kyle Boone. While life was usually a gradual process, people coming out smoothly sculpted by their life experiences, some people, like Jethro, came out rougher, their edges cracked and splintered.

“Well, from the look of it seems like it’s served him well this time. I heard that Agent Gibbs here did some rather impressive damage to his assailant’s knee, he won’t be walking on it anytime soon.” Gene sounded impressed. “You have a good evening Dr. Mallard, I leave at four and Steph will be on shift this evening.”

Ducky laid a careful eye on his friend looking for any sign that he was actually awake. Given that Jethro had not even twitched when Gene took his blood pressure — something which Jethro normally detested — Ducky was fairly certain that he was deeply asleep but, one should never assume, always double check. Most definitely asleep. That was fine, after all it’s what he needed, Ducky could wait him out. Jennifer had once said that Jethro kept to his own time table and there could be no denying that. He had known Jethro for too many years to offer up any contradictory evidence that he operated on anyone else’s time schedule, especially not in medical realm. No, Jethro always seemed to do the opposite of what was expected.  

He’d been there more than once as Jethro woke up violently from anesthesia, or came around unexpectedly, scaring the staff in an ER. For a man that did not like surprises he was full of them. Jethro had actually been married four times! His first wife and daughter killed while he was in Kuwait. Ducky would never be able to forget the look on Jethro’s face when he woke up from the coma after the explosion on the Bakir Kamir; such pure anguish.

“At least we do not have to worry about that this time eh Jethro.” Ducky spoke his musing aloud. Jethro had woken up several times over the past two days, each time more coherent than the first, and had put any fears to rest that he had lost his memory again.

Settling back in the chair, Ducky picked up one of the books he had retrieved from the coffee table in Gibbs’ living room. Gibbs was an avid reader, one look around his living room, could tell you that. Books were stuffed into the overflowing built in shelves on either side of the fireplace and stacked along the mantel. And the variety of subjects and genres was mind boggling. The book that Ducky held in his hands, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land , really threw him for a loop. He had a hard time picturing Jethro reading science fiction.

“But, you are a man of more questions than answers my good friend. I do remember that this book caused quite the uproar when it came out. Did you know that one of the working titles for the book was The Heretic . Fitting since there were several reviews describing it as heretical rubbish. I’m a sure that you have made the connection between the title and  Exodus 2:22. ‘And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.”

Something, a flicker of movement and a muffled groan, caught Ducky’s attention. Setting the book on the floor by his feet, Ducky leaned forward in his chair, running an experienced eye over his close friend. Jethro’s face was pinched, brows knitted together and eyes tightly, but not clenched, shut, this usually meant he was in some discomfort but not severe pain. The fingers on his left hand flexing curling inward to form a fist before stretching back again. Ducky heard the click and snap of the joints in Jethro’s left leg, and gave a small shudder. There weren’t many things that could make him shudder but the particular sound that Jethro’s ankle and knee made was one of them.

“Jethro?”  

Jethro’s head rolled in Ducky’s direction but his eyes did not open. His face was still pinched as he continued to shift about restlessly. Fidget, a behavior that Ducky did not usually associates with snipers, but Jethro was always moving in some way or another.

“Oh come on now. I’m much too old to be waiting for you to finish playing opossum.” He kept his voice low, not wanting to startle to younger man, but also knowing that it would help him wake up. “Of course to do so properly you would not be such an izgő-mozgó! That book of Hungarian Phrases you gave me last year before my trip to Budapest came in handy, though I pointedly ignored your notes to some of the more questionable ones. If your team only knew the extent of your sense of humor.” Ducky shook his head in amusement. “My Uncle Maurice, Mother often says that I take after him, he was a font of idioms and proverbs from other languages. Despite that, and him speaking several languages fluently, he would say you are a right flibbity jibbit. I, however, am quite fond of the Yiddish Shpilkes, which loses something in the translation but roughly means that you have ants in your pants.”

