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Author's Chapter Notes:
Tony is attacked and calls on Gibbs for help.

The shrill ring of his cell phone woke Jethro halfway through the first tone. Rubbing at his eyes, he turned it to read the display, but an unfamiliar number showed up. "Special Agent Jethro Gibbs speaking."

"Hey, Boss. It's me."

Frowning at both the unfamiliar number and the weakness to Tony's voice, Jethro sat up and asked, "What's wrong?"

"I need you to come get me."

"Where?"

"St. Luke's."

Jethro managed to keep calm, but just barely. "How badly are you hurt?"

"Not too bad," Tony answered, then groaned as if to contradict himself. "Look, can you do that when I get off the phone? Thanks. Sorry Boss. And um, couple of busted ribs, bruised hands, and a concussion. That's why I need you to come get me. They either want to admit me, or someone has to stay with me overnight."

"You were in a fight?"

A hard laugh echoed over the phone. "No, no I wouldn't call it a fight. Three guys jumped me."

"All right, I'll be there in thirty-five minutes, DiNozzo, don't move," Jethro ordered.

Only a little ironic, Tony agreed, "I'll be here, Boss."

Hanging up, Jethro rolled out of bed and got dressed with more than his usual efficiency. He was in his car not five minutes later and on the road in six. The drive was practically traffic-free, given the 1:43am time, and he made it into DC in short order. That was good for both his standard road-rage condition, and the other drivers.

It was exactly thirty-three minutes after he hung up from DiNozzo that Jethro walked into the reception area of St. Luke's Hospital. When the woman smiled up at him, Jethro pulled out his ID and said, "I'm Special Agent Jethro Gibbs and I'm here for Tony DiNozzo. He's one of my agents and I was told that he's in the ER waiting for me so he could be released."

She typed into her computer and nodded a few seconds later. Taking a printout from a small printer, she handed it to him and ordered, "He's got you as his emergency contact, so that's fine. Take that through those double doors and give it to the doctor to sign off on, before you bring Mr. DiNozzo home."

"Thank you," Jethro said sincerely, then moved in the direction she'd pointed.

It was a few minutes before he located Tony, sitting forlornly on a gurney, holding his head. He watched the young man amidst the chaos of a busy ER on a Friday night gone Saturday morning, and shook his head fondly. Tony was the picture of little-boy-lost and all Jethro really wanted to do was pull him in close for a tight, careful hug.

And then beat the crap out of the men who'd hurt Tony.

As he got closer, the bruises and swelling on Tony's face became more visible and by the time he was beside the gurney, Jethro was ready to do a lot more than just beat the crap out of Tony's attackers.

Tony smiled what would have been a smug smile, if his bloodied and swollen lips had been able to do more than twitch halfway there, and announced, "You should see the other guys."

Snorting, Jethro asked, "I should hope so, or I'd have to let Kate give you those self-defense lessons like she's been itching to do."

"Hey!" Tony protested. "There were three of them and I was ambushed!"

Jethro took Tony's chin between his fingers and tilted the other's head this way and that to get a good look at all the injuries. Busted nose, cut cheek, the right eye sealed shut and purple with bruising, a serious laceration across the forehead, ending in a respectable goose-egg at the temple. His free hand hovered over the unnatural contour to Tony's head, but didn't actually touch it.

"It there had been any more force at that point, you'd be looking at a corpse," a new voice said gravely.

Releasing Tony, Jethro nodded, having come to that grim conclusion on his own, and faced the newcomer; a serious young man in his early thirties. "Looks like, DrÓ?"

"Jamison," the young man answered.

Jethro took his hand and said, "Jethro Gibbs. So it looks like Tony's head was hard enough to remain intact, not that that surprises me, but I'd think he'd got a serious concussion. You're going to let him leave?"

"Only under strict supervision," Dr. Jamison replied, eyeing Tony sternly. "We've already had this conversation, but I want to impress upon him the seriousness of the situation. If there is any dizziness, nausea, double-vision, he is to immediately return for tests. The CAT scans came back clean, but clots and aneurysms can develop with this kind of injury."

"Oh, I'll keep an eye on him, don't worry," Jethro promised.

Tony heaved a sigh, but didn't protest.

"The rest of his injuries aren't serious, though the ribs will be painful for a few weeks. As long as he changes the tape regularly, normal showers are fine. He doesn't have any stitches to worry about, he lucked out with some butterfly tape instead. What he needs, however, is rest, and lots of it. His head needs some time to heal and sleep's the best thing for that," Jamison finished.

Nodding, Jethro was about to speak when someone beat him to it.

"Anthony DiNozzo?"

All three of them turned at the newest voice and Jethro found a uniformed cop standing behind the doctor. He was in his forties with a bit of a gut and the florid skin Jethro associated with a man who'd been friends with a bottle at some point or another.

"That's me," Tony answered.

As soon as Jethro saw the man pull out his cuffs, he moved to stand between Tony and the cop, demanding, "What's going on, here?"

"He's under arrest."

"For what?" Tony exclaimed, incredulous.

"Assault and battery, with intent."

"You have got to be shitting me!"

Jethro snapped, "Quiet, DiNozzo!"

"Sir, you need to move," the cop ordered.

He eyed the other man for a moment, then asked, "What's your name?"

"Officer Korinski."

"Office Korinski. You're telling me, that the men who attacked DiNozzo here are pressing charges against him?"

"That's right."

"And there's three of them, to one of him."

"Correct."

"And you believe them."

"I have no reason not to."

"This is such a load ofÓ"

"DiNozzo!"

Tony subsided with a glare, but he did subside. Thankfully, because Jethro saw from a quick look to the doctor that Tony getting agitated about anything was bad. Returning his attention to the cop, Jethro said calmly, "You're making a mistake here, and you really need to think about what you're doing."

Sneering, Korinski replied, "I don't need to think about anything. Not with someone like him."

"Yeah, you do. Because if you arrest and book DiNozzo, I'll not only have him out on bail in less than an hour, but you'll be working in traffic for the rest of your life."

"Are you threateningÓwho are you to threaten me like that!?" Korinski challenged angrily.

Jethro pulled out his badge and stated, "Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, NCIS. This man is on my team and there's no way in hell I'm letting you arrest him on a trumped up charge like this."

