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Not That Simple

Chapter Text

The ping-ping-ping of hailstones dancing against his bedside window woke him before the upbeat jingle from his phone, but the tinny melody was what ultimately forced his eyes open and his brain alert, causing yet another loss in the daily battle of responsibility versus sheets tucked up under his chin and soft pillows beneath his head. His fingers deftly traversed the planes of his nightstand and found purchase on the cool metal of his phone, and he was not surprised to see the letters "NCIS" flashing on the screen, a stark bright light against the darkness of his bedroom.

"DiNozzo," he mumbled, rubbing a hand over his face and seeing spotty impressions of the bright letters "NCIS" behind his eyelids when he squeezed his eyes shut to yawn.

"Dead Marine Petty Officer, Agent DiNozzo. I emailed the details. Call Gibbs and get your team in here ASAP."

"Got it," Tony mumbled. "Be there soon." Even though the switchboard operators at NCIS called Tony more than anyone else he knew (although he would never admit that to his coworkers), he didn't think he'd ever spoken more than a handful of words to them.

Pushing his weariness aside, he pressed speed dial number one, the constant hum of hailstones threatening to lull him back to sleep as it mingled with the phone ringing in his ears.

"Gibbs." Even half-asleep, Gibbs managed to sound intimidating and impatient.

"We got a dead Marine, Boss," Tony said, voice gruff with sleep.

He was met with silence for a moment, and then the sounds of rustling fabric and a deep, heavy sigh.

"Call McGee, David, and Ducky; office in twenty minutes," Gibbs ordered.

Predictably, Gibbs hung up before Tony could even attempt to respond. For about half a second, Tony just stared at his phone, brain sluggishly catching up to what was said, ears still intent on the ping-ping-ping of hailstones, eyes processing the "4:23 AM" that flashed on his phone while gradually adjusting to the darkness of his room-then he was on his feet, making phone calls and tugging clothes off hangers in a frenzy. Another day.


Tony noted with satisfaction that his phone read "4:42 AM" as he exited the NCIS elevator and went to his desk. "Made it in nineteen, boss," he said upon noticing Gibbs' presence.

"Good. Give yourself one of those awards in your bottom drawer," Gibbs said, and then took a long drag of coffee as if it were his lifeline.

For just a split second, Tony's eyebrows shot up in surprise - Gibbs knew about those?! - but then he flashed a cocky grin. "Chicks dig a man with awards," he said as he tugged off his jacket and shook the rain off in the general direction of McGee's desk. He noticed an NCIS T-shirt laid over the back of McGee's desk chair, and he grabbed it and gave his face and hair a quick drying-off before tossing it back where he found it.

He sat heavily in his own desk chair and turned on his computer, stifling a yawn as he read the email from dispatch.

"So?" Gibbs asked, throwing his empty cup into the trash and grabbing his gun. "What do we have?"

The elevator chimed, effectively silencing any reply Tony may have had, and McGee and Ziva exited together, Ziva silent and composed, McGee apologetic.

"Sorry, Boss, traffic-"

"Dead petty officer Lisa Wooster, 24, in Georgetown. Neighbors heard a shot and called 911...local LEOs checked it out and called us when they saw dog tags around her neck. LEOs are calling it suicide," Tony said.

Gibbs nodded. "Grab your gear, everybody. McGee, gas the truck."

Tony's gun was already secured in its holster, his NCIS jacket halfway zipped when McGee's wet T-shirt flew into his face. He tossed it back at McGee with a grin that widened with the double pleasure of a scowl from McGee and the look from Ziva that said, "Really, Tony, you are such a child." And with the energy of one, he bounced behind Gibbs into the elevator and smiled blindingly at the surly man. Another day, indeed.


The exuberance found by irritating McGee within moments of his arrival and before the sun had even risen was quickly lost when the sun still hadn't risen, and he'd already taken more photos than he could count and endured enough of Ducky's stories to fill a whole afternoon. Thankfully, Ducky and Palmer had already left with the body.

He hated when the victims were women. He supposed some would say it made him chauvinistic, something he didn't think was worth denying. He'd rather blame it on something that simple, anyway, than delve any deeper into the issue, if it was even worth calling one.

This particular crime scene seemed pretty standard-woman lying in a pool of her own blood, gun in her hand pointed vaguely in the direction of herself, eyes staring up at nothing in particular, lips in a slack, parted position. Someone had done a great job trying to make it look like a suicide, but the angle was completely wrong for her to have done it herself, and Tony was willing to bet there was no GSR on her hands before the test was even done.

When, for the time being, he snapped his last shot from inside the apartment, he stepped out from underneath the yellow crime scene tape and into the hallway to find Gibbs, somehow holding another cup of coffee, origins unknown, talking to a tall, thin, balding man.

"Sounds like a model tenant," Gibbs said to the man, taking a casual sip of coffee.

The man nodded, composed expression betrayed by a wildness lurking in his eyes and a hand that would not stop worrying the too-long sleeve that fell, threadbare, into his palm. "Used to bring cookies over, too-loved to bake, she did. Good cookies. My grandson loves-loved 'em. That boyfriend o' hers was a lucky bastard."

"He got a name?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah, sure, Nicky. Tall guy. Some kinda musician. Lotsa pictures of him in there."

Tony nodded his agreement to this, and smiled at the man. "Agent DiNozzo," he said by way of introduction.

"Steve Thompson," the man said. "I'm the super."

"You finished with pictures?" Gibbs asked Tony.

"So far," Tony said, tugging on the camera strap around his neck.

"Go get more bags from the truck," Gibbs instructed. "McGee's out of 'em."

Tony nodded, sparing a moment's thought as to how Gibbs knew that when he'd been in the hall the whole time, and descended the flight of stairs back to the ground level of the building. He was pleased to see that even though it was still gray and dreary, daylight was beginning to filter in. He grabbed some more evidence bags after stowing the camera away and jogged back in, walking past Gibbs and Thompson once more.

"Out already, McGee?" he asked.

"Yeah, how'd you know?" McGee said. He was painstakingly bagging and tagging small fragments of a once-whole dinner plate.

"ESP," Tony said very seriously as he dropped the bags next to McGee's crouched form and walked towards a tall bookcase crammed into the corner of the apartment.

Ziva snorted from where she was bagging a pile of letters found in the Petty Officer's desk. "And what am I thinking right now, Tony?"

Tony grinned. "Easy. You're thinking about how hard it is to concentrate while the best looking NCIS agent is standing within fifteen feet of you."

Tony was not surprised when Gibbs' presence was given away only by a slap on the back of his head. "Didn't know you thought I was the best-looking NCIS agent, DiNozzo."

"Actually, Boss, I wasn't-" he began to say, but cut his words short as his brain caught up with his mouth. "Of course, Boss, you're a regular Richard Gere-I mean, not that you're old, you're just...distinguished, um, so, really, you're Brad Pitt...uh, not the doctor, the actor, but not when his hair was bleached-um, shutting up now, Boss," he said with a wince, and then a scowl at a snickering Ziva once Gibbs' back was turned.

"Best idea you've had all week, DiNozzo," Gibbs replied. "Find out about the boyfriend. Super says his first name was Nicholas, goes by Nicky, last name starts with M."

Tony looked up from where he was leafing through a book. A recent-looking picture of Petty Officer Lisa Wooster alongisde a tall man with short, almost black hair and a goatee slipped out from between the pages. "Think this is him, Boss," he said.

"There are many letters here from a Nicky Miller," Ziva said from the desk as Gibbs eyed the picture. "I have bagged them already." She had another camera around her neck, and snapped a picture inside the desk drawer before bagging some more items from inside.

Gibbs nodded. "Good. We find her cell?"

"Bagged," McGee confirmed.

"Ziva, McGee, finish up here and take the truck back. DiNozzo, with me. I want everything there is to know on Nicholas Miller," Gibbs barked.

Tony left his perusal of the bookcase to McGee, who finished with the broken plate. "Lunch time yet, Boss?" he asked hopefully.

Gibbs snorted and shook his head. "No. 0720."

"So...breakfast?" Tony asked, hope still coloring his voice. Gibbs just shot him a glare.


By the afternoon, which felt at least a week later than the morning, they had established that Nicholas Miller was a pretty popular jazz trumpeter of the DC area. According to his parents, he was a reliable, kind homebody whose love of music was only eclipsed by his love of Lisa Wooster, the dead petty officer. According to Lisa Wooster's friends, however, he was a party animal who spent the afternoon hours with his trumpet, the evenings at gigs, and the nights at parties or with Lisa, and on rare occasions, at parties with Lisa, who apparently, didn't like his "scene."

Lisa's parents were long dead, and her sister, an accountant in Oregon, was understandably upset but hadn't kept in much contact with her, so didn't have a lot to contribute to the investigation. Her CO was adamant that she was going to be a great Marine one day, and her friends in the Corps were visibly shaken by her death. No one thought her capable of suicide.

Which left one Nicholas Miller, someone who Tony thought was a sneaky, elusive bastard. They'd checked his apartment, and they'd checked the apartment of the other guys in his jazz combo, and they'd both turned up empty. McGee had almost pissed himself in his haste to put out a BOLO, but his car and face were as yet nowhere to be seen.

Out of desperation, Tony decided to just Google "Nicholas Miller." It was a tool they often overlooked; what kind of information would a Google search provide that phone records, interviews, and detective work couldn't? When Google gave him professors, law firms, and irrelevant people, he redefined his search to "Nicholas Miller trumpet" and struck gold: a website for "The Miller Quartet-D.C. jazz combo."

"Hey Boss," he said, scanning the calendar section of the website. "Says here Miller's band is playing at a new jazz club in Georgetown tonight."

Gibbs looked up in interest. "When?" he asked.

"They're supposed to go on at nine," Tony said, still scanning his computer screen. He impatiently tapped his foot as he read. "The place is called The Jelly Roll Round-up...what the hell kind of name is that?"

"Jelly Roll Morton," Ziva said, glancing up momentarily from her computer screen. "A famous jazz musician. Should you not know this, Tony? Jazz is American music, after all."

"Of course I know that, Ziva," Tony said flippantly. "It's just a stupid name for a club." He rolled his eyes and ran a hand over his face. This was a long day...he was already getting a headache from the combination of a lack of food, too much caffeine, and staring at a computer screen. Outside, the morning's hail had given way to torrential rain that came down hard in gusts. No one relished the idea of leaving the office.

"The place opens at three," Tony continued. "They have a happy hour until six, then dinner and drinks the rest of the night. It's open now. The manager's name is George Pelham."

"Good work, DiNozzo. Let's go; you're with me. We're having a chat with George Pelham," Gibbs said. He barked orders out to Ziva and McGee, and Tony stood up quickly to get his gear and follow Gibbs.

"Good enough work to get some food on the way, Boss?" Tony asked as the elevator doors creaked closed behind them.

Gibbs glanced at him, and then narrowed his eyes. "You eat lunch, DiNozzo?"

"No, my boss is kind of a slave driver," he complained.

A comment like that could have had many possible results with Gibbs. They ranged from, at best, a light head-slap to, at worst, a threat of unemployment or file-room duty. It was a total surprise, then, when Gibbs actually chuckled, and told him they could stop.

"Hey Boss," Tony said, feeling lucky, "did you just...well, did you just chuckle?"

"I don't chuckle, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, and his voice was back to a threatening growl.

This was relief to Tony's ears. "Okay. Okay, good, just making sure," he replied, and he wasn't surprised this time when a hand cuffed the back of his head.


The Jelly-Roll Round Up was surprisingly modern. While the name evoked all kinds of olden images in Tony's mind, the club itself was cutting edge. The bar was made of thick green-tinted Plexiglas, and small, round, multicolored lights were hung in such a way that they looked to be suspended in midair throughout the club. The floor was a mosaic of small tiles in differing shades of blue and yellow, and famous Blue Note album covers hung along the walls, framed in strange materials and colors. There was an empty stage on the far side of the lounge, with tables and booths lined up against the walls. Tony could see himself visiting off-duty...that is, if the crowd at night was better than the meager handful of patrons during the afternoon, most of which were pale and scruffy college students, probably musicians.

George Pelham was younger than Tony expected; he couldn't be any older than thirty. His office, situated in the back room of the lounge behind the stage, was adorned with posters and even more album covers. The lights there were normal lamps, though, not like the colorful dangling orbs in the main room of the club, but the surface of his desk was the same green Plexiglas as the bar outside.

"Of course I know Nicholas Miller," George Pelham was saying. His voice was as smooth as his clean-shaven cheeks and neatly styled hair. "I've known him for years. He was one of my best friend's trumpet students growing up. My friend just got out of college and started teaching lessons when Nicky was about...I don't know, 14? "

"You play?" Tony asked, eyes straying from a poster of Ella Fitzgerald to glance over at where Pelham stood leaning against his desk.

Pelham nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. "You think I'd be this into jazz if I didn't? Of course I play. Some nights I even gig with some of my friends, like Nicky. But I learned the hard way that being a musician means no money, so I went into the business side of things."

Tony nodded, taking in the rather expensive suit jacket Pelham wore over a bright Ed Hardy T-shirt tucked into faded and ripped jeans that had to be worth hundreds. "Seems like the business side has paid off," Tony remarked casually.

"Yeah, you could say that," Pelham said. He pushed himself off the desk and sat behind it. Gibbs, who had been mostly quiet so far, sat on the edge of the desk beside Pelham. Tony fought the urge to grin; he knew Gibbs had been biding his time, but now he was going to get some answers.

"Where can we find him?" Gibbs asked with a deceptively casual tone. Tony crossed to the other side of the room and picked up a figurine of a tall black woman in a slinky red dress with a feather boa around her neck.

"Beats me," Pelham said, brow furrowed as he watched Tony toss the figurine from hand to hand. "Hey, don't touch that-it's worth-"

Gibbs reached out and turned Pelham's chin so that he was staring him in the eye. Pelham's look of frustration at Tony's mishandling of his belongings turned to one of surprise at Gibbs' stare. "You wanna try that again?" Gibbs asked, his voice dangerous.

Tony grinned and replaced the figurine back on top of a stack of papers. He reached for a stack of photos this time, sitting beside the financial documents guarded by the little plastic vixen he'd handled a moment ago.

"Nicky doesn't answer calls during the day," Pelham finally said, sounding defeated. "He keeps to himself...doesn't like to go out before dinnertime."

"That's funny," Tony said conversationally, browsing through the photos and holding up one of them. "Because in this picture, the two of you are eating lunch together at Rock Creek Park...looks to me like it's daytime. And Nicky Miller is definitely out before dinnertime." He went over and showed the picture to Gibbs. "Doesn't really add up, does it, Boss? I mean, they'd have to communicate to eat lunch together."

Tony knew that when Gibbs glanced at the picture, he couldn't really see too many details-he'd have to hold it a lot further from his face for that-but Gibbs took his word on it and turned back to Pelham after a quick glance.

"How do you get in contact with him?"

"Those pictures are mine," Pelham said, rather than answering the question. He was starting to take on the distinct look of a nervous man; small beads of sweat were apparent around his temples, and his eyes were darting between the photos, Tony, and Gibbs. Seeing this, Gibbs laid a restraining hand on Pelham's shoulder while Tony continued to browse the photos.

"Something in there you don't want us to see?" Gibbs asked.

"I've got nothing to hide," Pelham said, but his wavering voice and distracted eyes said otherwise.

Suddenly, Tony laughed and looked from Pelham to a photo and back again.

"Georgie!" he said. "You got a hookah in here somewhere?"

"There's nothing illegal about owning a hookah," George said defensively.

Tony shrugged. "No, there's not," he conceded. "But...there is something illegal about smoking opium in one. And pot, too. And that's what I see in this picture." His eyes scanned the room and fell on an Aquafina water bottle by the window, one just slightly taller than average.

"And I'm willing to bet," Tony continued, heading towards the water bottle, "That this water bottle holds more than just water."

George really did look nervous now, and Gibbs tightened the hold on his shoulder.

"You want to tell us where Nicky Miller is now?" Gibbs all but growled.

George looked from Tony, quickly pulling on a pair of gloves before grabbing the water bottle, to Gibbs, wearing a typical stone-faced, no-nonsense expression, and swallowed convulsively. "He has a second cell phone," he finally said, the words coming out in a rush. "One he uses during the day. It's pre-paid. Nobody knows about it."

"You do," Tony observed, casually reading the label on the watter bottle, shifting it slightly as the light from the window illuminated the water. Pelham's eyes followed its every movement.

"Yeah," George said. "I do. And so do the guys in the quartet."

"Give me the number," Gibbs said. George nodded, taking out his cell phone and scrolling through. He grabbed a pen and a post-it note and jotted down the number.

"The other guys in the quartet have pre-paid numbers too?" Gibbs asked.

"No...just Nicky," George said. "His girlfriend, Lisa, was always on his case so he had a separate phone. He didn't want her seeing who he talks to."

"Why not?" Tony asked, twisting the top half of the water bottle.

George watched that motion with wide eyes. "She was always going through his stuff. She wanted to know everything he did. Look, what is this about? Is Nicky in trouble?"

"Maybe," Gibbs said. "Lisa Wooster is dead."

The surprise on George Pelham's face was real-his mouth hung open and his eyebrows shot up, eyes widened as he stared at Gibbs to determine the truth of his words, and then his mouth snapped closed and he ran a hand over his face, turning away from Gibbs' probing eyes to process the information.

"She's dead?" he finally asked, turning back after regaining composure.

"As a doornail," Tony said brightly, grinning when Gibbs rolled his eyes at him.

"Christ," George said. His skin, fair to begin with, had paled at the news, and his hands did not look as steady as they were a moment ago. "And you can't find Nicky, so you think he did it," he deduced.

"But thanks to you, we can find him now!" Tony said, bounding over and giving George a pat on the back. He kept the Aquafina bottle tucked under one arm.

"Are we done here?" George asked, looking between Gibbs, who stood back up and just stared at him, and Tony, who was still grinning.

"Yeah, we're done here," Gibbs said. "But now we leave. And we start again at NCIS. Cuff him, Tony."

"You can't do that! What are you arresting me for? I have a club to run!" George protested, backing away from the agents. Gibbs caught him by the arm easily as Tony twisted the top half of the water bottle off.

"It's a neat trick," Tony admitted, holding the two pieces of the bottle, one in each hand. The bottle didn't open like normal water bottles; the cap's seal was still in place. There was only water for show in the top and bottom parts of the bottle; behind the label was an empty pit. The top section twisted off the top of the label, and no one was the wiser to the empty pit inside the bottle. Well, no one who was not either a drug user or Tony DiNozzo, former member of the Narcotics Division of the Baltimore PD. He glanced inside the bottle and winked at George. "Let's see what's inside here, hmm?" He paused for a moment, peeking around the empty cavity hidden in the water bottle. "Opium," he observed. "Marijuana," he added, pronouncing it with a Spanish accent and a wiggle of his eyebrows. "And one small hand-blown bowl with lots of resin. You must use it a lot."

He replaced the contents of the bottle and set it on Pelham's desk before cuffing him and reading him his rights as Gibbs released his hold. Gibbs grabbed the bottle and gave Tony a brief pat on the shoulder as they left the office.

"You're in charge tonight, Paul!" George called to the bartender as he was escorted out of his own club. The bartender stared in shock and only looked away when the glass he was filling overflowed with beer and coated his hand.

Any response the bartender had was lost to the sounds of traffic as Gibbs opened the door and Tony pushed Pelham through. Even though his headache was still present and the rain was still pattering loudly around him, Tony couldn't help but smile-it looked like they were beginning to make some headway here. That made his 4:30 AM wake-up call totally worth it.


Back at NCIS, Gibbs tossed Pelham into Interrogation 1 while he worked with McGee and Ziva to get a hold of Nicholas Miller on the pre-paid phone number. Tony went down to Abby's lab with the faux-water bottle snug in an evidence bag.

"Tony!" Abby said in excitement, bounding up to him and giving him a tight hug. "What's this?" she asked, taking the evidence bag from her.

"Trick water bottle," Tony said, carefully touching a large neon skull that dangled from her ear. "That new?" he asked.

"Yeah! Gloria sent them to me in the mail!" she said brightly. She turned her head so he could see both ears. The one closest to him was bright green, with an angry expression, while the one on the far side was orange, a toothy smile spreading across its jaw.

"Cool," Tony said after a moment, not quite sure what to make of them. "So, this water bottle has opium, pot, and a bowl inside. We found it on George Pelham...he's a friend of Nicholas Miller. These might have Miller's DNA on them. We've got pictures upstairs of the two of them smoking a hookah together, so they've probably smoked this bowl together, too. Maybe you'll match something to the DNA at the scene."

"I hope so," Abby said, taking apart the bottle and carefully examining the contents. She held up the bowl and her eyes widened.

"This is beautiful!" she said, sounding awed. She turned it carefully under the lights, admiring the details. It was a strange color; clear in some places and a blue-ish gray in others. Small, hand-blown yellow stars were placed intermittently among swirls of green silver along the neck of the bowl, and the bowl itself was adorned with raised black orbs.

"It smells like shit," Tony observed, not quite seeing the beauty of something his brain categorized as worthless drug paraphernalia. He kept his distance from Abby while she scrutinized the bowl.

Abby rolled her eyes. "Of course it does, because it's used. But do you know how much care and detail goes into making one of these? And dichroic glass is so cool; it's specially made for things like this so that the color changes after it's exposed to heat."

Tony shrugged.

"It's art, Tony," she said, setting it down reverently on her evidence table.

"Got any hits on those prints from Wooster's necklace?" Tony asked, changing the subject abruptly and heading towards Abby's computer, where the screen rapidly flipped through fingerprints searching for a match.

Abby shook her head, pigtails swaying as she did so. "There were two prints-one was hers, and I don't have a match for the other one yet."

Tony nodded, crossing his arms while he peered thoughtfully at the screen. Things seemed to be at an impasse in Abby's lab.

"Hey, do you have a Tylenol or something?" he asked, looking up hopefully. If he couldn't get more information for Gibbs down here, at least he could get rid of his headache.

"Why, are you feeling okay?" Abby asked, turning away from where she had already begun to process the new evidence to face him completely. Her eyes searched his face carefully, looking for any signs of weakness.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Tony said. "I've just had a headache all afternoon. Probably from waking up at 4:23 this morning."

"Ouch," Abby said sympathetically. "That'll do it. Come on; I have some in here." She headed towards the little office room where her computer and desk were.

"Hey, new couch!" Tony said and plopped down on the long red couch eagerly. It was shoved against the wall opposite her computer desk, and left very little space for anything else in the small room.

"Yeah, I got a new couch in my apartment," Abby said, "So I made McGee help me bring the old one in over the weekend. If you ever need a nap, you're welcome to it!"

"Comfortable," Tony said in approval, sinking into the cushions happily. "You're amazing." He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the couch. The day's events caught up to him and he relished the moment of quiet, feeling his limbs sink like stones into the warmth of the couch.

"Careful," Abby warned. "It's dangerous. It pulls you down and never lets you up. That's why I had to get rid of it." She pulled a little bottle out of her desk drawer and Tony put his hand out without picking up his head. When he felt two little pills land in his palm, he sighed and opened his eyes.

"Got any water?" he asked her hopefully.

"What would you do without me, Tony?" she asked playfully, grabbing a water bottle off her desk and sitting next to him.

He took a grateful sip and dropped the two pills into his mouth, swallowing them down quickly.

"Thanks, Abs. I better run before Gibbs notices I'm gone," he said.

"Don't be silly, Tony; Gibbs knows everything. He already knows you're gone and-"

"Damn right I know you're gone," Gibbs said, appearing in the doorway of Abby's little office.

Tony grimaced and recapped the water bottle. "Thanks, Abby," he said morosely, pushing himself up off the couch and steadying himself when it took a little more effort to get upright than he thought it would. "That thing really does suck you in," he said, looking at the couch curiously.

Abby nodded very seriously. "It's like a Venus Fly Trap and you're the fly," she said sagely.

"You think you'll be able to get any prints from that...that glass thing?" Gibbs asked Abby, gesturing behind him to the evidence table where it sat.

"It's called a bowl, Boss," Tony said automatically.

"Hopefully," Abby said. "There might be some old saliva on the edges, too. Gibbs, let me show you something," she said excitedly, pushing past him to the table. She picked up the bowl and held it up to the light. "This is made of dichroic glass, so when the stoners light up, the glass starts to change color-"

"What's all that black gunk inside?" Gibbs asked. "It smells terrible."

"Resin," Tony said. "It's residue leftover from when they use the bowl. In fact, if Abby tests it, she can find out if they smoked anything else in there."

Abby smacked Tony lightly against his chest. "If? I think you mean when. I am a brilliant forensic scientist. Of course I'm going to test the resin," she said. "I can't believe you would even think-"

"Hey, of course I knew you'd test it," Tony said. "I was just-"

"If you two are done," Gibbs cut in threateningly, "we have a location and a warrant on Nicholas Miller. Get your ass in gear, DiNozzo."

"On it, Boss!" Tony said eagerly, saluting at Gibbs and turning to give Abby a wink that made her pout turn to a smile. He walked ahead of Gibbs, but stopped when Abby called out to him.

"Tony, do you want to take some Tylenol with you?" she asked.

Gibbs looked at him curiously, and Tony shook his head at Abby. "Nah, that's okay. Thanks, Abs."

"Suit yourself!" Abby called and went over to her computer, which was beeping imperiously.

"What are you taking aspirin for?" Gibbs asked once they were inside the elevator. It didn't surprise Tony that rather than sounding concerned, Gibbs sounded suspicious.

"Just a headache, Boss. No big deal," Tony said dismissively with a lazy wave of his hand.

"You never take aspirin," Gibbs observed shrewdly, raising an eyebrow and looking Tony over, as if he expected to find an arm missing.

"I do today," Tony said. "So you found Miller?"

Gibbs looked at him skeptically for a moment, and then let it go. "Yeah, we found him. McGee looked up the pre-paid phone and got a fix."

"What about Pelham?" Tony asked.

"We'll hold him and question him when we get back," Gibbs said.

When the elevator stopped at the bullpen floor, Tony eagerly followed Gibbs out. The familiar sounds of typing and one-sided phone conversations immediately flooded his ears. He tuned them out expertly and headed straight for his desk.

"McGee!" he said in surprise, looking at him askance before opening his drawer to pull out his gun. "Are you eating fruit snacks?"

McGee glanced at him sourly while Ziva laughed. "Yes."

"Why are you so upset about it?" Tony asked, adjusting his belt to the weight of a gun. "I mean, they're chewy and fruity, what more could you want?"

"The vending machine did not do as McGee asked," Ziva said.

"I wanted a granola bar," McGee complained. Tony went over to McGee's desk and peered into the bag of fruit snacks. With a shrug, he reached down and snatched them out of his hands.

"Then you won't mind me taking them!" he said, turning the bag over and emptying it into his hand. He threw the whole handful in his mouth and patted McGee on the back. "Thanks, Probie," he said, but it came out more like, "Thnnkshpbie."

"Let's go," Gibbs said, brushing past the agents to get to the elevator. As soon as his back was turned, Tony gave McGee a thumbs-up, and McGee gave him his best cold stare, which Tony had to admit was getting better.

"Tony," Ziva said, as the three of them shoved into the elevator with Gibbs. "You really are a child sometimes."

Tony shrugged and swallowed his mouthful of fruit snacks loudly. "Then it makes sense for me to take the fruit snacks," he said. "They're not fit for adults, Probie," he added.

McGee just rolled his eyes.

"Why does our vending machine even have them?" Ziva asked a moment later. "They are for children, no?"

"Because they know DiNozzo works here," Gibbs said shortly. "Next person who mentions the damn fruit snacks is fired."

Chapter Text

"I didn't think people smoked opium anymore," McGee said conversationally as they drove towards Nicholas Miller's location. "Wasn't that popular in the thirties?" His voice came through Tony's speakerphone sounding tinny. He was driving with Ziva in one car, while Tony and Gibbs followed behind.

"When I was working Narcotics, I saw it pretty often," Tony replied. "A lot of potheads add it to their pot. It's like a bridge from pot to hard drugs," he added. He leaned his head back against the headrest, closing his eyes against the passing DC scenery. At least Gibbs is driving and not Ziva, he thought to himself. And at least I'm sitting shotgun and not in the backseat.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs barked, turning away from the road to glare at him as he swerved around a slow-moving station wagon. "You sleeping?"

"No," Tony said, lifting his head and opening his eyes. "Just pretending I'm on a rollercoaster."

Tony heard Ziva snort on her end, and Gibbs grunted beside him. McGee, wisely, kept silent.

"McGee, we getting close?" Gibbs asked, speaking much louder than necessary for the speakerphone to pick him up.

"Yeah, Boss next left," McGee said. "It'll be a small brick building, first on the right."

Gibbs took a sharp left turn, and then pulled the car up to the side of the road behind Ziva's. "Come on," he said, turning off the car and pocketing the keys. "Tony, you're with me; we take the front. Ziva, McGee, go around to the back in case they try to run when we knock."

The building was a small residential house, only one story high. It looked to be no more than a few rooms inside; Tony thought it looked more like a shed than a house. As they got closer to the house, they could faintly hear a fast moving bebop bass line and some busy drums. Gibbs waited until McGee and Ziva radioed across the system that they were in place, and pounded hard on the door.

There was no response at first, so he knocked again, harder this time. The music abruptly stopped-a CD, then, Tony noted, not live-and footsteps could be heard. Tony saw the blinds rustle on the window next to the door, and he discretely gestured towards it to Gibbs. Gibbs nodded, and knocked again.

"Federal agents; open up," Gibbs shouted.

There were sounds of frenzied movements behind the door, and Tony and Gibbs quickly got into position on their side, guns aimed at the entrance.

Gibbs counted to three on his fingers and Tony nodded, reaching out to turn the handle of the door and pushing it open before quickly moving his hand back to his gun. Gibbs went in first, and Tony followed behind.

"Hands in the air," Gibbs said, kicking the door closed behind him.

There were two men in the building, both of which Tony recognized as members of the Nicholas Miller Quartet. One was Nicholas Miller himself, dressed in a ratty pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, his face surrounded by unkempt dark hair and a few days' worth of stubble. The other man Tony knew was Brian Parker, the drummer; a tall, blonde man in a similar state of dishevelment as Miller.

Tony sniffed and caught the scent of marijuana as Ziva and McGee entered through the backdoor to clear the rest of the small house. As Ziva and McGee searched the other rooms, which proved to only be a very small kitchen, a bathroom, and one empty closet, Tony and Gibbs kept their weapons trained on Miller and Parker, who were staring at them, eyes wide and shaking hands held in the air.

Realizing his day was already pushing 13 hours and it was hardly dinnertime, Tony pushed the dull pain behind his eyes away and pulled his determination to the forefront-he had a job to do, and he'd be damned if he let a little something like weariness prevent that.


Tony rubbed a tired hand over the back of his neck and stifled a yawn with the other as he sank into a chair in the interrogation monitoring room.

"I think that Nicholas Miller will talk fast," Ziva said.

"I don't know, Ziva," Tony replied. "Stoners usually talk pretty slow."

Ziva gave him an irritated glance. "I meant that-"

Tony cut her off by waving a hand in the air lazily. "I know what you meant. I was just pulling your leg."

"That is interesting," Ziva said, "because your hands are nowhere near my legs."

"Ziva," McGee began, "I think he meant that-"

"I know what he meant," Ziva said, still staring at Tony with a smirk. "I was just yanking his chops."

Tony snorted. "Yanking chain, busting chops, Ziva," he said, "Not yanking chops."

Ziva threw her hands up in frustration. "What is the big deal? The words do not make sense either way!" She paused a moment, letting Tony absorb the wrath from a withering glare. "Anyway," she continued, "I think that he will speak quickly. That is to say, I believe that he will confess in little time."

"I hope so," Tony said. "I mean, we still have to listen to the other idiot, Parker."

"I don't know why Gibbs won't let one of us question Parker while he questions Miller himself," McGee complained, dropping down into the chair next to Tony's while Ziva remained standing in front of the two-way mirror, staring intently at Nicholas Miller.

"Probie, I know that you're not questioning Gibbs," Tony said. "I'm hearing things."

"Come on," McGee said, "It's not like we don't know how to interrogate."

"Probie! Bite your tongue! Gibbs has a master plan. Have faith," Tony said, reaching over to smack him on the back of the head.

"Don't do that," McGee protested in vain.

Tony just snorted.

"I believe that Gibbs wants the two of them to stay here as long as possible to prevent them from performing at the Jelly Roll Round-Up tonight," Ziva pointed out. "And I think that it is important for us to see what this one has to say before talking to the other. I do not think Parker will be of much use."

In the interrogation room, Gibbs was sitting opposite Miller, staring at him. Miller was looking everywhere but at Gibbs, his knee jostling up and down beneath the table and his eyes flitting about the room.

"Are you going to talk to me?" Miller finally asked. His voice was scratchy, and he barely looked at Gibbs when he spoke. "I mean, I have a gig tonight. And I didn't think smoking pot was a federal offense."

Gibbs laughed, which Tony knew was not a good sign for Miller. "It's not," Gibbs said. "Neither is smoking opium, or selling it, all of which I've got you on. But murdering a Petty Officer is."

Miller looked up in surprise. "What? What are you talking about?" he asked, his voice rising as he spoke. "Murder? " He ran a now shaking hand through his hair, making it even messier than it was already. "Who the hell would I murder?"

"Well, let's think about it for a minute," Gibbs said. "Know any petty officers? Maybe one that's so nosy you need a second cell phone to keep her out of your hair?" His voice rose as he spoke, and he punctuated his question by slamming both hands on the table and standing over Miller, still staring him down.

Miller, if he was lying, was a damn good actor. He paled, and his eyes widened. "Lisa?" he asked, his voice weak. "Lisa? Are you-did something happen-" He stopped speaking and swallowed thickly. "Is Lisa-"

"Dead?" Gibbs supplied. "Murdered? See for yourself." He opened the folder on the table and turned it around to show Miller a photo from the crime scene of Lisa dead on her living room floor.

Miller visibly blanched and pushed the photo away from him, squeezing his eyes closed and covering his face with his hands. "Why'd you have to show me that?" he asked, voice muffled.

"It's not like you haven't seen it before," Gibbs said, voice low and threatening. "You were there, Miller."

"No I wasn't!" Miller said, and he sounded desperate now. "I swear! I would never do that to Lisa! I'd never do that to anyone!"

"Prove it. Where were you this morning between two and four AM?" Gibbs said.

"I was at the red house," he said.

"The red house?" Gibbs asked. "What the hell is that?"

"Where you just found me," he said. "Me and Brian have been there since yesterday. We didn't leave once."

"Funny that your only alibi is another guy who is looking just as guilty as you," Gibbs said. "It's too bad they won't let you bring a trumpet into prison. Looks like you won't be playing too much anymore." He stood up and grabbed his folder, heading towards the door without looking back. His hand barely touched the handle when Nicholas spoke up.

"Wait!" he said in a hurried rush. "I might know...I might know what happened."

Gibbs turned back to him. "Might?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "You might know what happened? You do or you don't, Miller."

Miller sighed. "I'm in some trouble with someone," he said. He looked away from Gibbs and closed his eyes.

"What kind of trouble?" Gibbs asked, returning to the table to circle around it.

"Um, this guy, he sells me stuff sometimes-"

"Stuff? More specific, Miller," Gibbs said roughly.

Miller swallowed. "You know. Pot. Opium," he said. "And he gave me a whole bunch to sell for him."

"And?" Gibbs prompted impatiently, when Miller didn't say anything more.

Miller sighed and fidgeted. "And we smoked it, okay? So, I don't have any money to give him now."

"Who's 'we'?" Gibbs asked.

"Me and Brian," Miller said.

"Who else?" Gibbs asked threateningly.

Miller looked to the side, running a hand through his hair.

"Who else?" Gibbs asked, pounding a hand on the table.

"George Pelham," he said in a rush. "That's it. Just the three of us. The other guys in the quartet didn't want in on it."

"Must be smarter than you," Gibbs said, shaking his head. "Who's your dealer?"

Miller looked more nervous than before, if that was possible.

"You tell me his name or you go to prison for murder. Your call," Gibbs said.

Miller refused to answer; he just looked at the table in front of him, his fingers tracing small, indefinable patterns on the cool metal. Without warning, Gibbs slammed his hands down on the table again and put his mouth right beside Miller's ear. "We will get you convicted," he said, his voice grim and determined. He stayed in Miller's personal space for a moment before stepping away and sitting across from him once more, staring at him intensely.

Miller swallowed nervously. "Will he find out I gave him up?" he finally asked.

Gibbs just continued to stare, his expression not moving an inch. Nothing about his body language said that he was even aware that Miller spoke.

Nervously, Miller put his hands in his lap, then fidgeted and used one to rub against the back of his neck. "You think he-he...killed Lisa?"

Again, Gibbs just continued to stare for a few moments, until finally, he stood up and slammed his hands down on the table. "Name, Miller," he commanded.

Miller's hands found there way to the hem of his shirt, which he twisted back and forth, before finally acquiescing. "Michael Barrett," he said, and he sounded terrified that the words found their way out of his mouth.

"Where can we find him?" Gibbs asked.

"I have his number in my phone," Miller said. "You guys took it. He's in my phone as 'M.' Lisa's never met him but he's always asking me about her...he saw her picture once. He's really pissed about the money. He wants to hurt me."

Gibbs spared him a disgusted glance and grabbed his folder before tearing out of the room.

"McGee," he barked, throwing the observation door open. "Get that number."

"On it, Boss," McGee said, unsealing the evidence bag sitting in front of him and grabbing the phone inside.


"Michael Barrett," Tony said, "Arrested in '01 for possession, known drug dealer."

"This is our guy," Gibbs said. "Ziva, put dumb and dumber in separate holding cells. Keep Pelham a while longer, too. We've got a real criminal to catch."

"Boss!" Tony said excitedly, turning towards Gibbs. "Did you just make a movie reference? I mean, Dumb and Dumber, that one was really awful, but still, you-"

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs said sharply. "Shut your trap!"

"Shutting it," Tony said dejectedly, turning away and scowling.

"McGee, can you trace his cell?" Gibbs asked, turning towards McGee's desk.

McGee sighed. "His phone isn't GPS enabled, Boss. We'd have to call and get him on the line to trace the call."

"Do it," Gibbs said.

McGee nodded and began opening programs on his computer, preparing for the trace. Tony sat behind his desk and stretched his arms over his head, letting out a grunt as some of the stiffness in his back receded.

"We have a problem, Boss," McGee said. "His phone's turned off; it's impossible to trace."

Gibbs ran a hand through his hair, looking at McGee for a long moment before nodding. "Looks like we're talking to Miller and the rest of those idiots again," he said. "Let's go."

Tony stood up, reflexively putting a balancing hand on his desk when things swam around him. He was grateful that McGee and Gibbs were already headed towards the holding cells and didn't see his moment of weakness.


By the time dinner was sitting in front of Tony, steaming hot Chinese food that smelled like Heaven in a small white box, delivered by angels who spoke nothing but broken English and expected more of a tip than anyone ever gave them, he was so hungry that he wasn't even sure he could eat. That uncharacteristic hesitation lasted only seconds before he shoveled it into his mouth at top speed, hoping it would help ease the throbbing behind his temples. It was dark outside now, the rain still pouring down incessantly, and he was huddled behind his desk at NCIS with the rest of his team, all illuminated by the overhead lights. Gibbs ate with a similar fervor as Tony, an expression of disgust on his face. McGee ate like he was trying to hide from Gibbs' displeasure behind his chopsticks, and Ziva ate with a carefully neutral expression, studiously not looking at Gibbs.

Gibbs was, for lack of better word, pissed. After thoroughly interrogating the three questionable men in their holding cells, unsuccessfully trying to track cell phones, visiting last known official places of residence and last known unofficial places of residence, they were no closer to finding Michael Barrett than they were when they first found Lisa Wooster dead in her apartment early that morning, and now it was about 2200 hours and Gibbs was seething. Tony had always been very sensitive to Gibbs' moods; perhaps it came from knowing him the longest out of anyone on his team, or perhaps it came from always wishing to please his superiors. Either way, Tony wanted to make Gibbs' mood improve. And he wanted to do that by finding that one little fact or item or person who would be the catalyst in this case, who would suddenly unravel all of their tight shoulders and worried eyes and throbbing headaches, and lead them to Michael Barrett, who would just put out his wrists and Tony would cuff him and present him to Gibbs like a Christmas present.

Gibbs, who threw-no, catapulted- his now empty food carton into the little trashcan beside his desk, jerked Tony forcefully out of that reverie. Tony looked down at his own food, surprised that he still had about a quarter left, and pushed it aside with a sigh. McGee looked to be sitting even lower in his chair now that Gibbs had displayed the anger that had been previously sitting dormant in the down-turn of his lips and the cold set of his eyes and shoulders, and Ziva was scrolling through something on her computer as she ate.

"Go home," Gibbs finally said to all of them, his voice tight as he stood up and pulled on his jacket. "Come back early tomorrow."

Tony's first thought was to protest-to come up with some brilliant, obscure point they had overlooked and bring this case to a close-but his head was pounding, and he thought perhaps going home would be in his best interest, after all. He tossed his food carton into the trash and stood up - only, this time, he only made it partway. Rather than a wave of dizziness coming on after he was already upright, he was right back in his chair after only rising a few inches, eyes closed and head in his hands as the office swam around him.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs barked, his voice cutting across Tony's skull like a particularly vicious slap.

"Ngg," Tony replied, not opening his eyes or moving. He knew that he should make a joke, or look up and grin and then stand up properly-but now that he knew he could go home, he just felt tired, and he wasn't sure that he could hide that.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs said again, only this time, it was closer to him and just a tiny but softer, but still with bite.

Tony took a deep breath, opened his eyes, and looked up at Gibbs, who was now looming over his desk. Gibbs swayed a bit in his vision, but after a moment, he was still again, and Tony planted both hands on his desk and pushed himself up. Luckily, Gibbs was close, because Tony felt himself start to wobble to one side, but then he felt strong hands hold him in place.

"You sick, DiNozzo?" Gibbs said, looking at him in concern. Tony could just picture Ziva looking at him with a tilted head and furrowed brows, and McGee looking like his hand-written computer algorithms just stopped working and he couldn't figure out why, so he didn't bother glancing in their direction, and instead, peered straight ahead at Gibbs, squinting against the bright overhead lights.

"No," Tony said, "'m fine." He let his eyes close again; after all, Gibbs was holding him up, and Gibbs was watching his six, maybe he could just sleep right here-wait, Gibbs was holding him up?-his eyes shot open, and he saw Gibbs looking at him with clear disbelief.

"You are not fine, Tony," Ziva said, before Tony could say anything. She stood and approached Tony's desk. "You appear to be ill."

"I'm just tired," Tony said. "Long day." He shrugged Gibbs' hands off his arms and was relieved to find that he stayed upright. He reached for his jacket and pulled it on, ignoring three pairs of eyes tracking his movements, and swung his backpack over his shoulder.

"The day wasn't much longer than usual," McGee said, and sure enough, when Tony looked in his direction, McGee's eyebrows were bent into a squiggle, and he looked like he was about to hack into Tony's brain and figure out what was wrong.

Tony waved a flippant hand and trudged past Gibbs and Ziva to the elevator. He wasn't surprised when Gibbs followed him in, and kept staring at him. If Tony's head didn't feel like it was about to fall off, he might've felt intimidated. As it was, he merely leaned against the elevator wall and closed his eyes.

"Didn't turn off your computer," Gibbs remarked as the elevator began its descent, his voice colored with accusation.

Even with his eyes closed, Tony could see the intent look on Gibbs' face. "McGee'll do it," he replied.

"Not his job," Gibbs said.

Tony shrugged, and gripped the rails in the elevator tightly as it stopped with a jerk, feeling his equilibrium wobble.

"Look at me," Gibbs said.

Tony opened his eyes and followed orders. He was not prepared to see concern in Gibbs' eyes. "Hey, Boss, I don't think this is the parking garage, maybe you should-"

"DiNozzo, when you're sick, you tell me," Gibbs said, and his voice was low. "You go out in the field like that and you can't back up your team."

Tony shook his head, ignoring the way it throbbed as he did so, but somehow, he had a feeling Gibbs knew it did just the same. "I'm not sick," he said again. "I'm just tired. I got up early and didn't eat a lot today. I have a headache."

Gibbs looked at him searchingly, and finally just shook his head and started the elevator again.

"I'm driving you home," Gibbs said. It was not a suggestion, but foolishly, Tony decided to take it as one.

"Boss, I can drive my own car home," he said. He was a bit embarrassed to hear that his voice came out like a whine; thinner and higher than usual.

Gibbs snorted. "Sure. You ready to kill pedestrians when you fall asleep at the wheel?"

Tony scowled, and this time, when the elevator stopped, it was not because Gibbs flipped the switch, but because they were at the parking garage. Tony didn't move at first, and Gibbs exited the elevator and turned back, one hand held over the door to keep it from closing.

"Come on, DiNozzo," he said, one eyebrow raised.

Tony sighed and followed dejectedly, and as he trailed behind Gibbs to his car, it felt like he was still moving up and down in the elevator even though he was walking on solid ground. He knew that Gibbs was right, and he probably shouldn't drive, but that didn't mean he had to be happy about it.

He didn't even realize they were at Gibbs' car until Gibbs was grabbing his arm and pulling him towards the passenger seat, then opening the door and pushing him in. Gibbs even went so far as to pull the seatbelt down, but Tony intercepted before he could try to secure it.

Gibbs closed his door and Tony leaned his head back and closed his eyes, waiting for Gibbs to go around to the driver's seat.

"Gonna act like a kid, get treated like one," Gibbs said gruffly as he dropped down in his own seat and pulled the door shut.

"C'mon, Boss, 'm not acting like a kid," Tony said, still not bothering to open his eyes.

"No?" Gibbs said, amused, as he backed out of his parking spot.

Tony shook his head against the headrest. "No," he said. "Can't help it if I'm tired."

"No, you can't," Gibbs conceded. "You can admit when you're sick."

"I'm not sick," Tony said, spitting out the word like it was poison.

Gibbs snorted, pulling out onto the highway. "Just 'not feeling well?'" he mocked.

"Mm," Tony said, his head still pounding, dizziness washing over him every time Gibbs hit a bump or made a turn. "Maybe I'm sick, Boss," he admitted.

Gibbs didn't say anything, but he did drive a little bit more carefully as Tony's breathing evened out beside him.

Chapter Text

Tony's head was half-buried under blankets, still in the very same position it was in when he wearily collapsed into his bed the night before, and he pulled those blankets further over himself when his 6:00 AM alarm went off, squeezing his eyes closed and willing it to stop. Unfortunately, his mental powers were no better than they were when he was five and tried to use them to turn the ground into a trampoline as he flew off a swing set from a particularly alarming height, and so he regretfully shoved a hand out of his blanket cocoon and turned off the alarm. He stretched, eyes still squeezed shut, ignoring the pain in his head, and opened his eyes.

And immediately closed them again.

He kept his eyes closed and willed his heart to beat normally. Hesitantly, he opened his eyes once more, and all hopes of keeping his heart rate normal were shot to Hell. Gibbs was going to kill him.

He couldn't see.

Well, he could, but this was not his usual 20/10 vision. This was like he was looking through a fogged lens. Everything was indistinct, hazy, and cloudy. The numbers on his clock were like fuzzy red blobs, and when he glanced out his window, he just saw a vague array of dim colors and sort-of shapes with no sharp edges in the early morning light.

He squeezed his eyes closed again and rubbed them, hoping perhaps he was just still too tired to see clearly, even though that had certainly never happened before-but when he opened them again, he could still barely make out the number of fingers on his hand.

"Shit," he said, his voice shaky. "Shit. Shit."

He gripped his bed sheets and sat up, looking around his bedroom and not really seeing much of what was there.

He remembered Gibbs dropping him off at his apartment the night before, shaking him awake with a warm hand on his shoulder, making him commit to calling him first thing in the morning and letting him know if he could come into work. For a brief moment, he considered going into work and pretending he could see. Then, he realized, that was a terrible idea.

He reached out a shaking hand and fumbled around on his bedside table for his phone, knocking a tube of Chapstick and a DVD case to the floor in the process. He grabbed the phone and held it in front of him, first far away, then close, so close that the tip of his nose touched the screen as he tried to make out anything written on it, but couldn't.

He held it further away again and his fingers slid over the keys. In his mind, he could see each one of them, and he quickly pressed his speed dial number one.

It rang loud and clear in his ear, but he could hardly hear it over his heart, pounding even louder.

"Gibbs." His voice was rough and impatient as ever, and Tony was so relieved to hear him that he sagged back against his headboard, pinching the bridge of his nose as a breath he didn't realize he was holding escaped through his lips.

"DiNozzo?" Gibbs said. "DiNozzo, you there?"

It almost sounded like Gibbs was speaking through a tunnel, and Tony laughed, a high pitched, thin laugh.

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs said again, this time, sounding like a command.

"Gibbs," Tony said, and he was alarmed to hear it come out like a plea, his voice cracking.

"Gibbs," he said again. "Gibbs, I can't-" He stopped talking and focused instead on breathing, because his breath was coming in short, panicky gasps. This was not right.

"DiNozzo, what's going on?" Gibbs asked. He sounded urgent and impatient. Tony could hear the TV in the background, and he heard a few things being knocked around.

"Farm Report?" Tony asked, between gasps for breath, even as the sound of the TV stopped abruptly and he heard quick footsteps and a slamming door. "You-you building a boat, Gibbs?"

"Been building one for years," Gibbs said. "DiNozzo. What is going on?"

"Boss, am I having a heart attack?" Tony asked, gasping for breath.

Tony heard an engine turn over, and a car door slam. Gibbs was driving. He must be going to work.

"Can't make it to work, Boss," Tony said. "I think-I-"

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs barked. "You will tell me right now what the hell is wrong with you! That is an order!"

Tony heard a car horn pressed down for a long time, but before he could wonder about it, he recognized the order.

"I-I woke up," Tony said. Again, he was alarmed to hear how shaky and strange his voice sounded. "Woke up and I couldn't-I can't-"

"Can't what, DiNozzo?" Gibbs said, followed by a muffled curse under his breath and the sound of tires squealing.

"I can't see, Boss," Tony finally said. "Everything's all blurry." He closed his eyes and ran his free hand through his hair. "I think...I think I might be p-panicking," he said, still gasping for air, his fingers and toes starting to tingle from lack of air circulating.

There was silence for a moment, then Gibbs' voice came across the line, surprisingly soothing against the backdrop of traffic sounds that Tony could hear across the line. "Deep breaths, DiNozzo," he said. "Breathe in, hold it, and let it out."

Tony followed Gibbs' orders, as usual, but even as he breathed in he could feel his heart beat faster and his panic continue to rise.

"I'll be there in five minutes," Gibbs said. His voice was still oddly gentle, like he was talking down a frantic witness. "I need you to keep breathing."

Tony did his best to follow directions and kept focusing on his breathing, knuckles clenched white around his phone. It was pressed against his cheek and growing slick with sweat.

"S-sorry, Boss," he said, still grasping at air. He felt out of breath, like he'd been chasing a suspect for miles.

"Don't apologize," Gibbs said, voice gruff again. "It's a sign-"

"I'm feeling kind of weak, Boss," Tony admitted before taking a breath and holding it in, closing his eyes and counting to eight in his mind.

"Exhale, Tony," Gibbs said. His voice switched back to the gentle tone again, and Tony kept his eyes closed and focused on breathing. He kept the phone clutched to his ear, and Gibbs carefully talked him out of the panic attack as he sped to Tony's apartment.

Tony gradually got his breathing under control and flexed his fingers and toes, which had regained their feeling. He still felt like there was a fog over his brain, like this wasn't actually happening, and then he would look around and realize when he saw nothing but blurry shapes that it was happening, and Gibbs' voice would come through the line, talking him down from the panic. He knew the embarrassment would come later; for now, he was grateful for the support.

"Tony," Gibbs said, "I'm pulling up to your apartment building. Can you get to the door and take down the chain?"

Tony looked around, his eyes reflexively squinting and widening, trying to put things into focus and failing. "Yeah, Boss," he said, flipping the covers off of himself and shivering when the cold morning air hit him. He stood up slowly, and stayed absolutely still until a wave of dizziness passed over him and moved on, then hesitantly walked towards the door, one arm outstretched, fingers poised to feel wood beneath them. After a few steps they felt it, smooth and polished oak, and he trailed them down to the doorknob and opened the door. He hesitantly stepped into the hallway, things becoming even fuzzier since there was less light there without the luxury of a bedroom window to bring in the pale early morning light, and he swallowed thickly.

"Doin' all right, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah, almost there, Boss," Tony said. He hesitantly stepped forward, one arm trailing along the wall, one clutching the phone. He did walk into a discarded shoe once, but caught himself from falling. He got into his living room and stayed along the wall until he got to the door, and slid the chain off with relief. He unlocked the door, too, even though Gibbs had a key, and wasn't surprised to hear heavy footsteps coming towards him quickly as he opened the door.

"Boss?" he said, squinting at the blurry shape moving in his direction.

Gibbs came in and pushed Tony into the closest chair to the door-Tony's favorite, an overstuffed recliner perfect for watching movies in.

"I'm going to get you some pants," Gibbs said. "And take you to the hospital."

His face was inches away, but Tony still could not make out anything more than a Gibbs-shaped blob. He nodded. "My sweatpants are in the top dresser drawer," he said. He rubbed his hands over his arms, wishing he had more than a T-shirt and boxers on. "Sweatshirt, too?" he called out.

Gibbs didn't reply, but instead, pulled out his phone as he walked away and had a short, terse conversation, even by Gibbs' own standards. Tony gathered from the snippets he heard that he was calling Ducky to meet them at the hospital, but he couldn't bring himself to focus much on anything besides what he could not see around him.

Gibbs came back a moment later with some clothes, and Tony wondered about what kind of expression he had on his face. Gibbs held them out and Tony embarrassingly missed when he reached out for them, and had to feel along the fabric to figure out whether he was holding a shirt or pants. He could feel panic rising again, but Gibbs laid hands on his shoulders.

"Easy," he said soothingly. "Relax. We're gonna get you taken care of in just a minute."

He couldn't bring himself to be embarrassed when Gibbs helped him into his sweatshirt, nor when Gibbs helped him get his pants up to his knees, shoved his feet into sneakers, and helped him stand up, letting him clutch his arm for balance, as he pulled his pants up over his hips.

"Keys and phone?" Gibbs asked. "Wallet?"

"My keys are on the table next to the door. Phone's here," he said, reaching next to him and fumbling along the seat of the chair until it was secure in his hands. "I think my wallet's in my pants from yesterday. On the floor."

Gibbs pushed him into the chair again, and Tony closed his eyes while he listened to Gibbs move around his apartment, getting his belongings. All too soon, Gibbs was in front of him again, hands on his shoulders, shaking him awake. Tony hadn't even realized he'd fallen asleep. Gibbs helped him stand again, and dropped his belongings into his pockets for him once he was upright.

"Come on, I'll help you to the car," Gibbs said. He grabbed Tony's closest hand and guided it towards his own elbow, then helped him out of the apartment, shutting off the lights and locking the door behind him.

Tony had always prided himself on his observation skills, even before he worked in law enforcement, and he was glad for them as he followed Gibbs out of the apartment. Even with his clear memory of the faded wood floors, lined with nicks and stains, and the walls, with dents in the plaster every here and there, and the drawing of a fairy in the corner next to the old lady's apartment at the end of the hall, he still found himself clutching at Gibbs' elbow, walking too close and not caring.

"I don't think I know a movie where someone wakes up blind for no reason," Tony said to Gibbs as they carefully maneuvered down the narrow staircase that led them to the main floor of the building.

"Probably not for no reason, DiNozzo," Gibbs replied. "Watch that next step," he added, "there's a crack in the wood."

Tony stepped carefully onto the next step, the third, he remembered from the many times he'd walked those stairs and looked at them, and as he followed Gibbs out to his car, he wondered desperately what the reason was that he could suddenly barely see, and whether or not he'd be able to do so again.


Tony had been to many ER waiting rooms. Sometimes with blood oozing out of a stray bullet wound, or some sort of twisted ankle or knee or wrist, or, usually, a pretty serious head wound. And all of those injuries came with an accompanying story of heroism-how he had leapt onto a suspect just in time to avoid his team getting shot, or he got into a spectacular fight, or he jumped into churning, freezing cold waters to save someone. And he would sit in the ER waiting room, looking around at the other waiting patients, seeing the worry and distress and pain on their faces and deep in their eyes, and listen to them talk, a murmur of languages and voices that floated over his head, and he would think-at least I'm here because I was putting some asshole behind bars.

But this time, he was sitting with his arms wrapped around himself, eyes closed, worried because this time, he hadn't gotten shot in the line of duty, or saved his teammates-he'd merely woken up with a mysterious loss of vision and accompanying dizziness and headaches, and he didn't even want to think about the implications of those symptoms. This was not a cold or flu. This was his vision. Thoughts of brain tumors and strange diseases flitted through his brain, and he didn't even realize that his leg was bouncing up and down frantically until Gibbs put a steady hand on his knee.

"Calm down, DiNozzo," he said, and his voice was still that strange timbre somewhere between soothing and gruff.

"Sure, Boss," Tony said. "No problem. I just won't worry about the fact that I can't fucking see-"

"Hey," Gibbs interrupted, and this time, the soothing was gone from his voice. In fact, his voice was such a command that Tony immediately opened his eyes and turned his head in Gibbs' direction.

"Hey," Gibbs repeated, and Tony was embarrassed to think that there must be some sort of very un-DiNozzo-like emotion displayed on his face because Gibbs' voice went back to soothing. "You can see, DiNozzo," he pointed out. "Just not very well."

"Thanks, Boss, that was helpful," Tony muttered, facing forward again and closing his eyes, feeling unusually taciturn and vulnerable.

"You beat the plague, DiNozzo, you can beat this," Gibbs pointed out, and Tony could hear the skritch-skritch of his pen rapidly filling in the forms.

