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For the first year Gibbs told himself that Tony was good looking and reasonably smart and dedicated to the job. And given that he was rebuilding his team from scratch now that Stan had been moved to the Seahawk, Gibbs told himself that he was just glad to have someone competent and entertaining to share the shifts with. By the end of the third year he’d stopped lying to himself and stuffed down any feelings other than a little fond affection as far as he possibly could. Tony came in at least once a week with a story about his latest and greatest date and didn’t hesitate to share the details until Gibbs told him to shut the hell up. Most people assumed it was Tony’s lack of professionalism Gibbs was taking issue with, but the truth was Gibbs simply didn’t want the constant reminders that just because he wanted something that didn’t mean he was ever going to get it.

It was well into his third year with Tony, his first year with Kate, that Gibbs got the first inkling that maybe he didn’t have the whole picture when it came to Tony’s personal life. Just because Tony was prone to over-sharing certain details didn’t mean that he was telling the whole truth.

It had come to a head after the Voss case.

Tony hadn’t been badly injured during the fight in the pub, but he’d gotten a couple of bruises and a good crack to the head. He had insisted that since Ducky had cleared him he’d write up his report before going home. Gibbs had been packing up Pacci’s stuff when Kate had started ragging on Tony about what it had been like to kiss a guy. Tony had left then, report unfinished.

Three days afterwards they hadn’t caught a case, but instead of Tony’s usual habit of ramping up his pranks and antics until Gibbs threatened him with cleaning out the evidence locker and the holding cells, Tony had been pretty subdued. Gibbs watched, waiting to see if Tony would say something to give him a clue as to what the problem was or at the very least, snap out of it.

Three days of observing got him one step closer to solving the problem. Tony still horsed around with McGee (who seemed to avoid going back to Norfolk as long as he could) but as soon as Kate tried to jump in Tony clammed up and went back to work on whatever he had going on his computer.

After another day with the same pattern repeating Gibbs tossed his coffee cup into the trash and grabbed his jacket. “DiNozzo,” he said simply, knowing that Tony would have his own jacket and be at the elevator before he was.

“What about me, Gibbs?” Kate asked as she stood, grabbing her coat just in case.

“If I’d wanted you, I’d have said so,” Gibbs said trying to keep any note of reprimand out of his voice.

Tony followed him to the blue sedan and Gibbs drove them to a little sidewalk café that Gibbs knew Tony liked to frequent with Ducky and Kate when they didn’t have cases that would keep them from a friendly lunch.

Tony made reasonably small talk while they waited for their orders, when he stopped to take a breath, Gibbs cut in without preamble. “What’d Kate do to piss you off?”

Tony almost choked on his French fry at the sudden turn of conversation. “Kate?” he asked hoping Gibbs would buy his innocent act.

“You’re fine with me, with McGee, Ducky, Abby… Whenever Kate comes in the squad room you shut down and give her the most minimal answers you can get away with. I haven’t heard her bitching about you invading her privacy in a week.” Gibbs pointed at him with his fork as he spoke.

Tony dropped his half-eaten fry and leaned back in his chair. “And you’re complaining about that?”

Gibbs gave Tony a level glare.

“It’s nothin’, boss. I mean, I give Kate shit, she gives me shit…” He shrugged and began flipping the fries around with his fork.

“Yeah, and usually when she gets in a good one, you take it as an invitation to start a game of one-upmanship. What’s different this time?”

Tony sighed, giving up any pretense of eating. He crossed his arms and stared at the edge of the table for a minute, composing himself. “The night we caught Voss…” he started.

“She asked you something about kissing a guy,” Gibbs put in. He didn’t particularly want to hear Tony say that he was freaked out about kissing a man, but he needed Tony to get out of this funk.

“Yeah. She missed the big point, boss. I didn’t just kiss a guy. I don’t… I don’t give a shit about that. It wouldn’t even have been the first time. But this chick – guy – whatever, she – he…” Tony let out an exasperated sigh, not entirely sure how he was supposed to refer to Voss, “Voss killed Pacci. This asshole killed my friend and I tried to tap that? I mean…” Tony scrubbed his hands through his hair in exasperation. “If I’d picked up a transsexual in a bar and Kate wanted to have a go at me, it would be fine. I’d go through her Blackberry again and give her crap about dating guys named Dwayne or whatever. This wasn’t about him being a him. It was about him being a guy who killed my friend. How the hell does she not get that?”

Gibbs was staring at Tony. Now that he’d started Tony talking, Tony would go for a few minutes. He didn’t want to call attention to the fact that Tony had just admitted to having kissed guys – presumably on purpose – before, but he wasn’t completely convinced he wasn’t hearing what he wanted to in what Tony was saying. He listened to Tony ramble for a few more minutes as he tore his garlic bread apart. “You want me to say something to her?” he finally asked.

“No!” Tony told him firmly. “I don’t want to talk about it with her at all. Even if she would apologize, and I’m not sure she would. Besides, I don’t particularly want her giving me crap over the fact that it wasn’t the kissing-a-guy part that I’m pissed about.”

Gibbs raised an eyebrow. Well, there was the confirmation he wanted. He ruthlessly tamped down on the little ball of hope trying to grow in his gut. He hadn’t made any real progress here. Just because Tony had admitted to liking guys in general, didn’t mean he’d have any interest in him – the cranky, old, military, hard-ass he worked for – in particular. But he filed it away and even though he’d gotten to the bottom of this particular mystery, he continued to watch Tony to see if… just maybe…

Three days later Tony had been abducted while they were on the phone. He’d been chained to a sewer and it had taken Gibbs so long to figure out what had happened, that Tony effectively rescued himself. And Gibbs decided that waiting and watching weren’t everything they were chalked up to be. He’d convinced Tony to crash in his spare room after the hospital had cleared him and Tony had passed out just a little after eight; unsurprising given his ordeal. But as Gibbs worked on his boat that night, he began thinking through a plan. If Tony wasn’t interested in him, then he’d learn to live with it. But the more he thought about it, the more he was sure that if Tony was interested, he’d probably never say anything. Whereas Tony had given him a hint that he wasn’t averse to getting up close and personal with guys, Gibbs had only ever talked about having three wives. He kicked a pile of wood shavings under the boat as he adjusted his stance to work on the inside of the boat rib. He supposed at some point if this thing between him and Tony ever went anywhere he’d have to come clean about the fact that he’d been lying by omission for as long as Tony had known him, but he couldn’t imagine that telling Tony that he had had another wife and a child would help to convince him that he really was interested in pursuing a relationship with a man. So that would wait.

The first part of his plan included getting Tony to be slightly less afraid of him. He wasn’t a McGee by any stretch of the imagination, and he didn’t want him quite as unfazed as Abby – at least at work – but it might be nice if Tony didn’t think he was completely unable to be anything but a hard-ass.

His first chance came about four days later when they caught a drug-running case. They’d finally pried McGee out of Abby’s grasp and sent him back to Norfolk and Kate had gotten food poisoning from something she ate on a date with some guy named Jerome. She’d tried to come in and work, but after the second time she ralphed in her garbage can, Gibbs had sent her home and told her not to come back until Monday. He’d call if he and Tony really couldn’t catch a petty officer with a sack of crack without her.

“It’s just like old times, boss. Just you and me,” Tony had said with so much enthusiasm that Gibbs had to smile back at him.

“Yep, you and me sitting in a cold car all night waiting for this loser to meet his contact. Get dinner, it could be a long night,” Gibbs told him.

“Stakeout?” Tony said animatedly.

Gibbs really couldn’t understand how someone with so much energy and such a short attention span could get that excited about sitting in a car all night doing nothing. He couldn’t say he was exactly dreading the experience, but then again, he was looking for excuses to spend time with Tony lately. He had no proof that Tony was trying to spend time with him. But hey, if he was jazzed about it, so much the better. “Stakeout. Millford gets off watch at twenty-hundred. We need to be at NMOC a little before that.”

Of course it started pouring rain about forty-five minutes before they left the office. Given the rain, Gibbs stayed within a few miles of the speed limit on the way to the observatory. It was sheeting as they pulled into the parking row that Millford’s car was in, killing the engine and settling in to wait.

At ten after eight Millford came running out to the parking lot, a carrier bag over his head in lieu of an umbrella. He hit the button on his key chain before he reached the car and dove in as soon as he could. As he pulled the bag down from his head, a small packet fell out and landed on the asphalt. He pulled out of the parking spot a few seconds later, navigating carefully through the miserable night.

“What do you think that was?” Gibbs asked, but before he could get a reply, Tony had opened the door and was bolting out into the rain to collect it. Gibbs winced as Tony hit an oil-slick spot of asphalt under a puddle and went down hard, landing on his ass. He scrambled back up and ran back for the car, slightly more carefully.

Gibbs leaned over and opened the door as Tony reached him, barely waiting for Tony to close it again before following Millford. “You okay?” Gibbs asked as he let another car leaving the lot get between him and Millford’s CRV, the higher profile making it easy to follow, while having the Taurus between them made it less likely for Millford to notice he was being tailed.

Tony sighed. “Nothing hurt but my pride,” he said sourly. “Everything’s soaked, but nothing’s hurt.” He shook his head to get some of the water out of his hair, spraying like a dog.

“Hey!” Gibbs complained, wiping water off his cheek.


Gibbs turned the heat up full blast, directing the heat down to their feet. Tony kept trying to pull sodden denim off his legs and periodically twisted and twitched, trying to get comfortable.

“What’d he drop?” Gibbs asked as they waited for the light in the left turn lane.

Tony grinned and held up a small Ziplock-type bag with a dozen or so small rocks. “If this is what I think it is…”

“I don’t think they’re sugar cubes. Bag ‘em for Abby,” Gibbs told him as they finally got the light.

Millford went home. They followed him about half an hour to a fairly low-end apartment complex in Silver Springs, parking on the street in front of the gas station across the street. Gibbs killed the engine with an apologetic look. Tony knew they couldn’t leave the engine running for a number of reasons, but he was the one sitting there in February, in soaking wet clothes.

“Think the weather will keep him from going back out to meet his supplier?” Tony asked as he tried to pull his pants from where they were creeping.

“Dunno. Probably depends on how much of his inventory is now in our glove box,” Gibbs said quietly, watching to see if they’d be able to figure out which apartment was Millford’s from their position. Gibbs watched from the corner of his eye as Tony squirmed uncomfortably. He leaned forward to see past Tony to check if the gas station mini-mart was open twenty-four hours, he took his coffee cup and handed it to Tony. “Here.”

