I did my best to add vivid descriptions and appropriate dialogue with each character in this chapter, and despite the overall darker tone I hope you enjoy reading it.

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Chapter Fifteen



Tony had never felt such thick air before. Every time he moved the slightest, every time he took in a breath, its weight would crush him back to square one. Although he managed to strain his neck and catch a glimpse of the sleeping world outside of the hospital window, it did little to calm his mind. The rising hills of fog were tipped with silver in the moonlight, but their metallic luster only reminded him of the reason why he was in an emergency waiting room to begin with.

There was almost a new degree of darkness settling across the midnight horizon that Tony watched for a short while before getting to his feet. Slowly but with a silent passion, he wandered closer to the glass to take in a better look at what was out there.

The bitter land seemed to stretch its arms out across every corner of the Earth, and with a swipe of its empty hand all signs of life were hidden. Not even the flickering lights from the distant farmhouses could provide any warmth to the forsaken winter ground, and even the strongest trees seemed to bow and plead for mercy in the night's shadows.

Tony leaned his overtired and aching body against a nearby wall, a sigh escaping over his chapped lips as he did so. He ran his tongue across them in hopes of at least a temporary smoothness, but then a thought made him brush them together with his fingertips.

I'm not sure if I kissed him today.

Tony let his head fall against the window as he let out a sigh, the air from his mouth clouding up against the chilled glass. He then heard the sound of steady footsteps approaching him from behind, but a second later they stopped.

"DiNozzo." Gibbs called out, waiting for his agent to turn and face him before continuing.

Tony pushed himself back up into a standing position and shifted himself towards Gibbs. After briefly brushing his hair back, he replied, "Yeah, boss?"

Gibbs stood perfectly straight as he inched a bit closer to Tony, the gleam in his eyes strong but still gentle. He cleared his throat and glanced over both of his shoulders, then reached up his hand and firmly grasped Tony's shoulder.

"I've seen a number of gunshot wounds in my life." Gibbs began, the tone of his voice smooth and comforting to Tony's ear. "I may not be a doctor, but I can tell you that they tend to appear worse than they really are." He paused thoughtfully before continuing, "It didn't look like the bullets severed any arteries, but there's always a chance that damage was done to the surrounding organs."

Tony quickly nodded his head and looked away. What does he mean by 'a chance of damage?' Isn't that generally the softer way people are told that a loved one isn't going to be alright? His gaze shifted down to the floor, and as it did he silently wished that a hole would appear and swallow him up so that he and his concerns might simply disappear together.

Chuckling quietly out of stress, Tony forcefully rubbed his closed eyes. A genuinely fake smile soon spread across his face, and he forced himself to act as usual.

"That's it? Well that's…that's not too bad." He replied sardonically, tilting his head to the side so Gibbs couldn't look directly at him. "At least Probie will live another day, right?"

Immediately after saying that, Tony felt a slight ache in his chest. His eyes then met with Gibbs, and it was painfully obvious that his words were nothing more than a false pretense. Even still, Tony retained his confident posture, because he wasn't sure how to wear his pain without also appearing defenseless.

Although there had been dozens of incidences before where Gibbs had questioned Tony's sincerity towards McGee, he could no longer just overlook their relationship. As he studied the level of affection that was sewn into Tony's face, the thought of his two agents being together seemed like less of a bad thing. They had both been performing at their peaks, even when near each other, and the warmth that could be sensed between them affected Gibbs in a less rigid way then he had planned.

You honestly weren't just messing around, were you. Gibbs pondered, the side of his mouth curving up just enough to be called a slight grin. And in all honesty, I'm beginning to wonder if the lesser evil is to let you be with each other. To make a relationship last involves a level of dedication and strength that could be… beneficial to the team, so long as you both keep your hands to yourself.

Gibbs watched Tony's gaze hungrily dart from one doctor to the next, still quietly but anxiously waiting to find out just what was going on. Gently shaking his shoulder, Gibbs waited for a short while before Tony tilted his head to look back at his boss. After a shallow breath, Gibbs bent forward and quietly said, "Sarcasm can't protect you forever, Tony. And if you don't give yourself a break once in awhile, you'll end up even more distraught then you were before." He paused as a questioning look filled Tony's eyes, and then he added, "Why don't you go down to the cafeteria and get yourself something? It would give you some breathing room and time to be alone. If anything happens with McGee, I'll send a message straight to your phone."

Tony remained motionless, but then he began nodding in agreement. "You got it, boss." He replied, the subdued tone of his voice letting Gibbs know that he was fully understood.


Tony's eyes wandered from one display of food to the next, everything looking delicious and repulsive at the same time. His mind didn't even want to think about getting near any of it, but as his stomach let out a soft groan he knew that he'd have to take something.

