Jethro stood, staring down at the badly wounded man in the hospital bed. He was unwilling and unable to sit by and leave it up to fate any longer. He had to do something, although what, he wasn’t sure. He reached out and rested his hand on top of his friend’s—his lover’s hand as memories of what had happened assaulted him.
One more interrogation was all that stood between the team and home. It had been a long eight days but everyone would have to hold on for a couple more hours. Gibbs had been walking down the hall towards interrogation when he’d heard the gunshot. His step faltered and his gut clenched. There should be no gunshots inside NCIS. There hadn’t been since Ari.
The agent hurried his step and, with his hand on his weapon, opened the door leading to the observation deck. That was when he saw it. His heart fell immediately. His eyes had to be deceiving him. He couldn’t be seeing things right. While his mind was still in shock, his body went on autopilot and started doing what he’d been trained to do—pressure on the femoral artery to stop the blood from spurting out and assess the signs of life.
The door behind him opened and he heard a gasp.
“GET HELP!” Gibbs demanded, cutting the agent off.
Maloney was new to the DC Navy Yard but not to NCIS. He’d transferred in from the North Carolina office. “Prisoner’s dead,” he reported after looking through the shattered glass into the interrogation room. His cell phone was already wedged between his ear and his shoulder while he dropped to his knees and double checked the signs of life.
Gibbs grabbed his own cell phone, pushed one of his speed dials and tucked it between his ear and his shoulder. He could hear Maloney talking to the 911 dispatcher. Thankfully, the base’s emergency rescue headquarters wasn’t very far away but Gibbs knew they couldn’t wait that long. The bleeding had slowed considerably but there was still a little bit seeping through his fingers no matter how hard he pushed.
“Jethro?” Ducky had never heard his friend sound so frightened.
“GSW in the observation room.” Gibbs was trying to hold onto his professionalism in an effort to keep from falling apart but it wasn’t easy.
Ducky grabbed his bag and was on his way, confused as could be. “What happened? Who was shot?”
“I don’t know,” Gibbs answered. His voice faltered as he answered the first question. He swallowed hard before answering the second. “It’s Tony.”
Jethro weaved his fingers through Tony’s and rubbed his thumb over the back of Tony’s hand. “Can you squeeze my hand, Tony?” he asked. “Come on. Please. Show me you’re in there.”
He wasn’t above pleading. He’d beg his lover to come back to him if that’s what it took but there was nothing. No movement in Tony at all. He wanted to yell and scream and throw a fit only a two year old could get away with but he was too busy trying to keep the tears at bay.
Ducky had ridden along in the ambulance and, against protocol, he’d been allowed to treat the patient. He and the doctors were hopeful that Tony had gotten enough fluids in his system to keep his pressure up and his blood circulating but there would be no way to tell until Tony woke. He’d been in a coma for four days.
For Jethro it had been four days of waiting and worrying and on top of that, IAB had been circling like vultures. He was so sick of Internal Affairs.
“Is it protocol to search all suspects before putting them in interrogation, Agent Gibbs?” Brogan asked.
“Yes,” Gibbs replied.
“How long has Miss David been an NCIS agent?”
Gibbs closed his eyes as he thought back. “Three years,” he answered, “but she’s been with us for seven.”
“And in those seven years did you not teach Miss David how to properly search a suspect?” Brogan asked.
Gibbs understood the questioning was coming because he was her team leader but he didn’t have the patience for this. Especially not when he needed to be at the hospital with Tony. “Damn right I did! I also taught her independence and integrity. I can’t hold her hand all the time. If she can’t be accountable to herself then maybe—” he stopped short.
“Then maybe she doesn’t deserve to be a federal agent,” Brogan finished for him.
Gibbs was silent. There was no defending this oversight. She hadn’t searched the suspect and he’d pulled a gun out of his pants, shot himself in the head and the bullet had deflected off the wall and nicked Tony’s femoral artery.
“What about Probationary Agent Ned Dorneget?” Brogan asked.
Dorneget had been learning the ropes. He’d finally gotten an opportunity to get out of the evidence garage and do some real investigative work and the eager agent had been more than thrilled. That was another reason Ziva’s oversight was inexcusable. She was supposed to be showing Dorney the ropes, training him the right way.