Tony sighed and took the cup. Squaring his shoulders he opened the car door and prepared himself for another dash through the rain. He supposed it made a little sense – no point in them both being wet and miserable, but still.

He squealed like a girl when Gibbs reached over him and grabbed the door, pulling it back shut. “What the hell -?”

Where are you going?” Gibbs asked, squinting at Tony in the little light from the street.

“Get you a refill,” Tony answered slowly. It wasn’t the first time Gibbs had expected one of the team to make the coffee run. At least this way, Tony had figured, he could get either a hot chocolate or coffee with enough sugar in it while he grabbed Gibbs’ coffee. “Didn’t you give me the cup to – “

“To drink, DiNozzo. You’re soaking wet and freezing cold. Drink some of that,” Gibbs said shaking his head.

Knowing it would be strong and bitter – far more bitter than he could usually handle – Tony swallowed several sips, surprised that after almost an hour it was still warm. He became aware of Gibbs watching him, making sure Tony followed orders. He took another sip before handing it back and watching as Gibbs put it in the cupholder between the seats. “Thank you,” he said quietly, leaning back in his seat.

That was unprecedented. He couldn’t remember Gibbs ever bringing back coffee for anyone else on the team, let alone ever sharing his own.

“Finish it,” Gibbs told him after a minute. “I think you actually need it more than I do at this point.”

Tony picked up the cup, holding it between chilled fingers. It needed sugar and cream in a huge way, but he drank it anyway. He couldn’t help but think that they were sharing more than just a cup of coffee here. But he really couldn’t put a finger on what that other thing was.


A few weeks later Kate stuck her foot in her mouth again. Tony had nearly plowed Gibbs over in the process of getting some distance between her and him. Kate clearly hadn’t connected the dots over the true issue with the whole Tony and Voss situation.

“What’s DiNozzo’s problem?” he asked, hoping she’d give him the opportunity to educate her.

“No idea,” Kate said easily before heading back to her desk.

Gibbs was about to tell her what Tony’s problem was when he remembered that Tony had asked him to stay out of it. He flopped down at his desk, the flickering pictures on the second screen annoying him for a number of reasons. He pulled out his cell, hit autodial-1 and barked, “Where are you?” He had his jacket in his hand and was half way to the elevator before the sentence was finished.

“Garage,” Tony mumbled. “What’d I forget to do?”

Tony sounded tired, frustrated. “Nothing, but stay there a minute.”

“Boss – “

Before Tony could actually register his complaint the elevator let Gibbs off and he found Tony about six steps away, back to him, hand raked through his hair, anger and frustration radiating off him in waves.

Gibbs couldn’t resist sneaking up behind him and flicking Tony’s ear with his fingernail. He was prepared for the hand that came up to grab his as Tony spun around and he grabbed Tony’s wrist lightly, just enough to deflect him and deescalate him. “Come on,” Gibbs said, nodding to the blue sedan.

“Gibbs, seriously –“

“Let’s go for a drive,” Gibbs cut him off before Tony could dig his heels in.

Tony froze midway through his protest. That was exactly what he’d planned on doing – driving until he’d wrestled through his own issues with Kate and Voss and Pacci. He wasn’t sure if he wanted company or not. He’d never had anyone ask to go with him. He liked the idea that Gibbs had clued into his mood – and he knew better than to ask how Gibbs knew he dealt with crap like this by taking long drives – but he was also in a piss poor mood and didn’t particularly want to subject him to that. There was something changing between the two of them and Tony didn’t want his overactive mouth and lousy mood to derail that. “Thanks, but I’d like to get home with my nerves intact and in better shape than they are right now.”

Gibbs rolled his eyes and gave Tony a light shove between the shoulderblades. “I’ll behave,” he promised casually.

Tony raised an eyebrow, but went around to the passenger side of the car. He’d given Gibbs an out. He’d chosen not to take it. Tony decided that he’d think about that when he’d wrangled his other issues under control.

Gibbs kept his promise, doing only the speed of traffic and not changing lanes at undue speeds or in ridiculously tight spaces. Once they’d made it out of D.C. he found a quiet stretch of ocean-front road and they’d both put their windows down, breathing in the salt air and letting the sound and feel of the wind take the edge off of their day.

Tony used the noise of the wind as an excuse not to talk. He didn’t know where to start. It wasn’t just Kate and the fact that she wouldn’t let up about the damn Voss thing. It was that she had to bring it up today. He was sure she would have gotten the group email he’d gotten, but he was pretty sure she didn’t understand the significance of it to him. And he really didn’t feel like enlightening her.

Apparently Gibbs had a destination in mind, because just as the sun started to set he turned off their scenic highway and drove through a quiet little Virginia town, pulling up at little mom and pop ice cream shop. Tony followed Gibbs through the door, content at this point to let Gibbs orchestrate this little break.

Once they had cones – Tony’s humor had a brief resurgence and he’d gotten sprinkles on his – they sat on the shop’s wrap-around porch and watch the sun set behind the mountains.

They were back in the car and headed home, twilight closing on them fast, when Gibbs finally broke the silence. “I heard what Kate said.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “I gotta quit letting her know that bugs me.”

“I didn’t say anything this time, because you asked me not to. But if comes up again, you can say something or I will,” Gibbs said firmly. “Once was teasing, twice was stupid. Three times borders on harassment.”

Tony made a face. He wasn’t at a place where he was ready to consider it harassment yet. It wasn’t constant and it wasn’t as if he couldn’t make her knock it off if he decided to do so. “It’s not … I mean, it’s Kate for crying out loud. She’s not harassing me.”

Gibbs just shrugged. “She needs to find something else to give you crap over,” Gibbs said succinctly.

Tony turned to stare at the headlights passing them in the other lane. He didn’t want to examine how incredibly good it felt to know that Gibbs had his back on something that, all said, he felt was pretty minor. “I probably would have had something pithy to say any other day.” Gibbs didn’t say anything, so Tony elaborated. “Eberhart sent out the email to get this year’s softball team together. Oh,” Tony said loudly, remembering that he’d meant to tell Gibbs about that earlier since Gibbs never checked his email. “Eberhart sent out the email to find out who’s playing this year.”

Gibbs snickered at the way Tony repeated himself. For the past three years he’d let Tony drag him on to the team. The first year he’d protested through the first couple practices, but then they’d trounced the ATF team and he’d discovered that it wasn’t so bad to go out and have a good time with some of the people he worked with. Especially with DiNozzo’s entertaining trash talk that never failed to be funny without crossing the line into unsportsmanlike. He’d also relied on Tony not only getting the email and informing him, but for sending in his signup as well. “You gonna play?” Gibbs asked.

“I haven’t decided yet. It’ll be weird not having Chris there.” There, it was out. The real reason he’d been edgy and why Kate had pissed him off so much.

“You and Chris were that close?” Gibbs asked, not taking his eyes off the road. The last serious conversation he and Tony had had about the Voss case had led to the revelation that Tony was interested in guys as well as girls. He wondered if he was ready to handle the idea that Tony and Chris had been more than co-workers and softball teammates.

Tony slumped in his seat. “He was a good friend. I mean, when I started here and it was just you and me, even before Vivian –“ Tony stopped before he said something stupid. “I mean, you know, before Kate and McGee… when I needed to talk to someone when things… cases –“

“Just say it, DiNozzo,” Gibbs told him with a small smile. “When I pissed you off…”

“Yeah,” Tony admitted, “That. Chris knew you from back when you had Stan Burley on your team. He’d remind me that you weren’t always an ass.” Tony was looking at Gibbs and smiling by the time he finished.

Eyes still firmly fixed on the road in front of them, Gibbs reached over and slapped the back of Tony’s head lightly. “Not always, just usually?”

“Your words, not mine,” Tony answered vaguely, but they were both smiling now.

After a minute Tony brought the conversation back around. “Anyway, I’m debating giving softball a miss this year. Just until I’ve had a little more time to … I mean, sometimes I still look over the cubical wall to see if he wants to get lunch or a beer or something.”

Gibbs nodded. He’d had no idea that Tony was still dealing with Chris’ death. And yet, there was a vague feeling of relief that it didn’t seem like Tony and Chris had ever been involved. “You’ve lost co-workers before,” he said softly.

“Yeah, and usually if I still gave a damn two weeks after it’s happened – once that whole sense of ‘oh my god that guy I knew died that everyone in the department felt at first… I moved.”

It had been almost a month and he didn’t get the impression that Tony had any plans to quit or leave D.C., but he didn’t want to risk that Tony was looking for Gibbs to give him the impression that it would be okay if he did. “I’m glad you didn’t do that this time, Anthony,” he told him sincerely.

Tony turned to look at him. “Anthony? Since when do you call me that?”

Gibbs had a feeling of tension being broken. Tony had heard him and he was sure Tony knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t mean it. But they were both guys and heavy conversation like that could only last so long before they both felt awkward and needed to change the subject.

“Fine,” Gibbs said, “I won’t do it again.”

“No, no, that wasn’t… I just… no one’s called me that since I was like, nine. Well, sometimes Ducky…”

“Not even when you were in trouble?” Gibbs asked. “When I was a kid and I did something stupid my mom broke out with my whole name. Come to think of it, I had a partner when I was in Eastern Europe who did the same thing.”

Tony smiled, he knew most kids had a healthy fear of their middle names. It usually signified that they’d done something they needed to answer for. “And yet, you go by Jethro,” he said, hoping Gibbs wouldn’t go back to asking about his own name. He didn’t feel like explaining that his parents were rarely paying enough attention to notice when he’d done something stupid.

Gibbs just shrugged. He could explain some other time the long story about the original Leroy Jethro and how he’d ended up so pissed at his father at various points in his life that he’d gone so far as to use his middle name so that he wouldn’t hear his father’s voice every time someone called his name.

They were back at D.C. shortly after that, both in a better mood than they’d left in. As Gibbs pulled into Tony’s parking lot he promised to pick him up in the morning since Tony’s car was still at NCIS.

Tony nodded, apparently deep in thought again. “Thanks, boss. I really appreciate… you know… this.”

Gibbs nodded to him, “Glad it helped.”

Tony just nodded and got out of the car before things could get awkward again.

It was almost midnight, but Gibbs headed back to NCIS, secure in the knowledge that it was highly unlikely that Tony would be making one of his middle-of-the-night appearances with no easy way to get to the building.

