Best of Care

by Juli

May 2004

"Here, Jethro, I've brought you a coffee."

Gibbs looked up briefly at Ducky's concerned face. He spared a glance at the Styrofoam cup being held out to him but just shook his head.

"No, thanks, Duck," he said quietly and then dropped his head down again. Gibbs was sitting on the edge of a hospital waiting room chair, elbows on his knees.

"Oh, my, it must be bad," Mallard responded as he settled in the chair next to him. "I've never known you to pass up coffee before."

Gibbs smiled slightly without looking up. "Not sure that sludge qualifies as coffee."

Donald Mallard looked at his friend in true concern. Jethro had refused to leave Tony's side until he'd been forced to by hospital personnel. Even then, he'd paced the waiting room like a caged animal until they'd gotten word that Tony's injuries weren't life-threatening. Only at that point did Gibbs allow himself to be convinced to take a shower and borrow a set of scrubs. Even though she'd only waded into the pond, Kate had already done the same. All that was left to do was wait until Tony came out of surgery - something Gibbs was doing with a distinct lack of grace that bordered on despondency.

"He'll be fine, Jethro," Ducky said, too softly for the others to hear.

"It was close, Duck," Gibbs responded, lifting his head to stare out into space. "Too damn close. I almost lost him."

"I know how you feel," Ducky said, referring to the hostage incident that had resulted in his Gerald being hurt, "But you got there in time. That's the important thing."

Gibbs smiled bitterly. "You were right, Duck. I thought I knew what Tony meant to me and I fought it... but seeing that vehicle upside down and not knowing if he was still alive...."

Ducky carefully put a hand on Gibbs' shoulder, torn by the uncharacteristic lost tone in his friend's voice. "It rather makes all of our so-called noble reasons for rejecting a relationship with our respective young men seem rather trivial, doesn't it?"

"You could say that again," Gibbs said. His lips twitched and he finally looked at the medical examiner. "Although, knowing you, you'd take twice as long to say it."

The Englishman laughed, causing startled looks from Kate, Abby, and McGee. The younger NCIS trio were hovering on the other side of the waiting room. Abby quickly recovered from her surprise and gave Ducky a thumbs-up sign.

"If someone's going to say something again, I'd rather it be you repeating your comment from a few moments before, regarding my being right," Ducky teased back. "That doesn't happen often, not on matters of a personal nature."

Gibbs shook his head. "Don't push it, Duck."

"Speaking of pushing," Mallard used the opportunity Jethro had just handed him to bring up a subject that had been worrying him. "How's the shoulder?"

The other man shrugged, not completely managing to hide how the movement made him wince. With all that had happened with Tony, it was hard to remember that a terrorist had shot Gibbs in the shoulder less than a week before.

"It's okay," he claimed.

In truth, it was throbbing like a son-of-a-bitch. Enough time had gone by that the wound was closed but it wasn't completely healed. He'd given it quite a workout diving into the pond and pulling Tony out of the wreck. At the time, he hadn't noticed it, though. From the moment they'd realized that Tony was alone with a man he didn't know was a killer, all Gibbs had thought about was the younger man's safety.

"Well, I think you should have it looked at anyway, Jethro," Ducky advised him. "We'll want to make sure that you haven't re-opened the wound. From the smell wafting off of you and Kate before you showered, I'm sure that water was filthy - "

"Not now, Ducky," Gibbs cut him off.

Mallard was about to chide Jethro for not taking care of himself when he realized Gibbs, along with everyone else in the room, was rising to his feet. Tony's doctor was approaching.

"Splendid," Ducky murmured, getting up himself to join the rest.

"Agent DiNozzo came through the surgery with flying colors," Dr. Cobb assured the worried group. "Apparently, the seat belt deflected the knife enough that it kept it from hitting any vital organs. It's a deep wound but there's not as much internal damage as I would have expected."

Gibbs nodded, accepting the good news before asking, "What about the time he spent in the water?"

"That actually helped him in the short run. Since it was cool, the temperature of the water actually caused his blood flow to slow, which in turn meant Mr. DiNozzo lost less blood. Hypothermia was pretty minimal, however, and we easily had his core temperature pretty much to normal before surgery."

The doctor sighed.

"That's the good news. The bad news is that he had an open wound while immersed. Unless it was a relatively pristine water source, any number of nasties were in contact with the wound." Cobb took off his surgical cap and scrubbed one hand through his hair. "That - and any water that got into his lungs - could be a problem in the long run. We'll keep a close eye on him, though, and are already treating him with an aggressive dose of antibiotics."

"Anthony is in prime physical condition," Ducky assured the others. They'd become increasingly glum as Dr. Cobb had outlined Tony's condition. "And, Jethro, didn't you tell me you brought a water sample with you? That ought to give Tony's physicians an idea of what specific bacteria they might be up against and let them 'hit the ground running,' so to speak."

"That's right," the surgeon agreed. "It's not often we have someone with the foresight to do something like that; I'm impressed."

"We're NCIS," Kate said with quiet pride. It'd been Gibbs' idea to get a sample, but she'd been the one to collect it. "We have advantages that most of your patients don't."

"When can we see him?" Abby asked.

"Agent DiNozzo is in recovery right now but he'll be moved to an ICU unit within the hour," Dr. Cobb explained. "Frankly, given the circumstances and the potential complications to come, it's more likely than not that he'll become ill; perhaps seriously ill. I'd rather Mr. DiNozzo not be overtaxed with a lot of visitors; he's going to need his strength."

