A/N - Please excuse any medical inaccuracies as I depend on Wikipedia for a lot!

Chapter 11

Over the next few days, Gibbs found himself spending more and more time out of bed each day, whether he liked it or not. At times, it felt as though all the people around him were ganging up on him. If it wasn't Tony and Ziva practically forcing him out of bed, it was Ducky making him do deep-breathing exercises or Abby trying to get him to try alternative relaxation methods. Even Fornell was getting in on the act, insisting that if Gibbs wanted him to buy the coffee that he had to at least walk to the machine with him.

But it was thanks to their combined efforts that he was gradually growing stronger. It was about a week later and Gibbs received his usual visit from his doctor as he carried out his rounds. This day, however, the doctor had more to say than usual.

"Well, Agent Gibbs, I'm glad to see you're getting more active," he said, perusing his chart. "I think now would be a good time to carry out a few tests on your heart. We'll start with a stress test and see how it goes. Is that okay?" he asked, as if he was giving Gibbs a choice.

Gibbs took a deep breath. What could he say? There was no point postponing the inevitable.

"Sure," he replied, nodding his head. "When?"

"I'll check the schedule and see if we can fit you in today," the doctor told him. "The sooner the better, eh?"

"Fine," Gibbs replied, not sounding too enthralled.

The tests were scheduled for later that day. Gibbs received a visit from Abby and Ducky that same day prior to the tests, but he decided not to tell them about them. He didn't want them worrying nor did he want them to feel like they had to be there with him during the tests. He was relieved when they left, blissfully unaware of the impending ordeal facing Gibbs. A short time later, his nurse arrived with a wheelchair to take him to the Cardiac Unit where the tests were to take place.

Gibbs hated the fuss involved in all these tests. There was a room full of strangers with fake smiles, trying not to make him feel like he was just another guinea pig to them. He reluctantly allowed himself to be hooked up to monitors of all sorts, all the while oblivious to their function. The doctor explained that the reason for these tests was to place the heart under various stresses and to monitor how it responds. In the beginning, Gibbs found it easy enough, walking on a treadmill at a reasonable pace. But within minutes of just walking, he found that he was out of breath and his heart felt like it was about to explode.

As the pace quickened, Gibbs found it more and more difficult to get air into his lungs and started to think he was going to pass out. Regardless, he kept going, pushing his damaged body to its limits, maybe to try and prove the doctors wrong or maybe just to prove himself wrong. Thankfully, the test didn't last much longer but as soon as he stopped, his legs turned to jelly. He had to grip tightly to the bars of the treadmill to stop himself from collapsing. The nurse helped him back into the wheelchair. She took his blood pressure and pulse while the doctor listened intently to his heart and lungs.

"You've still got a long way to go," the doctor commented as he listened to Gibbs' heaving chest.

Gibbs' heart sank. Did this signal the end for him, he wondered.

"On initial examination, Mr. Gibbs, there appears to be some weakness in the left ventricle, which is affecting blood flow. However, all is not lost. We have an excellent physical therapy department who will devise a combined program of medication and exercises to strengthen the heart muscle. We would hope to see a significant improvement as a result," the doctor explained.

None of it was what he wanted to hear, but it was not unexpected all the same. At that very moment, all Gibbs wanted to do was go home to his basement and lock himself away from these strangers and away from his own weakness. But he knew that if he did that, he would never get better. And he wanted to get better. He wanted his life back.

On the journey back to his room, Gibbs was greeted by McGee and DiNozzo in the corridor. He wasn't really in the mood for visitors. It didn't help that they were seeing him being pushed in a wheelchair either. Of course, DiNozzo recognised Gibbs' discomfort immediately and knew how to gloss over it.

"Hey, Boss! Nice wheels!" he schmoozed, as he made eyes at the nurse who was pushing him.

Needless to say, Gibbs noticed and had to forcibly hold back the smile that threatened to break out across his face. He just can't help himself, Gibbs thought.

McGee was more observant with regard to Gibbs' physical appearance and noticed immediately how flushed Gibbs looked. He could see the perspiration that soaked the neck area of his gown. He wondered where his boss had been and what he had been up to. He was dying to ask but was trying to summon the courage. He walked around behind the wheelchair and offered to take over from the nurse.