It took two calls to the overnight I.T. shift, but he finally got into his email and worked out how to send a reply just to Eberhart and not the entire CC list – but he finally managed to have headers that looked like he wouldn’t be spamming NCIS with his reply – and that Tony wouldn’t see it. It was time to return the favor Tony had done for him three years ago.

Hey Jason, put down DiNozzo and me for softball.


Half an hour later he headed back out. No wonder he didn’t use his email. Half an hour to send a ten word message? Technology was highly over-rated he decided, for the fifth time that day.

Tony had made a face when he’d gotten the softball schedule and other pertinent emails the following week. Before he could even ask, Gibbs smirked at him. “Payback’s a bitch, eh, DiNozzo?”

Tony smiled back a little more genuinely. “And so’s my boss,” he said cheekily.

Gibbs smiled. “See you in the locker room at six,” Gibbs responded as he headed out to get more coffee before interrogating Milford, who had finally gotten sufficiently stupid to justify them bringing him and his drug-running buddy in.

Tony had been a bit snappish at the first practice. Jason had made some ‘modifications’ to the roster, and even though Tony mostly agreed with the changes and agreed they’d make for a stronger team, he was less than pleased with anyone making changes to the way things Chris did things.

At the first game, he’d stomped off, swinging three bats for warm up a little harder than was really good for him when Peterson from the FBI had asked where Chris was.

But what Gibbs noticed mostly was that once the specter of Chris Pacci was exorcised, about the third game in, and Tony was able to really unwind and have fun at the pubs and bars they hit afterwards, he tended to stick close to Gibbs. Even when they played the evenly split, male/female, team from Bureau of Prisons, he didn’t go chasing around the girls who’d split their uniform t-shirts down a good six inches from the neckline.

Gibbs usually managed to command a stool near the bar by force of personality wherever they went. And even when they got there first and Tony could have taken his own seat, he chose to hover just behind Gibbs. Sure, Tony talked to everyone, bought rounds when it was his turn, but he never seemed to stand more than a foot or two away from Gibbs, especially when a smaller place got crowded. Every time he shifted, Gibbs felt him brush against his back or leg. He turned around once, instinctively, to tell him to step back a bit, before realizing that he didn’t mind so much when it was Tony. He tried not to relax back into him whenever Tony put his hand on Gibbs’ shoulder to balance himself as he reached over to pay the bartender or grab his drink. He found himself sitting stiller than normal when Tony’s hand didn’t come up when he straightened. He didn’t want to give Tony the impression he was shrugging him off.

The team had a decent season, only getting truly trounced once – by Army CID, no less – and making it into the play-offs in late September. Gibbs and Tony missed the game because Tony was chained to a killer named Jeffery White, and was MIA the night of the final game.

Losing track of Tony in the middle of the White case had given Gibbs flashbacks to Atlas and finding Tony running from a sadistic and very pissed-off waitress. It was enough of a shock to temporarily dislodge his tongue from his brain when he finally pulled the blood-splattered door open to find Tony sagging against the steering wheel.

“I really liked him, boss,” Tony had said brokenly.

And like a complete ass, Gibbs had taken one look at White’s body and quipped, “I can tell.”

Before he could apologize for letting his mouth get ahead of him, Tony had fumbled his seatbelt off and pushed past Gibbs. He’d gotten about a dozen steps away from the car, before he grabbed his stomach and upchucked on the pavement.

Gibbs trotted after him, “DiNozzo?” He’d never seen Tony get the least bit squeamish over L.O.D. shootings or dead bodies before. Hell, he’d kept himself together even after seeing Pacci. He put a hand on his shoulder. “Tony?”

“I haven’t felt great all day,” Tony said leaning on his knees. “Not much to eat and they spiked me with something last night.”

Gibbs slid his hand over and rubbed gentle circles on Tony’s back. “I’m going to call Morrow and have him send McGee and a couple agents out to help Kate wrap up the crime scene. She can ride back with them. I’m taking you to back to Bethesda and having them make sure that whatever you’re puking isn’t lethal.”

Tony straightened and shrugged Gibbs off. “No, I should be okay now. I just needed to get that crap out of my system. I don’t need a hospital, boss, really.”

Gibbs pulled Tony a few steps away from the mess on the concrete and used the motion to allow him to step into Tony’s space. “Do you even know what ‘that crap’ was?”

Tony shrugged. “Something they put in a bottle of whiskey. I only had a sip – I had to. It would have looked really suspicious for my scum-bag persona to turn down a free dri-“

“So, ‘no’?” Gibbs cut him off. “You got drugged with something you can’t identify that’s making you puke. You’re going to the hospital,” Gibbs said with finality. He softened his tone. “Come on.” He put his hand on the back of Tony’s neck and gently steered him to the passenger side of the sedan. “Sit.”

Tony sighed, but didn’t argue. He was too tired, the adrenaline crash coming on too quickly. He knew he had the choice to either sit or fall. Sitting was ultimately much preferable.

Tony rolled down the window, despite the chill in the air. He needed the fresh air after being in that claustrophobic car with a man who’d damn near gotten the drop on him. He reclined the seat a few degrees and leaned back, listening to Gibbs, who was leaning on the door behind his, telling Morrow to send Ducky and Palmer as well as McGee and a few people who could work with him and Kate to wrap up the crime scene.

Tony’s ears picked up when he heard Gibbs voice come up a little, “Is Garrison arround? Or Simons? Well, yeah, when I can leave DiNozzo with them, but they’re both a couple probies and I’m taking DiNozzo to the hospital. Nah, I don’t think it’s anything life-threatening. He’s mobile, but,” Gibbs leaned up to see Tony through the window. Tony gave a little wave, knowing he shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but unable not to and not up to pretending he wasn’t. “But he’s got some bumps and bruises and he may have been poisoned,” Gibbs finished.

“Yeah… well, no… he says they gave him some spiked whiskey. I’m going to have someone at Bethesda check him out. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Okay.” And then the click of the phone being closed. Tony watched in the wing mirror as Gibbs went around behind the car. He frowned, trying to figure out what Gibbs was up to as he opened the trunk and then shut it again, coming back around to Tony’s side of the car.

Gibbs opened the door, “Sit up a little.” Tony leaned forward, only then noticing the small fleece blanket-roll Gibbs had retrieved. Gibbs wrapped it around his shoulders before leaning him back against the seat. “Do you even know you’re shivering?”

Tony wiggled one hand out of the blanket and looked at his fingers, surprised to find that he was, in fact, shaking a little. “Too much caffeine?” he tried.

“I doubt it,” Gibbs said reaching up to tousle Tony’s hair before shutting the door. “I’m going to go tell Kate to start working the scene and that Simons and his team will be coming in with McGee to help her finish it.

The last place Tony wanted to be at that second was in a car, but he recognized that staying out on the dock all night wasn’t a good choice either. He shifted so that he could see Gibbs crossing the dock to where Kate was talking to one of the local LEOs. He thought back to what he’d heard Gibbs saying on the phone. Maybe he was misunderstanding, but if he was, he didn’t want anyone to correct him, because it sure as hell sounded like he’d told Morrow that Gibbs would leave a scene as long as Tony was there to take his place. But that neither Kate or McGee were ready to do that yet. It was probably petty, but it made him feel good. It also occurred to him that with him already in the car, Gibbs could have walked a few feet off to have that conversation. He didn’t have to lean on the car – on Tony’s side of the car – for that conversation. Tony could only figure that Gibbs had wanted him to hear that.

A few minutes later Gibbs came back and started the car, turning the heat on for Tony’s sake even though he found it a comfortable, if brisk, fall day. “You want to stop for food before we get back to civilization?”

Tony screwed up his face as his stomach lurched at the idea. Gibbs glanced over. “Guess not.”

Tony tried to sleep as they made their way back to D.C., but even with Gibbs doing reasonably safe speeds and taking the turns on all four tires, his stomach still rolled and gurgled in an unsettling way. He wondered how out of it he looked when Gibbs made several aborted attempts at small talk. Talking about the softball team and some movie he’d seen the last hour of on t.v. the other night while working on his boat and asking several times if Tony was feeling better. Or worse? And on a couple of occasions if he needed to pull to the side of the road if Tony was going to be sick.

It was only as they were passing through the Bethesda E.R. that Tony realized that he looked – and probably smelled – like someone who’d escaped from prison and been on the run through the woods for two days. And had been caught by Gibbs. So it probably struck the various Marines and Sailors sitting in the chairs outside the treatment rooms, as odd that Gibbs had a hand in between his shoulderblades as he led him into triage.

Because they didn’t know what Tony had ingested or the exact amount, he was fast-tracked from triage straight into a curtained off area where the resident vampire descended almost immediately and took four vials of blood before rushing off to the lab, leaving Tony to change into a hospital gown and crawl under the thin hospital sheet and blanket. Once in bed, Tony fell back against the raised head of the gurney. “As if I wasn’t sick and dizzy before they drained half my blood out of me,” he groused, letting his eyes close.

Gibbs stepped out of the corner he’d stayed in to be out of the phlebotomist’s way. He rested a hand on Tony’s shoulder and Tony turned his head just a little and gave him a weak smile for the uncharacteristic show of support.

“God, I’m tired,” Tony mumbled after a few minutes.

“Go ahead and rest. Doc won’t come in until they’ve had a chance to run your bloodwork,” Gibbs told him as he hooked a foot around the leg of the plastic chair and pulled it up closer to the bed.

“You don’t want my report or something?” Tony asked.

“Not right now. It’s not like you’re likely to forget what happened between now and tomorrow. And judging by the looks of White… the case is closed. So get some sleep.”

Tony shook his head, but let his eyes drift shut.. “I cannot sleep in hospitals. Too many weird smells. Too much noise.”

“As I recall, you tend to sleep with the t.v. on at home,” Gibbs told him. He’d learned that the first summer after Tony’d joined NCIS.

The air conditioning in his building had gone out during a stretch of nine days that hadn’t gotten cooler than ninety-five degrees. It had taken Gibbs three days to realize Tony was sleeping at his desk instead of going home to try and sleep in his roaster of an apartment, so at the end of the next night he tossed Tony’s backpack at him at the end of the work day. “Come on. You can’t sleep at your desk any more.”

Tony had looked somewhat shocked, but followed quickly, clearly relieved to know he could sleep both horizontally and comfortably for the first time in a long time.