Out of the corner of his eye, a vibrant green apple attracted his attention. Taking a few steps towards it, he reached out and picked it up. As he gazed over its luscious color, he actually felt his mouth begin to water. Holding it up to his lips, he was about to bite into it before a hand grabbed his wrist and pulled it away.

"You know you need to pay for that first, right?" Ziva remarked, pulling a dollar bill out of her pocket and handing it to the nearby cashier.

Tony blinked a few times and held the apple away from his face, wondering how he had forgotten about money. He then glanced over at the man at the register who was eyeing him suspiciously before replying, "Oh, yeah."

Ziva watched Tony dig through his pockets for some change to give back to her, but she held up her hand in protest.

"I asked Gibbs where you were going, but he refused to tell me until I told him why I needed to know." She stated as she followed Tony to an empty table.

"What made you want to know where I was going?" Tony asked as he dropped himself down onto the hard plastic bench.

Ziva watched as Tony bit into the apple, his teeth breaking the skin in one loud crunch. She softly cleared her throat, then replied, "I do not know if now would necessarily be the best time for me to discuss this, but I do think that it's the right time."

The way Ziva had worded her sentence made Tony stop chewing for a moment. He swallowed what was in his mouth, and she continued speaking.

"Even though I do not understand what you and McGee mean to each other, I do not think of you two any differently." Ziva began, scooting a bit closer to him. "It is not my place to judge anyone, especially a coworker and friend."

Tony couldn't help but notice the sincerity tied into her expression, and it was plain to him that she was trying her best to remain sensitive. He shifted in his seat and took another bite of his apple, this time eating it a little quieter.

"I can see that you have enough on your mind as it is, but there are just a few things I must say before I leave you alone." Ziva then glanced away, but before she spoke again her eyes met with his.

"After realizing that your kiss to him was not a joke, I decided to figure out what was going on between you two. Whenever I was given the chance to watch you and McGee interact with each other after that, I did." She paused and placed her hands on top of the table. "I always found that even on the days when you were exhausted or irritable, McGee would manage to put a smile on your face. Even if he simply walked past your desk, I could see that his presence alone gave you a radiance that I have not seen before." Ziva laughed softly to herself, then added, "As strange as all of this may sound coming from me, I really do think that you and him are…are a good pair."

Tony had gotten so focused on what Ziva had been saying that the apple in his hand had been neglected and was starting to brown. He hadn't been expecting her to give him the response that she did, and so his mind drew a temporary blank.

"Uh, thanks." Tony finally said, hoping that the mess of a grin on his face told her how nice it had been to hear what she had said.

Ziva slowly stood up and relaxed her stance before returning his smirk with one of her own.

"McGee is fortunate to have you."

With a single nod of her head, she turned around and left him at the small table.

Before Tony got a chance to mull over what Ziva had said, his pocket began to vibrate. He dropped his apple on the table and tore into his jacket, whipping out his phone in seconds. As he flipped it open and read over the text, he felt his heart rate double.

McGee wants to see you.


Tearing down the hallways with enough passion to crack open a diamond, Tony was growing impatiently nervous. The patterns on the linoleum tile beneath his feet blended together as he headed towards the closest elevator, picking up speed with every stride.

Since McGee wants to see me, does that mean everything went okay? He wondered as the glowing directional buttons came into view. As Tony grew closer to the elevator, he just barely dodged a nurse and a patient heading in the opposite direction. He quickly glanced down an adjacent hallway to make sure that nobody else was coming, but before he could look at the other side he smacked right into someone.

"Whoa, there." Tony muttered in response, looking down at the small man wearing a Santa Clause costume that he almost knocked over. He then kept on walking, but something about the man caused him to pause and take a second glance. He couldn't have been more than five feet tall, and the deep wrinkles around his black eyes only added to his aging physique. The bright red bag that was draped over his shoulders was almost larger than him, and Tony silently wondered how he managed to carry it.

"You didn't already find a lump of coal in your stocking now, did you?" The little Santa shouted to Tony as he halted just in front of the elevator door.

Tony suddenly coughed a few times, covering his mouth with his hand before pressing the call button. Turning around to face the Santa, he groaned and shook his head. "I wish it was something that simple."

The Santa was mumbling some incoherent things as he walked over to Tony's side, the satin bag now draped over his opposite shoulder. He then bent forward and inspected the three elevator buttons before lightly pushing on the same one as Tony.

"You do not seem very joyous for it being the eve of Christmas." The Santa remarked as the doors slid open and Tony ran inside.

"Is there anything that I could do to help?" He asked, stepping inside and dropping his bag on the floor.

Tony couldn't help but snort at the question. As the elevator passed by the second floor, he glanced down at the Santa's glossy eyes and replied, "Not unless you can take six bullets out of someone and return them to full health."

