Gibbs has this weird thing going on about Tony's lungs. He knows this, because Gibbs expresses it the same way he expresses just about everything, which is --
"Put the damn scarf on, DiNozzo, or I'll strangle you with it myself."
Tony knows better than to sigh in Gibbs' hearing at that particular mixed message, and instead loops the scarf carefully around his throat. Abby had made it for him during a few weeks of the mind-numbing boredom of waiting for DNA to process, winding deep scarlet and grey yarn around a little plastic hoop. He hadn't expected the end product to be for him, but Abby had socked him gently in the arm and said, "Geez, Tony, those are Ohio State's colors -- who else would it be for?"
The scarf is soft and the grey in it doesn't go particularly well with the hideously expensive black wool coat he's wearing, but he's not giving it up either, fashion be damned.
Gibbs will never admit to coddling any of his agents, and especially not Tony. It's not as if the slaps upside the head have stopped or even lessened in force, but things appear on Tony's desk sometimes -- coffee and warm containers of hot and sour soup, which he knows is Gibbs' favorite.
Even with the scarf wrapped carefully around his neck, the biting cold of Maine in winter seems to reach down into his lungs and squeeze, hard. He presses a fist against his chest, as if that will help, and Gibbs spares him one sideways glance before he knocks on the door of another recently widowed woman.
Tony is Gibbs' senior field agent, and therefore in charge of things like booking hotel rooms. Actually, he's not entirely sure that his seniority has anything to do with that particular duty, as he's been doing it since he first got to NCIS. The only instructions Gibbs ever issued on the matter were, "Bed. Plumbing. If you break our budget, the director will break you. Why are you still standing there, DiNozzo?"
So Tony books them a room at a bed and breakfast in Kittery, just a few minutes from the Portsmouth Naval Yard. It's one of the few places not closed for the winter -- high heating costs, an older woman had sighed to him over the phone -- and by now, he's figured out that Gibbs prefers accommodations with character, as well as easy sources of local gossip.
Once they check in, Tony tosses his overnight bag on one of two beds, the furthest from the fireplace. The beds are covered in the kind of handmade quilts that have never been a part of Tony's life -- these are objects of hard work and devotion and tradition that Tony's family wouldn't see the point in. They are, however, part of Gibbs' domestic landscape, and Tony has always wondered who made the quilt in Gibbs' guest room, the one Tony has slept under and wondered how many others had wrapped it around themselves at night.
"I'm going to take a shower, warm up before dinner," Tony tells Gibbs, who nods his head once in response. Gibbs has never been chatty when he's bunked with Tony, or even the times Tony has stayed at his house, but Tony doesn't try to cover the silence with talking anymore. Gibbs' silences feel comfortable now, and Tony has learned that just because Gibbs' mouth isn't moving doesn't mean he's not saying anything.
The plumbing leaves something to be desired, but there's enough steam that Tony can breathe in, deep and slow, and feel the muscles in his chest loosen. When he comes out of the bathroom again, he finds that Gibbs is sitting on the bed that Tony had initially claimed, and his bag has been moved to the bed closest to the fireplace, now built up and taking all the chill out of the air.
Gibbs won't take a thank-you, but Tony smiles in appreciation and knows that Gibbs see it, even though he pretends all his attention is on CNN.
"I may hate Maine less than I did an hour ago," Tony tells Gibbs after dinner.
Gibbs' lips twitch. "Cupboard love, DiNozzo?"
"Says the man who had third helpings," Tony says, but it's not much of an accusation -- Tony did, too. It had been really good pot roast. With warm, yeasty bread -- they are probably going to go into a food coma in the next hour.
They're both sitting on their respective beds, files and laptops spread out on top of the quilts. Gibbs is holding a file at arm's length, squinting.
Tony coughs delicately, but it just earns him a steady glare from Gibbs. "I forgot them at the office," Gibbs says frostily.
Opening his backpack, Tony fishes around inside before finding the case that holds Gibbs' readers. Tony bites his lip for a moment, debating the wisdom of the gesture -- Gibbs hates the reminder that he can't read without his glasses, and there's no telling how he'll feel about Tony snagging them from his desk and secreting them away in his luggage. But Gibbs is still squinting, so Tony pulls the glasses out of his backpack and tosses them over.
Gibbs' tone slides down to arctic levels of iciness. "Don't you have better things to do, DiNozzo?"
