Do I Know You?
25. chapter twenty-five
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Chapter Twenty-Five:

It had been a long night and Tony had slept through most of it. Respiratory therapists came and went, IV bags drained away and were replaced, dressings were inspected and reapplied, Tony was sponge washed and changed and still he slept. Ducky stopped in for a very brief visit, promising to come back in the morning. Gibbs went on occasional forays for coffee and food, returning once to discover that Karen had the janitor remove the stiff, plastic chair and drag in a recliner from the visitor’s lounge while he had been gone. And Gibbs had sat, afraid to sleep, afraid to leave Tony alone for too long to his dreams.

When morning came, Tony awoke feeling slightly better. He immediately sought Gibbs out, not surprised to find him sitting next to the bed. He briefly wondered where the recliner had come from, and then decided it didn’t matter.

“Hey Boss,” he said, trying out his voice; pleased to discover that it seemed a bit stronger, although a little rough with sleep. He released the coughs he had been holding in, hoping that would clear his throat a bit.

“Morning Tony,” Gibbs said, standing and moving closer to the bed.

Tony looked up at Gibbs, not liking the dark circles he saw under his eyes.

“Did you get any sleep?” Tony asked.

“I’m good Tony. Don’t worry about me. Not the one in a bed. How do you feel?” Gibbs asked.

“Better; I feel better. It’s a little easier to breathe I think,” Tony answered. “Suppose they’ll be in soon to check up on me.”

“You can count on it. They’ll take new x-rays, pull blood and all that other good stuff they’ve been doing every morning. Behave yourself and they might get you that jello Brad promised.”

“Can barely wait. It all sounds like so much fun. At least this time I can answer their questions. It was so hard just lying there, not able to ask any questions of my own.” Tony paused, to cough a little.

Gibbs picked up a cup off the table and poured in some ice from the small pitcher that sat beside it. “Here Tony, take a little ice,” and he reached over to help Tony with the glass.

“I got it,” Tony said, as he reached up his own hand, tired of being helpless and dependent on others. He took the cup and held it, slightly unsteadily at first, to his lips. “Can I sit up more?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, Tony. Let me go ask the nurse.”

“Never mind, it’ll keep. Just want to feel more normal,” and he took another sip of the melting ice. “Um, Boss?” Tony paused until he had Gibbs’ attention. “What’s going on a work? Is Vance okay with you being here? Don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“Vance if fine with it Tony. He gave me some of my personal days. I don’t ever use them anyway. He wants you better and back at work just as much as anyone else.”

“Doubt that,” Tony said, not forgetting it was Vance that had exiled him to sea as a way of punishing him for Jenny’s death.

Gibbs knew this was an opportunity to address some of what had been eating at Tony for the past few months. “Tony, you’re my best agent and Vance knows that. You wouldn’t be senior if that wasn’t true. Vance had to send you all away while they tried to isolate the mole. It also allowed him remind me that he was the boss. It had nothing to do with L.A. You need to believe that Tony. What happened to Jenny wasn’t your fault. It was a long time coming and she chose how it was going to end. You and Ziva were just pawns in that mess. There was no way you were going to win out over Jenny and Mike. They had all the information and you didn’t have any. It ended about as well as it could. You were just collateral damage, in all of it.”

“It doesn’t feel that way.”

“And it may never feel different, but you need to understand that how something looks and how it really is aren’t always the same thing, Tony. You should know that,” Gibbs said as gently as possible.

“That true, Boss?” Tony asked, looking meaningfully at him.

Gibbs knew that the subject had just been changed. “Yeah, Tony. That’s really true,” offering a small smile to let Tony know that he was aware of what was being asked.

Tony held his eyes for a few moments, and then just nodded in response.

The morning sped up after that. Dr. Anderson and his troupe of consulting doctors arrived and ran their tests. Ducky brought clean clothes and well wishes and actually got to see Tony for a brief moment. Tony was given some jello, which he grumbled about, but scarfed down none the less. A respiratory therapist arrived with some kind of hand held breathing machine and showed Tony some exercises he was to do to strengthen his lungs. That resulted in the first bad coughing fit of the morning, although no one but Gibbs seemed upset by it. Finally lunchtime arrived and along with it, Brad Pitt.