“Not wearing any pants.” Jethro’s answer was subdued as his eyes finally slid open halfway, the blue irises still a bit cloudy from the recent anesthesia and pain medication.

“Crumbs in the bedsheets then?” Ducky smiled. “Good Afternoon Jethro. How are you feeling?”

“Hmmm.” He blinked several times, bringing his left hand up to clumsily rub at his face “A bit fuzzy. Tired. Thirsty.”

“Yes, that is to be expected.” Ducky passed Gibbs a cup of water, keeping a steadying hand underneath it. “It will take a while for the after affects of the anesthetic to wear off. I spoke with Dr. Benton, the resident, this morning on the phone after surgery and read Dr. Baker’s notes this afternoon. They were pleased with surgery, and expect to be able to remove those rather nasty looking pins in six to eight weeks.”

“Pins?” Jethro’s eyes went wide and he rolled his head over to look at his arm. He poked around the pins a few times and there was a small waggle of fingers, before turning his attention back to Ducky with a confused look on his face.  “Looks like it should hurt?”

Ducky didn’t bother hiding his amusement. “It’s numb right now, I’m sure it will make itself known later on.”

“Can’t wait.” Jethro’s reply was lost in a groan that morphed into a yawn. “Coffee?”

“Hold down dinner tonight, and I will bring you coffee tomorrow. You’ll thank me if you…” Ducky was interrupted by a knock on the door and the curtain being pushed aside. “Oh, hello there.”

“Good afternoon Dr. Mallard, Agent Gibbs, good to see you finally awake.” Stephanie, the same nurse that was on shift the previous evening, walked over to Jethro’s bed, placing a plastic caddy of supplies on the bed by his legs. “My name is Steph, and you’re stuck with me interrupting you for the next 8 hours.”

“If your name is Steph,” There was a pause as Jethro yawned yet again, “why does your badge say ‘Teoh’?”

“It’s a long story, and I’ll tell you after I clean the pin sites and all this other poking and prodding is over with.”

Ducky chuckled as he gathered his coat and hat, placing Stranger In a Strange Land with the other book. Jethro was in good hands and he really should be getting home to Mother.

“All right Jethro, I shall leave you in Stephanie’s more than capable hands. Abby said she was coming by after work, so I will see you in the morning.”

There was a soulful look on his friend’s face. “With coffee?”  

“Really, Jethro? Perhaps it’s time that you review your ‘addiction’ to this beverage.” Ducky patted his friends leg as he walked around the bed toward the door. “But yes, I’ll bring you coffee. And Jethro, as much as I have missed having time to simply sit and read a book, I do wish you would stop providing it to me in such a fashion.”

 


 

Gibbs yawned, and let his head fall back against the raised head of the bed. God, he was tired. He hated the fuzzy feeling the pain medicine gave him and was looking forward to no longer needing it. He appreciated the fact that it took away the pain from sore muscles and bruised flesh, and it lessened the unrelenting throb in his right arm, but it left him feeling like he just couldn’t stay awake. The last three, or was it four, days had been filled with yawns, head bobbing, and unexpected naps. It would start with a yawn, mouth stretching open so wide he thought his jaw would dislocate, it would tail spin from there, a few yawns, head bobbing as he’d start to doze only to jerk awake, and then a blink…that would take 30-40 minutes to finish. Sometimes entire afternoon was lost, or he’d doze off in the middle of a conversation-albeit mostly one sided-only to open his eyes to see someone entirely different next to him. It was disconcerting, especially when one of your ‘quirks’ was to be exceedingly aware of your surroundings.

He scrubbed at his face with his left hand, grimacing when the medical tape pulled at his arm hair. The nurse that removed the IV line was a little exuberant with the tape holding the cotton ball down; it was going to be a pain when he went to pull it off later. If his right hand would even be up to the challenge; he’d probably have to ask Ducky for help.