“It’s not Dorneget’s fault,” Gibbs said. He had no problem defending the kid. He may have been mad at him but he knew that anger had been misplaced. He was mad at everybody, including himself.
“How long had Agent Dorneget been shadowing your team?” Brogan asked.
“Less than a week,” Gibbs answered. “He’d followed an electronic trail with McGee, searched a crime scene with Tony and I took him along to interview a witness and do a family notification. People learn best by watching and then doing. That’s how I teach.”
“And he was supposed to be watching Ziva get a suspect ready for interrogation?” Brogan asked. “Was that the first time he’d been a part of that process?”
“Yes,” Gibbs answered.
“What happened four months ago, Agent Gibbs?”
“You’ll have to be more specific.”
“What was the catapult for your last IA investigation?”
“And what part did Miss David play in that? In detail please.”
Gibbs sighed heavily. “Once we finally pinpointed his location, she took off to find him and ended up killing him.”
“Where was the rest of the team?”
“We were notifying the Director of the new findings. The search for Bodnar was a multi-agency effort.”
“And had Miss David waited for adequate back-up, might the outcome have been different?”
Gibbs met the man’s eyes, his glare just as hard as Brogan’s. “Yes,” he answered. “Had the team been there, Bodnar most likely would’ve been brought in alive.”
“So once again Miss David didn’t follow protocol and a man was killed.”
“Correct,” Gibbs answered.
“If given the opportunity, would you want her back on your team?”
Gibbs knew that was a trick question and he also didn’t have an easy answer. Ziva had been like a daughter to him. He’d stuck his neck out for her, they all had, because she’d been family but he couldn’t have this sloppiness continue. Not when their lives depended on everyone’s ability to do their job properly. “Maybe as a probationary agent. She needs to be retrained.”
“At the very least,” Brogan snarked. “I’m going to be very honest with you, Agent Gibbs. I’m not sure if she’ll get that chance. Convenient loyalty is no loyalty at all.”
“How’s he doing?” the nurse asked, breaking Jethro from his memory.
Jethro held Tony’s hand tighter as his eyes focused on his lover. “’bout the same,” he answered.
“His heart is beating and he’s breathing on his own,” the nurse said when she heard the dejection in Jethro’s voice. “Both are good signs.”
Jethro just nodded. He’d been told that several times over the past four days but it wasn’t much of a consolation. He needed Tony to open his eyes, to smile, to squeeze his hand, to give him some sign that he was in there. “What can I do to help? There has to be something.”
“You’re doing it,” the nurse said with a sympathetic pat to Jethro’s shoulder. “Just be there for him.”
“It’s a miracle, Jethro!” Shannon cried. “This morning the doctors weren’t sure if Kelly was gonna make it. They said there was nothing more they could do and that I should just be there for her. Now, twelve hours later, they’re telling me she’s out of the woods.”
“That’s wonderful,” Gibbs said breathing a sigh of relief. His CO had been having a hell of a time trying to get him home. It was a little harder to get the Special Forces guys home because there were fewer of them. He couldn’t leave his team without adequate backup. Now it sounded as if he might not need to go—no matter how badly he might want to. “What changed?”
“Skin to skin therapy,” Shannon answered. “I held her all day. The nurse said my body heat and my heartbeat and my voice all helped. She’s still weak but her color’s improved, she’s eating and crying and looking very healthy. Our daughter’s going to be okay, Gunny.”
“Thank God,” Gibbs said as he looked towards the heavens. “I can’t wait to meet her. I can’t wait to get home and hold her in my arms… and hold you in my arms. Maybe make a little brother or a sister.” His voice turned deep and sexy earning him one of Shannon’s adorable giggles.
“Focus on your job, Gunny. Come back to us safe.”
“I will,” Gibbs promised. “I love you.”
“I love you.”
Tony certainly wasn’t a premature infant but if skin to skin therapy worked with newborns maybe it would help Tony. It certainly couldn’t hurt and the doctors didn’t seem to have any other solutions. Besides, Jethro needed it just as badly as he hoped Tony did. He turned the light off then pulled his polo and undershirt off. Tony was on his side. The nurses were turning him every couple hours to prevent bedsores.