Tony was beginning to fade. The morning had been long and he had refused to let himself fall asleep. He had just about given in when Brad came into the room.

“Well Tony. Looks like everything is going well. I see you even ate some jello with no adverse effects,” he said in place of a greeting. “Your chest x-ray looked even better today. You’ve got the pneumonia on the run. I’m going to recommend that they cut back on the intravenous feeding and give you a little more soft food today. It that goes well, I don’t see why you can’t move to a regular room tomorrow. Would you like that? It’ll have a TV and everything.”

Tony was beyond happy. “I could stand that,” he answered. “I can use the television to catch Gibbs up on popular culture.”

Brad studied Tony and then looked over at Gibbs, noting the fatigue. “Looks to me like he could stand to catch up on some sleep first. Why don’t you both take a nap, and when you wake up I’ll have the nurse bring in some food. If you don’t get sick to your stomach we’ll try even more later. Tony, you really are doing great. I’ve got to get back to Bethesda soon, but I’ll call in for a report this afternoon. I’ll probably see you tomorrow.”

As Brad left the room, Gibbs told Tony he needed to use the facilities, and he hurried out after Brad. He caught up with him just before Pitt could get on the elevator.

“Brad,” Gibbs called to get his attention. “Did Karen write up what happened last night while Tony was sleeping?”

“You mean the nightmare?” Brad asked.

“Yeah. He stopped breathing for a moment.” Gibbs said, giving voice to what had kept him awake all night.

“Oh, so that’s it. It’s not all that uncommon during a nightmare, Gibbs. We’re just not hooked up to machines that send out alarms when we do it. People usually start breathing again right away. It’s a concern with Tony because he has spent days relying on something else to breathe for him. That slowed down his natural response to inhale and start the breathing process back up. It’ll correct itself in time. We’ll keep monitoring his breathing at all times for the next several days, even when he’s out of ICU. You don’t need to sit up and watch him sleep. We’re not going to let him die, Gibbs.”

“Yeah, I know that, Brad,” Gibbs huffed, feeling silly now, and not liking it.

“Tony needs you well rested. I know he seems a lot better today, but he’s still really sick. There are going to be set backs, and you’ve elected yourself as the person who’s going to hold him together when that happens. It won’t do if you’re both dead on your feet, so to speak.”

“I hear you,” Gibbs said, and he held his hand out to Brad.

“Glad of that,” said Brad as they shook. “Take care Gibbs. I’ll see you tomorrow,” and he got into the elevator that had once again stopped on the floor.

Gibbs gave a little wave and headed back to ICU. When he got to Tony’s room, he found him sound asleep. After watching him for a few minutes, Gibbs sighed and sat in the chair. He knew that Brad was right, about his need for sleep and the responsibility he had taken as his own. Sighing again, he pushed back on the seat, reclining it, and fell fast asleep.

They both slept until late in the afternoon. It was Karen that woke them up. She arrived in the room, armed with a tray for Tony. “Rise and shine,” she trilled. “The gravy train has arrived,” and she nudged things out of the way so that she could set the tray on the table. Tony woke with a start, as if surprised that he had been asleep, and immediately frowned. Gibbs wondered what was wrong but didn’t get a chance to ask. Once Tony was sufficiently awake, Karen uncovered the tray to reveal a cup of chicken broth and a small bowl of sherbet and surprisingly, a sandwich and coffee for Gibbs.

“Well, it’s an improvement over jello,” Tony said, as he inspected the offering.

“Something hot and something cold. It’s a winning combination, Tony,” Karen teased. “Do you want me to help you with it?” she asked.

“I’ll do it,” said Gibbs, who was now fully awake. “I know you’ve got other things you need to be doing.”

“Try not to spill on him Gibbs,” she said as she handed him a spoon and the cup with the broth. “I don’t want to have to explain how he got burned,” and, always pleased to have the last word on anything, she hurried out of the room before he could respond.

Tony was laughing when Gibbs looked over at him. “Open up DiNozzo. Let’s get this done.”