There had been lots of little ways that hadn’t worked out so well. Gibbs had gone in early for an MTAC call with a Marine in Iraq who had some intel on a guy from his unit coming home on compassionate leave, with about ten thousand dollars in drugs stashed in his gear. Tony had locked the door on his way out when he’d left a few hours later which resulted in Tony discovering that one of the reasons Gibbs never locked his front door was that he didn’t actually carry a house key with him. Gibbs had been less than pleased with having to pick the lock to get into his own house.

And Tony had brought his portable DVD player and had a tendency to leave it running on a loop while he slept. Gibbs, who preferred it to be absolutely silent when he slept (not that he couldn’t sleep through noise, but preferred – in his own home – to have it quiet) had been jolted awake several times by gunfire noise leaking down the hall from Tony’s room to his from the damn film.

Tony shrugged, his eyes still closed, his head flopping to the side. “I only put on movies I know backwards and forwards so it’s like white noise. No surprises. Around here you have nurses hollering, and patients moaning – if they aren’t outright screaming - and all kinds of noises I can’t even begin to identify from the machines and stuff…”

Despite his words, Tony did drift off for about half an hour while waiting for his test results. Once he was sure that Tony was really out, Gibbs stepped around the partition curtain and down the hall a few yards in search of the nearest coffee machine.

Tony was still asleep when Gibbs slipped back in. He sat back in the hard plastic chair and watched him for a while. It was a relief to have him back. He realized that this, like the Atlas case, was a kick in the ass that if he wanted Tony to see him in the way he was seeing Tony that he was going to have to be a little more assertive. If Tony had noticed that Gibbs was trying to get his attention, he hid it well. And given that this was DiNozzo they were talking about, it really was logical to conclude that Tony really just hadn’t noticed. Tony didn’t keep much quiet. Ever.

The doctor came in, deliberately rattling the curtain, which caused Tony to bolt upright. “I’m awake!”

Gibbs snickered, but patted Tony on the arm. “You are now.”

Gibbs hovered over Tony’s shoulder as the doctor did a quick physical and then rattled off test results and the two possible chemicals he’d been drugged with and wrote two prescriptions: one to help settle Tony’s stomach and one to bind up the… something that was in his blood and let him pass it. Gibbs wasn’t sure he’d gotten all the details of what had happened, but he was sure he understood what needed to happen next.

Once the doctor signed Tony’s discharge papers, Gibbs handed him his clothes and offered him a hand up. Tony sniffed the scuzzy flannel shirt, wincing at the body odor and blood smells.

“Come on, you’re staying at my place tonight. You’ve still got sweats and a couple t-shirts at my place from when you stayed over last winter when your heat went out,” Gibbs told him as he helped Tony dress. Tony didn’t complain about every stiff muscle and little ache and pain. He also didn’t insist that he was fine and remind Gibbs that he’d been dressing himself since he was four. He let Gibbs help him with his shoes when he realized that the adrenaline crash was leaving him so completely sore that he couldn’t bend over to tie his own shoes.

Once he was up and they were heading for the door, Tony rallied. “I’ll be okay at home. Honest.”

Gibbs shrugged. “Maybe, but you’re not going home.” He had a brief surge of guilt, wondering if using his ability to give Tony orders, knowing that Tony would obey without thinking (though not necessarily without a token protest) was an abuse of power. He wondered if he’d insist that McGee or Kate crash at his place if they’d been hurt. Somehow he doubted it, but there always had been that reciprocal relationship between him and Tony. He’d kept an eye on Tony after the Atlas mess and Tony had fluttered around trying to help out without it looking like he was helping out after Gibbs had been winged in Central America.

Tony crashed with him, even though it hadn’t gone well the first time, last winter when the heat had gone out. He’d been trying to tell Tony to move to a place with a better HVAC system, but his heart hadn’t really been in the jests since that time. The second time had gone better. Tony had found some little speaker pillow thing so that he’d hear his background noise and Gibbs wouldn’t. And they’d both come dangerously close to admitting that it wasn’t such an awful thing to not go home alone after a bad day at work.

And if that was all this turned out to be, so be it. But they’d already established a pattern and Gibbs saw no reason to break it now.

“You have a ‘script for Compazine. I’ve seen you on that stuff before. No way in hell I’m letting you go home and crash around your place stoned on anti-nausea meds,” Gibbs said as they made their way out of the E.R. and down to the Bethesda pharmacy.

Deciding that he was actually arguing against what he wanted, Tony shut up and followed Gibbs out of the E.R.

Tony almost fell asleep in the hard plastic chairs in the pharmacy waiting area while his prescriptions were filled. When Gibbs collected the meds and him, Tony didn’t comment when Gibbs said that it was time for them to both be getting ‘home’. Gibbs couldn’t decide if Tony’s expression was a slight grin at the word ‘home’ or a badly time grimace as Tony stretched as he stood.

Tony did fall asleep in the car. Gibbs hated waking him, but he knew that Tony would be much better off after a quick shower, a light dinner, and his meds. Not to mention that he was already stiff and sore and would be much better off tucked into bed.

Tony swayed as he walked to the door, Gibbs hovering at his elbow like he wasn’t sure that Tony would make it. He was quiet and sluggish as Gibbs helped him strip down and then shoved him into the shower. “Stay there until I come get you,” Gibbs ordered as Tony wrenched on the hot water.

Satisfied that Tony was scrubbing off the layers of dirt and grime as well as the sleezy personality he’d adopted for the op, Gibbs dug around in his fridge until he came up with everything he needed to make Tony a turkey sandwich. He found an orange and peeled it and put it next to the sandwich and dumped a handful of pretzels next to that. He dug a soda out of the back – probably in there since the last time DiNozzo stayed with him since he never touched the stuff.

“You about done?” Gibbs hollered as he passed the open bathroom door on his way to the guest room. He set Tony’s dinner on the dresser and dug out the faded OSU t-shirt and gray sweats Tony’d left behind after the last time when his heat had gone out and he’d been banged up by a woman who hadn’t forgotten how to blow up an office lobby with something that looked like a gray tennis ball.

Realizing he hadn’t heard an answer from Tony he doubled back down the hall. “DiNozzo? You about done?”

“Yeah, boss. I’m good.”

“Are you? Gibbs pressed. “How’s your stomach?”

A lukewarm, “Eh,” was Tony’s only answer.

Gibbs tossed the sweats over the edge of the sink. “Your clothes are on the sink. There’s a towel on the bar. I’m going to get your meds.”

Gibbs had the two pills on the edge of Tony’s plate by the time he trudged out of the bathroom towel-drying his hair. Gibbs itched to reach up and tame some of the wilder spikes, but he wasn’t sure that Tony wouldn’t either bat him aside or laugh himself sick at the idea of Gibbs being touchy-feely.

Gibbs sat cross-legged at the end of Tony’s bed while Tony ate. Tony ate about half of what he was given, raising an eyebrow at the fact that Gibbs had peeled the orange for him, but not saying anything. He even swallowed his pills with the soda without complaint when Gibbs took them off the plate and handed them to him.

“I’m not going to need these meds to knock me on my ass,” Tony said leaning back against the wall.

“Bed time, huh?” Gibbs asked as he took the plate from unresisting fingers. He set it aside and wiggled the blankets and sheet down. “Come on, Tony, crawl in.”

Without opening his eyes, Tony scrunched down, shoving his feet under the sheet and letting Gibbs pull the covers back over him. He was tired. Dead tired.

The fact that he could have gone to sleep the night before and never woken up – for oh so many reasons – caused him to jerk, his eyes opening widely.

“Easy,” Gibbs whispered, stroking his arm as he settled back into the bed. Gibbs fussed with getting the blankets settled back around his shoulders.

Tony made a face before letting out a long sigh. “Will you do me a small favor, boss?”

Gibbs quit fussing and sat on the edge of the bed. “Sure.” Tony hesitated and Gibbs could see that he was about to blow it off with a ‘nevermind.’ “Speak, DiNozzo. What do you need?”

Tony sighed again. “Will you just stay here until I fall asleep? I can’t imagine that’ll be more than all of thirty seconds.”

“Sure, Tony. I’ll stay. You sleep.” Gibbs hitched up a little higher on the bed and he rested his hand on the back of Tony’s head, gently carding his fingers through Tony’s damp hair.

Tony’s next sigh was of pure contentment. And he was right. It was less than half a minute before Gibbs could see his muscles relax and his head sink deeper into the pillow as Tony fell fast asleep.

Gibbs went down to work on his boat once Tony had been asleep for a good ten minutes and Gibbs was reasonably sure he wouldn’t be waking any time soon. It wasn’t even eight-thirty and despite the insanity of losing track of Tony off and on throughout the whole White case, Gibbs wasn’t ready for sleep. He didn’t bother with the t.v., preferring the company of his own thoughts and the rasp of the plane.

Around ten it occurred to him to call Eberhart to check and see how the softball game went. He fished out his cell phone and had the NCIS switchboard transfer him to Jason. After assuring the other agent that Tony was fine – that he’d been a little worse for wear by the end of the case, but was resting comfortably now – Eberhart informed him that they’d lost to ATF six to seven. Jason assured them that it was because they were down two of their best players and that they’d get them next year. Gibbs thanked him and hung up, going back upstairs to check on Tony. In the two hours that Gibbs had been downstairs, Tony hadn’t moved an inch. Satisfied that he was out for the night, Gibbs went back to the boat.

He was glad Tony had badgered him into playing that first year. He was even more glad he’d badgered Tony into playing this year. It was too bad they couldn’t make that last game. He and Tony didn’t make a crazy amount of small talk, and Gibbs knew he was responsible for that, but when they had the chance, the softball team had been a good thing for them to have to talk about. A good reason to spend time together where Gibbs didn’t have to pretend he was always a bastard.

Gibbs knew, probably far better than either Kate or McGee, that as much as Tony talked, he never said very much. Not about himself or other things that really mattered. In talking about softball – in talking at softball, in the dugouts or while carpooling to the field - Gibbs had gotten Tony to talk about himself a little more than he might have otherwise. He’d gotten some pretty serious insight into Tony’s childhood when he’d explaned that sports were the one thing Tony could do to get his dad to notice him. When he did well, when his teams won, his dad paid attention to him at least for a minute.

Gibbs ended up telling Tony about his dad taking him down to Philly every year since he’d turned five, the week after school let out. About how his dad said it couldn’t really be summer until they’d taken in a baseball game.

He pulled his cell back out and speed-dialed Abby. “Hey Abs, I need a favor, and bring a laptop…”

Tony woke up a little before seven. He looked worlds better for having had nearly twelve hours of sleep. He stumbled out of the bedroom and into the bathroom and from there down the stairs where he found Gibbs sitting at the kitchen table flipping through a couple of computer print-outs.

