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Give Me a Hug

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Character/Pairing: Gibbs/DiNozzo
Genre: slash, h/c, drama, mentally and physically challenged character
Rating: M
Spoilers: none
Warnings: sex
Words: 6500
Written for ncis-drabble at livejournal
Beta: Thanks to Cernícalo for the beta

***–***

1. Plan

Gibbs went out to meet McGee when he pulled up in a borrowed van.

"Hey, Boss." Tim looked towards the house and hesitated before asking, "How's Tony doing?"

Gibbs opened the van's double doors. "He's the same. You get everything?"

"TV, DVD player, movies. Abby'll help me bring the rest of his stuff over tomorrow." Tim picked up the DVD player and asked cautiously, "What's the plan, Boss? Tony's coming back to work, isn't he?"

"Plans can wait. He's out back, taking in some sun." Gibbs didn't have the heart to tell Tim that there were no plans beyond getting Tony strong enough to walk. Tony would never be the same; that was the hard truth. "Having his own things around him should help."

They moved Tony's belongings into Gibbs' home. After carefully setting Tony's large flat-screen TV on the console, Tim craned his neck, looking out the patio doors.

Gibbs gave a wave of his arm. "Go."

"I'll set everything up after I say hi to Tony," Tim said anxiously.

Gibbs nodded and followed Tim out back, keeping his distance.

Tony was dozing on a cushioned chaise, wearing only sunglasses and a pair of Gibbs' sweatpants. A sheen of suntan lotion coated his bare, pale chest. He was thinner than when he'd been on active duty. He looked normal except for the long incision down the center of his chest, and the puckered scar just above his heart.

Tony rolled his head in Tim's direction and made a sleepy sound of inquiry.

Tim squatted next to the chair. "Hey, Tony, how're you doin'?"

Tony slowly pulled off his sunglasses and squinted at his visitor. "Timmy!"

Tim had to work hard to avoid looking at Tony's scars. "Been a while since I saw you in rehab. Thought I'd see how you're doing and I brought over all your stuff, but I had to borrow a van because my car's too small to handle your humongo TV and--"

Gibbs cautioned, "Easy, Tim. Less words."

Tim flushed and said slowly, "I'm happy to see you, Tony."

"Happy to see you, Tim," Tony replied with a bright smile.

Gibbs waited but Tim's attempt at conversation had stalled. He said, "C'mon Tony. Let's get you inside before you turn into a lobster."

For a second Tony looked alarmed, and then he laughed. "Lobster."

Gibbs smiled in response. It had been a while since either of them had had a reason to laugh. "Let's get you up. Give me a hug," he said, leaning down just enough so Tony could reach up and wrap his arms around his neck. "That's it, a big hug." Gibbs stood, bringing Tony to his feet. Tim was quick to support Tony from the other side.

As they approached the house, Tony asked, "TV?"

"TV," Tim affirmed.

"Magnum."

"Sure thing."

They settled Tony on the couch with a handful of DVDs.

Tim hovered until Gibbs gave in and asked, "Staying to dinner?"

Tim grinned. "Sounds like a plan."

***–***

2. Care

From the moment he reached his downed agent, Gibbs never left his side.

Tony bled out before the ambulance even arrived but Gibbs continued to press down hard on the gaping chest wound. He frantically shouted at Tony to "hold on, damn it!" and watched him falter and gasp and close his eyes.

On the ride in, he clung to Tony's lifeless hand as if it would make a difference. He ran alongside the gurney when they rushed towards the ER, a medic straddling Tony's body, pumping his chest in an urgent rhythm. They never gave up even though it was obvious Tony was already gone.

Ducky interpreted the medical jargon for Gibbs: immense blood loss, heart failure, collapsed lung… It went on and on. Gibbs stopped listening and stared at his bloodstained hands. Hours later a young surgeon came out of the OR and said that they had managed to save Tony. It was now up to Tony to fight, that there was a chance. Gibbs wanted to ask, "A chance of what?" The look in the doctor's eyes said he didn't hold out much hope.

Against all odds, Tony survived, barely functioning but alive.

Right from the start, Gibbs accepted that Tony would need complete, 24-hour care for the foreseeable future. Tony was going to need his care. He never hesitated about standing up and saying, "I'm taking care of him," just as he might declare, "I'm a Marine," or "I'm an American." There simply wasn't any doubt in his mind that he was the best man for the job, the only one, and that taking care of Tony was his duty, his responsibility, his right.