“Tony, it’s me, Jethro,” Jethro said stroking his arm. “I’m gonna lie down with you.” He didn’t want his lover to panic, even though he doubted Tony would. Tony was always commenting on his unique smell, he always knew when Jethro was near which Jethro found strange considering he never wore cologne. “I’m gonna lift your hospital gown. We’re gonna try something different.”
He pulled the sheet back, raised the gown covering Tony’s body and carefully climbed into bed. He moved the pillow out from under Tony’s arm and let it rest across his body instead. He rested his forehead against Tony’s and cuddled right in, careful not to bump his injured leg.
Once he was settled he pulled the blanket over them and watched Tony, as if he were waiting for some sort of miraculous recovery. It didn’t come but Jethro felt a tiny bit better. It felt like he might be doing something instead of sitting around watching. He hoped Tony felt better too. He gently kissed his lover’s eyelids then drifted off. It had been four nights of no real sleep. Dozing off and coffee could only hold him for so long and just like he hoped Tony knew he was safe in his arms, he knew he was safe in Tony’s arms. It was okay to sleep.
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Doris Canterbury was fifteen minutes into her shift when she pulled out Tony’s chart and turned to record his vitals from the machine at the nurse’s station monitoring him. She wrote the numbers in the tiny boxes provided then glanced at his numbers from the day shift and noticed some minor improvements.
“I’m outta here, Doris,” Ruthie said.
“Did Tony wake up today?” Doris asked.
Ruthie shook her head. “Not much of a change on him all day.”
“Until now,” Doris said. “His stats are up.”
Both nurses headed down to Tony’s room, curious about what was happening. Doris knocked lightly before cracking the door.
“That poor man finally found a place to lie down,” Doris said.
“It looks like it’s doing them both some good,” Ruthie said. Jethro was finally sleeping and Tony’s vitals were improving. “Maybe today will be the day Tony wakes up.”
“Let’s hope so.”
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Jethro spent the next two and a half days in and out of bed with Tony. He’d taken over turning him, massaging him, working his muscles and joints and bathing him. Each night he’d curl up, bare chest to bare chest, with his arms wrapped around Tony. After several loving kisses and whispered sweet nothings, he’d drift off to sleep, hoping and praying that the following day would be the day Tony woke.
After learning from the nurses that Tony was showing signs of improvement, he’d started spending hours each day holding Tony tightly, rubbing noses and whispering promises. He kicked himself for not starting the skin to skin therapy sooner. Tony had always responded to his touch, even before they’d gone from friends to lovers. Holding hands was one thing but feeling each other’s breaths and listening to other’s heartbeats seemed to be therapeutic for both.
It was late on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon. Jethro was running his fingers across the contours of Tony’s arm, from his shoulder all the way down to his fingers when he felt Tony’s finger move and then felt Tony’s hand latch on to his. He didn’t let himself get his hopes up, afraid it was just a twitch or reflex but the soft grunt followed by the longer moan told him this was no reflex. Tony hadn’t made a sound in over six days.
“Tony?” Jethro’s voice was quiet and gentle as he watched Tony’s eyes, waiting for them to open.
Tony’s grip on Jethro’s fingers tightened. So far, it was the only part of him that was moving.
“Tony, open your eyes,” Jethro coaxed. “Let me see you.”
Tony groaned again and his hand jerked.
“Come on, Tony. You can do it. Do it for me.”
Tony opened his eyes a crack and although his vision was a little blurry, he could see Jethro’s smiling face. He tried to say his lover’s name but his mouth was so dry the only thing that came out was a horribly embarrassing, mangled sound. He closed his eyes and tried to swallow but it hurt. Everything hurt. His head. His nose. His throat. His leg and his throat especially hurt and his muscles ached. His entire body ached.
Before he could get too upset, Tony felt an ice chip gliding smoothly across his lips. He could hear Jethro whispering softly but couldn’t really make out what he was saying. The pain and confusion was at the forefront of his mind. Where was he? What had happened? What was beeping? What was that smell? It smelled like a hospital but that couldn’t be right. He refused to darken the door of a hospital unless he was dying. Was he dying?
