Tony hated hospitals.
He had figured as much out the first time he was at Bethesda – to be used as a pincushion was even less fun than he had imagined. This time around, he had been put through the fun stuff that was a tube down his throat, a catheter because he couldn't get up to pee – and because sometimes he had been unconscious – and a diverse selection of other procedures and scans that he didn't want to remember.
"Discharged tomorrow. How does it feel?"
Ziva stood by his bed, looking down at him with that small smile of hers. She no longer had her arm in a sling – his four week stint in the hospital meant she had had more than enough time to heal. He had been moved to a regular room, for which he was thankful, although it hadn't been much better than the clean room.
"Like I'm finally getting out of jail," Tony said. "My own bed, my own TV, my own apartment! Can you imagine?"
Her smile grew wider. "I cannot – I could barely stay here overnight."
"Be grateful for that," Tony said.
Of course, the first week he had been pretty out of it and if he hadn't been at the hospital then, he would have been very dead now.
"When are you coming back to work?" Ziva asked. It wasn't the first time she or McGee had asked, and he had dodged the question every time.
"I don't know yet," he replied.
There was a heavy feeling in his stomach as he thought of not being able to return to NCIS at all. Then what would he do with his life? If he couldn't come back to work there, then he was unlikely to get a job in law enforcement at all – they all had about the same requirements for field work. He simply could not see himself as deskbound.
"I am sure Gibbs will have plenty for you to do," Ziva said. "His mood has been extra foul lately – I do believe it is because of you. He is very generous with the head slapping."
"Good to know," Tony said. He was unsure of what to make of it. Gibbs had been by Tony's side through out a large part of his stay at Bethesda, but as the weeks passed and Tony got better, Gibbs had become more absent. Then again, Tony knew that Gibbs had a team to run. McGee, Ziva, Abby and Ducky had kept him updated on the latest cases.
Ziva squeezed his hand. He looked up in surprise.
"I was worried," she admitted quietly.
"Yeah, well, me too," Tony said. He didn't really want to know how close a call it had been. He knew that his temperature after his swim in the water had been dangerously low, and then his fever had been equally dangerously high, and then there had been the lack of oxygen to his body that had led to him being intubated – he could only assume that he had used up some more of his nine lives. Really, he must be part cat – even he realized that he had lived through more things than regular people did.
Ziva started to turn to go, and Tony grabbed her wrist.
"I don't think I ever really thanked you," he said.
She looked at him with some surprise, as though she had forgotten about it. "You would have done the same for me."
"Yeah," Tony said, "but that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve a thank you. You jumped into freezing water for me."
He knew what it felt like, to save someone out of freezing water and getting nothing in return.
She gave a small nod of acknowledgment. "You're welcome."
They shared a smile.
A nurse had helped him pack, because he still wasn't supposed to move around too much, and with a single brilliant smile at them – which shouldn't work as well when he still looked like the living dead, but apparently it didn't matter much – they would do almost anything. He didn't encourage them, because he wasn't interested, but packing was dull and required more moving around than he was willing to do.
"You ready to go?"
Tony nodded to Gibbs, who stood in the doorway. Gibbs looked every bit as handsome as Tony expected him to in light blue jeans and a shirt. Casual but hot, and Tony averted his gaze, pretending to study the nurse's behind instead.
"Just waiting for the good doctor to give me his final word and let me go, boss," Tony said with an air of lightness he didn't feel. Doctor Pitt would be delivering his sentence, and neither Tony nor Gibbs knew if that would be a death sentence to Tony's career, or the opposite.
Gibbs walked into the room, standing at the end of the bed. Tony had not yet stood up – it took a lot of energy to be up and walking around, and in a little, he would have to make it to the car and then from the car to his own apartment, which meant he needed to save his resources – but he had sat up. His legs were clad in jeans for the first time in four weeks, and he wore a green shirt instead of the white hospital gown. It felt so normal, he hardly knew what to do with himself.
Gibbs didn't say anything. Really, he hadn't said much in the last few weeks – not since the day when Tony had found out that he might not be able to be an agent anymore, when Gibbs had come and talked to him at night. Tony didn't think Gibbs knew that Tony had heard what Gibbs had said. He was even surprised himself that he remembered it, and hoped that he hadn't imagined it. Tony's ears heated upon remembering his own words to his boss – telling Leroy Jethro Gibbs that he just wanted to be loved by him was not something he would have done under normal circumstances. However, bereft of air and so tired he doubted he would ever be able to stand up straight again, he had said the words anyway.
His heart warmed at the mere thought of Gibbs' reply; those words had certainly occupied his thoughts a lot in the last fortnight.