"They'll go home," Gibbs said quietly. He glared at the others, cutting off their half-articulated protests. "They'll get some sleep and then in the morning they'll work out a schedule for visiting Tony, so that he's not overtaxed."

Dr. Cobb swallowed a smile at the easy way Gibbs dealt with the situation - until that commanding blue gaze turned his way.

"I, however, will be staying the night," was proclaimed in that same, no-nonsense manner.

"And you would be....?" The surgeon asked.

"Special Agent Jethro Gibbs," Gibbs replied curtly, gearing himself up for a fight.

He was denied one.

"Ah, Jethro Gibbs. That's a name you don't easily forget." The doctor looked down at his clipboard. "Your office faxed over Mr. DiNozzo's medical records before he went into surgery. You're listed as his emergency contact and are welcome to stay the night if you want."

"Like there was any choice about that," Ducky said quietly. Abby and Kate heard his pithy comment and tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle very un-NCIS like giggles.

"I would suggest, however, that both you and Agent Todd also receive antibiotics," the doctor recommended. "Since you came in contact with the water as well. I'd prefer us to be safe rather than sorry - the nurses can help you set something up."

After shaking hands all around, Dr. Cobb took his leave.

"I meant it, go home and get some sleep," Gibbs repeated. Between Tony's rescue and surgery, night had fallen.

The others took one last wistful look in the direction that Tony's doctor had taken and then left. Ducky, more daring than the rest, hung behind.

"He'll be fine, Jethro," he reassured his friend. "Just like with Gerald, I'm sure everything will work out."

Gibbs shook his head. "Don't sugarcoat it. You know as well as I do that Tony's not out of the woods yet, Ducky. You didn't see that water - it was bad."

"Ah, but thanks to your quick thinking collecting that sample, the doctors know what to expect," Ducky countered. "You might say that you rescued Tony twice today."

"Yeah, sure," Gibbs disagreed.

"Ah-ah, none of that," Ducky held up one finger. "I thought we'd already agreed today that I was right."

Eyes twinkling despite his worry, Ducky turned and left before Jethro could retort. He wanted to insure that he got in the last word and, coincidentally, left the conversation on a high note. He was well-acquainted with Jethro's tendency to worry.

Gibbs smiled slightly at the medical examiner's retreating form.

"I hope you're right this time too," he whispered to the empty room. "I hope to God that you're right."

It wasn't fair. Darkness wasn't supposed to tilt. Tony's breath caught but he didn't have the energy to moan. Somewhere in a far off universe, Tony felt someone's fingers twitch. It took him a few heartbeat to realize that they were his.

Trying to make sense of everything, Tony opened his eyes a slit. He was immediately assaulted by a mosaic of blurry images that were at once fuzzy yet painfully jangled.

Darkness, even if it tilted, was starting to seem a whole lot more appealing. Tony started to let himself drift back towards it, but something drew him away.

"Soumee, kim ou ear nee?"

At first, the words were just so much noise. The voice saying them, though, was familiar, even if the gentle tone it was speaking in was not.

Mostly unconscious or not, Tony struggled to obey. He simply couldn't *not* obey - not when it was Gibbs giving the orders.

The jangled mosaic was still there when he tried opening his eyes again, but this time Tony was anchored by Gibbs' voice and a warm touch on his face. With that much-needed assistance, he was able to win the struggle to keep them open. Slowly, the confusion resolved itself and no longer threatened to overwhelm him.

"That's it, DiNozzo. Keep those eyes open."

Tony turned his head towards the voice and was relieved to see Jethro Gibbs perched on the side of his bed. The sight stabilized his world further and he was able to ask, "Boss?"

Gibbs smiled broadly and, if dizziness hadn't already plagued Tony, that smile would have sent him spinning. "Yeah, I'm here. You're in the hospital, Tony, but you're going to be fine."

For some reason, the older agent wasn't withdrawing his hand from Tony's cheek, not that Tony was complaining. While Gibbs had been speaking, Tony's eyes had darted around the room. He'd already come to the correct conclusion about where he was and what had happened.

"Knew you'd find me," Tony rasped.

Gibbs' smile got a little ragged around the edges. "It was a close thing, DiNozzo."

It was still hard for Tony to think but he had the feeling the faltering of Gibbs' smile was his fault. Suddenly flooded with guilt, he turned his head away. "Sorry, boss."

The pressure on from Gibbs' hand increased and Tony found himself looking into the other man's face. "You hear me and hear me good, Tony. This wasn't your fault. Larson wasn't who he said he was - and nobody had reason to expect it." Gibbs' face gentled. "If it was anyone's fault, it was mine, for sending you alone."

"Not your fault, either," Tony tried to say firmly. A cough got in the way, though, and he found himself doubled over from a sudden pain that flared in his side.

Gibbs was off the bed in a flash, putting a pillow over Tony's abdomen and instructing him to hold it there for a support. After a few moments, the cough abated and Tony settle back against the bed, out of breath and physically drained.

"Take it easy, Tony," Gibbs said, brushing the hair out of Tony's eyes. "You were stabbed in the side." Seeing the younger man's expression of worry, he hastened to explain, "It's not bad but it's going to be sore for a while."

"Oh, that's what that was," Tony said vaguely.