"Insurance card?" Gibbs requested.

Tony nodded and pulled his wallet out of his pocket and thrust it in Gibbs' general direction. "In there," he said.

Gibbs pulled it out and filled in the necessary information, then automatically held it out for Tony to take. Only, he held it out to his side for a few moments, still writing on the admittance forms, before realizing that Tony had no clue that it was being held in front of him.

"Hey, Tony," he said, and Tony opened his eyes and squinted at him.

"Here," Gibbs said, wiggling the wallet. Tony's eyes squinted to track the movement of the dark blob he knew must be his wallet, and his hand reached out and connected with it on the third try.

"Thanks," Tony said sullenly, lifting himself off the chair slightly to shove it back in his pocket.

A few moments of silence passed between the two of them, and Tony listened instead to a crying baby and a woman, who he judged to be elderly by the thin tone of her voice, letting out a string of swears in Spanish.

"What time is it, Boss?" he asked.

"6:45," Gibbs replied, sounding distracted. Tony heard a rustle accompany those words, and before he could reply, Gibbs was up and gone from the chair. He fought down the panic that came with that, and opened his eyes, looking in the direction of the desk but not sure whether he was looking at Gibbs standing there, or perhaps some decorative column, or something else entirely. He tried squinting, but that did nothing, and he kept looking at the object, thinking it was Gibbs, until he felt a rough hand on his arm-Gibbs, he thought.

"I'm right here," Gibbs said, and his voice was gentle again. It made Tony think that maybe things were worse off than he thought.

"Don't you have to go to work, Boss?" he asked, still looking at the strange not-Gibbs that he'd been looking at before.

"I'm over here," Gibbs said, taking Tony's chin and turning his head towards him. "That's a bum trying to get painkillers."

Tony was aware of Gibbs' way of avoiding questions and pretending they were never asked in the first place, and so he tried again. "Don't you have to go to-"

"Don't leave my men behind," Gibbs said, and it sounded gruff once more.

While Tony was glad to hear Gibbs sound like himself again, he couldn't let that slide. "I'm not a kid, Boss, you can go to work. I'll be fine," he said, though even as the words left his mouth, he knew that they were a token plea, and that Gibbs would see right through them.

Gibbs didn't dignify that with a response, and Tony could just imagine the glare he would receive if he could see the man's face.

Tony heard Gibbs pull out his cell phone and dial, and he listened as Gibbs filled the Director in-told him Tony was sick and wouldn't be in, and that Gibbs would probably be in later.

Probably be in later. So he was planning on staying a while, anyway. Maybe just until they figured out what was wrong with Tony. Tony realized that Gibbs hadn't told the director the actual problem-just that Tony wasn't feeling well. Tony hadn't felt well before, but this was not just "not feeling well." This was waking up without your prided 20/10 vision, but instead, something completely awful in its place.

Soon, a doctor was calling his name, and he heard the elderly Spanish woman cursing him out, complaining that she had gotten there first and this young punk was getting seen before her. If he was feeling more normal, he probably would've spoken back to her in Spanish with an easy grin, and he would've loved to see the shock on her face when she realized he could actually understand her-but since he was absolutely not feeling anywhere near normal, he just stood up and after taking two steps and almost falling, gratefully clutched at Gibbs' arm and followed him to wherever the doctor was leading them.

It was strange walking through somewhere totally unfamiliar and seeing only blurry shapes around him. Inside his apartment was one thing, but here, in the hospital, was something totally different-it didn't help the strange anxiety of the situation when every step he took he could hear another unfamiliar voice, holding another unfamiliar conversation, wafting over his ears in a cacophony of noise that made his fingers tighten on Gibbs' arm.

Gibbs kept murmuring things like "Watch your step," or, "a little to the left," and so Tony tried to focus on his voice instead of all the others, and he was eternally gratefully when he was suddenly inside a small room, and Gibbs was helping him sit on the side of a bed.

"Mr. DiNozzo-"

"Agent DiNozzo," Gibbs interrupted, sounding pissy and bossy and just like Gibbs, and that made Tony smile a little bit.

"Agent DiNozzo," the doctor continued, unperturbed, "My name is Doctor O'Reilly. It says here that you have suddenly lost your vision?"

The man's voice was confident, but he didn't sound that old. Tony hoped that he wasn't some cocky kid just out of med-school. When he stared in the man's direction, he seemed vaguely, well, orange, so that explained the name-typical Irish-red hair, pale skin. Tony thought he could probably give a pretty good description even without seeing him.

"Yeah," Tony said. "I can kind of see colors," he added. "Red hair, Doc?"

"Yes, quite," the doctor said, sounding unamused. "What other symptoms?" he asked.

"I wrote them down," Gibbs interrupted.

"Yes," Dr. O'Reilly said again, "but I would like to hear them from Agent DiNozzo's perspective."

Tony didn't hear anything from Gibbs after that, so he answered the doctor's questions. "Headaches," he said. "Pretty bad ones. And I've been pretty dizzy."

"It says here that you once had the plague? Is that right?" Doctor O'Reilly asked, sounding torn between appalled and intrigued.

Tony nodded.

"Hmm," he said. Tony could tell from the silence that followed that the doctor was itching to know more about it, but knew he should stick to the symptoms at hand. "Have you had any recent head injuries?" he continued.

"No," Tony said. "Not in a few months, anyway."

"I'd like to examine your eyes," he said, stepping closer. Tony heard him pull something out of his pocket. "I'm going to shine a light in your eyes. It will be bright," he cautioned, before holding Tony's eyes open, one by one, and shining a light in, asking Tony to look in various directions. Tony flinched back from the light, but did as requested, hoping the doctor was seeing what he was supposed to see.

"And how many fingers am I holding up?" Doctor O'Reilly asked, holding his hand in front of Tony's face.

Tony squinted, then opened his eyes wide, and squinted again. "Um...two?" he guessed.

"Well," Doctor O'Reilly said, after a moment's pause where he jotted down a few notes, and Tony got the distinct feeling he'd been wrong about the fingers, "the best course of action would be to admit you and run some tests."

"What kind?" Gibbs asked, just as Tony simultaneously asked, "How long?"

"Depending on the outcome of the tests, I would estimate an admittance period of approximately two days," the doctor said, and before Tony could express his outrage, which he was sure showed on his face, the doctor continued, "First we'll perform some basic neurological exams, then an MRI, and if needed, a spinal tap."

"That's a great movie," Tony said, avoiding the anxiety that was building steadily inside him. "Classic. Have you seen it, Doc? Best rockumentary-"

"DiNozzo," Gibbs interrupted harshly, instantly putting a stop to nervous babbling.

"I have seen it," the doctor said, and Tony thought he heard a smile in his voice. "Any questions, Agent DiNozzo?"

"Can't we make it shorter than two days?" he asked, and again, he was dismayed to hear his voice come out like a whine.

The doctor sighed. "These are serious symptoms," he said. "I am well aware that two days can feel like a long time, but it is just an estimate. It could very well be shorter, or longer. The most important thing is that you stay here long enough for us to conduct tests and determine what is causing your vision loss. I'll be honest with you, Agent DiNozzo. That is not a common symptom, and usually indicates something much more serious."

"Do you think it's permanent?" Tony asked after a moment, not quite wanting to hear the answer.

"At this point, I can't answer that. We'll have to wait until we run some tests. It is very likely a swelling of the optic nerve," he said, "In which case, we simply have to make the swelling go down."

For some reason, Tony didn't think it was going to be that simple.

Chapter Text

Tony was thankful that Gibbs had left to get coffee, make some calls, and find Ducky, who'd arrived at the hospital during the initial doctor's examination but had not been let in. The doctor had taken some blood, then tested his reflexes (which were still excellent, thankyouverymuch), his coordination and balance (he didn't do so well in that one), his gait (which Tony had been embarrassed about, since he had trouble balancing and seeing and thus could not walk with anything close to his usual swagger), sensation, speech abilities, and cognitive function. It seemed his speech and cognition were fine, as were his sensations, but he didn't understand why he had to stick his tongue out and move it to either side-did that really impact his vision? Either way, he was glad that Gibbs had not been there to witness the tests.

He was alone in a hospital room now, his hospital room. Thankfully, he had no roommate as of yet. It didn't take good vision to see that he was surrounded by sterile white walls and white sheets and white blankets, and he wished for his big, soft bed at home, even though he knew the wishing would get him nowhere. He was stuck in the little scratchy hospital bed for a while, at least until the nurses brought him lunch, and then after that, to his MRI.

Idly, Tony wondered if the team was any closer to finding Michael Barrett. He wanted to grab his cell phone and call them up, but then he would have to explain why he was lying in a hospital bed about to have an MRI and not at work-and that was not a conversation he relished having. Especially not now, when it was all so new and fresh that he wasn't sure he could muster up any good jokes about it.

He heard swift footsteps come through his open door, and was assaulted by the scent of strong coffee.

"Hey Boss," he said, turning his head in Gibbs' direction.

"How'd the tests go?" Gibbs asked, sitting heavily in the chair next to Tony's bed.

"Aced 'em," Tony said lightly. "Even though I didn't study."

Gibbs snorted and took a long drink of his coffee. "Talked to Ducky," he said conversationally, or at least as conversationally as Gibbs could get.

"Oh yeah?" Tony asked, prompting Gibbs for more information.

"Yeah," Gibbs confirmed. "He's gonna come back in a few. He had to run back and finish up some work. He can make sense of whatever the doctor tells you."

"What does he think is wrong?" Tony asked.

Gibbs didn't say anything for a moment; instead, he drank his coffee. Tony wondered if it was a real sip, or if he was stalling with a fake.

"He doesn't know, DiNozzo. Could be anything," Gibbs said. "You have your MRI soon?"

"Yeah," Tony said. "They're gonna bring me some lunch first," he added, then wrinkled his nose. "Don't suppose you're hiding a pizza somewhere, Boss...?"

"No pizza," Gibbs said. "Didn't know if you'd be able to eat it or not."

"I didn't lose my teeth or my stomach, Boss," Tony complained. "Just my vision."

Gibbs didn't reply, just took another long drink of his coffee.

"Find Michael Barrett?" Tony asked, wondering what sort of expression was on Gibbs' face.

"Not yet," Gibbs said. "Don't worry about that. You just get better," he added.

Tony frowned. "I can't help-"

"Lunch!" a perky voice interrupted, effectively stopping Tony's train of thought and subsequent frustration. Tony heard the wheels of a cart being moved in, and he felt along the side of his bed for the controls that would bring him into a seated position. He wished he could see the girl with the cart-what he could see he thought he would like-she seemed to be slim, and she had dark hair...but of course, earlier in the day he had mistaken a decorative column for Gibbs. Her voice was pleasant, though, and she babbled to him about his sandwich as she put it in front of him.

"Thank you," Tony said, flashing her a wide smile. He wished he could see if she flushed or not, but was willing to bet she did, if Gibbs' snort was anything to go by.

Once she was gone, Tony stared down at his food, and realized that he could barely see it. How was he supposed to eat something he couldn't see?

"Gonna eat that food or just stare at it?" Gibbs asked pointedly.

"Not really hungry, Boss," Tony said, still staring blankly at the plate in front of him.

Gibbs sighed. "Here," he said, putting his cup down on the table. From the hollow sound it made, Tony thought maybe it was empty already. Then, Gibbs' hand was on his, and his own hand was on top of squishy bread. "Looks like a ham and cheese," Gibbs said. "Square bread, cut in half into two triangles," he added. "See?" He took Tony's hand and ran it along the edges of the bread. "Now eat it."

Tony felt vaguely embarrassed to be sitting in a hospital bread afraid of a spongy ham and cheese sandwich, so he took his other hand and hesitantly picked it up, careful to hold the two edges so that the meat didn't fall out. He could see where his hands and the sandwich were, but they blended together into a pale colored blob, so he tried his best to watch that blob as it got closer. He took a bite, didn't miss his mouth as he feared, and continued to eat until it was gone. Gibbs didn't say anything, but Tony could hear him sipping coffee-Tony thought that he had to be faking it by now because there couldn't be any left at this point.

When his hands were empty, they sought out the other half of the sandwich, and even if it was mushy white bread instead of a nice hard roll like he would prefer, he hadn't eaten yet that day, and he finished it quickly.

"Got some mustard on your face," Gibbs said.

Tony flushed and tried to find a napkin on his tray, but only succeeded in just about knocking over what he guessed was juice, and then Gibbs reached out and up righted it before it could spill.

"Here," Gibbs said, handing him a napkin. For a moment, Tony was petrified that Gibbs was going to wipe his face for him. That fear receded quickly, though, as Gibbs' hands retreated and he quickly took care of it himself.

"Better?" he asked.

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "You got a cup of juice on that tray," he said, "And an apple."

Tony reached out to his tray, this time on the other side of the juice, and found a smooth, round object. Apple, he thought. His fingers found the stem, and he brought it to his mouth and ate it, careful to avoid the very top and very bottom.

Just as he was finishing, wondering if he should stop eating and say something to Gibbs, because the silence was just bordering on uncomfortable, there were footsteps at his door again.

"Ready for your MRI, Tony?"

Dr. Foss, then, the doctor who had administered his earlier tests and taken over his care once he'd been officially admitted to the hospital.

"Sure thing, Doc," he said. He'd gotten the doctor to call him Tony during the tests; Agent DiNozzo got old pretty quickly. He carefully replaced his apple on the tray, and looked expectantly in the doctor's direction. "Now?"

"Yes," Doctor Foss said. "We'd really like to get it done as soon as possible, and hopefully take care of your vision." Tony heard a rustle, then the sound of wheels.

"A wheelchair?" Tony asked.

"That, or we roll you down in your bed," Doctor Foss said. "Your choice." He'd been a doctor for a long time, and he knew Tony's type all too well, and so he also knew Tony would want to walk all the way down to MRI unassisted-but that was not going to work.

"I'll take the wheelchair," Tony conceded with a scowl.

"DiNozzo, I gotta head into work soon," Gibbs said suddenly. "Ducky'll be here when you're out of your MRI."

"Oh-okay," Tony said, slightly taken aback. He'd just sort of assumed Gibbs was staying, which he knew was silly-Gibbs was Gibbs, after all, and he had important things to do. "Tell me when you get Barrett?" he asked.

"Sure," Gibbs said. He reached out and squeezed Tony's shoulder. "I'll come by after work," he said.

Tony nodded, and wished that he didn't suddenly feel completely vulnerable and borderline bereft as Gibbs walked out.

Unfortunately, it must have shown on his face, because Dr. Foss said, "It can be hard when you're in the hospital by yourself," as he pulled the rails down on the side of Tony's bed.

Tony shrugged. "No big deal; it's happened plenty of times before. Gibbs is busy," he said, and swung his legs over the side of the bed, studiously not thinking about the time a doctor had told him that many years ago when he was just a kid getting his appendix out and his father left to go to a business meeting after admitting him and his mother was home drinking cocktails.

He stood cautiously, and Dr. Foss steadied him when he started to sway to one side. "Take one step forward, Tony, and I'll bring the chair behind you," he said.

Tony nodded, and did as the doctor requested, and once he was sitting in the chair, he stifled a yawn and let himself be pushed to the MRI area. He hoped Ducky could help him make sense of the results when it was time.


When he came back from the MRI, Ducky was waiting in his room.

"Ah, Tony!" Ducky said, sounding just as cheery and, well, Scottish as ever. "How are you doing, my boy?" he asked. The nurse pushing Tony's wheelchair smiled at Ducky, and Tony smiled in his general direction.

"Hey, Ducky," he said. "Doin' okay," he said, which in Tony's particular vernacular meant, "don't even ask, my head is killing me, I'm dizzy, I just laid in a tube for an hour while someone took pictures of my brain and spinal cord, and I can't fucking see!"

Ducky was well versed in Tony-speak, though, and he merely nodded sagely. "Ah," he said. "As to be expected." He watched as Tony stood up and grabbed onto the nurse for support, who carefully helped him over to the bed. Once Tony was settled, and they put the bars on the bed up, Ducky sat in the bedside chair that Gibbs had occupied a little while ago.

"When will they have the test results?" Ducky asked the nurse.

"I'm not sure, sir," the nurse said, "but it shouldn't be too long."

"Thank you," Ducky said, and once the nurse was gone, he turned his attention to Tony.

"Tony, how are you feeling?" he asked, and this time, he sounded more serious, as if he expected a serious response.

Tony sighed, the urge to quote a movie or make a flippant remark strong in his mind, but he knew Ducky would just keep asking. "Okay," Tony repeated. "I have a pretty bad headache," he admitted. "I'm dizzy a lot. I can't see too much."

"Sounds slightly less than 'okay' to me," Ducky observed.

"Yeah, maybe," Tony said, turning away to yawn, then turning back towards Ducky.

"Do you need to rest?" Ducky asked. "Don't stay awake on my account."

"No, that's okay, Ducky," Tony said. "The doctor said he'd be back soon with test results," he added. No matter how tired he was, he was so keyed up about finding out what was wrong with him that he didn't think he could sleep.

"You know," Ducky said, "Jethro really wished he could stay."

Tony turned towards Ducky with a smile. "No big deal," he said. "Gibbs is busy. I'm surprised he stayed as long as he did."

"If we weren't in the midst of a case, he would be here all day," Ducky said.

"But we are," Tony said, "so it's really not a big deal." He didn't know why Ducky was pushing this-it's not like Gibbs was his dad, after all, just his boss-and when did it become a requirement for bosses to bring their subordinates to the hospital, anyway?

Maybe when neither of them has a family to stay with them, a little voice in his mind thought.

Luckily, Dr. Foss chose that moment to enter the room, and so Tony was spared talking about it further.

"Hello," Ducky said, before Doctor Foss could speak. Tony saw the closest blur to him stand and move, and he assumed the two men were shaking hands. "I'm Dr. Mallard," Ducky said, "But please, feel free to call me Ducky."

Doctor Foss introduced himself in turn, and Tony could feel his heart start to beat faster. He wished Gibbs were here; he seemed to instinctively know each time Tony started to panic, and get him back out of it. He just wanted to know what was wrong with him, and now that it was so close, he was suddenly afraid to find out. He was glad he couldn't see the doctor's face; it would probably give too much away.

Perhaps, though, his anxiety was more obvious than he thought, because Ducky laid a hand on his forearm and squeezed reassuringly.

"Well," Doctor Foss said, "your decreased vision is caused by an inflamed optic nerve, as we suspected. We are going to start you on an IV of methylprednisolone for that very soon. That's good news-it means that you don't have a brain tumor, which was mostly ruled out after your neurological exams, anyway. The cause of the inflammation is what we are concerned about now." He paused for a moment, and Tony heard some papers shuffling.

"Does that mean I'll see again after you give me the methyl-whatchacallit?" Tony asked, giving up on the extensive drug name.

"Most likely," Doctor Foss said. "Your brain MRI came back normal, while the MRI of your spinal cord came back showing extensive inflammation. We need to do a spinal tap to see what's going on more clearly."

"What does that mean?" Tony asked, grateful for Ducky's hand on his arm because again, he could feel his heart beating faster-extensive inflammation of the spinal cord?

"Well, you have large patches of swelling along your spinal cord, which is why the spinal tap will really help us figure out what's going on. We'll retrieve some of your spinal fluid during the tap and test it. Honestly, we're still not quite sure of the cause of these symptoms; hopefully your spinal fluid will give us some insight," he replied, pausing and glancing at his clipboard for a moment before continuing. "When we asked you about family history earlier, you said you weren't aware of anyone having any serious illnesses, correct?" Doctor Foss asked.

"Right," Tony said, not liking where this was going. Again, Ducky squeezed his arm reassuringly, and Tony was thankful for that steady hand on his arm, grounding him in reality.

"Are you aware of anyone in your family having Multiple Sclerosis?" he asked.

Tony's heart skipped a beat. "MS?" he asked. "You think I have MS?"

"We're not quite sure," the doctor said. "MS patients do not typically have normal brain MRIs; most cases show areas of inflammation. Yours did not," he said. "Your spinal MRI is also abnormal for MS-you have extensive areas of inflammation, whereas MS patients typically have small patches."

"So why are you asking?" Tony asked.

"This could be related to MS; we're not sure. While some of your symptoms are consistent with the disease," he said, "we'd like to try and rule it out further."

Tony sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I might've had a great-uncle who had it," he said. "But I'm not really sure."

"Is there anyone you can contact to find this information out, Tony?" the doctor asked.

Briefly, Tony thought of calling his father, but he knew that was not an option. "No," he said.

"Alright," the doctor said. "I'm going to send a nurse in to start that IV, and we'll plan to do the spinal tap later on this evening, sometime after dinner. Do you have any questions, Tony?"

"No, I don't think so," Tony said.

"Dr. Mal-Ducky? Any questions?"

Ducky, who had been unusually quiet the whole time, mulled this over. "No, not at the moment," he finally said.

"Well, if either of you think of one, please call one of the nurses, and she'll come find me," Doctor Foss said. "For now, try to rest, Tony. One of the nurses will be in momentarily with your IV."

Tony nodded, and listened intently as the doctor's footsteps trailed out of the room.

"It's a lot to take in, hmm?" Ducky said, his hand still resting reassuringly on Tony's arm.

"Yeah," Tony said, only it came out as more of a whisper than anything else.

"Perhaps you should take the doctor's advice and rest," Ducky said.

Tony's mind was reeling, and he wasn't sure he could shut it off to sleep. "Gotta wait for the IV," he said, but he knew that he was beginning to feel the effects of a long day in the hospital.

"That shouldn't be long," Ducky said.

"What's that drug they're putting in it?" Tony asked.

"Methylprednisolone," Ducky said. "It's basically an intravenous steroid."

"So I'll have 'roid rage?" Tony asked tiredly, quirking a grin despite himself.

Ducky chuckled. "Ah, I don't think so, Tony. Perhaps, instead, a return of your vision."

"That'd be nice," Tony said, and even as his thoughts raced, he could feel his eyelids begin to droop. He heard footsteps enter his room, and managed a grunt when a soft voice spoke to him and told him she was going to insert an IV. Ducky kept patting his shoulder, and he twitched when the needle entered his arm, and then finally succumbed to much-needed sleep.


When Tony woke again, only a few short hours later, he could hear voices having a hushed conversation near his bed. They drifted over his head like a spider web, and he listened to the timbres for a moment, unconcerned about what they were saying, until his brain began to catch up with his body and he felt more awake.

"Boss?" he said, though it came out as more of a croak. He turned his head and looked in the direction of the voices. Still blurry, he realized.

"Hey, DiNozzo," Gibbs said.

"Feeling any better, Tony?" Ducky asked.

"Still can't see," Tony said, letting his eyes fall shut again. "You bring me a pizza this time, Boss?"

Gibbs snorted. "No pizza, Tony."

Tony sighed. "What time is it?" he asked.

"6:00," Ducky said. "I believe your dinner tray should arrive momentarily. You'll be eating roast beef tonight," he added.

Tony wrinkled his nose. "I don't think I want it," he said.

"You'll eat it," Gibbs said predictably. "That's an order."

Tony sighed again and turned his head away from Gibbs and Ducky, eyes still closed. "Can't eat it if I'm sleeping," he mumbled.

Gibbs leaned forward and gently took Tony's chin in his hand, turning his face back towards himself. Tony opened his eyes and looked at the blurry swirl of colors that he knew was Gibbs.

"Ducky and I don't care if you miss your food with your fork, DiNozzo," he said. "You'll eat it even if we have to feed it to you."

Tony felt frustation mounting inside of him; he'd like to see Gibbs eat blindly in front of his team, stabbing a plate instead of meat and missing his mouth with his fork. A sandwich was one thing; roast beef was something else entirely. Didn't Gibbs get that?

Of course not, he thought a moment later, Gibbs could probably drive a car through rush hour traffic blind, let alone eat roast beef.

"Ah, Tony, while perhaps Jethro spoke a bit harshly, the sentiment is quite true," Ducky said.

"Thanks," Tony said, glad that Gibbs had moved back out of his personal space.

Tony let his eyes fall closed again; he really was tired, after all. "Is my spinal tap after dinner?" he asked through a yawn, so that it came out more like, "smyspnltapfterdner?"

"We haven't heard otherwise," Ducky said.

"Get Barrett, Boss?" Tony asked.

Tony didn't need to see Gibbs to see the anger on his face. "No," he said shortly.

"Why not?" Tony asked. He couldn't help but wonder if maybe he were at work, he would figure something out and find him, something the others would overlook-

"He's damn good at hiding," Gibbs said. "Been interviewing known buyers and other dealers who might know him, and nobody's saying a damn thing."

"What about-"

"Don't worry about the case, Tony," Gibbs interrupted. "We'll find the bastard. You just get better."

"You don't have to coddle me," Tony said sourly, eliciting a cough from Ducky that Tony was pretty sure covered a snort of laughter. Gibbs just glared at him; Tony could feel it coming from him without having to see it.

Tony heard wheels approaching his door, and again the meal cart came in. This time the woman pushing the cart sounded grumpy. Tony imagined from her rough, deep voice that she had leathery skin and smoked about a pack an hour.

"Eat up," she said. "It's roast beef. Do you need me to cut it for you?"

"No," Tony said. "Really, that's fine. I'll manage."

"Suit yourself," she said, then coughed, and it sounded harsh and grating. Tony was grateful that the plate came with a lid over it.

He heard her wheel the cart away, and pressed the control on the side of his bed once more to sit up. Gibbs reached over and pulled the lid off of his meal, and Tony stared at a plate of brown and dull green and another color he couldn't quite make out.

"Roast beef, green beans, and mashed potatoes," Gibbs said. "A dinner roll, too."

"Oh my," Ducky said, "What a lovely piece of pie you have for dessert."

Tony couldn't tell whether or not Ducky was sincere, and he didn't bother trying to figure it out. Instead, he stared at the plate in front of him and made a face of displeasure. "Is there at least a fork for this?" he asked.

Gibbs reached out and picked something up. "And a knife and spoon," he confirmed. "Hang on, DiNozzo," he said, and Tony saw the tray being pushed away from him for a moment, then he heard the distinct sound of silverware scraping against a plate. He tried desperately to make out what he was seeing, but it wasn't working too well.

"I think you'll find that it won't be quite as difficult as you think," Ducky told Tony. "Why, in fact, I had a friend in medical school who-"

"Here, Tony," Gibbs interrupted, pushing a fork into Tony's hand and sliding the tray back to its original place, eliciting a harrumph from Ducky at being cut off. Gibbs put his hand over Tony's, and led it towards where the meat was. "It's all cut up right here." He poked at the meat, and Tony felt the resistance beneath his fork. "Mashed potatoes here," he said, pushing the fork a bit further. "Green beans here," he added. "But you won't eat those."

Tony shook his head. "No, I hate 'em," he said, wrinkling his nose. "Thanks, Boss."

Gibbs didn't say anything; instead, he clapped a hand on Tony's shoulder and then sat back down in his chair while Tony pushed his fork vaguely in the direction of the brown blob he knew was his meat.

"Perhaps now I can continue on where I was before I was so rudely interrupted," Ducky said, sounding quite offended.

"By all means, Duck," Gibbs said, just a hint of sarcasm in his voice, enough to make Tony grin even as his fork scraped the empty plate looking for meat.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all.

Chapter Text

Tony was lying flat on his back, staring at a blank, white ceiling. His spinal tap was over-it hadn't been as bad as he'd thought it would be. He'd just lain on his side, knees curled up to his chest, and the doctor had numbed his back thoroughly before sliding a needle in and collecting fluid. The numbing had hurt more than anything else, really. He was surprised to lie on his back afterwards, but the doctor said it was the best position to be in, and that it would help ease a potential headache, as would caffeine - which was why there were about to bring him a Coke.

His head was spinning with information and fears and errant thoughts, even while his body was dead-tired from the grueling tests he'd had to take all day long. He knew that Gibbs and Ducky would be back in any minute, though, and he had to stay awake to drink his Coke, so he resigned himself to staying up a while longer. It was only 7:15 PM, but it felt to him like it was at least midnight.

He heard footsteps outside his room, and Ducky and Gibbs entered, and this time, a third set of footsteps came with them. They sounded rather clompy-Abby?



Yes, Abby.

Tony looked in the direction of the door and saw a black blur coming towards him.

"Oh, Tony," she said, and leaned down to hug him and kiss him on the cheek, mindful of his IV. "I brought you Bert," she said, and her voice was scratchy right beside his ear.

"Thanks, Abby," Tony said when the stuffed hippo was placed in the crook of his arm.

She sat on the edge of his bed, keeping one hand on his chest. "I miss you at work," she said. "I hope you get better soon."

"Me too," Tony said.

"The doctor thinks that your IV medication should really start making a difference overnight," Ducky said as he sat down heavily in the chair next to Tony's bed. Gibbs sat beside him, watching Tony carefully.

"How was your spinal tap?" Abby asked.

"Not as good as the movie," Tony said with a tired smile.

"Did it hurt?" Abby continued, sounding concerned. Tony could just picture the frown on her face and the tilt of her eyebrows.

"No," Tony said, "they numbed me up first."

Tony heard a knock on his doorframe, and a nurse came in. "Drink this, please, Mr. DiNozzo," she said, and Tony could tell that this nurse was rather old, so he didn't bother dragging up a flirtatious smile for her-instead he took the cup of Coke out of her hand and allowed her to push his bed up a little bit so he'd be upright enough to swallow without choking.

"If you need anything, just press the button," she said as she made her way out of the room.

Tony looked at the cup in his hand and squinted a bit, trying to figure out exactly how tall it was.

"Got a straw there, DiNozzo," Gibbs said.

"A straw?" Tony asked, still looking at the cup askance.

Abby reached forward and took hold of the straw, then pushed it towards Tony's mouth, and Tony drank eagerly, his eyes slipping closed as the cool liquid slid down his throat.

"Ziva and McGee wanted to come, but they're still working," Abby told him.

"That's ok," Tony said, taking his mouth away from the straw for a moment. The room was silent except for the hum of machines running, monitoring his heart and breathing, and for once, he didn't feel like filling it with jokes and movie quotes-he just wanted to drink his Coke and sleep. He realized, though, that he couldn't find the straw again, and sighed.

"Here," Abby said, pushing it back towards his mouth. Tony drank some more, then put the cup down on the tray next to his bed.

"Thanks, Abby," he said. He could feel his eyes slipping closed.

"You didn't finish your Coke," Abby said, reaching out and running a hand through the short hair on the side of his forehead.

"'m not thirsty anymore," Tony mumbled.

He felt someone reach over him and take the cup, and then Gibbs was holding it to his mouth. "Drink the rest," Gibbs said. "Or you'll get a headache."

Tony lazily sipped at the drink, his eyes still closed.

"Little more," Gibbs said, and his voice was hazy like a cloud on a hot summer day. Tony kept sipping, until finally, nothing but air came through the straw, and Gibbs took it away and replaced it on the table. He reclined Tony's bed again so he could lie flat, and pushed an errant piece of hair off of his forehead.

Tony thought he must have already been sleeping when he felt the calloused fingers brush warmly against his skin, and he smiled. He felt his bed shift and then he felt lips press into his cheek. "Goodnight, Abby," he tried to say, but it came out as "mmm." Ducky patted his shoulder and said something soft, and Tony tried to say "Goodnight, Ducky," but that time, it came out as just a sigh as he drifted into sleep.


Tony woke early in the morning, nose twitching, to the scent of strong coffee. He wearily opened his eyes, running a hand over his face and glancing around before remembering-oh, the hospital. He turned his head and saw Gibbs, staring at his phone from a distance, looking angry with his brow furrowed.

Wait, wait, wait-he could see that Gibbs was pissed off, not just tell that he was through the crazy Gibbs-pheromones he seemed to emit everywhere.

"Boss, you're pissed!" Tony said triumphantly.

"Excuse me?" Gibbs said, looking up at him with his scowl firmly in place.

"I mean-I can see!"

Gibbs' expression cracked and his mouth quirked upwards for a fleeting moment, before he looked annoyed again, though not as severely as before; Tony thought it was just a cover.

"Then tell me what the hell this says," he said, holding his phone open in front of Tony.

Tony squinted for a second, and stared intently. Okay, maybe his vision wasn't quite perfect yet, but it was certainly better.

"Why won't you answer my texts?" Tony read dutifully. "Who's Cheryl?" he asked curiously, looking away from the phone and back at Gibbs' face, eyes eagerly taking in the familiar visage.

Gibbs snorted. "If she thinks I'll use that text crap, then she really is an ass," he said, and Tony grinned at the small insight into his boss' personal life, and wondered who this Cheryl was. It was a relief to see rather than imagine the slight frown that crossed his face before he spoke, and the way he looked at his phone as if it were some strange high-tech piece of equipment designed solely to make him miserable.

"So you can see, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, shutting the phone and tossing it none too gently onto the small table near Tony's bed.

"Sure can, Boss," he said. "Think I can go home now?"

"Up to the doctor," Gibbs said. "But they still have to figure out why this happened. Still got a headache?"

Tony frowned, and his good mood dampened when he remembered that there could still be something seriously wrong with him.

"No," Tony said, "it's okay."

"Don't lie," Gibbs said shortly.

Tony sighed. "Well, it's not as bad as it was," he admitted.

"But you still have one."

"Yeah," Tony said.

"Talked to your doctor last night while you were sleeping," Gibbs said, "and he wanted to know when you woke up this morning. Said to call the nurses."

"Okay," Tony said, the end of the word breaking into a yawn. He lazily reached over and pressed the call button.

Another boring day at the hospital-but at least he could see for this one.


Tony was roused from a nice, relaxing mid-morning nap by a warm hand on his shoulder.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs was saying, "Got your spinal tap results."

Tony looked around blearily, and noticed Doctor Foss sitting near his bed next to the empty chair Gibbs would sit in again momentarily. He pushed the controls next to his bed and brought himself to a sitting position.

"Okay," Tony said, rubbing a hand over his face. He'd had an eye exam earlier, and his vision was 20/50-not quite where it was before, but the doctor had hopes that the medication still lingering in his system after disconnecting his IV that morning would help it continue to improve.

"Well," Doctor Foss said, "it's really quite unusual. You do have an elevation of white blood cells-"

"Like cancer?" Tony asked

"Not quite, Tony; cancer patients typically have lowered white blood cell counts in response to their treatment," the doctor said patiently. "Many of your symptoms have pointed rather questionably to MS, but after seeing your spinal tap, we're quite sure that this is not the case."

Tony felt a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding leave him, and again, Gibbs' hand was there on his arm in support.

"The benchmarks of an MS patient's spinal tap were not there," he continued. "We have some ideas of what could be going on, but we'd like to keep you for observation and see if any more symptoms manifest," he said.

"I'd rather go home," Tony said.

"Most patients would," the doctor conceded. "With the results of your tests, though, I really don't believe that this is just a mere case of optic neuritis. I have a strong suspicion that this is a part of something larger, and I would like to keep you another 24 hours."

Tony looked away from Gibbs, towards the window. It wasn't a very good view; his window was on the inside of a courtyard, so instead of seeing trees or buildings, he just saw another wall of the hospital, and a blurry one at that, since it was so far away. His blanket felt scratchy against his skin, not soft like the one at home, and he would kill to have his plasma TV, not the aged old box in the corner of this room that sounded like you were listening through a tin can.

"Sounds great," Tony muttered. "Fantastic."

"DiNozzo," Gibbs said, his voice threatening.

Tony turned towards Gibbs. "What? Am I supposed to be excited that I'm holed up in a hospital staring at the walls for another entire day?"

Gibbs shrugged. "Gee, DiNozzo, I don't know, you could try being happy that you can see."

Doctor Foss cleared his throat. "If I may-Tony, I understand your hesitance. However, I'd really like to see if your vision continues to improve. I'd also like to observe how your body reacts now; whether or not your vision improves, and if any more symptoms arise without the steroids being actively pumped into your system. It's very important," he said. "You still have dizziness, and you still have headaches. You're not yet cured, Tony."

Tony nodded, again looking out the window to avoid the doctor and what he had to say.

"Let me know if you have any questions," Doctor Foss said. "I'll be in to check on you again in a few hours."

"Okay," Tony murmured, eyes focused on the movement of a closing window shade across the courtyard. He didn't have to turn his head to see the look that Gibbs and the doctor exchanged, and once he heard the doctor leave, Gibbs moved and sat on the edge of his bed.

"Hey, DiNozzo," he said, reaching out and tilting Tony's head towards him.

"Yeah, Boss?" Tony said.

Gibbs was looking at him searchingly, and he hesitated uncharacteristically before speaking. "It's okay to be scared," he said.

Tony's eyes widened for a moment, shocked that Gibbs would say such a thing to him, then he laughed. "I'm not scared, Boss."

"No?" Gibbs challenged. "I sure as hell would be."

Tony frowned, shifting his gaze away from Gibbs. "Did Ducky tell you to say that?" he asked, still looking away.

"When was the last time I said something I didn't mean?" Gibbs countered.

Tony thought for a moment. "Don't know, Boss." He looked back up again, and Gibbs was still staring at him intently.

"That's because it never happened."

"Oh," Tony said, his fingers twisting the scratchy hospital blanket.

"Meant what I said," Gibbs said. "It's okay-"

"I'm not scared!" Tony interrupted, voice rising. "Why would I be scared? I just woke up and couldn't see, and now I can see again because I'm on fucking steroids, and no one knows what's wrong with me!" His last words were almost a shout, and they hung in the air for a moment, suspended into the silence that came after, punctuated only by the accelerating beeps of his heart monitor and his rapid breaths. Tony looked anywhere but Gibbs, and even still, he could feel that gaze on him.

"Easy," Gibbs said, putting a hand on his shoulder. Tony took a deep breath, and the beeping of his monitor began to slow down as he turned back towards Gibbs, and he was not surprised to see him looking at him one with eyebrow raised.

"You done?" Gibbs asked.

Tony let out a shaky laugh, raking a hand through his hair. "Yeah, Boss, I guess so," he said.

There was a knock on the doorframe, and an elderly nurse poked her head in. "Is everything all right in here?" she asked, looking suspiciously between Gibbs and Tony.

"Fine," Tony said, giving her a weak smile. She looked between them again.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

Tony nodded, and did his best to give her a winning smile.

"Alright," she said. "But this is a hospital; please don't get overexcited."

Tony nodded, Gibbs didn't even bother looking at her, and finally she was gone.

Tony chanced a look back at Gibbs, and he was still looking at him intently.

"You can admit it," Gibbs said.

"Please," Tony scoffed. "Would you admit it?" He paused for a moment, realizing what he said. "And for the record, there's nothing to admit."

"I just did admit it," Gibbs said.

"It's a lot different to say you would be scared in my position now then to actually say it when it happens," Tony pointed out.

"Guess so," Gibbs said. "But there's no sense in lying to yourself."

Tony rolled his eyes. "I'm not lying to myself," he said. "I wasn't scared when I had the plague and I'm not scared now."

Gibbs actually chuckled at that. "Omitting the truth?" he suggested.

Tony crossed his arms over his chest and turned away from Gibbs. This was not an interrogation; it was a hospital room. And dammit, he knew that Gibbs was right, as usual.

"Hey," Gibbs said, his voice a bit softer. He reached out and tapped Tony's jaw lightly with one finger. "You're not alone," he said, still in that same soft voice, then he stood up from the bed and stretched his arms over his head.

"Ziva's stopping by later," he said, and the change in his tone was so abrupt that Tony was left to wonder if the moment before actually happened; the only evidence was the ghost of a touch he could feel on his jaw. He swallowed thickly, feeling an uncomfortable burn behind his eyes, and closed them tightly. He would not let Gibbs' words get to him.

"McGee, too," Gibbs added. "You up for some visitors?"

Tony took a moment to swallow, and get himself under control, before turning back to Gibbs. "You're here," he said with a shrug. "Guess so."

Gibbs gave him a half smile as he sat down in the chair next to his bed. "Don't have a choice, DiNozzo. I'll be here either way," he said.

Chapter Text

Tony managed half of another mushy ham and cheese sandwich before pushing his tray away, glad Gibbs had stepped out to get coffee for a moment so he didn't have to hear the man tell him to eat more food. He wasn't that hungry to begin with, and the sandwich really was not appetizing.

He idly flipped through the channels on the ancient TV in his room, pressing extra hard since the "up" button didn't quite work, while his thoughts meandered about his brain. He wondered if he would be cleared for field duty-would they be able to rid him of his headaches and dizziness and ensure that he would not go temporarily blind again? And for that matter, would he need glasses? Would this happen again and his vision would get worse every time until finally he would be permanently blind? And what exactly was wrong with him?

With a sigh, he shut the TV off and tossed the remote control onto the table near his bed. He was about to close his eyes and sleep-anything was better than sitting there thinking-when he heard a knock on his doorframe.

"Tony?" Her voice was soft as she came into his room. "You were not sleeping, were you?" she asked.

He turned his head towards the door and smiled. "Ziva!" he said. "What'd you bring me?"

"Ah ah ah," she said, "Not so fast. You will answer my question first," she said as she folded her long jacket over the back of the chair next to his bed, khaki fabric just brushing the floor. She sat gingerly in the chair, her hair falling down her back in waves. As she leaned forward to look at him, it brushed the edge of his bed. "Were you sleeping?" she asked.

"No," Tony said. "Nothing on the old boob tube, so I turned it off."

"I assume that by 'boob tube' you mean the television?" Ziva asked, looking both curious and appalled at the same time as she leaned back in her chair, satisfied after her perusal of his face that Tony's response was the truth.

"Yeah, now what'd you bring me?" Tony asked, ignoring the opportunity to poke at Ziva's English skills and instead looking at a small white paper bag in her hands eagerly.

"McGee and I brought you a donut," she said, crossing her legs as she handed him the bag.

Tony eagerly pushed his bed up a bit so that he was sitting up, ignoring the dizziness that came when he moved upwards. "Jelly?" he asked.

"Of course," she said. "We know that is your favorite. But you should be careful; if you get it on yourself, the nurses will know," she warned. "And Gibbs will know."

"You underestimate me," Tony said with a grin, grabbing the bag when she held it out. He opened it and peeked in eagerly. Just looking at it tasted better than hospital food.

"Perhaps I should not have given that to you," Ziva mused, her eyes taking in his half eaten lunch as Tony pulled the donut from the bag.

Tony gave her a look of disbelief as he swallowed his first huge bite. "Why not?" he asked as he took a second.

"You did not finish your lunch," she said, pointing towards his discarded sandwich.

"You try eating that," Tony said, only with the donut in his mouth, it came out as, "oohrydngtht."

As a testament to all of her time spent with Tony, Ziva knew immediately what he said. "I think not," she said with a grimace.

"Where's McGoo?" Tony asked, licking the powder off of one finger.

"He will be here any minute," Ziva said. "He stopped to use the bathroom."

Tony shoved the last of his donut in his mouth and grinned at the face Ziva gave him. "You must be getting better," Ziva said, "since you are still eating like a hog."

Tony just shrugged and turned towards the doorway when he heard footsteps entering. "McTardy!" he said, grabbing a napkin out of the bag his donut came in and wiping his face.

"Hey Tony," McGee said. "Guess you got your donut." He sat heavily beside Ziva.

"Sure did, thanks Probie," Tony said, then paused, looking at the two of them curiously. "Why aren't you at work? Did you get Barrett already?"

"It is a Saturday, Tony," Ziva said.

"So? We're in the middle of a case!" Tony said.

"Forrester's team is doing some surveillance for us," McGee said.

"Director wants us available for cases that aren't dead ends," Gibbs said as he came through the doorway, coffee in hand.

"Oh, hey Boss," Tony said. "You didn't by chance bring me a skinny hazelnut latte no whip extra foam, did you?"

Gibbs just gave him a glare instead. "Wouldn't order that crap if you paid me to."

Tony sulked for a moment, especially when McGee laughed.

"Tony," Ziva began, interrupting his sulk, "are you feeling better?"

"A bit," Tony said.

"I am glad to hear that you can see again," she said.

"Me too," Tony said.

"How much longer are you here for?" McGee asked, as Gibbs stood leaning against the wall, watching the three of them closely.

"I get sprung tomorrow morning, right Boss?" Tony asked, glancing at Gibbs for verification.

"That's the plan," Gibbs said. He didn't sound as if he really knew what to make of it.

"And your symptoms are gone?" Ziva asked. "No more headaches, or dizzy spells?"

"Nope," Tony said.

Gibbs snorted and gave Tony a pointed look.

"Okay," Tony conceded, "maybe I still have a little headache." Damn, Gibbs was still staring. "Okay, a big headache," he amended. He wouldn't look in Gibbs' direction, but he could tell that he was still watching, and it didn't help that Ziva and McGee kept looking back and forth between the two of them. "Fine, okay, I still have a little problem with being dizzy," Tony said.

"And...?" Gibbs prompted.

"And what?" Tony asked.

"How's your vision?"

"Fine," Tony said in clipped tones.

"Tony, they're your team; they need to be filled in," Gibbs said. It only served to make Tony more irritated that he was being gentle again.

"Fine," Tony said, turning towards Ziva and McGee with a tight smile. "I'm only seeing 20/50, not 20/10. I can hardly stand up without losing my balance. And this headache is not going anywhere." He looked away from them when he finished speaking, back at the same windows he'd been looking at all day long. He wondered if someone in one of the rooms across the courtyard was about to go home-or find out they were about to die-or actually dying-

His thoughts were interrupted when Ziva's hand covered his own.

"You will get better, Tony," she said. "You just have to be patient."

"I was never very good at that," Tony muttered.

"I'll say," Gibbs said, taking a long, final swig of his coffee before tossing it into the trashcan next to Tony's bed. Ziva patted Tony's hand once before pulling hers away.

"Like you're so patient," Tony said to Gibbs, sparing him a glance.

Gibbs gave him a look that Tony couldn't quite decipher; it was similar to the strange gentle one he'd been wearing more frequently since Tony had been in the hospital, but there was a hint of something else there, something unfamiliar but not unpleasant. "When it matters I am," he said a moment later. He paused for a moment. "Can't be a sniper without patience," he added, the look completely gone now.

"Guess not," Tony admitted.

"Eating a donut instead of lunch isn't going to help you get better," Gibbs added, taking a seat on the edge of Tony's bed, down near his feet, with his body angled towards Tony's face. He was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, and whenever he saw him like that, Tony couldn't help but think he liked his boss much better that way.

Tony's first instinct was to deny the donut, but instead he looked down at himself and frowned when he noticed some jelly on the front of his shirt. He grabbed a napkin and clumsily did his best to wipe it away, then tossed the napkin into his trashcan. Hoping his guests wouldn't read too much into it, he eased his bed back down just a little bit, enough that he wasn't quite sitting up anymore, but not laying down, either.

"Are you tired?" Ziva asked. "Do you need to rest?"

"No," Tony said, though if he were honest with himself, he did feel like he could use a nap. "It's just more comfortable like this," he said, letting his head rest heavily on the pillows.

"McGee has been using your Mighty Mouse stapler," Ziva told him after a few moments of silence. Tony glanced at her and saw that she wore a sly grin.

"I have not!" McGee protested. Ziva looked at him with an arched brow, and he flushed.

"I used it once," McGee said, his voice thin. "Mine ran out of staples."

"You refill it?" Tony asked, his limbs beginning to feel heavy.

"I only used one staple," McGee complained. "What was I supposed to do, break one off the new row and put it in your stapler?"

Tony smiled tiredly. "Mmhmm," he murmured. He didn't like how his energy seemed to come in waves ever since he'd begun feeling ill. He'd feel fine, then it was like someone zapped the energy right out of him.

"I'll be sure to do that before you come back," McGee said. His voice was softer this time, and against his will, Tony felt his eyes drifting closed.

Tony tried to say something in response-something threatening, about how he'd better or his fingers would be superglued to the keyboard faster than he could say "Elf Lord"-but instead he managed an "mmpf," and he felt soft fingers pat his hand before fuzziness swept over his mind and sleep overtook him.


As Tony began to wake next, he could hear the flipping pages of a magazine and a few soft snickers-Ziva and McGee?-and when he allowed his eyes to slide open, he turned his head to the side and saw them, still sitting beside his bed. He became aware of a dip in the bed near his feet, and he glanced down and saw Gibbs sitting there, Abby tucked under his arm.

"Tony! You're awake!" Abby said with a beaming smile, looking like she would pounce on him if it weren't for Gibbs' arm, heavy around her shoulders.

Tony smiled tiredly and wiped a hand over his brow, letting his thumb circle near his temple for a moment, hoping to ease the pounding behind his eyes. "Why didn't anyone wake me up for the party?" he asked, the words blurred together through a yawn.

"You look as if you wish to be resting more," Ziva said, her brow furrowed as she assessed him.

Tony shook his head, but stopped when it helped neither the sharp pain of his headache, nor the vague dizziness that seemed to plague him. "No," he said instead. "'sok," he added. "'m not tired."

He scrubbed a hand over his eyes and then let it fall to rest on his chest, still finding it odd that the people around him were vaguely blurry as his vision was still not yet up to par. He hoped it would improve more soon.

"What time is it?" he asked, glancing towards his window. Someone had pulled the curtains closed, so he couldn't see across the courtyard anymore.

"1400," Gibbs said. "Slept about an hour," he added.

Tony glanced at McGee, who was still looking at something in the magazine Ziva was holding, and at Ziva, who was looking at him critically.

"Don't you guys have something more exciting to do on your Saturday?" he asked, reaching beside him to push his bed up a little bit so that he wasn't lying down.

"Yes," Ziva said, "McGee is wasting precious time in which he could be elevating his Elf Lord status." She laughed, and McGee rolled his eyes at her but didn't say anything-probably because it was true. Tony smiled, but it drooped when he turned to see Abby glaring at him.

"What?" he asked. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

Abby crossed her arms over her chest defiantly, and Gibbs was looking at him with an amused smirk from beside her that left Tony feeling a bit nervous.

"Anthony DiNozzo!" she said. "Are you stupid?"

Tony's brow furrowed, and he tried to figure out what he did wrong. Before he could answer, she continued.

"Of course we don't have something more exciting to do! Well, maybe something more exciting, but not something more important! You're in the hospital!" she said, arms uncrossing to gesticulate expressively as she spoke. "Of course we're going to come visit you because we're worried about you, you jerk!" she said, then scooted forward and leaned down to hug him.

Tony's arms reflexively wrapped around her in return, and after a moment, he sighed and gave her a gentle squeeze. Her hair brushed against his chin and just as he was about to close his eyes and resign himself to an extended Abby hug, she pulled away from him, and his arms stayed suspended in the air for a moment out of surprise before they settled back down beside him, and he looked at her warily.

"Don't you talk like that, Tony!" she said, and this time she wagged a finger at him threateningly and stood up, moving to sit on the other vacant chair beside Ziva.

"Sorry, Abs," Tony said weakly.

"While perhaps Abby expressed herself much more aggressively than I, the sentiment is entirely the same," Ziva said. McGee nodded from beside her, and Gibbs was just silently watching Tony, an expression on his face that Tony couldn't quite place.

"But do not allow your head to swell because of it," Ziva added.

"For the record," McGee interrupted, sounding vaguely haughty, "I would not have spent all day gaming."

Silence followed his words, punctuated by a snort of disbelief from Gibbs.

"Stopping to walk Jethro doesn't count," Abby said, and Tony quirked a smile while McGee crossed his arms grumpily.

"And what was it you would have done today, McGee?" Ziva asked.

"It's none of your business," he said snippily.

"Oooh!" Tony said, "something scandalous?" While his teasing didn't have the same enthusiasm behind it as usual, it was close, and it was comforting to tease McGee and talk with his coworkers-friends­-even if his mind was preoccupied with whatever was going on with his health, and his head was pounding, and dizziness crept in on him even when he was still.

"No," McGee said, "I'm just saying, I do more than play video games."

"Yes, I seem to recall you enjoy writing, as well," Ducky said, walking into the room and shoving a coffee into Gibbs' hands. "Good to see you awake, Tony," he added, sitting next to McGee in the last empty chair in the room. "Has your vision improved?"

"Not really," he said, "Still blurry."

"Ah," Ducky said. "Well, do not fret, Tony, because these things are sensitive and liable to change at any moment."

Gibbs took a sip of his coffee, and tipped his cup towards Ducky in thanks, to which Ducky inclined his head. "Do you know," he said, "I have never been to a Starbucks in which the line has been less than six people long? It reminds me of the teahouse I used to frequent as a boy-"

"Gotta know what time to get there," Gibbs interrupted.

"You are so very fond of interrupting, Jethro," Ducky commented. "And I suppose you are going to tell me that when you go to Starbucks there is no line because you simply know what time to get there?"

Gibbs shrugged in something akin to agreement. "Most of the time," he said. "Not in the afternoon," he added. "Really early."

Tony wasn't sure he wanted to know when "really early" was, because in Gibbs' world, it probably meant 4:30 AM every day. He grimaced at the thought. Early mornings were not his favorite.

A knock on the doorframe interrupted their conversation, and Tony squinted and recognized the pale skin and dark hair of Dr. Foss.

"It's great to see so many visitors," he said, "but I hope you're not all wearing him out," Dr. Foss said with a smile.

"No, they're not," Tony said.

"He just woke up!" Abby said in their defense. "I mean, we didn't wake him up, but he was sleeping, and he woke up on his own, but we were all here-"

"Abs," Gibbs said, and Abby stopped speaking, and instead, smiled brightly at the doctor, who was looking at her curiously. He shook his head and turned towards Tony.

"I'm sorry to say your visit will have to be put on hold," he said. "I'd like to re-test your vision and do a few more assessments. It won't take long, but you'd probably like your guests to wait outside," he said.

"You heard the man," Tony said to his guests with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. Abby sprang up and gave him a quick but firm hug and a kiss on the cheek before retreating, and Ziva patted his hand while McGee gave a short nod.

"Tony," Ducky said as the other three filtered out of the room, "it's up to you whether I stay or leave, but as your personal physician-"

"Stay, Duck," Gibbs said. Ducky glanced at Tony, who shrugged.

"It's just a vision test," he said, and Gibbs stood up from the end of the bed and sat next to Ducky.

"I also plan to retest your balance, reflexes, and sensation," Dr. Foss said, glancing through his chart.

Tony sighed and resigned himself to being prodded and questioned yet again. Maybe he could bribe McGee into helping him escape...or maybe not, he thought, as Gibbs shot him a Look equivalent to a visual headslap as he seemed to know exactly what Tony was thinking. Tony turned his attention to the doctor. With Gibbs present, he knew it was best to just shut up and get these tests over with.


Tony pushed his food tray away with a yawn before running a tired hand through his hair. It had been a long day with his many visitors and tests, and it was beginning to take a toll. Everyone had left by then, except Gibbs, who didn't make any of his usual "eat your food" comments when Tony barely ate a quarter of the "turkey dinner" the hospital brought out; not even Gibbs would want to subject someone to that.

"Long day, huh?" Gibbs said, taking a seat on the edge of Tony's bed.

"Yeah," Tony said, shifting a bit to get comfortable against his pillows. His eyesight remained the same, and his sensation and reflexes tests earlier had been fine, but his balance was still not quite right. The doctors had put him back on an IV and were planning to keep him into the day the next day rather than release him in the morning. He sighed and tried to keep the vaguely panicky thoughts trying to invade his brain at bay.

"Hey," Gibbs said, laying a hand over Tony's forearm. Tony looked at him in surprise-not because of the hand on his arm, but because of how warm the hand on his arm felt, and how he felt so...protected with Gibbs sitting on his bed and laying a weathered, calloused hand against his skin. He suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable, and Gibbs' earlier words were coming back at him-it's okay to be scared-and he swallowed thickly and looked away.

"Hey," Gibbs said again, and this time, he leaned in a little bit closer and touched Tony's chin lightly, turning his head so he was forced to look at him.

"We'll get you through this," Gibbs said, and his voice was quiet, but not soft. Instead it was intense and gruff and Gibbs.

Tony fought the urge to laugh it off and act like he was fine, because dammit, he wasn't, and Gibbs knew that as well as he did. So he nodded, not looking away from Gibbs. "Boss," he began, and this time his eyes did shift away because suddenly he was being serious. "Boss, how do I get through this when I don't know what it is?" he asked, his voice hitching at the end. "How do I-what if I can't-"

"You aren't getting through anything," Gibbs interrupted, and there was a sense of finality to his voice that instantly stopped Tony's words and made his eyes jerk right back into Gibbs' stare. "We will get through this, Tony," Gibbs said, and this time, his hand reached out and if Tony weren't in a hospital bed, he was sure it would have been a head slap-but instead, Gibbs lightly stroked the hair near his forehead, pushing it away from his face, before dropping his hand.

"Take things one day at a time," Gibbs said, and his hand was back at his side now, away from Tony's face, but Tony could still feel it there, warm against his skin. He swallowed thickly and nodded.

"How's the headache?" Gibbs asked.

"Huh?" Tony said, surprised by the change in conversation.

"You go deaf, too?" Gibbs asked, and Tony gaped at him for a moment, trying to process this abrupt switch back to normal Gibbs territory.

"I'm not deaf!" Tony protested. "And my headache's getting a little better," he admitted. "Must be this," he said, waving the arm to which his IV was attached.

"Don't knock that out," Gibbs said, reaching out and steadying Tony's hand.

Tony grumbled a little bit but let Gibbs push his hand back down onto the bed, and used his other hand to cover a yawn.

"Go to sleep," Gibbs said, standing up and re-seating himself in one of the chairs next to Tony's bed. He reached over and pulled a magazine from Tony's bedside table, and raised a skeptical eyebrow when he realized it was the one Ziva and McGee were reading earlier-Cosmo-but held onto it anyway since it was the only one there.

"Wish I had a camera," Tony said drowsily. "I want to remember you reading Cosmo for the rest of my life," he added.

Gibbs grunted and tossed the magazine aside. He'd rather watch paint dry.

"You can go home, Boss," Tony said as he adjusted his bed to lie flat.

"Goodnight, Tony," Gibbs said in response, not moving from his chair.