Two weeks later, Tony remained in the advanced-care unit, still deathly pale. He could barely open his eyes. Hell, sometimes he couldn't breathe on his own. Couldn't speak, couldn’t sit up, couldn’t take care of himself, much less make any decisions about his future. But Tony was alive and that was all Gibbs needed to know.

They wanted Tony to go into a rehab facility as soon as he was out of danger. Ducky got Tony enrolled in a program with aggressive therapy for brain injury patients. Gibbs knew that if Tony could speak he would insist, "I'm fine. I wanna go home." Gibbs was torn between his desire to do what was best for Tony and the bitter knowledge that Tony would not want this. But Tony lay there – mute, attached to machines, dependent on strangers for his care.

As Tony's medical proxy, Gibbs had implemented his right to make medical choices for Tony before, several times, in fact. And Tony had done the same for him once or twice. But this time the weight, the burden as some called it, of taking full responsibility for someone who may never again be able to make a reasoned decision fell on Gibbs' shoulders – and he was proud, damned proud to be the one who cared for Tony.

***–***

3. Easy

"We got a break in the case. The first time we got close to the suspect," Gibbs explained to the IA investigator.

"That's Commander Heywood, Agent Gibbs?"

Gibbs nodded. "He killed the woman when we started closing in on him."

"This was at Rock Creek Park, correct?"

"The trail east of Lake Needwood. He was heading for the parking area. I took the trail and Special Agent DiNozzo veered into the woods to cut him off."

The investigator raised his eyes from Gibbs' report. "That was on your order?"

"I gave DiNozzo a hand signal. We were in radio and visual contact. The woods weren't too dense."

"And…?"

"DiNozzo was only out of sight for a few seconds. I heard a gunshot, then two more."

"Who shot first?"

"Heywood. Agent DiNozzo got off two rounds even though he was wounded."

"You proceeded directly to your agent's side?"

He sank to his knees and pressed his wadded-up jacket against Tony's wound. It soaked through in minutes.

"He was in bad shape." Gunshots to the chest were never good; they all knew that. "I could hear on my comm, the rest of my team was approaching from the east. They sighted the suspect and cornered him in the parking area. Shots were exchanged. They took Heywood down, secured the scene, called it in. Ambulance arrived and transported DiNozzo to Bethesda." It sounded so damned pat when it had been anything but cut and dried.

"You stayed with Agent DiNozzo?"

"I have an agent down! Get an ambulance. Suspect is still on the loose." He heard Ziva calling it in over his comm-link; McGee was giving orders to the other agents.

"Yeah."

Blood welled out between Gibbs' fingers. He pressed down harder.

"And the agent who killed Commander Heywood was–"

"Special Agent McGee," Gibbs said proudly. Gotta remember to thank him.

"Your report is in order and the follow-up investigation from the shooting team corroborates the reports from your team members. You're dismissed, Special Agent Gibbs."

Tony's face was gray, his eyes glazing over but he found the strength to raise one hand and grasp Gibbs' sleeve.

Gibbs stood, feeling shaky, as if he'd relived the whole scene. He half-expected to see Tony's blood staining his hands.

"How's your man doing?"

Gibbs squared his shoulders. "Hanging in there." Just the day before, Tony spoke for the first time. He didn't say Gibbs' name, and Gibbs wasn't even sure that Tony knew who he was.

"My partner, he was shot a week before he retired. Things are still tough for him. It isn't easy."

No, it wasn't easy, not by a long shot, but at least Tony was alive. For now, that was enough.

His lips moved and even though the only sound Tony emitted was a wheeze, Gibbs knew what he was trying to say. "I know, I know, Tony. I love you. Jesus!" Tony's hand dropped away and his eyes closed. "Don't you go! Don't you dare give up, Dinozzo!"

***–***

4. Restraint

It was going on a month since Tony had been shot. Gibbs didn't think about how much time had passed; his world had narrowed to one day at a time. He'd lost track of everything except for Tony's slow upgrade in condition from critical to stable. Tony was caught somewhere between awareness and out to lunch, his half-open eyes wandering, transient. The doctor called it 'eyes open, brain shut,' and talked about the irreparable damage to his patient's heart, kidneys, and brain in the same breath as long-term care.