"Look, Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, I don't know if you know this, but your boy here isÓ"

Arching an eyebrow at him, Jethro prompted coolly, "Yes?"

As if just realizing that there were a lot of witnesses in the immediate area, and a number of them were paying close attention, Korinski hesitated. Whatever he'd been going to say was changed to, "Has a temper. He flipped out and attack those guys, so I'm arresting him and bringing him in."

"Okay. I want your badge number, the correct spelling of your name, and your Captain's name and phone number," Jethro stated. "Now."

Korinski swallowed, nervousness slipping through the mask of bravado, and didn't answer.

Turning to Jamison, who was glaring at the cop with almost as much force as Tony, he asked, "You got a pen and paper I can borrow?"

Jamison took out his prescription pad and gave it, with a pen, to Jethro. "Write down an extra set of the information for me, too, if you would? Just so I can give this man's captain the unedited version of Agent DiNozzo's injuries versus those of the three men who attack and nearly killed him."

They both looked expectantly at the cop, who was distinctly paler, and unsure of what he should do. He clearly hadn't expected to find any resistance, though Jethro knew that he probably should have. They were too close to DuPont Circle for any homophobic attitude not to be met head-on. But, not wanting to push the man into a corner where he'd take Tony in no matter what, Jethro said, "Let's think this through, Officer Korinski. You can take Agent DiNozzo in and bring down a whole host of trouble on yourself and your three friends, or you can convince them not to press charges."

"They're not my friends!"

Ignoring the protest, Jethro continued, "You can go back to work and forget that this happened. I'll be willing to overlook the one incident."

Korinski hesitated again, then said, "I'll talk to them."

"You do that," Jethro encouraged neutrally, struggling not to punch the man in the face. "We'll be here."

After the cop left, Jamison snapped, "Bigots like that shouldn't be allowed to wear any uniform, never mind a cop's."

Jethro snorted. "No kidding."

"Ah, Boss?"

Looking over at Tony, Jethro saw how pale he looked and hurriedly closed the distance between them, supporting the other with a hand to his back. "What's wrong, Tony?"

"JustÓyou knew?" Tony asked, eyes wide and fearful.

Oh. That, Jethro realized suddenly. Of course Tony would be freaking out. Jethro had never brought it up because it had nothing to do with Tony's performance on the job. Nodding, he confirmed, "Yeah, of course. You can't get hounded out of three different jobs for being gay and not have your supposedly superior officers not want to tell the new boss all about your orientation."

"Background check. Right. I didn't even thinkÓ"

Rubbing his hand across the too-tight shoulders briefly before he pulled away, Jethro assured him, "Doesn't make a difference, DiNozzo, you know me better than that."

"No, I know, I justÓI didn't know, you know?" Tony mumbled, staring at the blanket between his fingers.

"Doc, could you give us a minute?" Jethro asked.

Jamison nodded and left, pulling the curtain around the gurney for privacy.

"Tony, look at me." It took a few seconds, but when the younger man finally did, Jethro continued, "Who you love doesn't make any difference to how you do your job. Although I would take it as a personal favor if you'd stop picking out Matta Hari's who like to try and kill you, in order for you to stay in a closet you don't need to be in. You've given me a host of new gray hairs that I could do without."

At that, a tentative smile surfaced and Tony nodded shyly. "You got it, Boss."

The curtain pulled back just then and Officer Korinski said flatly, "They're not going to press charges."

"And I'm sure we're all very glad about that," Jethro replied, wry. "Thanks for your assistance, Officer Korinski."

The man grunted, clearly aggravated, and left.

Shaking his head, Jethro looked at Tony and said, "All right, DiNozzo, let's get you home."

* * * *

Gibbs' lack of reaction was both the best and worst of every imagining Tony had ever gone through in his mind about the other man finding out he was gay. The non-reaction reassured him that Gibbs really didn't care as long as it didn't affect his performance at work. Problem was that if Gibbs had known all along and had never once tipped his hand or made a move, it was a really good chance that he wasn't interested in Tony romantically.

Damn it.

Shifting uncomfortably on his bed, Tony ignored the sharp pains in his side as he contemplated getting upright and starting the morning. Or, more accurately, the afternoon, since it was almost one o'clock. He could hear Gibbs puttering around in the kitchen and something smelled great, but a lingering embarrassment held him under the covers.

"Out of bed now, DiNozzo, or I'll assume something's wrong and cart your ass back to the hospital."

Well. That solved that.

Groaning, Tony rolled carefully onto his good side and then pushed himself into a sitting position. Gritting his teeth, he stood and headed for the dresser, snagging his sweats and struggling into them. Not bothering with a shirt, he padded barefoot out into the main apartment area and didn't stop walking until he'd hit the bathroom.

Taking care of business was more painful than he expected and he was a little worried when the urine started out pinkish, but it went normal before he was done. Breathing a shallow sigh of relief, Tony finished up and headed for the kitchen.

"Everything okay?" Gibbs asked, already seated at the kitchen table and eating an insane amount of eggs, bacon, home fries and toast.

Eyeing the plate suspiciously, Tony countered, "You're not going to make me eat all that, are you?"

"At least half. Sit. And answer the question," Gibbs ordered, standing.

Tony lowered himself slowly into the chair and watched as Gibbs moved comfortably around his kitchen. "I'm fine. Well, everything's pretty much one massive bruise, but there's nothing I can do about that."

"Sure there is."

Tony was going to ask what, when Gibbs set down the plate and there was an assortment of pills on it, as well as food.

"Some need to be taken on an empty stomach, so you can take them in a few hours."

"Gibbs, Boss, you don't need to do all this," Tony protested, starting to eat, even as he ignored the pills.

"Take the damn pills, DiNozzo. You're in pain and there's no need for it."

Hating the whiny tone that he just couldn't help, Tony complained, "I'll just fall asleep!"

"Like you're going to be able to do anything else today anyhow? Tomorrow, either, probably."

Grumbling, Tony nonetheless started taking the pills, washing them down with the milk he'd been given. "So what are you going to do all day?"

"Relax."

"You can do that?"

"Watch it, DiNozzo."

Tony grinned at the growled warning, even though it hurt to do so. "Sorry, Boss."