"Go back to sleep, DiNozzo," Gibbs told him fondly. "I'll be here when you wake up."

And Tony obeyed.

Ducky couldn't sleep and, for once, it wasn't because of his noisy neighbors. Giving up, the Englishman got up and padded, barefoot, to the kitchen. Ice cream always seemed to help his insomnia.

As he dished himself up a bowl of vanilla, Mallard's thoughts came back to the issue that had been keeping him awake. Watching Gibbs hover over an injured Anthony made some unwanted memories surface - of his own worry over Gerald, such a short time ago.

The parallels were numerous. Gibbs had fought his attraction to Tony, just as Ducky had fought his with Gerald. Both of them were older men, feeling themselves past their prime and unsuited to taking a young lover. Unfortunately, both of them had been forced to confront their suppressed feelings because of an injury to their unrequited love.

He and Gibbs were just damn lucky that they both got a second chance. Gerald and Tony would recover. Gerald, in fact, was well on his way. Out of the hospital, Ducky's young man now resided at a care facility for physical therapy patients. Doctors were hopeful that the one-time assistant would regain most of the use of his arm. Tony, in contrast, had just begun the healing process. Mallard regretted his glib words of reassurance to Jethro. Oh, they needed to be said, but Ducky knew Tony had a long road ahead of him. He only hoped the agent's prognosis was as good as Gerald's. If not, there was no telling how Gibbs would take it and his old friend had suffered enough of life's disappointments the way it was.

Ducky looked down and was surprised to see that his bowl was empty - and his eyelids felt heavier. Smiling in satisfaction, he ran some water in the dish so it could soak overnight and headed back to bed.

Gibbs did have one advantage, in his situation, that Ducky did not enjoy. He knew the man that had injured Tony was dead, whereas the terrorist who'd shot Gerald was still at large. In fact, the so-called Father Larson would be on Donald Mallard's exam table first thing in the morning, waiting with the patience of the dead for Ducky to cut him up and look at his innards. It wasn't the body he *really* wanted on his table, but considering what the villain had done to Tony *and* what Tony's injury had done to Jethro, it was an acceptable substitute.

Humming a lullaby, Ducky went back to bed. With a pleasant morning to look forward to, sleep should no longer be a problem.

Tony's next awaking was both the same and different. It was different in that waking up wasn't such a struggle. This time, when he opened his eyes, the world stayed firmly in place.

It was the same in that Gibbs was still at his side.

"You been here all night?" Tony asked. He seemed to remember waking up earlier and it being dark. Now there was sunlight streaming in.

"Yup," Gibbs said, getting up from his chair to move closer to Tony's side. "How you feeling?"

"Like crap," DiNozzo said eloquently.

"I don't know how much you remember from last night, Tony, but you were in a car accident, got stabbed and almost drowned." Gibbs tried hard to keep his expression light even though his gut twisted at hearing the description of what the younger man had endured. "But the doc sewed you up; you're going to be fine."

Tony tried glaring at Gibbs but winced when the expression caused a headache. "What aren't you telling me?"

Jethro wasn't really surprised. Even on pain meds, Tony was extremely observant. That and his curiosity were the traits that had moved Gibbs to recruit him for NCIS in the first place. DiNozzo also knew Gibbs just about better than anyone else - a dangerous combination for a private man like Jethro. There was a time when Gibbs would have found that disturbing. Now, it was just another example of how Tony DiNozzo had gotten under his skin.

"There's a chance there'll be some complications," he explained matter-of-factly. "Because of the cleanliness of the pond water."

"What kind of complications?"

"You might get sick," Gibbs said. "But, don't worry, the doctors know about it and are already treating you in the hopes they can head anything off. If something happens, it should be more of a nuisance than anything."

Tony groaned and shut his eyes. "So, feeling like crap might be the best I get for a while?"


"Can I at least have some water, Boss? Tastes like something crawled into my mouth and died," Tony complained.

"Nope," Jethro told him regretfully. "You just had abdominal surgery; it's going to be a while yet before they'll let you have anything."

Tony sighed but accepted Gibbs' explanation, licking his lips in a vain attempt to get them moist.

Gibbs shook himself from the sight and tried to think of something to distract the patient from his thirst. "Do you remember what happened?"

Tony closed his eyes as he fought to remember. "We were talking, about sports. Larson was a nice guy - he even laughed when I asked him if there was a special hell reserved for professional athletes that go out on strike...."

That comment made Jethro smirk. It sounded exactly like something Tony would say.

"Next thing I know, he's taking his seatbelt off and I asked him what was wrong," DiNozzo continued, forehead creased as he forced himself to remember the series of events. "He didn't answer, there was a flash of metal and then I felt a pain in my side...."

"It's okay, Tony," Gibbs said as the younger man's voice trailed off. "We can finish this later."

"No, want to finish now," Tony said stubbornly, eyes opening, "I guess I knew he stabbed me, but it gets all confused. He tried to get control of the wheel but I fought him off. Larson jumped out of the truck when it headed for the ravine. Don't know what happened to him. I remember rolling and rolling - and then the water and trying to find air to breathe... not able to get out...."

"It's okay, Tony." Gibbs repeated, kicking himself for DiNozzo's distress. He'd meant to distract the younger man, not upset him.

"And then you came," all of the tenseness left Tony's body as he remembered. "I knew you would."

The trust in that comment humbled Gibbs. "You did?"