“On it Boss. Careful you don’t dribble. Wouldn’t want to see Nurse Karen take you down,” he quipped and then promptly opened up his mouth like a baby bird. Rolling his eyes, Gibbs brought a spoonful up to Tony’s mouth.

The food tasted wonderful to Tony, and he was sorry when it was gone. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed having real food, and although broth and sherbet wouldn’t ordinarily be his pick, he decided they were now his new favorite foods.

After Tony was done eating they settled down for the long evening. Gibbs pulled out a crossword and they worked on it together, companionably talking about nothing of consequence in between puzzle questions. They had cut way down on the sedatives they had been giving Tony since the breathing tube had been removed and he was much more alert. Tony had a couple of nasty rounds of coughing but seemed to be recovering more quickly each time. Karen seemed pleased with the way his body tolerated the food, and Gibbs was just glad that everything seemed more relaxed that evening.

As the evening wore on Gibbs noticed that Tony was tiring. He suggested several times that maybe Tony should try to get some sleep, but each time Tony brushed the idea away. By eight o’clock Tony had stopped trying to answer any of the questions in the crossword. Gibbs was aware that it was taking all of Tony’s energy just to remain awake.

“Tony,” when he got no response, he said, “Tony, you with me?” and he waited for Tony to respond in the affirmative. “Tony, you really should rest for awhile,” he suggested again.

“Nah, I’m good Gibbs. Read me that question again?”

“Tony, I haven’t read a crossword question out loud for the last twenty minutes. Do you want to tell me where your head was at?” Gibbs challenged.

Tony panicked for a second. He realized he’d been caught. Telling Gibbs that he had been trying to fight off sleep because he was afraid of the nightmares was not an option for Tony. He didn’t want Gibbs to know how the images from the dreams kept haunting him, making him feel soiled and guilty. Tony wasn’t a novice to nightmares. It had been an on again/off again problem with him for years. But somehow these dreams seemed worse. They preyed on all of his unresolved issues and they kept coming, night after night. There wasn’t anything he could do to escape them while he was stuck in a bed, so he was trying hard not to give them a chance to return. He could only see two choices: he could lie to Gibbs about what he had been thinking about or he could try to answer with just enough of the truth that Gibbs wouldn’t get suspicious and would let it go. He opted for the second choice.

“I’ve just been thinking about how nice it is to be alert again. Sorry, guess I wasn’t being very good company.”

“That’s okay Tony. You were out of it for a long time. I’m sure it’s a good feeling to be doing better,” but even as he said that, Gibbs didn’t think that sounded right. He couldn’t really see Tony meditating about the merits of being conscious. He was also aware that it had taken Tony a bit too long to answer him. Any other time he would have called Tony on it, but he was afraid of upsetting him right now. He decided he’d just have to let this slide for now.

“You know, I really could use a nap, Tony. I didn’t sleep all that well last night. Think I missed the old hard plastic chair,” hoping that a joke would snap Tony out of whatever was bothering him, and knowing he was not above laying on a guilt trip to get Tony to do what he wanted.

“Sorry Boss. I knew you were tired. You’re right, a little sleep would be good for both of us,” Tony said, feeling guilty and also seeing no way out of the situation.

“Don’t apologize, Tony. Just close your eyes so we can both get some sleep.” Gibbs said and he reclined the chair to punctuate his request.

“Night Boss.”

“Night, Tony,” and Gibbs closed his own eyes, hoping Tony would follow his example.

Tony lay in the bed, listening to Gibbs’ breathing even out, knowing he was asleep. That didn’t help his quest to stay awake. He tried playing word games with himself, free associating a word and then trying to come up with twenty rhyming words. Eventually, however, the game backfired. Coming up with the rhyming words became like counting sheep, and Tony was reluctantly pulled into sleep.