“Tony?” Jethro repeated. “Anthony.” He put another ice chip to Tony’s lips and it was greedily sucked in like the first one had been.
“Hap’n’d?” Tony finally managed to get out. His voice was raspy and it sounded like it was incredibly painful to talk.
“Ya been sleepin’,” Jethro said with a smile as hope replaced worry. “Let me see your eyes, Tony.”
A pained look crossed Tony’s face as he tried to swallow again then he opened his eyes. There was Jethro’s smiling face again and his bright blue eyes. Behind him was a monitor of some sort. Tony didn’t know what kind but he knew it was medical and quickly figured out that was where the beeping was coming from. Someone was hurt. “You ‘kay?” he asked.
Jethro let himself laugh and rubbed his thumb across Tony’s cheek. “Yeah, ‘m fine. How are you feeling?”
Before Tony could answer there was a nurse in his room, resting one hand on Jethro’s back and the other Tony’s shoulder. She was smiling too. Why was everyone so happy? Tony was fairly certain they were at a hospital and hospitals weren’t happy places.
“His mouth is dry,” Jethro told the nurse as he carefully stood, “and I think he’s a little confused.”
“NO,” Tony whined when Jethro was no longer next to him. He didn’t want to lose that warmth and comfort and safety.
“It’s okay,” Jethro said grabbing his hand. “Delores needs to look at ya and she can’t do that if I’m in the way.”
Delores must’ve been the woman in the scrubs… the nurse. Why was the nurse looking at him? Was he the reason they were in the hospital? Sure, his muscles were a little sore but that was no reason to go to the hospital. A couple Tylenol and he’d be as good as new.
“No,” Tony repeated when the nurse shone a light in his eyes before she started poking and prodding.
“It’s okay, honey,” Delores said. “Gotta check you out.”
“I hurt,” Tony mumbled. Jethro held his hand tighter when he tried to push the nurse’s hands away.
“I know, sweetheart,” Delores said. “The doctor lowered your pain meds a bit to try to bring you out of that coma. We’ll get you some of the good stuff and you’ll feel good as new.”
Coma? Had he been in a coma? What the hell had happened? “J—Je—Jethro.” Talking was exhausting and hard with a dry mouth.
Jethro knew Tony wanted answers but he wasn’t sure what to tell him. He didn’t want to upset Tony and make things worse. He slipped another ice chip into Tony’s mouth before running his hand over Tony’s head. “You got hurt at work. You’re gonna be okay though.” That answer would have do for the time being.
“I’m gonna get the doctor in here, Tony,” Delores said. “We’re gonna get this feeding tube out of you and get you some better pain meds, okay? I’ll be right back.”
Feeding tube. That explained why his nose hurt and possibly why his throat hurt. He wondered what other tubes they’d put in his body but quickly decided he didn’t want to know. “Hurts,” Tony said letting his eyes fall closed again.
“I know, Tony,” Jethro said. “Hang in there.” He rubbed his hand over Tony’s hair as he leaned down and pressed a kiss to his forehead. When his bare skin came in contact with the cool metal of the sidebar on the bed he remembered he wasn’t wearing a shirt. He quickly pulled his t-shirt over his head before Delores returned with the doctor.
“Welcome back, Agent DiNozzo,” Dr. Booker said. He opened Tony’s eyelid with his thumb and shined his penlight in. Tony tried to struggle but Jethro continued holding his hand and rested his other hand on Tony’s head, doing his best to keep him still.
Dr. Booker and Delores checked everything from Tony’s reflexes to his ability to add two numbers. Tony knew who Jethro was, struggled against any discomfort and pulled his feet back when the doctor ran his finger across them. He added the numbers perfectly and after a little thought remembered who the president was and what year it was.
His blood pressure was a little high, most likely from the pain Delores had assured Jethro, but his other vitals were hovering close to or within the normal range. All in all the doctor was pleased with everything he was seeing. The confusion was normal and Tony was with it enough for them to be able to say definitively that he hadn’t suffered any brain injury. The quick response from Jethro, Ducky and the paramedics had not only saved Tony’s life, but had also kept him from any long-term or permanent damage.