"Yup," Tony's eyes drifted closed. "After that, everything gets kind of hinky. Did you catch Larson?"

"Found him on the side of the highway, like road kill," Gibbs said with some satisfaction. "He broke his neck. Musta happened when he jumped out of the truck."

"Good." Tony settled himself deeper into his pillow.

Gibbs watched him for a few moments and then couldn't help asking," What kind of hinky?"

Tony opened his eyes again. "Hmmm?"

"You said after seeing me in the pond, everything got 'kind of hinky.' What did you mean?" Gibbs felt a little guilty for pressing, but he'd lost enough time as it was; he absolutely no intention of losing any more with Tony than was humanly possible.

DiNozzo flushed. "Just hinky, Boss. No big deal."

Gibbs frowned. Was that a blush or the first signs of fever? He brushed the younger man's forehead with the back of his hand, finding the skin was a little warm but not unduly so. It was a blush, then, and not a sign of a rising temperature.

Jethro stayed where he was, enjoying the close view and able to observe DiNozzo a little more intimately as he asked again, "What kind of hinky, Tony?"

Tony fidgeted but answered, obeying Gibbs was an ingrained response and he was too muddled from pain medication to fight it. "I just thought I remembered you kissing me, that's all."

He dared a quick look at Gibbs. Seeing a blank expression on the older man's face, Tony's words came tumbling out. "But I'm sure I was just hallucinating because of oxygen deprivation or something like that."

Gibbs looked at him calmly. "You... dreamed... of kissing me."

"Uh, yeah," DiNozzo answered, even though Gibbs hadn't phrased it as a question. The younger man suddenly seemed to find his blanket fascinating, picking at its fuzzy surface instead of watching his boss.

The senior agent smiled down at Tony. It wasn't fair, really. DiNozzo was so pumped full of pain meds, he had even less control over his tongue than normal.

"You sure it was a dream, DiNozzo?"

When Tony looked at him in open-mouthed confusion, Gibbs pressed his advantage. Bending down, he covered Tony's mouth in a kiss he kept gentle in deference to the other man's injuries. As he pulled back, he ran a thumb lightly over DiNozzo's lower lip.

"Was it a kiss like that?" Gibbs asked, sitting back down in his chair. He couldn't help but smirk in satisfaction at the dazed look in Tony's face.

Tony didn't say anything. Instead, he lifted one hand, dangling IVs and all, to touch his own lips in amazement. He turned his eyes, large with both shock and drugs, to Gibbs.

"You mean to tell me I finally found a way to get you to stop talking?" Gibbs asked, still grinning. His expression sobered, however, and he sat forward in his seat. "As much as Kate might be interested in that little tidbit, I don't think I'll be sharing my technique with her."

The teasing hardly registered with Tony. He finally found voice enough to ask, "Why?"

Jethro looked at him steadily. "Pulling you out of that wreck was a rude awakening. I realized I'd already wasted enough time resisting you - I have absolutely no intention of wasting any more."

Tony looked away. "So you feel sorry for me? This is about pity?"

"Hey," Gibbs responded, not using his normal full-blown shout because he didn't want to be thrown out of the hospital. "I taught you better than to leap to a conclusion like that, Special Agent DiNozzo. Pity had nothing to do with it. Fear, maybe, that I'd waited too long but not pity. I feel sorry you got hurt but, feeling sorry for you? No way, not even close."

Tony swallowed and turned his eyes back towards Gibbs. "Why?"

That question was laden with more layers of meaning than three little letters should have been able to support.

"Because the second B *is* for bastard," Jethro answered with solemn honesty. "And it's well-deserved. Because I've had three failed marriages and a bad track record with any sort of relationship." He took a deep breath. "Because you deserve better."

DiNozzo looked at him without speaking for so long that Gibbs began to think that maybe *he'd* jumped to a wrong conclusion. After clearing his throat, he began to move away.

"I've never been good with any sort of relationship either," Tony said quietly. "Maybe... maybe we could teach other as we go along?"

Gibbs' eyes were burning in a suspicious manner. "I'd like that."

Tony grinned. It was a shadow of his usual cocky smile and a little green around the edges, but seeing it made Gibbs feel better.

"You know," the younger man said, "that stuff about me deserving better. We're really going to have to work on your self esteem, Gibbs."

Gibbs *should* have expected it. Laid up in a hospital bed, nearly drowned and with a stab wound in his side, of *course* Tony would still manage to banter.

Tony must have found something in his expression amusing because started laughing. Even though it was little more than a chuckle, it set him off coughing again and he had a hard time stopping. When the spasm was over, Gibbs helped ease him back on his pillow.

"I guess I really am going to feel like crap before I feel better," Tony said mournfully.

"We'll have plenty of time to catch up," Gibbs reassured him.

Tony sighed, but not too deeply, not wanting to get the coughing started again. "Just my luck. Been wanting to kiss you for almost two years and the first chance I get, I'm unconscious and smelling like fish. And then the second time I get a chance to kiss you, you went all ninja stealth marine on me and snuck it in."

Gibbs' lips twitched. "Third time's the charm."

His comment was rewarded with a patented DiNozzo smile and Gibbs realized he'd just been played.

"Yeah?" Tony asked.

"Yeah," Jethro said.

This time, their kiss was a little more two-sided. It broke off, however, when Tony started coughing again.