When Doctor Pitt came into the room, Tony's thoughts came to a screeching halt.
"Well?" demanded Gibbs immediately.
Doctor Pitt broke into a wide smile. "Good news! Your lungs are showing a vast improvement. I will recommend another four to six weeks of desk duty, but if the progress continues as it has, I don't see a problem with you returning to your job."
Tony pushed himself off the bed and walked over to Doctor Pitt, and held out his hand. Doctor Pitt smiled, and took Tony's – and proceeded with a series of shakes and claps; their own secret handshake.
"Congratulations," Doctor Pitt said.
"Thanks," Tony said. "I really mean it. For everything."
"You're welcome," Doctor Pitt said. "Now, I'd recommend you not try any more swimming in cold lakes in mid-winter. Or, for that matter, starting out your return to work by getting blown up, like last time."
"I'll chain him to his desk to keep it from happening," Gibbs growled, and Tony turned around to look at him. There was a small smile on his lips, and his eyes were bright with relief.
"Good," Doctor Pitt said. "Tony, in all seriousness – you won't survive this again. Your immune system and your lungs have been compromised twice, first with the Plague and now the pneumonia, and you'll be even more susceptible to colds. I want you to call me if you so much as sneeze."
Tony nodded. "Noted, doctor."
He knew he had to take this seriously. Twice he had been down with a cough so bad he didn't know if he would ever get air into his lungs again – he did not want to go through that again. He might be blasé about his own health sometimes, but he'd rather be killed by a bullet than drowning in his own lungs. The feeling of not knowing whether he would ever get air into his system again was unpleasant beyond words, and had made it onto his top-three list of worst ways to die.
Gibbs took Tony's bag, filled to the brim with get well cards and teddy bears – Tony would probably give those to charity, because although he appreciated the sentiment, he didn't have much use of them – and his few personal belongings, mostly consisting of movies and magazines, and a sweatshirt.
"More than ready," Tony said. He bid Doctor Pitt goodbye. "No offense, I hope we don't see each other again in a really, really, really long time."
"The same, Tony, the same," Doctor Pitt said. When Gibbs passed him, Doctor Pitt stopped him briefly. "Keep an eye on him, will you?"
"I intend to keep more than one eye on him," Gibbs responded, hovering close to Tony in a way that he never usually did. Tony wondered what he was supposed to feel about being mother-henned by Gibbs, but then decided to just enjoy it.
They wheeled him to the front entrance, despite Tony's protests – but once they reached the doors, Tony stood up and walked out of the hospital, to smell the freedom of the air outside.
"This isn't the way to my apartment," Tony said a half hour later when they sat in the car.
"An astute observation," Gibbs said. "I knew there was a reason I made you my senior field agent."
They stopped in front of Gibbs' house, and Tony's eyebrows rose.
"Did you really think I'd let you go home without anyone to watch you?" Gibbs asked. "You still have meds to take, and I know you won't take them if no one's watching."
"I don't need a babysitter," Tony said, although he didn't mind sleeping over at Gibbs' house. He loved Gibbs' house. The house itself was unspectacular – it was a regular house with an unfinished boat in the basement – but the fact that it was Gibbs' made it lovely.
"Yes, you do," Gibbs said. "Live with it."
He carried the bags into the house and Tony followed. His walk was slow, his muscles still getting used to moving around again. He had hardly been out of bed, even in the last two weeks when he had been in a regular room without a catheter, which meant he had to get up and go to the bathroom. He didn't want to admit just how taxing it was to move the short distance from the car in the driveway to the living room couch, where he flopped down unceremoniously.
"Do you want something to eat?" Gibbs asked.
Tony grinned. "Are you going to take care of me?"
"Until I know that you'll take care of yourself, yes," Gibbs said.
"Aw, it's nice to know that you care," Tony said, tone teasing but the words still true. It was nice to know that Gibbs cared – there had been a few too many occasions when Tony had been unsure. The memory of Gibbs' empty eyes as Tony tried to revive him flashed before his eyes.
A look that Tony couldn't read passed over Gibbs' face, and then it was gone just as quickly.
"Pizza or Chinese?" Gibbs asked.
"Pizza," Tony said. "Real food, wow – I haven't eaten anything but that jelly stuff and hospital crap in weeks."
Gibbs ordered pizza – two large ones with extra cheese – and when they arrived fifteen minutes later, he set them on the living room table and opened the cartons. They smelled delicious, and Tony dug in. He was surprised when he was full after just little less than half a pizza – he could usually eat a whole one without a problem, or even one and a half when he was really hungry.