“He’s doing remarkably well,” Dr. Booker said in disbelief once he’d finished his examination. He watched as Jethro stroked Tony’s hair, at a loss for words over the turnaround he’d seen in his patient over the last two days. Though he hadn’t voiced it, after four days of Tony being completely out of it, the doctor had wondered if he’d ever wake again.
“He’s a fighter,” Jethro replied, smiling down at Tony.
Tony didn’t smile back. He didn’t feel like smiling. Confusion was leading to frustration and if his throat didn’t hurt so bad he’d probably start screaming. That and he didn’t want to lose it in front of Dr. Booker and Delores. At least the feeding tube was out. It was a small victory.
He turned into the thumb lovingly brushing across his cheek and tuned the doctor out, focusing solely on Jethro. All he really wanted was for Jethro to lay down and hold him again. That would help him feel better. That always helped him feel better.
Once the doctor and nurse left, Jethro pulled the chair in the room closer to the bed and sat down right in Tony’s line of sight.
Tony looked Jethro in the eyes, gathered his strength and spoke, slowly and carefully. “Lay down with me?”
“Anything you want,” Jethro replied, standing immediately.
He moved the few leads and tubes connected to Tony’s body out of the way and carefully slipped in next to him and was confused by the huff of disappointment Tony immediately let out. It wasn’t until Tony’s unsteady hand started tugging at his shirt that Jethro understood.
“Hang on, Tony,” he said with a smile. He carefully slipped out of his own shirt without getting up then moved Tony’s hospital gown out of the way before drawing him into a strong embrace and repeatedly kissing his head and face. “You scared me,” he whispered into Tony’s ear.
“Happened?” Each word was a struggle for Tony but he was desperate to ask his questions and figure out what had happened.
“Do you remember anything?” Jethro asked.
Tony thought for a moment before answering. “Interrogation. I was waitin’.”
Jethro nodded and pulled back just enough he could look Tony in the eye. “Suspect didn’t get thoroughly frisked,” he said. “Pulled a gun out of his pants and shot himself. The bullet deflected off the wall and clipped your femoral artery.”
Tony tried hard to remember if it had been his job to frisk their suspect but everything was still so fuzzy. “I screwed up?” he asked, his words coming out slowly.
“No, Tony,” Jethro answered quietly. “Remember? Ziva was showing Dorneget how to get a suspect ready for interrogation. She was in a rush, got sloppy.”
Tony nodded his head. He vaguely remembered what Jethro was telling him which had him a little concerned about Ziva. His lover may have been calm and all hugs and kisses at the moment but he knew some things were unforgiveable and getting sloppy with suspects topped the list. “Ziva?”
“IA investigated,” Jethro answered. “She was put on unpaid leave until they reach their findings and figure out what they’re gonna do with her.”
“I don’t know. I’ve been here with you. Abby came to see you, filled you in on her bowling league. You pledged quite a sum of money for the charity bowl-a-thon,” Jethro teased.
That finally got a smile out of Tony. “I always do.”
“Tim was here,” Jethro continued. “You watched a few of your favorite movies with him. Jimmy read to you for a while. It was a good book. I’m sure you enjoyed it.”
“Nobody knows what books I like,” Tony interjected. He smiled at Jethro. “Except Jimmy.”
Jethro smiled back and stroked Tony’s cheek. “Ducky was here. I think he about filled you in on my entire medical history, comas especially.”
“Surprised you let him tell all your secrets.”
“When I fussed at him, he insisted you’d asked,” Jethro said, winking at Tony. “Dorneget was here. We helped him with his crossword.”
“Is he okay?” Tony asked. “His career?”
“He was cleared immediately,” Jethro answered. “I made sure there’ll be no marks on his record.” He’d known Tony would insist on it but he would’ve done it regardless. Dorneget was not at all responsible for what had happened. He just wished he could ease the guilt the young agent felt over the incident. “Vance stopped by too. He said there’s other ways to use your sick leave.”
Tony tried to smile but Jethro didn’t miss the discomfort in his eyes. “Ziva?”
“She hasn’t been by,” Jethro answered quietly.
