A/N: *cries* Can't believe I'm ending this - there has been such an amazing response to this and I will say no more than to thank those of you who reviewed last chapter and a special thanks to the loyals who reviewed EVERY chapter :D I really am grateful and this would probably not be nearly as good as it is if it weren't for you guys so thank you!
Twelve Days Later
Tony strolled down the bland white corridor that seemed to look exactly like the last four he'd wandered through. His left arm was gripped tightly by Abby – his other still confined to a dark blue sling that did not go with any of his suits. Despite Abby's firm grasp, however, Tony could barely feel the pain as she accidentally pinched his skin – he was still taking painkillers. The pair stopped just short of the desk that cordoned off a messy area with files stacked high in in/out trays. In front of them, a squat woman, who was on the phone, sat with her back turned. She was scrawling notes furiously over a sheet of A4 paper and muttering replies to the person on the other end. Tony caught some of what she said. On their own, the words would have meant nothing, but to Tony and Abby, and all in the same conversation, 'marine', 'coffee', 'relentlessly annoying' and 'wood working' could mean only one thing. They glanced at each other and smiled knowingly.
Gibbs is having fun...
Suddenly, the woman slammed down the phone and swivelled round to curtly interrogate the people hovering at the front of her desk. "Yes?"Tony smiled awkwardly as he recognised the woman. "Ah, Agent DiNozzo..."
"Nurse Donaldson." Tony replied grudgingly, cringing as she inspected him for further injuries.
"I could've sworn I told you that I didn't want to see you on my ward for at least six months. Gotten into more trouble already, have you?" She asked abruptly, shaking her head in mock disapproval. "Ah, no, ma'am." Tony replied hastily, looking desperately at Abby to signal that now was the time to come in. She smiled back at him. "We're here to collect Agent Gibbs – he's being released... I mean, he's being discharged today..."
"Indeed he is, Agent DiNozzo." Dr. Koertig said, striding out of Gibbs' room and extending a hand to shake both Abby and Tony's hands. Through the glass door, Abby smiled to Gibbs who was sitting up on his bed and wearing baggy, gray trousers – under which his cast only just fitted – and a dark blue top with 'NIS' emblazoned in large white letters on the front. His right arm hung in a sling that matched Tony's except that it was white – Ducky had helpfully dropped off the clothes for Gibbs the night before. Gibbs smiled back at the forensic scientist and reached for the single crutch that rested against his bedside, stopping abruptly when Abby signed to him, *Don't you dare.* He nodded awkwardly – after all he, Tony and Kate had put her through, she deserved some piece of mind that he was not going to do something stupid – and she smirked back: pleased that, for once, he was following her instructions.
Motioning for the NCIS employees to follow him, Koertig steered a wheelchair into Gibbs' room and parked it a few feet from the bed. Abby side-stepped past the man and strode excitedly up to Gibbs. "Hey Gibbs! We're here to bust you out!" She made to fling her arms around him but, registering Gibbs' flinch, stopped a few inches short. and smiled sheepishly "I forgot." She muttered apologetically. "It's alright, Abby." He nodded to Tony who was standing back, waiting for Abby and Gibbs to finish. "DiNozzo, you going to stand there or help Abby... bust me out?" Tony chuckled and took a step forward to push the chair closer to the bed even though he could only use one hand, applying the brakes with experienced ease. "Not what I meant, DiNozzo." Gibbs growled – a sound that would have been intimidating and unpleasant if it were not for the smile that played on Gibbs' lips. Not letting Tony reply, Koertig interrupted the trio. "Agent Gibbs, you'll be travelling to the front doors in a wheelchair as the crutch is only for moving around short distances at home. Extended use will slow down the healing process in your shoulder and ribs and lead to a longer recovery period."
A prospect I suspect you do not relish, Agent Gibbs.
Fishing a couple of small rectangular boxes out of his pocket, Koertig handed Tony the packets. "Take one before you go to bed, first thing in the morning with your breakfast but you need to leave six hours between doses." Itching to be let out of the damn hospital, Gibbs remained silent, but Abby nodded for him. "... And you need to keep that leg..."
"Elevated. I know, doc." Gibbs barked. Gently, Abby slapped him on the back of his head.
