by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Okay, so this is me dusting off my NCIS muses again. I'm not sure of this story. I feel like it's been ages since I wrote Gibbs and Tony. I also feel like this is just the beginning of something. I might write a sequel that gets more into the potential slashiness, but no promises.

Not betaed.

Sometimes they called it the change, or the transition, or just it, but mostly they called it the Awakening. It was a bitterly ironic name, at least to Gibbs, because it was the Awakening that had driven Tony, steadily and inevitably, into catatonia.

No one knew, yet, what had started it. Or maybe the change had been lurking in their genes, waiting for the right moment, and the only mystery was why now. They did know that it had happened everywhere in the world at once and that it hadn't been sudden. The latest estimates said ten days passed between the beginning of the Awakening and its peak.

At first it had been whispers when no one was speaking, items a little closer to hand than expected, a hunch that was just a little too solid, eyesight sharper than it had been the day before... Little things, dismissible things. But slowly, steadily, they grew into unmistakable things. Thoughts heard before they were spoken, objects flying through the air at a whim, certain knowledge of an event no one could have predicted, visions of places miles away, and more.

Not everyone had showed the signs, at first, and those who talked about what was happening were labeled crackpots. But only for a few days. Soon enough the Awakening came to everyone. The sooner your gift came to you, the stronger it was, but everyone had found some new ability.

Ducky could see into the past just by touching something. Abby turned out to be an honest to God medium. McGee and Ziva were both telepaths, though she was stronger than he was. Gibbs himself had become a pre-cognitive--the gut come into its own at last. And Tony...Tony was an empath.

It must have come to him first, although he hadn't mentioned it until Ziva and Ducky had admitted their own talents. Two days after that, they all knew that Tony was stronger than the rest of them. He started flinching when strangers passed too close to him. Another day, and he couldn't stand to be out in public. He slept at the office because the apartments at his place were too close together. Soon he couldn't stand to be in the squad room if there were more than three people in the entire place. By the end of the day after that, six days since he'd admitted his gift, Tony had gone completely non-responsive.

It wasn't quite the first case they'd seen, the doctor told Gibbs when they took Tony to the hospital. It wasn't the last, either. According to a few telepaths who'd volunteered to touch the minds of the withdrawn, the most sensitive telepaths and empaths had been swamped with the clamor of thoughts and emotions, as if a hundred people were screaming in their ears while a thousand more whispered in the background. They'd escaped the only way they could.

So while the world struggled to figure out how to handle people who knew what you were really thinking and feeling, who could see events unfolding in distant places, who knew exactly what had happened yesterday and the day before and a hundred years ago, who could see stock market changes hours ahead of time and a hundred other things, Tony slept. And while Tony slept, Gibbs kept watch.

Not constantly, of course. People were taking advantage of their new abilities in ugly ways as well as amazing ones and Gibbs's team was in demand, more than any other, given that Gibbs was the strongest pre-cog in NCIS. But he came after work most days and sat with Tony for an hour or two. If he was there on a Friday Tony's doctor would drop in and give him an update.

For all the unchanging nature of Tony's condition, the doctor's visits weren't just a sop to Gibbs's concern--or the sneaking, helpless guilt he couldn't quite drive away. They were learning more about the Awakening and the gifts it had brought out every day and there was always the chance that they'd find some way to shield the oversensitive and let them come back to the world again.

Today was a Friday and Gibbs was sitting with Tony in the rec room, looking out the windows at the city. A hospital wouldn't have a complete recreation room, of course, but when they realized the reason for Tony's withdrawal they'd moved him to a long term care facility. Gibbs had fought it--at least while he was in the hospital, Tony was a visible problem--but once again, the Awakening had defeated him. Maybe that's why he was so scrupulous about is own visits. As hard as it was to see a man as vital and energetic as Tony had been sitting waxenly and staring into space, it would be worse to let him slip away, not even mourned, just forgotten.

Gibbs's neck prickled. Not his gift, just the ordinary awareness any person had when they were being watched. He shifted in his chair a little and nodded at the doctor waiting a few steps away. "Doctor Leigh. Have a seat," Gibbs suggested.

The doctor picked up a plastic chair and set it down next to Gibbs. "Special Agent Gibbs," he greeted, sitting and laying a clipboard across his lap. Face down, Gibbs noticed. "It's good to see you." I wasn't sure you were coming back.

The words were unspoken, but Gibbs didn't have to be a telepath to know they were there. He'd missed the last two Fridays in a row thanks to cases and he didn't see Leigh when he visited during the rest of the week. The Doctor couldn't organize his schedule around one patient, after all. He'd probably thought Gibbs had given up on Tony.

"Work," Gibbs said shortly. "How's he doing?" He nodded at Tony. Tony himself, of course, was unresponsive to the conversation. He simply sat, dressed in a pair of pale blue cotton pajamas--hospital pajamas, since Tony hadn't turned out to have any of his own when they'd gathered his things for the move--and stared glassily out the window. No smile, no twinkle in his eye, his hair flat against his skull. Where the hell are you, DiNozzo?

"He's the same," Doctor Leigh said. "But there has been a development with his type of case."

Gibbs sat up sharply, eyes narrowing. "What sort of development?"

"Agent Gibbs, I don't want to unduly raise your hopes--"

"Just spit it out, Doctor," Gibbs ordered sharply.

Leigh paused and turned his clipboard over on his lap, glancing down as if he needed the reference. "Last week," he said, "a doctor in Minneapolis agreed to let a telepath attempt to put a woman, a finder, in contact with her husband, an empath. He was in the same state as Tony, for the same reason."

"I thought telepaths could only read personally," Gibbs said skeptically. "They aren't supposed to be able to act as conduits."

"we've barely had a month to study these new gifts," Leigh said, spreading his hands and shrugging. "We're still finding our limits."

Gibbs grunted. "So what happened?"

"We're not entirely sure," Leigh admitted. "None of the three of them have been able to clearly articulate it. But he woke up."

"And the catch?" Gibbs asked calmly.

Doctor Leigh smiled wryly. "You're a perceptive man, Agent Gibbs. Apparently the telepath created some sort of feedback loop between the woman and her husband. He senses her emotions, and only her emotions. He came out of the catatonic state because the roar of input was reduced to a single channel. But the nature of the feedback loop that made that possible means that his wife is reading his emotions as well. What's more..." Leigh paused. "The bond seems to be permanent."

Permanent. The word seemed to echo.

Trigger! Gibbs realized. He grabbed his chair, his gift blazing to life and blotting out reality. Images flashed by, each striking him with the full weight of their implications before vanishing again:

The team, gathered around Tony, arguing. McGee uncomfortable, Abby fierce, Ziva guilty, Gibbs driving them into silence, and overlying it all, felt though not seen, Tony shrinking away, retreating into the dark. Deeper.

Tony standing, awake, responsive, his arms wrapped around Abby. Both of them were crying, but in Gibbs's mind's eye the scene shaded through the arc of time from bright yellow joy to a sluggish, resigned navy blue.

And last, a familiar scene. The wheelchair. The window. The same but for the streaks of gray in Tony's hair and the utter absence of any accompanying chairs.

Gibbs blinked furiously, the last vision slowly fading into reality, and realized that he was sitting askew on his chair, hands white-knuckled from trying to stop himself from pitching onto the floor as the visions struck him like blows. Doctor Leigh was crouching in front of him, holding onto his arms, helping keep him in his seat.

"Are any of your staff telepaths?" Gibbs asked hoarsely. Hearing his voice, he worked up a mouthful of saliva and swallowed heavily, wondering if he'd been shouting.

"Three of them," Leigh said softly. "But don't rush this, Agent Gibbs. Give it time. Talk to his family, his loved ones. This will change two lives, not one."

Gibbs stared into Leigh's pale gray eyes and set his jaw. "Go get one of them," he said flatly.

"Agent Gibbs--"


Leigh hesitated for a long moment, but under the force of Gibbs's glare he slowly rose to his feet. "Please give this some thought, Agent Gibbs," he said. "Even if you are the best choice to bond with Tony, this isn't a decision to be made lightly. The bond is more serious than a marriage; you can't take it back." He paused another moment, then turned and left.

Gibbs waited until he was a few steps away, then hauled his chair around so that he was sitting facing Tony. "I won't leave you here, Tony," he said quietly, looking into Tony's unfocused gaze. Gibbs lifted his hand and cupped the younger man's cheek. "I'll bring you out of here myself." He almost expected Tony to blink and focus, to grin and gloat over Gibbs's concern, but the moment passed.

Slowly, Gibbs let his hand fall and sat back, a soft breath escaping him. Watching Tony withdraw as his gifts grew stronger had been like watching the man die inside. Gibbs had never felt so helpless in his life. Seeing Tony look to him and knowing there was nothing he could do...Gibbs clenched his hands just remembering.

Well, he could do something now, and he would. For once these God damned gifts were going to do some good instead of just fucking up the status quo. Besides, Gibbs thought wryly, I'm probably better equipped to live with DiNozzo in my head than anyone else.

"Agent Gibbs?"

Gibbs looked up to find Doctor Leigh waiting with a young woman with short brown hair and soft green eyes. He focused on her. "You're the telepath?"