"Nope," Tony says.
Gibbs' glare eases maybe a fraction, and then he hands over the file on Madison.
Tony wakes once in the middle of the night, the bitter dregs of a dream slipping away almost immediately. For a moment, he doesn't know where he is, but then he turns his head and can just make out the shape of Gibbs' body beneath a small mountain of blankets on the bed across from his.
Tony rubs his nose, surprised at how cold it is, and yanks his quilt up to cover it.
He sinks back to sleep again, eyes still fixed on Gibbs until they fall shut.
Gibbs is up first -- Gibbs is always up first, unless Tony is up because of something like his boiler exploding. But that only happened once, which is why Tony is asleep until Gibbs shakes his shoulder. "Up and at 'em, DiNozzo," Gibbs says.
Gibbs has already showered and dressed, and Tony makes a mournful noise at even the thought of removing himself from his insulated nest of down comforter and quilt. Gibbs doesn't look enormously sympathetic, and is probably already on his third cup of coffee. Plus, Tony knows firsthand that former Marines can think of some really inventively awful ways to persuade someone to get out of bed immediately, and he's not going to try his luck this morning. So he hauls himself out of bed and stumbles to the bathroom, grabbing some clothes and his shaving kit along the way.
He feels marginally more human when he emerges from the bathroom, but only just. "Please tell me we can have breakfast before we rush out to freeze our asses off?"
Gibbs gives him a look, but it's a pretty mild one, which must mean the coffee is pretty damn good. "Isn't breakfast why you booked this place, DiNozzo?"
"It's the most important meal of the day, boss," Tony tells him earnestly.
Gibbs just grunts in response, and Tony takes that as assent mostly because he's pretty sure that he's not the only one who can smell bacon cooking downstairs.
While it's true that NCIS does investigate all apparent suicides as homicides until proven otherwise, the security video shows the unfortunate Lieutenant Madison hanging himself and that's pretty hard to argue with. The only thing left is the why and the now what, both of which are making Tony wish they'd brought McGee along.
Tony stabs the keyboard again with one finger, and the computer makes an angry noise before actually consenting to pull up the records he needs. The Navy might have some really stellar systems for defense and security, but the accounting software is probably as old as Gibbs' winter coat.
"Well?" Gibbs asks, leaning over Tony's shoulder.
"This might go faster, boss, if you'd quit breathing down my neck," Tony says, which isn't strictly accurate on either account. Tony can't make the prehistoric program work more quickly, and also, Gibbs is actually sort of breathing across his ear.
Gibbs points at an entry on the screen. "What happened to this shipment?"
Tony punches a few more keys before the computer resentfully produces the appropriate file. "Huh," he says, leaning back in his chair a little.
"We're going to have to talk to the wife again," Gibbs says, and he sounds about as enthused about that as Tony feels.
Not for the first time on this trip, Tony thinks it would all be easier if Kate were still here -- Kate was better at talking to the bereaved, Kate would know just what to say to get the answers they need.
Tony tries to push it out of his mind, but he probably doesn't succeed in erasing it from his expression -- Gibbs just holds his gaze for a steady moment, and then Tony follows him out the door.
Tony is good at talking to women -- and certain kinds of men, too. He knows it, and he knows it's a skill Gibbs values in him, all head-slapping aside. But all bets are off when the person in question just lost a loved one, because either they'll glom on to Tony or they'll freeze him out, and he never knows which it's going to be until after it's already a done deal.
Lisa Madison is the glomming type, which doesn't necessarily make her easier to deal with. In their first interview with her, Gibbs did all the talking. She had answered his questions, but Tony had felt even then that there was something that she knew, something that had to be coaxed out.
Gibbs can get kids to tell him everything they know in under two minutes, but he is crap with crying women.
So Tony schools his expression to something close to warm and understanding, and he asks her questions, easy ones at first, ones that she can answer without too much trouble. Tony doesn't break their shared gaze, just keeps up the quiet comments and questions until he knows that she wants to tell him. He can feel Gibbs watching them both, but he can't break his rhythm to see if Gibbs likes where this is going -- he can only keep at his coaxing questions, his eyes focused on her red-rimmed ones.
"Mrs. Madison, your husband brought home more money than he should have, didn't he," Tony says gently.
