Long Way Home
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Timeline note: Since Tony reviving Maddie and Gibbs happened just before 6 pm, Gibbs hasn’t reburied the time capsule yet.

Tony took the long way home. It was a conscious decision on his part, driving from George Washington Hospital in utter silence, merging onto the Memorial Bridge and past Arlington National Cemetery. As he drove around the Pentagon and through Arlington, heading for Alexandria and Gibbs’ place, Tony finally allowed himself to reflect on what had happened earlier tonight.

Not shooting the suspects, not diving into the water, not even frantically trying to save Maddie and choosing her to do CPR on over Gibbs. Not even the way Gibbs’ eyes focused all of a sudden. He hadn’t coughed or gasped for air. Tony had never seen or heard of anything like that before. Then again, it was Gibbs!

What he focused on instead was the aftermath. McGee and Ziva arriving and calling ambulances for the three of them. Ducky appearing a short time afterward. Gibbs waving off oxygen and Palmer forcing the mask against his face. The way Maddie had shivered under the warming blanket they had wrapped around her shoulders.

They’d loaded Gibbs in the first ambulance despite his protests, weak and hoarse as they were. He was older and had been down longer. Maddie had been loaded swiftly afterward. It was only after they were gone that Tony let the EMTs look at him. He was frozen half solid, his body wracked with shivers, and he had been starting to wheeze and cough. Tony hadn’t wanted to slow down. Ziva and McGee needed help processing the scene and there were reports that had to be written, and after all, Tony was Gibbs’ second in command and…

“He has severely damaged lungs…pneumonic plague. We’re lucky he’s with us today… Must get him to the hospital right away. He shouldn’t have waited so long.” Ducky’s voice had broken through the chatter and Tony had only nodded wearily as an oxygen mask was slipped on him. Ducky had ridden with him and contacted his pulmonary doctor, who met them at George Washington University Hospital

Eight hours later, after a thorough examination and two sets of X-rays, Tony had been released. He had three prescriptions, Palmer or McGee had brought his car, and he was doing pretty well, all things considered. There was a serious worry about infection, but for now, Tony was stable.

He’d shooed Ducky away a couple of hours ago when it became clear that as long as his second chest X-ray didn’t show any problems he’d be sent home. Ducky had casually mentioned that Gibbs and Maddie had been released earlier. From Ducky’s dramatic sigh, Tony had known he wasn’t pleased by this. They’d come close"damned close"to losing Gibbs and they were all shaken by it.

Even though it was approaching 3 am, there was no way Tony could rest without seeing for himself that Gibbs was okay. Intellectually, he knew that he would just wake Gibbs up and he’d be cranky and angry, but there was a certain comfort in Gibbs’ normal behavior and Tony needed that to put him at ease.

His relationship with his boss was so complex. It went far beyond mentor and student and well into admiration, a touch of hero worship and…more. Tony had thought Gibbs might reciprocate. There had been one night where they’d both had a little too much to drink with their pizza and some heavy duty flirting had ensued, but the next morning it was as if it had never happened. Tony tried not to think about the whys too much. If he allowed himself to, it’d drive him crazy and bring up every insecurity he’d ever had.

He pulled to a near-silent stop in Gibbs’ driveway. The house was silent, though there was a very faint glow from the basement. Not sure why he was doing so, Tony grabbed his bag of medications before locking up and entering the house silently.

It would be just like Gibbs to sleep under the damned boat after a day like this and Tony wondered if he’d be able to convince his boss to go upstairs. The basement door was wide open and Tony stifled a sigh as he headed downstairs, fully expecting to hear Gibbs’ quiet snores.

“DiNozzo,” Gibbs said in a low voice when Tony’s foot touched the last stair. Tony’s head snapped up and he focused on Gibbs, who was sitting at his workbench, a jar of bourbon nearby.

“Boss,” Tony greeted, nodding. Gibbs inclined his head toward a sawhorse and Tony dragged one closer, sitting down.

“They sprung you,” Gibbs said after a short silence, his voice exhausted with a note in it Tony had never heard before.

“Sprung you too,” Tony pointed out. “Everything check out?”

“Fine,” Gibbs replied shortly, glancing down on the workbench. Tony followed his gaze and saw a picture of two little girls"a blonde and a redhead. He didn’t have to ask; it was clear that it was of Kelly and Maddie. There was no way he was going to make small talk about the little girls, so he sat there quietly, doing what Gibbs did best, waiting for someone to break the silence.

“Shouldn’t you be at home?” Gibbs asked finally. Tony’s momentary victory at besting Gibbs at his own game faded in the face of the emotional turmoil the older man was in.

“Probably, but I needed to make sure you were okay first.” It was silly and stupid, but it was the truth. Tony would have done the same for Abbs or Ziva, had done the same for McGee during the cop shooting fiasco.

“I’m okay. You can go.”

That hurt. The curt way Gibbs delivered the words, his lack of emotion. Tony had laid his life on the line trying to save Gibbs as well as Maddie, and all he was getting was this? Dammit, he deserved more. He deserved something! Just because he was Gibbs’ loyal St. Bernard didn’t give Gibbs any reason to kick him or neglect him.

Tony pushed off from the sawhorse, standing now. “A thank you for saving your life wouldn’t have killed you, Boss!”

Tony hadn’t expected any response and when it came, it floored him. “Didn’t want to come back,” Gibbs whispered and Tony blinked back a sudden rush of emotion. Gibbs wanted to die? Like that? He’d known Gibbs was driven and sometimes really reckless"maybe even to the point of having a death wish"but hearing that shocked Tony into silence. And it wasn’t the only thing. Gibbs had never been this open with Tony. Ever.