Tony fought the restraints. No surprise there. Somehow he'd managed to pull his catheter out by hooking his toe around the tubing. Gibbs took it as a good sign that there was some fight in him.

The nurse reinserted it and taped it down, and Tony expressed his displeasure by grunting. It was his only means of communication – he hadn’t said a word since he'd woken up. Gibbs understood him perfectly well, but then, they'd always been able to connect without words.

As the days progressed, Tony developed a whole new language: whines and moans, and strange, breathy cries that mimicked the way he sounded – or used to sound – when he was approaching orgasm. Sometimes he just let it all out and upped the amps, his features twisted in anger. No restraint there at all. "Go ahead, Tony. Let them know you're still alive," Gibbs encouraged, wishing he could shout right along with Tony.

Fornell came by. He set two cups of coffee and a plastic bag containing fresh pears on the table and looked Gibbs up and down. "You go to Mexico or something?"

Gibbs had missed his weekly trim again. He ran a hand over his three-day beard and grunted, sounding a lot like the man who lay in the hospital bed with unfocused eyes. Tony strained against the cuffs binding his wrists and let out a wail of frustration.

Fornell frowned. "Thought he'd be better by now."

Gibbs almost decked Fornell right then and there. Instead, he stroked Tony's hair until he settled down. Tony seemed to respond better to physical rather than verbal assurances or commands.

No, he hadn't been to Mexico. He'd been right here, taking care of Tony, being here for him, day and night. He'd been here for the fever that almost finished Tony off and left him so weak they'd had to vent him again. He had been here to witness Tony choking on his own vomit when he couldn’t tolerate the crap they fed him through a nasal tube. He'd been here through the tests and examinations, helping turn and bathe him. And when they'd dealt with Tony's wounds, and frightened him badly, Gibbs held him close and swallowed his own tears.

Tony took that moment to look up at Gibbs, aware, connecting with him for the first time. Gibbs smiled and clung to Tony's hand and said through a throat thick with emotion, "He's getting better every day."

***–***

5. Decisions

Gibbs finally asked the team, "You wanna help?"

Abby launched herself at Gibbs and enveloped him in a hug. "Of course! Of course we do!" They put their heads together and formulated a plan complete with charts and timetables to ensure that Tony always had someone with him.

Tony might be stabilized with the gunshot wound to his chest healing well, but he had to re-learn how to speak and walk, learn basic tasks again. His friends – his family – kept Tony occupied in between visits from the army of nurses and therapists who came and went.

Tim brought in DVDs, Abby played Tony's favorite music, and Palmer came armed with magazines featuring leather goods and expensive cars. Ziva sat by the bed and made stilted attempts at engaging him in conversation. Ducky, on the other hand, had no trouble relating long tales about his youth.

Tony seemed disconnected, in another world, and Gibbs worried they were losing ground.

Against the doctor's advice, Gibbs made the decision to get rid of the NG tube that sent food directly to Tony's stomach. "He hates that," Gibbs said, watching Tony writhe during the feeding. Tony's hands were restricted so he rubbed his face against the pillow, trying to dislodge the tube, to no avail. The nurse said the flow might be too fast, causing distress, but adjustments in the delivery and the type of liquid nutrition didn't ease Tony's discomfort.

"Give him a chance to eat," Gibbs decided. "Real food. He can do that, right?"

"Under supervision," the doctor said sternly.

Out came the tube but Tony refused to eat any of the soft foods they held to his mouth. He turned his head away and scrunched his eyes closed.

Gibbs spoke into Tony's ear. "We're coming down to the wire, Tony. You don't eat, they're gonna put the tube back in." Tony stiffened and Gibbs knew he'd got through to him. Still, Tony wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t make eye contact.

"He's like a turtle," said Abby.

"He's taking his own sweet time," Gibbs agreed.

Abby sat cross-legged on the bed with a crossword and asked Tony, "What's a five-letter word for doctor? Quack?" She conducted a one-sided debate on why Plastic Death's music had more depth than Blue Mayhem's. She bit into one of the overripe pears Fornell had brought and made appreciative noises. "Mmmm."

Tony watched her with something that might have been interest.

She spelled out, "P-E-A-R," with sticky fingers.