The Santa furrowed his brow and looked away, running his fingers through his long white beard. "I don't take things from people, but I can give you something instead."

Tony rubbed his forehead and impatiently tapped his foot, feeling the elevator slow down as it approached the third floor. Right as he looked up at the opening door, a package wrapped in gold paper was shoved into his face.

"You will find a good use for this, Tony." The Santa said, a spirited smirk showing through his whiskers.

Tony blinked a few times and paused just outside of the elevator, the little Santa following close behind with the gift still in hand.

"How do you know my name?" He asked, curiously glancing over the long present. The Santa immediately laughed, his protruding stomach shaking a bit as he did so. "It is a part of the job!" He enthusiastically replied as Tony took the gift from him. "Besides, nobody should be without at least one hopeful thing at Christmas."

Tony continued to gaze at the box before turning it over and around for a better look. The only thing adorning it was a simple crimson ribbon, but against the golden paper it seemed perfect.

Even though I have no clue what this is, it's…a nice thought. He mused, the silky texture of the ribbon brushing against his skin. However, when he looked back up to thank the peculiar Santa for the gift he was nowhere in sight.


"I thought you'd never come."

A huge weight fell off of Tony's chest when he heard McGee's voice. Although he was straining to smile at Tony from the hospital bed, for the most part he didn't look too terrible. Gibbs and Ziva were standing on either side of him, and they both glanced at Tony as he quickly joined them.

"How are you holding up?" Tony asked, his eyes as wide as his smile as he rested a hand not too far from McGee's.

The edge of McGee's lips managed to keep their upward curve even as his eyelids were fighting to stay open. He muttered something in response, and then his head turned and slipped back against the pillow beneath him.

"He just got out of surgery." Gibbs said while looking from McGee to Tony. "The anesthesia is going to take a little while to fully wear off, but I know you would still benefit from seeing each other."

Tony nodded at Gibbs, and then over at McGee. "So what did the doctors say about him? How did the surgery go?"

Gibbs took a breath and exchanged glances with Ziva before replying, "For of the six bullets managed to land in pockets of non-vital tissue, and the surgeons said that those areas will heal up just fine." He then silently looked back at McGee before adding, "The other two, however, landed in his kidneys."

"Well…they were able to remove those two bullets, right?" Tony asked, feeling an emotional brick collide with his stomach.

It seemed like an eternity until Gibbs responded, but when Tony saw him shake his head up and down he felt like exploding in relief.

"Luckily enough, they were. Although because of those delicate wounds, McGee is required to spend at least three more days here in the ICU ward before he is either moved to general care or is discharged." Gibbs said.

Tony placed his hand against the edge of the bed, almost feeling happy enough to faint. "I am so glad to hear you say that." He replied, gently rubbing his forehead.

"Who is that for?" Ziva asked as she moved closer to Tony, pointing to the gift that was still in his grasp. As she began to visually inspect the gold wrapping, he shifted it around and held it out in front of himself.

"Uhm, it's for me, actually. When I was coming up here I ran into a Santa Clause, and he…" Tony paused for a second to watch Ziva and Gibbs exchange curious glances before adding, "…gave it to me."

After a silent moment, Ziva snorted. Gibbs eyebrow began to slip upwards, and he replied, "You know, I don't think I'm going to ask about this one."


The expression on McGee's face was much more vibrant two and a half hours later. The effects of the anesthesia had worn off to the point at which he could hold up a conversation, and Tony was pleased to engage him in one.

"I was getting pretty worried about you, McGee." Tony began, pulling a chair over to McGee's bedside. "After over two hours had passed with nobody saying anything about your condition, I was really wondering what was going on."

McGee made a slight motion with his hand. "Except for a bit of grogginess, I feel alright." Turning his head to look at the machines he was hooked up to, he added, "Then again, they're probably pumping tons of morphine into me so I don't have to experience any pain. I know I was shot, but they really don't have to give me an analgesic cocktail."

"You were shot six times!" Tony corrected. "And two of those shots went into your kidneys. Do you know how uncomfortable you'd be right now if there wasn't a good amount of painkillers in you?"

McGee sighed, and then looked at him in a matter-of-fact way. "Tony, in our line of duty we shoot and get shot at so much that I'm almost getting used to it. Bullet wounds and cross fires are just another part of our job."

"Well sure, but tell me how many times have you gotten this banged up at one time? Never!" Tony said, reaching his hand out to wrap his fingers with McGee's. "I have dozens of reasons as to why I was so nervous during your surgery…starting with this one." He then lifted McGee's hand to his lips and gently kissed the top of it.

Smirking a little, McGee replied, "You know, even though I've got to spend Christmas here in the hospital I don't think it'll be too bad." He tightened his grip on Tony's hand and asked, "You're going to be here, right?"

