Tony’s gun was in hand as he and Kate stalked through the warehouse, searching for the suspect. She was armed and ready as well, both of them on extra high alert for booby-traps. The Sergeant was a munitions expert and had already blown up two of his ‘enemies,’ one in her car, the other in his home. The man was completely certifiable, but still technically proficient.

The worst damn combination possible, Tony thought, eyes sweeping the floor while Kate’s scanned the catwalks. Give me a straight-out psycho with a semi-auto any day. At least then you know where the source will be.

“DiNozzo, report!”

Grimacing at Gibbs’ waspish demand, Tony motioned for Kate to stay put while he answered the radio call by pulling out his cell. “Nothing yet, Boss. We’re still sweeping.”

“Get your asses out of there. The Bomb Squad’s here.”

Tony relaxed a little at the news. Comin’ out, Boss. See you in three.”

Replacing his phone to his belt, Tony motioned forward with his hand, thinking it was better just to finish the last ten yards and go out the side, than retrace their steps all the way back to the front door. Kate nodded her approval of the tactic and they started walking again, Tony falling back to cover her six. He didn’t even make note anymore of what a lovely six it was, either, which was a little disconcerting for him at times. Somehow, they’d gone from rivals to brother-sister and he wasn’t even sure when it had happened. Not that he was complaining.

Thanks to his preternaturally sharp hearing, the click of the remote was as clear as someone priming their gun in his ear. Tony didn’t even think. He just surged forward and shoved Kate as hard as he could towards the nearest window. It didn’t matter that they were on the second floor of a twelve foot drop. All that mattered was that it was her best shot for survival.

Kate cried out in shock and then in pain as she crashed through the sheet of glass. Tony was about to follow her out when something slammed into him from behind, sending him several yards away in a painful skid and pinning him to the floor. Wrestling fiercely brought him face to face with Sergeant Wilcox who grinned crazily at him, pale eyes filled with a mad light.

“I’m takin’ you with me, pig!”

Tony slammed his gun into Wilcox’s face, breaking the nose, and then kicked hard between the man’s legs before shoving him off. When it was life and death, fighting dirty and living, was better than fighting clean and dying. He took a running leap just as the first explosion went off. There was one clear moment of elation when Tony thought he’d made it. Then the heat slammed into him, even outside in the air, before his drop into the harbor, propelling him even further with the force.

The plunge into icy ocean water took away what little breath Tony had and he made the mistake of trying to breathe, only to suck in saltwater. Immediately coughing it out, Tony struggled towards what he thought was the surface, only he was all turned around and couldn’t really tell which way was up. His clothes dragged at him, the need for oxygen thrummed through him, and panic took hold as he clawed and kicked through the water in desperation.

*  *  *  *

Jethro watched in horror as Kate came flying out a side window, knowing there was only one reason for that to happen. They’d tripped some kind of booby-trap and that was their only way out. He was running for her the second that he’d realized it was her, and reached Kate a scant ten seconds later, the EMT crew right behind him.

Why the hell did I let them talk me into going inside!? Why didn’t I make them wait for the Bomb Squad!? Jethro castigated himself as he looked at her unconscious, broken body on the wooden pier.

The EMTs were already putting her in a neck and back brace, checking her over swift and sure. She was already loaded onto the stretcher when it suddenly occurred to him that Tony hadn’t followed.

“Tony!” he shouted, running towards the building.

Two of the Bomb Squad grabbed him and kept him from going any closer just as hell burst free in the form of the building exploding. They were all thrown back several feet and the EMT’s covered Kate’s body with their own to protect her from the blast. Even dazed from the explosion, Jethro was back on his feet and running towards the end of the dock where he’d seen something fall into the water.

Praying that it had been Tony, Jethro yanked off his jacket, took a breath and dove into the water. He landed smoothly, cutting into the waves and debris like a dolphin. The second shock to his system was cold instead of heat, but he ignored his body’s complaint and squinted through the murky, winter waters for any sign of Tony.

He was just about to go up for air when bubbles from below hit him. Panic nearly ensued as he realized it was Tony’s air, probably the last of it, and he swam furiously down towards the source. The darker and colder it got, the more pressure that built, made Jethro more determined. He wasn’t going to lose Tony. He wasn’t going to let another man on his team die. He wasn’t going to leave any fucking person behind, even if it cost his own life; especially not the man he loved.

Finally, finally his hand hit something and his fingers grabbed hold, lacing tight into Tony’s hair. He yanked up and was able to pull Tony into a lifeguard hold then kicked towards the surface as powerfully as he could. When he got most of the way there, someone met up with him and, using the last of his strength, Jethro shoved Tony at them. His limp body was taken and brought to the surface faster than Jethro could have managed, then he found himself gripped in a lifeguard hold in turn.

Letting his rescuer do the work, knowing it was worse if he tried to ‘help,’ Jethro concentrated on letting out his air in small doses before his lungs burst. They reached the surface just in time and he gasped in a huge lung full of air. Rope was slung under his shoulders and around his chest, and he was simply hauled back up to the dock that way.

Sprawled out on the pier, Jethro shuddered violently with the cold even as his sweater and shirt were pulled off and something thermal wrapped around him to keep him warm. Teeth chattering together, Jethro tried to summon the strength to get to his team, but stronger hands held him down. He could hear the EMTs working on Tony, giving him CPR for an interminable time and then, once they got a weak rhythm, intubating him and putting him on oxygen as well as treating him for the unusual combination of burns and hypothermia.

Once he knew Tony was alive, Jethro demanded hoarsely, “Kate? How’s Kate?”

“Already on her way to the hospital,” he was assured. “No broken neck or back, no broken bones at all, but they were bringing her in for possible internal injuries and to check out her head wound. She was lucky.”

Jethro grimaced and accepted the help to his feet, acquiescing to the support that aimed him towards a third ambulance as he muttered, “Lucky. Yeah right.”

*  *  *  *

“What the hell happened, Gibbs?”

Looking at his director, Jethro answered, “The Bomb Squad’s still going through the wreckage, Sir, but they’ve found Wilcox’s body. It’s likely that the bastard set off the bomb to kill himself and Agents Todd and DiNozzo. According to Agent Todd, it was DiNozzo’s quick reflexes that saved her. He shoved her out of a window before the explosion.”

“And DiNozzo?”

Jethro’s jaw tightened. “He’s in a coma, Sir. Second degree burns on approximately thirty-five percent of his body, but he’s also battling hypothermia from being thrown in the water from the explosion.”

“And you’re coming down with pneumonia already, thanks to a previous chest cold you saw fit to work through and that dip in the harbor,” Morrow stated flatly. “I have the medical reports already, Gibbs. I want to know what the hell happened!”

Sighing as deeply as the tightness in his chest would allow, Jethro rubbed tiredly at his eyes. “I don’t know, Sir. Honest to God. He was only in that building for twenty minutes, tops. We were on him, we had the bastard dead to rights. There’s no way he had enough time to set up something that would take out an entire warehouse.”

“And yet he did.”


Morrow sat in the chair beside Jethro’s hospital bed, the agitation abruptly draining from him. When he spoke again, he was quiet and the concern in his eyes was for the man before him, not an investigation gone to hell in a hand-basket. “How are you, Jethro?”

“I’ve had better days,” Jethro answered, swallowing against a tight throat as he thought about Tony. “Half of my entire team is in the hospital, myself included. I’m going to be facing IA for months to come. I get to tell the families of two murdered Navy personnel that we didn’t bring the killer to justice, he blew himself up on his own terms.”

“And you’ve got pneumonia.”

“And I’ve got pneumonia.”

“Not your best day ever,” Morrow agreed wryly.