She spills all of her suspicions and guilt and frightened anger, then, and Tony doesn't have to look at Gibbs to know that he'd done just what Gibbs wanted him to do, just what Gibbs couldn't do himself -- and Lisa Madison cries harder through her rush of words, and Tony should feel bad for her, he should, but he just feels the quiet, spreading warmth of satisfaction in a job done well enough for Gibbs.
Tony paws through his luggage, turning it inside out. "I just had it," he mutters to himself, feeling through his bag for the plastic disc. Frustrated, he turns to Gibbs, who is sitting on his bed with his laptop. "Have you seen a little purple plastic disc? It's about so big," he says, holding his thumb and forefinger apart.
Gibbs looks up over his glasses and says, "You left it on top of the toilet. Along with your towel."
Tony winces -- he doesn't know if Gibbs' tidiness is natural or a byproduct of many years in the Corps, but he's been fixated on Tony's inability to hang up towels ever since the first time Tony stayed with him. And when he peeks in the bathroom -- really, the point of renting a room was not cleaning it, didn't Gibbs know that? -- there it is on top of the toilet, just like Gibbs said.
He walks out of the bathroom, raises the mouthpiece of the disc to his lips, clicks the lever and inhales. He holds his breath, counting up to ten Mississippi's in his head, and then exhales steadily. It feels weird, like something grainy in his lungs.
He realizes that Gibbs has been watching him, and not in the typical Gibbs-pretending-not-to-watch-him way -- he's staring openly at Tony, curious. So Tony waves the disc in his hand and says, "Ducky says it's usually for people who've had chronic bronchitis. Which I guess is as close to post-plague symptoms as pharmaceutical companies are going to get."
"You were cleared for field duty," Gibbs says, a tight expression on his face that Tony doesn't know how to parse.
"Just a precaution," Tony assures him, and that turns out to have been the right thing to say.
Things are quiet for a moment, and then Gibbs says, "Come look at this," and Tony parks one hip on Gibbs's bed, looking at the laptop screen. He sees immediately what caught Gibbs' attention, and then they're both sorting through files on Gibbs' bed, looking for the link they need.
Hours later, without the benefit of caffeine to keep him awake, Tony nods off. He wakes up sometime later, shivering, and Gibbs murmurs, "Tony, get under the blankets," and he's so stupid-drunk on not enough sleep and the aching exhaustion he's been carrying around for months that he just does what Gibbs says, sliding under the covers in Gibbs' bed in the darkened room.
Tony wakes in the middle of the night again, but not from a dream -- he eases into consciousness and realizes that the person in bed with him is having a dream, a bad one, fingers twitching where they lie splayed on Tony's hip.
He hears a hiss of indrawn breath behind him, and the fingers tighten once before going still. "Tony?" Gibbs asks softly, sounding bewildered.
Tony doesn't really feel awake, not with the encapsulating dark and the warmth of Gibbs' body next to his own under the insulating covers, not with that oddly vulnerable note in Gibbs' voice. He isn't Gibbs if he's nice, but Tony doesn't know what to call this. So he just says, "Yeah," and shifts a little closer.
Gibbs takes his hand off Tony to pull the covers up and Tony buries his nose under the down comforter again. He lies there, already dozing back to sleep, when he feels the warm press of Gibbs' hand on his hip again.
When his eyes open next, it's really, really quiet. It's morning, but he doesn't hear the sound of traffic outside. The only sound he hears is that of the fire popping a little bit across the room, which brings him to his next point.
He's in Gibbs' bed. He rolls over to see Gibbs reading a slightly battered newspaper -- yesterday's? -- with a coffee mug in one hand. Gibbs must have gotten up and changed, but he's wearing a USMC sweatshirt and pants and doesn't look like he's in a hurry to go anywhere. Tony realizes he's still wearing yesterday's clothes, and, oh yeah -- still in Gibbs' bed with Gibbs in it.
"Boss?" he says weakly.
Gibbs takes a slow, appreciative sip of his coffee, eyes not leaving the article he's reading. "The storm came further south than they thought it would," he says. "A half-inch of ice and a foot of snow on top of it. Power's out."
Tony tries to process this, but he's having a really hard time thinking about anything besides the smell of Gibbs' coffee. "Snow day?" he guesses.
"Yup," Gibbs says, and he sounds entirely too content.
"Where'd you get coffee if the power's out?" Tony asks suspiciously.
Gibbs takes another long sip. "Mrs. Caroll has a wood-burning stove."