Tony nodded. "Unless, of course, you get sick of me and want me to leave."

McGee chuckled. "The only thing I'm going to miss having this Christmas is a tree. That's always been one of my favorite parts about this time of year."

Tony opened his mouth to say something, but instead several harsh coughs came out. His chest shook with each one, and even though he tried to smother them with his hand it didn't do much to help. After nearly a minute, his coughing fit ended and he felt himself grow warmer.

"Sorry about that, Probie." Tony said, breathing slowly to regain his composure. "I started coughing earlier today and it just hasn't gone away yet."

McGee pursed his lips together. "Maybe you're coming down with something."

Tony shrugged his shoulders, and as he did McGee shifted himself in his bed. As he adjusted to his new position, his eyes fell upon the golden wrapped box laying on the other side of the room.

"What's that for?" He asked, pointing towards it.

"You." Tony immediately spat out, standing up from his chair and walking over to get it while wondering why he gave the answer he did.

"You didn't have to get me anything." McGee said as Tony brought it to him. He carefully glanced over its paper and ribbon, and then took it into his lap.

Tony went back over to his chair and sat down. "Why don't you open it up and see what's in there?"

McGee glanced over at him before beginning to remove the ribbon and wrapping paper, finding a plain brown cardboard box underneath. Tony eagerly watched as he opened up the top, and they were both as excitedly clueless about what was inside as each other.

Even though McGee was on so many medications, Tony could see his face light up as he reached into the box and pulled out a small faux Christmas tree.

"I can't believe you knew to get me such a perfect gift!" McGee said, feasting his eyes on the little lights that were already sewn into the two foot tree.

"Imagine that." Tony said, the laughter in his throat running dry. He quickly glanced to his right, thinking he saw a red suited man walk past, but there was nobody there.

"There are even some ornaments in here." McGee said, pulling out a transparent purple bag that was full of little metal and plastic figures.

Tony bit down on his lip, withholding a grin from his face, and slowly turned his attention back to McGee. "Why don't you help me set it up on the nightstand?" He suggested, stretching out his foot to push the piece of furniture closer to the bed. McGee straightened out the tree's branches before handing it to him, and then Tony set it in place.

"Wait a second, Tony." McGee softly said, reaching his hand out and placing it near Tony's neck. He instantly froze, the delicate touch from McGee's fingers sending a pleasant shiver down his spine. McGee lightly pulled his face towards him, and Tony put his hand on his other side to steady himself.

"Thank you." McGee nearly whispered, looking directly into Tony's eyes. The tips of their noses were just about touching as their gazes remained locked in place, and before Tony thought he would go insane their lips pressed together and sealed off the distance.


Just outside of the room, a lone nurse was filling out the charts on her last clipboard. As she stood and completed writing down the tedious but necessary information, she let out a heavy sigh. Every once and awhile, she'd steal a glance at Tony and McGee, and every time it brought a smile to her weary face.

"Just look at those two, doctor." She remarked, turning the page in her hand over. "They really care about each other."

The doctor, who had been standing several feet away, looked over his shoulder to see what she was talking about. He took a few steps closer, stopping just short of where she was.

"Personally I've never been fond of relationships involving two men." He replied, walking past her to get to his chart.

She rolled her eyes, but continued to finger through McGee's surgical statement. As she read it over, a frown began to form on her face. "The concluding report is still undisclosed. Do you want me to inform the patient on his condition?"

The doctor paused, then asked, "Is he the patient with the damaged kidneys?"

"Yes, sir." She replied, her attention still fully focused on the pages.

The doctor cleared his throat and looked back into the room, once again observing the way Tony and McGee were interacting with each other. The nurse glanced up at him, and after a few moments she saw his face soften.

"Let them spend this night just the way they are." He began. "After all, the patient's situation is going to remain the same whether they are told tonight or tomorrow, and with it being the holiday season I'm sure they would appreciate a night without any further interruptions."

The nurse couldn't help but smile a bit as she jotted down the doctor's orders, and she nodded when she was done. "Everything here is set, doctor."

He looked at her and shook his head once. "I'll see you in the morning then. Have a Merry Christmas." He said, taking the clipboard from her hands and waving goodnight to her.

The nurse slowly walked down the empty hallway towards the exit, her mind beginning to wander from exhaustion. As she passed by a window, she stopped to look out at the night, but she soon continued on her way. The pitch black land she had seen reminded her of the empty coffins resting down in the hospital's morgue, and just the thought of it was twice as unnerving. Even the snowflakes, tossed around by the merciless wind, were howling like madmen against the glass panes, but their cries of torment were only just beginning.


The next chapter includes:

-Gibbs & Ziva making an alarming discovery about the case

-The underlying cause of Tony's cough is uncovered

-Journaling on some hospital stationary

-An empty chair

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