Gibbs shifted in his chair in a way that Tony knew was carefully calculated to make it seem like he wasn’t trying to keep Tony from seeing the papers, even though that was exactly what he was doing. Without looking away from the papers, Gibbs slid a mug of coffee towards the chair Tony fell into. “There’s sugar,” he said nodding towards the one gallon Ziplock bag full of sugar.

Tony laughed at the lack of sugar bowl or even reasonably sized box of sugar cubes. He leaned back in his chair to get a spoon from the drawer behind him. He suspected Gibbs didn’t normally keep a bag of sugar in the house and was making a concession to the way Tony preferred his coffee. “Thanks. Got some cereal or something? My stomach’s finally settled and it’s reminding me that I didn’t exactly eat normally for the last few days.”

Gibbs set the papers down, ink-side-down and looked at Tony, carefully appraising him to see if he was as well as he professed to be. “We can get food on the way over to your place,” Gibbs said, sipping his own coffee, watching as Tony shoveled sugar into his coffee.

He watched, wondering why Tony’s face seemed to fall a little when Gibbs mentioned bringing him home. “You busy today?” Gibbs asked casually.

“Uh, no. I had no idea how long that undercover op would take. I didn’t make plans for next week, let alone this weekend.” Tony stirred his coffee for a few seconds before leaning back with the mug cradled in both hands.

“Good. I had Abby do me a favor last night. I don’t think you even heard her come in.” Gibbs slid the papers over to Tony.

“Abby was here?” Tony asked into his mug.

Gibbs snickered. “She stuck her head in to make sure that you were accounted for. You’d think the girl doesn’t trust me. You didn’t budge.”

Tony shrugged. Between the meds and the sleep deprivation while on the case, he wasn’t surprised that he’d been pretty unconscious that night. He flipped over the papers. The first one was a map of a baseball park, denoting different seating areas. The second was a receipt for a pair of ‘will-call’ tickets.

“We missed the softball playoff game. I figured at least we could go watch baseball. Abby showed me how to get tickets on-line,” Gibbs shrugged suddenly feeling self-conscious. He’d lay in bed for over an hour trying to decide if he should make any kind of indication to Tony that he’d like this to be something akin to a date and done little more than talk himself into it and back out of it again a dozen times. By the time he’d woken up he wasn’t sure the whole thing wasn’t a stupid idea. If for no other reason than he couldn’t remember being so nervous about planning a ‘date’ since he’d first asked Shannon out. With his other wives and anyone he’d dated between there’d been nothing to lose if they’d turned him down. Gibbs was suddenly very aware of how awkward he would make things for Tony if he knew that Gibbs had planned a date for them, but he wasn’t interested in things being like that between them.

After a minute of puzzlement, Tony’s face lit up. “Seriously? Just, you know… the two of us? I mean, is Abby coming?”

Tony was babbling a bit which Gibbs knew meant he’d somehow managed to make him uncomfortable. Gibbs decided that ‘not telling him’ was rapidly becoming the safer choice. “If you don’t want to go, DiNozzo – “

“No, no, I love the idea. Really. I haven’t gone to a pro game since I was like fifteen. Well, there was that pledge prank to sneak into an Indians game, but it was the Cleavland Indians… and we got caught and ejected by the bottom of the third…” He looked up to see Gibbs watching him, his expression half-way between amusement and concern. Tony dropped his eyes back to the papers, tapping them thoughtfully. “Seriously, boss, thanks. This’ll be fun.”

Gibbs smiled as he got up to get a refill. Maybe it would be okay after all.


They drove to Tony’s to let him clean up again and get some clothes. He’d already told Gibbs he could burn the things he’d worn undercover. “If I never see flannel again, I’ll die a happy camper.”

Gibbs hadn’t been in Tony’s apartment in over almost two years. In fact the last time he’d been there was when he’d helped Tony move into the place. It had been him, Pacci, and a couple of Tony’s college friends. Now everything was unpacked and neat and organized. Not at so much the bachelor pad he expected from Tony. But then again if he was bringing his dates back here, maybe it was pretty much exactly what he should have expected.

Tony came out of the bathroom while Gibbs was looking over the floor to ceiling bookcases that lined one wall. He had the thing packed with books, CDs, DVDs and a few old VHS tapes. Everything from old classic novels like Braham Stoker’s Dracula to the most recent travel guides for the U.K. and Ireland. Movies from Shirley Temple to Halloween V.

“I can make sandwiches for the road,” Tony said as he grabbed a pair of gym shoes from under the coffee table.

“Sounds good,” Gibbs said without turning away from his perusal of the shelf. “Need help?” he added belatedly.

“Nah, I’m good,” Tony said going into the kitchen. “I have roast beef from that deli down the street, peanut butter and jelly and…” there was a pause and a sniff. “Nevermind. No ham after all.”

Gibbs smiled at the ‘thunk’ of the ham hitting the trash. “Whatever you’re having is fine,” Gibbs told him. He came around and leaned on the breakfast bar as Tony fixed lunch and threw everything into a plastic shopping bag. “You look better,” he said after a while. “I’ll take it by the number of sandwiches you’re making, your stomach is better.”

Tony turned around with a huge grin on his face. Clearly he was pleased by the fact that Gibbs had noticed he was doing better, but Gibbs wasn’t quite sure why. He smiled back, glad that they were past that one weird moment at breakfast and ready to relax together.

By the time their lunches were made they realized they’d have to make pretty good time to Baltimore. About ten miles outside the city limits, Tony had Gibbs pull over and he drove them in, using side streets to avoid the congestion on the highways.

As they got into the city, Tony began playing tour guide. “Took a girl there to dinner once. It was awful. For that matter, so was she.” Gibbs almost spit out his coffee at that admission. “Busted the stupidest coke dealer under that bridge. Twice. Or was it three times?” “There was this one guy,” he glanced over at Gibbs before settling his eyes straight ahead on the road, “This guy I dated, he lived on the top floor of that building over there. Fantastic view.” His eyes darted over to Gibbs and back again before Gibbs could try and make eye contact.

Gibbs wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do with that information. He didn’t want to make the mistake of thinking that Tony was telling him that sort of thing for the reasons he wanted him to give him that kind of information. And he certainly didn’t want to give off the vibe that he disapproved in anyway.

“And down there,” Tony picked up the rambling narrative, “on that corner, was the first time I had to bag and tag a human hand. Damnedest MVA. Guy had his hand hanging out of the window when he got t-boned by a truck. He didn’t make it so we didn’t need to preserve the hand, so there’s me standing there with a guy’s hand and no clue what to do with it.”

Gibbs was glad Tony either hadn’t expected a response or was letting him off the hook. As they rounded the corner and joined the parking queue, Gibbs pointed up the next cross street. “Wasn’t that where we found that Lieutenant that brought me down here?”

Tony leaned towards him to look down the street out of Gibbs’ window. “Oh yeah, it was. About two more blocks north. Didn’t realize at the time that it was so close to the ballpark.”

Gibbs didn’t lean away when Tony leaned in. When Tony grinned at him and wiggled his eyebrows, Gibbs really wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. Tony was right there. If he grabbed his head and angled it just a tad, it would be really easy to kiss him.

It would also be really easy for Tony pull back and try and pretend like he wasn’t completely freaked out even though he really might be. And they had a whole baseball game to sit through together. Maybe better to leave any potentially embarrassing moves for the end of the night.

Once they’d parked, Gibbs bought a program from the first vendor they encountered and impressed Tony with his ability to actually keep track of the game. Once in a while the fact that it had been a few decades since he’d done it last popped up and Tony would look over his shoulder, “That should be a 6,” or, “Technically, that was a backwards K.”

Gibbs bought the first round of beers and Tony the second. They had hotdogs during the seventh inning stretch and Tony got popcorn as the game picked up again. He was finishing it as they walked back to the car. “Who knew you knew how to score a baseball game?”

Gibbs climbed into the driver’s seat. “Apparently I don’t, given all the times you had to correct me,” he grumbled good-naturedly.

“Three times. In, roughly, a half-a-billion plays,” Tony argued.

“My dad took me to see the Phillies once each summer. And I played Little League until I aged out.”

Tony sat up straight in his seat and looked at him quizzically. “You did?”

“Is that so hard to believe?”

Tony bit off a comment about ‘had they invented Little League back then?’ They were having a good day and he didn’t want to push his luck. “No, no, of course not. I just figured you as more of… I don’t know… the wrestling or football or something sort. Something where you got to kick someone’s ass.”

“Didn’t feel the need to kick anyone’s ass until after my mom died when I was sixteen.” He’d said it before he thought about it and had a brief moment of wanting to take it back. He didn’t talk about his mom. Ever. And never did he talk about how hard he’d taken it. How he’d run off to the Marines as soon as they’d agreed to take him. How that had been the first rift between his father and himself.

Tony turned to stare out his window. “Yeah, I know that feeling.”

Gibbs nodded and there was a loaded silence in the car until they hit the highway again. He could see Tony shifting in his seat, trying to think of something to say that would break the tension, but not coming up with anything. Using the same trick Tony had, Gibbs stared straight out the windshield, focusing hard on the license plate on the car in front of him as he asked, “So the guy at the top of the condo building….” he started and then realized that he had no idea what he wanted to ask. What could he ask that wouldn’t be completely inane or that he could claim it was any of his business to ask about.

“What about him?” Tony asked after a minute. He didn’t seem put off by the topic coming up, but he wasn’t making an effort to make the conversation go any easier.

“Stuff like that happen a lot?” Gibbs asked, hoping that he was leaving the question open enough that Tony wouldn’t feel pressured to share anything he didn’t want to.

“What? Me in a steady relationship or me dating guys?” Tony asked flippantly.

Gibbs did turn and look at him then. Somehow it had never occurred to him that when Tony had said ‘dated’ that he’d meant more than once or twice. That Tony had ever been in a relationship with anyone. It seemed like he was constantly talking about some new girl.

Tony laughed at the gobsmacked look on Gibbs face before indicating that Gibbs might want to look back at the road. “A little from column A and a little from column B, eh? Yeah, both of them have been known to happen… neither terribly often.”

Gibbs nodded. “Well, you know my track record,” he said quietly, still wrapping his head around the fact that they were even having this conversation. That Tony didn’t seem totally put off by him asking about his dating habits – and his dating-guys habits. “Yeah, well, one of these days I’ll learn that marriage does not always equal commitment.”