Tony flushed a little bit; Gibbs was being so supportive. He didn't know the man had it in him. But he knew that if it were Gibbs sick in a hospital bed with an unknown illness with very strange symptoms, he would probably do the same thing, and if he were honest with himself, he really wasn't surprised to have him there. And it was kind of nice, he thought, to have someone close by to watch his six while his own defenses were down.

"Don't you have stuff to do?" Tony asked finally, fighting to keep his eyes open. After all, even if he liked having him there, he didn't have to let Gibbs know that.

"Yeah, gotta make sure my senior field agent follows doctor's orders," Gibbs said.

Tony chuckled as his eyes fell closed. "I will," he said, and Gibbs snorted in response.

"I'm sure," Gibbs murmured, his eyes roaming over Tony, taking in the IV and the pale skin with a frown.

"G'night, Boss," Tony said. Gibbs was surprised to hear his voice-he thought Tony had already fallen asleep.

"Goodnight," Gibbs said quietly once Tony's breathing evened out into sleep, before reaching out and brushing his hair back once again. Tony shifted towards his hand, even in sleep, and Gibbs sighed before turning and leaving the hospital room. He had a boat to work on, and sleep to catch up on before he came back in the morning.

Chapter Text

"I can stay at my apartment," Tony protested, fiddling with his seatbelt and watching the scenery fly by.

"No," Gibbs said. Tony scowled at this and crossed his arms over his chest.

"The doctor said I'm fine," he said defiantly.

"The doctor said you shouldn't drive right now," Gibbs pointed out. "And your eyesight's only 20/20," he added.

"20/20 is perfect eyesight!" Tony said.

"Yours was 20/10," Gibbs countered.

"Hmph," Tony said, turning again to scowl out the passenger window of Gibbs' car. The doctor had released him after dinner. His eyesight had continued to improve with the IV pumping more steroids into his system, and his balance was better-not perfect yet, but better, and they said if he kept taking his medicine, it would keep getting better. He'd been released on the stipulation that he not drive or do fieldwork until they knew what was going on with him. They'd given him medication to take at home, and said he could go back to work, but if he had any strange symptoms he was to notify Dr. Foss immediately.

Gibbs took this as "keep Tony in range of sight 24 hours a day," and Tony was beginning to feel stifled, even though he was finally out of the hospital.

"We'll stop at your apartment and get whatever you need," Gibbs said, "and you can stay in my guestroom."

"Why can't I stay at my apartment?" Tony said petulantly.

"DiNozzo, you stay with me until they know what's going on with you," Gibbs said. His hand was gripping the steering wheel tightly, and his back was rigid. Tony sighed. He knew from experience that there was no sense in arguing with the man when he got like this.

"It's not like I can't handle taking a shower and going to sleep," Tony said. "That's all I'll have to do at home," he added, well aware that he was pushing and Gibbs could very well explode on him at any moment.

"And how would you get to work tomorrow?" Gibbs asked.

Tony shrugged. "I'd call a cab," he said.

"Waste of money," Gibbs replied.

They were both silent for a moment, and Tony ignored the way his heart leapt at Gibbs' insistence that he stay with him. Even if it made him feel like a five year old, it was kind of nice. And it did make sense, he knew, just in case his symptoms worsened again. He was well aware that being out of the hospital did not mean he was healthy. His shoulders slumped in resignation and he leaned his head back against the headrest.

He picked up his head and smiled slightly, though, when he realized just where he was staying-he loved staying at Gibbs' house. He could go through the man's bookshelves and smell sawdust and drink beer-well, maybe no beer this time-and be comfortable and cozy and safe. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all, he thought.

"How much stuff should I bring with me?" Tony asked as they pulled into his apartment complex and climbed out of Gibbs' car.

Gibbs shrugged. "Enough for the week, I guess," he said.

"A week?" Tony said, eyebrows shooting up in alarm. "That's a long time, Boss. That's a lot of stuff."

Gibbs rolled his eyes and waited patiently as Tony unlocked the front door of the complex. He didn't comment on the way Tony leaned against the door for a moment, getting his bearings, before pushing the door open. Instead he followed close behind him on the stairs, just in case. Just in case what he wasn't sure, but he didn't want Tony's balance to suddenly leave him completely while he was on the stairs of his rundown apartment building.

Tony tossed his keys on the chair near his door once they entered his apartment and smiled. It felt good to be back, even if he would be leaving in as long as it took him to pack. He made his way to his bedroom, Gibbs close on his heels, and tugged a duffle bag out of the top shelf of his closet and tossed it on the floor. The many clothes hanging in front of him seemed rather intimidating as he wondered what to bring with him, so he sat on the bed for a moment to think about what to bring.

"Bag's not gonna pack itself," Gibbs said, sitting beside him on the bed.

Tony scowled and waited for his dizziness to pass, ignoring the way Gibbs was looking at him.

"Need a hand?" Gibbs finally asked.

Tony shook his head, dizziness beginning to recede, and pushed himself up again. He grabbed a few suits out of his closet and began to collect what he needed, Gibbs watching all the while. He yawned as he grabbed his shampoo and conditioner out of his shower-no way was he using Gibbs'-and grabbed some other toiletries out of his bathroom.

"Like a woman," Gibbs commented as Tony dumped his many toiletries into a discarded plastic bag to toss into his duffle.

Tony glared at him. "It's not my fault my hair requires gel to tame it," he said. "That doesn't make me a woman," he added. He huffed as he pulled some socks out of his drawer and tossed them into the duffle, too, glad to have his back to Gibbs so he didn't have to look at the man's face and see his stupid "Let's-tease-DiNozzo" grin.

When Tony was finally done shoving belongings into the bag, he flopped down onto his bed again, running a tired hand over his face, enjoying the feel of the soft bedding beneath his head. He was still tired despite having slept most of the weekend, and it was a lot of work to pack after doing nothing but lying around. Gibbs took one look at him and stood up, kneeling next to the overstuffed bag to wrestle with the zipper until it finally slid closed.

"Don't wrinkle my suits," Tony said tiredly without taking his hand off of his eyes. His overhead light was bright.

He didn't have to look to know Gibbs rolled his eyes. "All I did was zip this bag, DiNozzo," he said, "If the suits are wrinkled, it's your fault," he added. Tony had a feeling they probably weren't; he put them in zippered suit bags, after all, and he would take them out of the bags as soon as they got to Gibbs' house. For now, though, it felt nice to lie down on his bed and let Gibbs worry about his bag.

He heard Gibbs rummage around for a moment, and he was too tired to care. His arm dropped away from his eyes, and he didn't even realize he'd fallen asleep until Gibbs shook him awake a few moments later.

"Come on," Gibbs said, "Let's get you home."

Tony grunted his assent and pushed himself up to a sitting position, pausing as his head swam once he was upright. Still dizzy, he thought, squeezing his eyes closed and gripping the edge of his bed. Once the dizziness receded, he pushed himself up to standing, and didn't protest that Gibbs was carrying his bag. He remembered to grab his keys on the way out, and eagerly dropped down into Gibbs' passenger seat as soon as they got back out to the car. He let his head fall back against the headrest and closed his eyes as he listened to Gibbs tossing his bag into the backseat, then coming around to the front. He felt the car shift as Gibbs got in, and listened as he started the car, the sounds becoming hazy and indistinct as sleep tried to claim him once more.

"Hey," Gibbs said, reaching over and shaking his shoulder.

"Mmm?" Tony replied, keeping his eyes closed.

"Put your belt on," Gibbs said, and Tony sighed. Gibbs was back to that gentler voice, the one he kind of liked even if it did worry him that Gibbs felt the need to use that tone with him.

"Okay," Tony said, but didn't move. He just felt so comfortable.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs said, this time with a more commanding voice. "Seatbelt," he added sharply.

"Okay, okay," Tony said, tiredly lifting his head up and pulling the seatbelt down. His arms felt like lead and as soon as he felt the belt click into place, he let his arms fall to rest beside him again and closed his eyes.


"You sure you want to do this?" Gibbs asked, looking at Tony assessingly. They had just pulled into the NCIS parking lot, and Tony was holding onto his coffee with determination.

"Of course," Tony said, "what else am I going to do? Build a boat?"

"I don't know," Gibbs began sarcastically as he got out of the car. "Rest?" he suggested.

Tony sighed and followed behind Gibbs, ignoring the dizziness that he was beginning to get strangely accustomed to. "It's not like it's really strenuous to sit at a desk all day," he pointed out.

They passed through the entrance checkpoint in silence, and once they were in the elevator-most other NCIS employees wisely avoided getting into elevators Gibbs was on, so it was just the two of them-Gibbs flipped the emergency switch and turned to Tony seriously.

"If you start feeling worse for one second, you tell me," he said, and his voice was low and commanding.

Tony swallowed and nodded, taken aback by the seriousness of Gibbs' order. "Okay," he said.

"No one will care if you need a rest," he added. "You can go lie down on Abby's couch."

Tony nodded again, even if he knew he would never admit to needing a rest. Gibbs seemed to know that as well, because he just sighed and shook his head as he flipped the emergency switch again and the elevator resumed its movement.

Tony followed behind Gibbs as they entered the bullpen, wishing the lights were just a little less bright since his headache wasn't 100% gone, and he hoped his medicine would kick in soon-he could really go for a clear head, no dizziness, and absolutely no desk duty.


Tony looked past Gibbs' form to see Abby leaning against his desk.

"Hey Abs," he said, and he wasn't surprised when the second he rounded the corner she pulled him into a tight hug.

"Should you really be here?" she asked, once she released him. She was looking at him searchingly, still holding onto his arms.

"Yeah," he said, "I'm fine."

Gibbs turned and gave him a look, and Tony studiously avoided his eyes while Ziva and McGee watched their interaction with interest.

"Fine, DiNozzo?" Gibbs questioned, pushing his desk chair out and stepping behind his desk to turn on his computer.

Tony sighed and scowled in Gibbs' direction while Gibbs' back was turned.

"Not fine," Tony corrected, looking back at Abby. "But well enough," he added, stepping past her to sit behind his desk.

"We are glad to have you back," Ziva said with a smile from behind her desk.

McGee nodded his agreement, and Abby went around Tony's desk and draped her arms around his shoulders from behind, squeezing tightly.

"Just come down to my lab if you're tired," she said to him, "You can rest on my couch. Okay?"

"Okay," he said, and she squeezed him one final time before letting go and waving at everyone as she made her way back to the elevator. Tony rubbed his eyes and opened his inbox, grimacing when he saw that he had 74 unread messages, most of which were the usual interoffice memos he would probably delete anyway.

It had taken him longer than usual to wake up that morning, and the night before, he'd gone to bed and fallen asleep as soon as they got back to Gibbs' house-which was only around 8:00. He took a long sip of his coffee. Already, he was feeling tired again and he'd only been up for a couple of hours. He had a feeling it was going to be a long day.

"Boss," McGee said suddenly, "Michael Barrett just used a credit card he opened under an alias, Eric Mercer."

Tony looked at him in surprise-they were still looking for him? And didn't Gibbs say it wasn't their case anymore? Since when did Michael Barrett have aliases? Tony looked at Gibbs suspiciously, but he ignored him in favor of crowding McGee's personal space and peering onto his computer screen.

"Where?" Gibbs asked.

McGee gestured towards the big screen and made his computer screen appear up there, where everyone could easily see. Gibbs turned to it, and Tony swiveled his chair so he could see while Ziva stood and leaned against her desk to look.

McGee pointed to a red flag on a map of the DC streets. "A Citgo station," he said, pointing to the red flag.

"That's good work, McGee," Gibbs said, and he quickly went to his desk to grab his gun. "David, McGee, with me. DiNozzo, you stay here," he said.

"Yeah, I know," Tony said, and did his best not to sound sullen as the rest of his team left. He couldn't help but wonder about this-it all seemed too convenient. With a sigh, he decided to use his time to catch up on the case, and so he set about finding the case file. Maybe he could find something useful.


Two and a half hours later, Tony had gone through the case file thoroughly and thought of nothing. Everything he thought to check up on someone else had already done. Nothing sparked his interest, or made him jump to a sudden conclusion that would break the case open. There were, however, many new facts he hadn't been let in on-like how Michael Barrett had aliases-and he didn't like the cold feeling he got when he thought about how much his team kept from him while he was in the hospital. He ran a hand over his face and stood up, pausing to accommodate his dizziness before making his way to the elevator.

The ride to Abby's lab was uneventful, save for the blurry mime of his De Niro impression he gave himself in the vaguely mirrored walls of the elevator (he gave it maybe a two out of ten-after all, he was tired and grumpy, but couldn't pass up an empty elevator and the chance to maybe try and act just a little like his normal self), and he grimaced as the bass of Abby's music flooded his ears as soon as the elevator dinged open, getting louder as he got closer, loud enough to invade his eardrums as soon as he crossed the threshold of the lab. When she saw him, Abby turned it down and hugged him again, letting her fingers twist into the back of his shirt for a moment.

"Third hug of the day," Tony commented. "Do I really look that pitiful?"

"Of course you don't look pitiful!" Abby said, pulling out of the hug and swatting him on the shoulder. "I was just worried about you all weekend! I'm making up for lost time!"

Tony pulled out a stool instead of commenting on her worry and sat at her computer desk, watching as she went back to work with some evidence to prepare it for tests. Not for one of his team's cases, he knew.

"So what's up?" she finally asked, glancing up at him and holding her gloved hands away from the specimens in front of her for a moment to focus on Tony. "Do you need my couch?"

"No," Tony replied, "Just thought I'd come say hi. Paperwork was getting a little boring."

"Oh, I bet," she said, smiling and looking back down at her work. "Where's Gibbs?" she asked as her hands went back to their former business.

"McGee caught Barrett using a credit card at a gas station," Tony said, "so they all went to find him." He made sure to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

"When was that?" Abby asked, not looking up from her work.

"About two hours ago," Tony said, swiveling in his stool for a moment, but stopping quickly when it didn't help his dizziness problem.

Tony yawned and leaned back against Abby's desk as he watched her. It was strangely hypnotizing to watch her hands go back and forth, back and forth, as they worked meticulously. Before he knew it, his eyes were sliding closed, and just as he realized he was about to fall asleep, his phone rang, jerking him awake.

"DiNozzo," he said, glancing up to see Abby looking at him with that concerned look everyone seemed to wear around him lately.

"DiNozzo, where are you?"

It was Gibbs, and he sounded hurried.

"I'm in Abby's lab," Tony said.


"No," Tony replied, rolling his eyes at Abby and flashing her a grin she returned easily despite her concern. "Just came down to shoot the breeze. Are you back?"

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "Upstairs, now."

Before he could reply, Gibbs hung up, and Tony sighed and stood up, bracing himself against Abby's stool and closing his eyes when the familiar wave of dizziness washed over him.

"Tony, are you sure you're okay? Maybe you should lie down," Abby said, coming around to stand in front of him.

Tony smiled at her and wiggled his eyebrows. "Is that an offer?" he said.

"Tony!" Abby said. "I'm being serious!"

"I'm fine, Abs," he said, shoving his phone in his pocket and reaching out to tug one of her pigtails. "I'm gonna go upstairs before Gibbs has a coronary."

"Okay," Abby said worriedly, "but come down and visit me again, okay?"

"You got it," Tony said, making his way toward the elevator. It came quickly, and when he got back to the bullpen, Gibbs was gathering their file on Barrett and McGee and Ziva were at their computers.

"How'd it go?" Tony asked, looking between the three of them and leaning against his desk.

"We got Barrett," Ziva said without looking up.

"Good," Tony said, "is he in interrogation?"

"Sure is," McGee said, looking up from his computer to smile in Tony's direction. "I can't believe he used his credit card, even if it was an alias."

"Hey," Gibbs interrupted, file in hand. He stood in front of Tony and looked at him carefully. "You okay?"

"Yeah, Boss, I'm fine," he said.

Gibbs looked at him skeptically. "I really am," Tony asserted. "Are you going to interrogate Barrett now?"

"Yeah," Gibbs said, and turned towards the interrogation rooms. "Ziva's with me. You two watch," he said, pointing towards Tony and McGee.

They trudged behind Gibbs to interrogation, and Tony eagerly sank into a chair once they got to the viewing room. Barrett had a few days worth of stubble on his jaw, and his hair was unkempt and messy, Tony noticed. He looked exhausted, if the dark circles under his eyes were anything to go by.

"Looks pretty tired," Tony commented. "Maybe he used the credit card because he was too lazy to hide anymore."

"Maybe," McGee said, standing in front of the glass and watching Barrett intently. Tony was too tired to stand up himself, so he rested his chin on his hand and watched from the little table in the viewing room. He smiled at the way Barrett jumped when Gibbs threw his hands down on the table in front of him, and at the way Ziva prowled around him like a tiger.

"Hey, Probie, move over a little," Tony complained when McGee moved into his line of sight. McGee glanced at him, then moved over so that Tony could see.

"Hey, are you sure you're-"

"I'm fine," Tony said, sick of everyone asking after his health.

"Maybe you should rest," McGee said hesitantly.

"Maybe you shouldn't distract me from watching this interrogation," Tony replied sourly, and McGee rolled his eyes and turned back to watch Gibbs and Ziva interrogate Barrett.

"Oh really?" Ziva was saying, while Gibbs stood behind Barrett, so close that if Barrett moved just an inch he'd back into him. "You do not know Lisa Wooster?" she continued.

Barrett nodded, his messy hair falling into his face.

Gibbs reached around Barrett for the file and put the picture of Wooster dead in her apartment on the table.

"Recognize her now?" Gibbs asked.

Barrett shook his head. "No," he said, not looking away from the picture. Tony knew this guy was guilty; any innocent man would have reacted to the photo of a young woman dead and bloody on her apartment floor.

Tony looked up when the door to the viewing room opened and Ducky came in. "Ah, Tony, good to see you back," he said. "And good work to you, McGee, for finding Barrett."

"Thanks, Ducky," McGee said before turning back to watch the interrogation.

"How is it coming along?" Ducky asked Tony, pulling out a chair next to him and gesturing towards Barrett.

"He's guilty," Tony said. "They better get a confession."

"Knowing Jethro, they will," Ducky said, and Tony nodded in agreement.

"Tony," Ducky continued, "Have you taken your second pill of the day yet?"

"No, not time yet, Ducky," he said, glancing back towards the interrogation as Gibbs slammed his hands down on the table and leaned in close to speak aggressively in Barrett's ear.

"Don't you take it at 11:00?" Ducky asked, his voice gentle.

"Yeah-oh," Tony said, when he glanced at the clock and saw that it was 11:10. "Guess I better go take that," he said, pushing himself up wearily and ignoring the way Ducky watched him deal with the dizzy spell before making his way out of the room.

He thought it would be no big deal to come back to work and sit behind a desk all day. And here he was-exhausted by 11 AM, with everyone staring at him and asking him how he was and expecting him to collapse in front of them at any given moment. He didn't even feel sick-just tired and dizzy, and yet he just knew that everyone was giving him concerned and worried glances like he'd suddenly come down with the plague again.

He sighed and sat down in his desk chair, spinning to the side to reach into his backpack and pull out his pills. He took one out and swallowed it with the bottle of water on his desk, then leaned back in his chair for a moment. He contemplated going back to interrogation, but he didn't want to deal with McGee and Ducky, and he'd been left out of so many details of the case that he figured he might as well skip out anyway, so he pushed himself back up and made his way to the elevator, heading towards Abby's lab again.

When he entered, she was in her office checking her email and she didn't notice him at first, so he wrapped his arms around her shoulders and gave her a quick hug in lieu of a greeting.

"Hey Abs," he said, letting go of her and sinking into her couch.

"Tony!" she said, swiveling in her chair to look at him. "They got Barrett?" she asked.

"Yeah," Tony said, allowing his head to sag onto the back of the couch. "They're interrogating him now."

"You're not watching?" she asked, moving to sit beside him on the couch. "Are you tired?"

Tony sighed. "Yeah," he said, "but I'm not that tired. I'm just sick of everyone acting like I'm about to fall over and die."

Abby snuggled up next to him and wrapped her arms around him. "Everyone's worried about you," she said. "Aren't you worried?"

He paused, unsure of how to answer, but was saved from having to do so by a ding from one of her machines in the next room.

"I'll be right back," she said, hoisting herself off the couch. "But don't think you're off the hook, Mister," she warned, waving a finger in his direction.

Tony watched her go and then leaned back against the couch again, allowing his eyes to fall shut. At least if he fell asleep he wouldn't have to talk about it.


As usual, the first thing Tony became aware of as he woke up was Gibbs' hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently, and as he opened his eyes, Gibbs' face swam into his field of vision.

"Pizza?" Tony asked wearily, glancing around as the smell drifted toward his nose.

Gibbs nodded, and sat next to Tony on the couch.

"Did he confess?" Tony asked, rubbing his eyes and stifling a yawn.

Gibbs gave him a look. "What do you think?"

Tony shrugged. "I don't know," he said, his brain still catching up to his mouth, "'s why I asked."

"Yeah, the bastard confessed," Gibbs confirmed. He reached out and pulled Abby's desk chair closer, and opened up the pizza box that was sitting on top.

"Here," he said, pulling out a piece and offering it to Tony.

"Thanks, Boss," Tony said. He took it eagerly. "What time is it?" he asked through a mouthful of pizza.

"1330," Gibbs replied. "Slept for a while," he added, taking his own piece and regarding Tony carefully as he ate. Tony glanced out to the main room of Abby's lab, watching her fingers fly over the keyboard at one of her computers.

"I guess I was tired," Tony said with a shrug.

"Second thoughts?" Gibbs asked.

"Huh?" Tony asked, looking at him in confusion.

"About coming back to work?" Gibbs clarified before taking an enormous bite of his pizza.

"No," Tony said, "Why would I?"

Gibbs didn't reply, he merely chewed on his pizza for a moment and watched Tony with concern.

"People ask if you're okay because they care about you," Gibbs finally said, and Tony's head snapped up to look back out, accusingly, at Abby.

"She didn't say anything," Gibbs said. "Didn't have to."

"You wouldn't like it either," Tony said, taking another bite of his pizza, only this time chewing it with much more force than necessary.

"No, I wouldn't," Gibbs admitted. "Still the truth, though."

"I know," Tony said. "I just..." he trailed off and ran a hand through his hair.

"I know," Gibbs said, and his voice was comforting again, and Tony swallowed thickly before taking another bite of his pizza. He knew Gibbs understood what he himself didn't want to put words to; that he was worried about himself, and that every time someone asked him if he was okay, he smiled and said he was because really, he was scared, and Tony didn't do well with scared, so he just pretended it didn't exist. Gibbs got that, Tony knew, because Gibbs was the same way himself.

And suddenly Tony felt guilty, because here was Gibbs, a solitary and rough man, giving Tony his home, and his time, and using that gentle tone of voice-Tony put his half-eaten piece of pizza back in the box. "I think I'm done, Boss," he said.

"Hey," Gibbs said, and his voice was sharp and displeased. "Eat that," he said, gesturing towards the box.

"That's okay," Tony said, "I'm not hungry."

Gibbs finished his piece and wiped his hand on his thigh before reaching out and turning Tony's head to look at him.

"Listen up, DiNozzo, because I'm only saying this once," he said, and Tony nodded, chin brushing against Gibbs' hand. "Don't sit around feeling sorry for yourself," he said, "and don't you dare sit around feeling guilty, either. Got it?"

Tony's eyes widened, and he jerked his head out of Gibbs' grasp. "Yeah," he said, wondering how the hell Gibbs always knew what he was thinking. "Yeah, I got it, Boss," he said, just as Gibbs' hand reached out and gave him a gentler-than-usual headslap. He chanced giving Gibbs a small smile before reaching out and grabbing his unfinished piece of pizza.

"Don't make me kick your ass," Gibbs warned, grabbing a new piece for himself.

"Wouldn't dream of it, Boss," Tony said, and this time, the smile he gave him was genuine. Even if he did start worrying and feeling sorry for himself, he knew Gibbs was there, and even if he started feeling guilty about that, he knew that Gibbs wasn't doing this because he felt he had to; he didn't do anything for reasons like those. He was doing this because it was what he wanted to do. He didn't operate in any other manner. So, like every other time Gibbs gave him an order, he was going to do his best to follow it.

Chapter Text

When Tony was a child, his mornings consisted of the housekeeper banging on his door until he finally woke up, then a hurried shower, a not-so-hurried time in front of the mirror to get his hair just right, and then the worst part of his day: breakfast. His father had the mistaken idea that if the family ate breakfast together, they would be happy. So, his father sat at one end of a ridiculously long table, his mother sat opposite him, and Tony sat in the middle. They would have extravagant breakfasts - eggs, bacon, cereal fruit, toast - but Tony hated it. The sun always shone right into his eyes when he ate, and he would much rather sleep a while longer than sit at the table with his parents while the cook stood silently behind them, waiting for complaints or requests.

The worst part, though, was the silence. The room was always quiet and tense, with his mother sipping a 7 AM bloody mary and his father using his fork to stab his breakfast with vitriol. Tony, in between them, could often feel the intensity of their glares passing over him before reaching their intended recipient across the table. Sometimes they argued, and the table was so long that one of them would say, "Anthony, be a good boy and tell me what your father just said, because I know I must have heard him wrong," or, "Junior, tell me what that woman just said or I'm cutting your allowance," and Tony was forced to repeat the insults-but sometimes, at least, that was fun because he got to use words that would usually earn him a round with the belt. And, of course, there were also the times when the glares were directed at him, and the insults were meant for his ears, and usually on those mornings he sat with his shoulders squared and his eyes straight ahead and his mouth in a thin line.

When his mother died, his father gave up on the "family breakfast" tradition, and Tony ate breakfast while he walked to the bus stop. He liked breakfast, then. Sometimes, he'd give some of his toast to one of the dogs he passed on the way - usually the big golden retriever in front of the cottage on the corner, looking out of place amongst the large estates with sprawling acres, and he liked the way the dog always wagged his tail at him so happily in response.

Then, when he went to boarding school, breakfast was fun, a last chance to see his friends before he went off to classes. They could copy each other's homework at the last minute, and gripe about the tests that day, and just be boys for a while before they had to buckle down and be serious students. He didn't think breakfast could get any better than that.

Then there were the times he had breakfast in bed with a girlfriend, or just a girl who happened to stay in his bed, and when sometimes they ended with repeat rounds of the night before, he thought for sure those were the best mornings yet.

But somehow, none of that compared to mornings in Gibbs' house.

Tony loved to wake up in Gibbs' guest room. The bed was old and not as comfortable as the bed in his apartment, but it felt familiar and warm and cozy, and Tony particularly liked the hand-crocheted blanket on top of his comforter. When his alarm went off, he could always hear Gibbs moving around down the hall or in the basement. He wasn't sure what time Gibbs woke up, but he was always awake when Tony woke up.

When he finally managed to haul himself out of bed, sometimes with his head pounding and spinning with dizziness, he'd take a shower in Gibbs' guest bathroom, where you had to jiggle the knob just right for the water to come out of the showerhead correctly and the paint was peeling along the ceiling. Tony's towels at home were thick and extra luxurious, but Gibbs' were old and worn in...and yet Tony loved the feel of them against his skin because they were a special kind of soft that only seemed to happen with age.

And when he went to the kitchen for breakfast, Gibbs was always sitting at the kitchen table already, drinking coffee and eating cereal, and he always shoved the box of Cheerios towards Tony with a grunt, and gave a jerk of his head towards the coffeepot to let Tony know he could have some. Gibbs always seemed to have hazelnut creamer for Tony, too, even though he would never touch the stuff himself. And so Tony always sat across from Gibbs silently, drinking his (very strong) hazelnut coffee and eating Cheerios, and smiling while he ate for no reason at all.

Sometimes Gibbs would glare at him for being so cheerful. Other times, if Gibbs was up a lot earlier than Tony and he already had enough coffee, he'd start a conversation, and say something like, "Why're you so damn happy?" (No one ever claimed Gibbs was a great conversationalist, after all.)

If Tony seemed extra tired some mornings, Gibbs didn't comment-he would just watch him a little more carefully than usual, and sometimes he'd take his cereal bowl to the sink for him when he finished. Tony thought that was kind of him.

On Friday morning, one week after Tony woke up with barely any sight and his world seemed to flip around, Gibbs didn't comment when he saw that Tony was eating his cereal with his eyes half-closed. He didn't ask him if he was okay, or if he was sure he should go to work that day. Instead, he drank a little extra coffee himself, brought Tony's empty bowl to the sink for him, and walked a little bit slower out to the car that morning so Tony didn't think he had to try and keep up. On the way to work, he drove a little more cautiously than usual, too, so that he didn't wake Tony up from his catnap.

And when they got to work, and he shook Tony awake in the NCIS parking lot, and Tony looked around blearily, realized where they were, and opened his eyes with a start, Gibbs merely walked into work with him, gave him orders to follow like usual (looking up the phone records of a murder suspect-something that didn't take much energy), and treated him like nothing was different.

In turn, Tony acted like himself and teased McGee, got teased by Ziva, mocked her English, teased McGee some more, and teased Ziva until she threatened to kill him with a paperclip, and instead teased McGee again in her place. Life at NCIS was beginning to turn back to normal, except that Tony took a few more breaks than usual, and never got to go anywhere with the team.

So when Tony discovered a strange pattern to their suspect's phone records and found a woman who seemed to be involved with him that the team should definitely check out, he was forced to stay behind. But he kind of liked the way Gibbs came over to him, put a warm and strong hand on his shoulder, and said, "Good work, DiNozzo," before he left.

Ziva and McGee didn't spare him a second glance as they rushed to the elevator, eager to please their boss, but Tony felt happy and content that Gibbs never washed fresh towels for them, and he never bought hazelnut creamer for them. So it was with a smile and a spring in his (admittedly slightly unsteady) step that he made his way down to Abby's lab, smiled at her, endured her hug, collapsed onto her couch, and fell right into sleep. Mornings with Gibbs were definitely the best mornings yet.

Chapter Text

Tony rolled over in his bed at Gibbs' house, the soft green crocheted blanket rustling against his chin, suddenly aware of his bladder. Shouldn't drink water right before bed, he thought, running a hand over his face and squinting at the clock. 3:17 AM. Way too early, especially for a Saturday.

He stayed still for a moment, trying to gauge if he should just roll back over and go to sleep or give in to his bladder. Just as he threw the covers back with a sigh, yawning and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he froze, just barely keeping himself from crying out. His hands flew to his left leg and held on tight, eyes squeezed shut in pain. His heart began to pound, and a choked groan escaped his lips.

Suddenly it was as if he had a cramp in his leg, only a cramp that was a hundred times worse than any cramp he'd ever had. The muscles in his leg twitched and spasmed beneath his hand, and he felt sweat break out on his brow. This was agony. He bit his lip to keep from crying out, and he felt tears trickle out of his closed eyes.

Just as he was about to call out for Gibbs, the pain abruptly stopped, and he opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling, panting and reeling and still holding onto his leg. Jesus. He turned his head and looked at the clock again, blinking tears out of his eyes to read the time. 3:18 AM.

His chest heaved rapidly as he tried to catch his breath, his heart still pounding even as the adrenaline from the moment before left him. His hands rubbed against his thigh and he swallowed thickly. He still had to use the bathroom, so he tried to slow his breathing as he swung his legs over the side of the bed, his hands pushing his still tingling left leg down alongside his right.

For a moment, he just sat on the edge of his bed, unsure of what to do, breath still coming in shallow pants. Surely, Gibbs would want to know what just happened-but it was 3:19 AM. He ran a weary hand over his face, trying to ignore his still-pounding heart. Might as well hit the head, he thought, deciding to start with his most immediate needs. He pushed himself up to standing, but immediately fell back down on the bed with a wince when his leg seemed to want nothing to do with actually helping to support the rest of his body.

He tried again, this time standing up more slowly and keeping a hand on the bed until the last possible moment. He limped his way into the bathroom, grabbing onto every possible surface for help, and went about his business, leaning heavily on the sink after washing his hands and staring into the mirror for a moment. He brought a shaking hand up to rub his eyes, his mouth dry, and he finally swallowed determinedly and decided to just go back to bed, pretend this didn't happen, and maybe tell Gibbs tomorrow. No need to wake the man up over a cramp.

But when he opened the door and a tired but worried Gibbs was on the other side of it, he nearly fell backwards with shock until Gibbs reached out and steadied him.

"You alright, DiNozzo? Thought I heard you limping," Gibbs said, looking at him shrewdly and keeping a steady hold on Tony's arms.

"Yeah, Boss, why wouldn't I be? You never had to piss in the middle of the night?" he replied, flashing Gibbs a wide grin that he hoped reached his eyes.

Gibbs let go of him cautiously, and Tony automatically reached for the sink again when his left leg started to buckle.

"Hey," Gibbs said, grabbing onto him once more. "What's going on?"

Tony swallowed, his throat suddenly dry as sandpaper. "I don't know," he said, and was dismayed to hear his voice come out as a croak. His hands were shaking again in their hold against the sink, and Gibbs stepped closer and held him up, one arm around his waist and the other holding onto his arm.

"I woke up and my leg just," Tony paused to swallow, squeezing his eyes shut as his leg twitched again, "it just, it was like a really bad cramp," he said, "or a spasm," he added, his heart beating fast again. Even though the sudden spasming was gone, it still hurt, and his leg tingled like it was asleep. "Gibbs," Tony said, eyes still closed, head dropping forwards. "Gibbs, this-"

"Come on," Gibbs said, "we're going to the hospital." He tightened the arm around Tony's waist and pulled him away from the sink a bit, watching him intently the whole time, eyes roaming over Tony's pinched brow, thinly set lips, and squeezed-shut eyes.

"Hey, Tony, c'mon," Gibbs said, his voice soft. His hand rubbed soothingly against Tony's side, and Tony nodded, letting out a whoosh of air before opening his eyes and carefully letting go of the sink, relieved when he didn't fall flat onto the ground.

Tony limped his way back to the guest room with a lot of help from Gibbs, where he sat heavily on the bed while Gibbs fished around for a pair of sweatpants and socks. As soon as Gibbs tossed them his way, he pulled them on with shaking hands, first his right sock, then his left. As he pulled up his left sock, though, he froze, and stared at his leg in alarm.

"What?" Gibbs asked, kneeling down and looking at Tony's leg. Tony didn't reply; instead, he snapped the top of his sock against his calf, and then swallowed, reflexively reaching out and grabbing Gibbs' shoulder.

"Gibbs," he said, his eyes wide and unfocused. He used his free hand to tap along his leg, up his calf, against his knee, all along his thigh. "Gibbs, this is not-this-"

Gibbs looked up at Tony, his brow furrowed in worry. "What's going on?" he asked, his voice urgent.

"My leg feels wrong," Tony said, his voice breathy and uncharacteristically scared. His hand shook on Gibbs' shoulder, and he anxiously twisted his fingers into the fabric of Gibbs' t-shirt, holding on tightly.

"Wrong how?" Gibbs asked, his voice flooded with intensity, resting one hand on Tony's right knee, rubbing his thumb along the skin in a soothing manner that belied the tension in the rigid set of his shoulders and the sharp crease of his brow.

"It's all tingly," Tony said, "and I can't-I can hardly feel it," he said, the words coming out in a rush. "Gibbs, what's happening to me?" he asked, all of the worry of the past week building up in the pit of his stomach. His knuckles were white where he clutched at Gibbs' t-shirt, and his breathing was speeding up again.

"Hey," Gibbs said, reaching up and grabbing the sweatpants he'd tossed to him earlier. "We're gonna get these pants on and go to the hospital," he said, reaching down and pulling the pants up over Tony's feet before grabbing Tony's discarded sneakers from the floor beside him, urging his feet in and tying the laces. He pulled the pants up until the waistband was just above Tony's knees, and thought it was testament to Tony's state of mind that he didn't even move to intercept him or try to do it himself, just sat with one hand on his left leg, poking and prodding, the other twisted into the fabric of Gibbs' shirt.

Gibbs reached up to his shoulder and gently pried Tony's hand away from where it still clutched his shirt, giving it a gentle squeeze before letting it go and standing up.

"I'm gonna help you stand up, DiNozzo," he told Tony, "and you're gonna pull your pants up."

Tony nodded, and Gibbs put his hands under Tony's armpits and tugged as Tony stood up. Gibbs kept him steady, and Tony did as he was told and pulled his sweatpants up.

"This how you treat all your dates?" Tony asked, trying miserably for his usual humor and falling just a bit short as his leg faltered and he leaned forward to wrap his arms around Gibbs' waist, too nervous to feel embarrassed.

Gibbs snorted. "C'mon," he said, letting Tony stay flush aganst him for a moment and giving him a gentle squeeze before turning and adjusting his hold on Tony so that his arm was around his back, helping him move out of the bedroom. "We're going to the hospital." Gibbs deftly grabbed Tony's wallet off the nightstand before they left, and dropped it into his pocket on the way out.

Tony was slow on his feet, and he leaned heavily on Gibbs as they walked. His left leg, suddenly rendered weak and unreliable, moved sluggishly, and so the short walk to the car felt like miles to Tony. Dropping down into the seat once they got to the car was heavenly.

It didn't come as a surprise to Tony that Gibbs drove at top-speed to the hospital, jaw set and eyes staring straight ahead in determination. Tony allowed his head to lean back against the seat and gripped the armrest of his door tightly, closing his eyes while his mind spun in circles that wouldn't slow. Gibbs didn't speak, and Tony was thankful, because he wasn't sure he could handle a conversation. So many thoughts and questions were popping up in his mind, but he couldn't bring himself to voice any because he knew that once he started he wouldn't be able to stop. Normally, he chattered incessantly when he was nervous, cracking terrible jokes and quoting movies and being generally obnoxious (he wasn't in denial about everything in his life, after all), but this time, he just didn't have it in him because he wasn't merely nervous. He was terrified.

Losing his eyesight had been frightening enough, but he could chalk it up to being a one-time occurrence; some kind of freak symptom that came out of nowhere - even if Gibbs would tell him he was lying to himself. Taking steroids everyday, and feeling dizzy and unbalanced and exhausted the majority of the time afterward - that was more than frightening enough. However, he could always hold onto the hope that the steroids would finally kick in enough for the dizziness to stop. Now, though, he could barely feel his leg, something he used all the time, and he was still dizzy and unbalanced, and his eyesight still wasn't back to 20/10 even though he'd been taking steroids all week.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs said sharply as he took a corner much wider than he should have. "Breathe."

Tony suddenly realized he'd been holding his breath, and let it out in an exhale that brought with it a release of tension he'd been holding in his shoulders, and his grip on the armrest relaxed a little. "On it," he said, voice rough, trying to pay special attention to the breath going in and out of his lungs, hoping maybe it would help him calm down.

"What-" Tony paused to swallow thickly and take a quick breath. "What movie is like this?" he asked, marveling at the lack of movie comparisons popping up in his mind, wondering if maybe he could think of one and ease his panic.

"You're asking me?" Gibbs said, and Tony's grip on the armrest tightened again when he heard (no way was he opening his eyes when Gibbs was driving like this) Gibbs' tires squeal.

"Can't think of one," Tony said, his free hand tapping incessantly and unfeelingly against his left leg.

"Guess it's not that simple," Gibbs said, and his voice from days before rang clear in Tony's head - It's okay to be scared - and Tony rubbed a hand over his face in exhaustion and worry.

"Boss, what was the last movie you saw in the theater?" Tony asked, seeking distraction as his fingers wound themselves into the hem of his t-shirt at his waist, sticking out from beneath the seat belt.

Gibbs grunted, and Tony opened his eyes and turned to watch him, the streetlights casting fleeting shapes of light over his determined features that twisted and danced as he drove.

After a very long silence, in which Tony was about to repeat the question in case Gibbs didn't hear, Gibbs finally spoke. "Titanic," Gibbs said, his voice low and threatening. "Don't ask."

"Titanic?" Tony said, fingers stilling in the fabric of his t-shirt. "Titanic?" he repeated incredulously. "Boss, are you-Titanic?" Tony couldn't help it; the stress of the night, the clock on the dashboard that read 3:32, the lights and shadows flickering over Gibbs face-all of it paled when he imagined Gibbs sitting in a movie theater, looking pissed and impatient, watching Titanic-he began to chuckle, and suddenly he felt light-headed and surreal, and the panic gave way to laughter and he rubbed his eyes wearily as outright giggles consumed him. His emotions were all over the place, he knew that much, but he would much rather laugh than any of the very un-manly alternatives. And when a passing streetlight illuminated Gibbs' face for just a split second, the slight upturn of Gibbs' lips made his heart lift for just a moment and he thought, desperately-we'll get through this.


It was only 8:00 AM, and already, Tony had been poked and prodded with needles, given neurological exams (which after the weekend before, he felt so familiar with he was pretty sure he could administer them himself), and had another MRI. He'd been admitted to the hospital upon entrance to the ER due to his history, and already, another spinal tap was scheduled before the morning was over.

He just wanted to curl up and sleep, but unfortunately, that was not an option. Gibbs was mainlining watered down hospital coffee, and Tony wished desperately for some, but he knew that was also not an option.

"Don't think they should've put me in the bed, Boss," Tony said, fighting hard to keep his eyes open from where he lay in his hospital room.

"Why's that?" Gibbs asked, leaning forward in the chair next to Tony's bed.

"Wanna sleep," Tony said tiredly. He didn't even think he had the energy to lift his hand and scratch the itch on the very tip of his nose, so instead, he settled for scrunching his nose up, which didn't work at all, and he sighed, his eyes drifting closed.

"So rest," Gibbs said, resisting the urge to reach out and smooth Tony's hair back from his forehead.

"They said I hadda eat breakfast," Tony said, his words accompanied by a yawn.

"I'll wake you up when it gets here," Gibbs said, his voice gentle. "Sleep."

"On it," Tony murmured breathily as his facial muscles relaxed into sleep.

Gibbs sighed, running a hand over his face-he was exhausted, too, but all of the coffee he'd been drinking that morning to keep up with Tony's tests was taking its toll, and his body felt strangely awake and jittery while his mind wanted nothing more than to shut off.

Unfortunately, though, his mind was very awake. His eyes roamed over Tony's figure - did he lose weight?- and he swallowed thickly. Somewhere along the line, Tony's role in Gibbs' life had shifted. The moment Tony first walked into NCIS, cocky and yet somehow, at the same time, endearingly humble, Gibbs knew that he would last. He could tell that Tony was strong, that he could put up with Gibbs' sometimes-abrasive personality and follow orders while still contributing to the team and building confidence.

Yet, he never could have predicted just how easily Tony would work his way under his skin. Gibbs cared about his team - no one could doubt that - but he wasn't sure if he would so readily give his home and time to McGee or Ziva. Sure, he would help them and do all he could, and when it boiled down to it, his guest room would be open to them, too, but it wouldn't be as easy or natural as it was with Tony. It scared him how much he wanted - needed - Tony to stay in his home, where he could watch over him and help him through this ordeal. Maybe it was because Tony was like him - solitary - but he didn't think that was quite it.

Having Tony in his home just felt right in a way Gibbs hadn't felt in a long time. Not since Shannon, a small voice whispered in his mind, and he swallowed thickly, running a hand through his short hair. Tony understood Gibbs in a way few people did. He could read his half shrugs easily, and every twitch of his facial muscles, unnoticed by others, spoke volumes to Tony. Gibbs was a man of few words, and Tony understood that because he didn't need the words-and Gibbs didn't need them either. He could see through Tony's bullshit easily, and he could see through the bravado of a fancy suit and the posture of confidence that was sometimes just a little too rigid.

And so, Gibbs was left sitting in a hospital chair, body humming with caffeine, staring at Tony's sleeping form through cautious eyes. Gibbs had not had an easy life so far. Nearly everyone in his life who had meant something to him had been taken away-and not just Shannon and Kelly. There had been friends in the Corps, blown away in combat, and fellow agents, taken out in busts gone terribly wrong. Then there had been the times where Gibbs couldn't really blame anyone but himself; ex-wives he'd driven away, relatives he'd ignored.

And now, the few people he had, he liked to keep close. His team, Ducky, Abby, even Palmer-they were his people now. And somehow, even though he'd known Ducky for ages, and Abby a long time herself, Tony had worked his way to the top of his list.

Gibbs was always the strong one - the one who wouldn't show any sign of weakness, who never took no for an answer, who pushed and pushed and pushed until he finally got what he wanted. And yet, sitting there in the sticky vinyl chair of the hospital, watching Tony sleep, having no idea whatsoever what was wrong with him-it was terrifying.

He knew he could stay strong for Tony. He had no doubt in his mind of that. But in times like these, times where his whole being felt off from being awake for odd hours, filled with nervous energy and adrenaline and fear, knowing that this was a situation in which he was completely helpless, he couldn't help but wonder if his strength would be enough; if this time he would be able to pull Tony through.

Because sitting there watching Tony sleep, wondering what the hell was going on with his body that would leave him first sightless then without sensations in his leg, he couldn't help but realize how much he needed Tony, the one he trusted most to have his six, the one he trusted most to balance out his team and keep the atmosphere where it should be, the one he thought of when he had an extra steak to throw on the grill, the one he thought of lying in bed, unable to sleep, when he'd had a particularly rough day-

And suddenly, Gibbs was filled with a familiar determination, and he felt calm descend over him. That was a feeling he could work with, that was a drive that would give him the strength he needed, because suddenly he realized that he wasn't helpless-he could (and would) be there for Tony. He would be there every step of the way, and even for the steps after that.

Tony was his.

And no sickness, or disease, or whatever the hell was consuming Tony's body would get in the way of that, Gibbs would make sure of it. So, with his shoulders squared and his back straight, Gibbs stood and made his way out of Tony's room.

(First, he'd need some more coffee.)


True to his word, Gibbs woke Tony when the breakfast tray arrived in his room. Luckily, it arrived late enough that it afforded Tony a nice hour-long nap, but Tony still woke up looking exhausted and fighting to keep his eyes open.

"Hey Gibbs," he said sleepily as he pushed his bed into a seated position. "You're still here?"

"Said I'd be here," Gibbs said with a grunt of annoyance, "so where else would I be?"

Tony yawned and regarded his breakfast tray with unamused eyes, ignoring Gibbs' response for the moment. "What the hell is this?" he asked, picking up his fork and poking at the yellow blob on his plate.

"Eggs," Gibbs said. He'd picked up similar fare for himself in the hospital cafeteria that morning. "They look worse than they taste."

Tony wrinkled his nose and reached for the coffee on his tray, adding milk and sugar liberally. "At least they gave me coffee," he said.

"I called Ducky," Gibbs said, watching as Tony took a hesitant sip of the coffee and then grimaced at the subpar quality. "He's gonna come by in a little while."

Tony's hands stilled and his face became unreadable for just a moment, a moment so quick that if Gibbs didn't know him so well he'd think he imagined it, before he set his coffee down on his tray and shoveled eggs into his mouth.

"Haven't called anyone else yet," Gibbs continued, "figured they wouldn't be able to see you if they came now anyway."

"Why not?" Tony asked, eyes on his plate.

"You have your spinal tap soon," Gibbs reminded him.

"Oh," Tony said, "yeah." He paused for a moment, fork hovering over his plate, and then he set it down and reached for his coffee. "You don't have to call them," Tony said, holding his hands around the warm cup and staring down at the shiny surface of the liquid inside. "We can just see what happens over the weekend and call them when I get let out," he added, before taking a long sip of his coffee and studiously avoiding looking in Gibbs' direction.

When he'd put the coffee down and the silence from Gibbs was unbearable, he chanced a peek over at the man, and then swallowed nervously when he saw the strange expression on his face that had been surfacing more and more over the past week or so, the one Tony was not used to at all and couldn't quite decipher.

"What?" Tony finally said, looking at Gibbs expectantly. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

Gibbs shrugged, and his expression cleared into a more familiar one of put-upon patience. "DiNozzo," he said, "I told you last time-they're your team and they deserve to know what's going on with you."

Tony looked away from Gibbs, letting a hand trail over the top of his left thigh, leaving nothing but tingles in its wake. He knew that if he let his fingers drift a little lower, he would hardly even feel the tingles at all.

"What if I don't want them to know?" Tony said, turning to look at Gibbs.

Gibbs sighed, running a hand over his face. Tony wasn't the only tired one, after all. "Tony," he said, trying to sound patient and succeeding-barely. "I don't think it'll be hard for them to figure out."

Tony narrowed his eyes in Gibbs' direction and then turned back to his breakfast, eating fast and ignoring Gibbs, and especially ignoring the burn of emotion he could feel building behind his eyes. He knew Gibbs was right, but that didn't take away the bite of his comment. He finished his eggs quickly and let his fork drop onto his plate with a clatter, and reined his emotions in before turning back to Gibbs.

"So, Gibbs," he said, allowing a grin to pass over his features, one that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I've been thinking about this all morning. What'd you think of Leo's performance in Titanic? One of his better-"

"DiNozzo," Gibbs said warningly, exasperation creeping into his voice at the blatant subject change on Tony's part, and also at himself for ever letting that one slip to Tony, of all people.

"What?" Tony said. "Not a Leo fan?"

Gibbs rolled his eyes as Tony sipped more of his coffee. "If I don't call Abby soon, she'll be pissed," Gibbs said. Tony wasn't the only one who could do blatant subject changes, after all.

Tony's shoulders stiffened, and his fingers tightened in their hold on his coffee mug. "How about you just call Abby, then," Tony said after a pause, eyes trained on his coffee mug. "but not McGee and Ziva," he clarified.

"Why don't you want them to know?" Gibbs asked, even though he had a fair idea already.

Tony swallowed thickly. "Gibbs," he said, "what if this is it?"

Gibbs' eyebrows rose in surprise. He hadn't been expecting that. "What the hell are you talking about?" he asked sharply. "You think you're dying?"

Tony's head swiveled towards him. "I don't know what to think!" he said angrily. "What the hell would you think? My fucking leg doesn't work! I can't do field work! I'll be lucky if I can get a fucking desk job in HR!"

"Is that what this is about?" Gibbs asked, his voice low and dangerous. "You think you're off my team?"

"What else am I supposed to think?" Tony asked, alarmed when his voice came out much more miserable than he'd anticipated.

Gibbs snorted. "You keep talking like that, you will be off my team," he said. "Give me some credit, DiNozzo. You've been on my team longer than anyone ever has. You think I'll give you up over something like this? Hell no."

"I can't go in the field like this, Gibbs," Tony said, his heart thumping in his chest. "What are you gonna do with me?" He couldn't help but object and question him, unwilling to accept what he was saying. He couldn't understand why Gibbs would keep him around when he was virtually useless.

"Hey," Gibbs said sharply, "when did anyone say this was permanent?"

Tony froze for a moment, hands still holding onto his coffee cup, before setting it down on his tray slowly.

"Can't believe you'd give up on yourself that fast," Gibbs continued. "They don't even know what's wrong with you. Let them do their tests, and get the results, and then you can worry about it. I told you before that we'd get through this, and I meant it."

Tony looked at Gibbs, and he was surprised by the intensity and the sincerity in the man's eyes. He'd seen Gibbs look like that once or twice, and he knew that look meant business. Gibbs didn't do anything by halves, after all, and if he said he was going to help Tony through this, he meant it.

"You're on my team no matter what," Gibbs said, his eyes burning into Tony's. "You got that?"

Tony swallowed thickly under Gibbs' intense scrutiny, unable to hide the emotions in his eyes and yet unable to look away, either.

"Got it, Boss."

Chapter Text

"Tony!" Abby said, reaching out and squeezing his hand. "I can't believe you're back in the hospital!"

Tony turned his head and looked at her with a weak smile. "There's a cute nurse I wanted to see again," he said, winking at her as she giggled in response. He was lying flat on his back, having just had his spinal tap, during which Gibbs had called Abby-only Abby, to Tony's delight, even though Gibbs said he would call McGee and Ziva after lunch - and Abby, Gibbs, and Ducky were sitting in his room, keeping him company while he waited for the doctors to come talk to him.

Last time, he'd been exhausted and had fallen asleep shortly after his spinal tap, but this time, he felt quite awake, probably because of the caffeinated IV in his arm to help ward off headaches. He wasn't sure how effective it was, though, because he could feel one building behind his eyes.

"How are you feeling?" Ducky asked, leaning forward in his chair.

Tony looked at him, not surprised that even on a Saturday without work, Ducky was wearing a button up shirt with a bowtie. "I'm okay," Tony said. He ignored Gibbs' snort from beside Ducky.

"Tony," Abby said, fingers fiddling with one of the hems on her short, multi-tiered black skirt, "it's okay if you're not okay. I mean, are you really okay? That's a lot of okays, but-"

"Abby," Tony said, interrupting her before she could really get going. "How many Caff-Pows did you have today?"

"Three," Abby said, "but don't change the subject!"

Tony smiled tiredly, trying to ignore his headache. He felt strange - his mind was tired, and he wanted nothing more than to sleep, but all of the caffeine in his system made his body feel oddly awake and jittery, and he felt like he was climbing out of his skin. "I feel caffeinated," he finally said, his fingers tapping idly against his sheets. "Maybe you should see if you can get one of these IVs set up at work, Boss," he added. "Don't they make 'em portable?"

Gibbs rolled his eyes and hid a grin - the thought had crossed his mind. But still, he couldn't help but think how good DiNozzo was at deflecting.

"Is it working?" Abby asked, crossing her fishnet-clad legs. "Do you have a headache?"

"Just a little one," Tony replied. "It's not that bad." His voice was softer than usual, though, and his brow was furrowed, and Gibbs frowned, recognizing the lie for what it was.

Before he could say anything, there was a knock on the doorframe, and Dr. Foss entered, clipboard in hand.

"He has a headache!" Abby blurted out before anyone could say anything. "Can't you give him something for it?"

"Abby, give the man a moment," Ducky chided, smiling apologetically at the doctor while a slight bit of amusement shone through Gibbs' concern.

Dr. Foss looked taken aback for a moment by Abby's outburst, but his professionalism kicked in and he headed towards Tony's bed, glancing at the monitors. "Tony, is that true?" he asked.

"Yeah," Tony said, "but it's not that bad," he added, trying not to wince at the lights above his bed. They didn't exactly help, after all.

"On a scale of one to ten," Dr. Foss said, "One being no pain and ten being excruciating pain, can you give me an estimate?"

Tony thought for a moment, closing his eyes and running a tired hand over his face. "I don't know," he finally said wearily. "Four?"

Abby gasped. "If Tony says four, it probably means eight!" she said in alarm.

"Abby," Gibbs said in warning, giving her a look even if she was right.

Dr. Foss spared an amused smile in Abby's direction. "We'll add some painkillers to your IV," he said.

"Oh God, no," Tony said. "I get really-"

"We'll start with a high-dose Tylenol," he said, "nothing too strong. It should take the edge off, and if it gets worse, we can move you to something stronger."

"Okay," Tony said, relaxing a bit into his bed. High-dose Tylenol he could take; pain medication that would leave him loopy and out of sorts was another story.

"I'll be right back," Dr. Foss said, "I'm just going to get one of the nurses to come bring that in, and then we'll talk about some of your test results." He absently patted Tony's arm on his way out, and Tony sighed when he was gone.

"You guys don't have to stay," he said, "it's probably gonna be boring.

"Don't be a dumbass, DiNozzo," Gibbs said gruffly. "We're staying."

"As your physician," Ducky said reasonably, "it would only make sense for me to stay."

"And you'll tell me everything anyway, right? So I'll save everyone the effort of repeating it," she said brightly. "And you can't get rid of Gibbs," she added, "so we'll just all stay."

Tony closed his eyes again to block out the light above him. "Can we get rid of that light?" he complained, resigned to the fact that they were staying. He felt edgy and nervous, and while it did bring a certain amount of comfort to know that they would all be there to hear the news, it also made the whole situation much more real, and it meant that they would see his reaction to whatever the hell the doctor said this was, and he would have to own up to it, and he couldn't lie-

"Hey, DiNozzo, take a breath," Gibbs said, leaning forward and laying a rough hand over Tony's forearm.

With a start, Tony realized he'd been holding his breath, so he let it out and ran a hand over his face, leaving it there longer than necessary. He felt like he was in a nightmare, and the excess energy of the caffeine was not helping at all.

Dr. Foss and a nurse came in a moment later, and Tony took the hand off of his face. The light was still on, and it really didn't help his headache, but the nurse attached the bag of Tylenol to his IV, so he knew he would get some relief soon. He pushed his bed up just a little - not too far, because the closer to sitting he got the worse his head felt - but just enough that he could comfortably see the doctor, who nodded at the nurse as she left and pulled up a chair.

"You're all staying?" he asked, glancing at Tony's visitors, who all nodded, except Gibbs, who just sort of glared.

"Well, Tony," Dr. Foss began, "I wish we didn't have to see each other again so soon under such bad circumstances."

"Yeah," Tony said, "me too."

"Wanna cut to the chase?" Gibbs said, his own anxiety for the situation making him unable to keep himself from interrupting.

"Jethro!" Ducky admonished. "Honestly!"

Dr. Foss smiled. He'd met this group before, after all, and was not entirely surprised by their strong personalities.

"It's all right," Dr. Foss said, "I understand that you're all anxious to know what's going on. I must admit, Tony, your case is a curious one."

This isn't what I want to hear, Tony thought, and it must've shown on his face, because Dr. Foss opened his chart and began to look serious.

"We still have a few more tests to run on your spinal fluid that take a little longer to finish," he said, "but we've already done a few tests, and have a strong idea. Like most diagnoses, there is always a chance of error, but like I said, we're quite confident in your diagnosis. Your brain MRI came back normal, but just like last time, your spinal cord MRI showed areas of extensive inflammation," he said.

He paused for a moment, glancing at his papers again. No one said anything, and Tony focused on Gibbs' hand, resting heavily on his arm.

"Tony, I'll be honest with you. Myelitis - inflammation of the spinal cord - is never a good sign. The tests that we have run on your spinal fluid so far are again showing elevated white blood cells, and we're currently running tests to detect certain autoantibodies to help contribute to our diagnosis," he said.

"But you do have a diagnosis?" Tony asked, afraid to hear his response.