"I'm going to finish reading your paper, since you can't, and then watch football," Gibbs announced. "And then, I'm going food shopping, since that seems to be a foreign concept to you."

"It is not!" Tony protested.

Gibbs just looked at him.

"Hey, I shop."

"Uh huh."

Letting the subject drop, Tony asked, "When are you heading home?"

"I figured that I'd stick around for the weekend and we can just drive in together on Monday. Your car's not going to be fixed before Wednesday, by the way."

Tony groaned. "What did they do to it?"

Gibbs laughed and answered, "Nothing. Your engine wouldn't start when Abby tried to bring it back here. She called a tow truck and I had her send it over to my garage."

"I have a garage, you know."

"Yeah, and the amount of time your car spends there means that they don't know how to fix cars."

Sighing, Tony had to admit he was right, even if he didn't want to. "I can't afford the place you go to, probably."

"You'll get a discount," Gibbs replied easily. "Don't worry about it."

Even knowing that Gibbs was giving him an order in regards to his personal life didn't cut through the fog of drugs that was already enveloping him.

"Finish eating before you fall asleep in your eggs," Gibbs ordered.

Tony did as he was told, eating on automatic pilot, which was too bad because he was pretty sure the other man was a really good cook. When the plate was clean and the glass empty, Gibbs herded him back into bed, making sure he was under the covers. Everything was mostly fuzzy by then, as if a veil of cotton surrounded him, but Tony thought he felt something brush across his forehead before succumbing to darkness.

* * * *

Jethro woke Tony once for his medicine, about halfway through the afternoon, and Tony came out on his own to use the bathroom another time, but otherwise, he was on his own. He resisted the urge to rearrange things in the haphazard apartment by concentrating on the football game. Once it was over, he debated going out for groceries, since Tony would probably be up shortly, but decided that he'd better.

He wrote a note and taped it to the bathroom door, hoping Tony would see it and go right back to bed. Jethro knew from personal experience how debilitating a head injury like that was. His stomach still did flip-flops when he thought about just how close Tony had come to being killed or permanently brain damaged.

Then, naturally, he got angry.

Even though he'd told Korinski that he'd overlook the incident, Jethro wasn't all that sure that he could. Tony had been able to defend himself to a respectable degree, especially given that it had been three on one. But if those three assholes were targeting people who couldn't, whether from the drinks they'd had in the club, or a lack of experience, defend themselves, then someone was, eventually, going to die. A civilian, in all probability, and that was just as unacceptable.

On the drive to the grocery, he checked his voicemail. One from Kate, assuring him that if he needed to look after DiNozzo on Monday, too, that she could handle things at the office. Another from Abby, both bitching about the trek to get Tony's car taken care of, and demanding an update. And still another from Ducky, complaining that he'd had to hear about Tony's situation from Abby and not Jethro, directly. Eyes rolling at his friend's indignant tone, he went on to the last message just as he pulled into the parking lot.

"Agent Gibbs, I'm sorry to bother you on a Saturday, especially since you're probably still caring for Agent DiNozzo, but my name is Karen Whitcomb and I work at the D.A.'s office in DC. Dr. Jamison is a friend of mine and he told me what happened to your subordinate last night and I'd really like to talk to both of you about options for prosecuting Officer Korinski and the men who attacked Agent DiNozzo. Please call me at 202-555-3564 at your earliest convenience. Thank you, and please give Agent DiNozzo my best."

Thoughtful as he turned off the car engine, Jethro didn't move for a few minutes. He had to admit to the fact that he would love to go after Korinski for abuse of power, misconduct, and anything else the DA could throw at him, but it wasn't his call. And Tony was too drugged up to really give it the proper thought it deserved.

Making a decision, he called the number and was surprised that the woman answered, since it was a good four hours after she'd left the message.

"Karen Whitcomb speaking."

"Ms. Whitcomb, this is Jethro Gibbs."

"Oh! Agent Gibbs! I'm so pleased you called me back!" she exclaimed. "I honestly wasn't expecting to hear from you until at least Monday, maybe not at all. How is Agent DiNozzo?"

"Still sleeping, I hope. I'm on a grocery run," Jethro answered.

She chuckled and said, "Well, I won't keep you, then. I gather you haven't spoken to him about this yet?"

"Just got the message," Jethro admitted. "But I didn't want to leave you hanging the rest of the weekend. I'll talk to him about it but, to be honest, I don't see him going through with any kind of prosecution."

Surprise plain in her voice, Karen asked, "Really? Whyever not?"

"You'd have to know DiNozzo, but he's not really into personal confrontations if it's avoidable," Jethro informed her.

"I'm sorry to hear that. But you'll talk to him."

"Yes, I will."

"That's all I can ask. Thank you again for calling me back."

"You're welcome. Good bye, Ms. Whitcomb," Jethro said before hanging up.

It rankled that Tony probably wouldn't go after these guys unless Jethro pointed out that innocent civilians were getting hurt, too. But that would be manipulative behavior, which he hated. Tony would stick up for anyone and everyone, except himself, and that bothered him most of all. He didn't know what had gone down with Tony's family while he was growing up, but Jethro suspected that it had left a gaping hole where the young man's self-esteem should be.

Sighing, he got out of the car and headed for the store.

* * * *

Sunday was pretty much a repeat of Saturday. When Tony woke up in the late afternoon, his head had actually stopped throbbing, and he could see about halfway out of his right eye. He was worried that his vision had been affected, since it had been such a hard punch, but the doctor had said they couldn't do anything to check until the swelling went down and it had healed a bit. Thankfully, he found that he could see out of it, which was half the battle.

Moseying into the living room, he settled carefully on the couch beside Gibbs and said, "Did I mention, thanks, Boss?"

Gibbs looked over at him. "Yeah. And you're welcome. Now shut up and let me watch the game. I don't do this often."

Grinning, Tony did just that and they both wound up rooting for New York over LA, though neither team was a favorite of either man. He automatically downed the pills and milk that Gibbs handed him towards the end of the game, and then gave a running commentary when the other man started making dinner.

When it was over and they sat across the table over hamburgers and fries, Tony said, "You're pretty handy in the kitchen, Boss."

Dry, Gibbs answered, "Comes from having three wives who couldn't, or didn't have time, to cook. Self-defense, DiNozzo."