Gibbs looked at his right hand and wrist, it was propped up on several pillows next to him, letting his elbow bend naturally and keeping any awkward pressure off his shoulder. While it was still heavily discolored, It was not nearly was swollen as it had been. His fingers were still sluggish and weak feeling and it was extremely disconcerting to see pins protruding outward from his forearm and hand thumb. He could vaguely recall the doctor telling him it would be surgically set, but Gibbs was expecting a plate and screws to match the one in his leg from Kuwait.  At least it wasn’t a cast that Abby would colorfully doodle all over. Gibbs wasn’t aware that there were so many colors of Sharpies until Brad Thorton from the evidence lock up broke his ankle learning how to ice skate with his kids. Abby had had an entire plastic case full of the permanent markers in every conceivable colors, including metallics, sitting next to her as she added her own unique signature on the fiberglass cast.

He was getting too old for this. Too old for breaking down doors, chasing people, getting injured, and mentally processing the never ending stupidity and out right cruelty dealt out against others. It was getting harder and harder to abide by Rule 10. His joints were creakier than most other guys he knew his own age. None of them were spring chickens so to speak, but most didn’t consider buying stock in Advil and Cramergesic’s Ointment. It was only a matter of time before his left knee kept him out of the field for good. He could retire, he had enough time in, hell his retirement paperwork was probably still sitting in Jen’s office and only needing to be submitted to HR.

But that left him with the unanswered question — what would he do? Rule five stated that you don’t waste good. He was good at building boats, and other things, but he could not see himself doing that full time for a living.  Active duty in the Marines was out and Gibbs couldn’t see himself working for any other federal agency, if any of them would actually take him. He couldn’t sit at home doing nothing, and he couldn’t spend every hour working on his boat and other wood related projects. Even if it didn’t appear that way to others, Gibbs needed, maybe even craved, human interaction. Heading back south of the border to the beach and Mike Frank’s house wasn’t a long term option. Gibbs loved his former boss like family, but he couldn’t just check out the way Franks had, there was too much that he would have to leave behind.

And what was that exactly? What was there to leave behind? He’d been struggling with that question since he came back from Mexico. The entire Bakir Kamir-explosion-coma-amnesia mess had left him cracked, not quite all the way broken. Memories and emotions swirling around in his head, and trying to sort them out left Gibbs feeling like a dog chasing his tail as he tried to piece the splintered bits of his life back together. He’d got quite a bit back together in Mexico, but there were still many things nagging at him to remember and put back in place.

He could hear the gravely voice of Mike Franks in the back of his head telling him to, “Quit fartin’ around Probie and see the zebra already.”

Family.

He’d tried to keep himself from getting attached to anyone; tried to keep himself from caring too much. If you weren’t attached there was less pain, Gibbs had had more than enough pain in his life. Sure he’d had a couple of flings, short lived relationships that were ended before they could turn serious. But regarding his team, he’d failed spectacularly. Gibbs couldn’t deny feeling a sense of pride seeing Tony, McGee, and now Ziva learn and grow; that it tore at him, when they were physically injured or otherwise hurting.

He really did think of his team, Abby, Ducky, even Palmer and Fornell, as family. A functioning dysfunctional group of loyal misfits who all somehow managed to end up together. Despite all his determination to not get attached to anyone, he’d spectacularly failed when it came to them. He’d miss them something fierce if he were to leave, and he’d never be able to forgive himself if they got hurt when he wasn’t able to protect them. He’d do anything to protect them after all you do what you have to do for family — the unwritten rule.

Another yawn worked it’s way up and out as Gibbs turned to look out the window, taking in the not so stunning late night view of a parking lot glowing orange under its sodium vapor lights.  He hadn’t had nearly enough coffee, or bourbon, to be doing this much introspection.

