Wha-wha-what? Two chapters in the same week? What is this madness?
So in case you were wondering, this story is almost finished. It's going to be part of a bigger thing, and instead of making this never ending and hair-pullingly frustrating, it's only going to have one chapter left, then I'll begin work on a sequel. There are a couple other projects I'm working on, but I want this one to continue, so while this and the next chapter will draw it to an almost close, the door will still be open and the next story will be all about the physical recovery and the emotional fallout and regrowth. They'll be back to back, but this story will have an ending. VERY SOON. Dear goodness, I thought this was going to be a quick little story, not the monster it turned into.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed and all your lovely congratulations. I'm really excited and extremely blessed with an amazing guy.
I hope you all are having a beautiful evening/morning/afternoon/there might be light somewhere.
There was a grey head on his blanket.
Tony wrinkled his eyebrows at it. That wasn't right. Was it?
He swallowed and felt his throat contract painfully, dry from the cool oxygen being forced down his ragged trachea. He had vague recollections something forced down his mouth, tight and constricting. Panic bright and fresh as he couldn't breathe, couldn't move.
Something danced on the edge of his mind, the gentle touch of rough callused hands wrapped around his own. A quiet voice, strong and hoarse, telling him it was going to all right
Tony blinked and stared down at the man asleep, his lower body in the chair and his head resting next to his hip. He reached up and carefully pulled the oxygen mask from his face. The hospital room felt hot and stifled in his lungs but he dropped the mask next to his side regardless.
Tony pursed his lips and felt something in his chest shudder.
He hadn't expected him to stay.
They weren't… right yet. Not even close. Something had happened with Benoit, something had jolted back into place, but so much was still off.
Tony reached a hand out, ignoring the tremors that racked through it, and let it hover above Gibbs' head.
Tony knew he was unlucky. He always had been. Somehow he couldn't go any time at all without getting in some sort of mess. Injuries and heartbreaks had followed him everywhere he ran until he reached NCIS.
His luck hadn't improved, but his company had. Someone was there with him when he was broken and putting his pieces back together. Someone helped.
He marveled at the fact that no matter how terrible he felt, he had wanted Gibbs with him. He wanted the gruffness, the silence, the overwhelming rush of safety that he carried with him.
But it wasn't there.
Tony frowned and let his hand drop to his waist.
Whatever comfort, whatever security Gibbs had provided, it was gone.
He closed his eyes tightly and turned his head into his pillow, pulling the oxygen back over his lips.
Somehow, he felt the pieces weren't going back together this time.
Tobias stepped in the room and sighed. Gibbs was asleep on the bed, his arm outstretched across Tony's waist. Holding the younger man as if he was afraid he would vanish from beside him.
Tobias shook his head. Judging by some of the stories he had heard about DiNozzo and his propensity for checking out AMA, maybe it wasn't a bad idea to hold him to the bed.
He stepped forward and tapped Gibbs on the shoulder kindly.
The man sat up immediately, his eyes blurry and dazed.
"Is he okay?" The question came in a rush, frightened and lost and not really awake.
Tobias bit the inside of his cheek, and squeezed his shoulder gently.
"He's still asleep. Go to the waiting room a while, McGee and Scuito need your help planning a homicide."
Gibbs frowned and looked back at Tony. They had taken the tube out earlier that day, after he had woken up gasping and retching and panicked. Apparently an oxygen mask was doing the job now but they were keeping a close eye on him.
Gibbs shook his head. "No. I don't want to leave him."
Tobias leaned on the bed. "Gibbs, you've been here two days. Go home. Get some rest. Tell McGee and Scuito to go home. The entire MCRT is shut down and relocated to the waiting room. They're scaring nurses."
"I don't want to leave him." He said again, quietly.
Tobias gripped his shoulder tightly. "He won't be alone. I'm staying here. Go."
Tobias pulled him from the chair, his body more pliant than he expected.
Gibbs gave a lingering look towards Tony, and then slid from the room.
Tobias let out a long and weary breath. "I think you broke him DiNozzo."
"He broke me first."
Tobias started and spun towards the hospital bed.
He was staring up at the ceiling, his hand idly playing with his IV and his oxygen mask dangling carelessly from the side of the bed. His voice was gravelly, it made Tobias ache just listening.
"I'm surprised he left. Actually I'm surprised he didn't notice I'm awake. Normally I can't pull that over him."
Tobias sank into the chair slowly, watching dumbstruck as Tony continued chatting at the ceiling tiles.
"His mind is still a little scrambled or else there's no way he would've let you push him out of here. Normally it takes an act of God to get him away from the hospital if one of us is stuck here. He seems to think we're self destructive enough to run from the nice helpful doctors."
Tobias raised an eyebrow.
Tony grinned cheekily, still staring up and away from Tobias' probing gaze.
"Self destruction has always been one of my finer attributes. But I don't think I'm going anywhere for a bit."
He propped himself up on his elbow and stared down at his legs, despite the protest rippling through his upper body. The blankets were raised so they wouldn't brush against the healing skin and he could still feel heat rising from the skin. He frowned and ran a gentle finger over the blankets, trying not to imagine what was lying beneath them.
Tobias lifted up the mask waved it in the air.
"You know you're supposed to be wearing this."
Tony rolled his eyes. "I'm terrible at doing what I'm told."
Tobias scoffed. "Don't I know it."
The two men let silence fill the room while Tony continued to fiddle with IV.
Tobias frowned and pulled Tony's hand away from the needle.
"Stop that. You're going to hurt yourself."
Tony looked at him incredulously, then stared at his battered and beaten body before raising his eyes back to Tobias.
