“Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it, nothing very bad could happen to you there.”
February 5, 2008. Washington DC
Tony put one foot out of Gibbs’ car and paused. He hadn’t been here since… that night with Damon.
He flicked open his brand new (but temporary) collapsible white cane, and leaning on it he stepped out on both feet. His right shoulder was still in a sling, and his left hand was occupied. He calmly stood there, waiting to be told what to do next. Which, of course, Gibbs did.
The older man got out of the driver’s side and grabbed Tony’s bags from the backseat. Then he nodded at Tony wordlessly, ordering him to start walking. Tony sighed and looked up at the house, then back at his boss one more time with questioning eyes.
“Are you sure, Boss? We don’t have to do this every time I visit the ER, you know.”
Gibbs just glared at him menacingly.
“Shutting up now, Boss.”
Anxious and unsure like never before, Tony followed Gibbs into the house. It was going to be a very long week.
Once inside, Gibbs put Tony’s stuff down by the couch and turned to him. “Can you make it upstairs?”
Tony looked up the said stairs, at the door to what once used to be his bedroom in this house. Of course, it was Damon’s now. Suddenly he felt like an intruder in Gibbs’ home, and his hand clasped around the cane handle started to shake. “Uh, I can take the guestroom.”
Gibbs slightly tilted his head in that appraising manner of his, like he could look into Tony’s thoughts.
“Tony, that’s not what I asked.”
“C-can you repeat the question, Boss?”
Gibbs stepped closer. “I asked if you could make it upstairs with the cane, or if you needed my help.”
Tony blinked, feeling the blood rush up to his face. “Oh.”
Gibbs shook his head and walked over, taking the choice back because Tony apparently wasn’t capable of making one. “Come on.”
He put one hand in the small of Tony’s back and started slowly walking him up the stairs. It turned out not to be so hard. While Tony’s mind was still apprehensive, his body remembered how easily it could just lean into Gibbs whenever his step faltered. The old man was in no hurry either. His hand stayed on Tony’s back, warm and firm and reassuring.
Gibbs pushed open the bedroom door and let Tony walk in on his own. He looked around the old place and a soft smile automatically curled his lips.
“Wow, it looks… exactly the same… hey, my iPod!” Tony spotted it on the bedside table and his smile got brighter. “I thought I lost it.” Abby had gifted this to him.
“Alright, you’ve got your entertainment. Bed, now. No arguments.”
Tony pouted but did as he was told. He folded his cane and stepped out of one sneaker as he continued to look around. Someone had been cleaning up on a regular basis, but it looked like none of his stuff had been moved at all. How was that possible?
Soon as he sat down, Gibbs knelt by him to take off his second sneaker (the one on his injured leg) and socks as well. Tony felt the blood rushing to his face and he held as still as he could.
Gibbs stood up, ran a hand through his hair and gazed at Tony with a strange, undecipherable look on his face. Tony swallowed just as nervously as he looked back up at him.
“I… uh, y-your extra blankets are in the guest room. Damon was using them when he was here. So, I-I’ll just go get them.” The veteran stayed another second, looking near-frustrated with the words that had just tumbled out of his mouth, then abruptly turned and left.
Tony squeezed his eyes shut in mortification. He remembered being so upset at the idea of Damon using this bedroom. In retrospect, he was ashamed of himself for being so petty and immature, and no, it hadn’t been an act at all.
He chided himself for thinking about Damon again. Everything he said or did, everything anyone else said or did reminded him of the big damn lug. It didn’t matter that he’d finally got what he wanted – Damon was out of DC, hell he was out of the country and Gibbs’ life. He should feel happy, redeemed, victorious. Instead he felt shattered, lost, defeated, because Damon was out of his Tony’s life too.
And what about Gibbs? Didn’t he miss Damon? He must, maybe that was why he’d been acting so weird and uncharacteristically available to Tony. Maybe Tony was his rebound thing.
Gibbs walked back in with a load of neatly folded blankets in his arms. Tony frowned – who’d have thought all that damn fabric was capable of looking so compact? Had to be Damon’s doing, of course.
“Hmm,” Gibbs said gruffly as he got busy spreading the blankets open to drape over Tony.
“Are you really, really sure you’re okay with me staying here?”
One hand flew out of left field towards Tony and whacked his head unceremoniously before returning to its original task of tucking the blankets around his legs.
“Oww,” Tony winced. He’d forgotten how much those head-slaps hurt. The tension seeped out of his body and he relaxed against his pillows.
“Gotcha, Boss. Loud and clear.”
Gibbs took the next couple of days off to watch over Tony. He didn’t actually need to, seeing the steady stream of visitors to his house, all for Tony. He could’ve easily had Abby or Ziva or even McGee do the babysitting. But he wanted to do it himself.
He’d lost too much time, and nearly lost Tony too. Now was his chance to make up for it.
In the mornings, they got a private nurse to come over. She changed Tony’s dressings and told him it won’t be long before he’d be rid of the sling, which made him happy. But when she suggested a sponge bath, Tony glowered hard enough to make her re-evaluate her line of work. Unfortunately for the agent, his boss was right there, standing by the door.