Tony laughed. “One of these days,” he agreed.

“So,” Gibbs said, steering the conversation back around, “Who was he?”

“Who? Brett? He was a violinist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. We met after he came into the station to file a report on his stolen violin. It was one of those really, really old expensive ones. Starts with an ‘S’ and I could never remember the name of the manufacturer. Anyway, after I took the report and sent a few uniforms out to canvas the area he’d been mugged in, he offered to buy me dinner.” Tony shrugged.

“Yeah? And?” Gibbs encouraged.

“And… we broke up about five months later. Weirdly enough it was over softball. I was playing on the PD’s team and he wanted to come to the games.” Tony sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. “I wasn’t exactly thrilled about that idea. He was a great guy, but I wasn’t out at work and I wasn’t looking to be. There was a serious undertone in that locker room, if you know what I mean.”

“I was a Marine, DiNozzo. Believe me, I get that.”

Tony canted his head and studied Gibbs, who went back to studying the car in front of them. “You get it because you’re a fair, open-minded kind of guy, or you get it?”

Gibbs gripped the steering wheel tighter. He’d started this conversation; he was in for it now. “I get it, Tony.”

“Huh,” Tony said simply turning to look back out the side window. “Who’d have thought?” He realized he was saying that a lot that evening.

There was another long silence after that, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, Gibbs was pretty sure they were both feeling a little lighter now that it was out. If nothing else came out of this, Gibbs knew that at least if there was ever a need for one of them to talk, they had each other and they didn’t have to go through the weirdness of ‘okay, so I’ve been keeping this secret’ before getting to the point.

Tony, never able to be quiet for terribly long, finally began talking again just as they reached D.C. Gibbs listened to half an ear as Tony told some story that Abby’d told him that, he suspected, Abby had been told by someone else. He nodded and ‘uh-huh’ed periodically enough to make Tony think was really paying attention, but the truth was he was still processing the fact that he’d come out to Tony and that Tony had seemed to regard it as a not-bad thing, if not an actual good thing.

Gibbs pulled up to Tony’s building just as the streetlights were coming on. “We have first aid and CPR recertification on Monday, so don’t be late,” he said as Tony reached for the handle.

“It’s that time again already? Do they think we’ll forget or something?” Tony released the handle and sat back in his seat.

“Actually, yeah, I’m pretty sure that is what they think. It’s not exactly the kind of skill we use everyday. We’re more likely to make someone need first aid than to be the ones rendering it.”

“Fair point,” Tony conceded, reaching or the door-handle again. He noticed Gibbs open his mouth to say something, but nothing came out.

“Something else, boss?”

Gibbs shook his head. “Uh, no.” He wanted there to be. He wanted to make small talk or suggest something else they could do. It wasn’t ridiculously late, but he couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t make it look like he was trying to keep Tony’s company. “See you Monday.”

Tony was looking at him a little sideways. Like he was trying to understand what was going on or deciding if he should do or say something or not. Gibbs squashed the rising impulse to see if this would be a good time to kiss him. They’d talked, come out to each other, but only in the general sense. Gibbs decided that that really needed to be enough for one night.

Finally Tony shrugged and smiled. “Okay, good night. Thanks for the game. I had a really good time.”

Gibbs smiled back. “Yeah, me too.”


Over the next few weeks, Tony didn’t talk much about dating or women, and Gibbs had to hope it meant something. But then again, work had been insane for almost two months straight. A transvestite suicide that lead to Tony chasing down the origin of a set of eyes in Paraguay kept them apart for a few days. Then there’d been meat puzzle that had Tony baby-sitting Ducky’s mother, that almost got Ducky killed.

It was two days after that that Tony had shown up around nine with pizza and beer. He didn’t knock – no one who knew him at all well did any more – and he didn’t announce himself. Gibbs just looked up between one small task and another and saw him standing at the top of the stairs holding dinner and watching him.

Damn good thing sniper training had taught him not to jump when startled or he probably would have rammed a Phillips head screwdriver through his hand. “Damnit, DiNozzo! What the hell are you doing up there.

“Watching you build a boat,” Tony said as if it were obvious.

“Yeah? How long you been up there ‘watching me build a boat’?” Gibbs leaned on the strut and watched Tony back.

“Few minutes. You must have been pretty far into your head not to notice me.” Tony came down and set the pizza on the workbench and the beer on the stairs.

“Something like that,” Gibbs answered. He was pretty sure he didn’t need to tell Tony he was still beating himself up for almost getting Ducky killed.

Tony moved to stand in Gibbs’ personal space. For the first time in years Gibbs had the instinct to back up, but he steeled himself for whatever Tony had to say to him.

“I’m gonna say this, and then we can go back to pretending nothing ever bothers you.”

Gibbs watched Tony, no longer sure where this was going.

“Ducky’s fine. You got there in time. And it wasn’t your fault. No one knew that a psychotic a little old undertaker lady could plan things like that. But at the end of the day, you got there in time and we caught her. And Ducky’s fine.”

Gibbs gave into his urge to step away, to put some space between himself and DiNozzo who, apparently, knew him way too well. He’d have to decide later if that was a comfort or disturbance.

“I should have had two agents there. You’d been with his mom all day – and I know Ducky’s mom - most days she doesn’t know me - but I know how tiresome she can be. I should have sent McGee with Kate.”

Tony moved back to the workbench and opened the pizza box, handing a piece to Gibbs with a look of ‘eat it whether you want it or not’. “We both know that NCIS can’t keep a one to one ratio for every household we have to protect. Ducky will never forgive me for this, but we were keeping two senior citizens safe in their own house. We shouldn’t have needed extra back-up.”

“But we did!” Gibbs barked, slamming his palm against the rib of the boat.

“Yeah. But we couldn’t know that then. And you found Ducky before anything could happen,” Tony reiterated.

“They started to bleed him,” Gibbs bit out.

“I know. He told me. He also told me that once we brought in the Addam’s family, you took him to Bethesda and stayed over last night to make sure he was okay. And he’s okay. So you need to let this one go. You also need to eat the rest of that pizza. You didn’t eat lunch.”

Gibbs blinked at the pizza still in his hand. One of the reasons he liked Tony from the beginning was his willingness to stand up to him; to very rarely be cowed by Gibbs attitude. To tell him how it was when Gibbs most needed to hear it.

He wondered when Tony had started paying enough attention to notice that he hadn’t had lunch.

He took a deep breath and let it out loudly. “I know,” he finally said. “I just don’t think I could live with myself if my screw up led to one of my team members getting killed.”

“Well, fortunately, you didn’t have to find out this time.” He uncapped a beer bottle by slamming the edge of the cap against the edge of the workbench. “Here, drink this. You need it.”

Gibbs took the beer and tipped it towards Tony. “Thanks, DiNozzo.”

Tony smiled around a mouthful of pizza. “Any time.”


Then there’d been a dead naval lieutenant that had McGee running through a car wash (and while Gibbs tended to stay out of DiNozzo’s ‘training’ of the Probie, he did kind of wish Tony had been there to see that), followed by Gibbs getting his ass kicked by a college ROTC officer who’d killed his own cadets to cover up raping another one of them.

That case had gotten on every last one of Gibbs’ nerves. Every last one. For the first time in a long time he hadn’t had any problems keeping his feelings for Tony in check. He’d wanted to kill him, repeatedly throughout the case. All that time on a college campus turned Tony back into a boneheaded frat boy and Gibbs couldn’t take it. Tony’s normal level of immaturity and silliness was one thing, but he and Kate had escalated it to a whole new level.

He’d found it mildly amusing that when he’d come back from what they’d dubbed his ‘panty raid’ at the sorority house and had demanded that his team tell him where Abby was, Tony’d snapped to attention. Tony liked to pretend that he didn’t have a military bone in his body, but Gibbs had figured out that four years at Rhode Island Military Academy had left a few lasting impressions. And it was likely that Tony’s father did as well. But ever since Tony had come to work for him, when Gibbs’ mood got bad enough, Tony began snapping to attention like any green Marine recruit. And for reasons Gibbs didn’t want to examine to closely, that never failed to amuse him.

He wondered if Tony knew that. If he was doing it in order to take just a little stress off him. Or if maybe he really was afraid that one day Gibbs would haul off and hit him somewhere other than the back of the head.

He preferred to think that Tony knew him well enough that it was the first reason.

But now that the case was all over but the paperwork, Gibbs wanted to collapse. He had more than a few bumps and bruises from his fight, but what was really bothering him was what he suspected was a cracked rib. And he wasn’t completely sure he didn’t have a mild concussion. Not that he had any intention of letting anyone know any of this. If by some chance Ducky was still in the office when he got back to do his report, he might let him have a look at the rib.

He dispatched McGee to take the Midshipman – midshipwoman, whatever – home and told DiNozzo and Todd to take Leeka in for processing.

He headed for his desk, a bottle of aspirin and his paperwork. He wanted to get home and have this case in his rearview mirror a.s.a.p.

He was almost done with the last form when he felt as much as saw a shadow fall over his desk. He looked up without moving his head. Tony was standing in front of him, almost at attention before Gibbs even got a chance to bark at him.

“Look,” Tony said before Gibbs could say anything, “I know I’m probably the last person you want to see tonight, but I wanted to apologize for my behavior the last couple days.”

Gibbs opened his mouth to interrupt, but Tony held up a hand, “I know, you think apologies are a sign of weakness, but I was pretty far out of line and I want you to know that I know and… it won’t happen again.”

Gibbs leaned back in his chair and studied Tony in the low light of the bullpen in the late evening. “Apology accepted,” he said after a minute. “Now, get lost. I want to get this done. If you’ve got Leeka processed, you can do your report in the morning.” He honestly wanted Tony to go home. The last thing he needed was Kate realizing that Tony stayed, so she’d stay and they’d end up bickering and his head would explode.

“Kate’s finishing it. And I have everything I need to do my report on my laptop. I figured that since I’m sure you didn’t see a doctor and I’m sure you did get your head knocked around, maybe I should give you a lift home.”

“I’m fine, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said with as much patience as he could muster. He was completely torn if he was honest with himself. He was still a little annoyed with Tony’s antics lately, but at the same time it had been a long time since someone had fussed over him when he wasn’t feeling so well.