Tony grinned and took another bite of his burger, which really was very good. Around a mouthful, he observed, "You could open a hamburger joint or something."

"Thanks," Gibbs replied, flashing him a brief grin. "And speaking of self-defense, are you going to tell me exactly what happened Friday night?"

Sighing, though he'd really expected it sooner, Tony washed down the burger and recounted, "I was just getting out of the club and on my way to the car when they jumped me. I'd had a few beers, so I wasn't as fast in reacting as I should've been. They'd never have gotten the drop on me otherwise, Boss."

"I know, DiNozzo. Keep going."

Reassured by the firm tone, Tony finished, "Not much else to tell. Two of them held me back while the third whaled on me. I managed to get free by tripping one of them, then I got in some good shots of my own until one of them clobbered me over the head with something. After that, things got really fuzzy. I do remember someone shouting for help, and then a few more voices, but nothing else until I woke up in the hospital in the middle of an MRI."

Thoughtful, Gibbs nodded and kept eating. Tony knew he was chewing over more than the food, and gave him the space to get his thoughts in order.

"Can you ID them?"

The abrupt question made Tony wary, but he answered, "Yeah. There was a streetlight not ten feet away. I didn't get hit in the eye until just before I got loose. Why?"

"I got a call from someone at the DA's office and they want to arrest the men who attacked you," Gibbs announced. "And the cop who was going to arrest you at the hospital, too."

Stiffening, Tony shook his head. "No way."

"DiNozzo, come on! It's not like you have to worry about your job being in jeopardy this time. None of us cares who you have sex with," Gibbs practically exploded.

"Forget it, Boss, it's not worth it," Tony insisted, not meeting the other man's eyes.

Gibbs stood, the chair scraping unpleasantly against the floor, and walked over to him. Cupping his chin, the older man tilted Tony's head up so their eyes met and stated, "You are worth it, Tony. You are more than worth it. Hell, if I could, I'd beat the crap out of those men myself to make them pay for what they did to you. But I can't, because it's just as wrong as what they did to you. I can't and won't make you do this, but I really think you should. It'll be good for you in the long run, and if you don't, I think you'll regret it."

Swallowing heavily, unable to tear his eyes from Gibbs' piercing blue ones, Tony whispered, "I'll think about it, okay Boss?"

With a slow nod, Gibbs agreed, "Okay. Now finish your supper."

Relieved, Tony bent his head to his plate again and tucked in, his thoughts whirling.

* * * *

"Hey Boss, I need to duck out early this afternoon."

Glancing over at Tony, who was still in vivid Technicolor, but looking and moving a lot better, Jethro questioned mildly, "Why?"

"I'm um, I'm going to meet with Ms. Whitcomb."

The hesitant answer made Jethro want to cheer, but all he did was nod shortly and answer, "Good."

Relieved, Tony nodded. "Thanks, Boss."

When the young man didn't move, Gibbs prompted, "Something else?"

"No, sorry, just, I'll see you tomorrow," Tony replied, turning around.

"Hey DiNozzo?"

"Yeah, Boss?"

"You want some company?"

The smile Tony flashed at his question went right to Jethro's heart, but the answer was in the negative. "Thanks, but I'm good. I'll see you tomorrow."

Jethro watched him leave, aware of Kate's gaze on him, but ignoring it. He knew that she thought something was going on between him and Tony, but there wasn't.

Damn it.

* * * *

The DA's office was a lot like any other public servant's office: small, cramped and equipped with computers and phones that were at least ten years old. It was a maze, trying to find Karen Whitcomb's office amidst the rabbit warren of cubes, makeshift cubes, and offices without numbers or nameplates. About fifteen minutes in, he was longing for the sharp order of NCIS and Gibbs' anal OCD to come over and organize the place.

He finally snagged a young woman to ask directions from and, surprisingly, she brought him over to the office instead of just pointing the way. Through the open door, he saw another young woman, dressed professionally with long, dark hair swept up into a bun, and an older man who looked like he could give Gibbs a run for his money for old-school military-ness.

"Mr. DiNozzo's here, Karen," his guide announced.

The woman behind the desk stood, as did the man, and Tony entered the office. As they shook hands, she said, "This is Detective Walter Cameron. I asked him to drop by to talk to you about the situation, I hope you don't mind."

Feeling the distinct need to duck and run, Tony only kept those fears at bay by remembering the earnest look in Gibbs' eyes and his words, ëYou are worth it, Tony. You are more than worth it.' He shook Cameron's hand and greeted, "Detective. Good to meet you."

"You too, Agent DiNozzo. Sorry about what happened," Cameron apologized. "We've gotten complaints before about this kind of situation with Korinski, but the victims wouldn't go through with the prosecution. They were too scared to take on a cop."

And I'm not? Tony demanded silently, incredulously. Aside from the fact that he knew exactly what happened to people who went against cops, he had been one of them for a long time. Not this particular force, but stillÓ Shaking off the lingering doubts, knowing that Gibbs would say a bad cop deserves no loyalty, he finally replied, "I'm not exactly thrilled about that myself, but if it will stop future attacks, then I'll do it."

Relief swept over both of their faces and Tony suddenly realized that they hadn't been sure that he would do anything except talk to them. Disgusted, he thought, I must've sounded like a scared rabbit on the damn phone.

The next hour were spent going over strategy and what Tony could expect. All the various possibilities that he could expect from harassment to no reaction at all. Korinski wasn't well liked on the force, so there might not be any support, but Tony knew none of them really believed that. Dealing with his three attackers would be much easier in that they didn't have any kind of association with the police, outside of Korinski.

By the time they were done, Tony's head was throbbing and he wasn't all that sure that he'd be able to drive home.

"Did you want me to call you a cab?" Karen offered, concerned.

Tony waved her off and said, "No, I'll be fine. Do you mind if I just close my eyes for a few minutes? That should do the trick."

"That's fine. Use my sofa here. Walter and I'll start the ball rolling," she said, smiling kindly. "And Tony, thank you so much for doing this. Getting even one crooked cop off the force is a big thing. You should be proud of yourself."

Shrugging it off, he didn't really answer, just started to get comfortable. Or, he tried to, since his legs were too long for the office sofa. He heard the door click softly shut and tried to relax, knowing that the stress of the whole thing was a big part of the problem.