"Play nice, Gibbs." She hissed, smiling innocently at Gibbs' shocked stare. Tony sneezed, breaking the strange silence that filled the room.
That better not've been a laugh, DiNozzo!
"Well, in that case, Agent Gibbs, I'd say you can go home now." Koertig supplied, intending to step forward to help his patient off the bed but beaten to it by Agent DiNozzo and Abby Scuito. Hissing as he put pressure on his right arm, Gibbs stood shakily, supported by his two colleagues. Tony grabbed the crutch before Gibbs could and then moved out of Abby's way as she attempted to help him into the waiting wheelchair – he kept trying to shrug her hands off his one good shoulder, but she held on relentlessly – almost pushing him down into it.
As Gibbs tried to get comfortable, his left leg sticking out in front of him like a lance, he remained quiet but for the odd curse. However, neither Tony nor Abby were offended by Gibbs' apparent lack of gratitude: they had both experienced an injured Gibbs before and it was always like this. Playfully shoving tony out of the way, Abby grasped the handles tightly – only releasing one of them to shake Dr. Koertig's hand for the second time this visit – then pushed Gibbs out of the door with Tony trailing just behind. They both practically ignored Nurse Donaldson, pausing only to sign the discharge papers and to say a short 'Thank you' before moving on down the hall towards the exit with Abby resolutely disregarding Gibbs' cries of 'I'm fine. I can walk!'
Arriving at Gibbs' house, Tony had to gently shake the man's shoulder to wake him up. "Boss, you're home so you can stop pretending to be asleep just to get out of talking to us." Gibbs – his eyes flying open as if he were under attack – sitting in the back with his casted leg across the seats, looked at Tony without recognition for a second – the sheer exhaustion he felt seeping through the cracks in his mask that was almost permanently in place – and then nodded and began to agonizingly shuffle forwards. Tony stood back, dutifully holding the crutch, and could only watch as Abby helped haul Gibbs out the passenger door on the driver's side and then to his feet, supporting him as he swayed worryingly. Tucking the crutch under his arm and forever making threat assessments, Gibbs scanned the street and was not surprised to find Ducky's silver Morgan parked a few metres away. He started towards his front door, taking in Kate and Ducky standing in the open door, with Tony and Abby by his side at each slow and jerky step.
After much explaining by Abby as to why there was a brand new television and DVD player in Gibbs' house, and even more badgering from Tony, the whole team had gathered in Gibbs' sitting room and watched The Searchers – actually, Gibbs had slept through most of it: only being woken by Abby's gentle kiss to his forehead as she said goodbye – and now Gibbs stood, leaning heavily against the doorframe, and watched his team leave. A silent scowl from Abby had been his final order to rest, before she and Tony ducked into her car and followed Ducky down the street. Squinting as she left, Gibbs could have sworn Tony was not in the vehicle with her but he put it down to the overwhelming exhaustion he was experiencing. He turned awkwardly, closing the door behind him, and staggered back to the sitting room. He allowed his guard to drop and aknowledged how utterly awful he felt: every injury he was sporting making itself known with each tiny movement; his dizziness, threatening to empty his stomach; a dull throb in his lower left leg adding to the itching from the cast. In his present condition, even Gibbs had to admit that he would not be able to make it up to his bedroom without falling – not that he had been sleeping in his bed recently.
Slumping onto the couch and not even bothering to pull the quilt, which Abby had kindly draped over him before, over himself, Gibbs's eyes had been closed for only seconds when there was a loud knock at the door, jerking him awake again. "Crap!" Gibbs muttered, struggling to get back to his feet: his shoulder and damaged ribs protesting as he eventually managed to push himself up and off the comfortable seat. Limping unsteadily towards his front door, Gibbs glimpsed the outline of a tall man with dark brown hair distorted in the semi-circle of textured glass in the door.
I didn't call pizza... Abby probably did.
He searched for his wallet but it was not in either of the pockets, nor was it on the table in the hall. Sighing, Gibbs reached for the door handle, wobbling about as he tried to balance on one foot and use his crutch hand to press down the handle.
When Gibbs finally managed to get the door open – it was not locked but he had to position his casted leg out of the door's path – he was greeted by a surprising sight. "Hey boss!" Tony cried, smiling nervously at the man in front of him. He looked shattered, but that was quickly replaced when Gibbs slammed up his mask of indifference. "Expecting someone else, Tony?" Gibbs asked as he rolled his eyes at the sight of his second-in-command.
"Ah... no, boss..." The younger agent replied, smiling softly. Gibbs raised an eyebrow.
"Get lost on the way to Abby's car?" At this, Tony could not help but chuckle, relaxing when Gibbs smiled back, although there was a slight glare directed at Tony.
"Didn't Abby make you promise to stay off your..." Gibbs's stare gradually wore down Tony's resolve until he could no longer finish the accusation. The intensity of it made him nervous and he knew that now was the time to explain what he was doing standing at his boss' front door just moments after he had left. He shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. "My uh... boiler blew in my apartment so... it knocked out the power. I won't have any heat or electricity for a couple of weeks now."
"I know, DiNozzo. You told me that on the first morning of the case. But you're staying at Abby's now." It was a statement of pure fact, not a question, but still Tony persisted – Abby had already left after Tony had persuaded her that he could persuade Gibbs to let him stay. "Well, you're right: I have been staying with Abby, but... I don't really want to sleep in a coffin anymore, boss, and I was wondering, since we're both injured and off rota for a while, maybe... I could..." Tony trailed off: Gibbs was still glaring at him expectantly. "...I could help you... because of your shoulder, I mean." Again, Gibbs raised one eyebrow, thoroughly amused by his agent's stumbling explanation of why he was here. Catching Gibbs' amused look, Tony quickly tried to back-track. "...Not that you're not capable of looking after yourself with one arm in a sling, one leg in a cast and the use of only one crutch – it's just I thought you might want the... company if not the help." He finished, closing his eyes, anticipating a headslap from Gibbs.
However, when the painful physical contact did not come, Tony cracked open one eye and squinted at his boss. Gibbs just looked to be deep in thought: he looked like he was having an argument with himself - not something you want to interrupt, if you value your life.
He cares, Jethro. Why can't you just let him?
Gibbs let out a long sigh of frustration that had been slowly building since he had been released from the hospital. It was frustration at himself rather than his team and its individual members.
If you let him in once he'll just keep doing it.
He growled quietly and raised his left hand slowly – he did not want to suffer the humiliation of dropping his only means of sustained movement in front of his senior field agent – and scratched at the annoying stubble that prickled his chin.
Just this once...
"Fine, DiNozzo. You can stay at my place..." Gibbs huffed, grabbing his crutch again. Tony was grinning again.
If it weren't for that shoulder, he'd probably be jumping up and down...
"Thanks, bo—" Gibbs cut him off abruptly.
"—But if you so much as disturb the sawdust on my basement floor, I'll make you an Agent Afloat!" Tony nodded happily, ignoring Gibbs' light-hearted threat, his eyes glinting in anticipation as much as joy at having his old, threatening boss back. The nicer, open side of Gibbs – that was rarely ever seen – was beginning to unnerve him.
Awkwardly and at a pace that reminded Tony the man was still badly injured, Gibbs hobbled backwards, allowing Tony to take a couple of steps forward. "You know, this reminds me of that film with—" There was a sharp whack to the back of his skull – a sensation he had not felt in a while.
"DiNozzo, do not make me regret this!" Gibbs growled, finally managing to get his crutch under control and limp back to the sitting room. Tony stood there, unable to believe he was being allowed to stay, grinning from ear to ear and watching Gibbs' retreating back before jumping to catch up with him.
Abby's going to be so jealous!
Slowly walking behind Gibbs as he led the way back to his sparsely decorated sitting room, Tony watched as the worn-out marine repeatedly staggered then managed to grasp the man's good shoulder and stop him from falling when Gibbs' weak muscles finally gave up and almost dropped him to the floor. Wordlessly, he slung Gibbs' arm round his shoulders, ignoring his own protesting injury, and helped the older man into the room, lowering him onto the couch and lifting Gibbs' legs up onto a pillow on the coffee table, despite his grumbled protests. Briefly, Tony contemplated dragging the thick quilt Abby had brought down from Gibbs' bedroom over its owner then decided against it.
