Chapter 4 - Will You Please Just Go?
The shrill alarm of my clock radio pulls me from sleep and I flop an absent minded arm in its direction hoping to maybe score a direct hit on the snooze. Nothing happens though and I make to roll over and try again when a white hot flash of pain tears up my side forcing me to stop as it pulls a moan from me.
"What the hell?" I say out loud and then pry my sleep heavy lids open to try and get a good look at what it is that's mimicking a hot poker in my side.
I'm confused at my surroundings at first. They're blurry and no matter what I do I can't get them to focus so I check my memory banks and try to remember who I was with last night and where we had ended up but find that I can't think back that far. My last conscious hours are nothing but a jumbled mess inside my head and I'm starting to get a little worried. I risk shifting again but the pain is back and this time when I move something from above me pelts my face and I try to put my arms up to protect myself from whatever it is. This aborted attempt makes a few things quite clear. Firstly, I never moved my arm to try and hit the snooze button and second, that wail I hear is not from my alarm clock but the sound of the NCIS building's fire alarm.
I'm at work and something has happened.
Panic swells up from somewhere inside of me and I try to choke it down before it can consume me completely, but the pain in my side is throbbing in time with my heart now that I've been made aware of it and nothing I do can get my arms to work again. The panic is a living breathing thing inside my chest and I close my eyes that still can't see clearly against its thrashing claws. I can't lose it now, not if I'm going to figure out what's happened and how to get out of it so I make myself calm down and focus on my breathing. Even that simple act hurts but it gives me enough calm to anchor to and I try opening my eyes again. There's something in them, blood most likely, and I turn my head to the side and feel the warm slip slide of the rivers of it that trickle down the side of my face and out from around my eyes. It's a little better and I can finally make out some of what's around me.
I'm laying beside a wall and I risk turning my head to the other side to get a better look at it and find that it's one of the two marble covered reception counters in the NCIS lobby. Somehow it's managed to shield me from a large chunk of the floor from above and I'm in a little cave of collapsed building material. I crane my neck forward, ignoring the pull at my side that has sweat springing up on my forehead and my teeth clenching together against a scream, and manage to see the rebar poking out from my side and the bottom half of my legs disappearing underneath the rubble. It's more than I can handle and I collapse back down again, breathing hard and barely holding it together. The panic is back with a vengeance when I realize I can't feel much below my knees but I position my head back in the place where the blood flows away from my eyes instead of into them and try to regain the calm I had found earlier. I check my arms again next and find that one of them is only trapped beneath a pipe and I manage to free it without much fuss or pain. When it comes free I swipe at the grime in my eyes and try not to throw up when my hand comes away from my face completely covered in blood.
"Head wounds," I remind myself out loud, "they bleed a lot."
I use my free hand to get some of the loose debris off me and take stock of the various lacerations and impalements around my body. There's a pretty big shard of glass sticking out from my other arm and I leave the arm where it lies, trapped under some torn drywall and ceiling tiles because I can't feel it anyway so why risk moving it? My luck I'd dislodge the glass then bleed out onto the lobby floor before I can even figure out how I got here. My vision is still blurry despite the removal of the blood from my eyes and, add that to my still jumbled thoughts, I know I have to have a concussion. I can feel nausea start to coat the inside of my mouth but I fight against it. I can't afford to get sick and I certainly won't be able to move enough to avoid getting it all over myself if I do, so I close my eyes against the rocking sensation moving my eyes too much brings and focus again on my breathing.
Instead of continuing to catalog the bad stuff I take a moment to try and focus on something positive. There's light around me, weak streams of it managing to permeate my cocoon and illuminate the space around with me so that I'm not in total darkness. I can feel fresh air puff against my face every so often so I know I won't suffocate down here and I have at least one working limb (should I need it).
See, things are going to be okay.
As if to prove me wrong the ceiling above me shifts precariously and I can do nothing but watch as pieces of it break off to fall on top of me and knock the air out of my lungs, some pieces landing dangerously close to the oozing hole in my side. When I try to draw the air I've lost back in the drywall dust comes with it and my chest seizes in coughs that have my vision going gray from the pain that the movement erupts in my side. It's all I can do to stay conscious and finally the building stills and tears sting the cuts at the sides of my eyes when they start to drop.
I get lost in it for a moment, the despair. But then I'm remembering what it was that landed me here and I lose the fight with consciousness when the memories pummel against me.
In my dreams the events play out in vivid detail and I wonder if I'm not still just a little bit conscious and hallucinating from the trauma and the blood loss. I've had to have lost quarts of it by now and there is a cold calculation to blood loss: lose enough of it and your toast.
I remember watching the clouds and being fascinated by the strange rotation they were showing. I'd never seen a tornado and while I guessed that that was what I was seeing forming in the sky, it never occurred to me to be afraid. Tornados were things that happened to other people, rural farms and in states like Kansas or Iowa... not in DC and certainly not outside my windows. So I stood there stupidly watching as the clouds reached for the ground and didn't start to move until the thing continued to grow and I realized it was heading straight for me. Even then I don't think I was entirely convinced that I was in any real danger and while I was backing away from the glass, I wasn't turning around to run away. Part of me wanted to stand there and watch as mother nature unleashed her fury on an unsuspecting metropolis, all the while making me bear witness. There was something heavy about that burden and it kept me rooted in place until the windows shattered inward and I had to look away as the glass sped toward me. I could feel it nicking my skin and drawing blood, maybe even sense the dull thud of the big shard that hit me in the arm and lodged all the way down and into the bone, but by then it was too late. I was the twister's slave and nothing I could do would save me.