The nightmare overtook Tony in the early hours of the morning. Like the one from the night before, it was inhabited with people from Tony’s past and featured Tony being tortured and then abused. This time it was Jenny using his body, while Gibbs looked on in disgust. Unlike the previous nights, Tony managed to rouse himself from the dream, without setting off any alarms. He kept the coughing that ensued as quiet as possible, and was relieved when no nurse came rushing in and Gibbs didn’t wake up. Once he had his breathing under control, he spent the rest of the night watching Gibbs sleep and working on staying awake. In the morning, when Gibbs started to stir, Tony closed his eyes, tried to even out his breath and pretended to be asleep.

When a nurse came in to tell Gibbs that they wanted to try getting Tony to eat something, Gibbs called over to him, “Tony, it’s morning. Wake up,” and then he waited to see if Tony responded.

Tony let his eyes open, and took a few moments, as if he were adjusting. Then he looked over at Gibbs and wished him a good morning.

“Nurse says you’ve got to eat again, Tony. They’ll be in with the food in a second,” Gibbs informed him, satisfied when Tony nodded his understanding.

Tony managed to choke down the watery oatmeal presented to him. Even insisting that he be allowed to feed himself, informing Gibbs that he was a big boy. He was grateful for the cranberry juice that accompanied the meal, finding it much easier to swallow.

Again general tidying up of his body and dressings occurred; the doctors arrived to question and examine him. This time however, Dr. Anderson stayed after the others had left.

“I’ve got good news,” he told Tony and Gibbs. “You’re getting booted out of ICU Tony. We’re moving you to the pulmonary care unit this afternoon. We’re going to send you down for a couple of CAT scans first, so we can get a better look at things, and then you’ll get moved to the new room from there. The scans will take a couple of hours, so that will give you some time to do what ever you need to do Gibbs.”

“That’s great,” Gibbs said, looking over at Tony for his reaction.

Tony’s smile looked a little forced and brittle Gibbs thought, but figured it must be because of the impending CAT scans. Everyone knew they were no fun. Before he could give it much thought, Nurse Maria arrived in the room, and announced, “I understand we’re loosing our two favorite men this morning. I’ll make sure that the all of the personal things get transferred to the new room if you like,” she offered.

“That’d be great. I’m going to go home for a bit while Tony’s having the tests run. What’s the new room number?” Gibbs asked, and made a mental note of the answer.

Everything ramped up after that. People seemed to be scurrying in and out of the room continually. Gibbs had one brief second alone with Tony, when he was able to squeeze his hand and express his pleasure with Tony’s improvement. Tony had smiled warmly at him but was interrupted before he could reply but yet another technician coming in to adjust something.

“Go on Gibbs,” Tony said. “Go home, take a shower, and do what you need to do. I’m sure not going to be lonely if you go.”

“You sure, Tony? I can stay until they’re ready to do the scans if you want?” Gibbs offered.

“Not necessary. Go on, get.” Tony insisted.

So Gibbs complied. On his way to and from his house he called people to let them know about Tony’s progress and to check on what his team had accomplished the day before. He assured Abby she could come for a visit that evening before her bowling game, and put off McGee and Ziva’s visit until the next day. Before going back to the hospital he stopped at his favorite diner and treated himself to a breakfast so laden with cholesterol that the mere thought of it would have caused Ducky to have a heart attack, telling himself that it was a celebration. Then he picked up a coffee and headed back to check out Tony’s new room.

When Gibbs got up to the pulmonary floor he discovered that the word was already out about Tony’s improvement. Bouquets of flowers, helium balloons and the occasional stuffed animal were strewn around the room, and he was greeted by a tall, dark haired young nurse who was lugging in a large potted cactus, which he was amused to see was from Vance. Gibbs wondered how the flowers could have gotten there so soon. Tony was not in the room yet, the nurse told him, but would be soon. She introduced herself as Susan, and said she was a good friend of Karen’s, so she already knew a little about them. She also told him that visiting hours were from ten until eight, but that Dr. Anderson had suspended them for Gibbs. When she teased him about preferential treatment he knew they were going to get along just fine. Gibbs looked around the room more carefully and was surprised to see that it was a single. He asked Susan about it.

“Dr. Pitt ordered it. He said that with the pneumonia it was too risky to have Mr. DiNozzo in a room with someone else. It’s a good thing, too, from the look of things. There wouldn’t be enough room for anyone else in here,” she said in her pleasant voice, which was tinged with a slight southern accent.