"We are quite certain," he said. "At first, we thought this was MS. The symptoms you're presenting are very similar, and like we said last time you were here, it was a possibility. However, since the MRI of your brain came back normal again, and this second attack of symptoms came on so quickly, we're even more confident that it's not MS than we were last time, especially since your spinal cord's inflammation is still quite different than that of an MS patient."

"So what is it?" Gibbs interrupted. Abby sat with her hands twisted in her skirt, worrying her lower lip between her teeth, her eyes wide. Ducky, who was watching the doctor with rapt attention, had a hand resting on Abby's arm in support, while Gibbs kept his hand on Tony's forearm, the concern on his face evident.

Tony could feel his headache easing just a tiny bit from the Tylenol in his IV, but he still felt tension all throughout his body, and Gibbs' hand was the only thing keeping him from panicking. This was it. He was about to find out what the hell was wrong with him, and what was going to happen to him. The whole morning had been one of those surreal experience where time seemed to stop, and where a few minutes felt like a few hours and a few hours felt like a few days, and now lying in his bed waiting for the doctor to tell him what was wrong with him-this was like eternity, only eternity in purgatory, wondering and waiting and-

"Devic's Disease," the doctor finally said, interrupting Tony's brain's frantic ruminations. "It's a genetic disease-you didn't catch it from someone because it's not contagious. It's hereditary, often found in families with MS."

Tony's brow furrowed and he frowned. "Devic's Disease?" he said. "I've never heard of that."

"I believe I've read about it," Ducky said, "but I can't seem to recall the details."

Tony felt like this was all strangely anticlimactic; he'd been waiting on edge for a long time, wondering what the hell was wrong with him-and now, he had a name for it, but he still had no idea what the hell was wrong with him. Gibbs' hand tightened marginally on his arm, and Abby was still sitting exactly the same way she had been before, watching the doctor with too-wide eyes, her hands twisted into her skirt.

"Devic's is very similar to MS," Dr. Foss said, "only much rarer. Its main criteria are optic neuritis, which you displayed last time you were here, and myelitis, which you have displayed both times. However, with your added loss of sensation and muscle weakness, this further supports the criteria for Devic's. Like I mentioned before, the lack of abnormality in your brain MRI, and the pattern of your spinal inflammation rules out MS, but is a benchmark for Devic's disease.

"But Tony," he continued, "this disease is manageable with a strong regimen of steroids and other drugs."

Tony's head was spinning. Manageable? What did that even mean?

"The acute attacks you've been experiencing can be managed with stronger medication. There's no telling exactly how much damage each attack will do, but you're very lucky. This disease is not a death sentence," he said.

"What do you mean, 'how much damage?'" Ducky asked.

"Each time Tony has an attack," Dr. Foss explained, "there is the chance that his functions will not return to 100% of where they were before. For example-his eyesight is 20/20 now, as opposed to 20/10. That doesn't seem like a big difference now, but if he gets another optic nerve flare-up, it could go down to 20/30, and then 20/40-but that is something that would happen long-term, and these flare-ups will be manageable now that we know what we're looking for."

"But I'm a field agent," Tony said, and his voice was quiet and desperate. He wanted to crack a joke, to laugh it off and come up with some stupid flippant remark, but this was serious. He knew that Gibbs said he was on his team no matter what, but had he really planned on this?

"I'm not sure how much field work you'll be able to do," Dr. Foss said regretfully, his eyes full of sympathy. "It's not completely ruled out, but we'll have to see how your leg responds to treatment this time, and see how your body responds to the treatments you'll be doing at home."

Tony bit his lip, emotions surging within him. He was dreaming, he was dreaming, he was dreaming, he was dreaming-

"Hey," Gibbs said, fingers tightening on Tony's arm, causing Tony to look over at him with wide eyes. "I told you you're on my team no matter what. You're a damn good investigator, DiNozzo, whether you're in the field or out of it."

Tony looked away before his eyes could give away any of the tumultuous emotions storming inside of him. He swallowed thickly, and closed his eyes. He couldn't quite grasp this one yet.

"But you can cure it, right?" Abby said, finally speaking. Her voice was higher than usual, and there was something more than her usual frenetic energy bubbling beneath the surface.

"Another thing that Devic's Disease has in common with MS is that it's not curable," Dr. Foss said. "Instead, it's manageable. We'll have Tony set up on a strong regimen of medicine, and he'll know exactly where to come if he has another acute attack like the ones he's been experiencing lately. Also, just because these attacks came so frequently this time doesn't mean they'll be that way in the future." He turned his attention to Tony, whose expression was closed off and unreadable.

"Tony," he said, "you could wake up tomorrow and your vision could be gone, or your vision could be fine for another year before you have an attack. The same goes for the loss of sensation in your leg. We've started your steroids again, and we'll adjust the medications you're taking at home."

Tony nodded, not really taking in anything the doctor was saying, but knowing he should give some sort of response.

Suddenly Gibbs jerked in his seat, and the sound of his phone ringing filled the room. "Jesus," he muttered, pulling his phone out and running a hand over his face in stress. "Dispatch," he explained, standing up and moving to the doorway of the room before tersely answering his phone.

Tony swallowed, feeling a cold settle over him as Gibbs' hand left him. He didn't think he could handle this-he didn't know how to handle this. The plague was one thing - it was live or die, make it or don't make it, and only a few short hours to figure it out. This was open-ended and totally out of his league and could last the rest of his life. While he was appreciative that he would have a "rest of his life," he couldn't help but feel terrified at the same time-was he going to be blind? Or be without the use of a leg? And yet, at the same time, he felt strangely detached, like this was happening to someone else and he was merely watching, or like someone was going to come in and yell "APRIL FOOL'S!"

But he knew that wasn't going to happen, and he felt himself relax when Gibbs' hand was on his arm again. He looked over at Gibbs, surprised to find hesitation there.

Oh, right, Tony thought. Dispatch. My phone's off; they had to call Gibbs. "Did you get a case, Boss?" Tony asked through the fog that had taken up residence in his brain.

Gibbs looked at him searchingly, and Tony was dismayed to see that the man looked torn. "Yeah," Gibbs said. "Yeah, we did. Miller and Pelham are dead, from the Wooster case; LEOs found their bodies with a petty officer. Name's familiar. Might've been in Wooster's squad."

Tony's brows shot up; he knew something was way too simple about that case. "You better go find the bastard who did it, then," he said, hoping his voice remained steady. "Looks like Barrett wasn't alone."

Gibbs held his gaze for a long time, and Tony did his best not to fidget, but instead, to be a strong Senior Field-well, Senior Agent. He could use some time by himself to wrap his head around this anyway, or at the very least, get some stronger painkillers (without anyone around to witness his drug-induced loopiness) and go to sleep.

Finally, Gibbs nodded, but he leaned down close to Tony's face. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he said, eyes only inches from Tony's. Tony nodded, startled by the sudden closeness, and he closed his eyes and let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding when Gibbs reached out and ran his fingers through the short but soft hair near Tony's forehead, brushing it away gently. Tony kept his eyes closed for a moment, relishing the comfort.

When he opened them again, hoping he wasn't giving away too many emotions, Gibbs gave him a nod and stood up, and Tony was left reeling, wondering if that strange moment of closeness really happened, but before he could make anything of it, Abby was holding him in a tight hug, and then Ducky was patting his arm.

"I'm sorry, Tony," Abby said, "I wish we could stay. I can't believe we have to find this out and leave-Gibbs, can't I stay for a while longer? You won't have evidence right away, anyway."

"We need you at NCIS, Abs," Gibbs said wearily. "LEOs already started processing the scene." His tone clearly said he wished that things were different, but they all had jobs to do.

"Tony, we'll come see you as soon as we can," Abby said, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

"Hey," Tony said, "don't you dare mess up this case because you're worried about me."

"Tony!" Abby said. "We're professionals!"

"As soon as the autopsies are done, I'll return," Ducky said, before Abby could continue. "But with three bodies, I'm not sure how soon that will be," he added. "This really is poor timing, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "No use talking about it. Sooner we get out of here, sooner we come back," he added, his eyes still taking in Tony's form carefully.

"DiNozzo, you need anything, you call, you got that?" Gibbs said, leaning down just enough to clasp Tony's shoulder.

Tony did his best to dredge up a smile, and he nodded. "Yeah," he said, "Got it, Boss. Go find the bad guys."

Gibbs gave Tony's shoulder one final squeeze, and after a few more parting words from Ducky and Abby, the three made their way out of the room. With a sigh, Tony turned his attention back to Dr. Foss, who was sitting silently and glancing through his clipboard, most likely to give the group time to talk.

"So, Doc, you think my leg will get better?" Tony asked, doing his best to not sound as miserable and alone as he felt.

Dr. Foss looked up and gave Tony an encouraging smile. "We'll do our best to ensure that it does," he said, and he sounded completely confident, which helped Tony's state of mind, even if he knew logically that doctors were coached to speak that way. "And," he added, "I think that you have a very strong network of friends to rely on, and that always helps."

Tony nodded, scrubbing a hand over his face.

"Is your headache any better?" Dr. Foss asked, noting the lines of tension around Tony's eyes.

"No, not really," Tony said, unable to lie through his emotional upheaval. He felt about ten seconds away from losing it, and he just wanted this to be over.

Dr. Foss stood. "I'll have the nurse come give you something stronger," he said. "Is there anything else I can get you?"

"No, that's okay," Tony said quietly. "Thanks."

"Tony, if you have any questions, or need me for anything, just page the nurses and they'll come get me. I'll be in to check on you periodically, anyway, but if you need me in the interim-"

"I will," Tony interrupted. "Thanks."

Dr. Foss gave him an assessing look-over, and nodded. "Rest up," he said as he made his way out of the room.

Tony sighed when he was gone and closed his eyes as he eased his bed back down into a completely flat position. Nothing left to do but lie still and wait for the medicine that would make his brain stop spinning in circles and his head stop pounding.

Chapter Text

"Gibbs?" Tony murmured drowsily, feeling a hand on his shoulder. He opened his eyes and blinked in confusion, frowning when he didn't see blue eyes and silver hair.

"Not Gibbs," he said, letting his eyes drift closed again.

"It's time for you to eat dinner," a soft voice said, and he opened his eyes again and smiled at the nurse, who was watching him kindly.

"Oh," he said, fumbling beside him for the button to adjust his bed, and looking around in confusion when the nurse pressed it for him and his bed moved on its own accord.

"You have some visitors waiting in the hallway," she said, "Can I send them in?"

"Okay," Tony said, wrinkling his nose at the tray she pushed in front of him.

"Hey, Tony," Tim said as the nurse made her way out.

Tony looked towards the door and smiled drowsily. "Probies," he said. "Probies, probies, probies."

Tim and Ziva exchanged an amused look and made their way to Tony's bedside.

"We cannot stay very long," Ziva said as she sat elegantly in a chair, "but we wanted to come and see for ourselves how you are doing."

"Is that your dinner?" Tim asked, gesturing towards the tray.

Tony looked at the tray and laughed. "Is it your dinner?" he asked, recognizing even as he said it that the stronger painkillers they'd given him earlier were pretty clearly still in his system. "Seriously, is it?" he added, "You can have it. I don't wanna eat that crap. You guys bring me anything?"

"We were not sure if you would be able to eat outside food," Ziva said apologetically. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Hmm," Tony said, poking his left leg absentmindedly. "Still got a bum leg," he said, "and still staring at these ugly walls. Doin' pretty good. Hey, think you guys can break me outta here?"

"I don't think so, Tony," Tim said, "maybe you should eat some of your dinner."

"I'm not too hungry," Tony said. "I feel funny."

"Funny how?" Ziva asked, concern apparent on her face.

"Y'know," Tony said, "like all-all drugged." He wrinkled his nose in distaste, wishing Gibbs had come instead of them. Gibbs wouldn't have to ask; he would know how Tony was feeling. And maybe he'd put his hand on his arm again, or sit close to him, or-

"How's Gibbs?" Tony asked finally, cutting off that train of thought. "Is he being a Debbie Downer?"

"Debbie Downer?" Ziva asked curiously. "I do not believe I have heard that expression before."

"Y'know," Tony explained, gesturing with his hands as he spoke. "Like a Negative Nancy."

Tim snorted. "Yeah, he's pretty pissed," he said. "I haven't seen him this mad in a while. He's trying to get some answers out of Barrett from prison."

"He let you guys come see me?" Tony asked, thinking of how closed off and, well, scary he could be when he was in one of his more foul moods.

"Yes," Ziva said, "he told us in no uncertain terms that we were to stop here on our way back to base. We wanted to stop anyway, of course, but he wanted us to check in with you and make sure you were doing alright."

"That's nice of him," Tony said, smiling.

"Yes, quite, perhaps he is not such a-a Mad Mary after all," she said.

Tony laughed. "Nice try, Ziva."

Ziva smiled. She didn't mind if the term was off; she had accomplished her goal nonetheless.

"Hey, Tony," Tim said, "you really should eat dinner. Gibbs will kill us if he finds out you didn't eat."

Tony sighed, tugging his tray of food closer and inspecting it. "This looks pretty gross," he commented. "Why don't you just tell Gibbs I ate it and it can be our little secret?"

"And what about when he finally does come to visit you and interrogates the nurses and finds out the truth?" Ziva asked. "It does not look that bad, Tony. I thought you liked pasta."

"This isn't pasta," Tony said, shaking his head. "This is...something else."

"Tony," Ziva said warningly, "would you like me to accidentally throw your Mighty Mouse stapler away? Or perhaps accidentally destroy your stash of magazines?"

"You wouldn't!" Tony said.

Ziva smirked at him. "No?" she said, raising one eyebrow.

Tony huffed and reached out to his tray. He was sort of hungry, after all. "Only so Gibbs doesn't kill you," he said. "Or me."

He recognized the feeling of the painkillers as the reason his head felt floaty and unattached, and the reason his mouth seemed to be working of its own accord, but even through the haze of medication, thoughts of his earlier discussion with the doctor began to swirl through his mind again. He managed a few bites of pasta before dropping his fork down and pushing the tray away.

"There, now you can tell Gibbs I ate," he said, already reaching for the button to move his bed back down, but his hand was intercepted by Ziva.

"Stupid ninja," he muttered, giving her a dark look.

"Tony, you must eat more than that," she said.

"That's okay," Tony said, "I'm full." He let his right hand twist into his bedsheets, and his left poked at his leg again, a habit he couldn't seem to stop, hoping that maybe this time, he would be able to actually feel the pokes.

"Stop that," Ziva said, reaching out and holding onto his left hand. Tony swallowed thickly when she grabbed his hand, and pulled it away from her. He was beginning to feel overwhelmed, talking to Ziva and McGee like everything was normal when everything was most certainly not.

It was strange, he thought, that the doctors had diagnosed him with a disease, and yet everything continued on as it was before; he was lying in a hospital bed, feeling no different than the minutes before he was diagnosed, and Ziva and Tim were harassing him as usual, and the food still sucked, and everything was pretty much the same - only his mind wouldn't stop spinning and he felt like everything was spiraling out of control fast.

"Tony," Ziva said, "are you alright?"

"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?" Tony replied, pasting on what he hoped was a casual grin.

"I can think of a few reasons," McGee said.

Tony glared at him. "Shut up, Probie," he said.

Ziva's phone rang, and she pulled it out. "Gibbs," she explained, before opening the phone and answering it. Almost immediately, she held it out to Tony.

"Hi Gibbs," Tony said, relaxing against his pillow.

"You eat dinner?" Gibbs asked gruffly.

"Yeah, I ate," Tony replied, clutching the phone and holding it tight against his ear.

"What, two bites?" Gibbs asked.

Tony scowled. "How do you do that?" he asked.

"Not too hard, DiNozzo, you're pretty predictable," Gibbs replied. "You doin' okay?"

"Yeah, Boss, I'm fine," Tony said. "The doctor gave me some of the good stuff."

"And you took it?" Gibbs asked.

"In the IV," Tony explained. "I'm kinda tired. Are you coming back, Boss?" He didn't mean for his voice to come out so, well, needy, and he ignored the way Ziva and McGee exchanged concerned glances when they heard him ask.

"Yeah, I'm coming back, Tony," Gibbs said. "I just don't know when. This case is fucked up and going nowhere. I need Ziva and McGee here, now."

"Oh," Tony said, "Okay. I wish I could help."

"Don't worry about it," Gibbs said. "You just rest and get better."

"Okay," Tony said again, closing his eyes and swallowing thickly.

"Hey, Tony," Gibbs said.

"Yeah?" Tony replied, his voice hopeful and constricted and just on the verge of breaking, wishing that McGee and Ziva were not watching him have this conversation.

"Remember what I said," Gibbs told him, voice gruff. "We'll get through this. You're on my team, no matter what, and as soon as you're out of the hospital, you're back here with me, got it?"

"Got it, Boss," Tony said, yawning widely, insanely and desperately relieved to hear Gibbs reassure him.

"You need anything when I come by later?" Gibbs asked.

"I miss your blanket," Tony said drowsily.

"What blanket?" Gibbs asked, thrown off and confused.

"You know," Tony said, "that handmade green one. I like it."

Gibbs sighed. "Hospital won't let you use your own blanket, Tony. Listen, I gotta go. Tell Ziva and McGee to come back here, and you get some rest."

"Okay, Boss," Tony said. "I will. Watch your six," he said.

"Yeah," he said. "And Tony, eat something."

"Okay," Tony said, even though he was pretty sure he wouldn't.

Gibbs' sigh came through loud and clear. "I'll try to sneak you in something edible when I come," he conceded.

"Thanks, Boss, you're the best," Tony said, feeling his grip on the phone begin to loosen. He smiled. "Maybe we can watch-"

"We are not watching Titanic and you are never mentioning that again," Gibbs said. He sounded pissed.

Tony sighed. "Don't have to get so mad, Boss. Don't have to be such a-such a Mad Mary all the time." He gave a laugh that was really more of a giggle than anything else and he knew without looking that Ziva was smiling.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Gibbs asked.

Tony laughed again. "Nothing," Tony said. "Hey, Boss, I think I'm gonna go to sleep now," he said, feeling his eyelids grow heavy.

"Tell Ziva and McGee to come back here," Gibbs said.

"Ziva, McGee, come back here," Tony said to Gibbs.

"Christ," Gibbs said. Tony could imagine him rubbing a hand over his eyebrows.

"Blasphemy," Tony accused with a yawn.

"Okay, Tony, give Ziva the phone," Gibbs said.

"Why do I have to give it to Ziva?" Tony complained. "You-"

"Because it's hers, Tony. Go to sleep. I'll see you later," Gibbs said. He sounded impatient, and Tony knew that tone, even through his sleepy, drug-addled brain.

"Okay," Tony said, "g'night, Boss."

"Goodnight, Tony," Gibbs said, and Tony smiled, because it was that gentle voice that he'd been hearing more of lately, and he let his eyelids droop as he lowered the phone and held it out towards Ziva, who just barely caught it before it slipped from his fingers.

Tony vaguely heard Ziva give Gibbs quick one-word responses as he fell asleep, and he tried to say thank you when he felt his bed slip back down to the flat position, but all that came out was a tired sigh, and he fell asleep just as McGee squeezed his shoulder on the way out.


Tony woke to the smell of coffee, and not hospital coffee - real coffee, hot and strong; just the way Gibbs liked it.

"Gibbs?" he murmured and opened his eyes, squinting in the hazy morning light filtering in through the window of his hospital room. Gibbs was sitting on the edge of his bed, body surrounded by grey morning light, making him look almost ethereal. He looked tired; his posture was more of a slump than his usual Marine-straight back, but when he glanced at Tony, his eyes crinkled and he gave a slight smile.

"How ya doin', Tony?" he asked.

With a start, Tony realized that he could actually feel Gibbs leaning against his left leg, even if it was rather tingly, but that was much better than what he'd been feeling the day before.

"Think my leg's getting better," Tony managed through a yawn.

"That's good," Gibbs said, "that's real good." He took a sip of his coffee, and even through his early morning confusion, Tony felt like something was off about Gibbs. He was being, well, nice, and that was never a good sign.

"How's the case?" Tony asked, shifting a bit to get more comfortable.

Gibbs sighed, running a hand through his short hair. "Not too good," he said.

Before he could even think to do differently, Tony's hand shot out and wrapped itself around Gibbs' forearm, and his thumb rubbed back and forth gently. Gibbs looked down in surprise, and Tony suddenly felt embarrassed, but he pushed that down; he could always claim that he was still on painkillers. Gibbs had been there for him in a way no one else had ever been the past few days, and he would do his best to help him in return.

"Tell me," Tony said.

"Tony, you have more to worry about than this," Gibbs said, and Tony liked how rather than pulling his arm away, he leaned closer.

Tony shook his head. "I have nothing to do but stare at the walls," he said. "I'm going crazy. Tell me about it."

Gibbs sighed. "Got three dead bodies," he said. "Miller and Pelham-remember 'em?" Tony nodded quickly, and Gibbs took a sip of coffee using his free hand. "The other was a 24-year old woman from Lisa Wooster's squad. Amanda Turner. They were close friends."

"What about Brian Parker?" Tony asked.

Gibbs gave a slight quirk of his lips that was almost a smile. "First person we thought of, too," he said. Anything even vaguely resembling a smile vanished quickly, though, as he continued. "Got a solid alibi. He was in New York last week visiting family - left a few hours after we released him. He's got receipts, credit card purchases, and family members to back him up."

Tony's brow furrowed. "He could still be involved," he said.

"Yeah," Gibbs said, "but we've got nothing to prove it and no way to connect him to the murders."

"Maybe a drug dealer Parker owed?" Tony asked. "Somebody higher up than Barrett?"

Gibbs sighed again. "Yeah," he said, "that's what Parker tried to tell us. His flight got in late last night-we got him at the airport."

"You get any sleep?" Tony asked.

"You my mother now, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked with a snort.

"You were up all night with me," Tony said with a frown, "then you were here most of the day, then you went to work and stayed there all day and night-you need to sleep."

"Caught a nap before I came here," Gibbs said. "I'll go to sleep when we get this dirtbag."

"Just-just watch your six, Boss," Tony said. "I'm not there to watch it for you."

"Hey," Gibbs said, "you're where you need to be right now, Tony." He set his now-empty coffee down on the table near Tony's bed, and covered Tony's hand with his own. "You just get better," he said, before standing up and stretching, Tony's hand falling back down to the bed and his leg feeling oddly cold without Gibbs sitting so close.

"Brought you a bagel," Gibbs said, gesturing towards a paper bag on the table near Tony's bed.

"That's what I'm talking about!" Tony said in excitement, recognizing the bag to be from his favorite deli.

Gibbs snorted, picking up the bag and holding it out to Tony, who took it eagerly.

"What time is it, Boss?" he asked, opening up the bag and grinning at the sight of fluffy cream cheese poking out of his usual everything bagel. It was a lot easier to feel normal with Gibbs here, because even with all of the strange and sometimes scary thoughts flooding his brain, Gibbs brought a sense of comfort that seemed to override all of them.

"Early," Gibbs said. "Too early. But I gotta head back to work," he added.

"How early's too early?" Tony asked, pulling the bagel out and licking some stray cream cheese off of his thumb.

"0500," Gibbs said.

"That is early," Tony said, surprised. "It feels later to me. I've been sleeping for a long time." He took a bite of the bagel, eyes closing in happiness, because the terrible food they'd been feeding him at the hospital was nothing compared to the bagel Gibbs brought.

"You been sleeping since McGee and Ziva left yesterday?" Gibbs asked, watching him carefully.

Tony nodded, glancing over at Gibbs as he took another bite of the bagel. "Yeah," he said around a mouthful of food.

"Good," Gibbs said. "Get some more rest today so you can come home," he added.

Tony felt an odd twist in his chest at that; the particular phrasing felt warm and familiar, and he couldn't help but wonder what all of this was exactly, this weird thing between him and Gibbs, because something seemed to have shifted and changed without him realizing it.

"And if you bring up the goddamn Titanic one more time, I'll kick your ass so hard you'll be right back in here," Gibbs added threateningly.

Tony was surprised for a moment, before his lips stretched into a wide grin and he fought off a chuckle he was sure Gibbs wouldn't like.

Or maybe not, he thought.

Chapter Text

Tony was growing tired of the hospital.

While things like terrible food, sterile blankets, plain walls, bad TVs, and good old-fashioned boredom didn't exactly propel his stay to higher popularity, the main reason for his dislike was that lying in bed was killing him.

It wasn't a matter of feeling restless or being uncomfortable - it was just that lying in bed with nothing to do left him with only one thing: thinking. And ever since he'd heard the words "Devic's Disease," his brain hadn't stopped spinning.

He just wanted to leave. He wanted to go home - and what shocked him most was that he didn't really miss his plasma TV, or his DVD collection, or his giant, luxurious bed; he missed Gibbs' homemade blanket, and Gibbs' Cheerios, and Gibbs' boat, and, well, Gibbs.

He sighed and ran a tired hand over his face, wondering exactly how that happened. Looking at Gibbs with something akin to hero-worship was nothing new to him, and neither was being fascinated by the man's home. But that was different.

Now, he wasn't looking at Gibbs with hero-worship at all. He was looking at Gibbs like a friend-no, not a friend, he thought. Not quite a mentor, either.

He put his hand over his eyes and exhaled loudly through his mouth. If he wasn't looking at Gibbs as a friend, and not as a mentor, and not just as a boss, well, that didn't leave too many other options, and the warm feeling he felt when he thought of sitting in the basement with him, watching him sand the boat, and eating breakfast with him, and seeing his hazelnut creamer in Gibbs' fridge-

Jesus, Tony thought. He couldn't imagine what Gibbs would say if he knew. He could imagine Gibbs just giving him a firm head-slap and sending him packing, or worse, firing him-

And then, he thought, what if he suddenly fell into some strange alternate universe where Gibbs wasn't disgusted by him, where Gibbs felt those same weird warm twinges about Tony that Tony felt about Gibbs - and then his thoughts spiraled back to lying in the hospital bed, on the receiving end of a diagnosis he still hadn't quite wrapped his head around, and how unfair that was.

And on top of that, his leg was still tingly and weak. He could feel it more than he could when he entered the hospital, but he could barely put any weight on it, and it constantly felt like it fell asleep. Just getting up to use the bathroom required a cane for him to walk with and two nurses to spot him-just in case. He knew he wasn't going to fall; he'd used canes and crutches before with his various sports and work-related injuries, but they always had to be extra-cautious in the hospital, which just made him feel even more helpless and irritated.

And he couldn't help but wonder - was he going to have to use that ugly metal cane all the time? Was his leg going to stay like this?

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his doorframe, so he dropped his hand from his face and glanced toward the door, doing his best to muster up a smile. "Hey Doc-"

But it wasn't Dr. Foss, giving his usual knock before he entered.

Tony's brow furrowed, and he tried not to let his smile falter.

"Hey, Brian," he said, "heard you went to New York recently. How was your trip?" he asked, trying desperately to sound casual, reaching for his nurse's button - but Parker was quick, and he closed the door, entered the room, and easily moved the call button out of reach before Tony could get to it.

"Agent DiNozzo," Parker said, his voice falsely pleasant and hiding an edge of iciness. "What a shame to see you in the hospital," he added, sitting on the edge of Tony's bed. His sandy blonde hair appeared even lighter than it was under the bright hospital lights, and if Tony didn't know better, he'd think this guy was the perfect American next-door-neighbor. Tony did know better, though, and he did his best to slide away from him - but hospital beds were only so big.

"Something tells me you're not here for a chat," Tony said, his stomach twisting in knots. He was trained for situations like these, yes, but that was when he was standing on two feet, a gun clipped to his waist, and all of his facilities in working order. It was a little bit different to be lying in a hospital bed, attached to an IV, barely able to stand without a cane.

Parker laughed, and Tony was more unnerved than he would've liked to admit. When he last saw Parker in the interrogation room, he'd been, well, stoned, and vaguely shocky, and definitely not this calculating, competent man sitting on his bed.

"When I was at NCIS last time, I noticed you weren't there," he said. "And I overheard your boss telling the Israeli chick to stop here. I put two and two together," he added.

"I didn't know you were good at math," Tony said, giving him a wide smile. "Good for you."

"That's not funny," Parker said, his eyebrows furrowing. He reached out and put his fingers on the IV attached to Tony's arm and idly tugged on it, not enough to remove it, but enough to make the skin underneath it twist and pull uncomfortably. Tony resisted the temptation to reach out and twist Parker's wrist because he knew that if he started something physical, he most likely couldn't stop it or come out on top. The best thing, he thought, was to just act like the whole situation was normal, and stall for time, and hope like hell that someone would come into the room.

"Because of Agent Gibbs, my friends are dead," Parker said, his voice low.

Shit, Tony thought.

"They're not coming back," Parker added needlessly, eyes trained on Tony's IV.

"Gibbs didn't kill them," Tony said, using his training to remain calm and not panic and to try to reason with Parker.

Parker's eyes shot up to Tony's. "Maybe he didn't pull the trigger," Parker said, "but it's his fault they're dead."

Tony's eyes shifted to the doorway. Where the fuck are the nurses in this goddamn hospital?

"I want him to know what it's like," Parker said, and his voice was low. Tony knew that tone; he'd heard it from plenty of crazy suspects before. It was a dangerous tone, one of a man who was on the edge.

"You don't have to do this," Tony said, "because he already knows."

Parker narrowed his eyes. "Then he can find out again," he said, and Tony winced when he yanked the IV out of his arm, the medical tape holding it in place ripping off quickly. Suddenly, without warning, Parker's hands were around his throat and even as Tony's eyes widened in surprise, he kicked out with his good leg and brought his arms up to push him off, but Parker was a strong bastard, and Tony was weak from lying in a hospital bed for so long.

Parker's thumb was pressing into his windpipe, and Tony knew this was dangerous. He tried his best to thrash around underneath him, hoping to make some noise, anything to alert someone's attention, but the damn curtain around his bed was pulled and the door was closed, and just as he thought to scream out, one of Parker's hands left his throat to cover his mouth. Tony tried to bite the hand, to do something, but it wasn't working, so he thrashed again, and this time, it was enough to move Parker - only it moved both of them, and they landed in a heap on the floor, chairs crashing to the side, and Parker was swearing loudly, his hand tightening on Tony's throat, and just as Tony thought 'shit shit shit shit shit' and black spots started to dance on the edge of his vision, Parker was pulled off him, and Gibbs was there, like a fucking tornado, yanking Parker and pushing him to the side like a ragdoll, mindless of the equipment in the room - and was that Ziva he heard shoving Parker into the wall?

And then Gibbs was right next to him, his face inches from Tony's, his hand gently cradling Tony's head away from the floor, his other hand on Tony's chest, and there were nurses coming in the room, fast, so Tony reached out and clutched at Gibbs' arm, feeling oddly weak, his head spinning, gasping for air.

"Gibbs," he tried to say, but it came out as a strange breathy gasp.

"Easy," Gibbs was saying, "easy, Tony, I got your six, relax." Even in the haze of having almost lost consciousness, Tony knew Gibbs' tone, knew that even though his voice was gentle and comforting, he was pissed, but that he was there for Tony nonetheless, and he squeezed Gibbs' arm as best he could, even though his strength was not anywhere near where it would normally be. Gibbs rubbed his thumb along the back of Tony's head, and Tony continued to gasp for breath, staring up at Gibbs, and as the nurses tried to pull Gibbs away, to help Tony back up, Gibbs remained where he was, stubborn as always, and it was Gibbs' hands under his armpits that got him standing, and Gibbs' hands that kept him from falling over onto the floor again, and Gibbs' hands that pushed him back onto his bed, Gibbs' hand that covered his as the nurses gave him oxygen and checked him over and as he allowed his eyes to close, consciousness finally losing its elusive grip, it was Gibbs' hand in his hair that told him - it's okay now, Tony, rest.


The first thing Tony became aware of when he woke up, besides the unwelcome presence of a nasal cannula up his nose and a general, all-encompassing sensation of achiness, was a warm, calloused hand gripping his own. He blinked his eyes open and looked blearily around him.

"Gibbs?" he asked, surprised at how raspy his voice was.

"Hey, Tony," Gibbs said. He looked tired again, the wrinkles around his eyes more pronounced, but his grip on Tony's hand didn't waver.

Tony looked around, wondering why his throat felt so strange, when it all came flooding back to him, and he felt his breath speeding up as his eyes scanned the room.

"It's okay," Gibbs said, squeezing his hand reassuringly. "Parker's gone."

"Where?" Tony asked, swallowing uncomfortably.

"We got him back at NCIS," Gibbs said. "We've been tracking the GPS in his cell phone since he came in for questioning. McGee noticed he was heading here, and we came right over." He paused, and Tony marveled at the calming feeling of Gibbs' thumb sliding back and forth over his hand.

"It's a damn good thing McGee caught that," Gibbs said, and he was staring at Tony so intently that Tony couldn't bring himself to look away.

"Think I can get rid of this thing?" Tony asked after a moment of uncomfortable staring, reaching up with his free hand to tug gently on his nasal cannula, eager to break the strange moment between them.

"Not up to me," Gibbs said with a shrug.

"Don't you have to interrogate him?" Tony finally asked, mind still on Parker no matter how much he tried to distract himself.

Gibbs looked conflicted, but his eyes never strayed from Tony's. "Someone needs to stay here," he said. "You need protection detail," he added.

Despite the feeling of Gibbs' hand, warm on his own, and the way Gibbs was staring at him, and the increasingly familiar warm feeling in his chest, Tony's eyes narrowed and he looked at Gibbs angrily. "Send someone else for protection detail," he said, his voice raspy.

Gibbs looked surprised and confused and maybe even a little hurt, and it was such a rare and unusual countenance for him that Tony almost - almost ­- regretted his words.

"You gotta get him, Gibbs," Tony said desperately, his voice strained from his run-in with Parker earlier, as he squeezed Gibbs' hand hard. "Ziva and McGee are probies. They need you there to get the truth out of Parker. I'm not some...some damsel in distress."

Gibbs rubbed his forehead tiredly with his free hand. "Never said you were," he said, but Tony knew from the way his shoulders slumped that he'd made a point.

"I know I have this disease, Boss, and I know I let him-"

"Hey," Gibbs interrupted sharply, "you didn't let him do anything. You fought him as best you could, and I don't want to hear anything else." Gibbs was suddenly back into full-on boss mode, his back straight and his tone leaving no room for argument.

Tony swallowed thickly, despite the scratchy irritation in his throat. "Either way," he said, voice soft and rough, "you have to do your job."

"My job is to watch out for my team," Gibbs said. He spoke in a low and dangerous tone; one Tony was quite familiar with.

"It is," Tony agreed, and he squeezed Gibbs' hand again gently. "That's why you have to go get him to tell you what's going on. If you want to-to protect me, then go get him," Tony said, his expression pleading. "There's more going on here than we know," he added, voice breaking with a painful cough at the end of his sentence.

Automatically, Gibbs grabbed a cup of water off of Tony's bedside table and held it out, and Tony eagerly sipped through the straw before Gibbs pulled it away again.

"Please, Boss," Tony said. "You're the only one I trust to get the truth out of him."

"I know," Gibbs said, and he sighed. "Christ, I know," he repeated. "I just wanted to make sure-"

He cut himself off, and again, rubbed his free hand over his face. Tony had never seen Gibbs quite like this, and it was unnerving. This whole situation felt surreal and confusing, and he was sure that he must be misreading the hand holding his, and the way Gibbs seemed to put him ahead of his job-

"We're gonna get him, Tony," Gibbs said, looking at him with narrowed eyes and a cold determination that was familiar, that Tony usually saw on only the most intense cases, that he hadn't seen in a while, maybe not since Ari. Tony nodded, swallowing thickly, unsure of what to say, and he watched as Gibbs pulled his phone out.

"David," he snapped after a pause. "Get your ass over here, now. You're on protection detail," he barked, before snapping his phone shut and shoving it back in his pocket.

"You got two Marines on your door, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, gesturing with his head towards Tony's closed hospital door.

"Two?" Tony rasped. "Isn't that overkill?"

"You're a federal agent, assaulted by someone who may or may not be working alone. It's protocol," Gibbs said. "David is taking over your detail. She stays in here while the Marines take the door. I'm gonna get Parker to talk."

Tony nodded, pleased to see Gibbs back to pissed and foreboding, even if it did add to the strange surreal nature of the situation that the same Gibbs who was barking orders with his Marine posture was gently holding his hand.

"Boss," he said, knowing he probably shouldn't push it, but unable to help himself.

"What?" Gibbs replied snappishly.

"Just because I'm sick doesn't mean you have to treat me with kid gloves," he said. "I'm not gonna break."

Gibbs was silent for a moment, his expression unreadable. "Wasn't treating you with kid gloves, DiNozzo," he said, and he sound exasperated and impatient. "You're not a kid."

"Sure felt like it," Tony rasped sourly.

Gibbs shook his head and didn't say anything, just kept sliding his thumb back and forth, back and forth, back and forth over Tony's, until he abruptly stood up, still holding Tony's hand, and moved to sit on the edge of the bed. Tony's hand was resting in Gibbs' lap now, clutched in Gibbs' own hand, and Tony felt his heart speed up when he looked at Gibbs, sitting so close their bodies were touching, with his head bowed and his eyes trained on their hands.

Suddenly Gibbs looked up, and he moved one hand to Tony's face, gently brushing the backs of his fingers along Tony's cheek, his eyes staring straight into Tony's. Tony was completely still, almost afraid to breathe, afraid that he would ruin this strange moment between them.

"I wouldn't treat you with kid gloves," Gibbs said, and his voice was soft and gruff just a touch amused and gentle.

Tony swallowed, suddenly completely aware of his body, of Gibbs' leg pressed against his hip, of Gibbs' fingers, still just barely touching his face, of Gibbs' hand, holding his own. He felt like his whole world was flipping upside-down because there was no misreading this. Even if he didn't know what kind of name to put to it, or what Gibbs was thinking, there was no mistaking the ghost of a touch on his cheek, or the unfamiliar - but not unwelcome - look in Gibbs' eyes.

He squeezed Gibbs' hand, to let him know this was okay, this was more than okay, this was perfect - and then Gibbs was leaning forward until his face was inches from Tony's and Tony felt paralyzed, sure that this could not be happening - and then Gibbs' hand shifted and it was cupping his face, and Tony swallowed again, ignoring the scratchiness of his throat in favor of noticing the little flecks of teal near Gibbs' pupils, and the way Gibbs' breath felt, warm against his lips, and then Gibbs' eyes crinkled in the corners and he was smiling, and suddenly Tony was smiling, too, and this was surreal - and then Gibbs leaned forward, hesitantly, his eyes flickering down to look at Tony's lips, then back up at Tony's eyes, and Tony gave the barest of nods before Gibbs' eyes slipped closed, and so did Tony's, and then Gibbs' mouth was on his own, lips soothing and warm and gentle, and Tony brought his free hand up to clutch at the back of Gibbs' shirt.

This was heaven, this was everything he never knew he always needed, this was eight years in the making, this was bliss, this was a constant supply of hazelnut creamer in the fridge of a man who drank his coffee black, this was dreams coming to life - this was everything, and Tony sighed as Gibbs pulled back after pressing one more small kiss to the corner of Tony's lips. It had been a short, simple kiss, and yet, it had been one of the most intense that Tony had ever had, and that was saying something. Tony kept his hand burrowed in Gibbs' shirt, keeping him close, and he looked at him through eyes half-closed, wondering what kind of expression was on his face, because he couldn't be bothered to care, but if the strangely open and warm expression on Gibbs' face was anything to go by, it must've been something quite unlike his usual look.

"Gibbs," Tony breathed, voice barely a whisper, hoping to God those weren't tears he could feel building behind his eyes - and then Gibbs was kissing him again, this time without hesitation, and it was needy and perfect, noses bumping just-so until they got the angle worked out, lips sliding and pressing against each other's, and then Gibbs' tongue was pressing against his own, and Tony gave a choked gasp into the velvety kiss, his every nerve ending on fire, Gibbs' hand leaving his own to come up and tangle in his short hair, his own hand moving to Gibbs' back, sliding up and down, savoring the warmth and strength underneath his fingertips.

And then, some indeterminable amount of time later that in Tony's head felt like hours but in reality was probably seconds, Gibbs' mouth left his, and Gibbs was staring at him, eyes soft, mouth wet. Gibbs carefully pushed the nasal cannula back into place - guess we know I don't need that thing now, Tony thought absently - and Tony was left with nothing to do but stare, eyes wide, at Gibbs, his chest moving quicker than usual.

"You'll be okay without me here?" Gibbs asked, his voice husky and quiet and intimate.

Tony nodded, unable to speak.

"You need anything, you call me right away," Gibbs said. "I mean it."

Again, Tony merely nodded, looking shell-shocked. He let one hand fall from Gibbs' back, and Gibbs immediately took it into his own, intertwining their fingers and bringing it up and holding it against his lips, pressing a kiss into their knuckles with his eyes closed, lips lingering longer than necessary, and Tony could feel color rising in his cheeks, and he could feel that twinge in his chest that was becoming all-too-familiar constrict pleasantly.

And then Gibbs looked up at him, and their eyes met, and Gibbs suddenly looked embarrassed, and Tony couldn't really blame him and he felt an embarrassed smile of his own spread across his face, his heart still hammering in his chest - what was this?

And then Gibbs leaned forward and gave him one last chaste kiss, his fingers caressing Tony's hair and cheeks, thumb sliding over his cheekbones, and then he was pressing a kiss into his forehead, and then his temple, and then his jaw, and then, all too soon, he was gone, sitting in the chair next to Tony's bed that felt miles away, one hand holding Tony's, just like when he woke up.

"Ziva'll be here soon," Gibbs said, and his voice was still soft. "I'm gonna get Parker to talk," he added, and Tony found it hard to concentrate on what he was saying when the lips forming the words were the same pair that had just been pressed against his own, and when his body felt strangely cold without Gibbs pressed up against him, and when he was still reeling. "And after I close this goddamn case, I'm coming straight back here, and I'm not leaving until I leave with you," he said, and his voice didn't waver, but he sounded strangely vulnerable even in his determination, and Tony squeezed his hand.

"Gibbs," Tony said, unsure of what else to say, brain in a fog, before he settled on, "make him talk fast."

Gibbs laughed, a short surprised laugh, and Tony smiled.

Whatever this was, this new intimate physical romantic thing, it was still just the same old two of them, Gibbs and Tony, and while he had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on, and he felt vaguely terrified and unsure and all of twelve years old, Tony couldn't help but squeeze Gibbs' hand, and smile, and hope that he didn't fuck it up.

"Hey, Boss," he said, his raspy voice making him sound even more insecure than he felt, "we'll be okay, right?" He wasn't even quite sure what he was asking; whether he meant they'd still be able to work together, or they'd pull through even if Tony did something to mess this strange thing between them up, or, God forbid, they'd keep doing this, whatever it was, but he needed Gibbs to tell him it was okay and to push some of his confusion away.

"Damn right we will," Gibbs said, and his voice left no room for argument.

"Okay," Tony said in relief, because he could sit back and let Gibbs take the lead for now, and let Gibbs reassure him. That was familiar territory.

"We'll figure all this out later," Gibbs said, giving Tony's hand a squeeze.

Tony nodded, and tried to ignore how cold his hand felt when Gibbs let it go as the door suddenly swung open.

"Gibbs," Ziva greeted, giving him a nod, "Tony," she added. "How are you doing?"

A lot of answers popped up in Tony's mind, none of which were entirely appropriate, so he gave her a tired smile. "Fine," he said, and Gibbs snorted, but when Tony glanced at him, he was looking at him with a smile.

"We have not yet started on Parker, like you asked," Ziva said to Gibbs.

Tony's head swiveled from Ziva to Gibbs. "Hang on," Tony said, "were you planning on going back and interrogating him yourself from the start?"

Gibbs quirked a grin and shrugged. "Hadn't decided yet," he said, still looking at Tony in that strange, gentle way.

Tony laughed, the absurdity of the day catching up to him, as Ziva looked between them in confusion. Gibbs stood with a slight smile, stretched, gave Tony a light tap on the head that was maybe one tenth of a usual head slap, and made his way to the door. He paused with his hand on the knob and when he turned around, his face was set in grim determination.

"I'm gonna go get this bastard to talk," he said, voice threatening and low. "And then I'm coming back for you. Got it, DiNozzo?"

Tony smiled, hoping he didn't look as flushed as he felt while Ziva was watching. "Got it, Boss."

Chapter Text

Tony woke with a groan, bringing his hands up to rub his forehead, grimacing at the pain in his head.


The voice was soft and familiar, and Tony knew that voice - but so many of his thoughts were focused on the pain in his head that he couldn't bring himself to reply.

"Tony," she repeated, her voice laced with sympathy this time, and she carefully reached out and ran her fingers through his hair as she pressed the nurse's call button with her other hand.

"Tony, are you alright?" she said.

Tony kept one hand over his eyes, his face twisted with pain, and turned his head toward her. He cracked one eye open and squinted against the lights above his head as he peeked out at her from underneath his fingers.

"Ziva," he managed, before gasping at the bright lights and squeezing his eyes closed again.

"Tony, what is wrong?" she asked, smoothing his hair back away from his forehead, trying to keep her voice calm.

"H-Headache," Tony managed, and he covered his face completely with his hands, wishing Gibbs were there, wanting to feel Gibbs' hands in his hair, wanting Gibbs to reassure him and sit on the edge of his bed and make him feel better, because the pain in his head was acute and too much, and he felt his breath speeding up.

Ziva continued to gently run her fingers through his hair, and he could hear her murmuring soft, soothing sounds; sounds he was pretty sure were not in English. When the nurse came in and Ziva's voice stopped, he was surprised by how much he wished she would continue.

He heard Ziva speak to the nurse, and then the nurse was talking to him, asking him to move his hands away, and he shook his head minutely, keeping his hands where they were.

"Tony," Ziva said, her voice gentle, her hands covering his. "Tony, you must let the nurse look at you."

He allowed Ziva to pull his hands away, and he didn't pull away when she kept her hand wrapped tight around his.

"Tony," the nurse said, "I need you to open your eyes."

"Light," Tony managed. He heard the nurse move, and then he heard the click of a light switch, and so he cautiously opened his eyes, relieved to find that the room was much dimmer than before. The nurse peered into his eyes and shone a light in them, to which Tony flinched away and Ziva squeezed his hand.

"On a scale of one to ten, one being-"

"Ten," Tony interrupted, closing his eyes again.

"I'll speak to the doctor," the nurse said sympathetically, "and we'll get you some medicine. I'll be right back."

Tony closed his eyes, and Ziva kept a tight hold on his hand. Her hand was much smaller than Gibbs', but still strong and warm, and he squeezed her hand as he swallowed thickly, wanting nothing more than an end to the pain. His thoughts were spinning - thoughts of his disease, and Brian Parker, and Gibbs, and his stupid disease, and Gibbs, and he brought his hand back up over his eyes when he felt tears leaking out the corners, trailing hot paths down his temples and pooling on his pillow. He tried desperately to keep a handle on his emotions, but he couldn't, and he wished anyone were here besides Ziva, because she was a fucking Mossad officer, and she could probably deal with this easily, and here he was crying-

And then his breath was hitching and it was all he could do to not outright sob, and to his embarrassment, Ziva leaned forward and stroked his hair again, and then she was pressing a soft kiss onto his forehead, and he swallowed hard, reining in his emotions as best he could.

"It is alright, Tony," Ziva said, "It is alright. You will be alright." Her voice was soft, almost a whisper, and he couldn't bring himself to open his eyes and look at her - it was all too much. "You must relax," she continued, leaning back a bit to give him space as her thumb stroked over his temple, and he scrubbed a hand over his eyes and let his hand fall back to his side.


He felt raw, and he hated it. He wanted Gibbs. He wanted home.

He knew, though, that he couldn't get those things, so he sighed, his breath still shaky, and opened his eyes in determination to squint blearily at the dimly lit ceiling and try to push the pain away. After a moment of silence, he screwed up his courage and turned to glance at Ziva. He was surprised to see the emotion on her normally closed off face; her brows were furrowed in genuine concern, and her eyes seemed too bright.

"'m sorry," he mumbled, keeping his voice low to avoid worsening his headache.

"No, Tony," Ziva said, "You have no reason to apologize."

Before he could say anything, the nurse entered again and as she adjusted his IV, Tony let his eyes fall shut, his hand warmed by Ziva's fingers and the creases of pain on his face slowly smoothing into sleep.


The next time Tony woke, feeling groggy and confused (but headache free), he turned bleary eyes towards the two people sitting at his bedside.

As soon as his eyes opened, Abby jumped out of her chair, sat on the edge of his bed, and leaned down to hug him. Tight.

"Can't breathe," Tony said, and she instantly let go and sat back, looking at him nervously and twirling a pigtail.

"Oh my God, Tony, I'm so sorry!" she said, then bit her lip and gave herself a headslap. "That's what Gibbs would do, right? Oh my God, Tony, are you okay?"

Tony gave her a half-smile. "Gibbs doesn't give you headslaps," he mumbled.

"You're right," Abby said, brow furrowed. "He doesn't. He kisses me instead. I don't think I can kiss my own cheek."

Tony smiled, thinking of Gibbs kissing him, knowing that the little pecks on the cheek Abby got were nothing compared to what he got. He felt his smile grow, and a laugh (he refused to call it a giggle) escaped him.

"Ooh, Tony," Abby said, "you must be on something good."

"How are you doing, Tony?" Ziva interrupted before he could reply, ignoring the annoyed look Abby shot at her before swiveling her own head towards Tony to hear his reply. Tony studiously ignored the vague embarrassment that clung to him when he remembered his earlier moments of weakness in front of Ziva and smiled at her.

"I'm good," Tony said as Abby took his hand and wove their fingers together. "Got two lovely ladies in my bed," he added, winking at Abby.

"In case you have not noticed, I am sitting beside your bed, not in it," Ziva pointed out.

"Semantics," Tony mumbled, pouting at her. She smiled, and he felt some of his earlier embarrassment slip away.

"Hey," Tony said, tugging Abby's hand. "You done with the case?"

Abby shook her head. "No, not yet, but my babies are running tests and there's not really anything for me to do right now. I've got a couple hours of waiting, and Bossman said I could come see you," she said.

"Oh," Tony said, disappointed. "Did he interrogate Parker?"

Abby nodded. "Yeah," she said, "but he thinks he's hiding something."

"What'd he say?" Tony asked, fighting a yawn.

Abby shook her head. "Not too much, but don't you worry about it," she said. "You're in the hospital. You need to rest."

Tony frowned. "I want to know," he complained. He was tired, after all, and he wanted to go home, and until Gibbs was done with that asshole, he was stuck here without him.

"I know," Abby said, "but he really hasn't said much of anything yet."

Tony sighed. "Mean," he said.

"I'm mean?" Abby asked.

Tony shrugged, feeling a smile tug at his lips. "Dunno," he said. "I guess."

"Tony," Ziva said, watching him intently in favor of listening to the conversation as she had been doing since he woke up. "Do you still have a headache?"

"Oh my God," Abby interrupted, squeezing his hand. "You had a headache? Are you okay?"

Even with the painkillers, Tony felt relieved that Ziva hadn't told Abby about his earlier display and he smiled at her. "I'm okay, Ziiiva," he said, stretching out her name and grinning when she rolled her eyes at him.

"The drugs are helping, then?" Ziva asked.

"Mmhmm," Tony said.

"I am glad," Ziva said, giving him a small, genuine smile.

Abby suddenly leaned forward and hugged him again, this time far more gently. "I never should have left," Abby said, her voice muffled into his shoulder. "I should've stayed with you."

"Abs," Tony said, "you have a job." He paused for a moment, feeling her hair tickle against his chin, and laughed. "Like feathers," he said.

"What?" Abby said, pulling away from him. He frowned and tugged her back down, and she was happy to hug him again. "What's like feathers?" she asked.

"Tickling," Tony explained, bringing a hand up to tug at her pigtail. "You know."

He yawned, turning his head away from her to avoid getting hair in his mouth, and then turned back. He felt tired, so he let his arms relax a bit, and she sat up, just enough to lean over him and run a hand over his face.

"Tony," she said, "you'll come back soon, right?"

"I'll come back when Gibbs comes to get me," he said drowsily. "then we'll go home." He smiled at her, and cursed the painkillers because there were certain things he didn't want to say.

"Home to Gibbs' house?" Abby asked, and he wasn't sure he liked the smile on her face.

"Mmhmm," he said. "Hey, new collar?"

Abby grinned at him and brought a hand up to tug at it. "Yeah!" she said. "Do you like it?"

"You know it," Tony mumbled around a yawn, blearily admiring the tiny red beads surrounding each spike.

"Abby," Ziva said, and she sounded apologetic, "it is 2100 hours."

"No it isn't!" Abby said. "It can't be."

Ziva held up her cell phone with the time displayed on the screen, and Abby sighed and leaned down to kiss Tony on the cheek. "I have to go back to work."

"You gonna work all night?" Tony asked, winding a hand into her shirt and keeping it there.

"If I have to," Abby said with a shrug. "We're gonna get these assholes."

Tony frowned, still holding onto her shirt, and swallowed nervously. "Can you..." He paused, thinking for a moment, and then shook his head. "Never mind."

"Can I what?" Abby asked gently.

"Nothing," Tony said, but he kept clutching her shirt so she couldn't leave.

"Really, Tony, what is it? I'll do it," she said.

"Make sure Gibbs takes a break," Tony finally said, words coming out in a rush, cursing the painkillers because he knew he wouldn't say that otherwise. "Okay? Because I usually-"

Abby hugged him again, just on the verge of too tight. "I will," she said, "don't worry about it. You just get better."

Tony frowned, thinking - this is a disease; I can't get better - and he was beginning to feel overwhelmed again, so he gave her a half-hearted squeeze and didn't say anything.

"I'll come back as soon as I can, okay?" Abby said, sitting up and extracting herself from his arms.

"Okay," Tony said as he yawned again. "Abs, you're the best," he mumbled, and he ignored the sounds Ziva's muffled laughter. "I'm gonna sleep now," he added. "You make Gibbs sleep. Maybe you should give 'im Bert." And before he could say anything else, or hear their replies, he was fast asleep.


Tony had many visitors over the next couple of days: Ducky, Abby, even Palmer, and McGee, when he took over Ziva's position to allow her time to rest. He hadn't had any more breakdowns like he'd had with Ziva, but it was getting harder and harder to just be okay, and he couldn't stop thinking about Gibbs, and his lips, and every time he thought about it, he got more and more insecure. He knew that Gibbs had a job to do, but he'd hoped maybe he'd come by for a while, just to poke his head in, or maybe talk to him on the phone, or something.

He was almost wondering if he'd imagined the whole thing, and it really didn't help that he didn't have a single second to himself. Most of the time, he pretended to sleep so that he didn't have to talk to whoever was sitting near his bed because he was sick of everyone staring at him and poking at him, and the medicine being pumped into his system was making him edgy, and he felt tired all the time - although, whether that was due to the medicine or the disease, he wasn't sure.

Doctor Foss told him he'd be able to go home in the next day or so, since his leg was already doing much better, as long as he would rest and take his medicine at home. Tony was looking forward to that, but he felt unsure since he hadn't seen Gibbs. What if Gibbs was going to send him back to his apartment? What if Gibbs was going to act like nothing happened? What if-

"I know you are not sleeping."

Tony sighed and turned towards Ziva. "McGee never notices things like that," he complained.

"I am most certainly not McGee," Ziva said. She sound offended.

Tony didn't say anything, but did allow one corner of his mouth to turn up in a small smile.

"Tony, do you wish to talk about it?" Ziva asked after a moment.

"About what?" Tony asked. "Nothing to talk about."

Ziva sighed and rolled her eyes. "No?"

"No," Tony said firmly.

Suddenly the door swung open, and Ziva's hand automatically went to her hip as she turned towards the door, pulling her gun quickly, but lowering it when Gibbs staggered in. He looked exhausted.

"Protection detail's over," Gibbs said. "Out."

Ziva looked confused for a moment, but she could see that Gibbs was serious, and she nodded, patting Tony's shoulder on her way out.

Gibbs pulled a chair as close to Tony's bed as it could possibly get, sat down heavily, rested his head against Tony's hip, and swung his arm over Tony's waist. Before Tony could even say hello, he was fast asleep.

A lot of things went through Tony's mind - how it wasn't fair, because he wanted to know what happened on the case, and how Gibbs was such a bastard he couldn't even say hello, and how the stupid, stubborn idiot obviously hadn't been resting during the case - but mostly, he felt overwhelmingly relieved to see him so close by, to feel him leaning against him, to see his gray hair, to know that it was him, Tony, that Gibbs trusted enough to visit the second the case was over, before he even slept.

Tony smiled and tangled his fingers into Gibbs' hair. Stupid bastard, he thought fondly. And then, a moment later, his smile grew, and he felt some of his insecurities weaken.

My stupid bastard.


Tony must've fallen asleep, because when he woke, Gibbs was sitting in the chair next to his bed, squinting at a newspaper and drinking coffee.

"Hey Boss," Tony mumbled, yawning and running a hand over his face as he pushed his bed up to a sitting position. Gibbs immediately tossed the paper onto the chair next to him and set his coffee down.

"Tony," he said, and it looked like he wanted to say more, to do more, but he stayed in his chair and watched him cautiously.

"Close the case?" Tony asked.

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "We did."

"What happened?" Tony asked, feeling a tiny bit disappointed to know that the team could finish it off without his help, and a little more disappointed that Gibbs was sitting so far away.

Gibbs sighed. "Parker had more drug debts than Miller," he said. "He was dealing with a drug dealer above Barrett, and Miller had no idea. Parker was buying coke and ecstasy." He paused, took a sip of coffee, and continued.

"Parker owed his coke dealer - Adam DiMarco - a grand. When DiMarco found out Miller had debts of his own, he told Barrett he should take action. Blackmailed him into killing Lisa Wooster."

"Why?" Tony asked. "To scare Parker?"

Gibbs nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Then, when Parker still didn't pay up, DiMarco got enthusiastic."

"And after we took Barrett in, he killed Miller, Pelham, and that girl," Tony said.