I can remember Gibbs appearing at my side and his hand on my shoulder but then he was being sucked down into the abyss that opened up beside me as the tornado started prying the front of the building up and away from itself. The floor beneath my knees tilted and I could feel myself slipping sideways and headed toward the same hole that had just swallowed Gibbs but then the wind was lifting me up and sucking me towards the swirling vortex that was hoovering anything it could get its hands on into its gaping maw. I was in the middle of a battle, a split second war for my soul that gravity eventually won, and I finished my slide down the floor as the other side of the slab I was on was wrenched upwards and out from under me.
The sound of my name followed me into blackness.
"Tony!" McGee... or maybe Abby, I can't quite remember.
"DiNozzo!" couldn't have been Gibbs, he fell down the hole first.
"Damn it kid, open your eyes!"
Now that doesn't make sense.
Realizing the voice calling my name is not part of my nightmare, I force the lids of my eyes open and the blood streaked face of Gibbs swims into focus. His appearance in my eye line elicits a tightened knot of emotion in my chest but I don't know whether I want to laugh or start crying again.
"Boss?" I croak out instead, not caring about how pathetic the word sounds coming out of my mouth. Gibbs is on his hands and knees over me in the small space of my cocoon and he lets his head hang in relief when I look up and over at him.
"God, Tony, I thought you were..." but he doesn't finish the thought and I'm glad of it. I know how precarious my situation is. I don't need another reminder.
"What happ'd, boss?" I swear I was more lucid a few minutes ago but now my words sound slurred, like I don't quite have the grip on myself I thought I did.
"There was a tornado." He says simply. "The building collapsed."
"Thank you Captain Obvious." I want to say and think I keep the thought to myself but Gibbs looks over at me again and laughs a little.
Shit, I'm losing it now.
I must fade out again because when I open the eyes I didn't realize I'd closed Gibbs has made a space for himself at my side and is tapping my face with his fingertips, all the while yelling my name.
"Look," he's saying to me, "I know all you want to do is sleep right now DiNozzo, but you've got a pretty bad bump on the head and we need to keep you conscious, alright?"
"Okay," I say but I think I'm going to have a hard time keeping my word because I can already feel the pull of unconsciousness beckoning for me again.
Gibbs gets busy shifting rubble off of me like his hands need the work and every so often I hear him curse when he uncovers a little more bad news about my rapidly deteriorating state. But it's when he rips the bottom part of his shirt off to press it into the place where the red hot poker is protruding from my side that I really start to scream.
I think he might try to apologize to me and I think maybe I should remind him about Rule #6, but I can't see anything past the blue and white stars that erupt behind my eyes or the agony that has me trying to shift away from Gibbs even as he yells at me to stay still.
"Boss... stop," even I can hear how watery my plea sounds and I don't try to stem the flow of tears the pain manages to wrangle from the corners of my eyes.
But he doesn't stop and the pain never quite goes away but eventually it settles down into something on the lighter side of unimaginable and I realize Gibbs is talking to me.
He rambles on about the storm and the tornado and how he's never seen anything like it before and I try to focus on his words, I really do, but the pull of sleep is so alluring that I find myself following after it every so often. Whenever he sees me do this, he pushes down a little harder on my stomach and I know what he's doing is cruel and unusual punishment, but I can't fault him for it. If our roles were reversed and I was the one trying to keep him from bleeding out or falling asleep to never wake up again, I'd be doing the exact same thing.
"...Tony, you are so..."
"I miss her!" I say suddenly when one particularly rough push of his hand has me panting back into the present again.
"Who?" He asks, though I know he knows full well who it is that I'm talking about.
"...Handsom... funny... what?"
"Ziva, Gibbs," I pant.
"I miss Ziva."
"Oh. Do you guys talk a lot?" I know it's just another trick to try and keep me conscious, but I answer anyway if only to give myself something else to think about besides the pain.
"Every... every once in a while. She's pretty... ah... pretty busy over there trying to find herself." I know this declaration comes out bitter but keeping quite against the moans trying to claw their way up the back of my throat is sapping all my focus and I'm having a hard time censoring my half of the conversation.
"I miss her too, Tony," he says, trying to hide the words behind a slight shift of his weight on the debris that sends unseen things skittering. "She was a good agent."
He says it as if it were an afterthought, but I see right through him.
"Listen Gibbs... if I don't... I mean, I think it's pretty bad, so would you..." but I don't know how to ask him for it.