“Look, Gibbs, after Atlas, after White… you didn’t let me go home alone. Hell, you didn’t let me go home at all. You knew I wasn’t feeling well, and it kind of sucks to have to look after yourself when you’re not feeling so good. I’ll drive you home, and stay out of your way unless you need something.” He held up a pair of earbuds, “I promise to wear these if I put some music on while I do my reports, and no DVDs at night. I know you don’t want to be hovered over, but…” Tony shrugged. He wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing. Maybe there was something to the conventional wisdom of staying well clear of Gibbs when he was pissed.

Gibbs sighed, but reached into his pocket and tossed Tony the keys to his car. Meet me out front in fifteen minutes. He caught sight of Kate coming from the elevator and felt the need to protect his image, “But so help me, if I hear one damn video game or movie or –“

Tony smiled and there was an instant understanding that Gibbs was sounding off entirely for Kate’s benefit. “Got it, boss.”

Gibbs had to admit, Tony was true to his word. He’d driven Gibbs back, bummed a pair of sweats, since his were now at home and left him alone.

Once Gibbs had stripped down to his shorts and t-shirt and scrubbed his face, he crawled into bed, leaving his door open. He tried to turn on his side, but hissed as his bruised cheek protested the contact with the pillow.

“Hey,” Tony said, suddenly nearby, wincing in sympathy as Gibbs did. “I got you an ice pack.” He hesitated in the doorway. “For… your face. That looks kind of… um…”

Gibbs wished Tony wouldn’t feel so awkward. He’d let him come over after all. He wasn’t going to complain if Tony wanted to help him feel better. He hadn’t looked at the bruises when he’d cleaned up, but he was pretty sure the one around his right eye had to be pretty spectacular judging by how it felt. He shuffled back onto his back, hissing as his rib protested. He flung one arm out in Tony’s general direction. “Thanks, Tony.” Without turning to look, he wrapped his fingers around the plastic bag of ice Tony deposited in it and lowered it gently over the whole right side of his face. He took in a breath to let out a sigh, but it caught in his throat as his rib protested again. “Hey Tony?”

“Yeah, boss, right here.”

Gibbs could hear Tony’s stocking feet shuffle over the carpet closer to him. “One more thing?”

“Sure,” Tony said without even asking what it was.

“One more ice pack? I went over a table. Rib caught on the corner.”

“Got it,” Tony said quickly. “Hey, Gibbs, should I maybe call Ducky and see –“

“Do not bother Ducky, Tony. At the very worst it’s cracked. He’s going to tell me to put ice on it and take aspirin. And I already took the aspirin.”

When Gibbs looked up, Tony was frowning down at him, worried. Gibbs realized that he’d probably never admitted to any kind of pain to Tony or anyone on his team before. “So a little ice and some sleep and I’ll be fine in the morning.”

Tony turned on his heel, “Apparently your cracked ribs heal a hell of a lot faster than mine do, if you think you’ll be okay in the morning.”

“I’m fine, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said actually getting a little irritated now. He wanted ice and he wanted sleep. It occurred to him that he’d kind of like Tony to lay down with him if he could get it, but whatever had started happening in the car on the way to the ball game was happening at something slower than a snail’s pace and he wasn’t willing to risk the endgame for someone to snuggle with when he wasn’t sure that snuggling wouldn’t make the rib worse anyway.

Tony came back a few minutes later with another kitchen towel wrapped around another bag of ice. He sat on the edge of the bed and carefully pulled Gibbs’ white t-shirt out of the way. “Oh, that looks nasty.”

Gibbs picked his head up and looked down at the livid purple bruise with an almost black line where he’d impacted the edge of the heavy wooden table. No wonder that hurt. Maybe it wouldn’t kill him to let Ducky have a look in the morning after all.

Tony gently placed the ice over the bruise and pulled Gibbs’ shirt down to hold it in place. “Need anything else? More aspirin?”

“I took three at the office,” Gibbs told him. The ice made breathing easier since the dull throb of his ribcage expanding was easing. He felt the adrenaline of the day wearing off and his eyes slipped shut of their own accord. “I’m fine, Tony. Go on and get yourself to bed.”

“You’re sure?” Tony asked and immediately bit his lip. He’d promised not to hover.

“I’m sure. And you’re just down the hall if something comes up. I just want to sleep.”

He grimaced as he heard the bedsprings creak as Tony got up. Not only did it jostle his ribs, but despite his words, he wasn’t all that keen on Tony leaving.

“Alright,” Tony whispered as he tugged the blankets back around Gibbs chest. Gibbs couldn’t suppress the smile that crossed his face as he felt Tony gently stroke his fingers through his hair before leaving. “I’m leaving both bedroom doors open. I mean it, call me if you need anything.”

“I’m fine, DiNozzo,” Gibbs insisted as he settled in for the night.

Gibbs woke up to find that at some point Tony had come in and taken the ice packs, which explained why he didn’t wake up in a small lake. He also smelled coffee brewing.

He carefully pulled himself out of bed, wincing as both his ribs and his face protested any movement. His left leg and wrist were also complaining about last night’s workout. He managed to pull a pair of jeans on over his briefs and staggered out to the kitchen. Tony had a cup of coffee next to his laptop and he was pecking away at his report.

“Hey, boss, how you feeling? Better for having slept? Worse for it being the second day?”

Gibbs collapsed into the chair next to Tony and helped himself to Tony’s coffee. “Oh, god, how can you drink coffee like this?”

“It’s just little sugar and some milk,” Tony responded, getting up and grabbing another mug from the shelf. He poured Gibbs a coffee and set it in front of him. “Here, have one your way.”

“Thank you,” Gibbs said wrapping both hands around the ceramic and taking a long drink to rinse out the sickly sweet aftertaste of Tony’s coffee. He looked at the clock on the microwave. “I suppose I better go get dressed if we’re going to swing past your place and still get to work on time.”

“I showered before you got up. If I can borrow a shirt, I won’t need to go home.”

Gibbs shrugged one shoulder, carefully avoiding moving his offended rib. “Sure, there’s shirts in the closet. I’m going to get in the shower.”

Tony was wearing one of Gibbs’ white Oxfords with his jeans when Gibbs came out of the shower. Gibbs very suddenly understood why Tony liked his tailored shirts so much. Gibbs’ shirt sat kind of funny on him, like the shoulders weren’t exactly in the right place and the sleeves were just a tad too short. Tony didn’t seem to care too much though, and Gibbs had to admit that in a completely sappy way that he would never admit to out loud, he kind of liked the idea of Tony wearing his clothes.

Gibbs had every intention of coming up with another not-date for that weekend but they’d ended up with a call about a body in a pick-up truck in storage locker. On top of that Tony had been preoccupied with the fact that his car had been stolen.

The truth was, that did suck pretty hard. Tony put a lot of time and money into that car, Gibbs knew. On the flip side, he could offer to go out and try and help him find a replacement.

But before he could do that, though, there was Kate with a cold and Tony with an envelope full of white powder.

Gibbs wanted to stay with Tony once he’d been shipped off to Bethesda, but he knew two facts: one – he wouldn’t be allowed into the contamination zone to actually be with Tony and two – he didn’t trust anyone else to track down the psychopath who’d contaminated Tony so he had to do it himself.

When all was said and done, when the case that had never been a case was resolved, when a psychotic – truly psychotic – mother had been locked up to die of her brain tumor and Gibbs had told both the doctor and Tony that the bug had a suicide chain, Gibbs had gone in search of a coffee machine. His cracked rib was still reminding him that it had been only about two weeks since he’d done it in and the way he’d been breathing lately wasn’t making it any better. He’d run into Cassie and the non-victim Sarah which had led him to really getting to the bottom of what happened. How a lie had turned into… all this. How a girl unwilling to explain to her mother that she’d had a little kinky sex had turned into Tony almost dying.

When he came back down he found Kate lying on the bed next to Tony and Ducky standing outside. Gibbs finally convinced them that they should go home, that he’d stay with Tony. That Tony would be here in the morning. And the next. And the next. And probably a good dozen after that, but he’d be fine and they should get a good night’s sleep. He was sure that if Kate stayed, Tony’s hacking would wake her up and she’d been under quite a bit of stress on top of her cold and she really needed to get some real rest. He’d even convinced her to let Ducky drive her home, if for no other reason than she didn’t tend to argue with Ducky like she did with him.

Paula Cassidy had volunteered to write up the new report on the ‘rape’ case and see that the germ-making mother from hell was locked up somewhere she couldn’t hurt anyone else while her brain tumor finished her off.

Gibbs had a vague wish that he could feel sorry for her. After all, she’d been a mother trying to get justice for her daughter. But she’d damn near killed an NCIS agent that had nothing to do with the original case in her crusade. And to top it all off, the original case was built on a lie. He understood the need for vigilante justice – he’d been there and done that – but he’d made damn sure that the only person who suffered for what the bastard had done was the bastard who’d done it.

Gibbs scrubbed a hand across his eyes. What a mess.

The lights in the isolation ward were still blue. Gibbs had come back as soon as they’d known the truth. As soon as honest-to-God justice had been served. He hesitated outside the airlock. Tony seemed to be resting for now, but from what Gibbs understood from Doctor Pitt, he’d be fighting coughing fits and fever for another week or two. Just because he’d live, didn’t mean Tony would instantly be better.

Gibbs leaned against the glass and just watched. There was something building between himself and Tony but he still wasn’t sure exactly where they were. There had been a lot more time together after the office and on weekends. There was more casual touching and less-casual conversations, but neither of them had been able to take the step that would officially bring them to that new level. Gibbs wished that he’d taken any one of the several chances he’d had in the last two months or so and actually kissed him. It would give him a much better idea of what Tony would want from him now.

“You can go in.”

Gibbs suppressed the flinch that wanted to bring him upright, hand on his gun. He was getting sloppy, first Tony and now someone else able to sneak up on him? He needed to stop getting so damn lost in his own head when one of his own was targeted. It made for even more mistakes. He turned to find a nurse standing next to him, head inclined to the airlock door. It wasn’t Emma, who’d been there most of the day, so Gibbs had no idea who she was. Instead of saying anything he just nodded and went through the door.

He hitched a hip onto the side of Tony’s bed. Tony was still flushed and sweating and shaking, even in his sleep. Gibbs grabbed a washcloth from the stack on the bedside table and dipped one end of it into the bowl of water left there. He moved up a bit and carefully wiped off Tony’s face and neck. Tony moaned and rolled his head. Gibbs couldn’t tell if he was trying to lean into the cloth or move away from it. He rested one hand against Tony’s cheek, effectively stilling him. “Hang on, almost done,” he whispered.

