Gibbs stood staring into space, oblivious to anything around him other than the burning need to beat the crap out of something - preferably one obstinate, insubordinate s.o.b. smartass agent who had the temerity to come to his place and try to resign. Resign? If DiNozzo thought he could simply get out of this sorry mess he had got himself into by resigning, he damn well had another thing coming!
Right now he needed a drink - a large one, or two or five.
Rubbing a hand through his iron-grey hair, he couldn't help visualising every expression that had crossed his agent's - scrub that - ex-agent's face even though he'd never once looked at Tony.
Putting aside the sandpaper, he scowled at the stinging cuts on his hand, but it wasn't until he was reaching for the bottle of bourbon that his eyes tracked to the blood on the basement floor. He frowned, just for a second confused, as he wondered how the hell his blood had managed to jump two yards - until it hit. It wasn't his blood.
He hurt. He hurt so damned much he wanted to curl up in a ball and lose himself in oblivion. He felt the desperate need to cry, to bawl like a baby, but DiNozzos didn't cry; at least that's what his father had told him the day his mother had died and found him lying on her bed, weeping bitter tears. He'd never cried since that day, even when Kate had been killed, but now the devastating loss of something he held most dear overwhelmed his defences and he felt the burning sting behind his eyes.
But something or someone was turning him, smacking his face so that it smarted, and demanding what he didn't want. He hurt and it wasn't only physical. There was a hole in his side, but there was an even bigger one, an invisible one, deep within him.
He groaned softly as hands turned him one way and then the other, his feeble attempt to deny this brushed aside as a hand held his two wrists preventing any further form of resistance.
He heard his own name from a far distance and frowned, then as the voice registered he tried to move, to struggle and get away, uncaring now of the deep throbbing ache, so desperate was he to escape.
"Hey! Damn it, DiNozzo. I'm trying to stop the bleeding." But as Gibbs' words appeared to have no effect, he snapped harshly, "So help me, if you don't quieten down..." He didn't bother completing the sentence. It wasn't necessary as the man under his hands fell still.
Feeling cold, blue assessing eyes on him, Tony sucked in his breath, unable to bear the look of disappointment that met him.
"Can you get to your feet? I daren't leave you on this floor, you'll more than likely come down with pneumonia!" And receiving no answer Gibbs shook the wounded man, snapping, "DiNozzo!"
" 'm 'kay," he slurred slowly.
Another restrained shake was followed by another sharp question. "Answer the damned question, DiNozzo!"
Tony blinked in confusion, willing his head to stop spinning. But the words forced him to focus.
"C-n do it."
"Good, 'cause I sure as hell am not carrying your sorry ass back inside."
Helping him to sit up, the ex marine steadied his charge, ensuring he wasn't going to keel over before he'd even made it to his feet.
"Help me out here, DiNozzo - and don't you dare pass out."
Jerking his head up, Tony tried to focus on the face of his team leader, answering automatically, "DiNozzo's don't pass out."
Snorting his disdain, Gibbs snapped, "Shut the hell up and concentrate on standing!"
Biting his cheek, Tony felt himself hauled up and groaned as the pain spiked. Almost instantly he felt his knees buckle unco-operatively, but an iron hold on his bicep and under his shoulders ensured he stayed up even though gravity was demanding the opposite.
And even as sick as he was, he could feel Gibbs breathing in deeply as he fought to keep him on his feet.
"It's fourteen steps, DiNozzo and on my call we're going to walk them. At the end is a nice, soft bed and you can rest then, do you hear me? Not before...You with me, Tony?"
The question was barked out and even though Tony longed to simply lie down and pass out where he was, there was no option but to obey.
It was, he was absolutely sure, the longest, hardest, f-cking fourteen steps he'd ever made and at the end he was too far gone to notice that he'd been lowered onto a sofa and not the promised bed.
The call, to Gibbs' relief, was answered on the first ring, Ducky demanding uncharacteristically sharply, "Have you found him?"
"Yes, how'd you know?"
"Jethro?" It was obvious from the M.E.'s tone that he hadn't expected Gibbs on the end of the phone. "I thought you were Dr. Agarwal. He's just phoned to say Anthony had gone missing and was in no fit state to be out of his bed. I presumed he was calling me back."
As Gibbs' eyes travelled over the unconscious form of his agent he had to agree.
"How is he, Jethro?"
"I was going to ask you the same question. He's managed to open his wound and bleed out. He's unconscious though he was lucid earlier."
"Very well. Keep him warm, raise his legs and keep pressure on that wound of his until someone gets to you. I estimate twenty minutes."