Gibbs had to acknowledge the truth of her words. Between all the machinery that sat waiting for Tony and the offerings of best wishes sent by all of their co-workers, there was very little spare room. He spotted Bert sitting by the window, surrounded by floral arrangements. He wandered over to look at the tags on the flowers sitting on the windowsill, curious about who they were from, but before he got too far Tony arrived, surrounded by a small army of hurrying people. There were people pushing the bed, others dragging along the poles for the IV’s, and yet another pushing a portable oxygen generator machine. It all presented a rude reminder to Gibbs that Tony was, in fact, still very sick.

It took them about fifteen minutes to attach Tony to all the waiting equipment, draw what seemed like a gallon of blood, clear his airways, and adjust his dressings. When they were finished, they disappeared as quickly as they had arrived.

“Well, that was quite a production,” Gibbs said to Tony when they were finally alone.

“Yeah, at least I was the star,” Tony answered, smiling over at Gibbs. “This time you just got to be the sidekick.”

“That’s an okay place with me,” Gibbs said as he moved closer to the bed. When he got next to the bed he was surprised by how tired Tony looked. The strain of the move had clearly gotten to him, and dark circles were accenting the bruises which had already surrounded his eyes.

“You look like shit, Tony,” he blurted, kicking himself even as he spoke.

“Well, I do have pneumonia and I died twice a couple of days ago,” Tony answered, clearly determined to keep it light.

Gibbs smiled at him, glad for the reprieve, and asked, “Have you looked around the room yet? You could open your own florist shop.”

“What can I say, the fans adore me,” but he was stopped from saying more when coughs ripped through him.

Gibbs once again wrapped his arm around Tony to help him sit up. Holding him with one hand he patted Tony on the back with the other. When Tony was done, Gibbs looked around for a box of tissues, which he found sitting on a table right next to the head of the bed. Reaching out with his free hand he grabbed one and wiped away the mucus on Tony’s mouth. When he was finished, he realized that Tony was trembling slightly. He looked at Tony, taking in his pale face, and eased him back onto the bed.

“Think you need some beauty sleep,” he said, knowing Tony was on his last leg.

“I’ll be okay in a second. Just need to catch my breath,” Tony disagreed. “Tell me who the stuff is from Boss?” he asked, hoping that would distract Gibbs.

Throwing Tony a look, but choosing not to argue, Gibbs went back to the window and started reading the cards out loud. When he finished with the ones on the sill, he moved on the gifts on the small tables in the room. By the time he was finished, he had named almost half of the people who worked in the bullpen, since several people had gone together on gifts.

“Nice of them,” he offered, as he walked back over to the bed. Tony was sitting with a bemused look on his face. “Why so puzzled?” Gibbs asked.

“Just surprised that so many people thought about me and then did this,” Tony said.

“Why wouldn’t they Tony? You’ve helped everyone at work at one time or another, and you’re a pretty likeable guy,” Gibbs said, again bothered by the fact that Tony didn’t get how others looked at him. Why did Tony think so poorly of himself?

“Yeah, whatever,” Tony said, clearly embarrassed and wanting to end the conversation. “So did our tunes and puzzles make it?” he asked, not too subtly changing the subject
Gibbs located them on the side table next to the bed and had just sat down on the bedside chair, preparing to work a puzzle with Tony, when Nurse Susan arrived with a tray containing more broth and a cup of ice cream this time. After introducing herself to Tony and being instructed to refer to him as such, she set the food down on a rolling table and pushed it in front of him and then took her leave. Remembering Tony’s glee over the food last night Gibbs expected the ice cream to be an even bigger hit.

“Abs said she was coming by later this afternoon or early it the evening. Guess she’s bowling with the sisters tonight,” he told Tony. “McGee and Ziva will be here tomorrow for a visit.”

“That’s great Boss. I miss everyone,” he said, as he dragged the spoon through the soup, not really eating it.

“Thought it was appropriate that Vance sent a cactus,” Gibbs joked, watching Tony play with the food.