Tony licked his lips.

Juice ran down Abby's fingers. "You want a bite?"

Tony said, with difficulty, "Peh," and opened his mouth like a bird.

Abby held a small piece of pear to his mouth and Tony's tongue came out tentatively before his lips closed around the soft fruit.

Gibbs quickly mashed up the last pear in a plastic cup. He spooned some into Tony's mouth, careful that he didn't choke.

Later, when they were alone, Tony blinked sleepily at him and Gibbs murmured, "Good decision."

***–***

6. Movie Titles

Tony's brain worked in strange ways these days. His memory was spotty and he had trouble grasping complex subjects. Multi-tasking was impossible. Groups were overwhelming. Tony got tired easily, and small issues sometimes turned into catastrophes. Accidentally dumping Kate, the goldfish, into the toilet while changing the fishbowl's water resulted in a serious meltdown.

The outpatient therapy and the homework and exercises kept them both busy, and Gibbs hired a tutor to help Tony with his reading. Interestingly enough, Tony had retained his writing skills and had no trouble playing Tetris.

Tim and Abby had created lists with pictures and taped them to the walls: step-by-step instructions on how to brush your teeth, take a shower, do the laundry, brew a cup of coffee. Tony had asked for that so he could make Gibbs' coffee in the morning, which Gibbs found touching.

Tony sat on the living room floor, engrossed in sorting his DVDs. They weren't in any order that Gibbs could recognize. Twelve Monkeys was in the same pile as Angel Heart and The Professional. The Bond films were together, as were all eight seasons of Magnum, P.I.

Gibbs set a sandwich down beside him and Tony absentmindedly took a bite. "Pay attention," Gibbs said gently, making sure Tony swallowed without choking.

Tony did as he was told and then said, "Good sandwich." He looked up and smiled at Gibbs where he sat on the couch.

Gibbs smiled back and refrained from giving Tony a hug. Ever since being shot, Tony was sensitive to being touched. Once, when Gibbs had stroked the bare skin of his arm, Tony had winced. Gibbs had asked, "That painful?"

Tony had averted his eyes and said in a small voice, "Feels funny."

Ducky had said it wasn't unusual for brain injury patients to have increased sensitivity to sound, light, even touch. So, when Tony hugged his legs, Gibbs was surprised.

"Love you, Jethro."

Unsure if Tony truly understood what he was saying, Gibbs asked, "You do?"

Tony struggled to sit on the couch and shoved a movie in Gibbs' hand: Brokeback Mountain. They'd watched it together and Tony had cried at the ending. "You want to watch this?"

Tony shook his head and before Gibbs could remind him to speak aloud, Tony said, "'F-fast or s-slow, I like the direction you're going.'"

It took Gibbs a moment to figure out that was a quote from the movie. "I like the direction you're going, too–"

Tony interrupted, tears in his eyes. "'Don't quit on me.' Please, Jethro."

Gibbs took Tony's face in his hands. "No, never. I'll never quit on you. I love you, Tony. I love the hell out of you and don't you ever forget it." He kissed Tony on the mouth and Tony moaned into the kiss. God, how he'd missed this.

"You need to re-re-remind me. I'm brain damaged, you know," Tony said with a crooked smile.

Gibbs snorted. "Don't worry, I'll remind you every day. Every damned day."

***–***

7. Trust

"You need to tell him, Jethro."

"Ducky, don't start," Gibbs warned.

"Anthony needs to understand what is going on, Jethro. He trusts you."

Gibbs glared at Ducky. "That's why this is so hard. He trusts me! And I have to send him away!"

Ducky gently reminded Gibbs, "For his own good. It is vitally important that Anthony be immersed in acute therapy right away. Studies show that the sooner HAI patients begin rehabilitation, the better the chances of regaining some independence–"

"I know, I know that, Ducky, but…"

"But you want to keep him close and safe, don't you?" Ducky touched Gibbs' arm, his eyes understanding. "It's hardest when it's someone we love dearly."

Gibbs studied his friend's face, trying to figure out if he knew.

Ducky saved him asking the question by saying, "Your actions speak quite loudly, you know, Jethro. Anyone can see how you dote on the boy."

"He isn't a boy," Gibbs said gruffly.