 


 

Hearing was always the first sense to wake up for him. Maybe it was the same for most people, surely Ducky would know. Ducky would also go on to expound upon the subject in a series of thinly connected anecdotes. All that mattered was that someone was humming and singing — mostly on key — and it was kind of annoying. It was too low pitched to be Ziva, Abby didn’t listen to music you could hum to that often, and McGee wouldn’t be caught humming, let alone singing along to something only he could hear, which left DiNozzo. Gibbs drew in a deep breath through his nose, letting his chest expand despite the aching that flared, before letting it out slowly as he opened his eyes.  Eyeing the clock on the wall opposite his bed, Gibbs noted he’d lost another afternoon to sleeping.

Well, at least it was his last day in the hospital. Ducky was supposed to be picking him up this evening and hopefully dropping him off at home. His goal would be to convince the good doctor that he was perfectly capable of looking after himself. After a week in the hospital, he needed to be alone so that he could regroup, that would definitely not happen with Ducky’s mother Victoria and her pack of corgis around.

The noise kept up a steady pace, when the refrain of whatever song came around, the humming was exchanged for quite, almost inaudible singing. The melody was vaguely familiar, some song from his generation that he would probably recognize if he heard the recording. Gibbs stretched a little, arching his back and neck to work out some of the stiffness, he was getting too old to sleep sitting up, and turned to his left. There, slouched in the visitor’s chair was Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, white ear buds jammed in his ears and his concentration focused on the black and silver box-pod-thing in his hands.

“DiNozzo.” His voice was still raspy and off kilter as he tried to finish waking up. Getting no response, his senior field agent still engrossed in whatever was happening on his pod-thing, Gibbs called again louder and voice clearer than the first time. Still not getting any response, he reached down to the folded up newspaper laying by his leg and awkwardly tossed it at his agent. He could have thrown his phone. He still detested the electronic object and it had more weight to it and would have flown and landed with better aim. He just wanted Tony’s attention, not cause physical harm; he wasn’t THAT much of a bastard.

Tony startled, arms and legs jerking almost comically before sitting up and yanking the ear buds out.  “Oh, hey Boss! I was just um”

“Humming.” Gibbs supplied, raising his eyebrow in amusement.

“Humming? I don’t hum.”

“Singing then and playing games on your gizmo-pod-thing.”

“What? Oh! I wasn’t playing anything, well games that is. I was watching Hitch, with WIll Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James and a bunch of other people. It’s about this date doctor who tries to help a guy land a hot celebrity and well it doesn’t matter what it’s about…” Tony’s voice trailed off as he bent over to shove his things in to the back pack by his feet. “It has this song, ‘What a Wonderful World’ in it, and not the one that is associated most famously with Louis Armstrong. This was the one written by Sam Cooke from the early 60’s that many people think was by Herman’s Hermits. I used to think he was singing about a French-Eyed-Hook instead of ‘the French I took” very confusing. At least now we have the internet and can just look up the song lyrics instead of going years with…”

“DiNozzo!” He gave a half hearted bark, sometimes Gibbs swore Tony could give Ducky a run for is money bouncing from one topic to another. “What are you doing here? Thought Ducky was going to be here?”

“Balboa’s team caught a body so Ducky sent me to pick you up and deliver you to his house. I told him you would never go for it, I mean what with Mrs. Mallard and her pack of hounds, but you know he just shook his head and told me to do it other wise. It’s hard not to do what Ducky says Boss, he has that tone of voice that makes you obey without thinking about it.” DiNozzo paused, cocking his head to the right clearly taking a second to think.”He’s not as good as you though. I mean sure Ducky could cause grievous bodily harm and probably get Abby to help  hide the body and evidence, but he’s more of a planner, he’d have to stop and thinking about it whereas you’d just get it done and over with.”

“They’re corgi’s not hounds.”

“What?”

“Mrs. Mallard has corgis, Welsh corgis to be exact, they aren’t hounds.”

Gibbs carefully cradled his right arm across his stomach and used his left arm to push himself off the bed. He was already dressed and the books and other sundry items were all packed in the small duffle on the window sill. Ducky had brought him clothes several days before and Gene had given him a hand earlier getting his shirt on. The nice thing about living on your own, there was no one to whine and complain about the clothing, or lack there of, being worn. He had no intention of fighting with sleeves and the pins sticking out of his right arm any more than absolutely necessary. Whatever they used to numb the injury had long worn off and it ached, mercilessly, the pain medication only knocking it down to a dull roar.