“Always said he was a prick,” was Tony’s rejoinder, as he had moved on to the ice cream and was busily engaged in smashing it down in the bowl with the back of the spoon.

Finally, Gibbs couldn’t take it anymore. “DiNozzo, that’s food, not a toy. Eat it, don’t play with it.”

“I’m just not hungry, Boss. Thinking about eating it makes me feel kind of sick,” Tony admitted.

Gibbs knew that Tony was exhausted. He didn’t see that anything would be gained by forcing Tony to eat; after all, he was still being given fluids and nutrients intravenously. Giving in, he pushed the tray out of Tony’s way, hoping that by removing it, Tony might settle down for a nap.

Nurse Susan came in to check on Tony, and didn’t seem happy when she saw the discarded tray. “You know, you’ll never grow up to be big and strong if you don’t eat,” she told Tony. “Was there a particular reason you didn’t eat?” she asked, her tone serious this time.

“Just couldn’t seem to make myself,” Tony answered, knowing that if he wasn’t truthful Gibbs would be.

“Well, it’s been a long day for you,” Susan said. “We’ll try again a little later. Why don’t you try and get some rest?” she suggested, taking the tray and leaving the room.

“Tony, that was good advice,” Gibbs said.

“Yeah, you’re probably right, Boss. How about we turn on the television?” Tony asked, actually excited to watch a little and hoping it would help keep him awake. “Is there a controller over on the table?”

Gibbs searched the table, finally finding the controller in its top drawer. Handing it to Tony, he said, “Just don’t make me watch Oprah.”

“Not gonna be a problem, Boss” and Tony was surprised that the prospect of TV actually had made him feel a bit more alive. He thumbed through the stations at breakneck speed, settling on an old Clint Eastwood western, figuring that Gibbs might find that entertaining too. Unfortunately for Tony, his idea ultimately backfired. He had seen the movie several times before and so his mind kept wandering away from the story. Soon he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. Eventually the fatigue won out, and Tony fell asleep.

Gibbs sat and watched the movie through. When it was done, he reached over and disengaged the controller from Tony’s hand. The movement must have woken him because Tony’s eyes flew back open.

“I’m awake,” Tony said, and Gibbs wasn’t sure if he was talking to him or himself.

“Looks like it to me,” he answered.

“Anything happen while I was asleep?” Tony asked, almost warily.

“Well, other than Clint Eastwood saving an entire Mexican village from a gang of outlaws, singlehandedly, no, not much.”

“That’s good,” Tony said, sounding relieved, which confused Gibbs.

“What do you want to do now Tony?” he asked, wanting to take Tony’s hand in his but feeling awkward about it now that they were no longer in the ICU and the intensity of the situation had lessen somewhat.

“Guess we could go back to the crossword,” was Tony’s answer.

And so they did. They were still at it when Abby appeared at 4:30.

She bounced into the room, slung the bowling bag she was carrying into a corner, and rushed over to the bed. “Talk to me Tony!” she demanded.

Tony was laughing, “What do you want me to say?” he asked.

“I don’t care, I’m just so glad to hear your voice,” Abby gushed, reaching her arms out, mindful of his IV lines and nasal cannula, and pulling Tony into a hug, while burying her face into him. Without lifting her head from the Tony’s shoulder she said, “Hello Bossman.”

“I see you’re going bowling tonight,” Tony said, talking to the top of Abby’s head. It was hard to miss, as she was wearing a vintage 1950’s turquoise and black bowling shirt over a pair of deeply cuffed jeans, saddle shoes, and a black neckerchief. Her only concessions to her usual style were the leather arm gauntlets and the studded belt draped around her hip, which oddly enough seemed to work with the whole outfit. The only incongruous element to her ensemble were the rainbow colored butterfly wings perched on her back.

“Yep, I wasn’t supposed to tonight, except Sister Theresa sprained her knee when she tripped while dragging some naughty kindergartener by the ear to see the Father.” Abby stopped to giggle and then continued, “ Sister Rosita says that’s what she gets for perpetuating a stereotype. Anyway, that left them down a team member so I agreed to pinch hit.”