Jethro snorted. “No. How are things on the home front? They won’t let me call in.”

“I wonder why.”


A faint grin surfaced and Morrow said, “I’ll handle it, Jethro, don’t worry. You concentrate on getting better.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything.”

“I wonder why.”


Shaking his head this time, Morrow stood again and informed him, “You’re on medical leave until the doctors say otherwise. Ducky, Abby, and McGee are temporarily assigned to other units while you, Todd, and DiNozzo are recovering from this fiasco. Don’t rush it, Jethro. Come back when you’re at full strength, because you’ll need all your reserves to face IA.”

Jethro sighed, knowing that he was right. “Yeah, okay. Thanks, Tom.”

“I haven’t done anything. Your team has always done its best for the service, Jethro. Now it’s time for the Service to return the favor.”

*  *  *  *

Kate woke to a throbbing headache and a body that hadn’t felt this sore since the first time she’d missed her footing at rock-climbing and tumbled a hundred yards straight down into a pinon tree. From the sound of things, she was already at the hospital, so at least she didn’t have to worry about driving herself there.

Then she remembered what had happened and bolted straight up in bed with, “Tony!”


Startled by Abby’s exclamation, Kate’s heart thudded in her chest, furthering the aggravation of her abused body and provoking a groan as ribs ground together. Holding her side, she demanded, “How’s Tony? Where’s Gibbs? What happened to Wilcox?”

Abby grinned broadly and said, “Well. Looks like you’re going to be fine.”

Eyes rolling, Kate repeated, “Where’s Gibbs and Tony?”

Abby’s smile faded as she replied, “Bossman’s got pneumonia from diving into the water after Tony, who’s in a coma right now.”

Dismay flooded through her as Kate asked, “How long have I been out?”

“Just overnight,” Abby assured her. “You woke up a couple of times, but were too groggy to really wake up, you know?”

“But Tony’s in a coma? What happened?”

“He got caught in the explosion,” Abby explained.

He was saving me, Kate thought, eyes closing as she prayed with everything she had in her that Tony would be okay. She didn’t want to lose the man who’d come to be like family to her over the last year.

Abby’s hand took hers as she soothed, “Hey, take it easy. The docs are real hopeful that he’s going to come out of it. His body just needs to take some time to heal up. And Ducky told me they weren’t just trying to snow me, too, so you know it’s the truth.”

Relieved, though still worried, Kate’s eyes opened on Abby’s anxious face and she asked, “How long have you been here?”

Abby shrugged. “Couple hours. I checked in on Gibbs first, but he’s like a bear without his honey so I came over here to sit with you. Ducky’s keeping an eye on our fearless leader.”

Meaning that Ducky was the only one who could put up with Gibbs when he got like this, except for Tony, only Tony was in a coma. Sighing, Kate lay carefully back down and asked, “Did they find Wilcox?”

“Oh yeah. Extra crispy, just like he deserves,” Abby said, almost blood-thirstily smug.

That reassured her somewhat, because if they hadn’t been able to catch him, chances were no one else would have been able to, either. And while some might look on that as conceit, Kate knew it was a simple fact that her team was one of the best. Certainly the best in the Metro DC area. Relaxing further, Kate lightly squeezed Abby’s hand and said, “Thanks.”

Abby smiled back, understanding. “My pleasure, doll.”

*  *  *  *

It was another full day before they allowed Jethro to get up and move around, once the antibiotics and IV fluids had thoroughly kicked in. He’d been dehydrated on top of everything else, thanks to his massive caffeine consumption and been thoroughly lectured both by Ducky and the doctor about no more coffee. He promised to cut down and he would…by at least one cup a day.

Hating the feel of nothing but the thin hospital gown and robe over him and the stupid hospital slippers on his feet, Jethro wandered down to Kate’s room first. He found her propped up on her side, reading a book.

She looked up as he walked into the room and greeted, “You look like hell, Gibbs.”

Jethro snorted. “You don’t look so hot yourself.”

“Oh I don’t know. I think hospital blue’s a pretty good color on me. You, on the other hand,” Kate replied, smiling as she let the words trail off.

Sitting in the chair beside the bed, he asked, “How are you?”

Kate shrugged carefully. “Couple of cracked ribs and a fast fading concussion, thank God.”

“Good,” Jethro replied.

There was an awkward silence as they both tried to think of what to say. Jethro hadn’t had to visit a teammate in the hospital in a long time, not a seriously injured one anyhow, and he hated it each and every time it happened.

Finally, Kate asked, “Have you seen Tony yet?”

Jethro shook his head. “They just let me out of bed. Ducky says that he’s doing well.”

“Can’t help but think that it’s just as well he’s in a coma through the worst part of healing the burns,” Kate commented softly, guiltily.

But Jethro agreed, “It’s a blessing of sorts, even if we want him to be awake. He won’t be in any pain until he wakes up, so as long as he’s sleeping, it’s okay.”

Looking relieved that he’d supported her opinion, Kate nodded and said, “Exactly.”

He saw in her eyes that she was scared Tony wasn’t going to wake up at all and, knowing that the longer someone was under, the less likely they were to come back, Jethro couldn’t quite find the words to comfort her that Tony would be okay. Maybe after seeing Tony for himself, he’d be able to, but not right then.

Jethro stood and said, “I’m going there now. You need anything?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” Kate assured him. “Give Tony my love.”

Smiling faintly, Jethro nodded before leaving the room to go to ICU burn unit. It was a long, breezy walk there and he kept hold of the thin gown to make sure it didn’t twist the wrong way and leave his ass hanging out for the world to see. By the time he reached the right floor, Jethro had to stop and sit down, his chest tight and painful, breathing coming in thick rasps.

“Sir? Are you all right?”

Looking up at the concerned nurse, Jethro wheezed, “Fine. Just taking a rest. Here to visit DiNozzo.”

“Are you Special Agent Gibbs?”

Jethro nodded, literally saving his breath.

Her smile thinned into a disapproving line and she scolded gently, “You should’ve told the nurses you wanted to visit, Agent Gibbs. It’s too far for you to have walked all this way with pneumonia! Stay right here and I’ll get you a wheelchair.”

Jethro knew better than to argue with a career nurse. It was like trying to argue with a Drill Sergeant, only with less chance of success. When she came back with the wheelchair, he got in it docilely, not wanting to piss her off and have his visit preempted. Fortunately, she wheeled him right up to Tony’s room and parked him beside the bed.

“You can have a half-hour, Agent Gibbs,” she informed him. “Then you have to go back for your own rest.”

Acknowledging the point with a grimace, Jethro looked at Tony and his throat constricted at the sight. He was propped up carefully off the bed on his stomach, head supported by a extra pillows. There were bandages around both arms and he saw some peeking up from the back of Tony’s neckline, too. His head had been shaved and various lines of stitches adorned the vulnerable, exposed skin. An oxygen tube was lined up beneath his nostrils and one arm had an IV line snaked into it.

“Jesus, Tony,” Jethro whispered.

He released the brakes and rolled the chair forward, careful not to disturb any of the monitoring equipment. Taking one of Tony’s limp hands, Jethro had to clear his throat before he could speak in a normal voice. “Don’t think this act is fooling anyone, DiNozzo. We all know you’re just doing this for the attention of the prettier nurses. Just remember, the longer you’re out of it, the more vacation time you eat up. Because I’m not footin’ the bill for a vacation on top of a medical leave, you got me? So you wake up and get better asap, or I’ll kick your ass so bad you won’t know what hit you.”

There wasn’t even a twitch of a response.

Sighing, Jethro brought up the hand he was cradling and kissed the back of it. “Come on, Tony, wake up for me, okay? I need you here, with me, where you belong. I can’t lose you too, I won’t. I refuse to acknowledge even the possibility, you understand me?”