He wasn't sure how much longer it was that the door clicked back open, but he said, "Just a few more minutes, then I promise I'll be out of your hair, Karen."

"Open your eyes, DiNozzo, I'm taking you home."

Startled, Tony bolted upright, then groaned and clutched his head from moving too fast. Almost instantly, Gibbs was beside him, supporting him. He leaned into the embrace, gasping as waves of pain continued to bash through his head.

"That's it, I'm bringing you back to the hospital," Gibbs stated.

Even if he'd had the energy to protest, Gibbs' tone forbid it, so Tony just got to his feet and continued to lean on the other man as they left the office.




Part 2
Jethro could wait patiently when he had to, but he never enjoyed it. The sight of Tony pale and unmoving in the hospital bed only added to his agitation. Every so often, he had to stop and take a breath just to keep from hunting someone down to shout at. He knew that his blood pressure had to be sky high, even with those small breathers. For the last few hours, Tony had been put through every brain test and scan known to the medical community and so far, they hadn't been given any results. He'd only just been settled into a room and then Jethro had been allowed to see him.

They'd gone back to St. Luke's, since they were fairly close by at the time and, as luck had had it, Dr. Jamison had again been on duty when they'd come in. He'd been less than happy to see that Tony had needed to come back and instantly whisked him into a wheelchair and away from Jethro. During the four hour wait in the lobby, Jethro had called Ducky to let him know what was going on. It had taken some persuasion to keep the older man from bringing the entire team down to the hospital to wait for news, but Jethro had managed it.

"Boss, can you stop pacing? You're makin' me dizzy."

The soft request instantly stopped Jethro in his tracks and he grimaced. "Sorry, DiNozzo."

Smiling faintly, Tony waved at him without opening his eyes. "No problem. What're you still doing here, anyhow?"

"Where else would I be?" Jethro asked in surprise.

"Well, it's almost eleven at night, so you should probably be at home getting ready for bed so you can go to work tomorrow."

"Like that's happening."

"BossÓ"

"Tony, until I know what's going on with you, I am not moving."

Tony snorted. "And you call me stubborn."

Grinning, Jethro confirmed, "I do."

"Good news," Dr. Jamison announced from the door.

Jethro looked over at the other man and asked tightly, "What is?"

"There's nothing to indicate brain damage, or a blood clot, or swelling of any kind," Jamison replied. "It was probably just a migraine brought on by stress. Were you doing something stressful when it came on you?"

Tony's eyes opened, even though he winced at the bright hospital lights, and he answered, "Yeah. I was talking to the DA and an IA cop about the guy who almost arrested me."

"Oh yeah, that would do it," Jamison agreed.

Looking worried, Tony questioned, "Does this mean I can't work without getting migraines? I've got a high-pressured job and I can't afford to be taken out like this when things get hot."

Jamison gave him a reassuring smile and finished crossing over to the bed. "I wouldn't worry about that just yet. First of all, it hasn't been all that long since it happened and your body still hasn't healed completely. Secondly, that's a completely different kind of stress. Just finish getting better and we'll keep an eye on you."

"So can he go home?" Jethro asked.

With a nod, Jamison said, "I don't see why not. I'm sure he'll sleep better in his own bed. I don't want you going back to work just yet, though. Take another couple of days off just to rest, at least until Wednesday."

"Should I stay with him?"

"No, I don't think that's necessary. He's doing quite well," Jamison answered. "Just be sure to rest while you're at home, Tony. I don't want to find you back here."

Frowning still, Tony asked, "But, what about when I have to see the DA again?"

"Hmm. Well, why don't you bring someone you trust with you? Having someone there who you feel safe with will probably go a long way towards keeping you grounded and unstressed," Jamison suggested.

Jethro didn't miss the look Tony sent his way, even as fast as it was, and stated, "I'll go with him."

"BossÓ"

"I said, I'd go with you," Jethro interrupted firmly. "Besides, I want to talk to them myself about a few things."

Jamison's eyes were lit with humor as he agreed, "Of course you do. Well, I'll leave your paperwork at the front desk. There's a migraine prescription for you to fill. Keep it on hand in case you get another attack like this one."

Tony nodded and sighed. "Thanks, Dr. Jamison, I appreciate it."

"My pleasure."

Hearing the honest warmth in the doctor's voice made Jethro want to shove him out the door. Quickly. Especially when Tony shared a smile with the handsome ER doctor. Gritting his teeth, Jethro forced himself to remain silent and set about collecting Tony's clothes so he could change to leave.

* * * *

Tony snuck another look over at Gibbs trying to figure out what had him so ticked. The other man had been silent for the last half hour, ever since Dr. Jamison had pronounced him fit to return home. Since he knew that Gibbs had been on the same page of getting him home, that couldn't be the problem.

The car finally pulled up in front of his apartment building and Tony sat there for a moment before asking, "Everything okay?"

At the same time, Gibbs asked, "How's your head?"

Tony grinned at Gibbs and said, "It's fine. Well, there's a little throbbing leftover, but the meds pretty well kicked the migraine's ass."

"Glad to hear it," Gibbs replied, lips almost twitching into a smile. "I'll call you tomorrow to make sure you're still alive."

"Boss, what if I can'tÓ"

"Good night, DiNozzo. I'll call you tomorrow."

Tony hesitated, knowing that the other man had cut off his question knowing exactly what he'd been going to ask. Which was, in itself, an answer. Gibbs wouldn't accept that Tony was out of a job, not so early in the game, and he shouldn't either. Smiling, Tony agreed, "Talk to you tomorrow. Night, Boss."

Getting out of the car, Tony offered a brief wave then headed for the building. Inside the safety of the foyer, he turned around and discovered that Gibbs was still waiting to make sure he got into the building itself. Thankful that the other man was too far away to see the flush of pleasure that action prompted, Tony waved again and unlocked the main door and stepped inside.

When he looked back again, Gibbs was gone.

* * * *

"So how's Tony?" Kate asked as Gibbs headed for his desk.

The older man shrugged. "Haven't talked to him yet today. He was fine when I dropped him off last night, though, and there haven't been any calls from the hospital, so I assume he's still fine."