“Wrong sport, Abs,” Gibbs grunted, privately amused by the story. He decided to use Abby’s visit as an opportunity to go get some much needed caffeine. “Tony, Abby, I’m going to go across the street and get a coffee. I’ll be back soon. Abby, remember Tony’s still sick. Don’t make him talk too much, and watch out for his bandages,” he cautioned as he got up to leave.

“Not to worry,” Abby assured.

Abby proceeded to give Tony a round up on all the office gossip. By the time she was finished he knew exactly who was doing what with who, and had even wagered twenty bucks on whether Jimmy would get a date with the new receptionist down in autopsy. Tony was betting against him since receptionists didn’t seem to last long there. Abby had started in on questioning him about how he felt when Gibbs returned.

“Yeah, it’s one way to get some rest,” Gibbs heard Tony say bitterly as he walked back into the room. Not liking the way the conversation was clearly headed, Gibbs said, “Abs, what time are you supposed to be at the alley?”

“Oh gosh,” Abs exclaimed, when she looked at the watch mounted to one of her gauntlets. “I need to be there in twenty five minutes. I’ve got to go Tony,” she said, untangling herself from the bed. Once she was standing, she reached over and took Tony’s face in both her hands. Looking him in the eyes she said, “Make sure you do everything they tell you to Tony. I want you out of here as soon as possible,” waiting until he nodded his agreement, she kissed him on the cheek and retrieved her bowling bag. “I’ll be back tomorrow and we can just hang out and watch TV,” she promised. Then she reached out and hugged Gibbs, pulling his head down until it was even with her own. “Take care of him, Gibbs. He doesn’t do it for himself,” she whispered, in a tone that contained no humor. And with that, she was gone.

“What did she just say?” Tony demanded.

Gibbs just smirked at him, and reached up, pantomiming zipping his lips shut.

“Very funny Boss,” Tony muttered, then grabbed up the controller and switched to the news.

Gibbs sat back in the chair, and they watched together, falling back into the companionable silence they had established over the last few days.

Nurse Susan brought in another tray of food just as the sports report was ending, announcing she was not leaving until he ate some of the food. It was a repeat of the earlier offering. This time Tony managed to drink all of the broth and eat a few small bites of the ice cream. After moving the tray out of the way, she checked several readings on the machines, jotting notes on his chart, and then left them alone.

Tony was unusually quiet the rest of the evening. Not that he had been doing a lot of talking recently, but there was a kind of reticence present that Gibbs had not felt before. Gibbs asked a couple of times if he was alright, only to be told that he was fine. As it got later Tony became restless. He shifted in the bed repeatedly and the coughing became more persistent. In contrast, the smiles he gave Gibbs every time he caught Gibbs looking at him grew bigger and brighter. Gibbs knew he was being played, he just couldn’t figure out what the game was. After one particularly bad coughing jag, as he was easing Tony back down onto the bed, and was told yet again that he was fine, Gibbs snapped.

“What the hell’s the matter with you DiNozzo?” he demanded, in full Gibbs mode. He wasn’t prepared for the cringe Tony unconsciously offered as a response.

Realizing what he had done, Tony looked away and remained silent.

“Tony,” Gibbs said, his voice considerably softer.

“It’s nothing Boss; I guess I’m just too tired,” Tony said, turning his head back to look at Gibbs.

Gibbs reached out and gently took hold of Tony’s chin, holding his head in place. It was his first intimate touch since they had moved down to this room. “What else is bothering you Tony,” he demanded softly, not letting go of Tony’s face.

Tony surprised himself when he felt his eyes fill with tears. He looked into Gibbs eyes and whispered, “I don’t know,” and Gibbs could hear all the confusion, fear and frustration that was couched in that statement.

Gibbs let go of Tony’s chin, and slid his hand up until he was touching Tony’s temple. Then softly he began to thread his fingers through Tony’s hair. He didn’t say anything, sensing that Tony was beyond words at the moment. He just continued to run his hands through that silky hair. Slowly Tony’s eyes closed, releasing one tear which ran down his cheek, and Gibbs knew he was asleep. Easing his hand from Tony’s hair, he ran a finger down the track left by the tear, erasing any sign of its passing.