No response to that, either.

Jethro sat in silence for the rest of the visit, just holding on to Tony’s hand.

*  *  *  *

“Jethro, my lad, how are you?” Ducky called out cheerfully as he entered the hospital room. When he received a glare from Jethro from behind an oxygen mask, he continued, “Oh dear. I’ll be right back.”

He left before Jethro could protest and found a nurse to get Jethro’s chart. While chatting with her, he discovered the other man’s extra long walk the day before and his jaw set as he returned to the room.

Pinning Jethro with his sternest look, Ducky scolded, “If you insist on depleting all you resources as you did on your little jaunt yesterday, you’ll spend far more time here than you wish, Jethro.”

The mask came down long enough for Jethro to snap, “I know that!”

“Then stop thinking of yourself as invulnerable,” Ducky insisted, coming as close to angry as he dared. He didn’t want to browbeat Jethro in his weakened state, but sometimes the man wouldn’t accept his own limitations. Most of the time that was an asset, but not in this particular instance. “You have to go at a slow pace and let your body heal, or there could be very serious repercussions, indeed!”

Jethro sighed and nodded with a more subdued, “I know that.”

Seeing that Jethro had taken his words to heart, at least for the time being, Ducky sat in the seat beside the bed. “How are you feeling, aside from your breathing?”

“Fine,” Jethro answered. “Restless. I want out of here.”

Dry, Ducky observed, “I couldn’t tell.”

Jethro’s eyes rolled as he pulled down the mask again and asked, “You see Tony today?”

“I did, yes. He hasn’t yet regained consciousness, but his vitals are approaching normal and his burns are healing very well,” Ducky informed him. “We all believe that he’ll come out of this just fine, Jethro, you simply must be patient. Case in point, once his skin has healed, he’ll most likely be in better shape than you, given that once you’ve had pneumonia, you’re far more susceptible to get it again.”

Making another face, Jethro replaced the oxygen mask at Ducky’s pointed tone.

*  *  *  *

It was a lot like the drowning, but with a hospital soundtrack. He couldn’t really move and ached all over, his limbs felt like lead, too heavy to move. There was a familiar voice murmuring constantly, but he couldn’t really make out the words, as much as he wanted to. The voice faded in and out, and there seemed to be a lot of time between the one-sided conversations. The grayness that made up his world was annoying and comforting all at the same time.

He wanted to get back to that voice, to stop the pain that threaded through it, but getting through the fog was more difficult than he thought it would be. Every time he neared the light that promised true awareness, pain encompassed him all over his back and down his legs and arms. Something would happen to make the pain go away, but the fog would return, stronger than ever.

If only he could understand what that voice was saying, he was sure everything would be all right.”

*  *  *  *

“You’re looking well today, Jethro.”

Jethro looked over at Ducky with a grin and announced, “Completely off the damn oxygen.”

“Have you started the pulmonary therapy yet?”

“This afternoon. Though what that means, I don’t know. What’re they going to do? Have my lungs drop and give them twenty?”

Ducky chortled and wagged a finger at him before turning to Tony as he looked over the files in his hands. Nodding and murmuring to himself, he finally said, “It’s just a matter of time now, Jethro. They’ve lowered the medication doses, which will help bring him back to us.”

Jethro nodded and said, “That’s what the nurses told me, but it’s been five days, Ducky. Do you really think he’ll...

“He will,” Ducky interrupted firmly. “You must keep the faith, Jethro.”

Jethro’s lips twisted as he said, “Never had much of that to start with, Duck.”

Gripping Jethro’s shoulder, Ducky ordered, “Well, then, you must acquire it.”

Shaking his head fondly, Jethro observed, “Just as well you’ve got enough for both of us.”

Without thinking, Jethro picked up Tony’s hand, as he did every time he visited Tony. When Ducky cleared his throat, heat rushed through Jethro’s face and he silently kicked himself.

“And when did this start?”

Hearing the amused tone, Jethro prepared himself for the ribbing that was sure to come and looked up at his friend. “Don’t start.”

“Now, Jethro, would I do anything to...”

“Yes, damn it, you would, so don’t start!”

Laughing softly, Ducky just gripped his shoulder again and said, “I’m all for whatever gives a body peace and happiness in this world, my boy. Is this reciprocated, I hope?”

Looking back at Tony, Jethro had to shrug. “I don’t know. I  never got a chance to even ask him if he might”

Ducky’s hand tightened briefly and he replied, “I’m sure that will happen, Jethro. As I said, just be...”

“Patient, I know,” Jethro finished for him. Bringing Tony’s hand up to his face, he continued softly, “I can do that.”

*  *  *  *

“…finally discharged today. All I can say is it’s about damn time. You’d think I was made of glass or something, the way they’ve been treating me. No, you’d laugh your ass off, DiNozzo, that’s what you would do. Anyhow. I’m not going back to work for two more weeks. Morrow threatened to have me riding a desk for a year if I did, and he’d do it, too. You think I’m a bastard? No comparison.”

Finally, the words made sense. And now he knew who was talking, too. The drugs were still making him really groggy, but Tony could feel his body again, which was, and wasn’t, an improvement. He hurt all over, but especially his back, between his shoulders and down on his ass and upper thighs. Even the backs of his balls hurt and he was seriously not going to think about that until he absolutely had to.

“I’m going to take off now and let you get some rest. Don’t need me yappin’ at you like this all the time, I know. I’ll be back tomorrow during regular visiting hours and stay as long as they let me, like always.”

Tony didn’t want him to go, but couldn’t make his voice work. Panicking as he felt the hand in his start to withdraw, Tony squeezed down as hard as he could and didn’t let go.

*  *  *  *

Jethro nearly jumped out of his skin when Tony’s hand suddenly squeezed his and refused to let go as he stood to leave. His eyes were still closed, but Jethro could see they were moving behind the lids, moving rapidly even as Tony shifted slightly in the bed.

“Tony?” he whispered, disbelieving and hoping at once. It had been over two weeks since they’d all landed in the hospital and Tony hadn’t regained consciousness once. Louder, he demanded, “Tony, can you hear me?”

Tony’s throat moved and a faint, “Boss? Help?”

It’s okay, Tony, you’re all right. Just relax and let me get a doctor, okay?”

His words had no affect, as Tony’s hand continued to keep hold of his, and so Jethro just reached over and hit the call button over Tony’s head. A nurse was there almost instantly and he said, “Tony’s waking up, he won’t let go of my hand.”

“I’ll get the doctor,” she replied, smiling broadly.

Feeling a lot like his own grin wasn’t going anywhere soon, Jethro nodded and sat on the edge of the bed. It was a little awkward, but he used his free hand to gently rub over the soft hair that had grown back already. “Welcome back, DiNozzo. It’s about time.”

Tony cleared his throat a couple of times before whispering, “Bite me.”

Jethro laughed out loud.

*  *  *  *

Tony was so sick of lying on his stomach, but pressure on his backside, any of it, was still pretty painful. He never thought he’d be upset about not being able to count ceiling tiles. The doctors said that the skin itself was approaching normal sensitivity after almost two weeks, but he really had to argue that. Sometimes it felt like his very bones ached. Of course, adding to the problem were the stitches that needed to come out within the next few days. Shattered glass had been embedded all over his body and he had a total of eighty four stitches in various places.

So basically, the back of his body would look like a really bad patchwork quilt once he was healed up.

