“You were always lugging home wild things. Once it was a hawk with a broken wing, and another time it was a full-grown wildcat with a broken leg…”
February 2, 2008. Bethesda, MD
Damon rubbed his eyes tiredly and sank into a waiting room chair next to Abby. The moment his ass hit the cushion, Gibbs came marching in with coffee. Damon got back up and stood at attention, even as he mentally chided himself for doing so. Why the hell couldn’t he stop doing that?
Gibbs smirked, probably thinking the same thing. He was carrying a tray with two Grandes and a CafPow. Abby smiled gratefully and grabbed her drink, but Damon had to be prodded to take his. Once he had it in his hand, he didn’t resist and took a big sip of super strong black coffee, no cream or sugar. It was heavenly.
“Have you seen him yet?” Gibbs asked.
Abby had urged Damon to go in the moment Gibbs left for his coffee run. But something about sneaking in behind Gunny’s back hadn’t seemed right. Damon just shrugged and Gibbs shook his head like he’d been expecting it.
“Come on,” he turned and Damon eagerly followed. Abby grinned as she watched the two men enter Tony’s room.
“Thanks, Gunny.” Gibbs didn’t reply, didn’t even look at him.
Inside, Tony was fast asleep under the heavy sedation. He looked pale, the usually golden tinge of his skin dull in the unflattering white light of the room. Wires and tubes tethered various parts of his body to all the medical equipment surrounding him, including a breathing tube taped under his nostrils. Damon frowned when he noticed the leather restraints around Tony’s wrists.
Gibbs sensed his discomfort. “Tony has an aversion to needles. Trust me, those things are needed or he’ll just hurt himself.”
Damon nodded, connecting the dots to a brief memory from weeks ago. “That’s why the o-dark thirty physical appointment?”
Damon couldn’t get his eyes off the sleeping agent. His gut clenched tightly and his hands trembled. He felt a fervent need to reach out and touch Tony, gather him into his arms again and never let him go. But he was too afraid to get any closer, no thanks to Gunny’s presence in the room.
“Take a seat.” He ordered gruffly, pointing to a second chair in the room. Damon pulled it up to the other side of the bed and sat facing Gibbs who was seated closer to Tony, close enough that the veteran could take Tony’s hand in his.
“When you asked me if I’d let you date my daughter…”
Damon swallowed. “You told me I was dangerous, b-but that… you were dangerous too.”
Gibbs glared, not amused with his back-talk at all. “Start from the beginning.”
And Damon did. Starting with their encounter at the court, to the one in the squad room, to the altercation in the basement followed by the movie then the club… he omitted details about that night for obvious reasons, until he finally got to his run-in with Tony in the gym. He left the details of that meeting out too, for obvious reasons.
Gibbs gave him the evil eye, that mean look fathers save for their daughters’ prom dates.
“I-I know what you’re thinking. Why am I stalking Tony when he clearly wants nothing to do with me?”
Gibbs didn’t respond.
Damon exhaled. “I don’t know, I just… was so sure we had something. I didn’t want him throwing us away for nothing. I just wanted to know why, what was scaring him off…”
“Tony doesn’t scare easily.”
“You’re right. I’ve come to realize that it’s not exactly fear. There’s something else going on. Something completely out of my hands.”
Abby had helped piece the rest of the puzzle together. At least now he knew, even if he was still pretty helpless to do much about it.
He was just going to respect Tony’s wishes, and get the hell out of Dodge.
“Tony isn’t some girl you can woo over with flowers and chocolates.” Gibbs muttered, and Damon frowned, wondering if the man was referring to their little ploy earlier.
“I realize that. And that’s why I’m not going to bother him anymore,” Damon whispered. “I just accepted that job offer with the PMC in Langley.”
Gibbs looked at him with genuine surprise. “When are you leaving?”
“In the morning. First assignment’s in Uruguay. I’m kind of excited about it.” Damon lied, even though he knew Gunny was not going to be fooled.