Eyes narrowing at the other agent as he sat at his desk and inhaled some of that paint thinner he called coffee, Kate observed, "Nobody's bombed the country yet today but that doesn't mean we aren't in trouble."

Gibbs ignored her, powering up his computer.

Oh yeah, it was going to be a fun-filled day at the office with Tony out of commission, no doubt about that. Gibbs was always impossible without the younger agent around to take some of the edge off. She hated to admit it, but Gibbs scared her too much for her to mouth off to him the way Tony did, and without someone to do that, Gibbs was usually unbearable.

The phone rang and she picked it up with, "Special Agent Todd speaking."

"Hey. Bossman in yet?"

"Yep."

"Ooh. That doesn't sound good."

"How about we switch for the day?"

"No, I think not."

"Kate!"

"Gotta go," Kate said quickly, hanging up and glancing over at Gibbs with an innocent expression. "Yes, Gibbs?"

"If you're done giving Abby my temperature, I'd really like to get to work."

Oh yeah. A real fun-filled day.

* * * *

When Tony woke up the next day, it felt like he'd gotten a hangover without the fun part of getting one, which really sucked. If you were going to do the time, you should at least do the crime. Sighing, he rolled slowly out of bed and aimed for the bathroom to take care of business.

Looking at himself in the mirror, Tony grimaced. His nose was still twice its usual size and his cheek was purple and green; not his best colors. Aside from that, his eye was visible now, but still hideously ugly and also out of proportion, though not nearly as bad as his nose.

"You're an ugly mother, no doubt about that," he sighed to himself. "Not exactly the brightest bulb in the bunch, either, getting jumped like that. Why the hell didn't you just take a cab like you should've?"

That stung. Knowing that he might not have been drunk, but he'd been drunk enough not to hear someone coming at him, even from the shadows. And that was way the hell too drunk for him to have thought he could drive. He had better than average reactions, that was a fact. Alcohol still dimmed those responses the same as anyone else, that was also a fact.

"So on top of being a first class chump, you're a stupid asshole," he informed his reflection tiredly.

He stiffened as the thought came to him that maybe that was what Gibbs had been so ticked about the night before. Maybe the older man had suddenly realized, really realized, that Tony's judgment had been so impaired that he had been going to drive when he shouldn't have been doing any such thing. Gibbs was more than just a stickler for things like that, he was nearly obsessive about it. Anything that could harm an innocent civilian was akin to gross negligent behavior.

"Oh shit," Tony muttered as his head started throbbing angrily again.

Ignoring it, he turned and went back into the bedroom to get dressed. He had to get to the office to make sure Gibbs hadn't lost all respect for him. A phone call wasn't going to do it because Gibbs would be able to blow him off.

A little paranoid about what Gibbs might consider safe driving, especially since his head was still throbbing and his vision not that great, he called a cab.

* * * *

Jethro sighed as he tried to concentrate on the report that just wasn't making sense to him. His powers of focus were next to nothing and had been for the last twenty minutes when he'd called Tony and gotten no response. It was only just after ten, so the young man could still be knocked out from the drugs. Probably was, matter of fact.

You're just being an idiot, he thought to himself. Tony is sound asleep in bed and not in any trouble.

And yet, trouble always seemed to find Tony, which was the basis for Gibbs' current worry. A constant worry, really, that was usually kept at bay because the other agent was more than capable and could handle himself in pretty much any situation. Now, though, Tony was partially incapacitated with the head injury and couldn't defend himself from any real attack, thanks to his other injuries, too.

"I thought you said DiNozzo was supposed to be resting at home."

Kate's comment jerked Jethro out of his thoughts and he scowled on seeing Tony exit the elevator and head their way. Angry that the young man had so flouted the doctor's orders, he stood and stalked over to Tony, snapping, "DiNozzo! What the hell are you doing here?"

Tony flinched at the cold welcome and swallowed before answering, "I uh, I had to talk to you about something."

"There is this thing called a telephone," Jethro growled. "I know you have one."

Flushing, Tony said, "It's important."

Not relenting, Jethro took the other man's arm and led him towards the nearest conference room. When it turned out to be in use, he went on to the next one. Finding it empty, he practically pushed Tony inside and closed the door behind himself with more force than strictly necessary. "What is so important that you defied a doctor's order to come into work?"

Tony's eyes were wide as he replied, "I'm sorry, BossÓI shouldn't have been about to drive home Friday night. I shouldn't have been anywhere near a car with keys that night."

Jethro was so thrown by the apology that he just gaped at the other man for a few seconds before regaining his composure. Just to make sure he understood, he asked slowly, "You came down here to tell me that you were sorry you were going to drive home Friday night?"

"Yeah," Tony confirmed, uncomfortable. "If my reactions were slow enough not to hear them coming, I shouldn't have been even thinking about driving."

A kind of dark amusement surfaced in Jethro as he contemplated the nervous, apologetic young man standing before him like a child before a teacher that they thought they'd disappointed. A fond sigh escaped before he could restrain it and he asked, "DiNozzoÓwhat the hell am I going to do with you?"

"I don't know, but if you could cut my head off while you decide, I'd appreciate it," Tony replied plaintively.

Noticing the pallor on Tony's face now that his anger was under control, Jethro closed the distance and guided Tony into a chair. "Close your eyes and put your head down. Did you bring the medicine with you?"

"I forgot it," Tony mumbled through his arm.

Eyes rolling, Jethro muttered, "Of course you did. Okay, don't move. I'll see if Ducky has anything you can use."

"Not going anywhere. Promise."

Shaking his head, Jethro walked to the phone and called Ducky's extension.

"Dr. Mallard speaking."

"Ducky, do you have anything for migraines?"

"I'm afraid not, Jethro. I have some normal pain relievers though. I didn't realize you suffered from migraines. That's new, isn't it?"

"Not me, DiNozzo's here."

"Oh dear. No, I definitely don't have anything to help with what he's probably suffering through. Best thing is to get him back home as soon as you can."

Eyeing the forlorn lump bent over the table, Jethro nodded. "That's what I plan to do, thanks Ducky."

"This time, be sure he stays there, eh Jethro?"

"I'll try," Jethro promised wryly.