"Will you be okay, Agent Gibbs?" Nurse Benson asked, making sure her patient was comfortable with her leaving him in the hands of the two young agents.

"Sure," Gibbs replied, giving her a flirtatious wink.

"I saw that," DiNozzo said, shocked at the very notion that Gibbs might flirt with a nurse. That was his job! Gibbs just raised his eyebrows and smiled.

"Where were you, Boss?" McGee asked, hoping Gibbs wouldn't bite his head off.

"Tests," Gibbs replied, not elaborating.

Tony and McGee glanced briefly at each other trying to coax the other to find out what they both wanted to know. They arrived back at Gibbs' room and when they reached the bed, McGee put the brake on the wheelchair and reached to help Gibbs out and up on to the bed. Gibbs brushed his hand away.

"I can do it," he insisted, wincing as he stood.

Tony looked on. His heart warmed to see that Gibbs' attitude had changed, even if his manners hadn't. He wasn't sure what had done it, but he knew it was another step in the right direction.

"So?" Tony finally asked when Gibbs settled back into the bed.

"So what, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked.

"The tests. What did they say?" he replied.

"I won't be back…," Gibbs replied, before pausing deliberately.

Tony and McGee stood looking shocked at this new information.

"For a while," Gibbs continued.

Both of them released simultaneous sighs of relief and smiles washed over their faces.

"Ha! Boss, you had me going," Tony admitted. "I should have known though. You wouldn't leave us."

"Of course not, DiNozzo," Gibbs replied. "I have a few weeks of physical therapy to look forward to though."

"Piece of cake, Boss," Tony told him confidently.

"I hope so," Gibbs replied.

I really do, he thought.

Gibbs went through some dark times over the next couple of months. His road to recovery was more of an emotional roller coaster than he could ever have imagined. There were more ups and downs than Six Flags. Getting out of hospital and back home was a high, but the early days of his physical therapy were unquestionably a low.

He struggled daily with the physical punishment that his body had to endure. His dad insisted on going with him the first day, but it only made it harder for Gibbs knowing how it pained his father witnessing his struggle, so needless to say, Jackson didn't accompany him again.

His team and his friends were a constant support through it all. Without fail, each morning he had an appointment, one of them was there to drive him and another to take him home afterwards. The first few weeks were the hardest. He would often get home and be so exhausted that he wouldn't have the energy to make it upstairs. He used to fall asleep on the sofa. Jackson would always cover him and make sure he was comfortable. To be honest, Gibbs would have been lost without his dad around the house. Despite Gibbs' concerns about closing the store in Stillwater for such a length of time, Jackson insisted that he would be around until such time as he was no longer needed.

The therapy seemed unending, but eventually Gibbs started to notice the fruits of his endeavours. His heart and lung function was improving all the time and so was his confidence. His pain was diminishing as his body healed. There was light at the end of the tunnel at last. The day he ran his first mile since the shooting was a definite high. He even allowed himself a beer that night in celebration. As his fitness peaked and with his doctors' permission, he arranged his NCIS physical assessment which he would have to pass if he wished to return to active duty. Again, he did it in secret so as not to make a fuss and so he would not be embarrassed should he fail. Only Vance knew it was happening at all.

The first anyone knew about him passing it was one morning shortly after, when Jackson Gibbs was making breakfast in Gibbs' kitchen. He turned to find his son standing there looking fit and dressed for work.

"You going somewhere?" Jackson asked sounding surprised.

"Work," Gibbs replied casually.

"Work? I thought you had to pass a physical," Jackson said, looking confused.

"Already did," Gibbs replied, grabbing a mug and pouring some coffee.

Jackson's whole body appeared to relax and his smiling face told its own story. Typical Jethro, he thought; he always has to do it alone.

"Gonna be late," Gibbs said, downing the coffee and heading for the door.

He paused and turned back to his father.

"Thanks, Dad," he said looking his father in the eye. It wasn't just for the coffee. He owed that man so much. His dad nodded and his heart swelled with love and pride at that moment.

The elevator pinged and the door slid open, revealing to Gibbs the welcome sight of the orange walls of the bullpen. It felt good to be back in familiar surroundings. It was a feeling that many times over the last two months Gibbs thought he would never experience. He stepped out, coffee cup in hand and strode confidently to his desk. All the while he was watched by every pair of eyes in the office.