“I-I also wanted to thank you. For your support, for letting me in your home, for… giving me the strength to see that there is life outside the Corps. The Corps will always be a part of who I am, no matter where I go, no matter how many vet benefits I don’t get,” he smiled, a real smile, if slightly sardonic. “But I am more. I can be more, I see that now.”
Damon looked at Tony and willed his eyes to not brim with tears, at least not yet. He stood up, smoothing over the blanket that covered Tony’s frail, unconscious body as a way to buy some more time.
“Can I ask you a question, Gunny?”
“Were you aware that Tony was… that he swung both ways?”
Gibbs stared at him blankly. “I’ve known for years.”
Damon nodded, keeping his eyes on Tony. “Good, that’s good.”
“Tony doesn’t know you know. I think he’s worried you won’t approve.”
“Are you saying that’s why he broke up with you? Is that what you’re choosing to believe to make this easy on yourself?”
Damon scoffed. “Trust me, Gunny. That’s a very, very tiny part of it.”
“Why would it even matter? Even if I didn’t like it, Tony wouldn’t care.”
Damon turned towards Gibbs and just looked at him. He could do condescending too. “Do you really not know the answer to that question, Gunny?”
Gibbs didn’t reply, and he was starting to look a little uncomfortable with this conversation.
“Everything Tony ever does, it’s for your approval. It’s to make you proud. You know that, don’t you?”
Gibbs looked away, but Damon pressed on. “There is something between the two of you, something unspoken, but it’s painfully obvious. Anyone who’s been a father or a son sees it, recognizes it. It’s in the way Tony hangs on to your every word, how he jumps into freezing waters after you without a care for his own life.”
He noticed Gunny’s hand squeeze harder around his agent’s on the bed. “And you think you’re doing such a bang-up job hiding your feelings, Gunny, but I saw it in the way you touched that baseball glove on the kids’ bedroom door every time you walked past it. I felt it wrapped inside all your exasperation and annoyance when you talked about him.”
“It’s time you left, Werth.” Gibbs tried to dismiss him, but Damon didn’t budge. He acted like he hadn’t been interrupted at all.
“Just because you don’t say it out loud doesn’t make it any less real, Gunny. You think if you don’t show it, if you don’t put it in words, it will just go away. Or it won’t matter so much and the pain that you feel every time Tony gets hurt will be any lesser. But ask yourself, tonight when those guys were dragging Tony away, was it possible for you to be any more scared and worried than you were?”
Gibbs turned away from Damon, choosing to look into Tony’s face instead. But Damon refused to back down. “Do you think you’d care more for Tony if he were your son by blood?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Then by all means, enlighten me, Gunny! Please, will one of you just level with me here?” Damon knew he sounded desperate and needy, but he couldn’t help it. He put his hands on the bed and bent his upper body so he could look right into Gibbs’ eyes.
“Tell me why you’re shutting him out and making him so insanely insecure that he’s throwing away a perfectly good relationship? Healthy or not, appropriate or not, you know how much he depends on you! So why is your selfish, stubborn stonewall of self-preservation ruining my damn life?!?”
Gibbs stood up suddenly. “That’s where you’re wrong. He does not need me. NOT ANYMORE!”
The decibel level was so high that even Tony stirred in his sleep, and it brought the attending nurse running into the room. The marines glared at her, and she swiftly turned on her heels and left.
Seconds ticked away in silence broken only by the sound of panting breaths and the systems beeping around Tony.
Damon sighed tiredly. “You know, Gunny, sometimes, you’re wrong too.”
Gibbs fixed him with a stone cold glare but did not react. Soon though, Damon began to regret his outburst because there was one last thing he wanted to do, and now he wasn’t sure if Gunny would allow it.
“Mind if I… have a minute?” He wanted to say goodbye to Tony in private.
Gibbs did not hesitate; he might have even welcomed the opportunity to step out for a bit. He left Damon alone with Tony for the first time that night.
Damon took Gibbs’ chair and gently reached for Tony’s hand. He could no longer keep up his brave façade and leaned in to desperately kiss the cold forehead. His lips traveled down to very lightly brush against Tony’s, but that was all he allowed himself.
