Both Gibbs and Abby stayed with Tony the night before his surgery, and the agent was pretty sure it had more to do with keeping him from bolting than anything else.
There was an awkward moment when Tony headed for bed—and Abby followed right behind. He turned, put his free hand on her shoulder and tossed a pointed look at Gibbs, who was slouched in the big comfortable chair and contemplating furniture shopping again.
"What?" Abby asked, smiling brightly. "He knows I sleep with you—and not 'with you', with you. Besides, he's not our dad. That would be truly creepy, you know, because it would make us brother and sister. Or at least halfsies. Now come on. Don't make me sleep in the guest room. It's not nice to leave Gibbs on the couch and you know I don't sleep well in strange places."
He smiled at her. "Abby. You sleep in a coffin."
"Exactly," she said, waving a goodnight to Gibbs and practically shoving Tony into the bedroom. She walked him to the bed and then turned, undoing her chunky black belt and watching him cover his eyes theatrically. She rolled hers. "Like I have anything you haven't seen before."
He peeked through his fingers. "Is that a new tat?"
She threw a boot at him, and then squeaked, "Ohmigod are you okay did I hurt you?"
"Didn't even touch me," he said with a grin. "You throw like a girl."
She made a face. "I am a girl."
"Kate would disagree," he teased.
"Woman," Abby corrected. "She said to tell you good luck, by the way. And Timmy said to call if you needed anything. But you won't. Because I'll be here taking care of you while you're all bombed out on the good drugs. You are not lifting a finger until I say so. Got it?"
Tony raised an eyebrow. "You're gonna go all mother hen on me, Abbs?"
She grinned. "It was me or Gibbs."
"I love you, Abby," he said sincerely. "Have I ever told you that?"
She nodded. "But not nearly enough." The grin got wider. "Stop picturing me in a nurse's outfit."
He laughed and waggled his eyebrows at her. "I was thinking more dominatrix. You know, cracking the whip to keep me from overexerting myself."
Abby rolled her eyes. "That is not what the whip is for." And then a blush rose across her pale cheeks. "Not that I know anything about that. Now lie down. You need to rest."
"I'm afraid to say no," he joked, pantomiming cracking a whip.
But her smile was soft. "You don't ever have to be afraid of me." She saw the look and stopped him with a black-tipped finger over his lips. "Don't say it. I did what I did, and I'd do it again."
"Okay," he said, feeling a little shaky inside at the intensity in her cool green eyes. "But I won't ever make you do it again."
She grinned and planted a kiss on his slightly scruffy cheek. "Even better." A frown crossed her face just as she was about to reach up and turn off the bedside lamp. "Tony? Will you do something for me?"
He thought about all she had done for him, her absolute faith in him during this whole mess. "Anything, Abby."
"Forget that Julia's number, would you?" She was still grinning when she flicked off the light and settled down against his side. "That girl was a total skank."
Gibbs found Tony sitting at his kitchen table at 0430, tracing the wood grain with a finger.
"Hey," Gibbs said, taking a seat.
"Hey," Tony said back, not looking up at his boss.
They were silent a moment, both watching Tony's finger make loops around a gnarl in the wood.
"Nervous?" Gibbs asked finally.
Tony looked up with a smile. "Nope," he said. "I know I'm in good hands. I think everyone from the surgeon down to the scrub nurses are all friends of Ducky's."
Gibbs returned the smile. "He said to tell you good luck. Said he'd be by later tonight to see how you're doing."
Tony blushed slightly, remembering Abby's words about Kate and McGee and trying not to feel overwhelmed by all the well wishes.
"You don't have to check in until 0700," Gibbs said, his eyes on Tony's tired green ones. "You could go back to bed."
"Can't sleep," Tony admitted quietly. And then he kicked himself, hoping Gibbs wouldn't ask why.
"You thinking about moving on again?"
Those green eyes snapped up to Gibbs' blue ones. He smiled and shook his head. Should've known, he thought.
"I…" he started, only to trail off and look back down at his finger tracings on the table.
"You should stay," Gibbs said simply.
Tony's head jerked up, his eyes wide. He sighed. "No one's ever done that before," he said softly.
"What?" Gibbs asked. "Noticed you were itching to leave or asked you to stay?"
They were silent, until Tony pressed a yawn into the back of his hand.
"Listen," Gibbs said, meeting Tony's gaze. "I'm gonna level with you, okay? I know you're scared." He ignored Tony's flinch. "And not of coming out of that operating room with less limbs than you went in with. I know you're scared because you've never opened up to anyone like this before, and now you're wondering if you can handle it."
The corner of Tony's mouth quirked upward. "Most psychics charge for stuff like this."
Gibbs rolled his eyes at him. "You're scared because I know your secrets," Gibbs said bluntly, daring Tony to argue. "But you know mine, too."
He let that hang for a moment before continuing, "You think sharing secrets makes you vulnerable or weak, but it doesn't. Not with people you trust. Gives you strength to spare because you're sharing the burden."
Tony just sat and absorbed that, waiting until his throat stopped hurting to say, "Thanks, Boss."
Gibbs stood and nodded toward the hall. "Go on," he ordered, making shooing motions with his hands. "Catch an hour of rest before you go meet all of Ducky's friends."
Tony smiled and headed for the door, but he stopped and turned back, his expression serious. "I'm staying, Gibbs."
"Hell, I know that," Gibbs said, smiling. "You know we'd hunt you down and drag your ass back here if you even tried to skip out on us."
Later that morning, Tony came awake in a recovery room. He was alone, but he knew the drill: No visitors until his vitals were checked and he shrugged off the anesthesia.
He looked around, groggy and feeling the vague heaviness of masked pain in his shoulder, and he blinked to try to clear the fuzziness in his vision. He looked down to see if his right hand was as swollen as it felt and found a piece of paper tucked into his palm.
He retrieved it with his left hand, as was the obvious intention of whomever had put it there, likely one of Ducky's nurse friends. He unfolded the small sheet, immediately recognizing the handwriting as Abby's, which was distinctive on its own, but also from the tiny dots she made in her b's so that when she looped the tail of the y in her name it made a smiley face.
Tell them to come back and get me so I can
take you home. And this is your home, Tony.
Because home is where your family is.
Tony smiled sleepily, feeling warm despite the chilly hospital. His eyes slipped closed thanks to the drugs coursing through his system—but then they popped right back open as he saw Abby's words on the backs of his eyelids. He looked at the note in his hand again but realized through the fog of painkillers and lingering anesthesia that different words were teasing his memory.
He knew he had seen those dots in b's somewhere recently, but he couldn't place exactly where.
He closed his eyes again but couldn't summon a visual.
But he heard loud and clear that last entry from Landry's diary.
"I couldn't stop. I couldn't save him. But maybe God will grant me mercy so I can be with him."
That last entry, the one that had convinced Landry's next of kin to close the case.
A case that would have been against him.
Tony ignored the heaviness in his mind and aching body, and he forced his sluggish brain to call up the image of that last entry. But it didn't matter. He already knew, as concretely as if he held the diary in his shaking hands.
In each of the b's there was a single, solitary, tiny little dot.