Sighing to himself at the depressing thought, Tony plucked at the sheet beneath him and continued to wear a hole in the spot where the sheet was fitted around the bed. He’d been working on it since he woke up that morning and it was now the size of a quarter. Abby had promised to bring in a small tv that could be seen from the table beside the bed, since he couldn’t see the one mounted up in the wall. In the meantime, he had nothing to do but think, which pretty much sucked.

“And how’s my favorite patient today?” Ducky called cheerfully as he entered the room.

Sullen, Tony answered, “Bored out of his skull. And I’m your only live patient, you know. It’s a good thing that’s no reflection on your skills, Ducky.”

Ducky chuckled, not in the least put out by Tony’s attitude, and sat in the chair beside the bed. “I understand that you’re having some problems with the new medication?”

“Makes me sick,” Tony explained, finally meeting Ducky’s gaze. “I already feel like crap, do they have to add to it?”

“Hmm. Well, I can talk to the doctor and see if there’s a different medication to prescribe, or if an anti-nausea wouldn’t go amiss.”

Tony scowled and said, “That stuff’s nasty, Ducky, can’t we just skip it altogether?”

“As you just said, my boy, you aren’t feeling well. It’s only another few days until you’re off the meds completely. Just be patient.”

Just be patient. Now why do those words sound familiar? Tony wondered with a frown.

“Anthony? What is it?”

Shaking off the odd sense of déjà vu, Tony answered, “Nothing. Hey, when’s Gibbs coming by? He didn’t show yesterday.”

Ducky sighed. “Ah, well, I’m afraid that the inquest has begun.”

“What? I thought they were going to wait until he was officially back at work!” Tony exclaimed, twisting up onto his palms.

With a disdainful sniff, Ducky replied, “I guess they decided not to. I’m afraid that I’m not privy to IA’s line of reasoning. Assuming they have one, which really wouldn’t.”

Worried now, Tony fidgeted until he was sitting sideways on his hip and demanded, “I need to know what’s going on, Ducky! They can’t just roast Gibbs for the op going bad when it was my mistake!”

“Tony, please, calm down. And lie back down before I have you strapped in,” Ducky ordered firmly.

Practically growling in frustration, Tony nonetheless obeyed and lay back down on his pillows.

“Now, what’s this about a mistake?”

“I’m the one who insisted on going in without proper backup, but you know Gibbs. He’s going to take responsibility anyhow,” Tony replied. “You’ve gotta get me there, somehow. I have to make sure he doesn’t screw over his career out of some stupid sense of guilt for what happened!”

“First of all, I believe the only thing that happened yesterday was, ‘hello, my name is.’ Second, you aren’t going anywhere for another four to six days, my boy, so you’d best get used to it. The doctors are pleased with your progress, but you’re at a delicate stage. If you tear your stitches or cut the newly healed skin, you could come down with a bad infection and ruin all the recuperation that you’ve had.”


“No buts,” Ducky interrupted. “None. You are not to move from this bed under penalty of, well, I’ll allow Jethro to decide your fate, but I assure you it will be most unpleasant. If and when IA wants your input, they will ask for it. And you will have to give a statement of some sort and can clear your conscience then.”

Sighing, Tony gave a reluctant nod and made a face at Ducky. “And people think that Gibbs is the slave driver.”

*  *  *  *

Three days into the investigation, Jethro knew IA was after his job. He’d had his suspicions during the second interview where they’d gone over the second murder investigation that had led them to suspect Wilcox. The lead investigator, Agent Jeffrey Milner, was about his age and had formed an instant dislike for him. At least, Jethro assumed it was instant, since he hadn’t ever met the man.

At the third interview, when they were going over his team’s efforts on locating Wilcox, Milner finally showed his hand when he said, “Don’t think that Morrow’s going to get you out of this one, Gibbs.” And okay, not so much as shown his hand, but thrown his cards on the table like a gauntlet.

And now Jethro sat in the hall outside of Tony’s hospital room, wanting to go in, but not wanting to dump everything in Tony’s lap. He was too wired about what was going on as it was, according to Ducky’s report the previous day. The ME had expressed a firm displeasure at the fact that Jethro had stopped his daily visits, even as he allowed that Jethro needed some time to rest.

Something that Jethro had played upon shamelessly, and without guilt.

But as much as he didn’t want to burden Tony with the IA investigation, Jethro was compelled to see him. He needed to see for himself how good or bad Tony looked, instead of relying on hearsay. Coming to a decision, Jethro stood and crossed the hall, opening the door an inch to peek inside. Tony was sound asleep, face plastered to the pillow with a little drool escaping. Grinning at the sight, Jethro walked in the rest of the way and sat down to look his fill.

Jethro wasn’t sure how much later it was that Tony finally stirred, but the sun had set and the shift had changed. Opening his eyes, Tony yawned hugely and then noticed him sitting there. A pleased smile blossomed and he exclaimed, “Where you been, Boss?”

“IA,” Jethro answered with a shrug. “How are you feeling?”

Rubbing his eyes, Tony made a face and said, “Itchy. Stupid stitches. One more day and they’re gone, thank God! Of course, then I’ve got itchy scabs to deal with, but at least I can’t reach most of them. Hey, it’s too bad they’ll be covered by my clothes. I bet I could gross out Kate. What do you think?”

“I think that Kate would give you another head injury if you tried to show her your scabs,” Jethro answered mildly, trying not to grin at the enthusiastic prattle.

Tony got an evil look on his face as he mused, “I wonder…”

“Whatever you’re thinking, don’t.”

“Ah c’mon, Boss! You don’t even know what I was thinking.”

“Don’t need to. It’s a bad idea, whatever it is.”

Tony smirked a little and said, “So how’s Probie doing? Haven’t seen him since I ended my Sleeping Beauty impression.”

“Morrow’s keeping him busy,” Jethro told him.

Laughing, Tony observed, “I bet he hasn’t stopped stuttering yet.”

“Probably not.”

For a few minutes, they just stared at each other and then Jethro realized that that was what he was doing and looked away as he asked, “So if the stitches come out tomorrow, when do you go home?”

“Five days and fourteen hours.”

“But who’s counting.”

“I am, that’s who!”

Jethro chuckled and said, “I’m sure the insurance company is, too.”

Grinning acknowledgement of the point, Tony asked, “How’s the investigation going?”

“About as well as any IA investigation goes,” Jethro lied easily. “Asking me questions.”

“That tells me squat,” Tony pointed out.

With a shrug, Jethro lied, “There isn’t much to tell yet. We’re still in prelims.”

“I thought it started on Monday.”

“It did.”

“And they’re still going over the first murder?”

“Not the brightest bulbs in the bunch, what can I say?”

Tony squinted at him suspiciously, clearly not believing what had just been said. He let it go, though, and asked, “When do I get to give a statement?”

“When you’re out of the hospital and can come down to NCIS and give it,” Jethro stated.

Frowning, Tony said, “They’ll be done by then.”

“With me, maybe. They haven’t started talking to Kate or McGee yet. Don’t worry, Tony, they aren’t going to wrap this up without talking to everyone,” Jethro said dryly. “They want all the facts so they can twist them around as much as possible.”

“But twist them into what purpose?” Tony questioned, worried.

Cursing himself for putting that worry there when he was trying to avoid it, Jethro said, “Nothing’s going to happen, Tony, don’t worry. We all did our jobs right and the fact that Wilcox was insane will be a big factor in the messiness of how things turned out.”

Slowly, Tony said, “Yeah, Boss, about that.”


“I just…I’m sorry for screwing up.”

Jethro frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“I was the one who insisted that Kate and I go into the warehouse. What happened was my fault. If we’d waited…”

“If you’d waited, then Wilcox might have gotten away. Or he might’ve blown himself up anyhow. Or some of the Bomb Squad guys could’ve been killed by the blast. Tony, there’s no way to know what would have happened if you hadn’t gone in. No way for any of us to know.”