"No, he isn't. He's a man with hypoxic-anoxic injury to his brain, who suffers from cognitive and physical problems that won't get better on their own. No matter how much you love him, Jethro, you cannot fix this by taking him home."

"I…I don't want to lose him," Gibbs whispered.

"My dear boy, you'll be regaining him, not losing him. Six weeks of rehabilitation–"

"Six weeks! I can't–"

"You are allowed to visit after nine days," Ducky said firmly.

Gibbs swallowed hard. "I can't."

"Think of it as boot camp for the brain. He needs this, Jethro."

There were no guarantees, Gibbs knew. He took a deep breath and nodded.

Gibbs' resolve faded the moment Tony turned to him and smiled. He looked so damned frail.

Tony struggled to say, "J-jethro."

Gibbs sat on the bed. Tony's first word had been pear. His next had been no, which he used a lot, often when he meant yes. Gibbs understood though. The day Tony said Jethro, Gibbs almost cried.

"Tony, tomorrow you're going to a new place."

"Home?"

Shit. "No, not home. You're going to the Naval Rehabilitation Center. To help you get back on your feet."

Tony's eyes were wide with worry. "Feet?"

"To get better. Some really nice people are going to help you–"

"You c-come."

This was tearing his heart out. "No, I can't. I'll visit–"

"No!" Tony's eyes filled with tears and he made agitated gestures with his hands.

Gibbs took hold of them. "I will visit you."

"Nooo!"

"Think of it as boot camp. It'll be fun," he lied. "Please," he whispered. Tears streamed down Tony's face. Nobody could tell Gibbs that Tony didn't understand. Gibbs dropped Tony's hand in order to wipe his own eyes. Tony's hand touched his cheek. Gibbs leaned into it and kissed the palm and whispered, "I love you so much."

Tony sniffled and then asked, "Camp? Girls?"

Gibbs chuckled and then laughed and pulled Tony into a hug. "Knowing you, if there are any, you'll find them."

***–***

8. Guilt

Despite the doctor's disapproval, Gibbs remained by Tony's side during the transition to the rehabilitation hospital. When Gibbs had to say goodbye, Tony became very upset and the staff had to insist that Gibbs leave.

Gibbs got in the passenger seat of the Morgan and turned to Ducky. "That was bad, Duck."

"It was to be expected, Jethro," Ducky reminded him.

Gibbs sighed. "I know I had to do it, but I feel guilty as hell."

"You will go back to work and Anthony will be able to concentrate on getting better without any distractions. It will be good for the both of you, getting back into a routine."

"But it's nine days before I can see him, Ducky."

"They restrict visits so the patient has time to acclimate, Jethro. It may seem cruel leaving him there, but he is not alone. The staff is very caring and experienced."

"It's just…I've been with him so much the past month." Gibbs admitted, "I wanna go back there and pull him out, take him home."

"And you will get that chance, once Anthony has regained the most basic of functions. You will become part of his rehabilitation team. He is still in the early stages. He needs to regain some of his lost skills, learn how to compensate and find new ways to solve problems when the old methods don't work. There will still be a great deal of work ahead of him once he is discharged. Anthony is lucky to have you there for him."

"Everyone's been there for him," Gibbs said, thinking of how the team had kept Tony company, helped with his exercises, done everything they could to remind him that he was not alone. Even Jackie Vance and the new guy, Dorneget, had done their share.

Ducky started the car and headed towards Gibbs' home. After a while he said, his voice gentle, "Jethro, chances are that Anthony will never recover more than a portion of his former abilities. You must not harbor unrealistic expectations. You'll only be setting him up to fail."

"I don't want that," Gibbs protested. Maybe he was expecting too much of Tony.

"Of course not. You do realize that it is quite likely that Anthony will require more care than you can provide." Ducky added cautiously, "Perhaps a group home or–"

"I'm not giving up on him, Ducky!" Gibbs said angrily. No matter how limited Tony might be, he would always be there for him, every step of the way.

"Of course not, but it shall be a long road for both of you. Just remember that your friends are here should you need anything. And I do mean anything, my friend."

Gibbs nodded his thanks to Ducky, afraid that if he met his sympathetic eyes he'd break down. Instead he took a deep breath and started making a mental list of everything he planned to do to alter his house to prepare for the day when Tony came to live with him.