“I love you,” he whispered, his voice wet with tears. “You hear me, Tonio? I will always love you. Be happy, okay?”
He stood up in a hurry, knowing he needed to walk away now before he lost his nerve, before the reality of what he was about to walk away from set in.
Calling all his determination and grit as a marine to bear, Damon turned abruptly and strode out of Tony’s room and Tony’s life forever. All arrangements had been made, and he had a plane to catch in six hours. There was nothing left for Damon Werth to do here anymore.
Maybe, just maybe, taking a leaf out of Gunny’s book of self-preservation wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.
When Tony finally came to, it was just starting to lighten up outside. He kept his face turned toward the window and watched the day break, feeling too lethargic to do much else. But the uneasy peace could only last for so long.
He turned to his other side to find Abby sleeping in a chair with her head on the bed beside him. He smiled; trust his little sister to not leave his side come hell or high water. But when he tried to reach for her, he realized his old friends were back – fucking restraints.
Tony sighed even as he tried to laugh. Of course. That pointy thing that shall not ever be named was obviously still in his hand, and just thinking about it was making Tony wheeze. He forced himself to do his deep breathing exercises to calm himself down. After a couple of minutes, he felt a little better, and looked down at Abby again. He wondered how long she’d been here. Maybe it was time she got some real rest in her own bed, er… coffin.
The restraints had some give and Tony stretched until his long fingers could reach Abby’s pigtail. Grinning with mischief, he tugged at it with all his might.
“Oww! Tonyyyyyy…” Abby groaned without even opening her eyes.
Tony chuckled as Abby pulled herself up to look into his face. While she checked on him, he studied the lines on her face. Her black liner was smudged, and her pigtails were now uneven thanks to his efforts. She was obviously tired and caffeine-deprived for longer than was safer for anyone in the immediate vicinity. But she was smiling as warmly as she always did for Tony. It made him want to cry.
“How’re you feeling?”
It hurt to so much as breathe, but Tony wasn’t about to tell her that. “And good morning to you too, sunshine.” he said attempting a perky deflection his weak throat didn’t quite manage to deliver.
“That bad, huh?” She narrowed her eyes and reached for the call button.
“No, don’t do that,” Tony grimaced. “No more sedatives.”
His head felt like it didn’t actually belong on his neck, and moving it even a little made him all the more disoriented. The pain was actually helping him focus better, so it wasn’t entirely unwelcome, at least not yet.
“You look like crap,” he said.
Abby scowled, “Look who’s talking.”
“Why don’t you go on home? Get some rest.”
“Go? I just got here, sweetie. Like,” Abby glanced at her watch. “An hour ago. Gibbs kicked me out after you went under; he was the one who stayed the night.”
Oh. “What time is it?”
Tony nodded. Gibbs must already be at his desk by now. McGee and Ziva won’t show up for another hour there. At least he didn’t have to spend the day writing reports, now that the case was truly wrapped up.
“No need to stay, really, Abs. I’m fine.”
Abby rolled her eyes. “When has that line ever worked for you, Tony? I’m staying till lunch and Ziva will take over after that. Ice chips?”
Tony started to shake his head but stopped ‘cause it made him dizzy. “I’d just like to get these damn cuffs off me, please.”
“Sure,” Abby undid the buckles and picked up the closest hand to gently massage his wrist. Tony sighed as Abby lowered her lips to his knuckles and kissed his hand almost reverently.
As sensation started to return to his extremities, Tony became more and more aware of all the unmentionables that made every trip to the hospital such a horrific affair.
“I want to go to the bathroom,” he grunted uncomfortably.
Abby frowned. “But, sweetie, you have a catheter.”
“That’s exactly what I don’t want!”
Tony started to wheeze. He hated those damn things so, so damn much! “Call the nurse and get it out of me.”
Tony tried to reach the ringer himself, which unfortunately happened to be on his right. He ended up straining his injured shoulder and groaned, even as Abby rushed over to his side.
“Tony, calm down, okay, I’ll call. Just take it easy…”
“Call now!!! NOW damn it!!!”