"That's enough, Tony," Gibbs said firmly. "We'll have plenty of time later, I promise. Right now, you need to get some rest."

Tony considered protesting but knew that tone of voice - he'd get nowhere with Gibbs right now. Besides, his chest was kind of hurting, his side burned, and his head ached like someone had used it for drum practice. He docilely let the other man fuss with his blankets, catching Gibbs hand before Jethro could sit back down.

"You'll be here?" He asked, hating himself for the needy tone of voice.

"Yup," Gibbs assured him, no mockery in his reassuring smile.

Tony believed him - Gibbs was a man of his word. But, just in case, he held onto the older man's hand as he drifted into sleep.

"You wanted to see us, Director?"

Kate tentatively poked her head into the NCIS director's office. His assistant had said it was okay to go on in, but Kate preferred to err on the side of caution. She didn't have much experience with the director but Gibbs deferred to him. Any man that Leroy Jethro Gibbs treated with such respect was someone worth being on her best behavior for.

"Come in Agent Todd, Agent McGee."

Kate entered the office, with McGee following closely behind. She'd always disapproved of DiNozzo's treatment of the rookie NCIS agent but now she was beginning to empathize. The whipped puppy act was growing a bit thin, especially with just the two of them left to finish up the paperwork from the Larson serial murder case.

"Don't look so apprehensive, Agent McGee," the directory said kindly. "You're not in trouble."

Kate breathed a silent sigh of relief, even though he wasn't addressing her. This had begun to feel like a trip to the principal's office.

"I just wanted to inform you of what your assignments will be while Agent Gibbs is out on leave," their bosses' boss explained.

"Gibbs is on leave?" McGee asked.

"Yes," the director confirmed. "And I'm not even going to ask him why, when his shoulder was okay enough to work the day after he was shot, he suddenly feels the need a week later to take a medical leave."

Kate squirmed a bit, hoping her face didn't give anything away.

The director winked at the two younger agents. "Nor am I going to officially observe the fact that Agent Gibbs' leave coincides - exactly - with Agent DiNozzo's." He expression became serious. "And I would take it as a personal favor if you'd help keep the office rumor mill under control on that regard."

McGee opened his mouth to speak and from his confused expression, Kate had a sinking feeling he was going to say something stupid. Shifting her weight, she quickly moved to step - hard - on McGee's foot.

"Certainly, sir," Kate addressed the director, ignoring McGee's startled yelp. She could see why Gibbs respected his boss so much. The man was using the military's 'don't ask/don't tell' policy to shield his agents from unwarranted attention.

The director nodded. "Good. Now, in the meantime, I've temporarily assigned you both to another senior NCIS agent. Agent Todd, you'll return to Gibbs' team when he gets back and, McGee, we'll consider this a probationary assignment. Do well and we'll see about you getting a permanent slot."

McGee was still stammering his thanks when they left the office and had to hurry to catch up to the other agent.

"Gibbs and DiNozzo?" He asked as soon as he reached her side. "Was that what he was implying?"

"I think that's obvious," Kate said calmly. "But this is 'don't ask/don't tell' land and it's in Gibbs' and Tony's best interest for him to be vague." She looked at McGee. "You gonna have a problem with that?"

Tim shook his head vigorously. "No, ma'am."


By this time, they'd reached the desk behind Kate's. The man seated there was somewhere between Gibbs and DiNozzo in age. Kate had seen him around the office but didn't know him well.

"Agent Pacci?" She asked. "I understand we're on your team for the next few weeks."

"Please," their fellow NCIS protested. "If we're going to be working together, call me Chris."

"Chris it is, then," Kate agreed, smiling. She could tell already that working with this man was going to be lightyears different than working with Gibbs. "Do you have a case on deck?"

"Do I ever," Pacci said enthusiastically. "I'm re-opening a case from before either of you were at NCIS. Our suspect is a guy named Voss...."

"Sorry, boss."

Gibbs put the basin aside and picked up a damp towel he'd learned to keep handy. He wiped Tony's face off carefully, concerned by the defeated look in the younger man's face.

"I'm NCIS," Gibbs reminded him as he offered up a glass of water. "A few body fluids aren't going to scare me off. Remember when we first met Kate?"

Tony smiled at the memory as he rinsed his mouth and spit. Kate had been a Secret Service agent at that time and had only very briefly met Jethro Gibbs when Gibbs made her vomit into a sample bag.

"The look on her face was priceless," Tony rasped. Between coughing and throwing up, his voice was nearly gone.

Unfortunately, Tony's doctor had been right. Double pneumonia had settled in his lungs and a bacteria in the water had created havoc with his entire system. He couldn't keep anything down and fever plagued him. Gibbs and Kate had been spared illness. Their antibiotic shots had worked; probably because their bodies weren't also trying to fight off the trauma of a stab wound. Tony had been so sick that neither he nor Gibbs had gotten much sleep and that lack of rest was affecting Tony badly. A bout of coughing had awakened him from a much-needed nap and the only positive thing about it was that he was awake when a spasm of vomiting followed, lessening the possibility of choking on it.

Through it all, Jethro had been at his side, helping keep Tony clean when the nurses were too busy and alternately encouraging him or scolding him as the situation warranted.

"I'm still sorry," Tony said hoarsely. "This isn't exactly how I pictured us starting our life together."

"I dunno about that," Gibbs refuted, a twinkle in his eye. "We're spending a lot of quality time together - in a bedroom."

