Despite his previous anticipation, now that he was actually able to see Gibbs, he found himself hesitating. His mind played Abby's earlier advice over and over, like a broken tape. When he wakes up, you take his hand and tell him how you feel. Easy enough to say, but quite a bit harder to do when the person you are telling is a gruff former marine, and your boss to boot. Finally Tony took a deep breath and pushed open the door, telling himself that he would play it by ear but no matter what he ended up confessing, he needed to see for himself that Gibbs was okay. No sooner had he entered the room then he was startled by Gibbs' gruff voice, more gravelly then normal thanks to the treatment his neck had received at Hathaway's hands.
"Wondered ... when you ... were finally ... going to come ... in," Gibbs choked out.
"What? How did you know I was even out there," Tony asked. Gibbs simply quirked an eyebrow in lieu of an answer. "Oh, right," Tony said. "Well, it's good to know you're still Gibbs, superpowers and all."
"Report," Gibbs croaked.
"Uhm, we have the case under control, I even got a confession of sorts."
"Not ... a ...report." Gibbs frustration was evident and Tony was struck by the irony of his usually taciturn boss frustrated by an inability to speak easily. He would have thought that Gibbs would use his temporary incapacity as an excuse to shut up entirely and communicate with glares and headslaps alone.
"The thing is, boss, I have specific instructions not to subject you to stress. I don't know if you've met Nurse Rached yet, and while I would normally be much more afraid of you than of her, right now you're in a bed and she's on her feet, so I think I'll follow the instructions."
"DiNozzo -" said Gibbs, his voice sounding extra threatening as he rasped out Tony's name.
"On second thought, you are much closer than she is so maybe I could change my mind. But only the important details. You'll have to be satisfied with that." Tony waited to see what Gibbs' reaction would be - and Gibbs waited for Tony to start talking.
"This ... year ... DiNozzo."
"Oh, right. While Hathaway was in surgery, McGee and Abby confirmed his identity and got in touch with his father, who filled us in on the 'other than honorable' discharge that junior got from the army. Seems that he propositioned a superior officer, a male superior, and they gave him the boot. At which point daddy gave him the boot as well, not being particularly fond of a son who played for the wrong team. The superior officer, who may or may not have been gay, got off scott free and I suspect that Hathaway was harboring a lot of resentment about that. I also thought about how he posed the bodies, and the fact that they weren't raped, put that together with daddy's attitude and decided that it was probably important to Hathaway that people not think he was gay, although I suspect that is his true orientation whether he admits it or not.
"When Ziva and I went in to question him, I emphasized that the army and his father thought he was a homosexual. I also kept saying that he raped his victims. Heck, I even implied he engaged in a touch of necrophilia. Finally he got so angry that it was more important to him to explain that he was trying to expose the 'undesireables', not have sex with them, than it was to keep quiet about his exploits. Ziva witnessed it, we've got the whole thing on tape, and it's on its way to the authorities right now. I'm sure the powers that be will offer him a deal and whatever lawyer he hires will tell him to take it. The whole case should be wrapped up and Hathaway under lock and key before the media ever gets wind of it."
"Good ... work."
Tony winced at the undeserved praise. "No, boss, it wasn't. If I had stayed focused you wouldn't be lying here because I would have seen the bastard drug your drink."
"Not ... your ... fault. We didn't ... know."
"Yeah, but I was supposed to be watching him and instead I was watching ... you," Tony said, his voice so strangled with guilt that he sounded as bad as Gibbs. "And then, when he attacked you, I forgot all my training and nearly got us both killed. I can't go on like this. I'm sorry to lay this on you while your down and out but I can't go on without saying anything."
Eyes filled with anguish, Tony stared down at Gibbs, hoping to see some sign in his expression that would indicate whether he knew what Tony was talking about but Gibbs had turned his head away and appeared to be engaging in a mental debate of his own. Well, thought Tony, I've gone to far to stop now.
Tony took a deep breath and continued. "I have ... feelings for you. Feelings that go beyond what I should have for a boss, and what I would have for a friend." He stopped, unsure of what else to say and waiting for a reaction. But Gibbs was still silent, seemingly too shocked by Tony's revelation to respond.
"Right," Tony gulped back his disappointment. "You'll have my resignation on your desk as soon as you get back to work."
Then, taking a deep breath in an attempt to hold back the embarrassing tears that were threatening to form in his eyes, he turned to leave. Before he could get far from the bed, Gibbs' hand shot out and caught Tony's wrist in an iron grip.
"For what, boss. I think I've already said too much."
"We need ... to talk."
"No, we don't. I told you how I feel and apparently you don't agree. I don't think we can work together after this so I'll leave."
Gibbs cursed the rope that had made speaking so difficult. Tony did not understand his hesitation at all - he was wondering how, not whether, to make this work. Finally, unable to stand the desolate look in Tony's eyes, he did the only thing he could think of. He pulled Tony's hand up to his mouth, uncurled his fingers, and pressed his lips to his palm.
Then he looked his senior agent in the eye and said, "Later. When I ... can speak."
The sudden transition from agony to exhilaration left Tony at a loss for words and he didn't get a chance to recover. Before he found his tongue, the craggy-faced nurse opened the door and told him his time was up.
"And don't make me tell you twice, young man, because that's when I start to get really cranky," she added.
Tony started to object but Gibbs waved him off. "Later," he whispered again.
Tony looked from Gibbs to the hand he had kissed and curled his fingers into a gentle fist as if to hold onto the sensation of Gibbs' lips. Then he brought that hand up to his heart, cradling his arm against his chest, and with one last, long look at Gibbs, he left, a besotted smile plastered across his tired face. Later would be soon enough.