I expect him to get angry with me and give me the "don't you dare give up" speech, but as a testament to how really bad this all is, the clichéd lines don't come. Instead, he looks over at me and I hold his eyes with my own for a fraction of a second longer than is kosher and I think he understands what it is that I'm trying to ask of him. I'm making out my last will and testament here and all he can do is look away to study the fallen ceiling perilously suspended above our heads. I hate him a little for it. And yet he surprises me seconds later with a quiet:
"I will, Tony." And looks back over at me.
His eyes are shiny for the first time in... well forever and I know in that instance that there's no one else in this world I'd rather be trapped down under this rubble with then him.
As if to cover the crack in his armor his promise to me has made, Gibbs launches into a speech about the subtle mechanics of boat building and we lapse back into our little ritual of me trying to die and Gibbs keeping me firmly rooted in place by a constant pressure on the wound at my side.
And even though the thought of him leaving scares the shit out of me, there's something I need to try because the Major Case Response Team doesn't need to lose two more members today. There's been enough of that.
"Gibbs," I start after he lapses back into another silence after having given me the rundown on how he gets his boats out of the basement when he's finished with them.
(How he does it has baffled me and others around him for years but my focus wavers so badly now that I can't remember much of what he's told me. I almost want to ask him to repeat it but know he won't.)
"You should pro'ly start thinking about gettin' yourself outta here." my voice is slurring again, the words becoming mush in my mouth as I slowly lose the energy to form them.
After I give him what feels like adequate time to absorb the idea of leaving me here I've given him, I look over and catch his angry glare and think maybe I need to try a different approach.
"If you start... dig'ng now... you might be able to get... rescue workers in h'r after me before I... well... you kno'..."
See, we both win that way. Words are so much easier when I don't have to voice them.
"Not gonna happen DiNozzo," he says matter-of-factly, like he needs to convince me the thought hasn't run through his own brain a few times already. I, on the other hand, have no qualms about calling a duck, a duck, and I don't back down.
"You're in a lot, better, shape, than I am... Boss, but that ceiling is already so unstable... if it comes down... we're both dead."
'And that is not how Leroy Jethro Gibbs goes out,' I want to add, but I think he reads it's meaning on my face.
With that final thought, I think I've come to the end of my reserves. I can tell Gibbs is contemplating what I'm suggesting and I can also tell the exact moment he decides he's right where he needs to be and isn't going anywhere.
"Boss..." I start.
"Save it, DiNozzo," he snaps and I shift under his hands but don't have it in me to call out against the pain that tears through me this time.
"Jethro!" And I know it's a low blow (and he looks over at me like it is), but I've gone too far to give up now, and I use everything I have left in me to beg him to save himself.
"Will you please just go? There's no reason for both of us to die down here."
"I said save it, Tony," and suddenly I see that it's no use. He's going to stay by my side and something warm settles in at the base of my spine and I really look at him for the first time since this whole thing started.
His face is covered in drywall dust and its streaked with blood down one side of it, but he only has eyes for what's going on with me and I've been too preoccupied with myself to really take stock of him before now. His eyes make a constant circuit around my various injuries, every so often landing on my face to check that I'm still awake and I see genuine fear in his eyes whenever he looks at me full on. I realize then that he's got one hand on my arm and that the pressure of his grip there increases each time I shift against the pain and I know it's his attempt at comforting me.
I sigh then, coming to the realization that it's not duty or his nature that keeps him here with me, but something else between us that I know we'll never name, though its presence in this moment is tangible. I think I finally get him (after years of trying to break the code) and saying goodbye to him in this moment feels like the right thing to do. But something shifts above my head and the sigh I was working on hitches in my chest and gets stuck there, caught on the dust that rains down around us and invades my throat when I try to breathe. Gibbs lunges forward to cover me from the worst of it but I can taste the iron of blood in the back of my throat now. I can't get my lungs to expand the right way and I don't think I have the energy left to worry about it.
Black spots fill my field of vision and I blink uselessly against them, searching out Gibbs' eyes and looking for some guidance on how to get myself out of this one.
"DiNozzo." It's the tone of his voice that helps me find him in the threatening blackness and he drops one of his palms on top of my chest.
There is no added pressure, just the warmth of human contact and his soft whispered orders just to breathe. Without having realized it, I've gathered the shoulder of his shirt in my fist, and I try to do as he says.
"You know how to do this. It's the easiest thing in the world. Just breathe in and then breathe out." He leaves his hand on my chest and I try to draw strength into myself from his touch, willing my lungs to inflate and raise the hand up and then lead it back down. I focus in on that simple act and manage to somehow bring in just enough oxygen around the pain and the panic to keep unconsciousness at bay.
And it almost works. But then I feel blood invade the space at the back of my throat and I cough on it, covering my mouth just in time to catch it in my palm rather than spray it all over the front of Gibbs who's still kneeling over me. The amount of it surprises me and I know I look back and forth between it and Gibbs trying to grasp what it is that's exactly happening to me in this moment.
Something is altered inside. There's a shift of things and suddenly Gibbs' hand on my chest just isn't enough to keep me here anymore and I can feel myself slipping. The ceiling around us rumbles like it's mad that I'm trying to die but nothing that it or Gibbs does can keep me anchored in place.And the last thing I hear is a choked "Damn it, Tony." before I float away completely.