Tony started to chuckle. Gibbs held his breath until the laughing stopped without having provoked another coughing fit.

"Since when did you go all Pollyanna on me, Boss?" The younger man asked, voice getting stronger as he rallied.

Gibbs brushed the hair out of Tony's eyes. He rested his hand against his companion's cheek, relieved to find it was cooler than it had been in days. "Since I came to the realization that we *do* have a life together."

Satisfied that he'd lifted DiNozzo's spirits, Gibbs lightly patted Tony's face. "I know you feel like crap, Tony, but it'll get better. You'd just keep on doing what the doctor tells you."

DiNozzo rolled his eyes. Gibbs was a great nurse but, not too surprisingly, bossy as hell. He looked around for something to distract the older man and, luckily, spotted just what he needed.

"Hey, Kate came to visit," Tony complained. "You should have woke me."

Gibbs frowned. "How did you know Kate stopped by?"

Tony tilted his head towards the window ledge that had been serving Gibbs as a table. It was littered with disposable coffee cups - everyone who stopped by to see Tony had brought one. Gibbs' disdain for vending machine coffee was legendary; a cup of the good stuff was a good choice as a bribe to get past him for a visit with Tony.

"You've got a new one in your collection," Tony said, nodding at the empty discards. "And it had to be Kate because it's a rare Caribou edition - she's the only one who doesn't worship at the alter of Starbuck's."

"Impressive," Gibbs admitted. Inwardly, he cheered. Tony'd been ill for a week. That he was feeling well enough to make such an observation was good news. "Now why don't you apply that keen intellect of yours towards doing what's best for yourself and get some more rest."

"Not tired," Tony objected, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from yawning.

Although DiNozzo had Gibbs mostly to himself for a week, in his opinion too much of that time had been wasted coughing, puking or sleeping. Since he had to admit that he wasn't physically up to doing what he *really* wanted to do with Gibbs, Tony decided to use the opportunity to get to know his soon-to-be lover better.

"DiNozzo..." Gibbs warned.

Tony ignored him. "I know, I thought of a new question - who do you think is sexier, Gil Grissom or Horatio Crane?"

Gibbs looked at the younger man blankly. "Are those names supposed to mean something to me?"

Tony sighed in exasperation, prompting a short bark-like cough. Both men tensed, anticipating a storm of coughing to follow. When none did, they relaxed.

"They're the two main guys on those forensic television shows," DiNozzo explained.

Gibbs snorted. Tony had been plaguing him with silly questions all week. Jethro had been unusually patient with them, mostly because it distracted Tony from how shitty he felt. But... it was getting old.

"Like I have time to watch that crap," Gibbs retorted.

"C'mon, it's fun," Tony cajoled, his teasing marred by the hoarseness of his voice. "It's hysterical to watch all the mistakes they make. I once counted three in 30 seconds." He wisely didn't comment that at least the shows had one thing correct - odd names for the lead forensic character. 'Gil' and 'Horatio' were every bit as eccentric a names as 'Jethro.'

"If I want a comedy, I prefer the Three Stooges," Gibbs said dryly.

"Really?" DiNozzo asked, not at all deterred by the older man's attitude. "I would have taken you for the gritty Army movie type. Which one's your favorite Stooge? "

The look Gibbs gave him was half exasperation and half fondness. "What's with all the questions?"

Tony looked hurt. "I thought we could get to know each other better."

"DiNozzo, we've worked together for two years," Gibbs growled, exasperation beginning to win out. "I think we know each other pretty well."

"Yeah, right," Tony said, turning away in disappointment.

Jethro mentally kicked himself. That cocky act of Tony's was just that, an act. Under the best of circumstances, DiNozzo tended to doubt himself. Sicker than a dog and tired of being stuck in a hospital bed, he'd be particularly vulnerable.

"Hey," Gibbs said softly, sitting on the edge of Tony's bed. "I know you, trust me."

"Really?" DiNozzo wiggled over to give Gibbs more room.

Gibbs looked at Tony - the younger man may have said 'really' but what Jethro heard was an undercurrent of 'prove it.'

"Yeah, really," Gibbs said quietly. "For starters, I know you're a hell of a lot smarter than you want people to know you are. You come off as a jock with more charm than brains, but that's an illusion."

"Tell that to Mrs. Douglas, my high school counselor," Tony said with a small smile. "She said it was a miracle that I ever graduated."

"I didn't say you had good grades, DiNozzo," Gibbs corrected him. "I think school bored you; I've noticed that you're quick enough to learn the things that interest you."

Tony shifted on the bed but Jethro could tell it was from embarrassed pleasure rather than physical discomfort.

"What other stuff do you know?" Tony asked.

"You squirm during autopsies because your imagination is too active; you can easily imagine the pain the victims suffered before they died," Gibbs continued. "And because you're also more compassionate than you want people to know about, what you imagine disturbs you."

Tony was squirming even as Gibbs spoke but didn't comment, so Gibbs continued.

"You're not close to your family," Gibbs said. "You only refer to your mother in the past tense; I'm guessing she's not around anymore. Your father was wrapped up in his work and alcohol, not necessarily in that order. You've mentioned that you don't have any sisters but you've carefully not said anything about brothers. You have at least one and he's older than you." Tony looked at him oddly and Gibbs grinned. "You're way too good at pushing people's buttons - you had to be someone's younger brother."