***–***

9. Work

"Tony just finished PT. He's doing great. Graduated to a wheelchair just yesterday," said the therapist as she directed Gibbs to Tony's room. They passed patients who looked to be in far worse shape than Tony. Even so, it scared Gibbs.

Tony was seated in his wheelchair, looking out the window. It was the first sight he'd had of Tony in nine days. God, how he'd missed him. Dressed in sweats, his cheeks slightly flushed, Tony looked surprisingly good even though he was too thin. Was he eating enough? Did he miss Gibbs at all? Did he even remember him? Gibbs approached, his mouth dry.

When Tony turned he immediately smiled at the sight of Gibbs.

"Hey," Gibbs said awkwardly.

Tony's smile faltered and was replaced by a slightly wary expression. "Y-you left me," he accused, making a sharp, awkward gesture with one hand.

Ever since Tony'd been shot, he'd worn his emotions on his sleeve. He would laugh and cry and show wonder with disarming honesty. Gone were the barriers and masks he'd always been so adept at erecting. Now it appeared that Tony had regained some of that former ability, and it made Gibbs sad to see.

Gibbs crouched beside Tony, not caring if he hated him for abandoning him. "Well, I'm here now." He wasn't going to let Tony push him away. "Doc says I should learn your exercises with you. So I can help you when you leave here."

Tony had a stubborn look on his face. "Don't. Need."

Taking Tony's hand in his own, Gibbs said, "Well, here's the thing. See, I need you, Tony. I missed you, real bad."

Tony stared at Gibbs, face contorting as his emotions tried to break to the surface. His lower lip trembled and the moment that Gibbs reached out both arms, Tony's face crumpled. Gibbs pulled him into his arms and hugged him tight, vowing, "I'm never gonna leave you again, you hear me? Never." Tony was sobbing and clinging to him, his hands pulling at the back of Gibbs' shirt. Gibbs kissed his cheek and the side of his warm neck and stroked his hair, soothing him as best he could.

Eventually the storm was over, eyes and noses cleaned up, and Gibbs helped Tony transfer to the bed.

Tony asked, every word spoken with care, "Are y-you gonna stay?"

"As long as I can."

The wariness returned to Tony's eyes.

Sitting next to him, Gibbs explained, "I went back to work full time when you started your rehab. I will be here every minute I'm not on the job. To work with you. Get you better. Understand?"

Tony nodded. "I'm w-working, too."

Gibbs smiled and rubbed Tony's arm. "You're working hard; I can see the improvement. From now on, we'll work together." Tony nodded again and sighed into Gibbs' neck. He was falling asleep in Gibbs' arms but Gibbs wasn't going anywhere. "We're in this together," he said and kissed the top of Tony's head.

***–***

10. Lost

Tony sat on his bed, bare-chested. He rubbed the scar from the gunshot wound to his chest and looked anxiously at the t-shirt on his lap.

Gibbs spent his off-duty hours at the rehab working with the therapists to teach Tony how to dress, eat, and speak. The most basic of tasks, ones that used to be performed without a thought, were now difficult and frustrating for the brain-injured man.

"Put your arms through these holes, like this," said Gibbs. They did this every morning yet Tony still couldn’t recall how to dress. This was what bothered Gibbs the most, the way Tony had no clue about things that used to come naturally to him. It was frightening to see how much of Tony had been lost. It was like a part of him had been erased.

Tony carefully followed Gibbs' directions, step by step. Once he'd succeeded getting dressed Tony grinned at Gibbs, pleased with himself, and Gibbs couldn’t help but tousle his hair. Tony protested, "N-not the hair!" Seeing the old Tony shine through made Gibbs laugh.

Tony remembered how to do random things, like operating the TV and other devices. He could shave and brush his teeth without any prompts but running the shower put him in a near panic. Making a sandwich became a huge operation. And asking him to make any kind of choice – red shirt or blue? That was a recipe for anger and tears.

Sometimes, when Gibbs spoke, Tony would stare at him blankly as if he was speaking a foreign language. Aware that he had missed something important, Tony would bite his bottom lip in concentration. If the cylinders fired and the engine shifted into drive, Tony's face would light up and he'd practically shout the answer. Gibbs treasured those moments, bright spots in a world where any kind of progress was hard-earned.