Jethro blinked in surprise at the words that he’d just said, suddenly realizing them in a more personal fashion than he’d intended.

Tony’s hand gripped his forearm as he murmured, “Doctor, heal thyself.”

Ruefully shaking his head, Jethro covered Tony’s hand with his own and accused lightly, “You’ve been talking to Ducky, haven’t you?”

*  *  *  *

Kate stared at the man across the conference room table from her with profiler’s eyes. Special Agent Jeffrey Milner. Approximately fifty years old, body that used to be something but was getting soft with middle age, sharp gray eyes, and a bad or no sense of fashion. Kate had thought that Gibbs’ haircut was bad, but this man’s taste in clothes was worse.

Everyone knows not to wear a patterned tie against a patterned shirt, she thought disdainfully.

“So you and Agent DiNozzo entered the warehouse and commenced the search,” Milner continued.

Kate nodded. “That’s correct.”

“And why wasn’t Agent Gibbs with you?”

“He was keeping an eye on the perimeter as well as waiting for the Bomb Squad to arrive.”

“Do you know why he assumed there would be a need for them?”

Kate arched an eyebrow at him. “Maybe because there’d been two explosions by this man previously? Just a guess.”

Lips flattening into an irritated line, Milner amended, “Why there would be a need for them when Wilcox had supposedly only arrived at the location twenty minutes before.”

“Gibbs is a ‘better safe than sorry,’ kind of man when it comes to things like explosives and the insane people who arm them,” Kate replied, almost not snide.

Her profiler’s eyes said that this man had an ax to grind with Gibbs. All of the questions that she’d been asked had been slanted so as to find some kind of fault with Gibbs’ leadership or his tactics. So far, both had been exemplary so there was no way that the little rat could twist them into something he could use. Kate considered it good fortune that Tony was still in the hospital simply so that Milner could cut his teeth on her and Gibbs first; the two least excitable members of the team. Also to their good fortune, McGee was home sick that day so Milner wouldn’t be able to browbeat him into making a misstatement.

“So once inside the warehouse, you and DiNozzo began the search without success.”

“That’s correct.”

“What prompted Agent DiNozzo to push you out of the window?”

“You’d have to ask him.”

Kate could see that he was growing frustrated with her lack of animosity and the plain, short answers that covered the question, but gave away nothing else.

Milner’s partner, Special Agent Freda Mason, was a lot more subtle than the man and had, so far, restrained herself to impartial questions. The blond woman leaned forward to get Kate’s attention before asking, “What do you think caused Agent DiNozzo to push you to safety?”

And she phrased her questions in a more favorable light too, which Kate gave her points for.

Shrugging, Kate replied, “Tony’s senses of hearing and sight are very acute. I presume that he heard or saw something I did not, but couldn’t say for sure.”

Always use a qualifier, had been drilled in her head by one of her law professors. That way, there was always room to maneuver at a later date. It was advice that Kate had taken to heart.

“Thank you, Agent Todd. You’ve been very helpful,” Mason said, smiling.

Kate hesitated, then said, “I would like to go on the record about one thing.”

That got both of their attentions and Mason withdrew her hand from where it had been going to turn off the recording equipment as she said, “Go ahead.”

“Working for Special Agent Gibbs can be challenging, but that’s because he expects the best from himself and his team. I would trust my life, and the life of any of my loved ones, in his hands without hesitation. He is an excellent team leader and motivator and very creative when it comes to solving crimes as well as keeping his team focused and driven. If this is an investigation into more than just the bad end to a case, if for some personal reason you’re trying to…cast Special Agent Gibbs into a bad light, you can expect my formal protest, in writing, on Morrow’s desk the day that comes to pass.”

Serious, Mason nodded and replied, “Thank you, Agent Todd.”

Knowing a dismissal when she heard one, Kate nodded in return and ignored Milner completely on her way out.

*  *  *  *

“Would you stop already? I’m fine!”

“If you fall flat on your ass, DiNozzo…”

“Jethro, leave the boy alone.”

“Yeah, c’mon, Bossman, he’s got it.”

Tony gritted his teeth at the continued commentary on his progress from car to apartment elevator. Gibbs had been hovering the entire morning and it was starting to drive him a little buggy. It was just as well he was being released on a Saturday, because the office would’ve been empty if he’d been released on a weekday. Even McGee and Gerald had joined the group to usher him from the hospital to his apartment.

The poor nurse at the Admittance desk had probably gotten the fright of her life when four NCIS agents, an ME, his assistant, and a Goth lab rat had descended upon her as de facto escorts for the fifth NCIS agent in the wheelchair.

Seven people to spring me from the hospital, Tony had thought with resigned amusement at the time.

Still, it had healed something deep inside when everyone had shown up at his door, bright and early on a Saturday morning to bring him home. He hadn’t had this kind of sense of belonging anywhere in a very long time. It almost made up for the lack of parental concern.

The elevator was a little cramped for all of them, but it was a short ride to his floor and shorter walk to the apartment at the end of the hall. Unlocking the door, he wasn’t surprised that the place didn’t need airing out. He knew that Gibbs had been here a couple of times to get him things, as had Abby. Thankfully, he’d straightened up the day before his first-hand encounter with live explosives.

“Wow, DiNozzo, I thought for sure there’d be porn mags everywhere,” Kate teased as she and Abby headed directly for the kitchen.

He called after her, “I had Gibbs hide them on his last trip over.”

Gibbs cuffed him lightly on the back of the head, completing the homecoming.

Grinning, Tony walked over to the bedroom to get rid of his bag, which he’d insisted on carrying, over Gibbs’ and McGee’s protests. “I’d say make yourselves at home, but you already have.”

There was laughter from behind as he tossed the bag on his bed. It was going to be great to sleep in his own bed again. Even better, it would be great to sleep on his back, something that he would never again take for granted. Technically, he’d been able to sleep however he wanted for the last three days, but hospital beds were uncomfortable under the best of circumstances and he hadn’t wanted to press his luck.

Returning to the living room, he sat beside McGee and poked him with, “So how was your stint as the Director’s assistant?”

McGee gave a visible shudder and replied, “I never thought I’d be grateful for Gibbs…ah…I mean…I didn’t mean…”

“I know what you mean, McGee,” Gibbs interrupted, letting him off the hook. Clearly feeling magnanimous, he continued, “I’ll even let you buy the pizza to make it up to me.”

McGee groaned, but nodded.

The next couple of hours were filled with talk as everyone tried to catch Tony up on what had been going on with their encounter with IA, on top of general office gossip and Abby’s latest obsession with Ancient Battle Models. Then pizza arrived for lunch and the television was fought over between sports – Gibbs and Tony - an A&E special on aquamarine life – McGee and Ducky – and some kind of pop culture thing on VH1 – Kate and Abby.

Sports won on the simple fact that it was Tony’s television.

By the time Abby and Gibbs started picking up the pieces of the Welcome Home party, it was late afternoon. It was also just about then that Tony suddenly realized he had no way to put the lotion over his back before he went to bed that night. One of his parting instructions had been to use the salve to keep his new skin from drying out.

“Something wrong, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked quietly, sitting back down beside him.

Tony automatically shook his head. “No. Just trying to figure something out is all.”


“It’s nothing.”

Gibbs snorted and ordered, “Spill it, Tony.”

But he really didn’t want to, because then Gibbs would volunteer to stay and/or come over every night to put he lotion on for him. That was just the kind of man he was. The doctor had ordered it done and it would be done, even if that meant Gibbs had to do it. And even though it was pure and useless vanity at this point, he really didn’t want Gibbs to see what he looked like now.