“It’s either her or me, DiNozzo.”
Tony didn’t protest to anything the nurse suggested after that.
The gang from work dropped in for lunch, bearing gifts. McGee got a wireless router to set up Wi-Fi for Tony so he could surf the internet on his laptop. Jimmy brought over Tony’s 40-inch LCD screen from his apartment. A big debate followed about where to hook it up – downstairs or in Tony’s bedroom. Gibbs broke the tie and ordered it be downstairs since that’s where Tony would be spending most of his time. Even Ducky saw no reason why Tony should be bedridden, and in fact, his leg could use the exercise.
Ziva and Abby picked up Italian takeaway for lunch mostly so they could get pizza that Tony could grab with his left hand easily, but also so they could get him some Tiramisu, Tony’s favorite dessert.
Gibbs rolled his eyes, knowing very well that all the spoiling and pampering would stop the instant Tony bounced back to his usual self and annoyed all sympathy right out of his co-workers.
“So how’s the radar hunt going?” Tony asked after his second helping of dessert.
“Slow,” Ziva answered honestly. “We tracked the equipment out of DC all the way to Ottawa. And we’re pretty sure it has been routed right back into the country but…”
“But we lost the trail at the Canadian border,” Abby finished.
“Huh,” Tony squinted, studying the pointy ends of his fork with keen interest. “Doesn’t make sense. Defense equipment is always high-profile. You’d have to have a buyer ready to move the moment you pluck something like that, usually an international one. So what’s this thing doing back in the country?”
McGee continued the brainstorming. “We’ve asked Jardine to track any chatter on the international circuit about this. Will know more tomorrow.”
“Maybe the buyer is domestic, like a competing vendor.” Ziva theorized.
“Maybe the buyer backed out,” Abby suggested.
“Maybe there is no buyer,” Tony added. Everyone else turned to look at him.
It would take another few weeks to crack the case. Gibbs would look back at this moment and remember how Tony was the one who’d called it long before anyone else. But right then, under everyone’s scrutiny, the agent suddenly seemed to wither.
“Which would of course, be completely stupid! Why would I even say that?” He tried, laughing to cover up his alleged ‘stupidity’.
Gibbs had not seen Tony so unsure in a very, very long time. And he wasn’t the only one who noticed. After cleaning up, Gibbs lingered on in the kitchen and Ducky joined him. The two friends stood side by side, watching the youngsters in the living area squabble over which DVD to watch.
“Tell me you’re doing something about this.” Ducky commanded softly.
Gibbs swallowed hard. He couldn’t bear the sadness behind Tony’s fake smiles anymore either.
“He’s regressed, Jethro. That is the Tony from seven years ago, when he first came to work for NCIS. You fixed him before, you can do it again.”
Gibbs shifted from one foot to the next. “I didn’t know how to then, Duck. And I still don’t.”
Ducky sighed. They’d both known the boy was broken long before Gibbs found him. “I know it’s not something you planned to do. But somehow, somewhere down the line, you unwittingly ended up playing an important role in his growth and healing.”
Gibbs scoffed lightly. All he’d ever wanted to do was spend time with Tony like he would have with his own son, teach Tony everything he knew, like building a boat, which the boy had conveniently ignored.
“You both have had a rough year that much is obvious. But it’s nothing you can’t bounce back from. He needs you Jethro, now more than anything.”
Gibbs took a deep breath. He watched Tony flex his injured shoulder and grimace in pain, thinking nobody was paying attention. He put a hand on his old friend’s shoulder and squeezed it gratefully. “I’m on it, Duck.”
Then he walked over to the group of youngsters and asked everyone (except Tony of course) to go back to work. Lunch time was over.
Around four PM after Tony had napped for a couple of hours, a couple of his frat brothers dropped in for a visit. Gibbs had met them before and he’d liked the two men. One was in the business of yachts, and actually knew a little something about building boats. The other was a technical consultant or something, Gibbs never actually bothered to look up what e-Commerce meant but it sounded computer-y.
Later that evening, Ducky sent a physical therapist to the house to work with Tony. That took up the better part of an hour. Gibbs sat watching Tony go through the motions, completely ignoring the tall, intelligent, exotic, and extremely attractive young woman leaning over him in close proximity. He knew Tony’s type, and she was it. At least, used to.
They still hadn’t found the right opportunity to talk, and Gibbs was starting to get restless. He didn’t like the way Tony never met his gaze anymore, or the sadness in his face when Tony thought he wasn’t being watched. At least he could find some reprieve in the fact that this wasn’t all Gibbs’ doing. Damon had a role to play in there somewhere too, right.
Night fell and dinner was a quick affair, seeing how Tony wasn’t very hungry. Gibbs helped him up the stairs again, and into his room.
“You’re beat,” he whispered, not unkindly.
“No argument there.” Tony mumbled, already starting to topple sideways onto the bed.
Gibbs caught him before he could hit his head against the headboard and helped him get under the covers. Tony didn’t resist when Gibbs fussed around him, taking off his shoes and tucking the blankets around him again. Once he was settled, Gibbs hesitantly took a seat beside Tony on the bed.