Now and then Tony would come to a complete stop mid-sentence and have to search for an elusive word. Gibbs would prompt him to find another way of saying it or suggest he draw it on a small pad of paper he carried around. Oddly enough, Tony's drawing skills appeared to be intact so he and Gibbs communicated in a mix of half-formed sentences and Tony's version of Pictionary.

"Pizza."

"Use a complete sentence, Tony."

"I want ex-extra…cheese."

"You want anything else on it?"

"P-p-puppy," Tony blurted, and then looked confused.

"Puppy?" Gibbs asked.

Aware he'd made a mistake but unsure what he'd said wrong, Tony pulled at his shirt.

Gibbs ran his hand down the back of Tony's head and let his hand rest on his shoulder. He smiled and assured Tony, "That's okay. You'll get it next time. I'll order a pizza with extra cheese and pepperoni." He could see when the light bulb went on.

"I want pizza with extra cheese and pep-pepperoni," Tony said, a smile emerging.

"Attaboy," said Gibbs, wondering if he'd ever stop wanting his old Tony back.

***–***

11. Denial

The head of Tony's rehabilitation team, Dr. Jacobs, reported to Gibbs about Tony's status. The gunshot wound to his chest was almost healed. Organ function had improved but wasn't at 100%. "He's still weak from blood loss but his latest labs show improvement."

Gibbs cleared his throat and asked, "How long before Tony recovers…fully?"

The doctor looked defeated, as if he'd had to deliver too much bad news over the years. "Significant improvement happens early on, then the rate of recovery typically slows down. Tony will have physical and cognitive impairments – language, memory, thought processing – but with the right support he'll learn how to cope."

"How to cope?" Was that it? Gibbs refused to believe that this was Tony's future. All those times Tony had been concussed with no lasting effects, and yet a bullet nicking an artery had caused so much brain damage that Tony'd be permanently disabled?

Dr. Jacobs explained, "Studies show brain-injured people spend the rest of their lives re-learning. Only time will tell."

Gibbs finally accepted the harsh reality and it just about broke his heart. This might be as far as Tony would ever progress, mentally and physically. He'd always be reliant upon others to care for him.

It killed Gibbs that Tony's life had been stolen from him for doing his duty. They all put their lives on the line, part of the job, but none of them expected to be permanently impaired. It was denial, of course; it always happened to the other guy. Except now Tony was the other guy, and Gibbs wasn't sure how much of his best friend and lover remained.

Gibbs lay in the bed next to Tony, watching him sleep. Today's PT had left Tony exhausted. He'd worked hard and graduated from the wheelchair to a walker, but he could barely support his own weight. Any kind of mental exercise was draining and brought on headaches. Tony often slept for several hours after he returned to his room.

Tony's eyelids twitched in his sleep. Gibbs could picture Tony's eyes, full of amusement and intelligence, and sometimes a bit of insecurity, which he usually concealed pretty well. Or he used to. Gibbs had to remind himself that it was past tense now.

Tony woke slowly and rubbed his eyes. He announced, "I'm awake," in case Gibbs didn't get it.

Gibbs smiled and brushed Tony's hair off his forehead. "So I see. You did good today."

"I walk better than I think," Tony said with surprising clarity.

Gibbs' heart leaped at the glimpse of his old Tony.

Tony said sadly, "In my head. Like doors. Open. N-nothing inside. Lost."

Gibbs pulled a pliant Tony into his arms. "I think we all get a bit lost sometimes. Guess we're lucky to have each other then." If Tony understood, he gave no indication. He lay quietly in Gibbs arms and next time Gibbs glanced down, he found that Tony had gone back to sleep. "We'll get lost together," he said softly.

***–***

12. Right

The first night Tony came to live with Gibbs, he was exhausted and went to bed at eight. Once they'd made it up the stairs, Gibbs steered him into the bedroom he'd prepared for him. It had a connecting bathroom with grab bars and easy-to-use handles Gibbs had added for Tony's safety and comfort.

Gibbs helped Tony change and got him into bed. He patted his arm, said goodnight and left the door ajar in case Tony needed him during the night.

"Night," Tony murmured innocently, turning over and going straight to sleep.

That became their routine until the day they kissed, the first time since Tony had been shot. It seemed so natural, so right, and it made Gibbs realize that he'd been seeing Tony as disabled, as if that alone defined him. He'd been wrong; Tony was so much more than that. He was the man Gibbs loved, the man who loved him back. They'd been together for months before Tony was injured, and that kiss was a sharp reminder that he needed to view Tony as a complete person.