It took Tony a few minutes to gather his thoughts. He wanted to launch into a tirade about what the team needed"what he needed"but he knew he had to be careful. He didn’t want to set Gibbs’ defensiveness off.

“But you did,” Tony replied, striving for a reasonable tone of voice.

“Yeah,” Gibbs agreed. “Ya shouldn’t have risked it.”

Tony snorted, stifling a cough. “I was already down there, Boss. I wasn’t leaving you there. I’m always on your six.”

“Could have killed you.”

“Still could,” Tony agreed with a fatalistic shrug, allowing that single cough out. “But I’m your senior field agent and your second in command. Someone had to help you. I’m glad it was me.”

Gibbs sipped from the Mason jar and Tony had to swallow back a question about medication and drug interactions. He wasn’t Gibbs’ parent.

“Loyalty is earned, DiNozzo.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, knowing a little challenge was in his voice. “My loyalty’s been earned over and over again these past seven years.”

“When? When you were stuck in a damned sewer? When I lost track of ya when you were chained to a killer? How ‘bout when you almost died in a hospital bed?”

Tony shrugged, dismissing Gibbs’ concerns. “What about every time you saved me? What about all the times we wouldn’t have made it out of scrapes unless we worked together. Stop trying to push me away. Won’t work. I’m here, Boss, and I’m here to stay.” As if to underscore that, Tony settled back onto the sawhorse, straddling it.

Gibbs fell silent when Tony said those words. He hadn’t known why he was pushing DiNozzo. Maybe it was the safest way for Gibbs himself to feel again. Maybe right now he needed to test Tony, even though it wasn’t fair.

Tony looked exhausted, purplish-looking crescents under his eyes. He was obviously wearing some spare clothes"probably McGee’s from the cut of them"and Gibbs wondered if Tony was aware of how his hands were shaking. They’d both dodged a bullet today and Gibbs knew it. More than just the physical ones.

A part of him was shocked that he had told Tony he didn’t want to come back, another part was just resigned. He’d rarely been more vulnerable and the guy who had seen him at his worst was another witness to it. Gibbs’ normal instincts were to push everyone"especially those who knew him the best"away. But that wasn’t working tonight. Tony wasn’t leaving. Gibbs could strike out for hours and Tony would stay.

And things were extra complicated with DiNozzo. They’d been fighting something for years now. At some points it seemed almost as if it was a foregone conclusion that something would happen between them, and then the other times"when he’d been dating Mann and Tony had been on assignment for Jenny"Gibbs was convinced it’d never happen.

The decision had almost been pulled away from him today. Some people talked about the light and he knew what he’d seen and felt. Kelly and Shannon had been there"Kelly talking with him. Gibbs had also sensed his mother nearby. All the women who had meant so much to him.

When Kelly had told him it was okay and to go back, Gibbs’ heart had broken all over again, but when he’d awoken, he’d felt different, peaceful. He’d been sitting here for hours trying to figure it out while Maddie slept in his spare room.

Gibbs would never admit it, but he hadn’t been able to go to bed because he was worried about Tony. As Tony’s medical power of attorney and one of Tony’s medical contacts, he’d called the hospital for updates a few times. When he’d called forty minutes ago and learned Tony had been released from the ER, Gibbs had been half expecting him to show up. It was what they did. Gibbs had spent more nights on Tony’s couch than his own bed after Tony’s bout with the plague and though Gibbs never verbally acknowledged it, he’d been aware of Tony sleeping on his couch in the weeks after his return from Mexico, despite Tony leaving at oh five hundred every morning.

It was what they did. They watched over each other, guarded each other. Cared…

Gibbs glanced down at the picture of his daughter and her friend and nodded as something became very clear to him. Kelly had once again handed him another key, had shown him an answer to a question he didn’t know he was asking.

A fierce protectiveness welling up inside him, Gibbs met Tony’s exhausted green eyes. It wasn’t a paternal feeling, and it wasn’t what he should be feeling for a coworker either. Gibbs knew some of what he was feeling must have been revealed in his eyes, because Tony’s brightened slightly and the barest hint of a smile began at the corners of his mouth.

“Go upstairs and get ready for bed,” Gibbs said quietly. “It’s late and I know you’re on medical tomorrow, but you don’t want to sleep all day.”

“How’d you know I…” When Gibbs shook his head, Tony shrugged, a wry smile on his face now, and stood, turning toward the stairs.

“Not the spare room, DiNozzo. Maddie’s there.”

Tony half turned, looking back at Gibbs. “Couch then?”

“Couch?” Gibbs asked, knowing he was giving Tony his own small smile. “You think I’m gonna let the hero of the night sleep on the couch? My bed, Tony.”

“Hero?” Tony asked, his voice softer now.

“Hero,” Gibbs insisted, nodding, his voice firmer than it had been thus far. It wasn’t the thank you Tony had asked for, but it was more than that, and they both knew it. This would mean much more to Tony in the end.

“Your bed too?” There was a spark in Tony’s eyes now, and Gibbs knew they were starting something. They might not get there for a long time, but it was a defined beginning.

“My bed,” Gibbs repeated, stepping into Tony’s personal space. “That okay with you,” he added in a low whisper, feeling the tension coiling around them.

Tony swallowed, eyes locking on Gibbs for what felt like hours. “Perfect.”

“What are you waiting for then? Haven’t you been waiting long enough?”

“Both have. Ends tonight, doesn’t it?”

Gibbs nodded. “Ends tonight, Tony. Something new begins tomorrow.”