"Amanda Turner," Gibbs confirmed with a nod. "Wooster's friend. Parker'd been seeing her."

Tony let out a whoosh of air. "That's fucked up," he said.

"Yeah," Gibbs said with a snort. "We got Parker on possession and assaulting a federal agent. Got DiMarco on all three murders."

"Parker said you got his friends killed," Tony said.

Gibbs snorted. "Parker's a crazy son of a bitch," he replied.

"Yeah," Tony said. "Guess so."

"Hey," Gibbs said after a moment, causing Tony to look in his direction questioningly.

"How are you doing?"

When Gibbs asked him, it wasn't the same as when McGee or Ziva or Ducky or Abby asked. When Gibbs asked, Tony felt a strange compulsion to tell him the truth, to just let it all come rushing out, because he knew Gibbs genuinely wanted to know, and that whatever Tony said, Gibbs would take it in stride, and not just look at him with pity or awkwardness.

But instead of telling the truth, Tony shrugged. "Okay," he said, and from the way Gibbs sighed, he knew he wasn't fooling him.

"Thought you'd say that," Gibbs said.

"Not much else to say," Tony replied, eyes trained on a particularly interesting spot on his blanket.

Gibbs was quiet for a moment, and Tony felt all of his insecurities come flooding back; after all, Gibbs was so far away, and Tony was just lying around uselessly in a hospital bed - why would Gibbs want anything to do with him?

Finally, Gibbs spoke. "Was worried about you," he said, and Tony closed his eyes and turned his head away, his fingers tightening on his blanket. For Gibbs to admit that he was worried - that was huge. But still, he felt fear gripping at him. What he had with Gibbs - kissing and strange fluttery sensations aside - was something he'd never had with anyone else. Ever.

Because aside from any role Gibbs might've had in his life - mentor, boss, friend, anything - he was someone Tony knew that he could trust with his life and more. He knew Gibbs had his six on a crime scene, and he knew Gibbs would back him up at work, but he also knew that he could trust Gibbs with his thoughts, his secrets (and he had plenty), his worries...and the thought of losing that because of his fucking hormones was terrifying. Neither of them had very good track records with relationships, after all. Tony swallowed thickly and kept his face turned away from Gibbs. God, he was terrified. Was he going to lose Gibbs on top of his health? Was Gibbs going to toss him aside as soon as he realized Tony was useless?

"Hey," Gibbs said again, and he sounded concerned, so Tony turned his head and gave him a watery smile.

"No reason to worry about me," he said, alarmed that his voice sounded much gruffer than he'd thought it would sound. Dammit, he was a fantastic undercover agent - shouldn't this be easier?

But no, of course not - fooling Gibbs was near impossible.

Tony watched as Gibbs sighed, and stared, no scrutinized him, and he looked away, knowing what Gibbs was seeing - he was seeing the bags under his eyes, the weakness, the exhaustion, the fear - and he swallowed thickly. He heard Gibbs stand and he thought - this is it, he's leaving, he's figured it out - but then Gibbs was sitting on the edge of his bed.

"I've been an NCIS agent a long time," Gibbs finally said.

Oh God, Tony thought, is he firing me? He twisted his hands further into his sheets, his knuckles turning white.

"Nothing I love more than catching dirtbags," he continued. "Knowing one more asshole is off the more family is protected..."

Gibbs paused for a moment, and Tony wondered if he was thinking about Shannon and Kelly, and he turned his head marginally. Not enough to be actually looking at Gibbs, but enough that he could see him out of the corner of his eye.

"When I get a call that we have a case, I'm ready for it before I hang up the phone," Gibbs said. "No matter what's going on, work comes first."

Oh God, he never talks this much, he isfiring me, and he's not gonna let me stay with him anymore and I'm getting in his way, Tony thought frantically, biting his lip.

"But when dispatch called over the weekend, when I was in here with you, and they told me I had three murders, do you know what I thought?"

Gibbs didn't say anything, and Tony could feel him looking at him, expecting a response, so he shrugged, not trusting himself to speak.

"I thought, 'I don't give a shit,'" Gibbs said. "You know why?"

Again, Tony shrugged, his emotions churning and raging and his head starting to pound with stress.

"Because," Gibbs said, and his voice was gentle, and he sounded on the verge of embarrassed, "I wanted to stay with you. I needed to stay with you, you understand that, Tony?"

Tony looked at him in surprise - he definitely wasn't expecting the conversation to go in that direction.

"But I couldn't," Gibbs said, "and you understand that, too. Guess that's one thing about you that's better than my ex-wives already."

Tony's jaw dropped in disbelief - what?! - and Gibbs chuckled and reached out, his fingers carding through the short hair at Tony's temple, and Tony couldn't help it - he closed his eyes in relief and leaned into the touch, feeling his shoulders relax and his breath come a little easier and his lips curve just the tiniest bit.

Gibbs leaned forward and Tony could feel how close he was without opening his eyes. He sighed, and swallowed, and hoped - and then Gibbs was kissing him gently, his lips chapped and dry and perfect.

"I wanted to stay," Gibbs said as he pulled away, his voice soft and warm against Tony's mouth.

Tony's eyes drifted open and found Gibbs', and he saw a sincerity and determination in them that was almost frightening in its intensity.

"It's okay," Tony said.

"It's not," Gibbs said. "You needed me and I left." He sounded like he was punishing himself for it, like he'd been punishing himself since it happened, and Tony hated it.

"Gibbs," Tony said, feeling his heart clench. "It's okay. I understand. I'm not...fragile," he added.

Gibbs frowned. "Never said you were," he said. "But it's okay to need somebody once in a while."

Tony's eyebrows shot up. "You're telling me that?" he said. "That's like me saying watching movies will rot your brain."

Gibbs chuckled and gave Tony the lightest of headslaps - really, it was more of a caress.

"Hey Gibbs?" Tony said, feeling a strange sense of courage inside of him that he thought he should act on before it slipped away.

"Yeah," Gibbs said, his fingers still in Tony's hair.

Tony swallowed, and searched Gibbs' eyes for a moment. He still saw that strange and slightly unsettling sincerity, and that was enough for him. "What are we doing?" Tony asked, his voice softer than he'd intended.

Gibbs sighed, looking away for a moment, his eyes trained on the wall behind Tony's bed. "Beats me," he finally said, letting his eyes slide back to Tony's face.

"Oh," Tony said, leaning away from his hands for a moment, wondering if maybe he'd misunderstood something.

"Hey," Gibbs said, nudging Tony's head back towards his hand. "Doesn't mean I'm not serious about this," he said. "About you," he clarified.

"Oh," Tony said again, confused, but a little more hopeful this time.

"Hell, Tony," Gibbs said, and he sounded a little impatient. "I wouldn't mess around with something like this."

"You do have three ex-wives," Tony risked saying.

Gibbs gave him that strange caress of a headslap again. "And you have a hell of a lot more than three ex-girlfriends," he said.

"Touché," Tony said, and gave him a hesitant grin.

Gibbs snorted, and his fingers were running over the back of Tony's head, and while Tony couldn't deny how amazing that felt, he still wanted to know what the hell was going on.

"But, what about Rule 12?" Tony finally asked, looking at Gibbs nervously.

"What exactly does Rule 12 say, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, returning Tony's gaze with a surprising amount of patience.

"Never date a coworker," Tony recited automatically, and then blanched, his next words coming out a whisper. "You're really firing-"

"No," Gibbs said emphatically. "Don't be a dumbass, DiNozzo," and that time, the headslap he gave was real - still not quite full-force, but definitely real. "It says don't date your coworkers. We're not dating," he said, and he sounded so pissy that Tony couldn't help but grin for a moment, his shoulders sagging as relief flooded him.

"Well, what are we doing?" Tony asked.

Gibbs shrugged. "Beats me."

"I think I understand why you have three ex-wives," Tony said after a pause, and Gibbs laughed and leaned forward and kissed him again, and Tony's head felt like it was going to fly away, off of his body, because surely he was dreaming, and he wondered if he would ever get used to this.

"What do you think we're doing?" Gibbs asked when he pulled away, sounding genuinely curious.

Tony managed to take his mind off of the proximity of Gibbs' body and he thought for a moment, and then looked at Gibbs with a smirk. "Beats me," he teased, throwing in a careless shrug for good measure.

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Whatever we're doing," he said, "I'm serious about it. Got that?"

Tony nodded. "Yeah, Boss, I got it. Me too."

"As in, 'seeing no one else' serious," Gibbs clarified.

Tony rolled his eyes. "Oh, that's what you meant? Because I noticed a lot of hot chicks waiting in line to date the guy who could go blind at any fucking second at the incurable diseases anonymous meeting-"

"Hey," Gibbs said sharply, taking Tony's chin in his hand and looking him straight in the eye, suddenly serious and foreboding. "Don't talk like that."

"Like what?" Tony asked, suddenly annoyed. "Like the truth?"

"Tony," Gibbs said, and he sounded so sympathetic that Tony had a sudden urge to push him away and go hide in the corner. Instead, he batted Gibbs' hand away from his hair and covered his face with his own hand, feeling pressure building behind his eyes and about a million different emotions suddenly crashing into him at once, and he wondered how the hell he went from having some kind of vaguely flirty discussion with Gibbs to wanting to cry, but he hated it.

He bit his lip, holding his breath, trying to keep it at bay, but God, it was just so much at once he wasn't sure he could handle it, and when Gibbs reached out and very gently took hold of his hand, nudging it away from his face, he felt his nose scrunch up and his lips press together and he did his best to stop it but he couldn't, and then before the choked sob could even get out of his throat, Gibbs' arms were around him, holding him tight and warm and secure and safe, and he pressed his face into Gibbs' neck, doing his best to keep himself from sobbing and failing.

One of Gibbs' hands was threading through the short hairs on the back of his head, and the other was running up and down his back, warm and strong.

"I got you," Gibbs was saying, over and over again, low and intense. "I got you, Tony."

"Gibbs," Tony said, his words choked. "Gibbs, please, let's go home."

"Shh," Gibbs was saying, and Tony clutched onto him, trying to get as close as humanly possible, burying his face in his neck and wanting and needing every bit of contact he could get as he tried to force himself to calm down.

"I hate the hospital," Tony said, "I hate it," he repeated, his breath coming in shaky bursts.

"I know," Gibbs said, and it didn't just sound like an empty platitude; it sounded like he did know, and Tony felt some of the urgency leave him and he swallowed thickly and loosened his hold just a little bit; enough that his knuckles were no longer white - because squeezing like that was kind of tiring - but still holding on securely, and he pressed his forehead against Gibbs' neck and sighed, his breath warming the skin beneath his lips.

"Gibbs," he said, his voice soft. "I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize," Gibbs said, "nothing to apologize for."

Tony was surprised he didn't follow it up with his usual "sign of weakness" quip, but he thought maybe Gibbs understand how weak he felt. And he thought that was okay.

Gibbs was still rubbing his back, and Tony relaxed into the embrace, too embarrassed to let go and face him. And, okay, maybe he kind of liked letting Gibbs hold him.

But as he sat there, he could feel a headache blooming behind his eyes and he sighed, pushing himself out of Gibbs' arms and wiping his eyes as he leaned back against his mattress. Gibbs reached over to his bedside table and grabbed a tissue, and Tony took it with an uncomfortable smile, first wiping his eyes, and then blowing his nose.

"Thanks," he said, tossing the tissue into his garbage can.

"No problem," Gibbs said, and Tony felt cold without Gibbs' hands on him, but before he could do anything, there was a tap on the doorframe and Dr. Foss came in.

"Ah-am I interrupting?" he asked, glancing between Tony and Gibbs. Tony felt embarrassment flood his cheeks, but Gibbs merely shook his head, not moving from his place on the edge of Tony's bed.

"How are you doing, Tony?" Dr. Foss asked, taking a seat on the chair closest to Tony's bed.

"Been better," Tony said, embarrassed at how nasally and raw his voice sounded.

Dr. Foss gave him a sympathetic smile. "I can understand that," he said. "I see perhaps some of the side effects of the methylprednisolone are beginning to take their toll," he said.

"Mood swings," he clarified when Tony looked at him blankly. "Although, given your situation, I'd say you've earned the right to a few of them even without the steroids in your system," he added, and Tony managed a weak smile.

"Have you been noticing any other side effects?" he asked. "It doesn't look like you have any facial swelling, or too much water retention," he observed, "but headaches? Muscle weakness?"

Tony sighed. "Got a bit of a headache now," he admitted, and Gibbs looked at him sharply.

"Why didn't you say so?" Gibbs asked.

"Just came on a minute ago," Tony said defensively, but Gibbs continued to watch him carefully, even when Tony rolled his eyes.

"I can give you a couple of Tylenol," Dr. Foss said. "And if it gets worse, we'll give you something stronger."

"Okay," Tony said.

"How about muscle weakness?" Dr. Foss asked. "Have you been noticing a lot of that?"

Tony thought for a moment, thinking of how tiring it was to clutch at Gibbs' shirt, and how weak he felt when he stood to use the bathroom, but he'd been doing nothing but lying in a bed, so he wasn't sure how much of that was a side effect of being lazy as opposed to taking steroids. "I'm not sure," he said.

Dr. Foss nodded, and wrote a couple notes down on his chart. "Tony, I think you'll be ready for release tomorrow morning," he said. "I'm going to make a few adjustments to your medication, and I'll have you come in for an outpatient appointment a week after you get released so that we can see how you're doing with the adjustments."

"Sounds good," Tony said, immensely pleased to hear he was going to get to leave. "But think maybe we can move that release date to, say, an hour from now?"

Dr. Foss laughed. "Sorry, Tony, I don't think so," he said. "Also, I think that you should take some time to rest at home before you go back to work," he said. "And we'll have to see how your medications react before we consider sending you into the field."

"You think I can do fieldwork?" Tony asked hopefully.

Dr. Foss sighed. "I don't know. Like I said, we'll have to see how the medications react. Truthfully, it doesn't seem like it will be an option because your balance is not consistent, and neither is your eyesight. The way your disease works, on days you feel especially tired, you might experience a small optic nerve disturbance, in which case, your vision might be blurry that day. Or, your leg might be a little bit weaker than usual one day, and all of these things are so subjective and unpredictable that it really wouldn't be safe to put you or your teammates in a situation where you become a liability. I know that might sound harsh, Tony, but it's vital that you fully understand the implications of this disease."

Tony nodded, not entirely surprised, but feeling let down and useless and weak and many of his most hated emotions nonetheless.

"However," Dr. Foss said, "from what I understand, there may be options for you that go beyond your desk."

"Like what?" Tony asked, and he didn't miss the way Gibbs' eyes narrowed as he listened to the doctor very carefully.

"Well, after talking to a few of your friends, I understand that you do a lot of crime scene investigating," he said, "and once a crime scene is secure, there's really no reason for you not to be able to help there, provided you're having a good day and all of your facilities are in order. After all, as your friend Ducky pointed out, he and his assistant do not carry weapons and are not special agents, but they are allowed, and so there is no reason for you not to accompany them. I don't know the specifics of your job, and I wouldn't dare pretend to, but if the location is secure and there are no threats present, there's no reason for you to be unable to go - at least from the medical standpoint."

Gibbs put his hand on Tony's arm as he listened, stroking his thumb back and forth, and Tony couldn't help but wonder what Dr. Foss thought was going on between the two of them - but then, alarmed, he thought - whatever he's thinking is true - but he knew he would have to deal with those thoughts later and he listened to the doctor's words rather than worry.

"But," Dr. Foss continued, "it's also very important that you are honest with yourself in terms of how you're feeling. With Devic's, your situation can change on a daily basis. You'll have really good days, and you'll have really bad days, and if you're having a bad day, it's vital that you rest. Stress isn't good for anyone, and especially not you. I know your job is stressful," he said, "and that's why you need to be honest with yourself, and take a day off if you need one. If you're tired and stressed out, for instance, and it begins to build up over a few days, the results could be blurry vision, migraines, and loss of sensation in your legs rather than just a mild headache and irritability, which is the case with most people."

Tony sighed, feeling his current headache increase in intensity. It was one thing to think about this disease, because then it was just an abstract concept that he didn't quite connect with himself yet, and it was an entirely different thing to be sitting down with his doctor, listening to him explain how his entire life would be different from then on. He absently rubbed at his forehead.

"I'll go and get you some Tylenol," Dr. Foss said, "unless you have any questions for me first."

"No," Tony said, "Honestly, I think I'm still processing half of what you just said."

"It's a lot to take in," Dr. Foss agreed. "Agent Gibbs?" he asked. "Any questions?"

Gibbs shook his head, still turning over much of what the doctor said in his mind.

"Tony," Dr. Foss said, noticing how tightly closed his eyes suddenly were. "On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your current headache?"

Tony sighed. "I hate this question," he complained.

"Nonetheless," Dr. Foss said, "give me a number."

"I don't know," Tony said, opening his eyes to look at the doctor. "Six? Seven?"

"I think I'll give you something a little stronger than Tylenol," he said.

"Okay," Tony said, swallowing thickly.

If Gibbs was surprised by Tony's uncharacteristically easy acceptance of the painkillers, he didn't say anything; just squeezed his arm as Dr. Foss left to get the medication Tony would need.

"Don't you have work?" Tony asked Gibbs, his voice low.

"I'll go in if we get a case," Gibbs said. "Vance knows what's going on with you; he knows where I need to be."

"He just lets you leave?" Tony asked.

A strange expression crossed Gibbs' face, a smirk that was amused and patient and almost a little vindictive. "Hell yeah he does," Gibbs said, and Tony wondered, not for the first time, exactly what conversations between Gibbs and the Director were like.

Tony closed his eyes again and sighed, trying to concentrate on Gibbs' fingers on his arm rather than the throbbing behind his eyes.

"Hey," Gibbs said, "go ahead and rest. I got your six. You wanna lay back down?"

"After the medicine," Tony murmured. "How's the boat?" he asked, trying to distract himself.

"Pretty bare," Gibbs said. "Just started."

"Will you show me?" Tony asked, opening his eyes to peer at Gibbs.

"Yeah, I'll show you," Gibbs said, squeezing his arm gently. "Now shut up and rest."

"Never knew you were such a sweet talker, Boss," Tony said, closing his eyes and giving a small smile despite his increasingly strong headache.

"Got a lot to learn, DiNozzo."

Tony managed a tired smile. He was beginning to realize that, but he was pretty sure this was a subject he'd pick up quickly.

Chapter Text

"You gonna get out of the car, or you gonna stay out here all day?" Gibbs asked, leaning down into the passenger seat of his car from where he stood in his driveway. He had one hand on the roof and one on the open car door as he peered in at Tony, who was sitting in the car and looking at Gibbs' house with a strangely wistful expression on his face.

That seemed to snap Tony out of whatever daze he was in and he turned towards Gibbs with a grin. "I don't know, Boss, it's kinda nice outside, and you do have an awesome car," he said, and Gibbs rolled his eyes, stepping back to give Tony room to get out.

Tony could walk without a cane, but the hospital had suggested he buy one in case his leg gave him further trouble, which was quite likely, or in case he felt particularly dizzy or weak. While Tony felt very strongly against the idea, Gibbs had felt differently and bought one, and so he pulled it out of the backseat of his car, along with a bag of Tony's things that he had brought to the hospital.

Tony still had to grab onto the open car door for balance as he stood up, though, and he could tell from the way Gibbs tensed that he was resisting the urge to reach out and steady him. He rolled his eyes as he shut the door, and shooed Gibbs ahead of him as they walked into the house - mostly because he knew he was slower than usual and still unsteady, and he didn't want Gibbs watching him walk like that.

"When'd you start locking the door?" Tony asked, leaning against the front porch railing gratefully as Gibbs fiddled with his key.

Gibbs shrugged as he shoved the door open. "When I'm gone for a long time, I lock up," he said, and Tony followed him into the house and pushed the door closed behind him.

It was nice, he thought, to return to Gibbs' house, and see the familiar surroundings - the bookcase, the ancient TV, the soft couch - and he smiled as he followed Gibbs into the kitchen and watched him set Tony's things down on the floor and head straight to the coffeepot.

Tony put a balancing hand on the kitchen counter - because, really, this was more time spent in a vertical position than he'd had in a while - and continued to watch Gibbs, knowing there was a wide grin on his face and not caring because he was finally out of the hospital, at Gibbs' house, with Gibbs -

Gibbs turned away from the coffee pot and caught sight of him, and then Gibbs was smiling too, really smiling, not just smirking or giving one of his little guarded quirks of the lip, and Tony was suddenly struck by how sexy Gibbs was, and he felt his cheeks flush and he ignored the increasingly frantic thoughts in his mind about whether or not this whole crazy thing made him gay - because he thought maybe he was just Gibbs-sexual - and he leaned into the embrace when Gibbs made his way across the kitchen in two quick strides and wrapped his arms around him.

Tony smiled against Gibbs' neck, taking his hand off the counter and wrapping his arms around Gibbs' waist. Gibbs kept a hand on the back of Tony's head, holding him securely in place, and looped one arm around his waist.

"Glad to have you home," Gibbs said, and Tony thought he sounded a little gruffer than usual, and his smile widened into Gibbs' skin, the scent of coffee beginning to drift into the kitchen, the sunlight streaming in the kitchen window warming his back, and the feeling of home sinking into his bones.

Tony wasn't sure how long they stood there, but he began to feel tired, and he sighed against Gibbs' neck, pressing closer to him, leaning against him and letting Gibbs take some of his weight.

"You tired?" Gibbs asked, his hand running up and down Tony's back.

"Mm," Tony said, "not sleeping tired, just...I'm used to laying down."

"Come on," Gibbs said, shrugging out of the embrace and leading him by the arm to the backdoor. If Tony wobbled a little on the way, Gibbs didn't say anything. He just kept his hold firm, and once they were outside, Tony looked at him in surprise.

"This new, Boss?" Tony asked, gesturing towards an oak bench on the back porch he wasn't sure he'd seen before.

Gibbs was quiet for a moment, tugging Tony along and herding him onto the bench, glaring at him when Tony shoved his hands away and rolled his eyes. "Don't give me that look, Boss. I know how to sit down," Tony complained.

Gibbs' glare softened to a roll of his own eyes, and he sat beside Tony, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees, eyes distant. "Not new," Gibbs said after a moment. "Had it in the attic for a while. Thought you might like it."

Tony was sure his heart stopped for a moment, and he stared at Gibbs' back, unsure of what to say, and just as he was about to reach out and put a hand on his back, Gibbs stood up.

"Stay here," he said, "I'll be right back."

Gibbs went back in the house, and Tony was dumbfounded. He ran his fingers along the smooth arm of the bench, knowing Gibbs had to have made this, because there really was no way he would buy a wooden bench when he could just make one. And if it had been in the attic, did that mean - Shannon?

Gibbs came through the door a moment later, a chipped red mug in his hands, one Tony knew was his favorite from all the time he'd spent in Gibbs' home. Gibbs sat down on the bench, eyes on the hot liquid in his cup, and Tony watched him hesitantly, breathing in the crisp September air and wondering what to say.

After a moment, Gibbs relaxed into the bench and leaned against the backrest, and Tony hesitantly shifted closer until their sides were pressing, and he let his hand fall to Gibbs' thigh. He felt Gibbs swallow thickly beside him, and Tony knew that for Gibbs, that was a serious display of emotion, and he rested his head on Gibbs' shoulder, relieved when Gibbs shifted and brought his arm up around Tony's back, pulling him close, and Tony felt a strange, quiet atmosphere descend over them, and he wondered if this is what Gibbs used to do with Shannon, if they used to have quiet lazy afternoons on the back porch, if they sat here and watched Kelly play in the backyard, if they ate their breakfast out here - and he sighed and squeezed Gibbs' thigh, and Gibbs squeezed his shoulder in return.

"It's a nice bench, Gibbs," Tony said. "Beautiful," he added, and he meant it.

Gibbs didn't say anything, just moved his fingers back and forth on Tony's shoulder.

"You cold?" Gibbs asked. Tony was only wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and though it was early September, the humidity of summer was already ebbing away to be replaced with the cool, crisp air of autumn.

"No, I'm fine," Tony said.

"Should bring a blanket out here," Gibbs remarked, taking a sip of his coffee.

"Mmm," Tony said, enjoying the feel of the soft cotton of Gibbs' shirt underneath his cheek and relaxing against his body.

Gibbs grunted when his phone rang and pulled it out of his jeans pocket, shifting a bit. Tony frowned when Gibbs removed his arm from around his shoulders, and Gibbs rolled his eyes and set his coffee on the arm of the bench so that he could use that hand for the phone, and obligingly put his arm back around Tony.

"Gibbs," he said, holding his phone flush against his ear.

Tony smiled and leaned back into Gibbs' side, letting his arm drift around Gibbs' waist. He was tired, and he had a bit of a headache, and if he really stopped to think, there were a whole lot of things still moving around in his brain that he knew would really put a damper on things if he let them take over his thoughts, but it was nice to just relax with Gibbs on the back porch, and he sighed when Gibbs' fingers idly brushed back and forth over his upper arm.

"Yeah, Abs, he's fine," Gibbs was saying. "Yeah, I know."

"Dinner?" Gibbs said. "Hang on."

Gibbs took the phone away from his ear and Tony looked up at him questioningly. "They wanna bring dinner," Gibbs said, jerking his head in the direction of the phone. "You up for it?"

Tony kind of wanted Gibbs to himself, but he let his head fall back to Gibbs' shoulder and shrugged. "Okay," he said. After all, the team served as a good distraction, and if it were just him and Gibbs, well, he might start thinking, so he sighed and listened as Gibbs told Abby it would be fine for the team to come for dinner.

"You go back to work tomorrow?" Tony asked, once Gibbs hung up the phone.

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "Took a personal day today, but I have to go in tomorrow. I'll come home for lunch if we don't catch a case."

"You don't have to do that," Tony said automatically. "I'll be fine."

"Don't have to do anything," Gibbs said. "I want to."

Tony smiled at the sulky tone of Gibbs' voice, and wondered what it would be like when they worked together again - and then his smile sagged as it suddenly hit him - yes, he was out of the hospital, but he was still sick, and he still had a disease that was not curable but manageable, and he had no idea what the hell he would be able to do when they got back to NCIS besides sit on his ass.

And even that could be difficult, because how would he see the computer at his desk if his eyes started acting up again? He tightened his fingers on Gibbs' hip and tried not to panic.

"Got a DVD player for the living room," Gibbs suddenly said, his words cutting into Tony's frantic thoughts.

"What-really?" Tony asked, surprised and glad to have something else for his brain to latch onto. "Do you even know what a DVD is, Boss? I mean, isn't that like jumping from 8-track to mp3 player? Did you even have a VCR? What are you going to watch on it? You don't have any-"

Gibbs gave the back of his head a light swat and Tony immediately stopped talking.

"Abby picked up some DVDs from your apartment and brought 'em over," Gibbs said.

"Really?" Tony asked, struck unexpectedly by how supportive everyone had been. It made him feel a little guilty that he'd selfishly wanted them to leave him and Gibbs alone for dinner, but he pushed that away and refocused on the conversation.

"Hey, I wonder if she brought over my copy of Titanic," Tony said, ducking his head automatically when he felt Gibbs' hand move from his shoulder. Gibbs found his head nonetheless and gave him a very mild headslap.

Tony smiled and relaxed into Gibbs' side again, and sighed when Gibbs pressed a kiss into the top of his head. He let his eyes fall closed, and breathed in the smell of Gibbs' laundry detergent, of Gibbs' soap, of Gibbs. He shivered when a cool afternoon breeze floated over them, ruffling his t-shirt and making Gibbs tighten the arm around his shoulder.

"Let's go in," Gibbs said, "it's getting windy."

"'sok," Tony said, "I like it out here." He marveled at how easily the two of them had shifted into this strange, physical thing, and at how natural it was to be sitting on the bench that Gibbs had brought down from the attic for him, with Gibbs' arm around him, with his own arm around Gibbs - cuddling. Because, really, he didn't think he could call it anything else, and it was so surreal that he felt a laugh bubble up in his throat. Gibbs must have taken that as some kind of sign that the cold was getting to him, because he abruptly stood, and Tony frowned, crossing his arms over his chest and running his hands up and down his arms because, damn, without Gibbs next to him it was chilly - the man was like a furnace. Gibbs kept his coffee cup in one hand and held out his other expectantly to Tony, who looked at it and took it with a sigh, allowing Gibbs to help pull him up, and letting Gibbs hold onto him for a minute when his head starting spinning from getting up too fast.

Gibbs pressed a short kiss to his lips before letting him go, and Tony followed him into the house, collapsing down onto the couch eagerly once they were inside.

"Gonna work on the boat?" Tony called into the kitchen, where he heard Gibbs shuffling around.

"No," Gibbs said, and Tony leaned his head back and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of Gibbs refilling his mug - he wondered for a moment what a caffeine-free Gibbs would be like and shuddered, not really wanting to find out.

When Gibbs came back, Tony opened his eyes and smiled at him, and Gibbs set his coffee down on the table and made his way over to the bookshelf, where one shelf had been cleared out and replaced with DVDs. Their shiny, colorful spines looked out of place in Gibbs' living room, and seeing them there made Tony feel strangely giddy.

"You tell me how to do it and I'll put one on for you," Gibbs said.

Tony grinned. "Really?" he asked, knowing that Gibbs would probably wind up throwing the DVD player across the room at best; at worst, he would probably smash the TV over Tony's head.

"Yes, really," Gibbs said, sounding impatient, hands on his hips as he glared at Tony. "What do you want to watch?"

"I don't care, you pick," Tony said.

"I don't even know what half these movies are," Gibbs said, peering at them skeptically.

"I don't know what Abby brought," Tony countered. "Just pick one."

"The Lady from Shanghai?" Gibbs said after a moment, looking at Tony curiously. "You like that movie?"

"Orson Welles? Rita Hayworth? Mexico? You're telling me you don't?" Tony asked. "Let's watch it."

Gibbs rolled his eyes and picked up the DVD case. "My dad used to watch this damn movie all the time," he said.

"Oh," Tony said, unsure of his choice, "we can watch something else if you want."

"Nah," Gibbs said, opening the case and plucking out the DVD. "Now tell me what to do to play this thing."

Tony grinned. "First, turn on the TV. That's that big box looking thing in front of you. There should be a large button that says 'power.' Do you need me to get your glasses so you can find it?"

Tony automatically brought his hands in front of his face when the DVD case flew in his direction and he laughed as he caught it, especially when he saw that Gibbs really did take longer than necessary to find the right button, furrowing his brow and looking at the TV in confusion. "Never use the damn thing," Gibbs admitted.

"I know," Tony said, and he easily talked Gibbs through the process of turning on the DVD player and even considered it a success - Gibbs only swore once, and Tony would give the handful of glares sent in his direction maybe a six out of ten.

Gibbs went back to the couch and settled in, pulling the blanket folded over the back of the couch down and laying it over them. Tony stayed on his side of the couch at first, not wanting to be presumptuous and just assume that Gibbs would want him to sit so close to him again, but Gibbs glared at him and held his arm out, so Tony wedged himself in as close as he could get, stifling a yawn as he curled into Gibbs' side, enjoying how familiar the contour of Gibbs' body was becoming.

And if he was sleeping only fifteen minutes into the movie - well, Gibbs wasn't going to wake him up. After all, he could use a nap himself.

Chapter Text

Tony was beginning to feel edgy and irritated for no reason whatsoever. He was eating Chinese takeout with his team - even Palmer - at Gibbs' house, and everyone was laughing and having a good time, and he was smiling and joking and picking at his food - but he was tired, and he couldn't believe that merely sitting around and talking and eating would take this much out of him. He was growing impatient with himself; he knew it would take a while to get back on his feet after being in the hospital, but he was beginning to think this was overkill.

"Hey," Gibbs said, poking at Tony's mostly full plate with a chopstick. "Eat that," he added quietly, unnoticed by everyone else as the conversation continued to bubble around them.

Tony turned to Gibbs and glared as all of the annoyance and frustration and impatience he'd been trying to hide came to the forefront, prompted by Gibbs' mother-hen behavior. When Gibbs looked at him with a strange mixture of irritation and concern on his face, he looked away with a frown as he realized what he was doing and turned back to his plate, the corners of his lips tugging further down when his rice kept falling off of his chopsticks. Annoyed, he set them down and leaned back in his chair. He wasn't really hungry, anyway.

"Tony," Ziva said from where she sat across from him. "You have been complaining about the quality of your food in the hospital for days; are you not more excited to eat real food? Your favorite, nonetheless?"

Abby looked away from her conversation with Ducky at Ziva's words and peered over at his plate. "Tony, you really should eat more than that!" she said with a frown as Ducky looked on, his annoyance at being ignored replaced with concern for Tony.

Tony sighed, willing himself to push the rising irritation down, and he managed a half-hearted smile. "I'll save it for lunch tomorrow," he said, keeping his tone light.

He hated this. He didn't like everyone treating him like he was some sulky five-year-old who wouldn't eat dinner, like he was a fucking invalid, like he needed everyone to coddle him - and he abruptly stood up, grabbing the table quickly for balance when he almost toppled over, pushing Gibbs' hand away when he reached out to steady him.

"I think I can make it to the head on my own," he snapped at Gibbs, making his way unsteadily down the hall, well aware of the uneasy silence that followed his departure, ignoring the sounds of Ducky's voice talking about medicinal side-effects when they thought he was out of hearing range - because he just wanted a minute to himself.

He resisted the urge to slam the bathroom door and instead closed it softly. He expertly ignored the way his hands were shaking as he pushed the lid of the toilet down and sat heavily on it, putting his head in his hands and trying to breathe through the panic that was starting to flood him.

Suddenly it was beginning to really hit him - yes, he'd had a nice afternoon with Gibbs, a perfect afternoon with Gibbs, and yes, it was nice of his team to bring him dinner - but he felt like he was no part of that team anymore, and everyone was treating him differently, and he was treating himself differently, and he just wanted to go in and joke around and smile and laugh but he couldn't.

Because suddenly it was really starting to sink in - the way he felt so dizzy when he stood from the table, the way he got tired after standing in Gibbs' kitchen for a few minutes, the way he couldn't make it through even half of The Lady from Shanghai - he had a fucking disease, and suddenly he was pissed about it. Pissed and terrified and devastated and so many other things he couldn't put a name to, and didn't want to put a name to, that it was much easier to just call it 'pissed.'

With a sigh, he pressed his shaky hands into his eyes and tried to regain some control, doing his best to push the frantic thoughts in his mind away. He removed his hands after a while and set his jaw in determination. He knew he had to go back out there, so he grabbed the counter for support as he stood up and turned on the faucet, splashing cold water on his face and getting his breathing under control.

He pressed one of Gibbs' soft towels into his face to dry off and kept it there for a moment, breathing in the familiar smell, and he stood stock still, breathing, thinking - Man up, DiNozzo - and finally, he squared his shoulders and made his way out of the bathroom. He felt guilty when everyone in the kitchen turned and looked at him with too-forgiving smiles upon his return, and he smiled at them as he made his way to his seat.

"See? Told you I could get there by myself. I even made it back," he said, turning to Gibbs with a half-hearted attempt at a smile, and Gibbs rolled his eyes and swatted the back of his head - Tony knew that meant his unspoken apology was accepted (but also knew that there was no way Gibbs wouldn't bring it up later), and when Gibbs shoved his chopsticks back in his hand, he frowned but did his best to eat a little more - or maybe at least make it look like he was eating a little more to make the tension at the table slightly less palpable.

"McGee!" Abby suddenly said, looking at him in surprise. "Oh my God! I can't believe I forgot to bring this up! How did Jethro do at the vet's? Is he okay? Was he-"

"He's fine, Abby," McGee said. "He just got his routine shots and check up. He's doing great."

And just like that, the tension was broken, and everyone was conversing again - Ziva was encouraging McGee to bring more pictures of him and the dog to work, Ducky was telling a story that only Palmer seemed to be listening to, and Tony was pushing his rice around on his plate while Gibbs watched with a frown of displeasure. If everyone's conversations seemed just a little too bright, well, Tony could ignore that. He was good at ignoring things.

After eating a few more bites, Tony let his chopsticks fall and he leaned back in his chair, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck.

"Well," Ducky said once there was a lull in conversation as he caught sight of Tony, "I do believe it's getting late, and I, for one, am a rather old fellow and if I don't get home soon, I won't want to wake up in the morning. Not to mention, I much prefer driving when it's still dusk."

Tony glanced at the clock, and saw that it was only 7:00. He knew that Ducky was lying, but that was okay with him, because he was exhausted and cranky and he felt like everything was crashing down around him.

"But it's only-oh," Abby said, realizing why Ducky wanted to cut out early only when McGee nudged her shin under the table and tilted his head subtly towards Tony. Tony was a trained investigator, though, and he saw their entire silent conversation, but he chose to ignore the obvious as he watched their interactions because he wasn't sure he had the energy to do any differently.

And just like that, everyone was standing and throwing away empty cartons and cleaning plates, and Tony merely watched from his seat at the table, feeling a headache building behind his eyes from a combination of stress and exhaustion, and he felt a strange energy building up within him, an unsettling combination of anger and despair and fear. He swallowed thickly and frowned when Gibbs laid a warm hand on his shoulder; he wasn't sure he could handle the comfort without giving in to the emotions he could feel churning in the pit of his stomach.

Tony let his fingers trail over the smooth wood of Gibbs' kitchen table, and he idly wondered if Gibbs made that, too, like he did many other things in his house. Everyone was talking again; Ziva was complaining to McGee that he did a terrible job of clearing plates, and Ducky was telling Abby a complicated story that Tony didn't bother following, and Palmer was interjecting now and again, but Tony didn't want to contribute or listen.

He thought of sitting outside on the bench with Gibbs, flush against his side and warm and content and he brought a hand up and ran it over his face, doing his best to keep his emotions at bay. Gibbs squeezed his shoulder and went over towards the sink, giving a hand to everyone cleaning up and Tony watched him, eyes locked on his strong back and capable hands.

Suddenly he just wanted everyone gone so he could hang on to Gibbs and try and soak up some of his strength, and he bit his lip and dredged up a smile when Abby came over and draped her arms over his shoulders from behind, pressing a kiss onto his cheek.

"Are you feeling neglected over here, Tony?" she asked, her hair rustling against his cheek.

Tony turned his head to look at her and tried again to smile. "Nah," he said, "just figured I'd let everyone else do the cleaning. It's not really my thing."

Abby laughed and gave him a squeeze. "We're gonna get going in a minute," she said, "but will you call me tomorrow when you're here all alone?"

Tony rolled his eyes. "I might forget," he said, "Maybe you should send a babysitter."

"Tony!" Abby said, swatting him lightly. "Just call me, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Tony said, and she gave him one final squeeze before standing up again.

He sighed and took a moment to gather some energy before pushing himself up to standing, holding onto the table when his head swam and closing his eyes. Abby held onto his arm out of worry, and when his dizzy spell passed, he turned to her with a tight smile. "Don't worry, Abs," he said, but he wasn't surprised when she grabbed him in a tight hug once more.

He felt unsteady on his feet when she let go of him, and he cursed the stupid disease because he knew he shouldn't be that tired or that dizzy, and as he held onto the back of one of Gibbs' chairs for support, he wondered whether or not he'd ever feel normal again, and the desperation that he'd started to feel in the bathroom continued to grow.

He was relieved when everyone seemed to be finished cleaning up, and Ziva gave him a pat on the arm as she said her goodbyes, and McGee nodded at him, and Ducky told him to call if he needed anything, and Palmer gave him a smile and a hand on the shoulder, and Gibbs just kept watching him in a way Tony couldn't quite place. Tony just smiled and nodded and tried to act like he wasn't ready to collapse, and he trailed behind them wearily as they headed towards the door. He felt strange, like he was walking on a trampoline, and he must've looked strange, because Gibbs gave him a stern look and grabbed onto his arm as he walked. Tony was grateful, and felt some tension leave his shoulders.

As soon as the door was closed and everyone was out, Gibbs stood in front of him, shifting his hands to Tony's upper arms to help him stay upright.

"Should you be using your cane?" Gibbs asked, brow furrowed, watching him carefully.

Tony felt his face flush with embarrassment. "No," he said shortly, even though he knew very well that he felt tired and strange and unbalanced, and that maybe it wouldn't be a terrible idea.

And instead of pushing him for answers, or calling him out on lying, or asking him why he'd had such an attitude earlier, or asking him how he felt, Gibbs sighed and cupped Tony's face with one of his hands, stepping closer and rubbing his thumb gently over his cheekbone. He leaned forward, and looked like he was about to kiss him, but Tony suddenly felt all of his emotions coming back full force and he felt the tension come right back into his shoulders and he frowned and stepped backwards away from Gibbs, shoving his hands away, feeling dangerously unsteady without Gibbs grounding him - he was exhausted - but also feeling unaccountably edgy.

"Hey," Gibbs said softly. "C'mon, you look like you're about to fall over."

Tony swallowed thickly. "I'm not gonna fall over," he said in a rush, "I'm not a fucking invalid, I can handle standing in the goddamn front hall for a minute, and I don't need a fucking cane," he spat.

Gibbs put his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "Okay," he said, "but let me-"

"No," Tony said, voice choked. This was too much. The pain in his head was sharp, and he was tired and raw and he didn't know how to handle this, because he was finally out of the hospital and home but he felt terrible, and he just wanted things to be normal, but they wouldn't, and Gibbs was being so nice that it was making him confused, and he felt like he was about to break into pieces.

Gibbs looked like he wasn't quite sure what to do, so he just stood and watched him, and Tony grabbed onto the front hall table for support, his legs rubbery beneath him, and he kept his eyes anywhere but Gibbs, trying to keep himself under control. He could feel his breathing speed up, and he swallowed again.

"I don't need your help," Tony finally said. He wanted to move from the hall, but he wasn't sure he could, and he just wanted Gibbs to leave him alone.

Gibbs still wasn't saying anything, and it wasn't helping Tony's nerves to be under his intense gaze, and he felt his breath hitch, but he stubbornly pushed his emotions aside. That was all Gibbs needed to hear, though, and then without hesitation, Gibbs stepped forward and wrapped his arms around him.

"Get away," Tony protested, pushing at him, "just go," he added, knowing that he couldn't stop what was coming, but trying nonetheless.

Gibbs ran a hand up and down Tony's back and pressed a kiss into his temple, holding him close despite his protests, and Tony felt the fight leave him as Gibbs' breath ghosted across his skin and he sagged against Gibbs and gave in to the churning emotions within him.

"I'm sorry," he said weakly, his voice soaking into Gibbs' neck. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he murmured, feeling weak and vulnerable and terrified. "I can't-"

He stopped, squeezing his eyes closed, doing his best to stay upright. He could feel tears leaking out of his eyes but he was too tired to care, and his head was pounding, and he felt embarrassed when a sob rose in his throat, and he wondered when he turned into an over-emotional twelve-year-old girl and he wound his fingers into Gibbs' shirt when he felt his knees wobble.

And then he was crying, and he wasn't sure he'd be able to stop, and Gibbs was holding him tight, and that was a damn good thing because he was pretty sure he'd be on the floor if it weren't for Gibbs.

"I have a headache," he said weakly, words punctuated by sobs. "I want-I don't-"

"Let me take you to bed," Gibbs said softly, his breath tickling Tony's ear.

Tony felt almost delirious in his hysteria. "I can't," he said, "please, I can't, I'm so tired."

"Shh," Gibbs said. "I know you're tired. C'mon."

Gibbs took a step towards the stairs, tugging Tony along, and Tony managed to take the step with him, but then he tightened his hold on Gibbs and pressed his forehead closer to Gibbs' neck, keeping him from moving further. "Gibbs," he breathed, his knees buckling. Gibbs held him steady and pressed kisses into his temple.

"What am I gonna do?" Tony said, tears soaking into Gibbs' shirt. "I can't-"

He tried desperately to breathe, but it wasn't working very well, and Gibbs continued to hold onto him and keep him standing.

"Listen," Gibbs said, his voice soft but strong. "You listening to me?"

Tony nodded against Gibbs' neck, gasping for breath and trying desperately to calm down.

"This is what you can do, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, holding onto him tight. "You can let me take care of you. I got you. Hear that? We're in this together."

Tony shook his head, sniffing loudly and hoping his snot wasn't all over Gibbs' shirt. "I can take care of myself," he protested, the tightening of his fingers in Gibbs' shirt belying his words.

"Everybody needs help sometimes," Gibbs said. "Let me help you."

Tony was embarrassed and tired and dizzy, and his head was throbbing, and he didn't know how much longer he could stand up. "Don't need help," he said, even though he was quite aware that he was blatantly lying.

Gibbs sighed, his breath ruffling Tony's short hair, and he pressed a kiss against Tony's temple.

"DiNozzo," he said after a pause, his unexpectedly sharp voice breaking into the haze over Tony's brain. Tony stiffened at the tone and listened carefully. "Don't be a jackass."

And then Tony was half-laughing and half-crying, and it was so unexpected and surreal that his knees finally did give way, but Gibbs helped him stay up, taking his weight and keeping him steady until he could find his footing again, and then Tony felt his tears easing up and he let Gibbs help him slowly up the stairs, and it didn't hit him until Gibbs was pushing him down to sit on the edge of a bed that he wasn't in the guest room-he was in Gibbs' room. He looked around in confusion, swallowing thickly, his breath still hitching, but Gibbs reached out and smoothed his hair and pressed a kiss into his forehead and Tony felt his shoulders slump.

"I don't know what's wrong with me," Tony said, his voice soft and breathy and tired.

"I can think of a couple things," Gibbs said, and Tony cracked a smile despite himself.

"I'm sorry," Tony whispered, eyes fixed on his lap, shame flickering to life and filling his body.

"For what?" Gibbs asked, sitting beside him and putting his arm around his waist. Tony gratefully sagged against Gibbs' side and let his head drift down to Gibbs' shoulder, his eyes falling closed.

"I don't know," he said. "I'm so fucking tired. I just…it's all hitting me at once," he said, and his voice cracked again, so he swallowed determinedly. "It's too much," he added, resting his hand on Gibbs' thigh, wanting contact and comfort. He thought maybe it was because he was so tired, but he couldn't stop talking. "'m not used to relying on people," he added, and he liked the way Gibbs arm tightened when he said that.

"Get used to it," Gibbs said, turning his head to press a kiss into Tony's hair.

"I have a headache," Tony said weakly. "And I have a lot of snot in my nose."

Gibbs snorted, and carefully untangled himself from Tony. "Hang on," he said, and disappeared into his bathroom. Tony couldn't bring himself to move, so he sat slumped over on the edge of Gibbs' bed, tangling his fingers into the soft navy blue comforter, trying to keep his eyes open while he waited for Gibbs. It scared him that his legs didn't want to hold him up, and it scared him that he was so dizzy, and it terrified him that he was so emotional because that was something he absolutely hated. And as much as his instincts told him to not take anyone's help, he pushed down the guilt he felt and gratefully took the wad of toilet paper Gibbs held out to him when he emerged from his bathroom, blowing his nose a few times until it felt a little clearer.

Gibbs took the dirty toilet paper without question and tossed it into the little garbage can next to his nightstand, then held out two pills and some water. "Ibuprofen," he said, and Tony gave him a tired smile and took them, wincing when he tilted his head back to drop the pills into his mouth.

"Thanks," he murmured when Gibbs took the cup away from him.

Tony felt ripped open and exposed and embarrassed, and he sighed, rubbing his eyes in a vain attempt to get rid of the gritty feeling that clung to them. He thought of how great the day had been up until dinner, and he wondered how the hell he'd gone from just a little tired but happy to exhausted and miserable and dizzy and weak in just a few hours.

"Guess it was a long day," Gibbs said, sitting next to him once more.

"Yeah," Tony said, trying to toe off his sneakers and frowning when they didn't want to budge. He sighed and exerted what felt like mountains of energy to get them off his feet, kicking them out of the way when he was done and flopping back onto Gibbs' bed.

"Don't think I've ever been in your room," Tony mumbled, closing his eyes.

"Never had a reason to, I guess," Gibbs said. Tony felt the bed shift beside him, and then Gibbs was lying on his side next to him, head propped up by his hand. "Let's get you in bed," he said, reaching out and resting his free hand on Tony's stomach. Tony shivered pleasantly at the touch. "Not just laying across the top."

"Don't know if I have the energy to move," Tony admitted. "Maybe I can just sleep like this."

"No," Gibbs said, "c'mon." He tugged on Tony's shirt a little bit, and Tony cracked his eyes open and looked at him tiredly.

"You really gonna make me move, Boss?" he asked.

"Yup," Gibbs said, twisting around to put his hands under Tony's armpits and pull him up to sitting.

Tony put his hands on his head and grimaced as dizziness swept over him, and he was grateful when Gibbs stood in front of him because rather than letting the man help him stand up, he leaned forward and pressed his head against Gibbs' stomach, closing his eyes and letting his arms circle around Gibbs' legs.

"I'll sleep here," Tony said. "Okay?"

Gibbs didn't say anything, just stepped closer, letting Tony press his torso against him as he ran the fingers of one hand through Tony's hair and the other up and down his back.

"Head still hurt?" Gibbs asked, his voice softer than usual.

"Like a bitch," Tony murmured, sighing against the soft cotton of Gibbs' t-shirt, trying to focus on the sensations from Gibbs' hands rather than the feeling behind his eyes.

Gibbs put his hands on Tony's shoulders and gently pried him away, and Tony looked at him, disgruntled, and frowned.

"What do you want to sleep in?" Gibbs asked. "I'll get it."

"It's okay," Tony said around a yawn. "I'll just wear my boxers and my shirt."

"Can you stand up?" Gibbs asked, looking at him assessingly.

"Yeah," Tony said, but he didn't make any effort to move, only sat slumped on the edge of the bed, gripping the comforter.

"C'mon," Gibbs said, reaching out towards him. Tony sighed and pushed himself up enough to push his pants down, then sat back down and did his best to kick them off, grunting when they got tangled around his ankles. Gibbs rolled his eyes and pulled them off for him, and after the cathartic evening he'd had, Tony couldn't bring himself to be any more embarrassed than he already was. He let his eyes drift closed and he heard Gibbs moving around, opening and closing a drawer and rustling some clothes.

Tony hated the way he felt; he was exhausted and dizzy and he had a serious headache, but above all, he felt drained in a way that only came after crying, and even through his exhaustion, he felt a determination to not break down like that again because it left him feeling terrible.

Soon Gibbs was in front of him, hands on his arms again, and Tony accepted his help with a sigh and let him guide him back up to standing, and when Gibbs let go of him to pull back his bedsheets, Tony was relieved to lie down between them, the soft tan sheets warm and comfortable. Gibbs went around to the other side of the bed and slid in beside him, automatically reaching out for him. Tony rolled over and curled up against Gibbs' side, tangling their legs together and throwing an arm over his waist, nestling his head into Gibbs' chest as Gibbs held onto him tightly, and Tony breathed a sigh of contentment despite the fear that still tried to cling to him, and he couldn't help but think that maybe he could get through this terrifying disease if he had Gibbs to hold onto him like this at night, because even his embarrassment was beginning to pale in comparison to the vibrant warmth he felt lying so close to Gibbs.

"Goodnight, Tony," Gibbs said after reaching over and switching off his lamp, and Tony sighed and pressed closer when he felt the rumble of his chest as Gibbs spoke.

"G'night," Tony mumbled, relaxing into Gibbs' body. He was so tired that he was sleeping before he could even register the soft kiss pressed into his hair and the hands tightening imperceptibly on his back.

Chapter Text

A bird chirping incessantly outside Gibbs' window was the first thing that registered in Tony's mind as he slowly woke up, and the sunlight streaming into the bedroom through that very same window made him squint blearily as soon as he was awake enough to open his eyes. He yawned and closed them again as he snuggled deeper into the soft blankets around him; these were way more comfortable than hospital bedding. Then he remembered he was lying in Gibbs' bed, and he opened his eyes with a start, glancing around but frowning when he saw he was alone. He vaguely remembered Gibbs shaking him awake and kissing him and leaving for work, but he'd mostly slept through it, and the memory was hazy and indistinct and almost like a dream - a really good dream.

He rubbed a tired hand over his face and then glanced at Gibbs' clock. 10:16. He hadn't intended to sleep that late, but he thought he probably needed it.

With a sigh, he rolled over and pushed himself out of bed, completely unsurprised to be assaulted by dizziness once he stood up. He made his way to the bathroom and resisted the urge to grumble and slam the door; weren't his medicines supposed to help with that?

After going about his business, he made his way down to the kitchen, going slowly on the stairs since no one was around to witness it and he felt rather unsteady. He wasn't surprised to see a short note from Gibbs laid out next to his pills ("Tony: Don't forget medicine. Call if you need me. -Gibbs.") He rolled his eyes and filled a glass with water before taking his medicine, and then he leaned against the kitchen counter and looked around, wondering what to have for breakfast, and more importantly, what he would do all day.

He knew he should make himself something to eat, but he wasn't that hungry, so he took care of his more immediate needs and sat heavily at the kitchen table with his glass of water, glad to sit for a moment, as his legs felt strangely rubbery.

He looked up in surprise when Gibbs' landline phone rang; Gibbs was about the only person he knew who still had one of those. He wasn't sure if he should answer it, so he stared at the phone where it hung on the wall, waiting impatiently for it to ring four times, and then listened as Gibbs' answering machine picked up, quirking a small smile at Gibbs' abrupt message, and paying attention once he heard the beep.

"Tony? You there?"

Tony sighed; it was Gibbs' voice flooding the house. He pushed himself up and grabbed the phone.

"Hi," he said, voice raspy from sleep as he plopped back down in one of the chairs at the kitchen table.

"You didn't answer your phone," Gibbs said. He sounded irritated, and Tony sighed and put his head down across his arm on the table, cradling the phone against his ear and letting his eyes close.

"Mm," he said, "just woke up. I think my phone's upstairs."

"You take-"

"Yes, Dad," Tony interrupted. "I took my pills."

Gibbs sighed on his end of the phone. "I'm not trying to be your dad, Tony," he said, and Tony heard the sound of a car horn honking.

"I hope not," Tony said. "Where are you? Are you driving?"

"No," Gibbs said, "just took a walk for coffee. Catching up on paperwork today."

"Don't get hit by a car," Tony said, and he could just imagine Gibbs rolling his eyes.

"Been crossing the street since I was five," Gibbs said. "Think I can manage. Eat some breakfast," he added, and Tony wasn't surprised by the completely abrupt change of subject; this was Gibbs, after all. "You dizzy today?"

Tony sighed again. This mother-hen thing of Gibbs' was kind of, well, sweet, but it was a little stifling. He couldn't exactly deny him answers, though; after all, he was sleeping in his bed and taking advantage of his generosity and Gibbs was really good at taking care of him and he was starting to feel really different around Gibbs; a good different that he couldn't really explain.

"Yeah, I'm kind of dizzy," Tony finally admitted, absently running his fingertips over the smooth wood of the kitchen table.

"You walkin' okay?" Gibbs continued.

"Yeah," Tony said, studiously not thinking about how slow he'd taken the stairs.


Tony rolled his eyes. Anyone who thought Gibbs was an uncaring hard-ass was clearly out of their minds. "Not really," he said.

"I'm coming home at lunch," Gibbs said. "Want me to bring something?"

"There's a ton of leftover Chinese," Tony said, "We can eat that."

"Okay," Gibbs said, "don't forget to eat breakfast."

"I won't," Tony replied, his mind drifting to how nice it felt to lie pressed against Gibbs in his bed at night, to have Gibbs wake him up on his way to work and give him a kiss, to feel Gibbs' arms secure around his back, to be completely surrounded by his warmth, and he sighed into the phone, closing his eyes with a little smile he would be completely embarrassed about if anyone were there to catch sight of it.

"See you in a couple hours," Gibbs said a moment later, and Tony grinned; Gibbs wasn't hanging up on him in his usual brisk manner, he was actually being courteous.

"I'll be waiting with bated breath," Tony teased in a breathy voice, because after all, a courteous Gibbs was one he couldn't let slide.

"Shove it, DiNozzo," Gibbs said gruffly, and Tony wasn't surprised to hear an abrupt dial tone at the end of his words, and he laughed and made his way over to the base for the phone on the wall, hanging it back up before heading to the kitchen cabinets. He'd told Gibbs he'd eat breakfast, after all, and he always kept his word.

He felt a lot better than he had the night before. He still felt embarrassed thinking about how he'd broken down, but he supposed he'd earned the right, and the doctor had told him that he'd be prone to mood swings. As he poured some cereal into a bowl, though, he knew that he would have to keep a better handle on himself, especially if he wanted to go back to work. He didn't want Gibbs thinking he was weak, or unable to deal with things.

And even if he did feel a little daunted by the prospect of living this new and inhibited life of taking medicine all the time and feeling dizzy and weak and unsure of what would happen to him, he knew he couldn't let on. He just couldn't afford to do that.

He shoved the milk back into the fridge after pouring some over his cereal, and grabbed a spoon and sat at Gibbs' kitchen table. He spared a few thoughts to his apartment; he should probably get a few more things to bring to Gibbs' house, or maybe call his landlord - and then he felt overwhelmingly confused because just how long was Gibbs planning on keeping him around? Was he going to become a permanent fixture in Gibbs' home, or was he just there until he started to gain some equilibrium and become more used to his new condition?

His rent was due next week, and his lease was up in two months. He didn't want to renew his lease if Gibbs wanted to keep him around, but he sure as hell didn't want to ask him about it and have Gibbs tell him he'd be going home as soon as he got his head on straight.

After all-it seemed strange to go from a few kisses to living together. But then, he and Gibbs weren't exactly conventional, and they never had been. He furrowed his brow as he crunched his cereal thoughtfully.

And what was he, anyway? Gibbs' housewife, sitting at home watching soap operas while Gibbs was out at work? He wrinkled his nose at the thought, and felt even more determined to get back on his feet as soon as possible so that he didn't become a burden to Gibbs.


Tony's plan of acting as normal as possible was going well. So far, he had taken a shower and dressed in jeans rather than sweatpants, and he was clean-shaven and nestled into the corner of Gibbs' couch, blanket wrapped around him as he fought to keep his eyes open for James Bond. After all, Gibbs would be home any minute, and he wanted to be awake and ready for him.