Hanging up, he walked back to Tony and said, "All right, DiNozzo, time to get you home to your drugs."

"Can't you just kill me and cart my body back?"

Jethro hid a grin, answering, "No. Now come on, lean on me."

They got him up and, though Tony's eyes were slits, they were open enough to help with navigating through the office. Jethro kept a hand at the base of the other man's spine and he nodded briefly to Kate as they headed for the elevator. She gave him a frown that bordered on a glare and he could practically hear the warning to go easy on Tony until the other was back to normal.

Or else.

Grimacing in reply, Jethro was glad when the elevator doors closed. Tony might be brave, or stupid, enough to risk getting emasculated by her on a regular basis, but Jethro sure as hell wasn't.

* * * *

Abby frowned when she saw that Gibbs wasn't at his desk. She angled over towards Kate's instead and snuck up on the brunette with an unholy grin. Just as she was about to goose the other womanÓ

"Don't even think about it, Abby."

Huffing in disappointment, Abby leaned against Kate's desk and grimaced to counter the smirk on the agent's face. "Where's the Bossman?"

Kate's eyes rolled as she answered, "Bringing Tony home."

"What!? What was Tony doing here?" Abby demanded.

With a shrug, Kate answered, "You'll have to ask him that yourself when he can see straight. He looked in pretty rough shape when they finally left. But don't worry, Gibbs'll take care of him."

Abby snickered. "Oh yeah. He'll definitely do that."

Kate gave her an apprising glance, then demanded, "Spill it, Sciutto. What do you know?"

Blinking at her innocently, Abby protested, "Nothing! I don't know nothing about anything. I'm just an innocent lab tech, remember?"

In the span of a heartbeat, Kate went from relaxed and sitting, to being on her feet and most definitely in Abby's personal space. Abby's eyes went wide as the agent leaned in towards her and purred, "If you know something and don't tell meÓwellÓyou won't like the results, Abby."

Swallowing heavily, not intimidated so much as turned on by the unexpected display of, well, intimidation, Abby licked at suddenly dry lips and felt the urge to squirm and press her already tight jeans in a little tighter. "I uhÓno, I mean, I really don't know anything. I can speculate though, I really can. If you want me to."

Kate's lips curved into a slow grin, but she simply sat back down and answered easily, "No, that's okay. I can do plenty of speculating on my own."

Breathing a little easier, irrationally disappointed, Abby pushed off from the desk. Still a little flustered, she asked, "We still on for Gripe Night?"

Kate flashed her a smile. "Absolutely. I'll be ready by six tonight. Make sure you are, too."

There had to be a way to disconcert the other woman, but Abby couldn't really figure it out just then. Her heart was still beating too fast from the unusual encounter. "Right. I will. Sure. See you then."

On her way back to the elevator, Abby was sure she could feel Kate's eyes on her and smirked. Even though she'd never really considered Kate as a potential in the romance department, aside from the general, "God she's hot, I'd so do her," type of thoughts, it was still good to know that she still had It.

* * * *

Jethro was fully supporting Tony by the time they got to his apartment. Tony's arm was over his shoulder and holding tight, the length of him curled into Jethro's arms in a way that under any other circumstance would be very pleasurable. Unfortunately, all it did just then was bring the haggard expression all that much closer to Jethro, which caused him to grit his teeth since there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

They had just barely reached the bed when Tony collapsed on it and curled into a ball. Jethro went to the bathroom and found the bottle of pills still in their pharmacy bag. His jaw tightened at the evidence that, yet again, Tony wasn't taking care of himself, but he just poured a glass of water and headed back to the bedroom.

That was going to be a definite topic of conversation just as soon as DiNozzo could see straight.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jethro gripped Tony's shoulder and said, "Come on, DiNozzo, turn over and take your medicine like a good boy."

A groaning laugh answered him, but Tony turned over and squinted up at Jethro. "When have you known me to be a good boy?"

"Good point. Just take the damn medicine," Jethro answered, flashing him a brief smile.

Jethro actually had to support Tony's head to get him to swallow the water without choking on it and it just about killed him to see Tony that weak and shaking. The moment he took the water away, Tony closed his eyes again and curled into another ball.

Rubbing his hand firmly up and down Tony's back, Jethro didn't move. He wasn't sure what else he could do, but he had to do something. Seeing Tony in pain was something he could definitely do without. With a sigh, he said, "You need to start thinking about yourself, DiNozzo. Stop worrying so much about what other people think."

"Not oth'people, juz'you," Tony slurred.

Ouch. That makes me feel a lot better, thanks Tony, Jethro thought with a wince.

He continued to rub Tony's back, feeling the tension slowly leave the young man's body through the contact. He still couldn't believe that Tony thought Jethro might be angry with him. Tony's logic was normally faultless, if a little premature sometimes, so this time he supposed that he should blame the head injury.

Tony hadn't heard the men attacking him because it had been an ambush and the men had known what they were doing. Tony's blood alcohol hadn't been over the limit. Jamison had told him that which, while strictly was considered breaking the rules, had been more along the lines of heading off trouble at the pass. After Korinski's attempted arrest, Jethro had needed to know any and all possible problems coming at them and had asked about Tony's Blood Alcohol Level.

He'd have to straighten Tony out about that just as soon as the other could think properly. In the meantime, it was really nice just to sit there and have the liberty to soothe Tony through the gentle, slow massage.

* * * *

Tony woke slowly and in his own bed which, for some reason, didn't feel right. His head was still pounding, which made thinking difficult, but he forced himself to sit up as the fullness of his bladder wouldn't be denied any longer. He gasped in pain and clutched his head as the world came at him in waves of nausea. Breathing shallowly, Tony managed to stagger to his feet and get to the door, leaning against the wall for support once he got there.

He made it partway there before a startled, "What the hell?" surprised him and he whipped his head around too fast. Crying out in pain at the stab in the base of his neck, Tony collapsed to his hands and knees.

Strong arms surrounded him and he fell the rest of the way against Gibbs, who bent over him and rubbed his back in soothing motions. "Come on, DiNozzo, back to bed."

"I have to use the bathroom," Tony gritted out, not opening his eyes. "I refuse to wet my bed like a child because my head hurts."

"Right. Okay, keep your eyes closed and just let me lead then."

