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Four-Seven-Eight

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'I can't breathe.'

That's the only thought Tony can conjure in his head as he's struggling under those blue lights. He's coughing up a lung, possibly literally, considering the blood trickling out of his mouth. The nurses are doing everything they can under Dr. Pitt's instructions, but he's no closer to breathing sitting up than he is lying down. He's dying. He's dying and he can feel it happening and he regrets annoying Kate so much earlier, because he doesn't want the last words he said to her to have made her angry.

He's coughing and struggling for breath and his chest in on fire, and he can't breathe, if only he could breathe then he might be okay with being stuck under the blue lights again, but he can't stand lying here anymore and he needs to do something to get him out of this stupid, stupid hospital bed!

"Tony!" a voice demanded, shaking him by the shoulders roughly, and Tony blinked to find himself in Gibbs' guest room, the light on and Gibbs sitting next to where he was lying down, hands on his shoulders.

Gibbs sagged with relief when he saw Tony awake, and Tony couldn't understand why he appeared to be so relieved. Sure, he wasn't in the hospital but that didn't mean he could breathe any easier. He tried to take in a breath, to tell Gibbs he was okay, but it was like his chest stopped moving outward halfway through, and his diaphragm spasmed and he was back to the horrible, horrible cough that sounded like a seal. He hated this, and he still couldn't breathe, and he was worried he was about to spiral into a panic, again.

"Tony, hey, slow down your breathing. Can you do that for me?" Gibbs asked.

Tony tried to laugh but it just wound up like a choking sound in the back of his throat. Gibbs propped him up on the pillows he was using and Tony sucked in air the best he could, but it felt like he was stuck with too little room in his chest to actually breathe. That was the scarring's fault, he figured, and he cursed that he couldn't go out for a run to clear his head.

Gibbs lightly smacked Tony's head. "Hey. Slow down your breathing, Tony. You're gonna get sick again if you keep coughing like that, and we both know how much you hated puking before you had the plague."

Tony tried to slow down, but his body was ordering him to breathe faster. His brain was saying it was okay, that he would be fine if his breathing would level out. But his screaming chest was ordering otherwise. He continued to cough for a full minute, before collapsing into the pillows and gasping for breath.

"Tony? You with me?" Gibbs asked.

Weakly, Tony nodded. "I'm with you, Boss," he rasped.

"Breathe in time with me. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, and breathe out for a count of eight. Can you do that?" Gibbs asked.

Well, he could certainly try. Inhale, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Exhale, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Inhale...he started coughing again.

Gibbs sighed and shook his head, picking up the waste basket by Tony's bed just in case. Tony hated this. He hated this. He didn't want to go back to the hospital! He hated the hospital, the needles, the breathing cannulas, the food! He tried to breathe normally, to prove to himself and to Gibbs that he didn't need to go back, but he was having no luck.

"Tony, breathe," Gibbs instructed. "Just try."

In between his next coughing fit, Tony tried. Inhale, two, three...cough. Inhale, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four...more coughing. Tony pounded his fist into the bed. He didn't want Gibbs to send him back to the hospital! He could stay here! He just needed to stop coughing!

He couldn't help it. He was panicking. He couldn't get enough air in, he was gonna cough so hard he was gonna puke, and Gibbs was gonna send him back to the hospital. Tears came to Tony's eyes, which he would swear were only from the force of his coughs and were decidedly not because of his panic attack.

"Tony," Gibbs sighed, helping him to sit up. He kept Tony from curling in on himself and rubbed his back in circles. "Come on, Tony, you have to breathe. I know it's hard, but panicking will get you nowhere."

"Easy...for you...to...say," Tony coughed out. "If I don't...stop...you'll just...send...me...back to...Bethesda..."

"If you don't stop and you puke again I'll call your doctor to get his opinion. I'm not sending you back to the hospital if I can help it, Tony," Gibbs said. "You're too easy to get attached to. I wish I knew how to quit you."

"Did you just...quote Brokeback Mountain?" Tony gasped out.

"And if I did?" Gibbs asked, deceivingly nonchalant.

"I would say...we need to have...a movie marathon to expand your references," Tony said with a grin. "Because that further proves...you watch too many...too many Westerns."

Gibbs rolled his eyes and Tony chuckled in-between gasps. His breath wasn't coming any easier, but he was feeling significantly calmer for having talked to Gibbs. If he wasn't being sent back to the hospital just yet, maybe he could have some time to convince Gibbs to at least watch one Bond movie with him. That would be so much more fun with Gibbs making snarky remarks every other line.

As Tony could feel himself starting to fall asleep again, Gibbs helped him lie back down. "Do you need another pillow?" Gibbs asked.

"Nah, I'm...good...Boss..." Tony breathed.

"Remember, four-seven-eight. And if you're having any issues, just call, I'll be right here," Gibbs said.

"Copy that, Boss," Tony said with a slight smile.

Gibbs nodded and left the room, leaving the waste basket next to the bed. Tony practiced his breathing. Inhale, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Exhale, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight...