It was late that first night in Pensacola before Ducky noticed the first signs that Gibbs was regaining consciousness. He alerted Abby, who was dozing in the chair beside Gibbs' bed. There had been a change in Gibbs' breathing and the former relaxed expression on his face had disappeared. His eyelids started to flutter and Abby leaned close, took his hand in hers, and spoke softly to him.
Eventually after a few attempts, he managed to open his eyes. He looked around the room and recognised Ducky and Abby looking down anxiously upon him.
"Welcome back, Jethro!" Ducky said with delight. Gibbs' brow furrowed as he struggled to remember where he was and how he had gotten there.
"Where am I?" he asked, barely audible.
"The Medical Institute in Pensacola," Abby told him. Her answer seemed to add to his confusion. There was something important, something he had to deal with but it wouldn't come to him. Flashes of the last few days flickered in his mind, but he was unable to put them in context. Ducky could see he was trying to remember and didn't wish to see him further distressed, so he decided to tell him what had happened.
"You were poisoned, Jethro. The symptoms often include confusion and memory loss, but don't worry, it will come back," he said optimistically, hoping he was correct.
Gibbs turned his head away and Abby thought for a moment that she saw a tear run down his cheek. He was remembering something, she was sure of that, something painful.
"What is it, Gibbs?" Abby asked, squeezing his hand to reassure him. Gibbs couldn't bear to look at either of them. He knew they had to blame him. Images of Tony's body floating face down in the water were evoked in flashes. Tony was dead, he was sure of it, and it was his fault. Abby would never forgive him.
"Gibbs, talk to me," Abby pleaded. Witnessing his anguish pained her.
"I'm sorry, Abs," he said, unable to look her in the eye.
"Sorry? This is hardly your fault, Gibbs," Abby said, annoyed that he was blaming himself.
"He'd still be alive if it wasn't for me," Gibbs said, sounding as if his heart was breaking.
"Who are you talking about, Jethro? Not Hernandez?" Ducky asked, greatly confused at Gibbs' unexpected sorrow.
"Hernandez? No! DiNozzo!" Gibbs choked, hardly able to say his name.
"Tony?" Abby said, looking over at Ducky, somewhat perplexed. Gibbs bit his bottom lip and tried to bite back his emotions.
"Jethro, Anthony is fine, well if you discount the hole in his shoulder, but he's recovering. I sent him back to the motel with McGee and Ziva to get some rest," Ducky explained.
Gibbs' tear-filled eyes looked at him, trying to determine whether he was telling the truth or just trying to spare him from an horrific reality.
"He's really okay?" Gibbs asked in disbelief.
"He's exhausted but he's fine," Ducky replied.
Gibbs released a deep sigh of relief combined with a nervous snigger.
"I thought he…." Gibbs began, then decided not to even think it. He felt so tired. "I saw him…..," he mumbled as he fought to keep his eyes open.
"Don't wear yourself out, Jethro. You've been through quite a bit these last few days. You need to rest," Ducky recommended, placing a comforting hand on his old friend's shoulder.
Gibbs' eyes felt heavy. His chest felt tight and his head ached. Despite needing to find out more about what happened, his body rejected that notion and he was soon drawn back into slumber. While he slept, the first bout of chelation therapy ended. The doctors drew more blood to see what effect the therapy was having. It would take several more rounds of therapy to completely cleanse the body of the toxin. Later into the night Ducky and Abby left Gibbs' bedside and returned to the motel for some much needed sleep while Tony and Ziva stayed with Gibbs.
It was early the next morning before Gibbs woke again. He was surprised to see Tony asleep in a chair next to his bed, his left arm in a sling. He lay there and watched his senior agent sleep. Pictures of Tony's body floating in the sea leapt into his head again and he was trying to make sense of the images when the door of his room opened and Ziva entered carrying two coffees. She immediately noticed the piercing blue eyes follow her as she entered.
"Gibbs, you're awake," she said softly, trying not to wake Tony.
"How long have you been here?" Gibbs asked, trying to raise himself slightly.
"Since midnight," Ziva replied. As she spoke, Tony woke suddenly and bolted upright.
"Ow!" he exclaimed, as the movement sent a not-so-gentle reminder from his injured shoulder. His right arm immediately went up to soothe the injury. Turning in the chair, he then noticed Gibbs watching him intently.
"Boss! You're awake!" he said, stating the obvious.
"You okay, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, shifting uncomfortably in the bed. He hauled his aching body into a seated position.
"Me, Boss? Yeah, I'm good," he said a little embarrassed. "I'm more worried about you."
"I'm fine, DiNozzo. Don't I look fine?" Gibbs asked, sounding serious but actually teasing. Tony didn't know what to say, so chose to lie.
"Sure you do," he said, glancing at Ziva. "Doesn't he, Ziva?"
Ziva shot Tony a cutting glare before answering.
"Em, yes, Gibbs. You look much better," she lied. Gibbs smiled at their theatrics.
"You two really couldn't lie to save your lives," he sneered. "That coffee smells good."
"No you don't," Tony interjected immediately. "Nil by mouth," he pointed out. He took the coffee from Ziva and deliberately opened the lid of the coffee cup and cruelly allowed the aroma to tantalize Gibbs before taking huge, greedy mouthfuls. "Mmmm."
"You know DiNozzo, some day you'll pay for that," Gibbs said with a twisted smile.
They continued the warm-hearted banter for a while before Gibbs began asking Tony questions about what had happened the last few days.
"Maybe you can help me fill in some blanks," Gibbs said hopefully. "Like where's Mike?"
"That's a good question," Tony replied. "I'm presuming he's still playing Captain Ahab on board the Jolita, heading towards port. Do you remember trying to shoot down our rescuers?"
Gibbs looked at him as though he was mad.
"Seriously, you emptied your clip at the Seahawk that came to airlift us to the Ronald Reagan," Tony told him.
"Really?" Gibbs asked, cringing.
"You missed though…. I guess arsenic affects your aim as well. Lucky for us, eh?" Tony joked. He was relieved to see Gibbs smile. He was almost back to his old self. What he witnessed on board the Jolita had really upset him. He thought he'd lost his mentor and friend for good.
Throughout the day, Gibbs underwent another session of chelation therapy. McGee called in to see him later that day and soon after Abby and Ducky returned. By then, Gibbs was nauseous as a result of the infusion of chelation agents and was introverted for most of the day. He just lay on his side, watching the chemicals drip into his arm and only wanted to be left alone. Ducky could tell how uncomfortable Gibbs felt having his team see him so ill and made up an excuse for them to leave him alone.
Later that evening, Ducky returned to find Gibbs dozing peacefully, the drip having been removed from his arm, albeit temporarily. He sat for a while, allowing Gibbs to wake of his own accord.
"Good evening, Jethro," Ducky said cheerily. "How are you feeling this evening?"
Gibbs felt weary and drained but tried his best not to be rude to his friend.
"I'm okay, Duck," he said unconvincingly.
"Good," Ducky replied, "Because you have a visitor."
"Aw, Duck, maybe tomorrow," Gibbs suggested, not overly impressed at the prospect.
"Trust me, you'll want to see her," Ducky smiled wryly. "You wily old dog! You never even mentioned any of this to me."
Gibbs looked at Ducky, wondering what on earth he was talking about. He was about to ask when Ducky walked to the door and stuck his head out, motioning the person outside to come in. Gibbs couldn't believe his eyes when he saw her coming through the door like a vision. It was Dr. Redmond, his therapist.
"Hilary…..Dr. Redmond!" Gibbs said, unable to hide his surprise.
"Agent Gibbs," she said awkwardly.
"I'll leave you two alone," Ducky said none too subtly.
Gibbs looked at the woman standing before him. She was dressed casually, her auburn hair hung down around her face, quite the opposite to her prim professional image.
"What are you doing here?" Gibbs asked eventually.
"I called Dr. Mallard, wondering why you hadn't arranged your appointment. He told me what had happened and I …. I was worried. I had to come. I hope you don't mind," she said shyly.
"Not at all, it's just so ……..unexpected," Gibbs admitted.
"So how are you?" she asked kindly.
"Truth be told, I'm feeling a bit out of it. I'm having trouble remembering what happened," he told her.
"It'll come back. I can help you," she said, moving closer to him.
"So is this a house call, then?" Gibbs asked.
"If it makes you feel more comfortable, sure. It can be a house call," Hilary replied with ease.
"Do you do this for all your clients?" Gibbs asked with a flirtatious smile.
"Not all of them," Dr. Redmond replied coyly.
"Well, if I'd known you did house calls, then I'd have arranged one a lot sooner," he grinned cheekily. She laughed at his self-assurance and deep down was relieved to see that he was well. In fact he seemed much better than she had been led to believe.
They talked for a while, her presence taking Gibbs' mind off his nausea and headache.
About thirty minutes later, Abby and Tony entered Gibbs' room with more than their usual zeal. They looked around the room, as if expecting to see someone.
"Hey, Boss," Tony said suspiciously.
"Hi, Gibbs," Abby said, just as strangely. "Are you alone?"
"Not any more," he replied frowning.
"I mean, I heard you had a visitor," Abby said inquisitively.