Shaking his head, Tony finally said, “I’ll handle it.”

Gibbs’ eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to say something, but Ducky beat him to it with, “Anthony, my boy, could I have a moment of your time to go over some final instructions?”

Standing with alacrity, Tony answered, “Sure thing, Ducky.”

Ducky headed for the bedroom and Tony followed quickly, trying to get as far from Gibbs as fast as he could. Not that Gibbs would leave it alone when he got back, but by then Tony would have figured something out. Hopefully.

Closing the door, Tony asked, “What’s up, Doc?”

Ducky smiled at that and answered, “I was going to offer my services in assisting you with your at-home regimen.”

Relieved, and wondering if maybe Ducky was a little psychic, Tony said, “That would be great, Ducky. I was just trying to figure that one out.”

“If you come to the lab before you leave for the night, we can take care of it there during the week. And I can pop on by Saturday and Sunday night to help you out at home,” Ducky suggested.

Shaking his head, Tony said, “I can’t let you do that, Ducky. How about I stop in to see you on the weekends? Just name the time and we’ll make it a date.”

Ducky smiled again and replied, “Very well. Say, six-ish? That way you won’t be out too late driving.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Tony agreed. “You want to take care of business now?”


Tony moved to get the lotion from his bag.

*  *  *  *

“They’ve been in there a while. Think everything’s okay?” Abby asked, chewing on a pigtail.

Jethro stood and said, “I’ll go find out.”

“Gibbs, maybe you should just let them come out on their own. It’s probably something medical,” Kate pointed out.

All the more reason for me to go find out, Jethro thought, walking over to the bedroom. He knew that Tony had been worried about something before Ducky had intervened. Opening the door without knocking, on the principal that it was better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, Jethro stopped in shock at his first sight of Tony’s scars. Most of his back, starting at the neck, was mottled skin, slashed all over with short, ugly, dull red scabs that must have come from the flying glass.

“Son of a bitch, Gibbs! Don’t you fucking knock!” Tony snarled, yanking his shirt back up as fast as he could.

Stunned, Jethro didn’t know what to say and so allowed Ducky to just close the door in his face. For several long seconds, he didn’t move, unable to get the sight out of his mind. Then he turned and walked out of the apartment altogether, guilt choking him for what had happened to Tony.

*  *  *  *

Heart racing from a mix of embarrassment, fear, and anger, Tony wrapped his arms around himself, holding on to his shirt.

“Tony, it’s all right, he’s gone,” Ducky soothed. “Let me finish and allow the lotion to be absorbed into your skin, my lad. I’ve locked the door, so no one else will walk in.”

“Like they would anyhow? Gibbs has probably already told them how hideous I look,” Tony exclaimed.

“He wouldn’t do that.”

And Tony knew he wouldn’t, but he was in no mood to be reasonable. Not wanting to aggravate Ducky, though, he allowed himself to be brought back to the bed and for Ducky to finish putting on the lotion.

Good thing I can do my own ass. Wouldn’t want Gibbs to get a look at my deformed balls, Tony snarled to himself. Then he’d really head for the hills. Well, assuming he hasn’t already.

Tony was pretty damn sure that the other man had, though. That the sight of Tony’s scarring would completely turn him off and send him running. Gibbs didn’t do complicated, something Tony was all too sure of. There’d been some mixed signals from the other agent over the last year or so, since he’d gone missing during the Atlas investigation, but Gibbs had never made any definitive moves.

And now, if he had been thinking of getting involved with me, that ship’s definitely fucking sailed, Tony thought viciously.

“There. We’re all done. Let the air get at that for a good five minutes. Would you like me to tell the others you’re indisposed for the rest of the night?”

Tony was tempted, but not saying goodbye was a coward’s way out. He’d take his lumps, even if it was to find out that Gibbs was gone, like a man. Shaking his head, Tony answered, “Nah, that’s okay Ducky. I’ll be out in a few.”

“Very well,” Ducky agreed. He gave Tony’s shoulder a little pat and said, “Give him some time, Tony. Jethro hadn’t been confronted with the extent of your injuries before now. I’m sure he’s feeling guilty that you went through it at all and that it happened on his watch, so to speak.”

“No one’s responsible except for Wilcox,” Tony ground out.

“You and I know that, but Jethro, well, he’s a little slow to catch on sometimes.”

Not willing to let it go just yet, Tony replied, “He still needs to learn some damn manners.”

Ducky smiled ruefully. “I’ve no argument there, my boy, no argument at all.”

*  *  *  *

Jethro drove around for a few hours before finally making his way home. He’d ignored the calls on his cell that came from Ducky, not wanting to deal with the lecture that he knew was to come. There hadn’t, big surprise, been any calls from Tony.

The worst part was knowing how bad he’d just made Tony feel. Not only had he reacted like a goob at a country fair gawking at some freak, but he’d just barged in to do so. He hadn’t taken Tony’s feelings into consideration at all. And Tony had to be feeling more than a little uncertain about how he looked, with all that scarring to deal with. There’d probably been even more hidden beneath his pants.

For someone like Tony, who’d been good-looking his entire life, it had to be a blow to the ego. Tony wasn’t nearly as vain as he liked to make out to others, Kate especially, but self-image was a fragile thing for anyone, even the most confident. And Tony was far from confident, when it came to his personal life, something Jethro had only recently begun to discover.

He was staring into a glass of bourbon when Ducky called again and this time, he answered it.

“You do realize just how terrible a thing that was to do, don’t you, Jethro?”

A promising start to the conversation.

Sighing, Jethro replied, “Yeah, Ducky, I know.”

“So why did you?”

“Because I knew something was going on, figured it had to be about Tony’s health, and also knew he wasn’t going to tell me what was wrong,” Jethro answered. “I know, I know, that’s none of my business if he doesn’t want to share it with me, but I had to make sure he was okay.”

“Jethro…” Ducky paused for a long moment. “Jethro, what am I going to do with you? There’s nothing wrong with Tony any more. He’s scarred and a little battered emotionally, but fine physically. All he really needs right now is your support, which was considerably lacking.”

There wasn’t anything Jethro could say to that except, “Yeah.”

“So what are you planning to do about it?”

“I’m open to suggestions, Ducky.”

“Well then. I suggest you get yourself back over to Tony’s apartment tonight. And once there, I suggest that you tell him exactly how you feel about him. I also suggest that you not let him go to bed alone, but that’s up to him.”

Jethro’s lips twisted into a brief smile. “Those are a lot of suggestions.”

“Yes, and if you don’t do any of them, I can give you a few more, very pointed, suggestions on what to do with yourself.”

Jethro winced.

*  *  *  *

Tony was very tempted not to answer the knock at the door, suspecting who it was, but figured that Gibbs wouldn’t go away until he’d apologized in that roundabout way of his that wasn’t really an apology. Sighing, he got up from the sofa and walked over, opening the door, but not letting Gibbs inside. Instead, he asked, “What do you want?”

“Can I come in?”


That seemed to throw Gibbs. For a few seconds he just stood there, then his shoulders squared and Tony nearly groaned at the look of determination that crossed the other man’s face.

“I want to apologize properly for earlier and I can’t do that in the hall. Just let me in and let me explain and I’ll be out of your hair if you don’t like what I have to say.”

Tony stared at him suspiciously, but couldn’t, as usual, read Gibbs for shit. Not when he didn’t want to be read.

“And I’m not leaving until you let me apologize properly.”

Bingo, Tony thought, mentally rolling his eyes.