Tony wavers for a moment, torn between his desire for coffee and his general desire not to leave the warmth of the bed.
"Go on. Bring back breakfast," Gibbs says, and his tone is mild but it's still one that gets Tony's rear end out of bed between one minute and the next.
The rest of the inn is freezing, and Tony's teeth are chattering by the time he's back up the stairs with a tray. "I've figured out what this reminds me of," he announces after he closes the door behind him.
"Are you waiting for me to guess, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asks, and it's really unfair that the man can sound dangerous with that kind of bedhead.
Tony stops short for a moment -- not at Gibbs being cranky, that's normal -- but because Gibbs had switched beds, to the one closest to the fire. He hands Gibbs a bowl of oatmeal and another cup of coffee, and almost cracks a joke about Gibbs stealing his bed when he realizes that Gibbs has piled the pillows that aren't already behind his back beside him on the bed.
Tony can take a hint, which is fortunate because Gibbs would apparently rather get divorced three times than talk.
So he climbs into bed -- Gibbs left him the side closest to the fire, so it seems the obsession with Tony's lungs is still strong -- and settles back with his own bowl of oatmeal, which is kind of fascinating to him because it didn't come out of an instant packet. "So this reminds me of this movie I saw," he tells Gibbs after almost scalding his mouth on the first bite.
Gibbs ignores him in favor of communing with his fresh cup of coffee.
"I mean, it wasn't a good movie. It was a Lifetime original movie, for god's sake. You know, the kind of movies with breast cancer and crying and mom jeans."
Gibbs looks at him blankly. "Mom jeans?"
Tony waves the detail away impatiently. "Anyway, I think the heroine was a single mom who fell in love with a handyman. They get snowed in when some big blizzard hits their nondescript New England town, which actually was probably some place in Vancouver because it's cheaper to film there."
"Why the hell were you watching that?" Gibbs asks while Tony takes a breath to shovel some more oatmeal into his mouth.
"Well, for one thing, the Price Is Right was over, so I think it was either that or soap operas. Not a lot to do in the hospital," Tony says, shrugging. "Plus I was still on oxygen and the good drugs and couldn't really follow much of a plot, anyway." He puts his empty bowl on the nightstand and scrunches down under the covers. "Aw, crap. No power, no cable," he moans.
"What makes you think you'd be watching TV if there were power, DiNozzo?"
Tony winces. "Uh. Of course I wouldn't be. I'd be typing up my report. That is, if we weren't already on our way back to DC."
Gibbs gives him a look and finishes off his oatmeal before going back to reading the paper.
Tony looks up at the ceiling and sighs. A moment later, a section of the newspaper lands on his face -- it's the entertainment section, and Tony grins. He can take a hint.
Tony dozes off in the afternoon, somewhere in the middle of reading an old yellowed paperback of Murder on the Orient Express. Part of him hates the enforced inactivity, because his stint in the hospital while recovering from the plague is still too new and too fresh in his mind, and he hates feeling fragile, hates the lingering reminders that his lungs are trashed. At least he doesn't have regular coughing fits anymore, because those were frankly terrifying and painful and left him feeling like he was going to break apart.
The other part of him is grateful for the opportunity to nap. And if he has to nap in bed with Gibbs, at least their case is wrapped up and therefore Gibbs is not riding herd on his ass or chomping at the bit to follow a lead. It feels kind of like Sunday afternoons that he spent in Gibbs' basement, watching a game on the ancient little television while Gibbs worked on his boat.
So he floats in and out of sleep, and feels Gibbs get up once to put more wood in the fire somewhere in the middle. It feels not quite real again, like it did in the middle of last night, like it did in the immediate aftermath of Kate's death. He eventually wakes from a vague dream about Philadelphia to find himself facing a sleeping Gibbs, who has one arm wrapped around Tony's middle.
And for once, he's the one who watches Gibbs wake up, eyes opening slowly and not looking away from Tony.
A year ago, Tony would have wanted to say, "I don't know what this means" or "I don't know what you want." But that's not the case anymore -- Tony's been pushing for months, every unasked-for offer of assistance and every attempt to anticipate Gibbs' desires have been a link in the chain of coaxing questions that Tony might finally be getting answered. Gibbs rubs one thumb over the small of Tony's back, where his sweatshirt has ridden up, and Tony knows there's one last thing that Gibbs wants to tell him.