Tony didn't mention the kiss the next day. Gibbs wondered if Tony had forgotten about it.

One night, almost a week later, when Gibbs tucked him in bed, Tony stared at him, a small crease between his eyes as if he was trying to make sense of something.

Gibbs sat on the bed and took Tony's hands. Immediately, tears welled up in Tony's eyes. He rarely cried any more so Gibbs was concerned. "What's going on?"

"You kissed me."

So Tony did remember. Smiling, Gibbs pointed out, "You kissed me back."

"It's n-not right," Tony said, distressed.

Gibbs was stricken with remorse. Maybe Tony wasn't ready for this part of their relationship, but Gibbs missed making love to him, sleeping with him and being loved in return. He'd hoped…"I'm sorry," Gibbs whispered, unable to imagine the rest of his life without Tony's kisses.

"No! I mean…" Tony choked out, "I w-want to sleep in your bed. I don't want to be alone any more."

Gibbs pulled him into his arms, almost crying with relief. "You won't sleep alone any more. I promise." Gibbs rose so he could help Tony out of bed. "Give me a big hug, Tony, and let's go to our room. We'll make this right."

Tony's arms went around Gibbs' neck and as soon as he was on his feet he leaned into him. Gibbs waited for Tony to get his balance but instead Tony kissed him. Soft and slow soon became deep and impassioned. When they finally parted, Gibbs asked, to be sure, "You sure about this? We can take this slow."

"I think I've h-had enough of slow."

"You need to tell me what you want, Tony."

Tony smiled. "Two functional mutes now. Good thing we don't need words in the bedroom."

In response, Gibbs kissed him again and led him across the hall to the place where words weren't necessary.

***–***

13. The First Time

Tony still might have some issues getting dressed but apparently he had no trouble removing his clothes. Before Gibbs even got his shoes off, Tony was standing in front of him, unabashedly naked with a smirk on his lips.

Gibbs took a moment to sit on the bed and admire his lover. He was beautiful, no doubt about it. Sure, there were scars on his chest from being shot and from the operations to repair the damage the bullet caused. There were older scars, too, from years on the job. Tony hadn't put all the weight back on that he'd lost but he was tanned and looked surprisingly healthy.

Tony stood before Gibbs, carefully balancing on widespread legs. His hands were raised slightly, like a boxer ready for a fight, except he was smiling at Gibbs in a way that said he had something else in mind.

Tony's cock, dark and shiny, jutted out from the dark thatch of hair at his groin. It was twitching, practically pleading for Gibbs to draw it into his mouth. He could suck and tongue the hot, rigid flesh and Tony would claw at his hair and come in hot spurts down his throat. Gibbs licked his lips but no, that could wait. He wanted more, to feel Tony writhing under him, moaning and pleading. He wanted to sink deep inside him and thrust slowly, extending the feeling of the drag and pull until they both shuddered and came.

Gibbs stripped but before he could make a move, Tony pushed him flat and lay atop him. He buried his face in Gibbs' neck and humped a little against his hip, the gesture tentative as if he was out of practice.

Limbs entwined, they rolled and it was Gibbs' turn to thrust against Tony. Tony arched into him, hands gripping Gibbs' shoulders, kissing him and sucking on his tongue with wet, hungry sounds. God, how Gibbs loved the way Tony kissed him like he could never get enough.

Gibbs ran his hands reverently up and down Tony's long limbs, caressing his chest and ass, discovering him all over again. He followed every touch with a kiss, his slow movements eliciting wordless pleas from Tony, but Gibbs wouldn't be hurried. He calmed Tony with gestures of love and patience and, when he entered him, Gibbs watched his face, so open and expressive. Just like always, when Tony came, he wore that overwhelmed expression he got when Gibbs was inside him, as if this was too good to be true.

So strange to think that this hadn't changed, this physical and emotional connection they had. Gibbs had been so sure, so afraid, that they'd never experience this again, but it was the very mindlessness of sex, the instinctive gestures, the lustful need that made this work so effortlessly. Here in bed there was no need to think or reason. Here they were equals, bound by their lovemaking and their love for each other. Here they were one.

***–*** end ***–***