"No need to finish it," Gibbs said, as though reading his mind. "You haven't eaten much in the hospital."
"You wouldn't have either, if you'd been served the same thing every day for four weeks," Tony said.
He wiped his hands on a napkin, and leaned back into the couch, closing his eyes. It felt so lovely, to feel the delicious smell of pizza and Gibbs' home instead of antiseptics and hospital, the rougher fabric of the couch instead of the soft cotton linens of the hospital bed. At once, it felt almost unreal that he had been in the hospital so long.
"God, this is nice," Tony said.
He felt the weight on the couch shift as Gibbs leaned back. "Lucky you think so, since you're staying."
"How long are you going to keep me here?" Tony asked, smiling slightly.
Gibbs didn't answer immediately, and Tony opened his eyes and looked at him. He found Gibbs staring intently at him, the blue eyes warm but unreadable, as they seemed to be so often.
"How does 'indefinitely' sound?" Gibbs said finally, not looking away.
Tony's eyebrows rose slightly, color tinting his cheeks. "Like a really long time, boss."
He wondered what it meant, Gibbs' words. It undoubtedly seemed as though he wanted Tony there – perhaps to move in. But why? A ray of hope shed light over his soul as he imagined Gibbs inviting him to live there, to stay there, to share Gibbs' life and bed. To kiss Gibbs, to be with him. The thought sent a thrill through his body. But that couldn't be it, could it? Gibbs had said he loved Tony, but that had been in the hospital, perhaps saying what Tony needed to hear to keep him alive. It wasn't—
Then Gibbs moved. Tony found his own face just an inch or two away from Gibbs', and all his thoughts went flying out the window. Gibbs was close enough to be slightly blurry, and Tony could feel Gibbs' warm breath. He licked his lips unconsciously in anticipation, because this was not an action undertaken by Gibbs to keep Tony alive. This was Gibbs, just a breath away, so close that Tony could steal a kiss, just like that.
"Only if you want to, Tony," Gibbs said, voice softer than Tony could ever remember hearing it.
He didn't have to think about the response. "I want to."
At that, Gibbs leaned forward and carefully pressed his own lips to Tony's. Tony could hear his own heartbeat, loud in his ears, and his body seemed to be burning. Gibbs' kiss was surprisingly chaste – a flick of his tongue on Tony's lower lip, but that was all – and not very long.
"Not trying to take my breath away?" Tony asked when Gibbs pulled back, and Tony immediately wished that those warm lips would come back.
"After the last few weeks, that expression seems to have taken on a distinctly unpleasant meaning," Gibbs said.
Tony smiled slightly. "Wow, anyway."
Gibbs matched his smile. "It doesn't change anything at work."
Tony nodded. "Of course not. You'll still head slap me and growl at me."
He hadn't really expected anything. In fact, he hadn't expected what just happened. Everything beyond the kiss was a bonus.
"You usually deserve it," Gibbs remarked dryly.
"Yeah," Tony said. "And it makes me feel wanted anyway. Usually. Though a thank you wouldn't be a bad thing on occasion."
One of Gibbs' eyebrows rose in query.
"Oh, you know," Tony said, "when I save your life and that kind of stuff."
"I should have thanked you on the dock," Gibbs said.
"Yeah, well, you were busy coming back from the dead," Tony said. "I get it, really."
Silence stretched for a few moments, then Gibbs said, "Thank you."
He wondered if he should bask in the moment, because whether or not he would get to kiss Gibbs on a more regular occasion from now on, he still doubted that he would get to hear those words from Gibbs very often.
"Welcome," Tony said, easily and with a smile. "And thank you, too."
"The last four weeks," Tony said. "Being there. With me. Holding me. Loving me. I couldn't have done it without you."
He leaned forward and pressed a kiss against Gibbs' lips. It too was short and sweet, but warm in its love and comfort. Tony nestled in against Gibbs' chest, not unlike how they had sat at the hospital on more times than Tony wanted to remember, because it had usually been accompanied by pain.
"Love you, boss," Tony said.
"You really shouldn't call me 'boss' when you say that," Gibbs said, his voice soft as he began to rub circles on Tony's back, just as he had at the hospital. It felt intimate, something shared just between the two of them.
Tony shrugged lightly against him. "Love you, Jethro."
Gibbs gave a low, rumbling chuckle, and Tony decided that was a sound to cherish.
"Love you too, Tony. Always have."
I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.
- Pablo Casals
Author's note: And that's it! A big thank you to everyone who's been reading and reviewing. I hope you've enjoyed it - comments are more than appreciated; they make my day.