I think I've always thought that if I were to die, I'd be ready for it. That I've made my peace with this life and that if it's really my time to go, I can accept it. But apparently that is not the case for me this time around and I open my eyes not to the crowds of gathered loved ones long dead the pastor of my childhood parish promised, but to the muted light and quiet ambiance of an ICU room.
Like the last time I found my way out of the blackness, the scenery around me is unfamiliar and murky and hard to make out. Like looking through the sides of an aquarium that hasn't been cleaned in a while and I turn my head to the side to see if I can locate the call button, but find that the tube to the oxygen mask covering the lower half of my face is stuck on something and won't let me turn my head that far. I reach up to try and pull it away but a warm hand encircles my wrist and I don't have the strength to do anything but let my arm fall back down beside me on the bed. I drag my weary and drug heavy eyes over to the left and think I make out the form of Gibbs and wonder if this is all just a dream.
I thought for sure I was a goner, especially after all that blood I coughed up and the sound of the building coming down around us being the last thing I heard before unconsciousness dragged me under, but apparently my stoic boss has managed to save my ass yet again and I say the first thing that comes to mind under the oxygen.
"Auntie Em?" The drugs that they have me on are good but my throat still aches and I don't have enough energy to laugh at the bad joke I've just made or ask him all the questions that spring to my mind.
What happened? How did I get here? Am I alright? Are you alright? How are Abby, Tim, Palmer and Ducky? Is everyone alive? How many people made it out? How many died?
He seems to read the questions in my eyes though and launches into some answers.
"You're at Bethesda, Tony. They transferred you here a few days ago after you had some complications with your lungs due to the plague scaring. Tim and Abby are just fine and so are Ducky and Palmer. NCIS is a little worse for wear, but we'll rebuild." He stops there without giving me a rundown of his own injuries and I find out why a few seconds later.
A nurse breezes in and pulls back the curtain to my quiet little room before letting out an irritated sigh.
"I thought I might find you in here. Mr. Gibbs you have to stay in bed, you're in no condition to keep wheeling yourself around this hospital!" She exclaims, clearly exasperated by my boss.
"It's Agent Gibbs," we both say at the same time, me from behind my oxygen mask and Gibbs from under his little cloud of disappointment at being discovered in my room.
I manage to pull the tube to my oxygen mask free of whatever it was catching on and turn my head to get a better look at him and find that I can see a little more clearly now. He's slumped in a wheelchair and clad in a hospital gown with the most hideous pattern I've ever seen covering it, looking as miserable as I feel with a bandaged temple and twin black eyes. Even though he looks like death warmed over, I'm pretty relieved that he's here with me, something familiar and known in a world where nothing makes sense anymore.
I don't mean too, but I cut into their little showdown in my room with a fit of coughing that has the nurse forgetting all about Gibbs for a minute to flag down a doctor for me. I try to stay with it, but when breathing gets to be too much for me to handle, I let oblivion pull me under with one last look to Gibbs.
When I reemerge again it's darker in the room but he's still there and I pull my hand out from his grasp only to put it back over his when he tries to move it away.
"How many?" I ask. The oxygen mask is still on my face and I'm pretty sure it's going to be permanent fixture there for a while (my lungs don't have the best track record), and it colors my words muffled. But I can tell he understands.
"19 dead, 43 injured. Twelve are in ICU still but they think most of them are going to make it."
I roll these numbers around in my head and the faces I see every day at work flash in my mind. I wonder at how many of these people I'll never see again and I shudder, Gibbs leaning in a little closer to look at me critically. I indicate I'm alright as best I can and he settles back.
"I have a new rule to add to the list," he says as we sit in silence for a few moments and he lets me digest the numbers he's just given me. I look over at him.
"Rule # 52 - Anthony DiNozzo does not die today."
And while I know the road is going to be hard and that there will be more to rebuild than just the NCIS building, I let a smile form on my lips behind the mask covering my face.
"That sounds like a good one, Jethro." I say and this time it's his turn to smile.FIN