He felt this urgent need to brush the hair back from his agent’s forehead. It wasn’t gelled into stiffness, for a change. Instead it was soft and curling around Tony’s face, making him look ten years younger. Gibbs smiled, he just couldn’t help it. But when he reached out to touch it, Tony flinched.
His hand froze mid-air.
“Sorry, I-I don’t know why I did that.” Tony whispered, sounding utterly terrified and confused.
Gibbs gulped around the giant ball of emotion lodged in his throat and got up from the bed. He dug his hands in his jeans pockets and nodded briefly. “It’s okay. Sleep tight.”
He switched off the lights, leaving a bedside lamp on that Tony liked, and quietly left the room. Once outside he practically ran into his own bedroom, closing the door and leaning against it heavily. The last time Tony had flinched away from him was the night Kate died.
He’d felt tremendously guilty, even though there was nothing he could have done. And he’d wanted Gibbs to validate his guilt by being furious with him, vent his anger on him with physical blows and kicks and punches, something, anything.
“Sonofabitch,” he gritted his teeth. Just like Tony to direct all the blame towards himself for everything.
“What did I ever do to deserve you, Tony?”
Sometime after midnight, Gibbs sat up buck-straight in bed, his Sig drawn in one hand the moment the noises began. It took him half a second to remember where he was, and that he wasn’t alone in his house tonight.
Tony was in the bedroom next door. That’s where the noises were coming from.
Gibbs instantly jumped out of bed, discarding the gun because he’d already figured the noises out for what they really were – thrashing.
He practically pulled his own door off its hinges in his hurry to reach Tony. The other bedroom door was slightly ajar but received the same treatment. Gibbs flicked on a light and spotted a form writhing violently in the confines of multiple blankets.
“Tony? Wake up, son, just a dream, Tony!” Gibbs leaned on one knee on the mattress to reach Tony and the bed dipped.
In hindsight, he should have expected it. DiNozzo was a federal agent after all, trained by the best agencies and police departments in the world, with an aim that could be lethal even on his worst day.
Tony had placed his gun and badge on a bedside table to his left, considering his right hand was out of commission. Before Gibbs realized they were there, Tony had his own Sig drawn and pointed right at Gibbs, his eyes barely open.
Gibbs put his hands up in placation. “It’s okay, it’s just me.”
Tony blinked rapidly before he could shirk off the residual REM and focus on what was real. One moment he was squinting at Gibbs, and in the next his eyes went wide with panic.
“Fuck,” he rasped, and lowered his gun. He looked around himself, thoroughly disoriented, trying to separate the nightmare from reality.
Tony was sweating and wheezing abnormally. This time Gibbs moved slowly, reaching for the gun and calmly taking it out of Tony’s hand before placing it inside a drawer.
“Shh, it’s okay, Tony, you’re okay,” he whispered gently.
“Sorry, Boss,” Tony muttered, clearly devastated, biting his lip trying to control his erratic breathing.
Gibbs couldn’t care less that this man had flinched away from him earlier that night. He didn’t care the same man had held a gun to his head with the safety off, not two seconds ago.
“Move,” he ordered, in a tone of voice that never failed to get through.
For a second Tony looked up in surprise but did as told, shifting in the bed until he’d made space for Gibbs to get in beside him. He stayed frozen in his spot with shock as Gibbs arranged himself around Tony, pulling the younger man back until he was resting against Gibbs’ chest. His head was pulled back to rest on his mentor’s shoulder.
“Shut up, DiNozzo,” was all Gibbs could offer, pushing the sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead.
Gibbs found himself smiling as he held Tony the way he hadn’t in… ah, hell, ever. The realization made Gibbs’ eyes water. He wrapped his arms around Tony tightly, refusing to let him go even as Tony sat there petrified, unsure how to react.
“Relax son,” the older man whispered. “Tell me what it was about.”
Tony shuddered at the memory of his nightmare. “H-he… was drowning. I couldn’t reach him.”
Gibbs frowned. “Tony, were you at the pier again?”
The pier that Gibbs had driven off of? The pier that Tony had jumped off of to rescue him and Madison? In thirty degrees water, knowing his scarred lungs won’t be able to take the strain and they didn’t, and his wheezing had gotten worse ever since? That pier?
Tony softly nodded, letting Gibbs infer an answer from the movement of the agent’s head under his chin.
“Have you dreamt about that day before?”
The answer came after a really long pause. “Off and on.”
“Have you been dreaming of me drowning?”
Tony nodded again, and Gibbs sighed, kissing the side of his boy’s forehead before he could even think about it. He had no idea how Tony would take it, but at this point he didn’t much care. “I take it I wasn’t the one drowning today?”
Then who was? The question was right there on the tip of his tongue, but Gibbs already knew the answer.
Tony’s wheezing subsided as Gibbs continued to gently rub Tony’s chest over his t-shirt. After awhile, the stiffness in his body dissipated, and he was completely deadweight in Gibbs’ arms. The marine kissed his temple again and held him tight, making up his mind. He was going to talk to Tony tomorrow… about everything.
Including what happened between him and Damon.
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