It was strange to be home alone in Gibbs' house, but perhaps only because he had never been so before. It wasn't uncomfortable, merely different, and he much preferred it when Gibbs was home. It seemed unusually quiet when it was just himself - it wasn't that Gibbs made a lot of noise, but usually he could hear him rustling around somewhere if they weren't in the same room, and without him it felt eerily silent even with the sounds of the movie filling the living room.

He perked up, though, when he heard the gravel of Gibbs' driveway crunch underneath fast-moving tires. Gibbs was home. He sat up a bit straighter and tried to look engaged in the movie, and as soon as he heard Gibbs open the door, he called out a hello.

"Hey," Gibbs replied, entering the house and tossing his keys on the coffee table. "How you doin?" he asked, approaching the couch and leaning down to look Tony over critically, eyes warm with concern.

"I'm good," Tony said with a smile that widened when Gibbs leaned close and kissed him, lips soft and dry, and Tony happily reached up and pulled him closer, enjoying the feel of Gibbs' short hair underneath his fingers. He parted his lips, tugging Gibbs closer still, and then Gibbs' tongue was pressing against his own, and Tony sighed into the kiss, shifting a bit to get a better angle. Tony had always considered himself a damn good kisser - but if he'd known what a good kisser Gibbs was, he would've done this ages ago. The thought only led him to think about how good Gibbs must be at other things, and he grinned into the kiss.

Gibbs pulled away and put his hands on either side of Tony's face, looking at him searchingly. Tony knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he didn't really care, especially not when Gibbs' eyes crinkled up in the corner and he ducked his head and grinned. When he turned back to look at Tony, his eyes were still dancing in amusement and it looked like he was trying hard not to show it, and Tony was amazed that he could make Gibbs look like that, because that was one of the few times he'd ever seen Gibbs look that happy.

"You hungry?" Gibbs asked after a pause, voice soft, eyes peering into Tony's as he stroked his fingers along Tony's temple.

"Mmm," Tony said. "Wanna have lunch?"

"Yeah," Gibbs replied. "Only have an hour," he added, looking regretful.

"That's okay," Tony said, tossing the blanket aside and pushing himself up. When he felt dizziness cloud his brain, he was grateful for Gibbs' arms reaching out to wrap around him in a solid embrace. He liked that idea, that he could pretend Gibbs was merely hugging him rather than keeping him from tipping over, and he wrapped his own arms around Gibbs in appreciation and closed his eyes, pressing his face into Gibbs' neck.

"What'd you do today?" Gibbs asked, his voice so close Tony could feel the short hairs on the back of his head rustle as Gibbs' words ghosted over them.

Tony smiled. "Oh, you know, the usual," he said, "thought I should act like I really belong here so I built a boat, got a lot of sanding done, did some yard work."

Gibbs gave a snort of laughter and very gently patted the back of Tony's head. Tony wondered if he'd ever get a real headslap again. "Don't have to act like you belong here, DiNozzo. You do," Gibbs said. "And I'm not an idiot. What'd you really do?"

Tony smiled into Gibbs' neck, surprised at how tactile Gibbs was at home. It was pleasant and a bit of a shock to find out how Gibbs was as a -well, whatever he was now; Boyfriend? Partner? Lover? (Tony couldn't imagine Gibbs approving of any of those terms) - and it made him wonder why the hell anyone would ever divorce him. But, then again, Tony was a lot more accustomed to Gibbs' many questionable traits than his many ex-wives probably were, and Tony knew damn well what a bastard Gibbs was most of the time; hell, when Gibbs was being nice, Tony automatically assumed something catastrophic had happened.

"Didn't do much," Tony finally said. "Took a shower, had some quality 007 time."

"Well come on, let's eat lunch," Gibbs said, pulling out of their hug and patting him on the cheek. Tony gave him an annoyed look and pulled his face away, and Gibbs merely laughed, heading towards the kitchen. Tony followed, fighting against the smile that wanted to surface as he walked behind Gibbs.

Gibbs got there before him and turned to watch him, and Tony felt self-conscious for a moment about how slow he was walking, so he made a point to walk faster and stopped next to Gibbs, studiously not thinking about the rubbery feeling in his legs.

"Go sit," Gibbs said. "I'll get this."

"It's okay," Tony said. "I can help."

Gibbs was looking at him so closely that Tony fought against all of his instincts that were screaming, "look away!" and kept his gaze on Gibbs. Finally, Gibbs nodded and opened the fridge, passing a couple of cartons to Tony. Tony took them and set them on the counter before grabbing some plates out of Gibbs' cabinets.

He was surprised when Gibbs came up behind him and wrapped his arms around his waist, tucking his shoulder on Tony's chin and holding him flush against his body. Tony smiled, his hands still on the counter, and thought how domestic this was - and also how amazing Gibbs' body felt pressed against his own, and he shivered when Gibbs pressed a kiss into the spot right behind his jawline and underneath his ear that always drove him crazy - how did Gibbs know that already?

And then Gibbs let him go, and Tony scowled at him when he went over to the coffee pot with a smile and started making a new pot. Tony was not surprised to discover that Gibbs could be a bit of a tease.

He scooped food onto their plates, keeping one hand on the counter for balance when he could. He felt more unbalanced than he would like to admit, but he stubbornly ignored that feeling and focused instead on what he was doing. Gibbs came and stood next to him, grabbing the plastic wrap and covering the plates when Tony was finished. He put Tony's in the microwave first, and shooed Tony in the direction of the table.

Tony smiled at him but didn't move for a moment, internally assessing the short distance from where he stood at the kitchen counter to the table - ten steps, maybe? With a sigh, he set off, hoping he didn't look as wobbly as he felt, and he was grateful to sit when he got to the table. Gibbs followed and stood behind his chair, resting his hands on Tony's shoulders. Tony automatically tilted his head back to look up at him, and Gibbs gave him a smile and nudged his head back into place, much to Tony's confusion.

And then, Tony's confusion turned to pleasure as Gibbs began to knead his hands into his shoulders and Tony let his eyes slip closed as Gibbs' hands started to work kinks out of them that he hadn't even known were there. He felt his shoulders droop down and he wondered what he'd done to deserve Gibbs, because he was pretty sure it must've been something worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. Gibbs was just as earnest and single-minded and focused at home as he was at work, only in a caring, almost gentle way that Tony wouldn't believe if he didn't experience it firsthand.

He wondered what his coworkers would think; he didn't so much care whether or not they would approve of whatever was going on between him and Gibbs because Gibbs made him way too happy for that. Instead, he wondered if they would ever believe how thoughtful and caring Gibbs was; he still wasn't quite sure he could believe it himself.

"I'm gonna bring your cane down," Gibbs said, voice soft, and Tony frowned and he felt his shoulders hunch upwards at the unwelcome suggestion, but Gibbs easily used his hands to push them back down. "Relax," Gibbs said. "Doesn't mean you have to use it."

"I don't want it," Tony said, well aware that he sounded like a petulant five year old, thrown off by Gibbs' words. The unpleasant thought of using his cane was made even more unpleasant when put in juxtaposition with the feel of Gibbs' hands, warm on his shoulders.

"Too bad," Gibbs said, and again, Gibbs did not surprise Tony; the man was an interrogation master, after all, and Tony was almost relieved that he would use a few underhanded tactics to get what he wanted at home, too, otherwise he wouldn't be sure this man was actually Gibbs. And Tony thought that maybe a massage was one underhanded tactic that he could get used to, especially because it left him so relaxed and eager for more that he was quite sure he would agree to any number of questionable ideas if Gibbs would just keep his hands moving.

"I'm not gonna use it," Tony warned after a moment, giving a soft "mmm" of pleasure when Gibbs' thumbs pressed hard into a knot between his shoulders. "Feels good," he couldn't help but say, his words more a sigh than anything else.

"I'd feel better knowing it was there in case you need it," Gibbs said, and Tony frowned. He couldn't argue with that, not when Gibbs was being all earnest and worried, and especially not when Gibbs' hands were making his shoulders melt into submission.

The microwave beeped, and Gibbs gave one last squeeze and leaned down to press a kiss into the space between Tony's neck and shoulder, and then one more right beneath his ear, and Tony watched him walk away, eyes trailing over his shoulders, his back, his arms, everything, and he let his mind drift over what else Gibbs' hands could do, and he bit his lip, his stomach giving a pleasant twist in anticipation.

"Here," Gibbs said, dropping a plate in front of Tony before going back and putting his own plate in the microwave. He grabbed a fork and gave that to Tony, too, and Tony carefully pulled the plastic wrap off of his plate, pulling his hands away to avoid the trapped steam that came rushing out as soon as he pulled off the covering.

"Got a case?" Tony asked, watching Gibbs pour himself coffee.

"No," Gibbs said. "Coffee?"

"Okay," Tony said, and he smiled as he watched Gibbs prepare it just the way he liked it.

"It'll be good to have you back at work when you're ready," Gibbs said.

Tony's smile widened. "Do you miss me?" he asked. "It must be hard with no one there to lighten the mood. Ziva and McGee can get all snippy and boring, you know. Somebody's gotta keep them in check. I bet McGee's ego is through the roof without me there, right? And everyone's probably way too serious all the time. And-"

"Only difference is," Gibbs interrupted, and he sounded pissy as he set Tony's coffee down in front of him, "everyone's actually getting their work done. On time."

Tony frowned, and Gibbs glanced over at him with a roll of his eyes. "Hey," Gibbs said, "it's not the same without you," he added, and Tony felt some of his frown slip away as he realized that Gibbs had been teasing him (at least partly). After all, what did he really expect Gibbs to say? That NCIS stopped running because Tony wasn't there? That the team disintegrated and simply couldn't go on?

"Abby has some stupid fake Tony made out of a mop in her lab," Gibbs said, pulling his plate out of the microwave as Tony started eating his own lunch. "Talks to it, too."

"Really?" Tony asked, wrinkling his nose when he burnt his tongue on his hot food.

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "Don't know what she expects it to say back."

"I don't think I want to know," Tony said.

Gibbs grinned, coming around to sit next to Tony at the table.

"McGee and Ziva asked about you about a hundred times already today," Gibbs continued. "I had to tell 'em I'd fire their asses if they asked again."

"How sweet," Tony said, giving Gibbs a wide grin.

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Don't get a big head, DiNozzo," he warned, already shoveling food into his mouth.

"Wouldn't dream of it, Boss," Tony said.


Tony sighed and stretched out languidly on the couch as he woke up some time later, feeling Gibbs' hands on his body, and he leaned into the touch as he sluggishly opened his eyes to gaze at Gibbs. He was surprised to see that it was already getting dark out, and Gibbs' features were shadowy where he sat on the edge of the couch.

"Time's it?" Tony asked tiredly, reaching out and resting a hand on Gibbs' thigh.

"'Bout 1930," Gibbs said, looking at him in concern.

"You just get home?" Tony asked.

Gibbs shook his head, keeping a hand on Tony's shoulder and running his thumb back and forth over his collarbone. "Been home for about an hour and a half," he said.

Tony's eyebrows shot up in surprise; he hadn't woken up?

"How long've you been sleeping?" Gibbs asked.

"Don't know," Tony said, words cut off by a yawn that he couldn't be bothered to cover with a hand. "Think I fell asleep around three or four," he added.

"I made dinner," Gibbs said. "Come eat."

"Okay," Tony said, "Why didn't you wake me up earlier?"

"Figured you'd wake up when you were ready," Gibbs said with a shrug, still running his thumb over Tony's collarbone and looking at him with concern that easily shone through his normally closed off features, even in the dusky light of the setting sun.

Tony sighed and ran a tired hand over his face before bracing himself against the couch and working his way up to a sitting position. Gibbs shifted a bit to give him room, and Tony swung his legs over the side of the couch and sat on the edge for a moment, letting Gibbs slide his arm around his waist and hold onto him.

"You're warm," Tony murmured, dropping his head onto Gibbs' shoulder with a sigh. Gibbs kissed his forehead and laced their fingers together.

"C'mon," he said. "Dinner's getting cold."

"What'd you make?" Tony asked, most of his brain still foggy with sleep.

"Spaghetti," Gibbs said. "Out of a box. With sauce out of a jar."

"My favorite," Tony said with a smile.

"Salad, too," Gibbs said. "Out of a bag."

"Perfect," Tony said, and Gibbs squeezed his waist for a moment before letting go and standing up, leaving Tony to brace the side of the couch for a moment when his equilibrium seemed to walk away with Gibbs. He sighed and stood up, knowing there was no use in putting off the inevitable, and eagerly grabbed onto Gibbs when he stepped close and reached out to steady him.

"Aren't my steroids supposed to make this go away?" Tony asked miserably, too tired to follow through with his plan of pretending that he was just fine; he thought maybe he had to adjust a few of its finer points, anyway.

"Doctor said you'll have bad days and good days," Gibbs said.

"Since when do you listen to what doctors say?" Tony asked, looking at him skeptically.

"When it's about you I do," Gibbs said, and before Tony realized what he was doing, Gibbs was pushing the cane into his hands, and Tony frowned, leaning heavily on it when Gibbs stepped away from him.

"I don't want this thing," Tony said, looking at Gibbs and hoping he didn't look as betrayed as he felt.

"I know," Gibbs said, and Tony felt his frown grow at the sympathy in Gibbs' voice.

"So why-"

"You need it," Gibbs said, and his tone left no room for argument, but Tony couldn't help but push.

"I don't need it," Tony said, ignoring the way his knuckles were clenched white around the handle.

"No?" Gibbs said. "So if you let go of it right now, you'd be just fine, and you could walk to the kitchen with no trouble?"

"Yes," Tony said adamantly.

"Then go ahead," Gibbs said, gesturing ahead of him. "Dinner's waiting."

Tony glared at him, wondering why Gibbs had to be so-so Gibbs, and let go of the cane, thanking whatever God might have been listening that he didn't fall flat on his face, and he carefully stepped forward, giving Gibbs a haughty look as he passed him, but then he stopped abruptly and reflexively reached out, breath hitching nervously when it felt like the floor was swimming up to meet him. Before he could really panic, though, Gibbs was standing behind him, arms circled around his chest, holding him tight.

"I hate you," Tony said, even as he leaned back against Gibbs' body and felt the adrenaline of almost falling leave him and relief swim over him in its place.

Gibbs tightened his arms and kissed the side of Tony's face.

"It doesn't make you weak," Gibbs said, his voice soft. "It just means you're strong enough to admit you could use the help."

"I don't feel very strong," Tony admitted, bowing his head, knowing Gibbs was right, damn him, but not liking it very much.

"I know," Gibbs said. "But you really think you'd look stronger stumbling around, tripping over your own two feet, and falling flat on your face than you would just walking normally with a cane?"

"You have such a way with words," Tony said with a weak smile, even though he knew Gibbs couldn't see his face from behind him.

"I don't sugarcoat, Tony; you should know that by now," Gibbs said, and despite the harshness of his earlier statement, his voice was soft and almost gentle.

"I know," Tony said, serious again, and he turned himself around in Gibbs' arms, grateful that Gibbs kept a loose hold on him the whole time. Tony looked at him for a moment and hesitated, then brought a hand up to the back of Gibbs' head and leaned forward to kiss him. It was a short kiss, but heartfelt, and as he pulled away he looked at Gibbs hesitantly, feeling embarrassed because it was one of the first kisses he'd initiated.

Gibbs smiled at him, though, really smiled, and Tony sighed and leaned forward to hug him, feeling like the worst kind of idiot in the world because as usual, Gibbs was right, and he should've just used the ugly cane from the start.

"Do you think I'm stupid?" Tony asked after a pause, half-serious.

Gibbs gave a snort of surprised laughter. "No," he said. "But sometimes I think you forget there's a brain in there," he added, tapping the side of Tony's head.

"Good thing I have you to remind me," Tony said, and when Gibbs pulled away from him, grabbed the cane, and shoved it back into his hands, he took it with a self-conscious smile and made his way to the kitchen.

"You think anyone makes designer canes?" Tony asked, eager to get paste the strange intimacy of the moment before as he sat down at the table and looked at the cane critically. "Imagine a Zegna cane? I mean, I guess there's probably not a big market for them. But damn-"

"DiNozzo," Gibbs said, looking at him in exasperation.

"Sorry, Boss. Sears cane is fine," he said, giving him a bright smile.

"That cane is not from Sears," Gibbs said with a roll of his eyes, scooping some pasta onto his plate.

"But you'd buy one there if you could, right?" Tony said, taking the pasta from Gibbs when he passed it to him.

Gibbs didn't dignify that with a response, merely gave Tony an annoyed look as he reached for the sauce, and Tony smiled. Even if Gibbs was an irritable bastard a lot of the time, Tony was grateful for him, and he thought maybe he could get through this with Gibbs' support - even if he would do his best not to need it.

Chapter Text

After four days at home, doing his best not to crawl out of his own skin, Tony was more than ready to go back to work. And so, Monday morning found him sitting beside Gibbs in the car, cane shoved into the backseat, as they pulled into the NCIS parking garage.

"You're sure about this?" Gibbs asked for what felt like the hundredth time.

"Yes," Tony said, leaving no room for argument.

Gibbs nodded, looking him over carefully as he turned his car off. "You start feeling-"

"I know," Tony interrupted. "I feel bad for one second and I tell you and take a break."

Gibbs sighed, running a hand through his hair. "You sure you have-"

"Yes," Tony said. "I have all of my pills in my backpack, along with extra bottles of water. My cane is in the backseat. I'll bring it inside with me. I'll use it. I know where there are HazMat suits if I need one of those, too. Think I'll need flame retardant gloves?"

"DiNozzo," Gibbs warned, glaring at him.

"Gibbs, we've been over this a million times. I'm ready," Tony said. He couldn't help but think that Gibbs was more worried about his return than he was.

"It's gonna be different," Gibbs said. "You know that, right?"

"Yeah, I think I got that part when the Director told me I'm on modified desk duty," Tony said, thinking not-too-fondly of the phone conversation he'd had with the director over the weekend. Director Vance had been sympathetic and professional, and Tony really couldn't hope for much more than that - but the whole conversation was yet one more thing that served to make the entire situation a little more real. And now, sitting in the parking lot with Gibbs, about to go inside with a cane and sit behind a desk - well, that was about as real as things would get.

"That's not the only thing that's gonna be different," Gibbs said, looking at him carefully. "You know we can't act like anything's changed between us because at work, it hasn't."

Tony nodded, face determined. "I know, Boss," he said. Their jobs were too important to both of them to let whatever was going on between them get in the way, because even though Tony had just spent four blissful albeit boring and tiring and strange days at home with Gibbs, it didn't mean he thought they would go into work and start making out in the bull pen. It just didn't work that way.

"Let's go," Gibbs said as he unhooked his seatbelt and climbed out of the car. Tony followed suit, swinging his backpack over his shoulder and grabbing his cane out of the backseat.

"You know, I'm really doing well today," Tony said. "I don't think I need this-"

Gibbs glared at him, effectively cutting off his train of thought, and Tony gave a weak smile and resigned himself to using the cane. "Right, Boss. I'll just shut up and use this stupid thing," he said. He wasn't lying when he told Gibbs he was doing well; the doctor had said he'd have good days and bad days, and this was definitely a good day. His dizziness was minimal, he didn't feel like he was about to collapse, and he had no trace of a headache. Gibbs, however, seemed to think that he should use the cane anyway, just in case. Tony wasn't willing to let the excitement of returning to work get ruined by an argument, so he just agreed with Gibbs and used the cane.

"Hey, Tony, long time no see!"

Tony grinned at the guard as they went through the metal detectors on their way into the building. "Hey, Paul," he said. "You need to take this separately?" he asked, waving his cane in front of him.

"Yeah, probably should, if you can manage without it," Paul said. "You get hurt?" he asked, taking the cane from Tony as he walked through the detectors without it.

"Nah," Tony said. "Just a new addition," he added with a shrug, ignoring the way Gibbs watched the interaction as he took the cane back from Paul with a nod. He hoped that Gibbs noticed how he walked through the metal detector with ease and not a hint of wobbling.

"We'll have to catch up later, man," Paul said, giving him a wave as Tony followed Gibbs down the hallway towards the elevators. Tony felt a little self-conscious to be walking around with a cane, and was surprised to see that more people weren't staring at him. After all, most people at NCIS knew him - whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, he had yet to determine since many of those who "knew him" were disgruntled females - but he wasn't sure how much people knew about what was going on with him, and he was no stranger to office gossip.

But then, he turned and glanced at Gibbs, and managed to school his expression before he earned himself a headslap by laughing. Gibbs was scowling threateningly at everyone who looked like they even thought about glancing in their direction, and Tony was relieved when he entered the elevator alone with Gibbs.

"You don't have to growl and scare everyone off," Tony said once the doors closed.

"I don't growl," Gibbs said, and his voice was so low and threatening that Tony tilted his head to the side with a skeptical frown and a thoughtful shrug of his shoulders.

"Well," he said, "I'm pretty sure you just did."

Gibbs rolled his eyes and gave Tony a look of warning as the elevator doors dinged open on the floor of the bullpen. The overabundance of both the color orange and impersonal cubicles was strangely comforting to Tony, and he felt a grin stretch across his face as he followed Gibbs out of the elevator towards his desk. He smiled at the few agents who waved at him on his way; he always knew Rayburn was a brave man, and he'd just proved it by waving at Tony despite the threatening glare Gibbs sent his way.


Routines were a comforting thing, and Tony smiled as Abby bounded over to him, just as he'd expected, knocking his cane aside in the process and grabbing him in a tight hug as soon as he stood next to his desk.

"Hey Abs," Tony said, squeezing her tight and ignoring the way her hair tickled his nostril.

"I'm so glad you're back!" Abby said as she pulled away from him, and Tony tweaked a pigtail as he tossed his backpack behind his desk.

"Forgetting something, DiNozzo?" Gibbs said with a dangerously edgy voice as he held Tony's cane out in front of him.

"Oh, right," Tony said. "How could I forget that shining beauty?"

Gibbs narrowed his eyes and pushed the cane closer, and Tony sighed and took it from him with an obviously faked smile. When Gibbs reached out and smacked the back of his head, Tony couldn't help but grin, especially when Abby smacked Gibbs' arm in retaliation.

"Be gentle with him, Gibbs!" Abby said.

Gibbs gave Abby a look of disbelief and shook his head before retreating to his desk as McGee came rushing in with a tray of coffee, yet another common everyday workplace occurrence that felt more comforting and reassuring than Tony could have imagined.

"Hey, Tony," McGee said. He sounded preoccupied, and he absently held out a cup to Tony as he made his way to his desk.

"Hey, Probie," Tony said, taking the cup from him. "Don't sound too excited for my triumphant return or anything."

McGee spared him a moment's glance before turning back to his computer. "Oh, yeah," he said. "Welcome back." He furrowed his brow and stared at his computer with interest, and Tony did his best not to look like he expected more attention.

"McGee's computer is acting up," Abby said in a stage whisper. "It's his biggest crisis since….well, I don't know when, but he's kind of freaking out."

"Like that time with the-"

"Worse," Abby said, grinning when McGee looked up in annoyance.

"That time with the what?" McGee asked.

"If you don't know, well, it's not our place to tell you, Probie," Tony said haughtily, making his way to his desk chair just as Ziva entered the bullpen.

"Gibbs," she said, "I just saw the director on my way inside the building and he wishes to see you."

"Couldn't tell me himself?" Gibbs asked grumpily, clutching his coffee as he stood up, pausing to give Tony a critical once-over before nodding and making his way up the stairs.

"This is a nice touch," Tony said to Abby, gesturing towards the red and black "Welcome Back" sign Abby had taped to the front of his computer.

"I knew you would love it!" Abby said happily. "Open your desk drawer!"

As Tony reached for his top drawer, Ziva crossed over to his desk and looked on in interest.

"Should I be scared?" Tony asked, hand resting on the handle.

Ziva laughed. "Perhaps Abby's surprise will make you wish you used more time to rest before your return," she said.

"Ziva!" Abby protested. "Tony will love it!"

"Got it!" McGee interrupted, staring at his computer screen triumphantly. Tony spared him an annoyed glance, and then turned back to his desk. He looked at Abby, then at the drawer, then at Abby again, who was bouncing on the balls of her feet.

"Come on, Tony!" she said.

Tony grinned and tugged the drawer open, knowing that with Abby behind this, the contents could very well be anything.

"Chocolate!" Tony exclaimed. "And…and skulls?"

"They're candy skulls!" Abby said. "They're really good! Well, I mean, not those little ones, because those are confetti - I had them all over everything after I put them in your drawer…maybe that wasn't such a good idea, because now they'll probably be all over your things…" she paused for a moment, looking regretful as she peered at the tiny red and black confetti skulls in Tony's drawer, glittering amongst the truffles and miniature chocolate bars and candy skulls she had filled it with, but then she brightened. "But the candy skulls are great!"

"Thanks, Abs," Tony said, grinning at her and pushing his drawer closed, brushing a tiny stray red skull off his hand. "Those'll come in handy."

"Of course!" Abby said. "And don't forget to share! But maybe not with McGee; he's really been grouchy this morning."

"You would have been, too, if your-"

"McGee," Tony said, "Spare us the geek speak."

McGee harrumphed and turned back to his computer.

"Tony, it is good to have you back," Ziva said with a smile.

"You better not just be saying that for my skulls," Tony warned.

"For your what?" Gibbs interrupted. Tony wasn't even surprised at how easily he'd snuck up on them; he was used to Gibbs materializing out of nowhere. It was just something about Gibbs that wasn't worth questioning.

"My skulls," Tony said. "See?" He pulled his drawer open to show Gibbs, and Gibbs just shook his head and made his way back to his desk.

"Don't you people have work to do, or do you just come to the Navy Yard to socialize?" Gibbs asked as he turned to his computer.

Abby giggled. "That's my cue to leave. Come visit me, Tony!" she said as she made her way to the elevator.

Tony grinned as he opened his inbox, not even sparing a grimace for the 197 emails he had waiting for him. It was good to be back.


"We got a dead Marine," Gibbs said, hanging up his phone and glancing at the team. Ziva and McGee instantly shot out of their seats, holstered their guns, and clipped on their badges.

"Gas the truck," Gibbs said, tossing the keys at McGee.

"On it, Boss," McGee said.

Tony watched, feeling unsure about what to do. Gibbs and the Director had decided, after having a long discussion with Tony's doctor, that they would "play it by ear" when the team got cases. If Tony was having a "good day," as determined by Gibbs and Tony, he could accompany the team to a secure crime scene. If he was having a "bad day," however, he would stay at NCIS. Either way, a weapon was no longer an option because of how inaccurate a shot he would be if his balance wasn't quite right or his eyesight faltered, something that Tony did his best not to think about.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs said, standing over his desk and looking at him critically. "You take your meds?"

"Yes," Tony said, doing his best not to glare. "Of course I did!"

Gibbs looked torn for a moment, and Tony sat up a little straighter and tried to look as serious and determined as possible.

"Fine," Gibbs said. "Grab your gear."

Tony grinned and instinctively went for the drawer where his gun would be, but then frowned, pulling his hand back and grabbing his jacket and backpack instead, swinging them on and grabbing his cane when Gibbs looked at it pointedly.

He grinned the whole way to the elevator, even when Gibbs glared at him for carrying his cane alongside him rather than using it to help him walk, studiously not thinking about the lack of a holster on his hip.


Forty-five minutes into their crime scene evaluation, Tony's grin was beginning to falter. Gibbs was having him take pictures, but Ziva was also taking pictures while McGee bagged and tagged, and Gibbs kept watching him like he expected him to keel over and join the dead petty officer on the floor any second. He'd left his cane outside the door of the apartment because it could interfere with evidence, and he just knew that it was killing Gibbs that he wasn't using it, but he was doing just fine. It was easier to leave it outside than it was to worry about everywhere he set it down, anyway.

The team seemed to have settled into a routine that did not involve Tony. The work was easily split between Gibbs, Ziva, and McGee, and Tony couldn't help but wonder if they needed him at all, or if they were just sort of humoring the diseased guy. He frowned as he continued doing his job, hoping the ache building in his shoulders would go away soon.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs suddenly said, and Tony looked up from where he was taking pictures of the dead Marine's personal effects on his nightstand.

"With me," Gibbs said.

"On it, Boss," Tony said, shrugging his camera off and putting it with the team's gear before following Gibbs out the door of the apartment, grabbing his cane on the way out.

The dead petty officer, Jay Wilson, lived in an old apartment building in Georgetown. Tony had passed by the building several times before and wondered what it was like on the inside; it was an old brick building, but the trim around the windows and doorway was painted with peeling yellow paint, and Tony always thought it was rather strange. The inside of the building didn't disappoint; every door was painted a different color, and the tenants seemed to consist of mostly peculiar artistic types. Wilson was no exception, and it was strange to see Gibbs standing next to a bright lime green door, the color reflecting oddly on Gibbs' skin.

"Doin' okay?" Gibbs asked once they were in the hallway.

"Yeah," Tony said. "I'm fine."

Gibbs looked annoyed. "Fine?" he asked.

"Yeah," Tony said.

"DiNozzo, you need to tell me exactly how you feel if you're going to come to crime scenes," Gibbs said.

Tony bit his lip and felt his heart clench at the obvious worry in Gibbs' tone, and he suddenly realized that he had become both a distraction and a burden. He wondered if that was why Gibbs made Rule 12; was he jeopardizing Gibbs' focus? It could be because it was only his first day back, but it didn't sit right with him for Gibbs to be taking him out in the hall to ask him how he felt.

"Tony," Gibbs said, voice a little softer this time. "We need you here, part of the team. But you need to be honest."

"I really am fine," Tony said. "My shoulders are stiff. That's really it."

Gibbs looked at him critically. "You tired?" he asked.

"A little," Tony said with a shrug. "But it's that time of day, isn't it?"

"It's eleven AM," Gibbs said.

"Yeah," Tony said. "That time before lunch when you get tired and hungry."

"You hungry?" Gibbs asked.

"Not particularly," Tony said with a shrug.

Gibbs sighed. "Tony-"

"I'd tell you if I couldn't handle this," Tony interrupted. "So quit staring at me and let me do my job, okay?"

Gibbs glared at him. "If I see you so much as twitch wrong, I'm sending you back."

Tony nodded. "Got it, Boss," he said.

Gibbs gave him one last assessing, skeptical look before gesturing towards the apartment door. "Go on," he said in resignation, and Tony smiled at him and went back in, leaving his cane outside again.

"Ah, Tony," Ducky said, looking up from the body on the floor as Tony crossed the threshold. "Could you hand me a bag, please? Mr. Palmer has returned to the truck for a moment and I don't want to drop this," he said, holding up a few strands of hair in a pair of tweezers. "They were lying across Mr. Wilson's cheek, and do not appear to be his, unless he is growing long blond hair somewhere on his person that we cannot see."

Tony grabbed a bag and dutifully held it open in front of Ducky, who dropped the hairs inside. "Thank you, Tony," he said. "I do appreciate it. And I'm not sure I've told you this, but I'm so glad to have you back with us."

"Thanks, Ducky," Tony said, grabbing his camera from the corner where he'd left it. "It's good to be back."

"I bet," Ducky said. "And you seem to be doing quite well on top of that."

Tony shrugged. "Yeah, I guess so," he said, fiddling with the lens on his camera for a moment, trying to focus on how lucky he was to be back at work at a crime scene, and not on the absence of a gun at his hip, or how he was not allowed to go to a suspect's house to interview them, or how as soon as he got back to NCIS, he'd be behind his desk again, or how Gibbs felt the need to take him into the hall after staring at him all morning just to make sure he was doing okay.

The rest of their time at the crime scene went by fairly quickly, and Tony made jokes when they seemed appropriate and sometimes when they didn't, and smiled when he was meant to and took all the right pictures. But when Gibbs came by and told him they were going back to base to get some phone records and financials, he was surprised to feel relieved.

Part of it was because of the stiffness in his shoulders that hadn't receded, and the general fatigue that had started to settle over him, but an even bigger part of it was due to the strange not-quite-right feeling about working a crime scene with no gun. It seemed like such a small thing to be worried about, but to Tony, it was huge. He'd been carrying a gun at work for nearly fifteen years, and the sudden absence of it made him feel even more vulnerable than he already did. And on top of that, he felt like he wasn't needed, and it was such a strange and unusual reaction that rather than feeling annoyed to be taken back to his desk, he dropped into the passenger seat of Gibbs' car with a thankful sigh, watching the cracked yellow paint on the building fade into the distance as Gibbs sped away.

"You need a break when we get back?" Gibbs asked, eyes on the road straight ahead.

Tony turned to look at him, taking in the little wrinkles around his eyes and the creases on his forehead. He blinked a few times, clearing his eyes of moisture that came up so suddenly and unexpectedly that he almost - almost - didn't get a handle on it fast enough. "Maybe," Tony said, surprised at how gruff his voice was.

Gibbs spared him a quick but attentive glance before turning back to the road. "Maybe?" Gibbs asked.

Tony shrugged, even though he knew Gibbs couldn't see him. He couldn't stop staring at him, at his shoulders, his hands, his hair, his fucking ears - because even though it was something he'd known on an intellectual level for years, it was suddenly really hitting him just how important Gibbs was to him, how Gibbs had helped him re-define himself when he moved to DC, how Gibbs had made him want to do his best and be a damn good federal agent, just like him, how Gibbs had taken care of him along the way, how Gibbs held him up when he wasn't sure he could do it for himself-

"Something on my face, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, interrupting Tony's ruminations. He sounded annoyed, and Tony felt a small smile cross his face before he turned back to the road in front of them.

"No," Tony said, "you're good." He leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes, letting the early afternoon sun warm his face as Gibbs sped down the road.


By the end of the day, Tony had slept for a couple hours on Abby's couch, and he was relying more on his cane than he would've liked to admit. He had found some good patterns in the dead petty officer's phone records that helped lead the team to their prime suspect, and that had helped him feel a little less like an unnecessary extra guy following everyone around.

The rest of the team was out nabbing the suspect, and Tony was left behind, covering a yawn with his hand and absently clicking through a solitaire game on his computer. That was okay with him, though, because he was pretty tired, even after taking a nap, and it was approaching 1900 hours and he still hadn't eaten dinner; he was beginning to be seriously grateful for the candy Abby had left in his drawer.

He hated to admit it, but sitting at work all day was vastly different than sitting on a couch all day. While he was having a good day as far as his symptoms went, he'd done much more in just that day than he'd done in almost a week, and he didn't know how he would've managed if it had been a bad day. Already, he was beginning to feel the familiar "bad day" feelings - his dizziness was starting to come back, and he felt a general weariness that he couldn't really blame on a busy day.

He jumped in surprise and looked around in confusion when a bag was dropped on his desk.


"Thanks, Boss," Tony said, watching as Gibbs ignored his response and stalked over to his desk. He saw Ziva and McGee manhandling a tall, thin man towards the interrogation rooms, and noticed that Gibbs had three bags sitting on his desk; he must have dinner for the whole team.

"You get Johnston?" Tony asked, opening his bag and pulling out a grinder wrapped in white paper.

"Yeah," Gibbs said shortly, rubbing a tired hand over his eyes before opening the bag with his dinner inside.

Tony wanted to ask more, to find out exactly what went down when they went to get him, find out if he'd put up a struggle, if he'd been where they thought he would be - but Gibbs seemed unusually closed off, and he didn't want to push things, so he ate his dinner quietly, watching as Ziva and McGee came back, taking their own bags to their desk.

"Tony, you would have enjoyed Johnston's house," Ziva said. "He had a Mustang, a Ferrari, and a Maserati Quattroporte in his three car garage."

"Really?" Tony asked, leaning forward in excitement. "What color were they? Did you get pictures of-"

"We didn't need pictures of the cars," Gibbs interrupted, his voice cold. "Wasn't relevant."

Tony frowned, wondering if he was being extra sensitive due to his fatigue, or if Gibbs seemed to be a little snappier with him than usual.

Ziva looked at Gibbs, then back at Tony. "The Maserati was black," she said after a moment, "and the other two were red."

"Typical," Tony said, doing his best not to watch Gibbs and see what kind of expression was on his face. He ate a few more bites of his sandwich and wrapped it back up in the paper before shoving it back in the bag; he wasn't really hungry anymore.

"You done, Tony?" McGee asked, glancing up from his computer. He looked worried, and so did Ziva. Gibbs, however, wasn't looking in his direction, and Tony frowned.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm not hungry. I'm gonna hit the head."

Tony pushed himself up from his desk, grabbing onto his cane when his head swam in dizziness. He wasn't so sure this day was falling into "good day" territory anymore, and he made his way to the bathroom a little slower than he would've liked. He wasn't sure why Gibbs was acting so distant. He knew that things would be different at work, but he didn't think it meant he would be ignored and dismissed and left out of important details of the case. He took care of his needs in the bathroom, and wasn't really surprised when the door swung open as he was washing his hands and Ziva entered.

"Are you sure you're all woman?" Tony asked. "Because you seem to spend an awful lot of time in the men's room."

"Of that, I am quite sure," Ziva said, wiggling her eyebrows and leaning against the bathroom counter. She pulled a paper towel out of the dispenser and handed it to Tony, who took it with a nod of thanks and dried his hands off.

"What are you doing here?" Tony asked, crushing his paper towel into a ball and tossing it into the garbage can.

"I wanted to see if you are doing alright," she said.

"I'm fine," Tony said.

"You seem to be leaning much more heavily on your cane than you were this morning," Ziva remarked.

"Yeah," Tony replied with a shrug. "It's been a long day. Do you really need to follow me into the head to ask me how I am?"

Ziva hesitated a moment, and then seemed to choose her words carefully. "Did something happen between you and Gibbs?"

"Huh?" Tony said, caught off guard by her question and wondering what exactly she meant; did she somehow know about their relationship?

"He has been very supportive of you this whole time," Ziva said, "and yet, today, he is acting rather strangely towards you, do you not think so?"

Tony felt his shoulders sag in relief. "Oh," he said, "yeah. You know Gibbs. He's grouchy a lot."

"Did you do something to annoy him?"

"No," Tony said, "but he'll probably be really annoyed at both of us if we don't get back out there soon."

"You are correct," Ziva said, "but Tony, if he is really that difficult to live with and you need a break from him, you may call me at any time."

Tony was caught off guard by the earnestness in her expression and the sincerity of her voice. "Thanks, Ziva," he said, and he meant it. "That's really nice of you."

"Do not tell anyone," Ziva warned, "or it will ruin my reputation."

Tony laughed. "You got it," he said. Ziva smirked at him and opened the door, and he made his way through and did his best not to walk too slowly as they went back to the bullpen. He couldn't help but wonder and worry about why Gibbs was acting so cold. Ziva was more observant than most people, but knowing that she noticed it, too, made him quite aware that he wasn't imagining Gibbs' attitude; it was real. He frowned as he sat behind his desk, leaving his cane close by so that he could grab it again if he had to stand up.

"If you two are done," Gibbs said, causing Tony to turn his head and look at him quizzically, "we've got an interrogation to do." He was looking between Tony and Ziva angrily, and Tony had to squash down the urge to ask him what the hell his problem was, and instead, nod at him and try to work up the strength to stand again.

One thing Tony noticed about his disease was that when he started feeling tired, he was tired. When he started feeling weak, he was weak. There was no in between. He sighed as he stood back up, bracing himself heavily against his desk, ignoring Gibbs' eyes on him because he wasn't quite sure he could take whatever was lurking in them.

"Can you handle this, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, and something about his tone was just off. He didn't sound friendly, or worried, but instead, cold and accusatory and annoyed, and Tony glared at him.

"I don't know, Boss," he spat, ignoring the way his hand shook in its grip on his cane. He had no idea what the hell was going on with Gibbs, but he didn't like it, and he knew from the way McGee and Ziva were standing nearby looking awkwardly between the two of them that they didn't like it, either.

He mentally scanned through the day's events, trying desperately to think of something he'd done, but he was coming up empty, and he looked at Gibbs in angry confusion, but Gibbs merely stared back, and just when Tony thought he might've seen something in his eyes soften, Gibbs turned on his heel and headed towards the interrogation rooms.

"Hurry up," Gibbs called impatiently over his shoulder.

"Are you okay, Tony?" McGee asked once Gibbs was out of sight.

"Yeah," Tony said. "I'm fine. Let's go." He headed towards interrogation, his mind swimming in circles; this was not right. He couldn't figure out what he'd done to make Gibbs act like this, and he was having trouble reconciling the Gibbs he saw at home with this Gibbs at work, especially because while Gibbs was oftentimes a bastard, it was usually not this bad, not unless they were dealing with a really extreme case, and they weren't.

"You two don't have to walk with me," Tony said to Ziva and McGee, who were walking on either side of him. "I know I'm slow."

"It is alright, Tony," Ziva said. "Sometimes it is nice not to rush around, no?"

Tony managed a weak smile, but he could feel all of his frustration boiling to the surface nonetheless and he knew that he was dangerously close to losing his temper.

When they got to the interrogation viewing room, Ziva held the door for him and McGee pulled out a chair.

"Do I really seem that pathetic?" Tony asked, dropping into the chair eagerly.

"No more than usual," Ziva said with a wink, laying a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. Tony managed a laugh at the levity Ziva's teasing brought, and McGee pulled out a chair and sat alongside him.

Gibbs was prowling around their suspect angrily, slamming his hands down on the table and yelling in his face. Tony frowned; Gibbs was like a wildcat. Something was up, and Tony wanted to know what it was.

"Do you know why he's being like this?" Tony finally asked, not daring to take his eyes off of Gibbs.

"I thought maybe you did something to piss him off," McGee said.

"Why me?" Tony asked, offended enough to look at McGee in annoyance.

"Well, he usually only gets this worked up when it's you," McGee reasoned with a shrug.

Tony frowned and narrowed his eyes, turning back to Gibbs as his brain continued to process his day.

"I can't think of anything," Tony finally admitted. "It's like all of the sudden, he's just pissed."

"I am not quite sure when it started," Ziva said. "He was more impatient than usual while we were out this evening to get Johnston, but now he seems much worse."

Tony sighed and rubbed his forehead wearily. "You think we'll be here a lot longer?" he asked, eager to go home because he was tired, but dreading it at the same time because Gibbs was acting so strangely.

"I do not know," Ziva said. She sounded sympathetic, and Tony frowned, holding his cane in front of him and resting his hands on top before leaning forward and placing his chin on top of his folded hands. He watched Gibbs thoughtfully, not bothering to pay attention to the interrogation, but trying to figure out what was going on with Gibbs instead.

Tony could feel a headache forming behind his eyes, but he ignored it and kept watching Gibbs, doing his best to focus but feeling his mind slip away nonetheless. He felt strangely alone, and he wanted Gibbs to come reassure him, but he knew that wasn't going to happen. He looked up in surprise when he heard the door to interrogation slam.

"And we got a confession," McGee said. "Thank God. Maybe we'll get to go home sometime soon."

Tony frowned; he'd been that zoned out that he'd missed it?

The door to the viewing room swung open, and Gibbs stood in the doorway, staring at Tony with an unreadable expression on his face.

"DiNozzo," he said, his voice deadly calm. "With me."

Tony was startled, and he staggered upwards, thankful when Ziva reached out and steadied him. Gibbs was watching him with a strangely blank expression on his face, and Tony made his way over to him self-consciously, being careful not to brush against him as he walked past him through the open door.

"We're going home," Gibbs said.

"We are?" Tony asked nervously. "Don't we have paper-"

"We'll do it tomorrow," Gibbs snapped, and Tony hobbled down the hall towards the bullpen. Gibbs went ahead and grabbed Tony's backpack and leftover dinner for him, and stopped at his own desk, and by the time Tony caught up, he was ready.

"Let's go," Gibbs said, heading towards the elevator and holding it open. Tony spared a nervous look at Ziva and McGee before heading in behind Gibbs.

Once in the elevator, Gibbs seemed to deflate. His shoulders drooped and he ran a hand over his face and looked everywhere but Tony.

"Gibbs?" Tony said cautiously, still annoyed that the man had been treating him so coldly, but worried and curious at the same time.

"Not here," Gibbs said shortly, stalking out of the elevator quickly as soon as it stopped on the level of the parking garage. Tony frowned and followed behind him, doing his best to keep up but failing.

"Wait right here," Gibbs said, stopping short and turning around.

"Okay," Tony said in confusion. He stayed where he was and watched with a furrowed brow as Gibbs jogged towards his car, got in, and sped around to pick Tony up.

Tony opened the door and hesitantly slid into the passenger seat, holding his cane up front with him as he closed the door. As soon as his seatbelt was buckled, Gibbs was driving away, and Tony swallowed nervously.

But then, he frowned, thinking of how unreasonable Gibbs was being, and he turned to him angrily, irritation easily overriding his concern.

"What the fuck is your problem?" Tony said, words coming out in a rush. "I know it can't be the same at work, but that doesn't mean you have to treat me like shit when I didn't do anything wrong!"

Gibbs didn't say anything, just stared straight ahead as he drove, his narrowed eyes focused on the road ahead of him.

"Aren't you gonna say anything?" Tony pressed, unsure if it was his medicine making him react like this or genuine frustration. "You're just gonna sit there and not say a fucking word? Why can't you just act like a normal fucking person for once in your life and-"

"Tony," Gibbs interrupted, and his voice was so quiet and so desperate that Tony immediately stopped ranting. Gibbs was still staring straight ahead, but something about his posture had changed, and his eyes seemed a little less Marine and a whole lot more desperate, and his hands were gripping the steering wheel a little too tightly, and Tony frowned. Gibbs was worrying him, but he still felt angry, and he couldn't stop himself from continuing.

"You know, you can't just do shit like this all the time," Tony warned. "Whatever's going on, you can't just take it out on me." He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his seat, turning to look out his window. He was tired, but he was all keyed up and angry at the same time, and he felt uncomfortably jittery.

When Gibbs didn't reply, Tony turned back to look at him, and he was alarmed to see Gibbs biting his lip as he drove, the expression on his face one Tony couldn't place. His eyes were a little wider than usual, but his brow was furrowed, and he was staring intently at the road.

"Did something happen?" Tony finally asked, still angry but curious more than anything else.

"Tony, just wait until we get home," Gibbs said, still not looking away from the road. He sounded so needy that Tony looked away with a frown, annoyed with himself that most of his anger was ebbing away to be replaced with concern.

The ride back to the house was tense after that, and Tony did his best not to keep staring at Gibbs, but he couldn't help it. He'd known Gibbs for a long time, and he'd never seen him quite like this. Granted, he'd been introduced to many new sides of Gibbs in the past few weeks that he'd never even dreamed could exist, but this was something else entirely. This Gibbs wasn't in control and strong and unbreakable. This Gibbs was something different, and Tony wasn't sure what to make of him, especially because he'd been expecting Gibbs to be there for him, to maybe understand how strange Tony felt without a gun, how strange it was to be back at work knowing that he would never, ever have the same duties he used to, how strange it was to feel like he was on the outside of the team, but Gibbs was acting like a kicked puppy that didn't know whether to hide in the corner or attack, and Tony didn't like it.

When they pulled into the driveway, Tony wearily got out of the car, ignoring the fact that Gibbs was halfway up the walk carrying all of their belongings before Tony even closed his door. He made his way in behind Gibbs, collapsing onto the couch as soon as he got inside, letting his head fall to the back of the couch and closing his eyes.

"Come tell me what your problem is," he called out, too relieved to be back on the couch to open his eyes. He heard Gibbs rustling around, but he couldn't be bothered to care what he was doing.

When he felt the couch dip beside him, he lifted his head up and opened his eyes, turning towards Gibbs expectantly.

He frowned when he saw Gibbs holding out a glass of water and some ibuprofen. "You have a headache?" Gibbs asked. He sounded strangely hesitant.

"Yeah, a little," Tony said, confused by Gibbs' behavior.

"Here," Gibbs said, holding the ibuprofen closer to Tony.

"Thanks," Tony said cautiously, taking the two pills and tossing them into his mouth before taking a sip of water to swallow them with.

"I'm sorry," Gibbs said after a moment of uncomfortable silence, his words uncharacteristically soft and rushed.

Tony tried not to let his shock show, and he carefully set the glass of water Gibbs had given him down on the coffee table.

"I was being an ass," Gibbs continued.

"I thought you had a rule against apologizing," Tony said, examining the nails of his right hand rather than looking at Gibbs.

Gibbs sighed. "I do," he said. "But that doesn't count in situations like these."

"Situations like what?" Tony asked, looking up at him sharply. "You still haven't told me what the fuck your problem is!"

Gibbs didn't say anything for a moment, and Tony could tell he was choosing his words carefully. "I always fuck things up," Gibbs finally said, his shoulders sloping downwards. His eyes were trained on his knees, and Tony watched him in confusion, because that had certainly not been what he'd expected him to say.

"I was really happy you were coming back to work," Gibbs continued. "Really happy. I know I don't say it a lot, but you're the best damn agent I ever worked with." Tony felt his heart begin to beat faster, because this conversation was much more intense than he'd thought it was going to be, and he couldn't quite figure out where Gibbs was going with this. And he hated the way all of his anger was flooding out of him at Gibbs' strange behavior.

"It was really good to have you at a crime scene again," Gibbs said. "But I couldn't stop worrying about you."

"At the crime scene?" Tony interrupted. "It was a secure apartment, and we were the only ones there!"

"I know," Gibbs said, finally turning to look at Tony, and when their eyes met, Tony was taken aback by the remorse in Gibbs' eyes. "I know that," Gibbs repeated. "And I know that you were fine, and doing a damn good job."

"So, explain to me why this made you go all Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Tony said, trying his best to be patient. It was tough, though, when he had no idea what the hell Gibbs was talking about.

Gibbs looked away from Tony, and his back slumped and he covered his face with a hand. Tony frowned, and despite his earlier anger, he reached out and hesitantly put his hand on Gibbs' knee. "Hey," Tony said. "Will you just tell me what's going on?"

"I took it out on you," Gibbs said miserably.

"Took what out on me?" Tony said.

Gibbs sighed and covered Tony's hand with his. "I told you I always fuck things up. I was worried about you, and it pissed me off," he said.

"Why did it piss you off?" Tony asked, genuinely confused. He was beginning to understand why Gibbs went through so many divorces; this conversation was like pulling teeth.

"I'm supposed to be a bastard," Gibbs said grouchily, and Tony couldn't help it; he laughed.

"What?" he said. "Are you serious? You're pissed because you're afraid people might realize you're not the asshole you want them to think you are?"

"It's not about other people, and it's not just that," Gibbs said defensively, so much so that Tony did his best to stop laughing and listen seriously. "Tony, I don't do things by halves."

"I know that," Tony said patiently.

"You're really important to me," Gibbs said, "more important than anyone's been in a long time."

Tony frowned. "Gibbs-"

"Wait," Gibbs interrupted, squeezing his hand. "You've watched my six for eight years, Tony," Gibbs said. "Eight fucking years. And I've watched yours. And now, it's time for me to really be on your six, and I-I kept looking next to me and you weren't there."

"We both knew I wouldn't be in the field," Tony said softly, frowning, pushing down the irritation he felt that Gibbs was the one freaking out about this and not him.

"I know," Gibbs said, "but I couldn't stop worrying about you."

"Well there's nothing to worry about!" Tony said, annoyed. "I'm a big boy; I can handle myself. Don't you think I should be the one worrying about this? Don't you think it's hard enough for me without you acting like a fucking jerk for no reason?"

"Of course it's hard for you!" Gibbs interrupted. "That's why I was fucking worried about you all day! I know it was hard for you, DiNozzo, and I was making it worse because I'm a goddamn bastard, and if you want to leave, I get it."

Tony blinked and felt a smile creep onto his face.

"Gibbs," he said softly, reaching out and turning Gibbs' face until he was looking at him. "You are such a melodramatic idiot."

"What?" Gibbs said, irritated.

"I'm not going anywhere," Tony said, understanding beginning to flood his mind. "I know we haven't really talked about anything, and mostly, I've let you take the lead, but you-you're really important to me, too." He felt a blush creep up on his neck, and then Gibbs was looking away from him, shaking his head and laughing in an almost bitter manner.

"Jesus," Gibbs said, running a hand through his hair. "Are we really having this conversation?"

"Hey," Tony pointed out, "you started it."

"Yeah, guess I did," Gibbs said. "I don't want to fuck this up, Tony," he repeated.

"Then don't treat me like shit for no reason," Tony said reasonably.

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "I was pissed that I was more worried about you than the case."

"Well, next time you're worried about me, just act like a normal person and come ask me how I am," Tony said. "That usually works better than acting like an asshole."

"I don't do worry very well," Gibbs admitted.

"Yeah, I got that," Tony said, and rather than being intimidated by how seriously Gibbs was taking whatever was forming between them, he felt reassured and strangely protected, even if Gibbs was a fucking idiot when it came to communicating - but that was nothing new to Tony. He edged closer to Gibbs and felt relieved when Gibbs pulled him in for a kiss.

Tony had shared many kisses with Gibbs at that point, but most of them had been gentle and reassuring. Tony hadn't wanted to push them into anything sexual, mostly because Gibbs was too important to him for that, but also because the whole "being with a man" thing was pretty new to him. This time, though, when Gibbs kissed him, he pressed himself as close as he could get and kissed him back eagerly.

Gibbs responded by pushing his tongue into Tony's mouth, running his hands through his hair, and sliding one hand up underneath Tony's shirt. Tony gasped into the kiss when Gibbs' hands slid over his ribs and he arched towards Gibbs when his thumb slid over his nipple.

"Gibbs," Tony murmured breathily against his mouth, "please."

And then Gibbs' mouth left his, and Gibbs was standing up, reaching down and taking Tony's arms and pulling him up alongside him.

"I'm too old for the couch," Gibbs said, holding Tony securely against him and kissing him hard before pulling him towards the stairs. Tony spared a fleeting thought for his cane, but decided Gibbs' body was much more pleasant and aesthetically pleasing and gladly hung onto him instead.

Gibbs took the stairs slowly, pulling Tony flush against him on each step and kissing him thoroughly before pulling him up to the next. By the time they got to the top, Tony was flustered and eager and much more concerned with getting himself as close to Gibbs as humanly possible than he was about how wobbly his legs were or how half of his shirt was unbuttoned, and Gibbs continued to pull him along, kissing him and tugging him down the hall.

When they got into Gibbs' bedroom, Tony was laughing, mostly because of the many times they'd bumped into the wall, and he eagerly laid down on the bed, feeling heady and giddy and turned on, relieved when Gibbs immediately laid on top of him.

"That's better," Gibbs said, his voice husky as he leaned down to kiss Tony, and this time, Tony felt the entire atmosphere change because this was real - they were in Gibbs' bed, lying together, and the way Gibbs was kissing him made him put his hands on Gibbs' hips and pull him down closer because he was harder than he'd been in a long time, and holy shit, Gibbs was hard, too, and the friction he felt as they rubbed together was unbelievable and it made his whole body tingle as he tried to get closer to Gibbs.

Gibbs pulled his mouth away from Tony's and kissed along his jaw line, starting underneath his ear, and Tony gasped and tangled a hand into Gibbs' hair, arching his head back to give Gibbs better access. Gibbs unbuttoned the rest of Tony's shirt as he left a trail of moist kisses along his neck, and Tony sighed, sliding his own hands underneath Gibbs' polo and undershirt and tugging. Gibbs pulled away for a moment and let Tony help him pull his shirt off, grunting when it got caught on his arm and pulling it off impatiently.

Tony leaned up a bit and let Gibbs pull his shirt off, and the second he was lying down on the bed again, shirt landing somewhere inconsequential with a rustle and scritch-scratch of buttons sliding across the hardwood floor, Gibbs leaned down and kissed him, fast and hard and ruthless, and Tony groaned into the kiss, his hands gripping Gibbs' smooth back, arching up against him. The feeling of Gibbs' bare chest against his own was much different than the feeling of a woman, but damn, it was good, mostly because it was Gibbs, and feeling Gibbs' dick, hard against his own, was making his thoughts short circuit until the only thing present in his mind was Gibbs, his skin, his eyes, his lips, his hands - and then those same hands were sliding between them, reaching down and unbuttoning his pants, and Tony eagerly tilted his hips to give him better access. Gibbs pushed his pants down and Tony didn't even feel embarrassed to be lying naked underneath him as he kicked them all the way off, and he eagerly helped Gibbs remove his own pants, and then it was just them, nothing between them, lying together in the cool night air of the bedroom, erections crushing against each other deliciously.

"Gibbs," Tony breathed, marveling at the way the ridge of Gibbs' nose and his cheekbone caught the moonlight coming in the window, and the way his eyes, strangely blue in the calm night air, bore straight into his own. He reached up and tangled a hand into Gibbs' hair, pulling him down for another kiss, and this one was perfect, needy and slow, and Tony ignored the way his hands were shaking as he tugged Gibbs as close as he could get. He gasped when Gibbs thrust his hips down against his own, and when Gibbs broke their kiss to spit into his hand and reach down and wrap his hand securely around his dick, Tony let his head fall backwards and he moaned, heat curling in the pit of his stomach. Gibbs' hand was rough and warm and sure and steady, nothing like his own and definitely nothing like a woman's. It was something entirely different, and Tony felt a whine slide past his lips when that hand left him, but then Gibbs was holding both of their dicks together, hand twisting and tugging and Tony's breath was coming in short gasps because this was too much.

Gibbs' mouth found his again, and Tony moaned breathily when Gibbs nipped at his lower lip, and then Gibbs was kissing him, mouth hot and open and Tony could feel his orgasm coming closer, could feel his legs start to tighten up and his stomach start to clench.