Gibbs needs Tony to do what he can't do himself.
So Tony inches forward, just close enough to press his lips against Gibbs'. It's not the first time he's kissed a man -- and he's not counting that transsexual murderer he made out with in a bar -- but it is the first time he's initiated a relatively chaste kiss with one. For a few heart-stopping seconds, he thinks that maybe he was wrong, that his instincts for anticipating Gibbs were off this time --
And then Gibbs rolls Tony onto his back and the kiss goes from chaste to Christ, no wonder he got married three times. Gibbs kisses him slowly, intently, and maybe this should feel unreal, too, but Tony feels in the moment, grounded by the press of Gibbs' chest against his and the feel of Gibbs' thigh between his own.
Tony is breathing hard by the time that Gibbs deserts his lips in favor of licking and sucking a tortuously slow path under Tony's jaw to his ear. He manages to get one hand under Gibbs' sweatshirt to drag his fingertips along Gibbs' back, but everything else is trapped in yards of quilt and goose-down blanket and sweats soft and thin from many washings. He gasps when Gibbs gently bites a spot on his neck that Gibbs has already kissed and sucked into aching sensitivity, straining upwards against Gibbs and feeling hot, overheated, for the first time since they came to Maine.
"Okay, Tony?" Gibbs asks quietly, and it takes Tony a moment to realize that Gibbs is worried about the ragged edge to Tony's breathing.
Tony tries to smooth the roughness from his breathing but it's useless, and he mutters, "Yeah, okay, come on," while he yanks up on the hem of Gibbs' shirt.
Gibbs obliges him by stripping it off and helping Tony wriggle out of his as well. "Tony," Gibbs says, looking serious as he presses Tony's hands down onto the bed.
"Oh god, don't tell me you want to talk now," Tony pleads, because that would just be his luck.
A chuff of air that might be half a laugh, and then Gibbs is sliding one hand down Tony's side when Tony pulls his head down for another kiss. Making love while snowed in is a cliche that Tony would milk for all it was worth if he had been with a woman, but he can't seem to spare a thought for subtlety or technique or anything other than helping Gibbs roughly shove their sweatpants off. Gibbs seems to have done this before even if Tony hasn't -- and it's not like wrapping one hand around both of their cocks is rocket science or anything, but the lack of any accompanying freak-out suggests that Tony isn't the first man that Gibbs has pressed into the sheets. Tony is probably the one who should be freaking out, because kissing pretty boys in a darkened club isn't anything like gasping against Gibbs' mouth, clutching at Gibbs' ass and trying to get even closer. He's burning up now, his skin slick and Gibbs' hips sliding against his own, and he drags in one last, desperate lungful of air before he comes.
Gibbs thrusts against Tony's stomach for another moment or two, and when he tenses and groans low into Tony's ear, Tony shudders and holds on tight, because what he's wanted, what he's always wanted, was to be this needed.
Gibbs settles at Tony's side, and it's still early evening -- they're probably missing dinner, but Tony can't bring himself to care. Gibbs is looking at him, and his mouth isn't moving, but his thumb is tracing slow, careful circles at Tony's waist.
"Up and at 'em, DiNozzo."
Tony makes a protesting noise and curls up under the blanket more, and blearily resigns himself to having water dumped on his head or whatever because he really, really doesn't want to get up.
He's definitely not expecting Gibbs to yank the covers up and smack him on the ass. "Ow," he says, even though it didn't really hurt. He sits up in bed and looks at Gibbs, who is packing up his bag. "Roads clear?"
"Clear enough," Gibbs says, which is totally not reassuring. He tosses Tony his phone, and Tony knows without asking to call the airport.
He rolls out of bed, still trying to sweet-talk his way on to the earliest flight back, and wanders naked over to his suitcase. As he hangs up, he realizes Gibbs is looking at him with enough concentration to make Tony's ears warm a little.
"Put some clothes on, DiNozzo, before you catch a cold," Gibbs says, but Tony's an old hand at deciphering Gibbs' mixed messages by now.
"You know, I don't think I hate Maine very much at all," Tony says airily, pulling on his last clean pair of pants and shirt.
"I thought we had a talk about cupboard love," Gibbs says, and he straightens Tony's collar.
Tony leans in for a kiss and gets one, slow and sweet. "Yeah, boss," he says, and it's not an answer to anything in particular, but it's the only answer that counts.