He stepped aside to let Gibbs in and walked back towards the sofa. When he turned back to hear what Gibbs had to say, Tony found himself tugged carefully forward by a hand gripping his shirt. Startled, he started to ask what was going on when Gibbs kissed him. Gibbs took advantage of his opened mouth to slide his tongue inside. It took a few seconds for his brain to catch up to his body, which was already responding enthusiastically.

Tony shoved Gibbs away hard enough to send him stumbling. Pissed, he shouted, “What the hell was that!?”

Gibbs’ lips twitched and he replied calmly, “If I have to tell you, then you haven’t been dating nearly as much as you’ve boasted, DiNozzo.”

Perilously close to losing it completely, Tony shouted in wordless frustration, grabbed a pillow off the couch and whipped it at Gibbs, catching him right in the face. Gibbs grunted, but was instantly on the defensive and batted away the second and third pillows as they were hurtled at him.

When Tony picked up a shoe and raised it to throw, Gibbs held out a hand and barked, “Enough, DiNozzo! Knock it off before someone gets hurt!”

Tony looked at the shoe in his hand in surprise. Somehow, he’d run out of pillows. Shrugging it off, he tossed the shoe back onto the floor and demanded, “Why the hell did you just kiss me? Is that your bizarre idea of an apology?”

With a sigh, and suddenly looking very much his age, Gibbs shook his head. “No, Tony, it wasn’t. Isn’t. I was just trying to show you how I felt about you since I’m not all that great in the words department. I’ve screwed up so many times with you, I was trying not to do it again.”

Tony snorted. “It didn’t work.”

“Obviously,” Gibbs muttered, scrubbing a hand over his head. “Look. I’m sorry about busting in on you when Ducky was doing whatever it was he was doing. And for the record, I don’t give a damn about what you look like.”

Not willing to let it go that easy, Tony asked, “So why’d you take off like a bat out of hell?”

“Because it’s my fucking fault!” Gibbs shouted, frustration and guilt replete in his voice.

Even knowing that banging his head against the wall wouldn’t help, Tony was seriously tempted to do it anyhow. “I thought we had this conversation in the hospital. It was Wilcox’s fault, no one else’s.”

Quiet again, Gibbs replied, “You’re my responsibility, Tony, and not even a psychopath changes that.”

“Do I have to arm myself with the shoe again?” Tony threatened, an unexpected burst of humor springing on him. He walked over to Gibbs, who was still standing in a defensive posture, and continued, “I’m my own responsibility, Gibbs. I make my own choices and live with the consequences. And if you can’t get that through your thick Marine skull, I’ll not only bludgeon you with my fashion accessory of choice, but I’ll have Ducky lecture you on the subject. Extensively.”

Gibbs’ lips twitched again, only this time the smile won. “You will, huh?”

“Yeah,” Tony confirmed, putting his hand on Gibbs’ hip.

Licking his lips, Gibbs moved closer and murmured, “Can’t have that.”

Swallowing against his own dry throat, Tony leaned in as well and they met in the middle, as they usually did. The kiss was a lot better than the first, mostly because he wasn’t being blindsided, but also because he could feel the tenderness in the lips that touched his, the caring that said more than words ever could. Moaning in approval, Tony pressed up against Gibbs’ chest, putting his arms around his waist and holding fast as Gibbs devoured his mouth.

When the kiss finally ended, they were both breathing hard and Tony took a few moments to catch his breath before asking softly, “Stay?”

Those pale blue eyes that could be fire or ice at any given moment were dark with need as Gibbs husked, “Definitely.”

*  *  *  *

Jethro unbuttoned Tony’s shirt slowly, kissing the bare skin as it was exposed. He wanted to get rid of that unsure look in Tony’s eyes and knew the only way to do that was to reassure Tony that he was still desirable.

Damn, was he desirable.

Sucking lightly on a nipple provoked a faint gasp from Tony, so he repeated the gentle action on the other to get a similar response. Jethro kept returning to Tony’s mouth, instantly addicted to the taste and feel of it, lazily twining their tongues together while his hands roamed over the firm planes of Tony’s chest.

Tony tensed when one of Jethro’s hands slid slowly around to his back, even though he was barely touching the skin. It felt textured, but baby soft to Jethro’s fingertips, the brand new skin not yet toughened to match the rest of Tony. Breaking off the kiss, he stared seriously at Tony and asked, “Let me see?”

For a few seconds, it looked like Tony was going to refuse, but then he sighed explosively and nodded. He shrugged out of the shirt, letting it fall to the floor, and turned his back to Jethro.

Even though Jethro expected the scarring this time, it was still like a blow to the gut. Gone was the smooth skin that he’d seen in the locker room, replaced by patches of mottled pink skin and dissected with the harsher scabs from the stitches that were no longer there. Not sure how much pressure he could use, Jethro kept his touch light as he ran his fingers over the good and healing skin. Goosebumps erupted over the entire back, which he took as a good sign, and Jethro bent forward to place a butterfly kiss to the worst of it.

Tony gasped again, loudly this time, and whispered, “I can’t take this.”

Jethro grabbed him by the belt, refusing to let him go, and carefully pulled so that Tony’s back was up against his chest. Wrapping his arms around Tony’s waist, he rested his chin on a shoulder and whispered back, “Yes, you can. Nothing’s changed for me, Tony. I want you more than I’ve wanted anyone in a long time. Can’t you feel how much I want you?”

So saying, Jethro deliberately rubbed his crotch into Tony’s ass.

Tony shuddered and gripped Jethro’s hips, pushing back against his cock with a desperate, “I need you in me, please!”

Barely hanging on to his self-control at the shameless plea, Jethro groaned and sucked on the curve of Tony’s throat as he ground against the willing body. When he’d somewhat regained control, Jethro pulled back and panted, “We have to be careful, I won’t hurt you.”

“I’m not going to break,” Tony promised, then went still. “But, uh, the burns go all the way down.”

Biting sharply at Tony’s ear, he asked, “Do they seal your ass shut?”

Tony choked on a laugh and answered, “No!”

“Then I don’t care,” Jethro stated. “Where’re your supplies?”

“What, you didn’t come prepared?”

“Only to get brained by a shoe.”

Shaking his head, Tony flashed him a grin as he walked towards the bedroom. Not being an idiot, Jethro followed.

*  *  *  *

Tony felt more than a little dazed as he walked from living room to bedroom, Gibbs right behind him. Things hadn’t turned out at all how he’d anticipated, not that he was complaining. He’d figured that he’d show up at work on Monday and they would pretend Gibbs hadn’t seen anything at all. Now the man was kissing his boo-boos better. The thought made him laugh unexpectedly, which earned him a curious look from Gibbs. Tony shook his head and Gibbs shrugged, accepting it was nothing.

Grinning at the entire silent exchange, Tony turned to face Gibbs as they reached the bed, holding out his hands. They were taken and brought up to Gibbs’ lips to be kissed, which surprised the hell out of him for some reason. The gesture was old-fashioned and romantic, something he wouldn’t have anticipated from Gibbs, though really, he should have.

And then he was brought in for one of those mind-blowing kisses and Tony opened his mouth happily to the onslaught. Still half hard from the encounter in the living room, he rubbed against the echoing hardness under Gibbs’ pants and smirked into the kiss when he got a moan. Gibbs again surprised him by falling backwards onto the bed and pulling Tony with him. Straddling him, Tony sat up and looked down at Gibbs and repeated, “I’m not going to break.”

“I know,” Gibbs replied, settling his hands on Tony’s hips.

Tony rocked his ass gently back and forth, enjoying the feel of the man beneath him. He knew from personal experience in the sparring ring just how strong Gibbs was. To know that strength was restrained just for him was a powerful, heady feeling and he leaned forward to rip open Gibbs’ shirt, buttons flying everywhere.