“No,” Tony said. Jethro had misunderstood. Tony knew she’d been skating on thin ice and that people were watching. He also knew Jethro’s reach was long when it came to protecting his team. He just didn’t know if the man could protect Ziva from an oversight like this. “Is she still NCIS?”
Jethro leaned forward and placed a long, hard kiss on Tony’s forehead before answering. “I can’t protect her at the expense of everyone else, Tony,” he whispered. “She’s gonna have to fend for herself this time.”
Tony nodded that he understood. There were quite a few people turning up dead lately, friend and foe, and the majority of those deaths could’ve be prevented if weren’t for an agent keeping secrets and doing things her own way. That wasn’t how teams operated, especially not Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ team.
“What’s gonna happen to her?” The more Tony talked, the easier it got, although he was getting sleepy again.
“She didn’t even try to fight,” Jethro answered. “She’s heading back to Israel to rejoin Mossad.”
“Is that okay?” Tony asked and Jethro knew what he was really asking was if he was okay.
“It’s for the best,” he answered with a reassuring smile. “We were making progress for a while but I don’t think she’s been happy here these past few years.”
“Did she say goodbye?”
Jethro considered lying to Tony to ease the sting but he respected the man more than that and he wouldn’t have wanted Tony to lie to him so he wasn’t going to lie either. “No. No one’s heard from her.”
“Will you stay with me while I sleep?”
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Tony carefully made his way through the busy bowling alley, the pitcher of beer in his hand heavier than it seemed. Jethro watched from the table nearby, schooling his features while he silently hoped and prayed Tony didn’t stumble. He would’ve helped him in an instant but he knew that wasn’t what Tony wanted so he watched instead.
The rest of the team was gathered around the table and lanes, talking and laughing and waiting patiently for Tony’s return. Someone would’ve delivered the pitcher to their table and the others had offered to go in Tony’s place but Tony was finally steady on his feet again and determined to show everyone how capable he was.
Jethro’s smile was full of pride as he took the pitcher when Tony offered it to him. “You okay?” he asked quietly.
Tony looked over and watched for a moment as Abby gave Dorney an impromptu bowling lesson then watched Tim carefully line himself up in preparation of nailing the two pins left standing in opposite corners at the end of the lane. He caught Jimmy’s eye and winked at him when Jimmy shot him his telltale ‘please save me’ face as he listened to Ducky tell stories of things that happened long ago. “Never better,” he answered with a grin. “Let me pour the beer,” he said, reaching for the pitcher again. “I can do it.”
“I know you can, Tony,” Jethro said proudly.
Their eyes met and Tony’s heart beamed when he saw the look of pride and heard the confidence in his lover’s voice. He knew it was difficult for Jethro not to be at his side every time he tried to do something and he appreciated that the man understood his desire to do certain things on his own, no matter how slow he was moving. “I love you, Jethro,” he said. “I never tell you that enough.”
Jethro reached for Tony’s hand and lovingly squeezed his fingers. “I love you, too, Tony. I’m so proud of you.”
The waitress wasn’t far behind Tony. The team migrated over to the table where she’d dropped off three large pizzas and a stack of paper plates. Tony had a cup of beer waiting for each of them as they squeezed in around the small table, some sitting on other’s laps and nobody minding not having enough room. Things were finally starting to get back to normal again after the accident and they were thrilled to be together.
Tony’s determination and Jethro’s unwavering support had had Tony up and moving, discharged from the hospital and back at work, even if it was just deskwork, before any of the medical personnel even thought possible. It was a painful process, physically for Tony and mentally for all of them as they stood by Tony through good times and bad and dealt with Ziva’s departure without so much as a goodbye, leaving them no chance at closure. Looking back, her decline was as clear as day but she’d still been their friend and that made it difficult to process.
They were a family though and no matter how many people came and went, they would always have each other and that would never change.
From his spot propped on one of Jethro’s legs, Tony raised his plastic SOLO cup filled with beer. “I just wanna thank you guys for sticking by me,” he said. “You do what you have to for family and I’m honored to have each of you as my family.”
“To family,” Jethro said, raising his glass and touching it to Tony’s.
The rest of the group lifted their glasses as well, all of them looking around the table and smiling at each other. “To family.”