Gibbs didn't bother to acknowledge the call, closing the connection and then grabbing the throw from the back of the sofa and wrapping it with infinite care around the wounded man, careful to retain pressure on the wound in his side.
Minutes later, dazed green eyes only half open revealed surprise as Tony looked around.
"Give...give me a minute, Gibbs and I'll be out of your hair."
"The only place you're going is back to the hospital, DiNozzo."
Shaking his head, Tony muttered, "Not...going...back."
"Is that right?" The sarcasm was biting and Tony's chin lifted stubbornly.
"You...can't order me. 'm not on your...team. I quit, remember?"
Bending low so that his lips were almost brushing Tony's ear, the grey-haired agent hissed, "Not yet, you haven't and don't think for one minute I'll give you that satisfaction, DiNozzo. Until such time as I see fit to kick you out of the Agency, your sorry ass is mine!"
Tony was barely aware of the arrival of the medics and all the attendant ministrations that followed. And once the pain meds had been administered into his system he was unaware of any of the work carried out on him. Nor was he aware of Gibbs as he was transported from house to ambulance, ambulance to E.R. and finally, E.R. to hospital room. The older man never leaving his side.
When next he came to his senses, the sterile smell alerted him as much as anything to the unwelcome fact that he was back in hospital. And when he turned his head and opened his eyes to the raised railings of his bed, he was made uncomfortably aware of another painful fact.
Groaning softly, he moved his hand and closed his eyes as his wrist felt the all encompassing embrace of handcuffs.
Even knowing the futility of his actions, he yanked his hand, rattling the bed rails with the force as a determined anger washed over him.
"Keep that up and you'll be wearing a cast before this day is out."
When he jerked this time it was pure reflex and he groaned softly as pain assailed him, but he hadn't realised anyone else was in the room.
"You do this?" he groaned, his tone flat.
Grieved blue eyes settled on him and he felt himself colour under the admonishing gaze.
"You should know better, young Anthony."
Tony's eyes tracked past the M.E., but no one else appeared and dropping his gaze to hide his bitter disappointment, he stared at the cuffs darkly.
"Jethro advised me to keep those on you for the duration of your stay here...but I think not."
And stepping up to the bedrail, Ducky produced a key and gently removed the manacles, watching as the patient massaged his wrist.
Drawing up a chair to the patient's bedside, Ducky stated firmly, "This has got to stop."
And giving him a lopsided grin, Tony shrugged dismissively, his eyes - always a barometer of his moods - revealing a bleakness that increased the doctor's concern.
"Couldn't agree more; it's kind of embarrassing finding myself cuffed - I just hope they aren't mine."
(Five days later)
The bullpen was in partial darkness, with only the subdued night lighting on for those few who remained behind long after the mass of people had gone home. Gibbs' desk was one still alight as he worked at clearing a backlog of paperwork that the Director had been requesting.
When the shadow fell across his desk, Gibbs tried his hardest to ignore it, but Ducky had no intentions of allowing such action and simply leant over and closed the file that the ex-marine had been reading.
Never one to back down from any confrontation, Gibbs simply stared straight into the M.E.'s grey eyes and waited.
"Do I have to clip you round the ear, Jethro, to get some sense out of you? Or maybe I should just bang your two heads together." The idea obviously gave him some satisfaction because Ducky began to nod enthusiastically, then recalling something that made him frown, he went on, "You're like two peas in a pod, so alike it's as if he were your son."
Snorting in disdain, Gibbs retorted, "Damned good job he isn't or I'd be kicking his ass well and good."
Stifling a sigh of frustration, the older man said soberly, "Well, I hope you'll be able to contain your negative feelings for the time being."
And sensing something was awry, Gibbs was instantly on alert, canting his head and waiting.
"Our Anthony is being allowed out. Hospital is doing him no good; he's not eating, he's sleeping badly and going walk-a-bout when he should be resting."
Gibbs grouched, "I told you to use the cuffs."
Rolling his eyes, Ducky leaned in closer, enunciating crisply, "Listen to me, Jethro. The boy is struggling. The medical fraternity has done all it can, but Anthony isn't...he's changed. He's doing what you're doing to him - cutting us out of his life. The boy is hurting and you are the only one who can alleviate that pain...Here."
He reached out and slapped something into Gibbs' palm.
"Those are the keys to the most treasured possession I have after my Morgan - my lakeside cabin. I'm going to be bringing one very fragile agent to the cabin tomorrow at approximately 3pm." As the M.E. began to walk to the elevators, he said over his shoulder, "I expect you to be there and to stay the week, helping Anthony with his recuperation."
Ducky neither faltered in his stride nor turned to acknowledge the heated curse that followed.
Part 4 to follow