Gibbs snorted and said sternly, “You’re finding every one of those buttons before I leave here, DiNozzo.”

Laughing from pure happiness that their relationship hadn’t changed, Tony taunted, “You going to make me?”

A soft growl was the only warning he got before he was lifted and flipped onto his back. Even still laughing, Tony noted how careful Gibbs was with him and mentally shook his head. Looked like it was going to take some time for it to sink in but, thankfully, they had plenty of time for Gibbs to get used to the new him.

“Matter of fact, yeah,” Gibbs whispered hotly before sucking and biting on Tony’s ear. “I am.”

Groaning, Tony arched his head away to give better access and Gibbs took him up on the invitation, kissing his way down the throat to his collarbone. Pulling at the offending shirt, Tony managed to get it off Gibbs and started his own explorations, limited though they were to the upper chest and back. He massaged the back in a heavy-handed caress, pulling at the muscles and thrilling to the moan it provoked.

Gibbs made short work of Tony’s pants, pulling them off and tossing them aside, along with the briefs beneath. Then he just sat back and looked at Tony, which made him nervous enough to ask, “What?”

Half-smiling, Gibbs answered, “Nothing. Just admiring the view.”

Before Tony could make an appropriately scathing remark, Gibbs’ mouth had enveloped his cock and the only thing that escaped was a loud moan. Strong suction, tongue flickering around and over the tip, fingers playing with Tony’s balls, which were still extra sensitive enough to make him want more and simultaneously try to get away. As if sensing that, the hand was removed and relocated to grip the base of Tony’s cock, stroking wherever Gibbs’ mouth wasn’t.

Tony knew Gibbs had to be hurting and gasped, “Get your God damned pants off and give me some of that!”

Gibbs pulled off, looking startled, then grinned and made short work of getting rid of his own pants and underwear.

Smiling when Gibbs practically straddled his face, Tony happily went down on the cock that bobbed over his mouth. Or was it, went up? Shaking off the odd thought, Tony sucked and licked the shaft with abandon, lavishing it with all the pent-up need and frustration that he’d been feeling for Gibbs for months now. Gibbs jerked in response, pushing further into his mouth, and resumed his attentions on Tony’s cock.

The dual sensations were fast approaching overload and Tony had to pull off and gasp, “Stop! Gibbs, stop!”

Panting, Gibbs looked back at him. “You okay?”

“Yeah I’m fucking okay! I’m so okay, I’m going to spill any second now, but I want to do that with you in me,” Tony answered.

Gibbs’ eyes rolled a little at the words, fingers tightening on the bedspread as he got himself under control. Switching around so that he lay stretched out face-to-face with Tony, Gibbs traced his fingers over Tony’s cheeks and whispered, “I love you.”

Tony was pretty sure that his heart stopped at that announcement and he stared back at Gibbs, dumbstruck, for at least a minute. It wasn’t until that shuttered look surfaced on the other man’s face that Tony exclaimed, “Me, too!”

Gibbs arched an eyebrow at him.

“I love you too,” Tony clarified, smiling. He rolled half on top of Gibbs, slinging a leg over his hips and continuing, “Now make me feel it, lover.”


“Top drawer.”

“Naturally. Easy access.”

Tony grinned and answered, “I claim the fifth.”

“Too late, DiNozzo,” Gibbs growled, though it lacked its usual threatening quality.

Reaching over him, Gibbs opened the bedside table and pulled out the lube and asked, “Condoms?”

Tony stared into Gibbs’ eyes and said, “Only if you want them. I’m clean.”

“I want to feel you,” Gibbs confessed, breaking the gaze.

Tilting Gibbs’ face up, Tony said, “Same here. I want to feel you all the way inside me.”

Gibbs shifted so that he lay behind Tony and pushed a slick finger into his hole, working it around slowly. It had been a long time since Tony had let anyone penetrate him, so the preparation took longer than he wanted, but he had no desire to be in any pain in the near future. When three fingers slid in and out of him with relative ease, Tony ordered impatiently, “Now, Gibbs!”

Snorting, Gibbs muttered, “Should’ve known you’d be a bossy bottom.”

“Hey!” Tony exclaimed indignantly.

The question of his bossy nature, bottom or otherwise, died uncontested as Gibbs pushed inside Tony with his cock. Swallowing heavily, Tony willed himself to relax further, breathing slow and deep as he was penetrated inch by inch. With Gibbs flush against him from behind, Tony shuddered and gasped, “Feels so fucking good!”

“Going to feel better in a minute,” Gibbs promised, reaching around front to stroke his cock.

When Gibbs’ hand reached further between Tony’s legs, he shook his head, warning him off with, “I’ll come, don’t.”

Gibbs nodded, lips pressed to Tony’s shoulder, and returned to jacking him as he began to move. The thrusts were smooth and steady, possessing him the only way Gibbs probably knew how; thoroughly, completely. Tony lost track of time during that interlude of push-pull, in-out. The feel of the cock fucking his hole drove him crazy long before Gibbs hit his prostate. Jerking hard and crying out at the extra stimulation, Tony couldn’t hold back and came the next time Gibbs pushed into him.

There were several more, rapid thrusts before Gibbs came, spilling wet heat inside him. Tony was already limp against the bed when that happened, enjoying the simple sensations of being joined with Gibbs as he reached his own completion. Gibbs didn’t move for a few minutes, panting harshly in the quiet room while his fingers traced abstract designs on Tony’s abs.

As sex went, it was shorter than most encounters Tony had had over the last couple of years, but also a lot more intense. Yawning, happily sated, Tony asked, “We don’t have to move, right?”

Gibbs chuckled and answered, “Just to climb under the covers.”

Heaving a dramatic sigh, which was mostly to cover his disappointment when Gibbs pulled out of him, Tony swiftly curled up over Gibbs’ chest, resting his head above the heart. Gibbs wrapped the blankets around them and kissed his forehead, both of them silent for a long while, lost in their own thoughts.

“So when are you moving in?”

*  *  *  *

Jethro nearly smacked himself in the head. Those were the first words he said after the best sex he’d had in an age?

“Moving in?” Tony repeated.

Cursing himself, but not willing to take it back, Jethro amended, “With me. No sense in you paying rent here when I own my place free and clear.”

Tony snorted. “And Kate thinks you’re not romantic.”

This isn’t going the way I rehearsed it, Jethro thought, frustrated with himself. “I meant...”

Tony’s hand covered his mouth and, amused, observed, “You really aren’t good with the word-thing, are you?”

Jethro sighed.

Chuckling, Tony said, “I think we need to take it a little slower than that.”


Tony’s hand tightened over his mouth, blocking the words and Jethro grimaced, but stopped trying to talk.

“I do love you, Jethro, but you don’t exactly have the best track record with commitment and neither do I. Let’s not skip the dating and getting-to-know-each-other phase, okay?”

Which wasn’t a big thing to ask, but Jethro hated waiting when he really wanted something; or in this case, someone. Still, there were two of them in this relationship, as weird as it was to say that, and Tony’s opinion counted. Nodding, he pulled away the hand and agreed, “Sure. And we can’t change how we act at work.”

“I wasn’t planning to,” Tony answered.

Jethro nodded again, saying, “Good. Now get some sleep. I plan to wear you out some more tomorrow.”

Tony snickered and countered, “Only if you last longer than seven minutes next time.”

“Hey. Who came first here?” Jethro teased, rubbing Tony’s belly.

“Low blow, Gibbs, low blow.”

“Not yet, but tomorrow, definitely.”

Tony swallowed audible and managed to squeak, “G’night, Jethro.”

Grinning and more than pleased to have both the last word and Tony in his arms, Jethro replied, “Night, Tony.”