Through a red-colored haze of panic and frustration that blanketed his senses, a new voice broke through. “What happened?”
Gibbs was back.
Tony froze, although his wheeze still didn’t take the hint. He collapsed against his pillow and looked at the older man briefly before looking away. Abby turned to Gibbs and they probably used their stupid sign language to communicate because no words were spoken for the next few seconds. What could possibly be the sign for a Foley catheter, Tony wondered.
Gibbs walked over to his bed as Abby stepped away from it. Tony caught some more furious signing in his peripheral vision – he guessed Abby was being asked to leave and she wasn’t too happy about it. But she finally relented, to Tony’s dismay. He really, really didn’t want to be alone with Gibbs, not with his wheeze giving away the state of panic he was in at the moment.
“So what’s all this fuss about, DiNozzo?” the boss asked casually.
Tony swallowed heavily but pasted a plastic grin to his face. “Nothing, Boss. I was just messing with Abby.”
His hands continued to tremble as he tried hard not to think about that thing inside his dick.
Gibbs sat next to him. “You lost a ton of blood, DiNozzo. And you have a bullet hole in your left leg. They’re gonna keep you here a couple days at least and you’re not going to be doing much walking during this time. I say we leave it in for now, okay?”
As if he had a choice. For the millionth time he cursed his inability to refuse Gibbs anything. Tony closed his eyes for a bit, forcing his body to be still and impassive like his face. It was show time.
Gibbs sat back in his chair and studied his agent’s face. The mask had fallen back in place, and Tony was busy playing the part of a comatose person with his eyes wide open.
Was this what he’d done to this once spirited young man? Reduced him to suffering in quiet agony for absolutely no fault of his own?
Gibbs gulped hard, fighting to keep his emotions at bay. Part of him was just plain angry – why would Tony do this at all? What the hell had Gibbs ever done for him to deserve such blind, unyielding loyalty? This wasn’t about a job. They weren’t on some mission with the question of life or death hanging over their heads. And Gibbs was so not the boss in here. This was a hospital, for fuck’s sake. And Tony was lying here, hurt, and vulnerable and scared to the point of hyperventilation. How could he possibly still be trying so hard to obey an eccentric old man’s pointless orders he had no business barking in the first place?
Gibbs put a hand on Tony’s arm and felt it reflexively shudder. “Tony, look at me.”
Of course, Tony complied again.
“How badly do you want it out?”
Tony tried to shrug but his body was painfully taut. “It’s okay.”
He squeezed the boy’s arm, gently. “Don’t do it for me, kiddo. If you want it out, just say you want it out.”
Tony’s face started to crumple, before he schooled it back to blankness. Once he realized Gibbs was still waiting for an answer, he looked down at his hands and whispered meekly. “I want it out.”
“Okay,” Gibbs retorted immediately, making Tony look back up. “On one condition – you will accept my help or McGee’s help or anyone who’s here with you to go the bathroom, without complaint.”
Tony’s eyes momentarily sparked with rebellion, but he nodded. Gibbs hit the switch and called the nurse on duty to the room, then told her to get rid of Tony’s catheter. The tone of his voice warranted no argument and she got to work at once. Gibbs stood by with his back turned, but within earshot in case he was needed. He turned when he heard the rustle of Tony’s gown being pulled back in place which meant the nurse was done.
“I got it,” he told her, taking the covers right out of her hands.
Tony was so pale, and he’d lost so much blood, still he managed to color up a little when his boss fixed the blankets around the boy’s supine form, tucking him in not so tightly.
Tony bit his lip. “I will be if we can also get rid of this…” he held up his hand with the IV needle taped to it.
Gibbs just smirked, and for the first time that day he spotted the beginnings of a hesitant smile on his agent’s face.
“Worth a try,” Tony quipped, while a big yawn muffled the last word out of his mouth.
“Sleep, kiddo,” Gibbs whispered, watching Tony’s eyelids droop, drained more emotionally than physically. “You’re okay now. You’re okay.”
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