Ziva was sitting at her desk typing away and looked up when Gibbs breezed past her. She couldn't believe her eyes. She turned towards him and couldn't help but notice how fit he looked. He had lost some weight but it made him look younger, she realised. She decided not to make a fuss, knowing how he'd hate it, so she just smiled at him and continued typing.

Tony, who had returned to work the previous month, was stunned to see Gibbs march past him.

"Boss?" he said getting to his feet. "You're back," he said, stating the obvious.

"Yeah, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, sitting down behind his desk as if it was nothing unusual.

"Hey, Boss," McGee said, delighted that the captain was back on board ship.

"McGee," Gibbs said, acknowledging the young agent. "You get a haircut?"

"Eh, no Boss," McGee said, sounding confused. Gibbs just smiled. He loved teasing the poor chap.

Just then Ducky arrived for work and walked through the office as he did each morning, past the team's desks, greeting each of the agents by name.

"Good morning, Ziva. Morning, Anthony. Timothy," he said, acknowledging each of them in turn. "Jethro," he said, continuing on by before stopping suddenly and turning around. "Jethro? What are you doing here?"

"Good morning, Duck," Gibbs said, sounding unusually chipper.

"You look well," Ducky said, meaning it whole-heartedly.

"I feel well," Gibbs replied.

"Does Abigail know you're back?" Ducky asked. Gibbs shrugged.

"Haven't seen her yet," Gibbs told him.

"You'd better get down there, Boss," Tony advised him. "If she finds out you're back and you didn't go see her, well, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes."

"Good point, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, getting back up and heading immediately down to Abby's lab.

He could hear her pounding music from the moment the elevator doors opened. When he reached the door, he could see Abby standing with her back to him, her eyes trained on the screens in front of her. He walked over to her stereo and turned off her music.

"Hey!" she said, turning around crossly. But her anger quickly dissipated when she saw who was standing there.

"Gibbs!" she squealed, rushing towards him and throwing her arms around him, squeezing him tightly.

"Hey, Abs," Gibbs replied, hugging her back.

"You're back! You are back, right?" she asked, expectantly.

"Yup," Gibbs replied.

"Oh, thank God. Just in time too. That Agent Thomas, he…I…grrrrrr," Abby growled.

Gibbs just laughed. He knew exactly whom Abby was talking about and what she meant. Some people just didn't understand the lab rat like he did. After spending a little time catching up on things, well, mainly listening to Abby rabbit on about how things had gone to hell since he was away, Gibbs returned to the office upstairs.

It felt good to be back behind his desk. He found himself looking around observing his team, who had been such a support to him in his hour of need. He realised as he sat there, what a lucky guy he was. He watched as DiNozzo got to his feet to go to the head and noticed how he winced as he straightened up. He waited a minute before following DiNozzo to the men's room.

"Oh, hey, Boss," Tony said, when he turned from washing his hands and saw Gibbs standing there.

"You okay, Tony," Gibbs asked, sounding weirdly concerned.

"Fine, Boss," Tony replied, looking strangely at Gibbs.

"Still in pain?" Gibbs asked, knowing his young charge wouldn't lie to him.

"Good days and bad days, Boss. You know…." Tony admitted.

Gibbs nodded. He knew exactly what Tony was experiencing. Tony had spent so much time looking after him Gibbs almost forgot that he, too, was recovering from a serious gunshot wound.

"Yeah, I know," Gibbs replied, putting his hand affectionately on DiNozzo's shoulder.

Tony looked at the hand resting on his shoulder and then into the face of his mentor. It was unlike Gibbs to be in any way intimate, but they had been through such a rough time together, the whole team had. Sometimes actions say much more than words ever could. This was one of those moments.

Neither agent mentioned their conversation, if you could call it that, when they returned to the bullpen. Sitting back down, they exchanged nods. Verbal communication was not their forte, but their messages always seemed to get through.

It wasn't long after that when Director Vance appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Agent Gibbs! I need you in MTAC, now."

Gibbs looked up and couldn't conceal his wry smile. He stood up eagerly and hurried to the stairs. His team watched as he ably took the steps two at a time. Silently, they exchanged glances with each other and shared the same thought.

The boss was back.


A/N - thats it guys. Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for your support for this story. And a big thank you to my wonderful Beta, Diane.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters in the above story.