Tony blushed but didn't say anything.

"You're curious to the point of being nosy, you're stubborn, and you don't judge other people easily because you're too often misjudged yourself," Gibbs finished.

DiNozzo looked at him silently, opening and shutting his mouth once or twice before responding. "Sheesh, Gibbs. Sticking around this hospital with me is bad for you - there's nothing to do but watch daytime television and you've obviously overdosed on Dr. Phil."

Gibbs smiled, this time gently. He'd anticipated that reaction. "And when you're emotionally uncomfortable, you run and when you can't run, you cover up how you're feeling with a joke."

Busted. Tony dropped his smile. "I'm sorry. It's just not fair, you know all this stuff about me and I won't ever know all that about you."

"Sure you will," Gibbs assured him. "I've just said more to you in the last five minutes than I did to any of my ex-wives, the whole time we were married."

DiNozzo looked at him solemnly and then nodded. "Yeah, I will."

"Like I said, you're stubborn," Gibbs said.

He bent down and kissed Tony, deepening it when he felt the younger man respond. Not wanting to set off another coughing spell, Gibbs pulled back much earlier than he would have liked. When DiNozzo made a small whimpering sound, Gibbs kept close, bumping his forehead against Tony's.

"I don't know everything about you, Tony," he said in a whisper hoarse enough to match DiNozzo's strained voice. "There's lots of things about you I'm eager to find out."

"Like what, Boss?"

"I don't know what you feel like underneath me," Gibbs said, sliding down to nuzzle behind Tony's ear. After unintentionally hurting Tony's feelings, it was important to let the younger man know that he wanted him - and was every bit as eager to start their life together as Tony was. "Don't know what kind of noise you make when you lose control."

They were close enough that he could feel Tony's breath catch as well as hear it. He'd caught DiNozzo off guard with the sudden change to a more sultry mood.

"Sounds like fun," Tony said, arching up off the bed a bit in order to lean in to Gibbs. "Why don't we skip all this hospital crap and just get to it."

"Not until you're feeling better," Gibbs said. "Besides, we don't want to give the nurses a peep show. They're already disappointed enough that I won't let them give you sponge baths."

Tony deflated back against the mattress. "I hate this."

"Yeah, I know." Gibbs said simply. "But when you're better - ..."

The ex-marine's voice broke off as he saw the look on Tony's face change. With reflexes honed by years in the military, he reached for the basin and got it positioned just in time as the heaves started again. Rubbing Tony's back, he soothed the younger man, disappointed that the sickness had returned.

It had been a slice of heaven to kiss Tony and flirt with him. If the doctors were right, and since Ducky concurred, Jethro had no reason to doubt them, DiNozzo would soon fight off this illness. It would be hell until then, but it would eventually pass. The marine in Gibbs could deal with it. For the lover in Gibbs, though, it was pure torture

"Hey, this isn't my place."

"Very observant of you," Gibbs responded to Tony's startled comment. "Now sit down on the couch before you fall down."

Still ogling, Tony obeyed, Gibbs helping him with a firm hand under his elbow. After ten long days in the hospital, DiNozzo had finally been released. The extra pain pill he'd been given to make the car ride more bearable had left him too fuzzy to notice that they'd headed to Gibbs' place instead of his, but now that he was there, it made sense. Jethro Gibbs liked to be control and having someone he cared about - and it still freaked Tony out in a pleasant way that the 'cared about' category included him - seriously injured left Gibbs out of control in a major league way. No wonder the older man wanted Tony in his territory during the rest of his recovery.

Once Gibbs had settled Tony on the large leather sofa, he gave the him one last admonishment to stay put before going out to get the rest of Tony's stuff. Given his stab wound in the abdomen, Tony hadn't been allowed to carry anything but the stuffed bunny rabbit that had been a get-well gift from Abby. She'd grinned as she'd handed it over, saying she was going to get Tony the more traditional teddy bear, but given his romantic reputation, figured that a bunny was more appropriate. It was white and fluffy, making the black studded collar that Abby had personalized it with stand out incongruously. Gibbs had laughed at Tony's embarrassed blush and then later, despite the legendary bravery of the marines, categorically refused to be seen carrying the stuffed animal.

"Well, Bunzilla, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," Tony said to the rabbit, carefully setting it on the cushion beside him. It felt... weird... to be in Gibbs' space. Good in a never-believed-it-would-happen kind of way, but weird. He looked around for a few minutes, until turning his head so much made him dizzy. Damn the pain meds, anyway. DiNozzo decided to close his eyes until the room stopped spinning so much.

"Hey, don't go to sleep on me yet," Gibbs admonished him when he came back in, lugging a bag with Tony's prescriptions and juggling two flower arrangements.

"You got a new TV," Tony said, almost accusatory. "I thought you only had that little one in the basement."

Gibbs put his burdens down and headed into the kitchen. "You're gonna be laid up for a while." He called back. "I thought it was time to upgrade."

"Abby set that up for you," Tony mumbled, not opening his eyes. "No way you'd be able to hook up all that equipment yourself."

The equipment in question was a plasma television, DVD player and what looked like a surround-a-sound system. DiNozzo didn't know if he should be pleased that the older man went to all that trouble or feeling guilty that Gibbs had spent a shitload of money. After all, Gibbs had already used up all that vacation time to look after him....