She nodded, a little self-consciously, hands clasped in front of her. "Yes, but Agent Gibbs, I've never tried this before. I'm not even sure what it is I'm supposed to do."

"I doubt the first guy did, either," Gibbs said briskly. "Whatever happened, instinct drove it. It'll drive it this time, too."

"The first pair were husband and wife," Doctor Leigh said gently. "You could argue there was a bond there already. Without that degree of intimacy--"

"Tony and I have watched each other's backs under fire for years, Doctor Leigh," Gibbs interrupted. "It may be a different kind of closeness, but it still counts." He could see the doubt in Leigh's eyes, but the doctor didn't say anything, just inclined his head briefly and turned to the nurse.

"Carol, if you're willing..."

The nurse nodded and sat carefully in the chair that Leigh had vacated earlier. "Well," she said uncertainly, "I guess if I'm trying to put you in touch with each other, the first step is for me to get in touch with you."

"You need me to do anything?" Gibbs said, consciously easing his voice a little.

Carol shook her head. "Non-telepaths can't usually tell when they're being read," she said. "Just sit there and concentrate on Tony. That'll at least let me know what I'm supposed to be listening for."

Concentrating on Tony wasn't hard, though Gibbs felt an unfamiliar edge of self-consciousness at knowing his thoughts were an open book to Carol. Perfect outward control was no good when someone could look inside. Wake up, DiNozzo, Gibbs thought, carefully forming the words, preventing any others from cohering. Focus. On me, Tony.

"Tony's not a telepath," Carol said, her voice strangely distracted. "He can't hear you when you think. He doesn't know you're there. He needs to recognize how you feel."

The touchy feely crap strikes again, Gibbs thought wryly. But he closed his eyes and remembered what it was like when he got into the office and found DiNozzo leaning back in his chair, legs propped up on his desk, snoring away. The familiar snap of impatience shot through him, amusement following close on its heels as Tony jerked upright in the chair, almost overbalancing and spilling onto the floor, and the rush of satisfaction at Tony's quick, clear, "On your six, boss," as if he'd never been caught napping at all.

A strange uncertainty floated through Gibbs. He tried to calm the feeling and felt it slide seamlessly into tentative welcome, tinted with confusion.

Tony? Gibbs thought. But of course, Tony wouldn't be able to hear his thoughts. He was an empath, not a telepath. Get your ass back here, DiNozzo! Gibbs tried to project impatience and expectation and welcome all at once.

Longing washed over Gibbs, but fear chased it away and was replaced in turn with an impression of blackness, emptiness, and a heavy, smothering sense of security that made Gibbs gasp for breath. He dug his way through the dark, a hint of something that wasn't quite panic shooting through him. Tony was buried somewhere in here, crushed under the weight of that mockery of security.

Something familiar called to Gibbs through that suffocating emotion, curled in on itself, hiding. Gibbs did the only thing he could think of: he blazed with every emotion he could summon. Tony--it had to be Tony--uncurled in a welter of shock and anger. Gibbs blazed brighter. You don't hide from this. You don't hide from me.

Tony lashed out and a spike of concentrated emotion ripped through Gibbs, as if to say, You see what I have to deal with? But it was Tony reaching out, Tony's emotions being sent because he couldn't send any others, and Gibbs didn't flinch. He seized hold and pulled, as if he could physically yank Tony out of his withdrawal. Shock arced through Tony and slammed into Gibbs and he gasped but held on and kept holding on through the spasm of panic that ripped through Tony. I've got you. I won't let go. You won't let go.

A sense of sudden, desperate seeking and then something clicked into place and need and fear swept through Gibbs, a hundred time stronger than before. His eyes snapped open and he flew out of his chair, taking a step forward to stand over Tony. He rested one hand on the back of the wheelchair and tapped Tony's cheek sharply. "Focus, DiNozzo," Gibbs said roughly.

Urgency chased the fear away and suddenly Tony was blinking frantically. After a moment the flutter of his eyelids slowed and he focused. "Boss?" he said hoarsely.

Gibbs couldn't help the surge of relief and pleasure that single word brought him, nor could he help feeling Tony's answering happiness. "Yeah," Gibbs said aloud. "It's about damn time you quit sleeping on the job, DiNozzo."

Tony blinked, his expression a perfect reflection of the surprise ricocheting around inside him, but then he laughed, and the sound was wreathed in warmth and satisfaction, as if Gibbs had said exactly the right thing. "Got it, Boss," Tony said cockily.

Gibbs could feel the expectation, but he reached out and gave Tony a light smack upside the head anyway.