“They’re still vicious fur balls Gibbs.” Tony’s voice was dead serious as he stood up, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and grabbing the duffle off the ledge. “Steph came by earlier and said you were free to go whenever you woke up as she wasn’t crazy enough to poke a sleeping bear.”

He narrowed his eyes, glaring at his senior agent. Tony gulped, obviously rethinking where his current trail of words and thoughts were taking him before speaking again.

“I put your discharge papers in your bag, and didn’t even bother fetching a wheelchair, I know you wouldn’t want to use it anyway.”

Gibbs nodded his thanks, gracing his agent with a small smile as they started their way out of the room and towards the elevators. It felt good to be up and moving again, going home where no one would be asking what his pain level was every fours hours as if it was the hottest news around. As much as he just wanted to be alone, he knew it wasn’t going to happen. Someone would be by everyday there was no way around that, unless he put a lock on his door. The lock would be counterproductive as they would just pick, or kick the door in citing Rule Eighteen, it’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission, when they found him safe and pissed off on his couch. And plus you did what you needed to for family. Even if it meant dealing with your cranky bastard of a boss, who was even more bear like when injured.

The elevator doors opened and they waited while several people filed out. Stepping into the now empty elevator, Gibbs closed his eyes and braced himself. He didn’t like the awkward jolt elevators gave when they first started, and hospital elevators always seemed to be the worse. It was odd when you thought about it — the man who regularly used the elevator at NCIS as an office by flipping the emergency stop switch, didn’t like the elevators’ starting jolt. Gibbs would argue he knew that elevator, every nook and cranny, scratch and dent on the interior walls, every grinding noise and vibration. He knew that elevator as well as he knew his truck or rifle. He didn’t know anything about this elevator except that it was taking him closer to home.

The elevator car jerked to a halt, catching him off guard and nearly causing him to lose his balance. But Tony was there, his fingers wrapped tightly around upper left arm and preventing him and his injured right arm from hitting the wall. The hand stayed there, guiding him out of the elevator through the busy lobby and out the door to the parking lot. Gibbs didn’t want to admit that he needed the steadying hand as they crossed through the maze of cars. Being guided like a drunk idiot was more tolerable than collapsing in the parking lot and he silently thanked Tony for not saying anything beyond his simple “Got your six boss,” as he steadied Gibbs in the elevator.

Finally reaching the car, he pulled away from Tony and made for the front passenger door, grateful that Tony had brought the sedan and not his Mustang. He was exhausted but managed to carefully collapse into the front seat and secure the seatbelt by the time Tony was in and had the car started. Gibbs let his head fall back against the headrest and closed his eyes as they pulled out of the lot. He was ready for a nap, and looking forward to the next dose of pain killers.  

“Oh, hey, King Chef on Pitt Street is open again. I figured we could swing by there and grab some take out before I drop you off at your place. I know you aren’t going to be up to cooking steaks in your fireplace or using a can opener to open can of beans for a few more days at least.”

Tony continued speaking and Gibbs knew he wasn’t expecting a response. Gibbs wasn’t much for small talk on his best days, much less one like today, but he also knew that Tony didn’t like silence. That was okay with Gibbs, he didn’t always like the quiet either. It was nice to have someone else there to keep the silence from becoming oppressive. While some people could kill the silence in a room just by being there, Tony wasn’t one of them, and that was fine with Gibbs. It was nice sometimes just to sit back and listen to someone talk, even if it was  that the latest scuttlebutt was that Kertsweil was transferred to Agent Afloat after getting caught referring to Jen as Madame Director.

“Actually, Kertsweil requested the transfer because of a crazy ex.” Gibbs spoke softly relaxing back into the seat as they left the stop and go traffic of surface streets for the highway.