"Did you? And I wonder who gave you that idea?" Gibbs asked.
"Ducky," Tony replied, sniffing the air. "Boss, are you wearing perfume?" Tony asked foolishly.
"Hah! Then you did have a visitor….a female visitor," Abby surmised much to Gibbs' amusement. The next minute, the toilet in the adjoining bathroom was flushed and a tall, red haired beauty emerged. Tony's jaw almost hit the floor and Abby smiled the widest smile she had ever.
"Tony, close your mouth," Gibbs said to his senior agent.
Tony extended his hand to the stunning woman in front of him.
"Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo," he said, turning on the charm.
"Nice to meet you," Hilary said as Tony kissed the back of her hand. Gibbs threw his eyes to heaven.
"Dr. Hilary Redmond, meet Abby Sciuto," Gibbs said by way of introduction.
Abby shook her hand before giving her a friendly hug. Hilary was a little overawed by her enthusiasm.
"Gibbs, why didn't you tell me?" Abby said crossly.
"Tell you what, Abs?"
"You know…that you and she were, you know," Abby replied vaguely.
"What? Oh no, we're not….I mean I'm not…..," Gibbs stammered. "We're not!"
Dr. Redmond smiled at Gibbs' embarrassment and obvious discomfort in front of his friends. She decided to give them some fuel for their fire. She walked over to Gibbs and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He turned and looked up at her in astonishment.
"You didn't tell them, sweetie?" she said, running her hands through his hair.
Tony almost collapsed with gossip overload and shock and Abby was already thinking about what hat to wear for the wedding. Gibbs, on the other hand, didn't know where to look, let alone what to say. He wondered if this was all a trick of his mind and maybe he was going to wake up any second.
"Would you mind giving us some privacy? I haven't seen him in days and, well, you know…" she said to Tony and Abby as suggestively as she could.
Tony could hardly contain himself and made a swift exit, chuckling like a schoolboy as he left. Abby nodded in approval and gave Hilary a subtle wink on her way out. Dr. Redmond burst out laughing as the two left the room. Then she realised that Gibbs wasn't laughing.
"Ah, come on, that was fun!" she laughed.
"Seriously? Too bad none of its true," Gibbs replied with a scowl on his face.
"It can be," Hilary smiled, making her feelings known.
"It can? I thought you guys had rules about this sort of thing," Gibbs said, still confused.
"We do, but if you want to, I can refer you to a colleague, then I won't be your doctor anymore. Problem solved," she suggested.
He looked at her incredulously. He still wasn't sure if this was actually happening.
"Can I just ask you something?" he said to her.
"Am I awake?" he asked very seriously. She laughed and then leaned down and kissed him passionately on the lips. He savoured the kiss for several seconds after she withdrew and then opened his eyes. She was standing there staring at him, smiling.
"Real enough for you?" she asked.
"Wow," was all he could say.
"So, maybe when you get back on your feet, you'd like to take me to dinner?" she suggested to the stunned agent.
"Absolutely," he replied. "You're the best incentive any guy needs to recover quickly."
"Gosh, you say the sweetest things," she said sarcastically. "Well, I'd better leave you alone. Ducky warned me not to wear you out. I'll come by in the morning, if you'd like?"
"Sure, I'd certainly like," Gibbs replied, his eyes following every move of her curvaceous body as she walked to the door. "Goodnight."
Gibbs lay back with a broad smile on his face. That was totally unexpected, he thought.
The next morning, Gibbs was trying to eat some breakfast when he heard the gravely tones of Mike Franks as he entered his room.
"Jesus, Probie, you look like shit!" Mike said immediately.
"I've been poisoned, what's your excuse?" Gibbs responded with a smile, as Mike took his hand and pulled him into a man hug.
"The doc tells me you're going to be all right," Mike said, taking a piece of toast from Gibbs' plate.
"Thanks to you and DiNozzo," Gibbs said humbly. Mike didn't comment. He wasn't good with praise.
"Sit down, Mike," Gibbs said motioning him towards the chair. "Now, can you tell me what happened out there? Tony only remembers bits and, well, my memory is sketchy to say the least."
"Okay, tell me what you remember," Mike said, taking the chair.
Gibbs told him the flashes of memories that popped into his mind every now and again. Mike was able to clarify where they fit in the whole scheme of things. As Mike told the story, he finished the breakfast that Gibbs still wasn't able to stomach. When Mike got to the part where he shot and killed Raul Hernandez, he saw Gibbs' whole being relax. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.
Raul Hernandez was dead. Gibbs could have his life back and who knows, maybe good things were on the horizon!
A/N - special thanks to my Beta, Diane!! Hope you enjoyed.