“Boss?” Tony croaked, eyes not opening.

“Uh-huh,” Gibbs answered, not wanting to actually start a conversation. He wanted Tony to go back to sleep.

“I thought –“ Tony began, but soon was coughing and wheezing and breaking out in sweat all over again.

Gibbs tossed the cloth on the table and leaned down to pull Tony upright. “It’s all right,” he whispered when Tony tried to sit up on his own. Eventually Tony’s forehead fell down onto the top of his shoulder. He coughed a few more times before being able to take in several deep, quick breaths without hacking again.

Tony moved to lie back down and Gibbs started to help him, but then decided to go with his gut. If he and Tony weren’t moving in the direction he thought they were, Tony would let him know. And in his current state he was too wrung-out to be polite about it, there’d be no misunderstanding. Gibbs realized that they’d reached the bottom of the ninth and he was up to bat.

He shifted to get just a little closer to Tony and put one hand behind Tony’s head and guided it back down, resting Tony’s cheek against his shoulder, Tony’s face pressed against his neck. “Just rest a minute,” Gibbs told him. He shifted again to get his arms around Tony’s back, one arm wrapped around his ribs up to his opposite shoulder. His other hand tangled in Tony’s hair for a second, settling Tony comfortably against him. When Tony finally relaxed, Gibbs began gently stroking his hair. He’d long ago learned that was a bit of a hot-spot for Tony. No surer way to convince him that everything was okay and that he could rest. Hell, Tony had even comforted him that way when he’d stayed after that fight that had banged up his rib.

“Just rest for a bit. I’ve got you,” Gibbs whispered holding Tony tight to him, his hand passing over Tony’s hair again and again until he felt Tony’s head go heavy against his shoulder.

They let Tony rest where he was for another twenty-four hours before moving him to the ICU. Gibbs stayed at Tony’s side. He rested for a few hours on the bed next to Tony’s, but refused to go home despite numerous suggestions from doctors, nurses and, the following morning, Ducky.

Tony had been less than pleased about being moved and had complained that he was going to spread the plague to the entire hospital if they moved him out of isolation so vehemently that he’d coughed himself sick. Gibbs held him up with one hand and held the basin with the other. Once he calmed and the nurse took away the basin, Gibbs helped him take a few sips of water before leaning him against his shoulder again and assuring him that he wasn’t going to get anyone sick, that he’d been there all night and wasn’t sick at all. Tony had rallied enough at that point to repeat his earlier joke about germs being afraid to attack Gibbs.

Gibbs laughed and tousled Tony’s hair and finally got him to lean back against the pillow as they kicked off the brakes on the gurney and disconnected all the monitors for the trip upstairs. Gibbs squeezed his hand and Tony relaxed as they started moving him. He held his hand all the way up until they made him stand in the hall while they reconnected all the monitors and hung his I.V. back up.

He went back in as soon as they let him, but Tony had already fallen asleep. He stayed until Tony woke up. He just couldn’t leave him to wake up alone.

“Hey, how are you feeling?”

“Lights are bright?” Tony complained.

Gibbs went over and pulled the blinds shut and shut off the overhead light. “Better?”

“Thanks,” Tony whispered, trying not to aggravate his throat and start coughing again.

“Need anything else?”

Tony shook his head.

“I’m going to go home and get cleaned up and change clothes. I’ll swing by your place and pick up your little DVD player. Any particular movies you want?”

Tony just shrugged. “Whatever. Get my laptop?”

“Tony the last thing you need to worry about is filling out a report on this. You didn’t work the case, you were the case.” Gibbs sat on the edge of the bed again, his hand resting over Tony’s. Gibbs frowned at the way Tony’s fingernails were still tinted blue.

“Video games,” Tony whispered before coughing again. Gibbs sat him up, patting his back like he’d seen the doctors and nurses doing the night before. When the coughing was over, Tony leaned further forward until his forehead rested on Gibbs’ shoulder. Gibbs hugged him in tight, one hand rubbing up and down Tony’s back briskly. “I know this sucks, but you’re gonna get better now.”

Tony nodded weakly against him. “I know. Thanks.”

Gibbs hugged him again and then turned his head just enough to place a gentle kiss on Tony’s temple. He wasn’t even sure if Tony noticed, but it made him feel a little better for having done it. “You ready to go back to sleep?”

Tony nodded and Gibbs leaned him back into the stack of pillows they had propping him up. “I’ll be back in a few hours, okay?” Gibbs pulled Tony’s cell phone out of his pajama top pocket. “If you need anything, or think of something else you want from your place, you let me know, okay?”

Tony wrapped weak fingers around the phone. “’Kay, boss. You should get some sleep too. You don’t look so good,” he added.

Gibbs stood and rested his hand on the top of Tony’s head. He leaned down and kissed his forehead. “Look who’s talking.”

Gibbs was grateful to see the way Tony’s eyes lit up at the unexpected contact. “I’ll be back soon.”

He was pretty sure Tony was asleep before Gibbs made it to the door.

Four days later they moved Tony out of ICU. Gibbs had taken the first three days off and stayed at Tony’s side as much as ICU rules allowed. He went back to work on the fourth, but came to visit at lunch and again after he left the office. Tony mostly slept and complained about how hard it was to sleep practically sitting up, that was until he fell asleep again.

When Tony was finally moved to a regular room, Gibbs quit coming by at lunch, but headed over straight from the office each day. As Tony was finally up to eating regular food, Gibbs usually stopped off somewhere and got them both dinner.

Tony had been in the hospital ten days when Gibbs showed up with ribs and fries from one of Tony’s favorite restaurants. Tony smiled when he saw the bag, “You know, you this is starting to turn into a standing date,” he quipped.

Gibbs gave him half a smile as he set the bag on the bedtable and sat down next to Tony’s knees. “That a problem for you, DiNozzo?” He’d been giving a lot of thought to finally just saying something, seeing what Tony thought and then dealing with whatever the fall-out was.

“Not for me, boss,” Tony said pushing himself more upright to start digging in the bag. “Lunch was tomato soup and cheese sandwiches. Really nasty, rubbery cheese sandwiches.”

“It’s not like you actually eat them,” Gibbs said pointedly. Tony still had his I.V. since he still hadn’t recovered his appetite and it was a source of concern for Gibbs given that Tony usually ate anything that sat still for long enough. He pulled out a container of cole slaw and set it in front of Tony before pulling out two clamshell trays of ribs and fries. “Seriously, eat this. They aren’t going to take that,” he pointed to the tube in Tony’s arm, “out until you’re eating regularly.”

“I eat ‘regularly’,” Tony protested. He’d gone three rounds with both the nurse and Doctor Pitt after he’d mostly just rearranged his lunch on his tray. He didn’t want to have the same argument with Gibbs.

“Okay, let me rephrase that: ‘regularly and sufficiently.’” Gibbs pushed Tony’s ribs a few inches closer.

Tony sighed and began eating. The ribs smelled great, but after about half of them and a few fries he realized he just couldn’t eat any more and pushed the container back towards Gibbs. “Want the rest?”

Gibbs peered over the top of the package. “Better than you’ve been doing,” he muttered and helped himself to a few of the fries.

Tony leaned back and rested his eyes while Gibbs finished eating. The t.v. was on ZNN and he listened to the low drone of international news, occasionally cracking one eye to see whatever it was they were talking about.

Fifteen minutes later, Gibbs had cleaned up their dinners and moved the table out of the way. When he sat back down he moved closer to Tony’s hip. “Can I turn this off for a minute?” he asked picking up the remote for the t.v.

“Uh, sure.” Tony had the feeling something serious was coming and he wasn’t sure he was up for it. If there was bad news on the medical front, surely the doctor would have told him first. Unless they thought he’d take it better hearing it from a friend. Maybe he was being fired. If his lungs weren’t expected to recover, he’d never be able to chase down suspects.

He felt Gibbs hand cover his gently. Oh, this was going to be bad.

“Reign it in, DiNozzo. I can see you head spinning. Yeah, I want to talk, but it’s not that big a deal.”

Tony settled himself back into the pillows. This was Gibbs show, he’d just wait to see what was going on.

“Doctor Pitt seems to think you’ll be able to come home by the weekend if you’re eating better.”

Tony sighed. “I’m eating, boss, really. I just get too damn tired to eat much at one time.”

“I know. He says you need to take about two more weeks after you’re released before you come back to work,” Gibbs said.

“I know, he told me. Though I don’t really think I need two whole weeks, really –“

“Tony,” Gibbs interrupted, “You just admitted to not having enough energy to eat. You aren’t coming back to work until you’re cleared. But that’s not the point of this conversation.” It was now or never.

Tony canted his head and studied Gibbs. “So what is the point of this conversation?”

“Well, I was thinking about what you said after the Leeka case. About how it sucks to have to look after yourself when you aren’t feeling well.” Gibbs watched Tony to see how he was receiving what he was saying. “So I thought maybe you’d come stay with me at least until you go back to work.”

Tony seemed to think the offer through for a minute. “Yeah. Yeah, that’d be nice. I’d appreciate it.”

With that going well, Gibbs plowed ahead, “And when you’re feeling up to it, we can go see a movie or something.” He mentally rolled his eyes. He sounded all of twelve. ‘or something’? He was surprised Tony wasn’t laughing at him.

In fact, Tony did have a slight smile on his face, but Gibbs really had no idea what that meant. “Like… like a date ‘or something’?” Tony asked.

Gibbs gave up and gave him a slightly flustered, slightly irritated look that begged for Tony to let him off the hook.

Gibbs smiled when Tony turned his hand over to take Gibbs in it. “I think that’d be great.”

Gibbs let out a huge sigh of relief and pulled the entertainment section of the newspaper out of his coat. “Find something interesting. And eat, so you can get out of here.” He headed for the door.

Tony pulled on Gibbs hand as he tried to disentangle them. “You know I’m not contagious anymore, right?”

“Uh-huh. As I recall, I’m the one who had to keep telling you that.” Gibbs raised an eyebrow at the look in Tony’s eyes. He went unresisting when Tony pulled on his hand until Gibbs leaned over him. Their first kiss was soft, a promise. Just enough to make sure they were absolutely on the same page at that point. By the time Gibbs stood back up, though, Tony’s eyes were drifting shut for a whole different reason.

“Get some rest, Tony. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Tony smiled at him without opening his eyes. “I’ll be here. And I’ll eat. I’ve got a damn good reason to want to get out of here asap now.”

Gibbs ruffled Tony’s hair. “Damn straight.”