He smiled and started to chuckle, his warm rolling laughter pulling a smile from Tobias though the noise sounded painful, like it was being scraped from somewhere hidden and dragged from him. He began to cough and Fornell leapt forward, pressing the mask against his face. Tony took several shallow breaths before pushing it away much to Tobias' consternation. Tony dropped his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes, a smile still stretching his cheeks.
"You want to know something Tobias?"
Fornell leaned forward. "I want you to stop talking and put the damn mask back on before you kill yourself."
Tony ignored him and rubbed his forehead. Pushing his hand through shaggy hair he idly noticed it was clean now. Someone must have washed him up between the ambulance and finding Gibbs on his bed. Nice of them.
"It's funny, but this is the best I've felt in months."
Tobias pulled back slightly, confused and concerned. "Tony?"
"It's over. The worst is over. Nothing can happen now that hasn't already. Benoit knows. I don't have to be living two lives anymore. The mission is over. No more lying. I have to watch my back, but that's normal. That's the job. But nothing is surprising. No watching my words or actions. It's done. And the team… oh the team. I suppose they all know now. That's going to be fun to explain. But I'm here to explain it. And if Gibbs leaves again, he leaves. I know what will happen now." Tony closed his eyes, let out a long breath of pure relief, and then murmured so quietly Tobias almost missed it. "The worst is over."
Tobias reached out and gently grasped Tony's wrist, saying nothing.
Director Shepherd paced the floor of her office, her nails clacking together as she wrung her hands.
This wasn't what was supposed to happen. Benoit was missing. DiNozzo was hospitalized. David arrested.
And Gibbs was back.
She cursed under her breath and spun, slamming her hands down on her desk.
He couldn't have gotten away. Not when she was this close.
She shrieked and swept her arm across her desk, knocking her belongings onto the floor.
DiNozzo was supposed to bring him in.
She was supposed to have him.
This was her moment. Her revenge and her greatest achievement.
And it was gone.
She sank to the carpet and dug lacquered, painted nails into her hair.
"Why were you hiding from him."
Tony looked over at Tobias from the corner of his eyes.
"I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm not exactly up to hide and seek right now."
"You were pretending to sleep. You didn't want to talk to him."
Tony turned his head away. "No. I don't know what I would say."
Fornell nodded. "We never do."
Tony smiled slightly, relieved that Tobias didn't push. Fornell leaned his head into his hand and studied the young agent.
Tony wrinkled his eyebrows when Tobias didn't look away. "Something bothering you?"
Fornell shook his head. "No, you just… you look young."
He shrugged and Tony eyed the motion with envy. His actions were fairly limited.
"Just… you don't look 33. You look like… I don't know." A smile quirked at his lips. "Peter Pan."
Tony blinked at him. "Want to run that by me again?"
"Forever young. Saving lost children. Being the hero. I think it fits."
Tony didn't smile back, but looked back to the ceiling.
"You know, there are two versions of Peter Pan if you read the original story."
Tobias leaned forward, curious. "Really."
Tony nodded. "Disney didn't get much right. In the story everyone knows, there's mention that he flies with children who have died. Helping them find the afterlife."
Tobias felt his stomach twist slightly. "And the other?"
Tony smiled, but there was no warmth. "In the other, in the original edition, Peter kills the lost boys when they get too old."
Tobias said nothing, the words catching in his throat.
DiNozzo laid his hands on his stomach, his eyes thoughtful and words quiet. "Either way, he's surrounded by death."
Gibbs pulled away from the door and leaned against the wall. Peter Pan indeed.
He heard the pain in Tony's voice and it took every ounce of self control not to rush in the room. To fix it.
But he couldn't.
Gibbs began to pace, trying to focus on the positives.
Tony was fine. He was awake.
And avoiding him.
Gibbs closed his eyes and tried to tell himself he had no reason to be hurt. He didn't blame DiNozzo. He couldn't.
But that didn't mean he was okay with it.
The doctor was gesturing to him, murmuring quietly. Gibbs stepped towards him, not wanting the men in the room to hear.
"I wonder if I might borrow a bit of your time. We need to discuss Agent DiNozzo."
He nodded and they stepped into an empty room.
The doctor leaned against the unused bed, the lines around his eyes pressing tightly against the skin.
"We're able to release him by the end of the week, but there is no way he is going to be able to be by himself. Not for quite a while. With the burns and the state of his lungs, he's going to need near constant supervision until we're sure he's not at risk for further infection or complications. I can recommend full time care facilities-"
The answer was instant and Gibbs didn't even think about the word before it escaped. He already knew. He couldn't do that to Tony. No matter what he remembered or didn't, he knew.
Gibbs opened and closed his hands for several seconds while the doctor waited patiently.
"He'll… he can stay with me. I can take care of him."
The doctor smiled gently. "Sir, I understand your desire, but he's going to need oxygen treatments, the burns will need to be cleaned and checked for infection. He's going to be very weak and in a lot of pain."
Gibbs nodded. He understood. He remembered. Not everything. Not even close. But he remembered the hole that Tony filled. The emptiness he drove away.
He wanted it back. The laughter and the trust.
He wanted the memories.
He missed his friend.
"I understand Doctor. And it he'll agree, he's coming home with me."
Tony rubbed his chest idly, regarding the familiar ache and glancing up at the machine pushing drugs into his system.
"He wants to help."
Tobias wasn't surprised when Tony didn't look at him, but he saw the younger man still.
"He's stayed non-stop for days. Didn't get himself checked out, didn't want to move. It's not all there, but it's coming back. He wants to take care of you. For all that's changed, that hasn't."
Tony sighed quietly, a tiny breath of air fogging the oxygen mask. His words were obscured behind the plastic, but Tobias heard them all the same.