"I said not to go to sleep," Gibbs reminded him as he came back into the room. Tony felt the couch dip as the other man sat next to him. "Here, you need to take your antibiotic."

Tony opened one eye and spied the glass of milk that Gibbs was holding out to him. "You've got to be kidding."

"Nope," Gibbs responded. "Label says you're supposed to take it with milk. Drink up."

"No way," Tony said. "I don't do cow juice."


Tony ignored the tone of warning in Gibbs' voice. Normally, it would have been more than enough to have him scurrying to obey. But it wasn't a normal situation. Tony had just spent ten days with his body out of control, in a hospital where the medical care he received, while necessary, took away even more choices for him. To top it all off, instead of going to his own home, he'd been taken to his lover's, where he found out said lover had spent thousands of dollars on him. Suddenly, it was all a little too much and Tony didn't feel like cooperating anymore.

Not answering, Tony clenched his jaw shut and turned his head away. He felt the sofa cushions dip as Gibbs got up again and told himself it was a victory, even if it felt hollow. The pain meds were still making their presence felt and DiNozzo drifted a bit as the homey sounds of Gibbs puttering in the kitchen soothed his nerves. In a few more moments, he felt the couch's cushions dip again but, this time, Gibbs didn't say anything. Tony was determined to wait him out, which lasted all of about thirty seconds.

Opening his eyes, he saw that the glass of milk was again being offered, except this time, it was chocolate.

He tried to hold out, he really did, but he couldn't. Tony felt his lips twitching and, finally giving in to a smile, he grudgingly took the glass from Gibbs. After saluting Gibbs with it to admit his defeat, he gulped half of it down, accepted the pill from the other man, and then finished it off.

Setting the glass down, Tony asked, "Satisfied?"

"Not yet," Gibbs said, keeping his face expressionless until he swooped down. Kissing Tony wetly, he licked the younger man's upper lip clean of its chocolate milk mustache.

Leaning back and wiping his mouth, Gibbs gave Tony his best little boy grin. "Now I'm satisfied."

Tony leaned back against the couch, his body naturally gravitating towards Gibbs'. "You sure you're going to be able to handle having me stay here? I drive you crazy when I'm healthy, I'm sure you've had enough of dealing with me, sick."

Gibbs watched as Tony snuggled himself under his arm. He would have to have been deaf *and* blind not to have detected the insecurity that prompted that last question, just as he'd known that the milk dispute had been more over lack of control than anything else.

"You're here because I want you here," Gibbs said firmly. "Which will be fore exactly as long as you want to stay."

Tony looked up at him. "That might be forever."

Gibbs gave him his best glare. "Do I look like I have a problem with that, DiNozzo?"

The younger man reacted to that glare the same way dogs and small children did - he ignored it. "No, Boss," he answered with a grin, snuggling deeper into Gibbs' warmth like he planned on starting forever right that very minute.

Jethro was tempted, very tempted, to let him but, unfortunately, there was still chores left to do and one of them had to stay responsible for DiNozzo's health. "Don't go to sleep, Tony. There's a comfortable bed in the other room, promise."

"This is fine," DiNozzo protested.

"And you have to do your breathing," Gibbs continued. Reaching over, he picked up a plastic device. The jostling caused Tony to complain but, once he realized it was more that DiNozzo was unhappy that his living pillow had moved than any pain from the stab wound, Jethro held firm. "C'mon, faster you get this done, the faster we can go to bed."

Tony shook his head. "No. Not gonna."

Gibbs looked at the younger man and considered. DiNozzo needed to use the incentive spirometer several times every day or the pneumonia could come back. It wasn't painful, just a matter of taking deep breaths into the spirometer to see how far he could lift the marker, but it was boring and sometimes started the coughing again.

"Okay," Gibbs finally said casually as he put the spirometer back down. "It's just as well. You got the marker up there really high this morning. I don't think you could do it now, even if you wanted to."

He waited.

Tony sighed and held his hand out. "Give it to me." Just before he took his first breath, he glared at Gibbs. "And don't you dare smile. The second B isn't for bastard, it's for manipulative bastard."

Gibbs didn't try to argue with him, just observed as Tony took the requisite ten breaths. When the young man was done, he took the device back and once again tried to get Tony to move. "C'mon, DiNozzo, let's get you to bed."

"I thought I was supposed to be the horn dog of this couple," Tony teased, again snuggling close to Gibbs. It had been hard, at the hospital, to have Gibbs so close and not be able to connect enough physically. He was loathe to lose this touch, even long enough for the few moments necessary to change venues.

"Very funny," Gibbs said. "C'mon, the bed'll be more comfortable."

Tony yawned and grabbed Gibbs' arm, draping it across his chest. "There. Thas comf'tble."

Gibbs felt the younger man's body relax into sleep and didn't have the heart to move him. Sleep in a hospital was nigh on impossible and, come to think of it, he could use a nap himself. He settled back into the cushions himself but felt a lump at his back. Reaching behind him, he pulled out the ridiculous bunny of Abby's. Tossing it on top of the coffee table, he stretched out on the couch, positioning Tony so that DiNozzo was mostly on top of him.

This was it. Now that Tony was in his home, if not his bed, Gibbs finally felt as though their life together was truly starting. Not exactly the way he would have chosen, but if the result was Tony in his arms, he wasn't going to complain.

Kissing the top of the other man's head, Gibbs' followed him into slumber.

~the end~


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