"Gibbs," he panted, breaking their kiss. "Gibbs, I'm g-gonna-"

"Do it," Gibbs said, voice low and breathy, his head drooping and his forehead resting against Tony's, and that was all it took and Tony felt his orgasm rip through him at the same time that Gibbs' own body tensed and shuddered, and as he heard Gibbs groaning on top of him, his whole body felt like it was on fire and suspended in time, and as the last moments of his orgasm slipped away to be replaced with boneless exhaustion he managed to keep a hand in Gibbs' hair, holding him close, amazed at the feeling of Gibbs collapsing on top of him. His heart was pounding and he could feel sticky semen pressed in between their bodies, but he didn't care. Gibbs was breathing heavily right beside his ear, his breath coming out in fast whooshes that rustled over his skin pleasantly.

A few moments passed and neither of them moved, the only sounds filling the strange stillness of the bedroom their fast breaths, the only movement the rapid rise and fall of their chests, and then, all too soon, Gibbs pressed a chaste kiss behind his ear, and Tony sighed in contentment, even as Gibbs shifted away from him.

"Be right back," Gibbs said breathily, and Tony managed a soft, "mmm," in response. As Gibbs disappeared from beside him, Tony frowned, thinking maybe he should open his eyes if only to watch him walk around naked, but it was way too much energy, so he stayed where he was. And then Gibbs was back, pressing a warm washcloth into his skin, cleaning him off, and Tony smiled, forcing his eyes to open so he could watch Gibbs.

Gibbs looked up and caught him staring and grinned before leaning down to kiss him, and then he disappeared again, bringing the washcloth back to the bathroom. When he came back, he'd pulled a pair of boxers and a t-shirt on, and he held some in his hands for Tony.

"C'mon," Gibbs said, "it's getting too cold out to sleep naked."

"You'll keep me warm," Tony said, smiling when Gibbs sat next to him on the edge of the bed and tugged him up until he was sitting. Tony sighed and slumped forward, leaning heavily on Gibbs, resting his head on Gibbs' shoulder.

"You doin' okay?" Gibbs asked, running a hand over Tony's bare back.

Tony laughed, pressing his forehead against Gibbs' neck. "You serious?" Tony replied, circling his arms around Gibbs' waist, all but climbing into his lap. "What do you think?"

Gibbs laughed and pushed Tony off of him, holding the shirt out, and Tony rolled his eyes and wearily pulled it over his head.

"C'mon, get up," Gibbs said, standing up and reaching out for Tony. Tony sighed and let Gibbs pull him upwards, but held onto him tightly once he was standing.

"Gimme a minute," Tony murmured, "I'm kinda wobbly."

"Yeah," Gibbs said, holding him close. "I know."

After a moment, Tony managed to get his boxers on, and Gibbs pulled the covers back, sliding in beside Tony and pulling the blanket securely over them.

"Don't be an idiot tomorrow," Tony murmured, scrounging up just enough energy to roll over and wrap himself around Gibbs, tangling their legs together and wrapping his arms around his waist, nestling his head into Gibbs' chest.

"I won't," Gibbs said. "Just kept looking for you next to me when we were getting Johnston and you weren't there."

"I know," Tony said, turning his head and pressing a kiss into the fabric of Gibbs' t-shirt, right over his heart. He was exhausted and kind of dizzy and he had a bit of a headache, but he felt content lying in bed with Gibbs, still reeling from the sex, and he smiled and let his eyes droop closed.

"G'night," he murmured, voice breathy against Gibbs' chest.

"Goodnight," Gibbs said, craning his head to press a kiss into Tony's hair, keeping a hand on the back of his head.

And as Tony fell asleep, warm and comfortable and boneless from pleasure and exhaustion, he couldn't help but think that even if he never quite got a handle on the disease taking over his body, he could definitely get used to this.

Chapter Text

"So when are you moving back to your apartment?"

Tony paused, fork hovering in midair over his favorite chicken marsala in the metro DC area, and he blinked down at his food in surprise before quickly resuming his movements, looking up at McGee with a grin.

"I don't know," Tony said with a shrug. "Gibbs has good bourbon."

Ziva wrinkled her nose. "Tony, you do not even like bourbon."

Tony grinned and shrugged again, distracted momentarily by a young girl spilling her soda all over her family's table across the restaurant as a cacophony of voices, young and old, drifted over his ears. It was busy and noisy, but it was peak lunch hour on a Friday, and Tony, Ziva, McGee, and Abby were capitalizing on their lack of a case by going out to lunch while Gibbs was on a call in MTAC.

"Gibbs has good bourbon," Tony said after a moment. "He only gets the good stuff."

"It's true," Abby said sagely from beside Tony. "I used to think I didn't like bourbon, either."

"What's it like living with him?" McGee asked. "What does he do all day?"

Tony grinned as he tried to think of an appropriate response because he was pretty sure McGee didn't really want to know the answer to that question. "He spends a lot of time in the basement," Tony said, and it was true. Gibbs often spent hours and hours down there while Tony watched movies, occasionally surfacing for some coffee or a few kisses or a flimsy reason to check on Tony when he was feeling particularly worried. "Boats don't build themselves," Tony added with a smile, taking a large bite of his chicken.

"Do you two eat meals together?" Ziva asked curiously.

"Well, yeah," Tony said around a mouthful of food. "I mean, it would be stupid not to." He paused for a moment, eyeing the three of them, noticing the way they were looking at him like they wanted to tear into him, and grinned. "How long have you guys been waiting to ask me about this?"

"Too long!" Abby said, clapping her hands in front of her and grinning. "Oh my God, Tony, we've been trying to get you alone but Gibbs is always with you, and if he's not, we're too busy to ask, and-"

"Sometimes we are afraid he will kill you during the night," Ziva interrupted. Tony thought she looked surprisingly serious, and he laughed, setting his fork down for a moment to cover his face.

"No," Tony managed, "he hasn't killed me yet."

"Does he cook for you?" Abby asked, leaning her head on her hand and watching him in favor of eating her lunch.

"When we're home, yeah," Tony said, "but sometimes I cook, too. It depends. I fall asleep a lot, so sometimes he starts cooking while I'm sleeping and I can't help." He paused, thinking of the ruined chicken parmesan he'd tried to make for Gibbs the weekend before. "Maybe he does that on purpose," he added with a grimace.

He shifted in his chair; his back was killing him, and the stiff restaurant chairs were not exactly supportive. He absently realized how strange it was to be discussing life at home with Gibbs with his team, and wondered what they would think if they knew the full story.

"So how much longer are you going to stay with him?" Abby asked. "I mean, it's been about a month, right?"

Tony paused thoughtfully, twisting his torso a bit to try to pop some kinks out of his spine. His lease was up in only three weeks. His landlord had called him about setting up an appointment to sign the paperwork for another year, but he had yet to bring it up to Gibbs. He didn't want to move out of Gibbs' house, and he wasn't sure Gibbs would want him to, either, but, unsurprisingly, Gibbs never really brought it up either way.

"I don't know," Tony finally said. "My apartment's a walk-up and my lease is up soon," he added, glancing at his cane out of the corner of his eye. He was becoming more and more reliant on it, which scared him, and he'd caught Gibbs doing a Google search for balancing guide dogs a few days ago, which scared him even more (even if it was his personal opinion that Gibbs was definitely the biggest idiot he'd ever met if he thought Tony would ever get one of them).

"Have you begun searching the classified files yet?" Ziva asked.

Tony looked at her in confusion for a moment, and then shook his head as he realized what she meant. "Classified ads, Ziva. Very different."

Ziva spared him an annoyed glance and McGee looked amused beside her, if the barely concealed grin was anything to go by. "It is no matter," she said archly. "Have you?"

Tony frowned. "No," he said, wondering if he should've been doing that all along - was Gibbs expecting him to move out soon? Even though it had been about a month since his diagnosis, Tony didn't feel like he'd gained any footing. He'd resigned himself to using his cane, but he still felt unbalanced, both emotionally and physically, and unsure of what was happening to his life. While Gibbs had gotten much better at handling Tony's modified duties at work, Tony himself hated it more and more everyday, and there were times when after a long day, Tony needed Gibbs' help just to get into bed. Granted, if he were living on his own, he'd probably find a way, but Gibbs made things so much easier.

And on top of that, Tony still couldn't drive, which was probably for the best because his balance was often the first thing to go when he felt tired or weak or was just having a bad day, and his eyesight had left things fuzzy for him quite a few times over the past month. He hadn't had another acute episode like the first one he'd had, but there had been times when it was bad enough that he needed to ask McGee to show him how to make all of the fonts on his computer bigger so he didn't have to squint.

He'd easily fallen back into the usual workplace banter, and the usual investigating and following leads (from his desk), but all of the uncertainties were hitting him in a big way. He didn't like to show it, although he was sure Gibbs had an idea. Every day he felt like he was watching someone else walk around with a cane and sleep through their lunch break and pop ibuprofen and steroids like candy.

"Maybe you can stay with Gibbs a little longer," Abby said, bringing Tony's thoughts back to the present.

"Maybe," Tony said doubtfully. "But we're both grown men; we're not looking for roommates. And if I stay too much longer he really might kill me."

He knew the words he was saying were expected of him in the situation and not entirely truthful, but he couldn't help but wonder exactly what Gibbs' thoughts on the issue were. He rubbed a hand over his forehead, knowing he needed to talk to Gibbs about this.

Yes, he and Gibbs had admitted they were committed to each other, but that didn't mean they had to live together - and if Tony didn't renew his lease, that pulled his back-up plan right out from underneath his feet.

"What is he like in the morning without coffee?" Ziva asked.

Tony paused for a moment, trying to pull his thoughts out of the worrying direction they were trying to take. "He always gets up before me," he said with a shrug. He left out the part about Gibbs waking him up on weekends with hot kisses and roaming hands, and thought instead of hurried work mornings where they didn't really see each other until the breakfast table because Tony was usually half-asleep when Gibbs slid out from next to him and left him clutching a pillow in his place.

"So you're paying, then, Probie?" Tony asked with a grin after McGee requested the check from the waitress as Abby ate fast to catch up for time wasted while she chose to talk to Tony rather than eat.

McGee gave Tony an annoyed look as the waitress took everyone's plate away except for Abby's. "I don't think so," McGee said. "Doesn't whoever finishes last have to pay?"

"McGee!" Abby exclaimed, swallowing hastily and looking up in outrage. "You never make a woman pay for your lunch!"

"I believe you are making that up," Ziva commented, looking at McGee with narrowed eyes. "And I agree with Abby. For that, maybe you should pay for lunch."

Tony took pity on McGee and pulled his wallet out of his pants, tossing a twenty-dollar bill at him. "Here," he said. "Now you're making the cripple pay." He softened his words with a wink and a charming grin. "You just can't win, Probie."

Abby smacked him on the arm, which he expected. "You're not a cripple," she said, annoyed.

"I know," Tony said. "But doesn't it make McGee look like more of a jerk?"

"It makes you look like a jerk," Abby said. Tony rolled his eyes and watched as McGee pocketed his twenty and put his card with the check, handing it off to the waitress as she passed by.

"Thank you, McGee," Ziva said, giving him a warm smile. "That was very kind of you."

"You're welcome," he said, just barely keeping the scowl off his face. Tony grinned, even as he rubbed a hand over the back of his neck and rolled his shoulders, trying to ease some of the stiffness out of them. He had a headache, which he was sort of used to as he seemed to have one more often than not, but his back was also beginning to ache, and he sighed, wondering if he should have turned down the lunch invitation in favor of a snack and a nap on Abby's couch.

The waitress came back quickly with McGee's card, and he stuck it back in his wallet and signed the receipt for her before standing up. Tony took a deep breath and pushed his chair out, bracing himself on both his cane and the table before standing up. To his embarrassment, he got up only a few inches before falling back to his chair, and he sighed and tried again, relieved when he made it all the way up. His legs felt particularly rubbery and weak, and he tried to pretend that Ziva was just being playful when she looped her arm through his and held on tight as they walked.

The little girl across the restaurant who spilled her soda earlier was watching him curiously, eyes wide and a thoughtful frown on her face as he slowly made his way out, and Tony felt his shoulders stiffen in frustration when her mother leaned down to scold her, probably telling her not to stare.

He couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief once they were on the sidewalk and he no longer had to dodge waiters and endure the stares of the other customers. He paused, thinking of the two and a half blocks he was going to have to walk to get to their car.

"I will bring the car around," Ziva said, squeezing his arm and leading him towards the bench outside the restaurant. "Perhaps you should sit for a moment."

Normally Tony would protest even if he felt tired and knew he should sit, but he really didn't like the feeling in his legs, or the way his right leg was shaking, so he let Ziva help him over to the bench and he sat heavily, closing his eyes and kneading his hands into his right thigh, hoping to ease some of the tension beginning to build. Abby sat next to him and put an arm around his waist and McGee stood by awkwardly while Ziva headed towards the car.

"You gonna let her drive, Probie?" Tony managed to ask, trying for some semblance of normalcy even though he was beginning to feel a bit nervous about how uncomfortable his body felt.

"I don't think I want to fight her for it after eating all that," McGee said. Tony could tell from his tone of voice that he was worried, and just putting up with Tony's questioning for show.

"Tony, are you in pain?" Abby asked.

Tony turned and looked at her, giving her a tired smile. "No," he said. "It's nothing."

Abby frowned anxiously. "I'm not stupid," she said. "I know you're lying. You seemed okay when we were eating, but now you don't."

Tony rubbed a weary hand over his face, giving up on trying to massage the pain out of his thigh for the time being. "It's nothing," he said, "just drop it."

Abby kept frowning at him, and he sighed, looking away from her and instead focusing on a wad of dirty, dried up gum just a few inches from McGee's new Italian leather shoes.

"Don't step in that gum, Probie," Tony said, pointing at it but dropping his hand quickly when he noticed that his finger was shaking.

"Tony," McGee said, stepping closer to the bench and carefully avoiding the gum. "Should we call Gibbs?"

"Why would you call Gibbs?" Tony asked, frustration at his body's betrayal combined with steroids and anxiety making him snap. "What the hell is he gonna do, show up out of nowhere and wave a magic fucking wand and make my fucking back and my fucking head and my fucking-"

Tony stopped himself before he let too much slip and took a deep, shaky breath, closing his eyes and squeezing the bridge of his nose.

"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to-"

"It's okay," Abby said quietly, taking his hand and squeezing. "Here comes Ziva."

Tony looked up and saw the dark NCIS-issue sedan pulling up to the restaurant, squeezing into the no-parking area in front of the driveway that led to the loading area in back of the restaurant.

Tony took his hand back from Abby and steeled himself to stand again. It was only the thought of falling flat on the sidewalk that made him say, "McGee, give me a hand?"

"Of course," McGee said. "What-"

"Just pull me up by the arm," Tony said, "and make sure I don't fall."

"Okay," McGee said, and he put a steadying hand on Tony's back and wrapped the other around his arm. Tony pushed himself up but felt himself lose strength as soon as his body left the bench, and McGee held onto him tightly and got him upright.

"Okay?" McGee asked once he was standing.

"Just," Tony said, breathing hard. "Give me a minute."

McGee and Abby exchanged a worried glance, and Tony held on tight to his cane as Ziva put the four-way flashers on and made her way over to them.

"Need a hand?" she asked, coming around to Tony's other side and giving Abby an apologetic look before squeezing between her and Tony and putting her arm around his waist.

If Tony weren't so concerned about staying upright while walking the short distance to the car, he would've been embarrassed. As it was, he clenched his jaw and did his best to step forward.

"Christ," he said, his right foot dragging a bit. His leg didn't quite want to cooperate, and it took him much longer than it should have to get to the car. Ziva and McGee helped him down into the passenger seat while Abby looked on nervously, and just before they closed the door, she leaned in and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"We'll call Gibbs now," she said, closing the door and quickly sliding into the backseat.

"Should you go to the doctor?" Ziva asked.

Tony closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the headrest. "I don't know," he said quietly. He wanted Gibbs. He knew that he didn't have to see the doctor when his vision fluctuated unless the problem lasted longer than 24 hours, so he assumed that the protocol was the same for his leg functions. "I don't think so."

Tony heard Abby talking to Gibbs on the phone in the backseat, and he wearily took the phone from her when she leaned forward from behind him and held it out.

"Gibbs?" Tony asked, well aware that his voice was pinched and higher than usual.

"Tony, what's going on?" Gibbs asked. He sounded urgent, and Tony thought he should've paid more attention to what Abby said to make him so concerned.

"We're leaving lunch," Tony said, his voice still a little shaky. His breath hitched when his leg cramped, and then he let it out with a hiss.

"Tony?" Gibbs asked, sounding frantic.

"Just-just a cramp," Tony said.

"Like the spasm you had when you were in the hospital last time?"

"No," Tony managed, squeezing his eyes shut and grabbing onto his thigh. "Just a-a cramp."

"He's lying!" Abby shouted, loud enough for Gibbs to hear over the phone.

"I'm not lying," Tony said, gritting his teeth against the pain in his leg. "It's a fucking bad cramp, but it's a cramp."

"Ziva driving?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah," Tony said. "We haven't left yet."

"Tell her to go to our house," Gibbs said. Tony allowed the words "our house" to float over his mind for a moment before swallowing thickly and turning to Ziva.

"Go to Gibbs' house," Tony said, his voice weak.

Ziva nodded, giving him a concerned glance before pulling out of her makeshift parking spot.

"I'll meet you there," Gibbs said.

"You don't have to do that," Tony said. "Weren't you doing-doing something in MTAC?"

"Was doing something in MTAC," Gibbs said, his voice echoing strangely, and Tony knew he must've been running down the stairs through the cavernous acoustics of the stairwell.

"Don't fall down the stairs," Tony mumbled, kneading his thigh again with his free hand. "Then you-"

"I'm not gonna fall down the stairs, Tony," Gibbs interrupted. Tony heard a door slam, then another. "I'm in the parking garage now," he added. "Tell Ziva not to get into an accident with you in the car."

"Gibbs says not to get in an accident," Tony said to Ziva. She gave him an annoyed look but drove just a little bit more calmly, and Tony bit his lip against the residual pain and cramping in his leg.

"With you in the car," Gibbs growled. "Tell her that."

"What?" Tony said. "I'm not saying that!" He was surprised enough by Gibbs' vehemence to be distracted momentarily from the pain in his leg, and he wondered if that had been Gibbs' plan.

"Saying what?" Abby asked, but Tony ignored her.

"You having trouble walking, too?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah," Tony said.

"A lot of trouble?" Gibbs prodded.

"Yeah," Tony said again, his voice a little choked.

"Okay," Gibbs said, and he sounded like he was trying to keep both of them calm, not just Tony. "When you get there, you go straight to the couch. Don't try to go up the stairs, you got that?"

"Got it," Tony said.

"Make them stay with you until I get there," Gibbs added.

"Okay," Tony said. "I will."

"And then I'll stay with you for the afternoon," he continued.

"Gibbs," Tony said, "You can't do that."

Tony heard McGee breathe in sharply; he probably thought Tony was about to get his ass kicked for being so candid with Gibbs.

"You trying to be the team leader, DiNozzo?" Gibbs said threateningly, just as Tony heard a car horn blare.

"Jesus Christ, Gibbs," Tony said, annoyed enough to be distracted from his pain. "Don't get in a car accident now, after you just made me tell Ziva not to."

"I won't get in a car accident," Gibbs said shortly. "And I'm taking the afternoon. Vance'll understand. If we catch a case, I'll go back in."

Tony sighed, closing his eyes. "Okay," he said, because even though he felt strangely guilty to be keeping Gibbs from work, he didn't really want to be alone when he wasn't sure he could stand. "I'm gonna go now, okay? So you don't die talking on your cell phone while you drive."

"You got a headache?" Gibbs asked, ignoring him.

"Yeah," Tony said.

"How's your vision?"

"Fine," Tony replied. "But seriously, you'll see me in like fifteen minutes, Boss, why don't you just ask me then?"

"Tony," Gibbs said, and his voice was so desperate and exasperated that Tony sighed again, his hand clenching on his thigh.

"It's my legs, mostly," Tony said honestly, figuring that he might as well tell him and get it over with. "My shoulders have been stiff all day. My back, too. My headache's not that bad, but I am really dizzy. It's mainly my right leg, but neither of them feels right. Okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Gibbs said. "Wait for me on the couch."

"I know," Tony said patiently, wondering why he felt like he was trying to make Gibbs feel better when he was the one with the leg that felt like it was in a vice.

"I'm gonna go now," Gibbs said.

"Okay," Tony replied, his heart beating faster as his leg twitched painfully under his hand. He bit his lip to avoid gasping.

"Make sure they help you into the house," Gibbs said.

"I know," Tony said shortly. He didn't mean to snap, but he felt awful, and Gibbs' nagging wasn't helping.

"Okay," Gibbs said. "I'll be there as soon as I can, Tony."

Tony's shoulders slumped, the earnest caring in Gibbs' voice cutting straight through his irritation. "Okay," he murmured. "See you soon."

He waited until he heard Gibbs hang up before flipping Abby's phone closed and holding it out behind him, and when she took it from him, he covered his face with his hand and closed his eyes, not really wanting to talk to his teammates because he knew that the conversation they'd just overheard (well, Tony's side of the conversation they overheard) was not the typical work conversation he'd have with Gibbs, and he really didn't feel like answering their questions.

"Is Gibbs on his way?" Abby asked.

"Yeah," Tony said from behind his hand.

"Are you doing okay?" she continued, reaching forward from behind him to squeeze his upper arm.

"Yeah," he said, even though he was pretty sure everyone knew he was lying.

"I think that was the longest conversation I've ever heard anyone have with Gibbs," McGee said, and Tony managed a half-hearted laugh that was more a grunt than anything else.

"What did he say?" Ziva asked.

"Nothing," Tony said, tugging on his hair to distract himself from the pain in his legs. It was like when he'd gone through growth spurts as a kid and woken up in the middle of the night, gasping his way through a Charlie horse. Sometimes, his calf would hurt for the entire day after one of those, and he had the same pinched feeling in his leg at that moment that he'd had as a child, only it went all the way up to his thigh rather than restricting itself to his calf, and every once in a while it would spike like his muscle was being twisted into knots. His left leg wasn't cramping, but it felt weak and achy, and he wanted Ziva to get to Gibbs' house already so he could make his way inside and collapse on the couch.

"We will be there in just a few minutes," Ziva said softly, taking in Tony's closed eyes and white knuckled grip on his thigh and the fingers clenched in his hair.

Tony couldn't bring himself to respond, and tried to focus on his breathing instead to distract himself. He opened his eyes only when he heard gravel under the tires, and looked up gratefully at Gibbs' house, strong and grey and waiting for him to go inside.

Tony didn't bother moving when the car stopped; he sat very still and tried to work up some energy until Abby pulled open his door for him. She reached in and squeezed him into a tight hug, leaning down awkwardly and giving McGee a nice view of her backside, which made Ziva smack him in the arm when he stared a little too long.

"I couldn't wait until you got inside to hug you," Abby said in Tony's ear. His breath hitched and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, holding her close and resting his forehead against her neck for a moment, trying to get his bearings before he had to get out of the car.

"You can let go now," he said a moment later, even though he was content to just sit there rather than make his way up the walkway and into the house.

She gave him one more squeeze and pulled away, kissing his cheek before edging out of the car-door area and stepping back to let Ziva and McGee take over. Tony sighed and set his cane down outside the car before swinging his legs out one by one, using his hands to help push his right leg out when it felt particularly weak. He sat still and tried to quell his rising panic, closing his eyes again and doing his best to stay composed.

"Are you ready?" Ziva asked after a pause.

Tony took a deep breath and nodded. "Yeah," he said. He put his right hand on his cane and his left on the seat beside him, and Ziva stepped forward and put her hands underneath his armpits.

"On three," she said. "Okay?"

Tony nodded, jaw set in determination.

"One, two, three," Ziva counted, and Tony did his best to push himself up, but Ziva ended up doing a lot of pulling, and McGee even squeezed in and pushed his back forward when he almost tipped back against the car.

"Okay?" Ziva asked a moment later.

"No," Tony said with a weak laugh, his legs trembling beneath him. He was sandwiched between Ziva and McGee, and he knew he had to get into the house fast because his legs felt like jello.

"Come on," Ziva said, and her voice was soothing. "We will get there together. Tim and I will help you."

"Okay," Tony said, and they moved to either side of him and carefully helped him up the walk. He was glad he couldn't see Abby because he knew she must've been freaking out, and he wasn't sure he could handle her worry on top of his own.

They got to the front porch, and Ziva got in front of him again while Tim stood behind, ready to catch him if he fell back. Abby moved to his side and stayed close, just in case, and they managed to get him up to the door. Ziva flung it open, and getting inside and dropping down onto the couch was absolute bliss.

He sighed and closed his eyes once he was sitting in a boneless slump on the edge of the couch, breathing heavily and rubbing his face in weariness. Abby sat beside him and rubbed his back, but he couldn't bring himself to open his eyes and look at her.

"Tony, you should lie down," Ziva said. Tony squeezed his eyes closed and kept his hand over his face, ignoring her in favor of trying to keep his breathing calm. Now that he was on the couch, and three fucking people had to help him get there, he was beginning to feel overwhelmed and embarrassed.

He sighed and reached down to unlace his shoes, tugging them off with shaky hands and tossing them into the corner.

"Do you want me to get you something more comfortable to wear?" Abby asked, and Tony's breath sped up, thinking of her getting his sweatpants out of Gibbs' bedroom, and he shook his head.

"No," Tony said. "Just…not now."

Abby stood up and leaned down in front of him. "Come on," she said, pushing his shoulders back. "You have to lie down."

"Okay," Tony murmured, grunting as he got his legs up on the couch and twisting until he was lying on his back. He was ashamed to be slightly out of breath after exerting the energy to lie down, and he ran a hand over his face again.

"Guess you guys got more than you bargained for when you took me out to lunch," he said, trying desperately for his voice to sound light and not choked and nervous and scared.

"It is alright," Ziva said, leaning forward and running her fingers through his hair. "We are glad to be able to help you."

McGee pulled the blanket off the back of the couch and laid it over Tony.

"You tucking me in, Probie?" he asked, his voice thin.

McGee rolled his eyes and stepped back to sit in the armchair next to Gibbs' couch.

"We will stay with you until Gibbs gets here," Ziva said.

"Do you have something to take for this?" Abby asked.

"Yeah," Tony said. "In the kitchen. There are some pills on the counter; can you bring 'em in? And some water?"

"Okay," Abby said, rushing into the kitchen and coming back a moment later, juggling a glass of water and five containers of pills.

"Which ones?" she asked.

Tony pushed himself up to sitting again, his head swimming in dizziness, doing his best to stay upright without a backrest behind him. Ziva sat down next to him and held him up and he sagged against her gratefully.

He reached out and sorted through the pills, taking his regular afternoon dosage, plus an extra steroid that Dr. Foss told him to take if he had any sudden spikes in his symptoms.

"Thanks, Abs," he said, handing her the glass of water again and lying back down when Ziva shifted and gave him room.

Just as he settled back against the lumpy pillow at the end of the couch, the front door opened with a bang and Gibbs burst in, going straight to Tony and ignoring Abby, Ziva, and McGee.

He sat beside Tony and ran a hand through the hair near his forehead, his thumb moving in soothing circles over Tony's temple, and Tony closed his eyes and sighed in relief.

"Hey," Gibbs said, his voice soft. "You okay?"

Tony opened his eyes again and looked up at Gibbs with a small smile. "Been better," he said, and Gibbs smiled at him, in that way that he only did when they were alone, and Tony suddenly frowned, his eyes shifting towards his teammates, because even if he felt dizzy and achy and terrible, he still knew that Gibbs was acting, well, like his boyfriend, or whatever the fuck he was, and not his boss, but before he could gauge their reactions, Gibbs used his other hand to tilt Tony's chin back in his direction.

"You take your pills?" Gibbs asked, his hand warm against Tony's jaw.

"Yeah," Tony said. "The extra one, too."

Gibbs nodded in satisfaction. "Why are you still wearing your suit?" he asked.

"Too tired to change," Tony complained.

"It's gonna get wrinkled and you're gonna have a fit," Gibbs said, shifting the hand on Tony's jaw to rest on his shoulder.

"Don't care," Tony said. Gibbs gave him one last assessing look and turned to his team, who were standing very still and watching the two of them with wide eyes.

"Thank you," Gibbs said to them, and Tony reached up and covered his eyes with his hand after seeing the expressions on their faces.

"Jesus Christ, Gibbs," Tony hissed.

"What?" Gibbs said defensively.

"You're freaking them out," Tony said, hand still over his eyes.

"I don't give a shit," Gibbs said.

"Well I do, and I'm too tired to deal with this," Tony said.

"Oh my God," Abby said. "Oh my God. This is totally hinky."

"See?" Tony said miserably.

Gibbs rolled his eyes and tugged Tony's hand off of his eyes, holding onto it tightly rather than letting it go. Tony glared at him.

"Wait, wait, hinky in a good way!" Abby suddenly said, her words rushed. She scurried forward and stood next to Gibbs, close enough that Tony could easily see her without moving his head.

"Don't worry, Tony," she said. "You just let Gibbs take care of you." She paused, and grinned. "Oh my God," she said again. "You let Gibbs take really good care of you," she added, and she laughed when Gibbs gave her an irritated smack on the back of her head.

"Ow," she complained. "That hurts, Gibbs!"

"Now you know how we feel all the time," Tony said. His heart was beating fast, and he was pissed that Gibbs would do this to him, would out him without his consent, but at the same time he was kind of relieved that Abby didn't care, and he nervously peeked past her to Ziva and McGee.

Ziva strode forward with a hand on her hip and pointed at Gibbs accusingly. "That was not a very nice thing to do," she said. "Tony has had a terrible day and now you are-are putting him out and adding to his stress."

Gibbs looked at her with an annoyed and impatient expression on his face. "Putting him-"

"Outing," Tony said. "You're outing us." He paused and turned towards Ziva. "We're not gay," he said, glad that he wasn't so much tired as he was hurting so that he could handle the conversation without falling asleep, because he knew that he wouldn't be able to do that due to the clenching pain in his thigh.

Ziva looked confused for a moment, and she looked back and forth between Gibbs and Tony, and Tony tried not to think of how quiet McGee was being.

"Perhaps I have misunderstood?" she said, her brow furrowing as she pensively pressed her index finger against her chin, her eyes drifted over Gibbs' hand on Tony's jaw, and Tony's fingers interwoven with Gibbs'.

Gibbs snorted. "You understood just fine," he said. "Got a problem with it?"

"Of course not," Ziva said. "I am merely surprised. Tony is known for his love of women, after all. And you-"

"We're not gay," Tony said again.

"Then what are you?" Ziva asked, not accusingly but curiously. She was watching them warily, still trying to wrap her mind around it and wondering when her observation skills had started to decline enough for her to miss her two male co-workers getting romantically involved.

Tony paused for a moment, and Gibbs was watching him with a look of impatient amusement. "We're…um…" he trailed off, eyes drifting to the side. "Um," he said weakly, "we're just-I mean-"

"They just love each other!" Abby said happily, bringing her hands together in delight.

"Yeah, something like that," Tony said, ignoring the lurch in his stomach when Gibbs squeezed his hand as Abby mentioned the dreaded L-word.

Suddenly, Abby swung around and pointed to the armchair where McGee still sat, looking stunned.

"Timothy McGee!" she said angrily. "Get your butt over here right now and tell them that you support and accept them!"


McGee blinked at her and hastily obeyed, scrambling out of the chair and stepping forward.

"You don't have to say something you don't mean," Tony said with a frown.

"I just-what about rule 12?" McGee asked. He sounded like he just found out Santa wasn't real. "You're breaking your own rule?"

Gibbs shook his head. "We're not dating," he said in annoyance. "So we're not breaking a rule."

Ziva looked confused again, and Abby giggled.

"You're not-"

"Can you really picture us going out for romantic candlelit dinners, Probie?" Tony said, trying to sound casual and failing because he was pretty sure McGee was about three seconds away from calling Vance and getting them fired, and his leg was starting to cramp again.


Abby was giggling again, and Gibbs glared at her. "Gibbs," she said, "It's just - semantics," she said. "Oh my God."

"How long have you guys been-been…whatever you're doing?" McGee asked, and even in his worry, Tony found it amusing that he wasn't the only one who had no clue what to call the thing between him and Gibbs.

"Since Parker attacked me," Tony said.

"That's so cute!" Abby said, and Tony was alarmed to see that she was giggling with Ziva now.

"Ziva," Tony said. "Since when do you giggle?"

Ziva smiled at him, staving off her giggles. "Tony," she replied. "Since when do you - house up with Gibbs?"

"Shack up," Tony said in irritation, wondering why Gibbs wasn't saying anything and McGee still looked like a kicked puppy.

"This doesn't effect work," Gibbs finally said. "None of you had any idea about this before now, and nothing will change now that you know. This doesn't go into the office, you got that?"

All three of them nodded at once, and Tony marveled at how well trained Gibbs had them all.

"Why did you tell us this?" Ziva asked curiously.

Gibbs looked at Tony, who was also looking at him with curiosity, only it was tinged-okay, stained-with annoyance as well.

"Don't have anything to hide," Gibbs said with a shrug. "Was worried about him," he added. "I wanted to touch him, so I did. It wasn't about you."

Despite his anger and his pain, Tony smiled, because in a really warped, Gibbs way, that was rather sweet.

"Um," McGee said, "Just so you know, it doesn't bother me."

Tony turned and looked at him. "Is that why you look like your grandmother just died?"

"No," McGee said. He sounded irritated. "I was just surprised that Gibbs would break his own rule. And - and, well, maybe now you'll stop trying to call me gay all the time," he said. He sounded embarrassed and flustered, and Tony couldn't help but laugh.

"Probie," he said, "you are much gayer than I will ever be."

"Hey!" McGee said. "That's not-"

"He's right," Abby said, looking at McGee with a sympathetic smile. "Sorry, Timmy."

"Abby," McGee said, floored. "You, of all people-"

"Hey," Gibbs said, cutting into their argument. "You three have to go back to work."

"You are not coming?" Ziva asked, just as Tony reached out and gripped Gibbs' arm, his eyes squeezing shut and a groan escaping as his leg twitched.

"Gibbs," he gasped, "c-cramp."

"Easy," Gibbs said, turning back to him and a hand through his hair. "Easy," he repeated.

"Abby," Gibbs said quietly, turning to her. "Go upstairs to my room. There's a pair of Tony's sweatpants and a t-shirt on the bed. Get them."

Tony's breath hitched, and he squeezed his thigh. Gibbs leaned down and pressed a kiss into his forehead.

"What can I do?" Ziva asked quietly.

"Make a pot of coffee," Gibbs said. "Fill the water up to six, and put in four scoops. Big scoops."

Ziva nodded and made her way to the kitchen.

"Boss?" McGee asked. "What about-"

Gibbs shook his head, smoothing Tony's hair back. "We're good, McGee. Thanks for getting him in here."

"You don't need to thank me, Boss," McGee said.

Gibbs turned his head and looked at him seriously. "McGee," he said. "I meant it. Thank you."

McGee was taken aback for a moment, and he nodded. "You're welcome."

"You sure you don't have a problem with this?" Gibbs asked.

"I'm sure," McGee said. "It's really-it's weird," he added. "But I guess it kind of makes sense. In a really weird way. But not a bad weird, just a-"

"Hinky weird," Abby said, entering the living room with Tony's clothes in hand. She laid them over the armrest at the foot of the couch.

"Gibbs?" Tony said, opening his eyes and looking up at him. "Gibbs, I-I can't-"

"Shh," Gibbs soothed, before turning to Abby and McGee again. "I got a heating pad in the linen closet at the top of the stairs," he said. "Can one of you-"

"On it, Boss," McGee said, shaken by the pain Tony was suddenly displaying as he hurried out of the room.

"When you get back to work, tell Ducky what happened," Gibbs said to Abby. "Ask him to call me when he's leaving."

"Okay," Abby said, leaning forward and kissing Gibbs' cheek, giving him a hug, before leaning down and kissing Tony's forehead.

"Gibbs, take good care of him, okay?" she said, worry creeping into her voice.

Gibbs nodded, his eyes never straying from Tony's face.

"I'm right here," Tony managed, "don't have to-to talk about me like I'm not."

Gibbs leaned down and kissed him, their lips just barely brushing. "Relax," he murmured, kissing him once more before sitting back up, still running his fingers through Tony's hair. Tony closed his eyes and clutched Gibbs' sleeve, covering his face with his other hand.

Abby looked like she was about to cry, and she kissed Tony's forehead once more, right above his hand. "Let Gibbs take care of you, okay?" she whispered.

Tony nodded, keeping his hand firmly over his face.

"Gibbs, your coffee is brewing," Ziva said as she returned from the kitchen, and he nodded his thanks.

"Got the heating pad," McGee added, waving it as he entered the living room.

"Plug that in under the end table," Gibbs said, and McGee nodded, kneeling down to plug it in and unraveling the cord as he passed it over to Gibbs. Gibbs took it with a nod and spread it over Tony's thighs, and Tony squeezed his arm in response.

"Please keep us updated," Ziva said to Gibbs.

Gibbs nodded. "I will," he said.

Ziva leaned down and kissed Tony's forehead as well. "Take care, Tony," she said.

"If Vance asks where I am, tell him. If not, don't bring it up," Gibbs said.

Ziva and McGee nodded, and Abby merely bit her lip, staring at Tony with wide eyes.

"Abs," Gibbs said with a sigh. "He'll be fine."

Abby nodded, but she reached out and squeezed Gibbs compulsively before straightening.

"Okay," she said. "We'll go now. But call us, okay?"

Gibbs nodded, and Tony pushed his hand away from his face and looked at his coworkers.

"Thanks for everything," he said, voice hoarse.

"No problem, Tony," McGee said.

Tony watched as they left, and when he heard the front door close behind them, he felt a sob rise in his throat.

"Gibbs," he choked. "Gibbs, I-"

Gibbs leaned down and kissed him, then let his forehead rest against' Tony's for a moment before sitting back up. "I'm gonna call Dr. Foss," he said. "And we'll take it from there, okay?"

Tony closed his eyes and nodded, feeling tears trail down the side of his face. Gibbs kept stroking his hair as he pulled his cell phone out and managed to find Dr. Foss' number with one hand. Tony didn't pay attention to the words as Gibbs spoke to the doctor; instead, he merely let Gibbs' voice float over him as he tried desperately to calm down, but it was all coming at him fast - his legs giving way in front of the team, relying on them to get into Gibbs' house, the team finding out about Gibbs, the achiness all over his body - he reached out and clutched Gibbs' leg, squeezing tightly while doing his best to keep from outright sobbing.

"Tony," Gibbs said a moment later after hanging up the phone. "Tony, listen."

Tony opened his eyes and peered up at Gibbs. "Yeah," he said, sniffing wetly.

"Dr. Foss said to keep you here for a while and give the extra steroids time to kick in," Gibbs said. "If you're not doing better tomorrow morning, or it suddenly gets worse, we'll worry, okay?"

Tony nodded, feeling completely strung out as he tried to stem the tears still leaking out of his eyes. "Yeah," he whispered. "Gibbs…"

"I know," Gibbs said. "I'm gonna go get some tissues." He kissed Tony's forehead again and stroked his fingers down Tony's cheek before standing up, heading to the bathroom and quickly grabbing the box of tissues before making his way back to Tony.

"Let's get you to sit up a little," Gibbs said. He sat beside Tony, sliding his arm behind his shoulders and easing him up a bit.

"Dizzy," Tony said, and Gibbs paused and held him still.

After a moment, Gibbs grabbed a tissue and held it out, and Tony wearily blew his nose, holding his hand out for another tissue when his first was full. Gibbs sat closer to him and edged in behind him, wrapping his arms around his chest and unbuttoning his shirt.

"Don't think I'm in the mood," Tony mumbled, wiping stray snot off the base of his nose.

"Just changing your shirt," Gibbs said, pressing a soft kiss to the back of Tony's neck and letting his head rest there for a moment before undoing the last of Tony's buttons.

"What should I do with these?" Tony asked, holding out the tissues.

"Just throw 'em on the coffee table," Gibbs said. "I'll take care of 'em later."

Tony leaned back against Gibbs, and Gibbs held onto him for a moment, pressing kisses into the back of his neck.

"Just relax," Gibbs murmured. "I'm gonna move for a minute and go get your shirt, okay?"

"Okay," Tony murmured, gripping the couch cushions for balance when Gibbs moved out from behind him to reach down to the other end of the couch and grab Tony's t-shirt. He slid back in and helped Tony out of his button down shirt and then helped him tug his undershirt over his head before giving him his t-shirt. Tony pulled it on, and Gibbs tugged the bottom down in the back for him and then pulled him back against him again.

"The heating pad helping?" Gibbs asked.

"Dunno," Tony said wearily. "It hurts."

"Did you take any Tylenol?" Gibbs asked.

"No," Tony said, "I thought the extra steroids would work."

"Hang on," Gibbs said, "I'll go get you some." He slid out from behind Tony and checked to make sure he was pressed comfortably against the pillow next to the armrest before going into the kitchen, pouring himself a cup of coffee and grabbing the bottle of Tylenol.

Tony waited for him, pulling the blanket up and shifting restlessly on the couch. He felt so uncomfortable and achy that he wanted to crawl out of his skin. He was relieved when Gibbs came back, and he eagerly took the Tylenol with the water waiting for him on the coffee table as Gibbs sipped his coffee.

"Let's change your pants," Gibbs said, setting his coffee down and grabbing Tony's sweatpants. He moved the heating pad up to Tony's chest for a moment and shifted the blanket up, and Tony let him take off his pants, doing his best to lift his hips up and hold them there long enough for Gibbs to do what he had to do.

"You tired?" Gibbs asked as he pulled the blanket back down and settled the heating pad back on his thighs after getting Tony's sweatpants on.

"A little," Tony said. "I don't think I can sleep, though."

"You wanna go up to the bed?" Gibbs asked, grabbing his coffee again before sitting beside Tony, resting his free hand on his chest.

"I don't think I can make it there," Tony admitted. "I can hardly sit up."

"I'll help you," Gibbs said. "You'll be more comfortable. Your back is gonna hurt even more if you stay down here."

Tony sighed, putting his hand over Gibbs' on his chest. "I'm gonna need a lot of help," he warned.

"I know," Gibbs reassured, "I got you."

"Okay," Tony said softly. Gibbs turned the heating pad off and set it aside and tossed the blanket over the back of the couch again as Tony managed to sit up and swing his legs over the side of the couch.

"I need a minute," Tony said, putting his head in his hands and trying to get the dizziness to pass.

Rather than responding, Gibbs merely sat beside him and put his arm around his shoulders, pulling Tony close and sipping his coffee.

Tony felt miserable. He leaned wearily against Gibbs' shoulder, his head pounding and his legs and back aching. "This is gonna be hard," Tony complained.

"Yeah," Gibbs agreed. "But you'll do it."

"I'll try," Tony said.

"No," Gibbs said, shaking his head. "You will, Tony."

Tony nodded in determination at Gibbs' confidence in him. "Okay."

Gibbs set his coffee down placed Tony's cane in front of him. He waited for Tony to grab onto it before reaching down and tugging him upwards, grabbing him in a tight hug when he felt him start to sway.

"Okay?" Gibbs asked, voice right next to Tony's ear.

Tony nodded against Gibbs' neck, and wound one hand into Gibbs' shirt, the other tight on his cane. "Okay," Tony said, trying to ignore the way his legs wobbled beneath him.

Gibbs took that as his cue and walked towards the stairs with Tony, going slow and doing his best to help him maneuver. They made it slowly up the stairs, though they did take a few breaks, and Gibbs just managed to pull the covers on the bed back before Tony eagerly flopped down in a boneless heap. Gibbs helped him shift up to the right spot on the bed, and Tony peered at him through half-lidded eyes.

"Lay with me?" Tony asked, and Gibbs nodded, pulling off his work shirt and grabbing a t-shirt instead.

"I'm gonna go get the heating pad first," Gibbs said as he changed his pants, and Tony nodded, watching him go. He pulled the blankets up close to his chin and sighed, closing his eyes as he thought of his day and how quickly it had went down the drain. It had started off fine, and lunch had been fun, even if it was odd to be talking about life with Gibbs, especially when Gibbs went and outed them to the team so soon afterward. Tony knew he would probably be mad about that later, when he wasn't so achy and exhausted and miserable. As it was, he couldn't help but think about how Gibbs had just wanted to touch him and make sure he was okay regardless of who saw, and how Gibbs that was, through and through. Gibbs didn't give a shit about anyone else and what they thought, and Tony couldn't waste the resources on worrying about that when he wanted Gibbs to lay with him and hold onto him and make him feel better.

Tony smiled at Gibbs when he got back to the bedroom, and Gibbs kissed him, slow and gentle, before plugging in the heating pad and settling it over Tony's legs.

"Turn over," Gibbs said as he climbed into bed beside him. "Let me rub your back."

"Really?" Tony asked hopefully.

Gibbs just gave him a very mild glare, and Tony wearily rolled over, with a little help from Gibbs, and Gibbs placed the heating pad on the back of Tony's legs once he was on his stomach.

"Comfortable?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah," Tony said, and Gibbs leaned over and straddled him. Tony sighed when Gibbs' hands pressed into his shoulders, kneading into his muscles.

"Feel good?" Gibbs asked, thumbs pushing into the base of his neck and rubbing in circles, palms warm through the thin cotton of Tony's t-shirt.

"Mmm," Tony managed, closing his eyes and feeling his body melt into the bed.

Gibbs' hands were heavenly, and Tony felt himself begin to calm down, to let go of the embarrassment and helplessness and just feel the sensation of Gibbs' hands pushing into his muscles, easing the stiffness away.

"It's good," Tony murmured, and Gibbs leaned down and pressed a kiss against his neck in response before continuing his massage. Tony couldn't help but moan when Gibbs' hands got to a particularly tight knot in his back, and he felt like crying again when he realized how fucking lucky he was to have Gibbs.

"Gibbs," he murmured, eyes closed, hands clutching the sheet beneath him.

"I'm right here," Gibbs said, his hands moving further down Tony's back.

"I know," Tony said. "Don't know what I'd do without you," he added, voice breathy and relaxed as Gibbs' hands continued to work into his back.

"Don't have to find out," Gibbs said, and Tony felt tension he didn't even know he was carrying leave him, and he relaxed further into the mattress, his limbs sinking like stones.

He was so relaxed, he almost murmured a breathy, "love you," but he managed to stop before he embarrassed himself further. Instead, he sighed and savored the feeling of Gibbs' hands on his back and didn't fight it when he felt himself drift into sleep, knowing he was safe with Gibbs there to watch his six.

Chapter Text

The sound of pouring rain falling fast and powerful against the windows crept into Tony's consciousness as he tried to nestle deeper into his pillows and avoid the onerous task of waking up. He frowned in confusion, though, when his face hit something hard, and he cracked open an eye and peeked next to him, only to come face to face with Gibbs' hip. Gibbs was sitting up in bed, leaning against the headboard, thin reading glasses perched on the edge of his nose as he skimmed the paper in the grey light of an overcast Saturday morning and sipped a coffee while Tony slept, an arm slung over Gibbs' waist and his head nestled into Gibbs' side. "Morning," Gibbs said, not looking away from the paper.

"Mmm," Tony replied, pressing a kiss into the fabric of Gibbs' sweatpants.

"How you doin'?" Gibbs asked, folding up his newspaper and tossing it down towards the foot of the bed. He rested his free hand on Tony's back, and Tony smiled tiredly at the touch.

"Okay," Tony murmured. "Gotta pee."

Gibbs cracked a smile and set his coffee down on the nightstand before pulling his glasses off and tossing them aside as well.

"Gonna break 'em if you throw 'em," Tony mumbled, words splitting into a yawn at the end of his sentence. He let his eyes close again and tugged Gibbs a little closer.

"Thought you had to pee," Gibbs said.

"I do," Tony complained. "But I'm comfortable."

"How are your legs feeling?" Gibbs asked. "Think you can get there with your cane?"

Tony sighed, giving Gibbs a squeeze before letting go of him and rolling onto his back, staring up at the ceiling for a moment as he contemplated his answer. "I don't know," he said. "They're achy, but I don't know how strong they are until I try to get up."

Gibbs got out of bed and went around to Tony's side, moving the cane a little closer to the edge of the bed so Tony could easily grab onto it. Tony merely turned his head and looked at him, not moving from where he was lying in the middle of the bed.

"What if I really had to go?" he mused. "Like I was about to piss my pants?"

"Are you gonna piss your pants?" Gibbs asked impatiently.

"No," Tony said, "I'm just saying, I'm so slow, if I really had to go-"

"Well you don't," Gibbs said impatiently. "Now are you gonna get out of bed, or are you gonna lay there until you do piss your pants?"

Tony grinned at Gibbs. "I love when you sweet talk me," he said with a wink. "You always know just what to say."

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Tony."

Tony did his best to quell his grin and worked his way over to the edge of the bed, swinging his legs over the side and sitting still for a moment.

"Dizzy?" Gibbs asked.

"Mm," Tony replied, eyes closed. "But that always happens in the morning." He couldn't help but wonder when that happened; thoughts of dizziness seemed synonymous with thoughts of waking up (among other things), and yet he knew that only two months ago, they would've seemed foreign. He ran a hand through his hair, making its already disheveled appearance even worse as his fingers sent it twisting around into various directions.

"Okay," Tony said. "I'm gonna get up now."

"Okay," Gibbs said, stepping closer. "I'll grab on if you need my help."

Tony nodded, steadying himself on his cane and steeling himself before pushing himself up, wobbling only slightly and managing to get upright without any assistance. He couldn't help but look at Gibbs with a wide grin, even if he was clutching his cane rather tightly.

"Look!" Tony said. He paused for a moment, glancing down at his cane. "No hands!" he added, taking his hands off and holding them up for a half-second that set Gibbs' heart beating fast in alarm as Tony started to sway, but before he could reach out and grab him, Tony grabbed onto his cane tightly again and regained his footing.

Gibbs looked at him sternly and didn't even crack a smile when Tony gave him a sheepish grin.

"You try that trick again and I won't bother helping you off the floor," Gibbs warned, watching warily as Tony made his way to the bathroom, still with that damn smile on his face that Gibbs didn't know how he managed to find so early in the morning after the hellish day he'd had yesterday.

"You're no fun," Tony called out, just as he disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. He took care of his needs and propped open the door again as he brushed his teeth, one hand braced heavily on the bathroom counter while he held his toothbrush with the other.

"Doing better today," Gibbs commented, leaning against the bathroom doorframe and watching him brush his teeth.

Tony turned to him. "Ahgsh," he said, then took his toothbrush out of his mouth and held up one finger as he spit into the sink. "I guess so," he repeated, running his brush under the water and then giving his teeth one more brush.

"Got a headache?" Gibbs asked.

Tony shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head to the side for a moment, looking almost apologetic as he looked at Gibbs, his toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.

"That a yes?" Gibbs asked, and Tony spit again into the sink before answering.

"A little," he said, rinsing his toothbrush off and placing it next to Gibbs' in the cup next to the sink, sparing a smile for the sight of their toothbrushes together in Gibbs' master bath. He rinsed his mouth out a couple more times, and then put his hand back on his cane, making his way towards the doorframe but stopping when Gibbs didn't move.

"I was gonna go through the doorway," Tony said, "and I'm not trying to rush you, Boss, but I'd much rather be sitting than standing."

Gibbs smiled at him and leaned forward to give him a kiss, running his hands over Tony's back for a moment.

"I'll get out of your way now," Gibbs said with a smirk, stepping aside.

Tony scowled at him as he made his way out of the bathroom, heading towards the bed and dropping down on the edge again. "Don't kiss me with your coffee breath right after I brush my teeth," he complained. "I don't mind it the rest of the time. I mean, you're Gibbs. You basically have coffee in your veins. But I was all minty-"

He words were cut off when Gibbs stalked over and kissed him, hard and demanding, running his hands through Tony's hair and pushing him back on the bed until he was lying down. Gibbs was suddenly spread out on top of him, his body warm and heavy against Tony's.

"You mind now?" Gibbs asked, his face hovering just inches above Tony's.

Tony just stared, a grin forming on his face. He reached up and put his hands on Gibbs' hips, tilting his own up so that their already hardening cocks pressed together. "I think I can deal with it," Tony said, voice husky.

Gibbs looked at him with a smirk before leaning down, pressing a warm kiss underneath Tony's ear, and Tony tilted his head to give Gibbs easier access to his neck, and spread a hand over his back, tugging him closer.

"Was worried about you yesterday," Gibbs murmured, punctuating his words with kisses all along Tony's jaw and down his neck.

"Mm," Tony replied, running his hand up underneath Gibbs' t-shirt, smoothing his fingers over Gibbs' back. "Wanna show me how just how worried you were?" Tony asked suggestively, grinning when Gibbs let his teeth brush over his neck, biting down for just a second. Tony let out a rather un-manly squeak when Gibbs shifted him onto his side and gently swatted his ass as payback for mocking his worry.

"Ooh, rough," Tony said with a gasp, laughing as Gibbs grabbed him by the shoulders and tugged him up further on the bed so that he was lying on it properly rather than flopped down with his legs over the edge.

"I like it when you go all cave-man," Tony teased breathily, grinning when Gibbs looked at him with an amused half-smirk. He reached up to pull Gibbs' hips down again and grind their cocks together, and when Gibbs grunted in pleasure, Tony couldn't help but think that watching Gibbs like this, with his intense focus directed at him, was incredible; something Tony couldn't have imagined even in his wildest dreams.

Gibbs his eyes locked on Tony's as he leaned down to kiss him, and Tony gasped into the kiss and closed his eyes when Gibbs thrust his hips, and then Gibbs was pinning him down, shifting his mouth to Tony's neck, trailing kisses along his skin. Suddenly Gibbs impatiently sat up, pulling on the hem of Tony's shirt as he straddled him, scowling when it got caught at Tony's armpits.

Tony grinned and shifted forwards a bit, pulling his shirt the rest of the way off and watching hungrily as Gibbs yanked his own shirt up over his head. And then Gibbs' mouth was on his skin again, at the juncture of his collarbone, and then his tongue was swirling around Tony's nipple, teeth grazing just enough to make Tony moan, and then Gibbs' lips were trailing down his ribs, pressing a kiss into the hollow between each bone, and then they were moving towards his belly button, and Tony gasped when Gibbs' fingers hooked onto his waistband and he lifted his hips and let Gibbs slide his pants down, unashamed for him to see how hard he was because he knew that Gibbs was just as hard.

Gibbs kissed his hip, and Tony did his best not to fidget as the cool, damp air tingled pleasantly against his cock while he strained against the hand that Gibbs placed on his other hip, holding him in place. Gibbs looked up at him and Tony's breath hitched at the sight of Gibbs' face next to his dick, his blue eyes staring up mischievously, and then Gibbs was pressing a kiss to the inside of his thigh, his hair rustling against the base of Tony's cock - and it was torture seeing him there, so close to where Tony wanted and needed and ached for him to touch, wisps of his hair flickering tantalizingly over Tony's skin.

"Gibbs," Tony groaned, his heart beating fast in anticipation. "Please."

Gibbs pressed a short, chaste kiss to the tip of Tony's dick, looking up at him with a smirk, and Tony returned the gaze pleadingly. "Stop teasing," Tony said desperately.

And then, his eyes still locked on Tony's, Gibbs licked all along the underside of Tony's cock, tongue trailing from base to head and then swirling around the tip. Tony's head fell back and he closed his eyes, swallowing hard and doing his best not to cry out, one hand winding into the hair on the back of Gibbs' head, the other twisting into the sheets.

And then suddenly Gibbs' mouth was hot and warm on his dick, taking the whole length in his mouth and humming deep in the back of his throat, the vibrations pushing Tony closer and closer to the edge as one of his hands found Tony's balls. "Gibbs," Tony choked, thrusting his hips up involuntarily as Gibbs' tongue did things to his dick that he was quite sure had to be illegal. The sensations were driving him crazy, and the sounds of the heavy rain were easily drowned out by the sound of Gibbs' mouth on his cock, driving him crazy.

"Gibbs," Tony said desperately, tugging on his hair. "Gibbs, you gotta stop, I'm gonna-"

Gibbs took his mouth off of Tony's dick and Tony was embarrassed to hear a whimper of protest escape his mouth, even though he'd asked him to stop, and then Gibbs was sliding up his body again, kicking his own pants off and pushing his hips down, pressing his cock against Tony's, slippery with saliva.

Gibbs kissed him hungrily, and Tony whimpered again at the taste of himself in Gibbs' mouth, and he clutched at Gibbs' back, not caring if he left marks because he wanted Gibbs closer, and then Gibbs reached down and swirled his thumb over the tip of Tony's already leaking cock and Tony groaned and reached down himself, grabbing onto Gibbs' dick, shoving Gibbs' hand away and using his own to take care of both of them, gasping when Gibbs dropped his forehead down against Tony's neck, breathing heavy against his skin.

"Yeah, that's it, Tony," Gibbs murmured breathlessly, uncharacteristically needy words melting into the sweaty skin of Tony's neck. "Tony," Gibbs said again, this time more of a guttural groan, and then Tony pumped harder and faster, his own breath hitching, feeling like his skin was on fire, and he felt his toes curl and Gibbs was panting his name again and then Tony was coming hard at the very same time as Gibbs, eyes closed in ecstasy, head tilted back, Gibbs collapsing into a spent heap on top of him.

The sound of the rain was the first thing to filter back into his brain as he started to come back to awareness, still taking fast, open-mouthed, gasping breaths, staring up at the ceiling, hand twisting into Gibbs' hair as the bright exploding patterns behind his eyes faded into darkness. And then Gibbs turned his head just enough to press a kiss into his neck before rolling off of Tony, dislodging the hand in his hair, and glancing sideways to watch as Tony tried to catch his breath.

"Why're you so far away?" Tony managed, looking at Gibbs curiously.

"Didn't want to get glued to you," Gibbs said, gesturing to the semen on Tony's stomach and chest.

"Could be fun," Tony said with a grin, laughing when Gibbs suddenly twisted until he was straddling Tony again, holding him down by the wrists. He hovered over top of him for a moment before leaning down to kiss him, careful not to press their chests together to avoid the stickiness between them, tongue slippery and warm against Tony's.