Settling into another chair, Tony studied Gibbs. He looked exhausted and as if he was in pain but, most of all, he looked nervous and tense – whether that was his senior field agent's presence or something else, Tony did not know. His eyes were half shut but every time it looked as if he had finally fallen asleep his eyes would jerk open and survey the room, eventually landing on Tony and relaxing. Again refusing to succumb to sleep, Gibbs' restless eyes settled on the packet of painkillers on the coffee table in front of him, but he did not say anything. Following Gibbs' gaze, Tony picked up the cardboard box. He sat still, pretending to read the instructions whilst deciding what to do.
If I wait for him to say something, he'll already be in pretty bad shape, but if I ask him, it might make things even more awkward... Damn stubborn bastard!
Loudly, Tony sighed and rattled the box, drawing a growled 'what?' from Gibbs.
"You want any of these, boss?" Tony asked, carefully keeping his voice neutral. Gibbs sighed shakily, letting his mask slip completely and revealing to the younger agent just how much pain he was in, but he could not maintain the eye contact with the only other person in the house. Gibbs hesitated – Tony squirming uncomfortably as he fell under Gibbs' gaze again – and tried to lean forward and lift his legs off the coffee table. Unfortunately, not only did they feel like lead and refuse to respond but also pain seared across his chest as he pressed against his injured ribs, and he lay back hoarsely breathing heavily and closing his eyes. The next time he opened them, Tony was sitting on the sturdy table, one hand placed gently on Gibbs' shoulder, and watching Gibbs with great concern. It had felt like only moments, but Gibbs realised it must have been a lot longer, if the worried expression on Tony's face was anything to go by.
Jumping at Tony's proximity, Gibbs scanned his surroundings, finally latching back onto Tony when he realised he was at home. Tony smiled warmly at the man whose blue eyes were piercing his skull at that very moment. "The doc said you needed to take some of these when you were in pain and Ducky agreed..." He offered, again keeping his voice soft and neutral, and holding the box of painkillers up so that Gibbs could see them. "I know what Ducky said, DiNozzo." Gibbs growled quietly. "I'm fine." Tony could not stifle his laugh in time.
"The last time you were 'fine', you had a wooden chair leg embedded in your shoulder..." Gibbs glared at him again. "...And what Ducky didn't say to you was that I had to make sure you take these. My other option was leaving you in that hospital and I didn't think you wanted to spend any more time than absolutely necessary there." Gibbs' glare softened and he nodded reluctantly. "They'll help you rest, and I promise I won't tell anyone." Tony added, holding his left hand up as if swearing an oath in court.
"Water?" Grinning, Tony grabbed a glass from the table.
"Always anticipate: you taught me that, boss."
He popped two pills from the tray and held them out in his upturned palm, letting Gibbs scoop them into his own free hand and tip them into his mouth followed by a gulp of water. The gunnery sergeant swallowed then frowned as Tony continued watching him. "You want to check I swallowed them, Tony?" He joked, feeling his eyelids droop again but refusing to let them close. Tony placed a reassuring hand on Gibbs' shoulder as the older man's eyelids finally closed, fluttering slightly as he tried to fight the pull of sleep. Tony stood up and carefully dragged the quilt over Gibbs, gently tucking it in round his shoulders before leaning cautiously forward and quietly whispering in the man's ear, "Go to sleep, boss. I've got your six."
He cries, but you'll rarely see him do it.
He loves, but he's scared to use it.
So he hides behind the music, 'cause he likes it that way.
A/N: Well there you go. I hope this wraps this up satisfactorily - I didn't want to make it too long so I cut out a few bits which will probably work their way into my next piece.
Reviews are most definitely welcome - whole story ones or just this chapter: whatever takes your fancy...
Again, thanks to silvanelf, inkpen1, Aussielover, hudson911, louise, diana teo, bookworm2dance, Gloworm41, SLE and XX-Samantha-XX for reviewing last chapter.
A/N+1: The last lines in italics are from This Is A Call by Thousand Foot Krutch and I felt they just suited the way Gibbs is always hiding how he really feels - being a 'bastard' is his disguise.