"You're frisky today," Tony murmured, just centimeters from Gibbs' lips. "I like it."

Gibbs grinned and pressed a kiss into Tony's temple, then climbed all the way off him and stood next to the bed, holding a hand out.

"C'mon, let's take a shower," Gibbs said.

"I'm kinda tired," Tony said. "My whole body feels like rubber."

"I'll hold you up in the shower," Gibbs replied. "Don't worry."

Tony liked the way Gibbs looked after an orgasm. He still held his back straight, but his normally rigid posture was much more relaxed than usual and his shoulders weren't taut with tension. The lines on his face seemed smoother, and his eyes crinkled up at the corners as he smiled. Tony loved how unashamed Gibbs was about his body; maybe it came from being a Marine, but Tony loved looking beside him and seeing Gibbs standing there naked as the day he was born and completely unabashed, holding his worn, calloused hand out for Tony to take.

Tony hefted himself over to the edge of the bed and let Gibbs help him up, as he grabbed onto his cane. He made his way to the bathroom with Gibbs and held onto him desperately as they stepped into the shower; Tony was not a fan of showers since he had become more reliant on his cane. The slippery porcelain of the bathtub was not tempting, and while it was really fun that Gibbs usually showered with him, it made Tony feel even more helpless than usual.

As Gibbs held him against the wall of the shower, though, body hovering inches away from his own, hot water pouring down on their skin, Tony thought maybe two-person showers were the least of his worries.


"I wish it would stop raining," Tony complained, looking out the back door longingly at their bench. "We could sit outside."

Gibbs just grunted in response, handing Tony a cup of coffee, which Tony took eagerly. Gibbs always fixed Tony's coffee even better than Tony would fix it himself.

"Ducky's coming over," Gibbs said.

"Oh," Tony said, surprised. He took a sip of coffee, smiling and closing his eyes as he swallowed. "Perfect," he said.

"Of course it is," Gibbs said, and Tony rolled his eyes.

"Why's Ducky coming over?" Tony asked, holding his mug with both hands and letting the warmth seep into his fingers as he relaxed into the couch.

Gibbs shifted closer to Tony, sitting so that their sides pressed together pleasantly. "He's gonna help me figure out what we have to do to make the house work for you."

"Huh?" Tony asked, looking at Gibbs in shock. "What-"

"Like a bar to hold onto in the shower," Gibbs said with a shrug.

"A bar in the shower," Tony repeated faintly, setting his coffee down on the coffee table with a frown. "You're gonna-"

"You might need a shower when I'm not home," Gibbs said with a shrug.

Tony looked at him, unsure of how to react. Yeah, it was nice of Gibbs to want to do that - but he didn't want a bar to hold onto in the shower, or any other of the weird modifications that Gibbs was going to do to his house. Not to mention, Tony didn't even know how long he was welcome in Gibbs' home, and he frowned.

"You can't just make all these decisions without me," Tony said. "We're not at work. You're not my boss right now."

"I know," Gibbs said. "But you-"

"No, I don't think you do know," Tony interrupted. "I mean, you fucking outed us without asking me what I wanted to do. What if I didn't want them to know?"

"You ashamed of this?" Gibbs asked, voice low and brow furrowed.

"Jesus, Gibbs, of course not," Tony said, running a hand through his still-damp hair, and he was surprised to realize that he wasn't, not when the man he was with was Gibbs. "Don't try to change the subject," he continued. "The point is, that's a decision we should've made together."

Gibbs took a long sip of his coffee before setting it down next to Tony's on the table. "You're right," he said, and Tony looked at him in wary surprise. "I should've talked to you about it," Gibbs said with a shrug, "but I was worried about you, Tony. Abby made it sound like you were paralyzed. I didn't give a shit what they thought; I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

Tony sighed, his shoulders slumping. "I get that," Tony said. "I do. Just-don't do things like that anymore. You might not give a shit, but I do."

"Guess you're starting to figure out why I had so many divorces," Gibbs said, and he sounded so resigned that Tony couldn't help but look at him in annoyance.

"Yeah," he said, "but I'm also finding out why everyone who divorced you is a fucking idiot."

"Can't argue with that," Gibbs said with a grin.

"But Gibbs," Tony said, turning to him with wide eyes. "You're gonna put a bar in your-"

"Our shower now, Tony," Gibbs said. "And if that's what you need, that's what we'll do."

Tony turned away with a frown. "You keep saying our," he said, fingers nervously twitching over his thigh.

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "That a problem?"

"I don't know!" Tony said, turning to him in annoyance. "I mean, I don't even know what you are. Are you my fucking boyfriend? Are you my-my partner?"

Gibbs snorted. "I don't know. Don't know why we have to call it anything," he said. "You can call me whatever you want, as long as you mean the same thing I do."

"And what's that?" Tony said, a hand on his hip.

Gibbs shrugged. "That you're - you're everything," he said simply. "That we live together, work together, eat together, sleep together, figure things out together..." he trailed off and his eyes shifted to focus somewhere on the wall past Tony. "Like we're married, only we don't have a piece of paper or a ring. Don't need one, anyway; we know what we are to each other." He paused for a moment, a thoughtful frown on his face. "Guess if you wanted to call me your partner, it would make sense," Gibbs said, eyes sliding back to Tony's. He shrugged. "Probably better we can't get married, anyway," he added. "Don't have a good track record."

Tony just stared at him, brain spinning in circles, wondering how the fuck Gibbs could talk his way out of everything so easily and earnestly when the man was practically mute. "So you…you want me to live here," Tony said, doing his best to phrase his words as a statement and not a question. "For good," he added.

Gibbs nodded. "Well, yeah, DiNozzo," he said.

Tony couldn't help but smile slightly, but then he went back to a thoughtful frown. "And you-you want to modify your house so I can live here," he added. "Permanently."

"That's the idea," Gibbs said with a shrug.

Tony just stared at him, and he was absolutely horrified when he felt his eyes start to burn. "You're such a bastard," Tony said, leaning forward and clutching Gibbs, pressing his face into his neck. He hadn't realized how much he'd worried about exactly what was going on between them, how serious his feelings for Gibbs were, and whether or not Gibbs felt the same until suddenly Gibbs dismissed all of his worries with a shrug. And for Gibbs to just sit there and explain it all like it was no big deal and Tony should've just known made him equal parts irritated and content.

"I thought I was being nice this time," Gibbs said, voice soft in Tony's ear.

"You are," Tony said, squeezing Gibbs' torso and sliding his hand up underneath his shirt.

Gibbs laughed, and Tony pulled out of the hug to kiss him.

"You still payin' rent for your apartment?" Gibbs asked once they broke their kiss.

"Yeah," Tony said. "But my lease is up in three weeks."

"Good timing," Gibbs said. "You sign anything yet?"

"No," Tony said. "I didn't know if I should."

"You should've talked to me about it," Gibbs said, sounding more gentle than irritated.

"Like you talked to me about modifying the house?" Tony asked.

"I just did," Gibbs said.

"Yeah, when Ducky's already on his way over to talk about it," Tony complained.

Gibbs shrugged. "So, you're not gonna renew your lease, right? We could go start packing your stuff up today if we have time, see if we can move some of it here tomorrow?"

Tony didn't say anything for a moment, and Gibbs frowned. "Unless you want to keep that ratty old apartment," he said.

"I've never lived with anyone before besides college roommates," Tony said. "I don't want to fuck this up."

"You won't," Gibbs said confidently.

"How do you know?" Tony asked, sounding desperately hopeful.

"Because I know you, Tony," Gibbs said. "And I also know that I'll kick your ass all the way to Mexico if you do."

Tony laughed; he couldn't help it. Moving in with Gibbs, changing his address to Gibbs' and really living with him was the craziest thing he'd ever imagined doing. But it was also maybe the best thing he'd ever imagined doing, and he grinned, leaning forward and kissing Gibbs sloppily, laughing against Gibbs' mouth. The dull ache behind his eyes and in his shoulders and his legs was nothing compared to the elation he felt bubbling up in his chest, and he felt like he was on another fucking planet when Gibbs pressed him flat against the couch and dropped laughing kisses against his face, his cheeks, his nose, his chin, his forehead, the corners of his mouth, and then they were both laughing in a heap on the couch, and Tony didn't think he had ever seen Gibbs like this before.

And then Gibbs wasn't laughing, but instead, kissing him gently, and Tony made a contented "mmm" sound, pulling Gibbs closer with a hand on his neck and one on his back. Gibbs' body was flush against his own for the second time that day, warm and familiar, and Tony sighed into the kiss, wondering why he ever thought moving in with Gibbs would be a bad idea because while it was definitely terrifying, it was terrifying in the most incredible way imaginable.

Tony's pleasure was interrupted, though, when Gibbs suddenly froze and pulled away, cocking his head to the side and listening intently, and Tony opened his eyes, annoyed, about to tell him off when Gibbs spoke.

"Hey, Duck," Gibbs said, turning his head and looking towards the doorway. He pushed himself off of Tony and offered him a hand to pull him back up to sitting, which Tony took, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment and looking anywhere but Ducky.

"Hello, my boys," Ducky said cheerfully. "It looks as if I've interrupted a rather private moment. My apologies. Perhaps you should start locking your door, Jethro, or answering when someone knocks," he added with a smile that crept all the way up to the corners of his eyes as he dropped down into the armchair in Gibbs' living room, completely unfazed by the scene he'd walked in on.

"Don't sound too sincere, Duck," Gibbs said, and he would've sounded pissed if it weren't for the lingering flush in his cheeks; as it was, he just sounded vaguely cranky.

"Well," Ducky said, "I hate to interrupt what was so obviously a prized moment for the two of you. On the other hand, it brings me great pleasure to see two of my dearest friends so happy, especially when neither of them are strangers to loneliness."

"Want some coffee or tea?" Gibbs asked, predictably ignoring Ducky's statement as he reached for his own coffee and handed Tony his.

"I wouldn't say no to a cup of Earl Grey if you have it," Ducky said, easily following Gibbs' abrupt subject change, and Gibbs nodded, getting up and heading to the kitchen. Tony resisted the urge to smack Gibbs for leaving him alone with Ducky after that, and instead, sipped his coffee.

"How are you doing, Tony? I was quite worried about you yesterday," Ducky asked, leaning forward in his chair and watching Tony earnestly.

"I'm doing much better, Ducky," Tony said, still not meeting Ducky's eyes. "I was in pretty rough shape yesterday, but today is pretty good."

"Do you still have pain in your legs?" Ducky asked.

"No," Tony replied, settling against the couch again and feeling some of his embarrassment slip away as he fell into the familiar routine of conversation with Ducky. "Well, not really," Tony amended. "They're achy, but it's not acute pain like it was yesterday."

"That's good news," Ducky said. "And I suppose it really helps to have Jethro taking care of you," he added with a grin.

Tony felt himself blushing and wondered, not for the first time, why he'd recently morphed into a teenage girl. "Yeah," he said. "Did he tell you about us?" Tony asked.

"No," Ducky said. "But when he called to ask me if I could give him advice on modifying the house for you and he mentioned altering the master bath, I could easily form a few conclusions. And I can't say that I didn't see it coming."

"Everybody says that when things surprise them," Gibbs said, striding back into the living room and giving Ducky a hot cup of tea. Tony couldn't help but wonder how the hell Gibbs had made steaming hot tea so fast; either he had put the water on earlier unbeknownst to Tony, or Gibbs really did have magical powers (it wouldn't really come as a surprise).

"Ah, well, I am not only a forensic psychologist, but also a quite observant and dedicated friend, which sets me apart from 'everybody,' doesn't it? I have been watching the two of you grow closer and closer over the past eight years, and I won't pretend to say that I always knew you were in love, because I certainly did not, but I did always know that the two of you are quite important to one another, perhaps more important than anyone else," Ducky said.

Tony did his best not to react when Ducky used the "L-word" again, and instead calmly sipped his coffee. Gibbs was sitting next to him on the couch once more, side flush against his as usual, and he pressed his knee against Tony's when Ducky mentioned love. Tony decided to call it coincidence, even if he knew very well what Gibbs thought of coincidences, because there was only so much he could handle in one day.

"And I think at this point that you two know that I'm a rather open-minded man," Ducky added. "But I must ask, and I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds...isn't it strange-"

"So, Duck, you think we'll need a seat for the shower?"

Tony nearly choked on his coffee at both the prospect of a fucking seat in Gibbs' shower and Gibbs' blatant disregard for whatever it was Ducky had been about to ask - though, he couldn't help but be grateful for the interruption because he wasn't sure he wanted to know what Ducky was about to ask.

"Ah, I suppose at this point I should know better than to push my luck," Ducky lamented. "Back on topic, I suppose. A seat for the shower would probably be most beneficial. When mother first began to have trouble supporting herself, it was really quite useful."

Tony bristled at being compared to Ducky's mother, because, well, really - and when Gibbs laid a hand on his knee, it annoyed him more than it comforted him.

"I was also thinking that you should either somehow move your master bedroom to the first floor or get a stair-lift," Ducky continued.

Tony's heart was pounding, and he looked at Ducky with wide eyes. "A stair-lift?" he asked incredulously. "What the hell is that?"

Ducky was unperturbed by Tony's outburst, probably because interacting with Gibbs for years left him accustomed to much worse. "It's actually quite useful," Ducky said. "It's a seat with electronic or battery operated controls that moves along a metal track installed over the railing to bring you up or down the stairs," Ducky said.

"You can't be serious," Tony said, edging away from Gibbs and dislodging his hand.

"It makes sense, Tony," Gibbs said gently, and Tony looked at him with something akin to betrayal.

"Why does it make sense to ruin your fucking house with a fucking-"

"Hey," Gibbs said sharply. "You're more important than the railing, Tony," he said. His voice was harsh and while the words themselves seemed kind, Gibbs spoke them like a reprimand, and Tony glared at him.

"If I may," Ducky said hesitantly, and Tony couldn't bring himself to glare at Ducky like he did at Gibbs, so he crossed his arms and stared straight ahead, his jaw clenched in stony silence as Gibbs turned to Ducky with a flash of helplessness on his face.

"Tony, I know that this seems like a major inconvenience for Jethro," Ducky said, and Tony's jaw clenched further in annoyance. "Forgive me if this is harsh, but don't you think it's actually more inconvenient for him to drag you up and down the stairs every time you need to change floors than it is to install a means to give you the empowerment to move around yourself? Not to mention that with the stair-lift, Jethro will not have to worry if you're having a bad day and he can't be at home."

Tony didn't say anything, but it was obvious from the way his breathing sped up that he knew Ducky had a point. Neither Gibbs nor Ducky broke the silence, and just when the tension seemed unbearable, Tony spoke. "Fine," he said, voice clipped. He didn't have to turn his head to know that Gibbs and Ducky were looking at each other.

"Tony," Ducky began, "I know-"

"I'm not an invalid," Tony interrupted, finally turning to look at Ducky, anger evident in the tense carriage of his shoulders and the angry set of his brows. "I don't want a stair-lift, and I don't want a fucking seat in the-"

"DiNozzo," Gibbs interrupted, voice a growl. "Don't take it out on Ducky."

"I'm not taking anything out on Ducky!" Tony protested vehemently, alarmed to hear his voice crack. "I just don't want-I don't want this," he said, words trailing off as an all too familiar surge of emotion swelled up in his gut. He felt dangerously helpless and out of control, and he edged away from Gibbs when he reached out to touch him.

"Hey," Gibbs said gently, and Tony just stared at him with wide-eyes, trying to pretend that his lower lip was not clenching convulsively because he couldn't handle this right now. He was still trying to wrap his mind around the idea of this disease and its occasional physical limitations, but a stair-lift was not occasional. That was a permanent addition to Gibbs' house, and if he was honest with himself, deep down he knew that it was necessary - and that terrified him.

"You don't have to use it all the time, Tony," Ducky said quietly. "It will just be there for you when you need it."

Tony closed his eyes and covered his face with his hand for a moment, breathing deeply and trying to get a grip on himself. Gibbs reached out and squeezed his shoulder, rubbing his thumb back and forth, and when Tony didn't pull away, he shifted closer and let his arm slide around Tony's shoulders.

"Sorry," Tony finally said weakly, letting his hand fall away from his face and keeping his eyes averted. "I just-"

"It's perfectly understandable," Ducky said. "Actually, Tony, I've been meaning to tell you that I think you're handling this admirably. Your considerable personal strength is evident at a time like this."

Tony looked up at Ducky in disbelief. "Ducky," he said, "You don't have to-"

"It's true," Gibbs said, and Tony swiveled his head abruptly to look at Gibbs, searching his eyes for signs of a lie.

"Are you serious?" Tony said, looking back and forth between Gibbs and Ducky, his brow furrowed in confusion. "I can't even-"

"You woke up today smiling," Gibbs pointed out. "And you had a hell of a day yesterday."

"And you are adjusting to the changes in your work routine remarkably well," Ducky added.

Tony looked at Ducky incredulously, thinking of the disquiet he felt every single time his team left without him. "Ducky...we work in the same place, right? NCIS? In the Navy Yard? Big building, lots of orange inside?"

Tony wasn't surprised when Gibbs lightly cuffed the back of his head, and he scowled at him, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring. Ducky laughed and attempted to cover his mouth with his hand to hide it, but failed miserably, and Tony couldn't help but smile when Gibbs glared at Ducky. He could feel some of his anxiety begin to slip away at the familiarity of the situation.

"Tony, you really should give yourself some credit," Ducky admonished.

"Listen to Ducky," Gibbs said. "He's smart."

Tony rolled his eyes at Gibbs, leaning against him more and settling both of them against the back of the couch. "Hey Gibbs, how come you don't already have one of these stair-lift things? I mean, your knees are getting pretty creaky in your old age; it could save you a lot of trouble," he said, because, well, joking was better than crying in his book.

Gibbs looked at him with utter annoyance on his face and raised an eyebrow, and suddenly vivid images of Gibbs pinning him down and kissing him and thrusting his hips flooded Tony's mind, and he felt a blush creeping up his cheeks again, because really, Ducky was there, and he rubbed a hand over the back of his neck uncomfortably. "Ah, well, you know, I mean, I was just-you know, they're only creaky because you're so physically active-not that it's because you've been active for too many years or anything-I mean, you're really not-"

Tony stopped talking abruptly when Gibbs laughed, and he scowled, especially when he saw that Ducky, too, was chuckling; he just couldn't win. But then, when Gibbs looked at him with a wide smile, the last traces of laughter still clinging to his eyes and his cheeks, his arm heavy around his shoulders, and he caught Ducky looking at them with warmth and support, he couldn't help but think that maybe despite all of the pretty terrible events going on in his life, he already had his prize.

Chapter Text

Throughout the many years Tony had spent in his questionable apartment building, he'd only met his landlord a handful of times, and in his opinion, that was a handful too many; the man always smelled of cigarette smoke and sweat, and had a habit of crowding people's personal space and nudging with his elbows to get his point across. Tony hesitated outside the man's office for a moment, about to turn to Gibbs and suggest that they leave and do it another day, when Gibbs rolled his eyes and rapped his knuckles sharply against the door, ignoring the annoyed glare that Tony shot him. The door swung open a few moments later, creaking on its hinges, and a balding, overweight man loomed in the doorway, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

"Hey, Tony, right?" he asked, staring at Tony through beady eyes.

"Yeah," Tony said. "Hey, Larry."

"Come on in," Larry said, opening the door wider and letting the two men inside, glancing curiously at Tony's cane without saying anything.

"Just came to drop off my keys," Tony said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a key ring with his apartment and mailbox keys on it, holding it out towards the landlord.

"Yeah, gimme one sec and I'll find your security check," Larry said. He grabbed the key ring and turned towards a tall, rusty filing cabinet, wrestling with a drawer for a moment before succeeding in yanking it open.

"You didn't always have that cane, right? You leavin' because it's a walk up?" Larry asked, flipping through folders and pushing a few stray papers out of the way as he searched for Tony's file.

"No," Tony said, studiously ignoring the overflowing garbage can that was emitting some rather dubious odors next to Larry's unorganized desk. "Just found somewhere else to go," he added, acutely aware of Gibbs' silent presence at his side. He couldn't help but wonder what Larry thought their relationship was; it was something he wondered whenever he went anywhere with Gibbs. He'd always enjoyed going out with women on his arm, knowing that everyone they passed knew they were together, and he found that he wanted people to cast those envious, knowing looks at him and Gibbs as well.

"We got a few ground-level apartments," Larry said, effectively interrupting Tony's thought process. Larry paused and pulled an envelope out of a folder, looking up from his perusal of the filing cabinet. "You sure you want this? You could put it towards a new place; we got a new building a few blocks east of here that's real nice," he said, waving the envelope.

"Yeah, I'm sure," Tony said. "I already have a new place lined up."

Larry sighed, reaching behind him to put his cigarette out on the ashtray on his desk. "Figures," he said. "All the good tenants are leavin' at once. You're not going to that new building across the-"

"He's moving in with me," Gibbs interrupted, any patience he might've had when he told Tony he'd go with him already flying out the window.

Before Larry could cut in, Tony realized that maybe he should've introduced the two of them sooner. "Larry, this is-" He faltered for a moment, unsure of exactly what to call Gibbs. Normal people didn't refer to others by their last names, he knew, but he'd never really called Gibbs 'Jethro' before, even if they were living together. Before he could think of the right answer, Gibbs interrupted.

"Jethro," he said, not bothering to put his hand out for Larry to shake. Tony looked at him in surprise, as he always did when Gibbs referred to himself by first name. And then, he couldn't help but feel jealous of fat old Larry, because Larry got to call Gibbs Jethro, and he scowled.

"Oh, uh, nice to meet you, Jethro," Larry said rather ineloquently, looking between the two of them in confusion. "Anyway," he said after a pause, turning back to Tony, "here's your check. Wrote it out yesterday."

"Thanks," Tony said, grabbing the envelope. "Take it easy, Larry," he said. He made his way towards the door as Larry reached for another cigarette.

"Yeah, you too," Larry called, and once they closed the office door and left the building, also owned by Larry's company but a few blocks away from Tony's old apartment complex, Tony breathed in the fresh air eagerly.

"His office is disgusting," Tony commented, easily keeping up with Gibbs as they walked to the car, leaning only a little bit on his cane.

Gibbs grunted his agreement, unlocking Tony's door before heading around to his own. Tony climbed into the car and waited for Gibbs, thinking that it was a rather anticlimactic moment. He'd expected something more exciting; a feeling of liberation, maybe, knowing that the time in his run-down old apartment was officially over and his time with Gibbs was officially beginning, but he just felt vague irritation at the smell of cigarette smoke that still seemed to cling to him.

He'd packed his belongings and moved everything to Gibbs' house a couple weeks earlier, anyway (well, Gibbs had, and Tony had made supportive comments from the couch - it wasn't his fault his legs had decided to be extra weak that day), so it really wasn't like it was a monumental occasion or anything, and he turned to Gibbs with a smile as Gibbs pulled away from the curb.

"Charming guy, huh? I think I'll miss him," Tony said, grinning when the corner of Gibbs' lips turned upwards in amusement.

"You wanna go back and see if he's got a room in his apartment for you?" Gibbs asked, glancing away from the road for a moment to raise an eyebrow at Tony.

"That's okay, Boss," Tony replied.

"You know," Gibbs said, "you can call me Jethro."

Tony's brows shot up in surprise. "Um," he replied. "Really?"

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Tony," he said. "We live together. We sleep together. If I told your landlord he can call me Jethro, don't you think it's okay for you, too?"

"Yeah, I guess," Tony replied, frowning thoughtfully. "I never really imagined calling you Jethro."

"Did you think you'd call me 'Boss' forever?" Gibbs said, sparing him an amused glance.

"I call you Gibbs, too!" Tony protested.

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "You do. I call you DiNozzo sometimes, too."

"Usually when you're ordering me around," Tony complained.

"Yeah," Gibbs replied. "Exactly."

"Oh," Tony said a moment later, beginning to understand Gibbs' point. "So you want me to call you Jethro?"

"It'd be nice," Gibbs said with a shrug, and Tony knew from the deceptively casual tone of his voice that Gibbs really wanted him to call him Jethro; if he didn't care, he wouldn't have brought it up in the first place, let alone talk about it for more than a sentence.

"Jethro," Tony said thoughtfully. "I guess I can do that. I always think of you as Gibbs in my head."

"Well, don't," Gibbs said, and Tony quirked a smile.

"Okay, Jethro," he teased, but he couldn't help but grin at the idea of calling Gibbs by his first name, even though it really was rather odd he hadn't done it before then.

"Call me Boss at work," Gibbs added.

"Of course," Tony said automatically. "Do you think it's weird that I've never called you Jethro before?"

Gibbs shrugged. "Never told you to," he said.

"Yeah, you're right," Tony said with a thoughtful frown, which quickly turned to a grin. "Jethro," he said, as if testing the name on his tongue. "Jethro, Jethro, Jethrooooo-"

"Hey," Gibbs interrupted, annoyed. Tony couldn't help but let his smile widen.

"Yes, Jethro?" he said innocently.

"Jesus," Gibbs muttered. "Tell me again why I put up with you?"

"Because-" Tony stopped himself uncomfortably, aware that his 'because you love me' quip felt way too inappropriate when those were words that he and Gibbs had never uttered. "Because I'm totally sexy?" he said instead.

"Something like that," Gibbs said with a half-smile, and Tony reached out and let his hand rest on Gibbs' thigh, his fingers rubbing up and down against the rough fabric of Gibbs' jeans. When Gibbs didn't automatically push his hand away, Tony decided to push his luck and he let his fingers drift higher, brushing against Gibbs' fly.

"Wanna die in a car accident?" Gibbs asked conversationally, and Tony scowled and took his hand away, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Oh, come on, Jethro," he said. "Don't you think it would be fun if I-"

"Yeah, it would be," Gibbs said. "But we're almost home. Might as well wait."

"Where's your sense of adventure?" Tony said. "Your sense of excitement and-damn," he said when his phone rang, tugging it out of his pocket and groaning. "Dispatch."

Gibbs pulled an illegal U-turn that made Tony grab onto his armrest with white knuckles as he listened to his orders to get the team to base; they had a dead Navy lieutenant.

He hung up and turned to Gibbs with an annoyed look on his face. "Does this mean I switch back to calling you Boss now?"

"What do we got?" Gibbs asked.

Tony sighed. "Dead lieutenant," he said. "Rock Creek Park."

"Call Ziva, McGee, and Ducky," he said. Tony was pleased that he sounded disappointed.

"On it, Boss," Tony said automatically, pulling out his phone and making the calls as Gibbs drove towards the Navy Yard. Once he'd finished the last call and shoved his phone back in his pocket, he turned and gazed at Gibbs, just watching him for a moment, taking in the way his hands gripped the steering wheel (Tony couldn't help but think - with no small amount of yearning - about being behind the wheel himself), watching the slight shift in Gibbs' shoulders as he switched lanes.

"What?" Gibbs said. "Something on my face?"

"No," Tony said with a shrug. "I'm just looking."

"At what?" Gibbs said, annoyed, and Tony rolled his eyes.

"You," he said, wondering if Gibbs had a single romantic bone in his body - but then he remembered sitting on the bench with him on the porch, and coming home to see the fucking stair-lift on Gibbs' railing, and Gibbs making him coffee - and he smiled, reaching out and settling his hand on Gibbs' thigh again, keeping it close to his knee and squeezing.

"You gonna come check out the scene?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah," Tony said, knowing that he was feeling well enough that day to go, even if he would be confined to the roped off area of the actual crime. He let his thumb slide back and forth over Gibbs' leg and he sighed. Now that they were getting called back into work, Tony couldn't help but think about how much he had been looking forward to going home with Gibbs and relaxing with him and touching him-

"Case'll be over soon enough," Gibbs said.

"We haven't even started yet," Tony complained.

"So we'll get there and do our best to close it as soon as we can," Gibbs said, and Tony nodded, giving Gibbs' knee a squeeze and pulling his hand away, looking out the window and watching the buildings pass by in a blur.

Tony realized with a start that for the first time in a long time, he had something to look forward to outside of work, something to make him look forward to going home at the end of a long case, and he smiled. He just hoped that the inevitable return of headaches and dizziness and fatigue would hold off long enough for them to make some headway on the case.


When dispatch first called, Tony had hoped for a cut and dry case that they could wrap up quickly with enough time left over to have a relaxing Sunday dinner before the work week started again.

It didn't quite work out that way.

Tony covered a yawn with his hand, staring blearily at the phone records on his computer screen as he tried to get a hold of the dead lieutenant's cousin on the phone. He glanced at the time in the corner of his screen - 11:17 PM - and grimaced, rubbing a thumb over his temple and trying to pretend that the headache he could feel building was not going to be a bad one.

He left his ninth voicemail message of the day for the lieutenant's cousin, who was beginning to look rather guilty if his evasion tactics were anything to go by, and looked up as the elevator doors dinged open. Gibbs, Ziva, and McGee came striding through, and Tony frowned at the obvious anger on Gibbs' face.

"You get a hold of the cousin yet, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, sparing him a glance as he made his way to the computer.

"No, Boss," Tony said, "I tried his home phone, cell phone, work phone, email, wife-"

"Try harder," Gibbs snarled, and Tony did his best to show no visible reaction to his anger and turned back to the computer instead, rubbing a hand over his face and trying to think of some angle he was missing.

The lieutenant, Jeffrey Marsden, had been shot somewhere else and dumped in the park, and according to fibers found on his body and analyzed by Abby, the "somewhere else" was somewhere with a very expensive Persian carpet. Marsden's cousin, Scott Piston, just happened to be very rich, and also on the receiving end of Marsden's will. They had plenty of motive to pin on him, but he was nowhere to be found.

Tony jerked when his desk phone rang and hastily picked it up, hoping to God it was the damn cousin, Piston.

"Tony? Is everyone back yet? They must not be, because Gibbs would've known already that I have a ding, right? Because I do, I have a ding, and you should all-"

"We're on our way, Abby," Tony said, words breaking off into a yawn as he none-too-gently shoved the phone back on its receiver.

"Abby's got something," he said, pushing himself out of his chair and quickly grabbing his cane when things started to swim. He made his way to the elevator, crowding in with the rest of the team and heading down to the lab.

"This better be something good," Gibbs all but growled, and Tony exchanged a wary look with Ziva as McGee kept his eyes trained anywhere but Gibbs.

Tony trailed behind the others as they entered Abby's lab, and he grimaced when her loud music assaulted his ears, rubbing a hand over his forehead. That was not helping the headache he was doing his best to ignore.

Gibbs marched right over and turned it off, glaring at her in impatience as soon as he did so.

"Gibbs!" she said eagerly. "I have a ding!"

"Yeah, we got that part, Abs," he said.

"No Caff-Pow?" she asked.

"Abby," Gibbs warned, and she put her hands up in a gesture of surrender and turned back to her computer.

"Okay," she said. "I just got a match for the fingerprint we found on the tape on Marsden's mouth, but you're not gonna like it, Gibbs."

"Why not?" Gibbs asked, and Tony gripped Abby's counter with his free hand, hoping no one noticed that he was clinging to it, along with his cane, to stay upright.

"The match is from an unsolved murder six months ago in Baltimore," she said. "I already called Baltimore PD and got a copy of the report. I emailed you one and printed out a hard copy," she added, gesturing towards a stack of papers sitting beside her printer. Gibbs went over and grabbed the papers, then turned to Tony after scanning through the first few lines.

"You know Detective McLean?" he asked, and Tony shook his head, jaw clenched.

Gibbs looked like he was about to say something, but he cut himself off as he took notice of Tony's state.

"Christ, Tony," he said, putting the file down and pulling Abby's desk chair out, dragging it over to Tony and unceremoniously shoving McGee out of the way. "Sit down before you fall down," he added, lining the chair up behind him and helping him ease down into it, going around to the front of him and looking at him carefully.

"You okay?" Gibbs asked with a frown.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Tony said.

"Fine?" Gibbs challenged, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah," Tony said. "Just dizzy."

Gibbs gave him a skeptical look, but turned back to Abby. "What else you got?" he asked.

"A couch for Tony?" she said.

"I don't need the couch," Tony said, unable to keep the grouchiness out of his voice, and he was saved from further conversation when Abby's computer dinged again.

"We got a hit on the BOLO for Piston's-oh," she said.

"Oh what?" Tony asked, staying in his chair as everyone else crowded around Abby's computer screen. He itched to get up and see what happened, because he'd been searching for the damn cousin all day, but he was not moving.

Nobody said anything, and Gibbs turned on his heel and left the lab.

"DiNozzo, you stay here," he called over his shoulder, and Ziva and McGee sent him apologetic glances as they trailed behind Gibbs out the door.

"What happened?" Tony asked, hoping he didn't look as desperate as he felt. He hated feeling out of the loop, and the double whammy of staying behind and not knowing anything made his gut twist in a way that he couldn't ignore.

"They found Piston's car," Abby said, turning to Tony and biting her lip.

"Yeah, I got that," Tony said, frustrated and impatient. "Why-"

"He's in it," Abby said. "Dead."

Tony ran a hand through his hair and closed his eyes for a moment. "Guess I should go see if I can try to figure out what the hell is going on," he said, not exactly relishing the thought of going through all of their records and contacts and information again.

"Gibbs told you to stay here," Abby said, stepping forward and glaring at him with her hands on her hips.

"Yeah," Tony said, "in the building, not down here. I gotta go figure this out. Hand me that case file?"

Abby frowned, but Tony kept his gaze steady and unwavering, and she finally left his side to grab the thick stack of papers.

"Come down if you need to rest," she said, waiting until he'd gotten himself out of the chair to hand him the file.

"I will," Tony said, even though he knew that he wouldn't. "Thanks, Abby."

He made his way to the elevator and then to his desk, sitting down and poring through the file in front of him. As he read, mind automatically filing away important details and trying to draw connections between the cases even with a dull ache forming behind his eyes, he began to feel a familiar determination sweep over him, and he sat up a little straighter and looked at the case with newfound vigor and focus.

For the first time in a long time, sitting alone at his desk, case file spread out in front of him illuminated by the bright overhead work lights, he began to feel like maybe he could do this; after all, he'd always done his best work at night, trying to figure out the details that escaped him and the rest of the team during the day, and he was Gibbs' second for a reason.

So when his desk phone rang, he picked it up with a weary smile, his determination easily overriding his headache.

"Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS."


Tony felt a warm hand on his shoulder shaking him awake, and he sighed, automatically leaning into the touch. "Gibbs," he breathed, and then froze when he began to listen to the sounds around him and realize that he was not in his bed - was that Ziva and Tim he heard talking?

He wearily pushed his head up and squinted against the overhead lights. It was still dark outside, but the team was back. Ziva and Tim were discussing something next to Tim's computer, eating takeout, and Gibbs was holding a bag out in front of Tony.

"Time's it?" Tony asked, rubbing his eyes and wincing when his back popped.

"Four in the morning," Gibbs said.

Tony took a moment to stare blearily at Gibbs, eyes still half-closed, and then he closed his eyes again, silently counting to ten, wondering if he was dreaming, and opened them once more.

Damn, he thought. Not dreaming.

It was four in the morning, he was still at work, everyone was eating takeout like it was lunchtime, and on top of that, everything was blurry. Not blurry enough for him to freak out, but blurry enough that he knew the case files he'd been looking at would be a hard stretch to read.

Suddenly, at the thought of case files, he sat up in his chair and stared urgently at Gibbs.

"I figured it out," he said frantically, brain jolting itself awake in his haste to speak. "I was gonna call-and then I fell asleep, I didn't mean to-"

"Hey," Gibbs said, perching on the edge of his desk as Ziva and McGee turned to look at him. "What'd you figure out?"

"I was looking at the old Baltimore case," he said. "It was a murder. The vic - Johnson - was Piston's partner in an accounting firm where Marsden used to answer phones before he joined the Navy."

Tony paused for a moment, distracted by the enticing aroma coming from the takeout bag Gibbs was still holding, but when Gibbs reached out and tugged it out of Tony's line of (questionable) sight, Tony looked back towards Gibbs' face and continued.

"Baltimore PD looked into Piston and Marsden for Johnson's murder, but they had an alibi, and it still sticks. They didn't do it. It was Piston's wife," Tony said.

"You got evidence?" Gibbs asked, narrowing his eyes at Tony.

Tony nodded vigorously, but stopped when it made his head swim. "Yeah," he said. "I was looking at her phone records, and she placed calls to an unlisted cell number on the night of the old Baltimore murder, and in the report, it says it was her mechanic, and she was having legit car trouble. She made calls to the same number at least three times a day for the last week, and then again right before Marsden's murder, and an hour before Piston's car accident. Her mechanic friend's got a pretty long rap sheet, and he's been accused of murder once before; tampering with brake lines. Got cleared of all charges, but that doesn't mean anything, right Boss?"

Gibbs just looked at him thoughtfully, and McGee was typing something into his computer, probably to find evidence to back up Tony's claims. Ziva looked pensive as she listened to Tony. "Piston's brake line showed evidence of tampering," she remarked, and Tony grinned, feeling the heady rush of evidence beginning to come together.

"Also, the wife has expensive tastes-she bought a really nice, expensive Persian rug a few months ago for their house in Alexandria, but she's having trouble paying her bills. The accounting firm's not doing too well these days, and with Piston out of the picture, she'd get life insurance and anything he would've gotten from Marsden's will," Tony added.

Gibbs dropped the takeout bag on Tony's desk, right in front of him, and patted him on the head. "Good work, Tony," he said, and Tony beamed, opening his bag and pulling out a chicken parm grinder. A little heavy for four AM, but he was starving.

"What's the mechanic's name?" Gibbs asked, watching as Tony took a huge bite of his sandwich.

Tony shrugged. "Don't remember," he said once he swallowed. "It's in there, in my notes," he added, gesturing towards the papers on his desk.

"So find it," Gibbs said, still perched on the edge and watching Tony with a mixture of fondness and exasperation.

Tony glanced at the papers, the letters forming blurry grey blobs rather than distinct characters, and then looked at Gibbs sheepishly. "I can't read them," he admitted.

Gibbs frowned at him, and Ziva spoke up from beside McGee's desk.

"Are you having vision trouble?" she asked.

"It's just a little blurry," Tony said. "It's not too bad."

Gibbs held up two fingers. "How many?" he asked.

"Two," Tony said. "It's just a little blurry," he repeated.

"Simon Forrester," McGee interrupted. "That's the mechanic. I just pulled up Piston's wife's phone records."

"Figure out where we can find him, McGee. We're gonna bring this bastard in. Ziva, locate the wife," Gibbs said. "And Tony-eat that."

Tony liked the way Gibbs' voice softened when he spoke to him, and he especially liked the way Gibbs was perched on the edge of his desk, and when Gibbs squeezed his shoulder before standing up, Tony ducked his head to hide his smile.

He was beginning to think maybe he could still be useful, after all.


By the time they wrapped the case, it was late Sunday night/early Monday morning, and the Director gave them until Tuesday off in compensation. As they drove home, the traffic lights forming blurry crystalline shapes in the periphery of Tony's vision, he tiredly turned his head to gaze at Gibbs' fuzzy features.

"I'm glad we're going home," he said. He'd caught a few naps at NCIS while the rest of the team was out catching Forrester and Piston's wife, but he was still exhausted, and he knew Gibbs was, too.

"You did good today, Tony," Gibbs said, and the approval in his voice was clear, as was the fatigue. "We'd probably still be there if it weren't for you."

Tony smiled at the rare praise from Gibbs, and turned to look out the window again.

"Let's just stay in bed until we have to go back to work," Tony suggested, letting his eyes drift closed.

"Sounds good to me," Gibbs replied as he pulled into the driveway. "You need a hand getting inside?"

Tony shook his head as he pushed his car door open, but then just sat on the edge of the seat, legs and cane out of the car, poised to stand up but not moving.

"Come on," Gibbs said, going around to Tony's side. "Let's go in."

"Yeah," Tony said, "I'm just taking my time."

"Let me help you," Gibbs said gently. Tony sighed, looking up at him with a tired smile.

"Are you getting sick of pulling me out of the car all the time?" he asked.

Gibbs snorted and leaned down, kissing Tony slowly before pulling away and sticking his hands under Tony's armpits.

"Sometimes I think I need someone to pull me out of the car," Gibbs admitted, then counted to three and helped pull Tony up.

"I got it now," Tony said once he felt balanced, wearily making his way up the walk and going very slowly on the stairs, not protesting when Gibbs kept a steadying hand on his back that tightened every time he went up a step.

"Why don't you go straight upstairs?" Gibbs said, walking next to Tony and keeping close as he wearily plopped down onto the stair-lift. "I'll be up in a minute," he added, leaning down and kissing him.

"Don't take too long," Tony said, pressing the 'up' button and rubbing a tired hand over his face as the little chair slowly made its way up Gibbs' stairs. He'd been embarrassed to even look at it when it was first installed, but on days like those, when he felt weary and unbalanced and on the verge of collapsing, it was a welcome addition.

By the time he'd made his way into the bedroom, tugged his shoes and clothes off and grabbed a t-shirt and sweats - it was beginning to get cold out, after all - Gibbs was already upstairs, changed, and just about done brushing his teeth. Tony joined him in the bathroom and didn't protest when Gibbs stood behind him with both arms wrapped tightly around his waist, pressing chaste kisses against the back of his neck as Tony brushed his teeth. Tony gave their blurred reflection a small smile around his toothbrush, and he thought it was incredibly sexy to watch Gibbs standing behind him like that, even if he was holding him up rather than just having a sink-side cuddle.

"Ready for bed?" Gibbs asked, resting his chin on Tony's shoulder.

"Yeah," Tony said as he dropped his toothbrush into the cup next to the sink. He grabbed his cane and made his way back to bed, eagerly dropping down onto the soft sheets and rolling over to curl up against Gibbs as soon as they were both lying down. Gibbs pulled the sheets and comforter up over them and Tony lightly kissed Gibbs' chest through the worn fabric of his faded "NIS" t-shirt as soon as arms wrapped around him.

"Goodnight, Jethro," he murmured, and Gibbs' arms tightened in response.

"'night, Tony."


Tony woke to an empty bed and he frowned, flopping onto his back and staring up at the ceiling. He'd been looking forward to waking up curled next to Gibbs; he'd planned on a morning full of kisses and roaming hands, but that plan was obviously foiled. He turned his head and squinted at the clock, relieved that the numbers were not quite as blurry as they'd been the day before, and he pushed himself out of bed and made his way to the bathroom, knowing Gibbs had probably been up for hours since it was already almost one in the afternoon.

He hobbled to the staircase and rode the stair-lift down once he was done upstairs; he had a feeling he probably could've walked down the stairs that morning, but he was tired, so he was happy to use the lift.

"I made lunch," Gibbs called from the kitchen.

"What about breakfast?" Tony called back, just as the stair-lift reached the bottom of the stairs. He smiled at the sight of Gibbs leaning against the kitchen counter and sipping a cup of coffee. Tony knew it was probably from the second pot of the day already.

"You missed breakfast," Gibbs said, setting his coffee down as Tony approached him. Tony let go of his cane and leaned against Gibbs, glad to get his daily share of morning-Gibbs-hug since he'd missed out on one in bed.

"Why didn't you stay in bed with me?" Tony complained, voice muffled against Gibbs' neck.

"Had things to do," Gibbs said.

"Like what?" Tony asked. "Make coffee?"

"Something like that," Gibbs said, responding eagerly when Tony tilted his head up to kiss him.

"You broke your own rule," Gibbs said once they'd pulled apart.

"What rule?" Tony asked, looking at him skeptically.

"The one about your minty-fresh mouth," Gibbs said, tightening his hold on Tony's waist.

Tony grinned. "Just seeing if you remembered," he said.

"Yeah, I'm sure," Gibbs said. "Want some coffee? It's fresh."

"Yeah," Tony said, grabbing hold of his cane again and leaving the warmth of Gibbs' body to make a cup of coffee.

"What's for lunch?" Tony asked, glancing at him as he added sugar to his cup.

"I just heated up some soup," Gibbs said with a shrug. "We have that leftover chicken from the other night. I was gonna make a sandwich."

"Sounds good," Tony said, reaching for his pills so that he could take the ones he needed. "There enough for two?"

"Yup," Gibbs said, taking a few things over to the table for lunch. Tony sipped his coffee as he tried to get the last vestiges of sleep out of his brain. He watched Gibbs move about the kitchen, smiling when Gibbs stopped to kiss him before reaching behind him to grab two bowls out of the cabinet.

"Get out of the way," Gibbs said a moment later, giving him a mild poke since he was standing in front of the silverware drawer.

Tony just grinned at him and shifted aside, wondering if the pleasant twist he felt in his chest when Gibbs ordered him around made him certifiable - but if it did, he knew he should've been put away long ago.


Tony liked the smell of autumn; the air was crisp and clean, the leaves were beginning to turn, and there was something refreshing about the oppressive humidity of summer giving way to the cool, dry air of fall that he'd always loved. He held onto his coffee mug with both hands, letting the warmth seep into his fingers as he relaxed against the bench on the back porch. Gibbs had gone outside with him and then left him alone, saying he'd be back out in just a minute.

"Neighbor's dog won't shut up," Tony called, glancing towards the back door when he heard Gibbs approaching. "Maybe we should-"

His words died on his lips when Gibbs came outside, and he slowly set his coffee mug down and turned to Gibbs with what he knew had to be an awestruck expression.

"Gibbs," he breathed, eyes flickering from his face to his hands and back to his face, unsure of what to say. "Gi-Jethro," he corrected. "Jethro, you-"

Gibbs was looking at him with an unreadable expression on his face, hands out in front of him, a beautiful wooden cane held out for Tony's inspection.

"You-for me?" Tony said incredulously, his hands itching to reach out and touch the cane.

"Not for me," Gibbs said with a shrug, sitting beside Tony and shoving it into his hands.

Tony held onto it reverently, staring with wide eyes, letting his fingers ghost over the intricately carved geometric texture that spanned the entire length of the cane. His eyes swept from the curved handle on top, adorned with an ergonomic grip for his hand, all the way down to the rubber capped bottom, taking in the glossy stained finish and the beautiful, hand-carved details in between.

"Took it in to make sure it meets medical standards," Gibbs said, and Tony's head shot up to look at him. "It does," he added. "It's safe. I wanted-"

Tony cut him off with a desperate kiss, one hand holding the cane safe in his lap and the other threading eagerly through Gibbs' hair, pulling him close. He ended the kiss almost as abruptly as he started it and stared at Gibbs for a moment, eyes a bit shinier than usual.

"Jethro," he said, and swallowed hard to get himself under control when his voice began to choke. "Jethro," he repeated, "what the fuck did I do to deserve you?"

Gibbs gave him a crooked, gentle smile and stroked his fingers through Tony's hair, playing with the soft, short pieces just above his neck. "Could ask the same thing about you," he said, his voice soft and calm and warm like the autumn sun.

"How long did this take?" Tony asked, his heart hammering in his chest because he didn't think anyone had ever done anything like that for him in his entire life, and he didn't know whether he should feel guilty or happy or both or neither.

Gibbs shrugged. "Took a while," he said. "But it was worth it."

Tony brought a hand up and rubbed at his traitorous eyes, feeling a bit of moisture collecting in the corners as the full weight of all that Gibbs did for him began to really sink in - he took him in, took care of him, carved him a fucking cane - and then, something else hit him, something warm and pleasant and terrifying and exhilarating.

"Gibbs," he said, voice breathy but steady as a strange calmness settled over him. "I love you." He was surprised by how easy it was, how naturally the words fell from his lips, but then also surprised by how inadequate they were, because what he felt for Gibbs - three fucking words did not do it justice. "I-I really love you," he added, his heart beating faster. "So much," he added, "for so long. This is-this cane, this is…amazing. This-" He paused, a grin stretching over his face. "I love you," he said again, because the words were strangely addicting.

Gibbs smiled at him, his eyes crinkling in the corners, his hand pulling Tony's head closer to his own. "Love you too," he said before kissing him, slow and steady and meaningful, and Tony felt it all the way down to his bones, because it was suddenly clear to him exactly how much his life had changed in the past few months and exactly how much better it was with Gibbs by his side - because even if he couldn't do fieldwork or be the same Tony he was before, he had something he'd wanted his entire fucking life that made him feel even more needed and brave and heroic that he'd ever felt - love, plain and simple and unadorned, and he pulled Gibbs closer.

"Let's go inside," Gibbs murmured, pulling away for a moment. Tony nodded, cooling mug of coffee and ugly old metal cane forgotten next to the bench, and he let Gibbs pull him up. Gibbs simultaneously kissed him and tugged him along as he slowly stepped backwards. Tony kept one hand on Gibbs' waist and one wrapped tightly around his new cane as Gibbs all but dragged him into the house, still kissing him relentlessly, and when Gibbs pushed him down onto the stair-lift, Tony yanked his head down for a bruising kiss, pulling away and swallowing hard at the look of desire on Gibbs' face.

He pulled his shirt over his head as Gibbs pressed the button that sent the chair sliding up the banister, and he couldn't help but laugh impatiently at the snail's pace the chair took, especially since Gibbs had shot up the stairs and yanked off his own shirt and started in on his fly before Tony was even halfway up.

As soon as he got to the top of the stairs, Gibbs was kissing him again, hands roaming impatiently over Tony's bare skin, thumbs sliding with intent over Tony's nipples, lips automatically finding that spot beneath his ear that made Tony gasp and pull Gibbs' body closer.

"Want you to fuck me," Tony said, "please,"

Gibbs pulled away, panting, and looked at him intently. "You sure?"

Tony nodded vigorously, the skin on his neck, damp from Gibbs' mouth, tingling pleasantly as the cool air brushed over it. "Fuck yes," he said, voice low, before pulling Gibbs down for another kiss.

Gibbs broke it off quickly. "Not fucking you on the stair-lift," he said breathlessly, helping Tony up and tugging him down the hallway, kissing and touching the whole way, shoving him down on the bed as soon as they got into the bedroom. Gibbs kicked off his own pants and underwear as Tony did the same, and then he stretched out on top of Tony, slowing his kisses down and making them a little gentler and a little less demanding.

Gibbs pulled away and stared intently at Tony for a moment, and when Tony nodded at him and ran an encouraging finger up and down his spine, Gibbs reached over to pull the lube out of the nightstand. Tony watched with rapt anticipation, eyes eagerly tracking Gibbs' every move.

Gibbs kissed him once more, a short and reassuring brush of lips, and then he was trailing kisses down Tony's stomach and pressing a kiss against his hip. Tony's heart hammered as he watched Gibbs squirt lube onto his fingers, and when Gibbs was urging his legs up a bit and pressing a finger inside of him, Tony gasped, head falling back.

Gibbs had worked a few fingers inside of him while he'd jerked him off before, and it had been incredible, if a bit odd at first, but this time, knowing what was going to replace the fingers, Tony bit his lip and squirmed and hoped he didn't come too soon.

"Gibbs, please, I want more," Tony said, eyes squeezed shut in pleasure.

"Not Gibbs," Gibbs all but growled, adding a second finger and gently moving it back and forth.

Tony groaned, spikes of pleasure washing over him as he felt himself stretch. "Jethro," he said. "Jethro, please." Gibbs was already turning him to mush and he hadn't even added a third finger. Tony whimpered when Gibbs closed a hand around his dick and stroked it maddeningly slow, so lost in the pleasure of Gibbs' hands all over him that it could've gone on for five seconds or five hours and he wouldn't have known the difference, and he felt his hips jerk when Gibbs finally worked his third finger in. Gibbs kept at it, moving his fingers slowly and steadily and Tony did his best to stay relaxed and focused on the pleasure.

Tony felt strangely empty when Gibbs fingers' suddenly left him, and he watched, breathing heavily, cock twitching and nerve endings on fire, as Gibbs reached beside him to wipe his hands on a tissue. Tony watched hungrily as Gibbs coated his dick with lube, and he didn't protest when Gibbs lifted Tony's legs up and settled them around his waist. He knew they'd probably cramp up soon, but he didn't care. He just wanted Gibbs inside of him, and he wanted to watch him the whole time.

Gibbs lined himself up, cock brushing against Tony's hole, and Tony looked up at him, eyes wide and trusting, urging him on.

"Tony," Gibbs said, voice raw. "Tony, you sure-"

"Please," Tony said, reaching up and cupping Gibbs' cheek with his hand.

That was all Gibbs needed to hear, and then he was gently pushing in, stopping abruptly when Tony closed his eyes and winced.

"Keep going," Tony urged breathlessly.

"Am I hurting you?" Gibbs asked.

"No," Tony said, "it's just - weird. Keep going."

Gibbs pushed in a little further, leaning down to kiss Tony and trying to focus all of his energy on staying still rather than giving in to the intense warmth and pleasure he felt by pushing all the way in, but then Tony shifted underneath him, and he couldn't help but slide in the rest of the way, and Tony groaned, breath hitching. Gibbs kissed him, a slow and trembling mesh of lips and tongues and skin, and then Tony pushed him away, eyes shining, panting for breath.

"Fuck me," Tony said desperately, voice soft and needy. "Feels so good already, please, fuck me."

Gibbs pulled out a bit and then slowly pushed back in, eyes on Tony's face for any sign of discomfort. "Is this-"

"More," Tony said breathily. "Just do it."

Gibbs' body was trembling above Tony's from the effort of keeping still and going slow, and he kissed Tony hard and then pushed all the way in, Tony's hips shifting up to meet his, and then Tony was moaning beneath him, blunt nails digging into his back, urging him on, and Gibbs started to get more comfortable with the rhythm and the angle of it all, and he fucked him slow and deep and hard.

Tony moaned and tangled a hand into Gibbs hair, lost in a haze of pleasure. He wasn't sure what he'd expected it to be like, but Gibbs' dick buried inside of him was the most incredible thing he'd ever felt, and his entire body was tingling, waves of pleasure washing over him every time Gibbs thrust himself all the way in, and he was saying things he wasn't even aware of, moans and murmurs and swears flowing out of his mouth like lava, Gibbs' lips hot and insistent on his neck, and then Gibbs was kissing him again, speeding up, fucking him harder and faster, and Tony tilted his hips up, head falling back in pleasure when Gibbs hit his prostate and stars exploded behind his eyes.

"Please, Gibbs, more," he moaned. "Fuck, fuck, Jethro, fuck-"

And then Gibbs kissed him hard, probably to shut him up, and Tony moaned helplessly into the kiss. Gibbs' hand circled around his dick, tugging insistently, and that was all it took for the fiery anticipation building in the pit of his stomach to explode into a mind-numbing, intense orgasm, his whole body clenching around Gibbs' cock, and then Gibbs was groaning out Tony's name, and Tony let out a breathless grunt at the feeling of Gibbs filling up his ass. As his orgasm left him, he fell back into a boneless heap with Gibbs sprawled out on top of him, panting in his ear.

He wasn't sure how long they laid there, but all too soon, Gibbs was kissing him and then very carefully pulling out, and Tony winced when Gibbs' dick left him, and realized when he felt oddly bereft without him there exactly how incredible it had been to have Gibbs inside of him, filling him up, and he felt an embarrassing burn behind his eyes, and then Gibbs was kissing him, soft and gentle and soothing.

"I love you," Gibbs murmured, voice soft against Tony's lips. "So much," he added before kissing him again.

Tony felt tears sliding down the sides of his face, pooling on the pillow, but he didn't care; he felt wrung out and amazing and surprisingly vulnerable. "I love you, too," he said, voice choked. "More than anything."

And then Gibbs was kissing him again, hands running through his hair, body warm and reassuring against his own, and Tony smiled, even as Gibbs gently pushed his legs back down and he had to bite back a groan at the painful cramping he felt.

"Okay?" Gibbs asked, his thumb sliding back and forth over Tony's cheekbone, fingers brushing the stray tears away.

Tony managed a tearful laugh and pulled Gibbs down for a kiss. "Okay," he confirmed a moment later. "Just-it's just a lot, you know?"

Gibbs pressed a kiss to Tony's temple, then to the tip of his nose, then to the corner of his mouth. "Yeah," he said. "I know."

Tony suddenly realized as Gibbs gazed down at him through intense, caring eyes that what started out for him as a nightmare a couple months ago had morphed into something that he couldn't have imagined in his wildest dreams, and the intense elation he felt at Gibbs' new role in his life stood out in stark contrast to the desolation and fear he'd been feeling since he'd gotten sick. He felt fresh tears leak out of his eyes as Gibbs leaned down and kissed him again, fingers carding through his hair.

And when Gibbs pulled away and pressed a chaste kiss to his shoulder before grabbing a tissue and carefully cleaning off Tony's stomach, Tony just watched, smiling, realizing for the first time what it meant to be truly, simply happy.

Gibbs' words from what felt like years ago but had really only been a month or two suddenly flashed through his mind - we'll get through this - and he reached out and wove his fingers through Gibbs'.

"Thank you," he murmured.

"For what, cleaning you up?" Gibbs said. "Think I wanna lay on you when your stomach's covered-"

Tony laughed, effectively cutting Gibbs off and tugging on his hand until Gibbs was lying on top of him again, face inches from his own.

"For everything," Tony said, and Gibbs seemed to understand what he meant because he just nodded, suddenly serious, before leaning down to kiss him.

"Love you," Gibbs murmured a moment later, pressing a kiss right next to Tony's ear. "And you don't need to thank me," he added, voice soft and intimate and breathy. "Should thank you."

Tony just smiled at him, beginning to realize that maybe Gibbs needed someone to take care of just as much as Tony needed the help, and he nestled into the blankets contentedly when Gibbs pulled them up over their bodies.

Suddenly his smile turned to a wicked grin that only seemed to emerge when teasing Gibbs was imminent. "Goodnight, Jeth," he said, voice breathy and light.

Predictably, Gibbs reached over and smacked the back of his head. "Call me that again and you're sleeping in the basement," he growled.

With a wide, sated grin, warmth pooling in the pit of his stomach, Tony curled up next to Gibbs. "Love you, too," he murmured, and as he drifted off to sleep, Gibbs' hand warm on the back of his neck, he realized that he wouldn't trade his life, wrought with headaches and dizziness and weak legs as it was, for anything.