Grateful for the matter of fact tone, Tony did exactly that and let Gibbs pull him slowly to his feet. It was scary, even though he trusted the older man. Essentially blind, since any amount of light sent shooting pains into his brain, Tony had no choice but to go where Gibbs led. His feet felt the tile, finally, and then Gibbs guided Tony's hands to the sink counter and said, "Do you want me to help you out here too?"

Tony thought about it for a second, then shook his head. It would be too humiliating.

"Okay. I'll be right outside. The light's off, so it'll be dark when you open your eyes."

"Thanks, Boss."

When the door closed, Tony hesitantly opened his eyes. It was almost pitch black, thank God, and he released a shaky breath. He quickly undid his pants and relieved his bladder, nearly groaning as it emptied. He only didn't because he knew Gibbs would hear him, what with the hovering he was sure to be doing, and come barging in.

When everything was taken care of, he splashed some cool water on his face and sighed again, closing his eyes. "All right, Boss."

The door opened again and sure hands settled on his back and took his hand. "The medicine didn't help at all?"

"Guess not," Tony answered.

"I'd ask how your vision is, but since you can't open your eyes, that answers that," Gibbs mused softly. "Nausea?"

"Only when I try to see or move."

Gibbs snorted. "I guess that concussion isn't as gone as Jamison thought."

Tony didn't really answer, too tired to do more than just grunt.

"Here we are," Gibbs announced. "Bed's right in front of you."

Reaching out blindly, Tony found his hand taken in Gibbs' and brought to the edge of the bed. Once back under the covers, Tony impulsively grabbed Gibbs' hand to keep him from leaving and whispered, "Don't go."

"Hey, easy there DiNozzo, I'm not going anywhere," Gibbs assured him.

The bed dipped and Gibbs' fingers gently combed through his hair, massaging his scalp with just enough pressure to feel good. Even as out of it as he was, Tony knew this wasn't normal Gibbs' behavior, he just didn't know what to chalk it up to. Setting it aside to deal with later, he mumbled, "Feels good."

"I'm glad," Gibbs replied softly. "Try and get some more sleep."

Tony would have nodded, but knew that would just set off the throbbing again. Instead, he settled for a deep, relaxing sigh and concentrated on the feeling of Gibbs' fingers scratching through his hair in a surprisingly intimate fashion.

It was something he could definitely get used to.




Part 3
It wasn't boring to watch Tony sleep. As a matter of fact, it was one of the most engrossing things that Jethro had done in quite a while. The younger man was a restless sleeper, not surprising in any way, and was constantly shifting under the covers and making small murmurs. His facial expression changed according to his dreams, as open as he ever was in waking, but unfortunately most of them ranged from unhappy to pained.

At least lately.

When it got too bad, Jethro would rub his hand gently over the forehead, smoothing out the wrinkles. Tony always settled down, sleeping easier after his touch. That alone told him that it wasn't unwelcome, but he needed more before he could allow himself to hope that Tony really had feelings for him. Tony was, after all, unconscious now, and he'd been nearly so when Jethro had soothed him into sleep; certainly not his usual, comprehending self.

It was about two in the morning that he finally decided to try and sleep, even though he knew that it would be impossible. He left the bedside and took care of business in the bathroom, silently mocking his reflection before heading for the sofa. It was, thankfully, a fairly large and comfortable sofa, bought, of course, with Tony's long legs in mind. He was tempted to sack out beside Tony on the bed, but figured that would be pushing it.

Then again, if he wakes up and shoves you out of bed, you'll know for sure, Jethro thought in dark amusement.

It didn't move him from his spot on the couch, though. He started mentally going over the lists of things he had to do at the office, prioritizing things that needed to get done, versus things that had to get done, versus things that should get done. Despite the doctor's assurances that he didn't need to stick around, Jethro knew he would feel better keeping a personal eye on Tony. Mentally assigning Kate and Ducky the most pressing of the issues, Jethro set his internal alarm clock for five hours and drifted into sleep.

* * * *

Blessedly pain-free, Tony cautiously opened his eyes and sighed in relief when the light didn't stab into his brain like before. Rolling slowly into a sitting position, he remained normal and grinned in outright happiness when he stood without any after-effects. A quick glance at the clock told him it was still early, only just after six, and he left the bedroom for the bathroom. His nose begged him to head for the kitchen instead, but it was overridden by his bladder.

Taking as little time as possible, Tony was in and out of the bathroom in three minutes. He sat at the table with, "Gooood morning, Boss!"

Gibbs arched an eyebrow at him. "You're looking almost normal this morning. Of course, that's more normal than any other day."

Tony grinned and replied, "Thanks, Boss. And man, I am starving!"

"That's a good sign," Gibbs observed, setting a plate in front of him.

Tony managed to wait until the other man was also seated with a plate of his own, but just barely. His stomach rumbled a demand and he gave in, tucking heartily into the eggs and nearly moaned in pleasure on finding cheese and spices in it. "Man, this is great, Gibbs!"

Gibbs chuckled and said, "Glad to hear it. I didnët actually think that you'd be eating this morning."

They were silent during the meal and Tony couldn't help but steal glances at his unexpected roommate now and again. Gibbs didn't seem to be annoyed by having to spend so much time with him, but then, he had a great poker face. That whole Gunnery Sergeant thing was hell to read through, no doubt about it.

"So what time are you heading out?" Tony asked.

Gibbs eyed him thoughtfully for a moment, then admitted, "I hadn't been planning on going in, but I might, with how you look now."

"Go in," Tony urged. "I'm just going to hang out here and do nothing. It's not like you'll have anything to do."

After thinking it over for a few minutes, Gibbs said, "I think I will. But the minute you take a turn for the worse, you will call me. Got it, DiNozzo?"

Tony offered a sloppy salute and replied, "Yes, Sir!"

Rolling his eyes, Gibbs picked up his plate and brought it to the sink. "I'll call you around noon to see how you're doing."

"Bored to tears, probably."

"Enjoy the vacation while you have it."

They shared a grin before Gibbs left the kitchen to get his things together. Tony finished off his breakfast and put his dish in the sink, then started cleaning up.

"Leave it. I'll get them when I come back tonight," Gibbs said from behind.

Tony was so startled by the other man's close proximity that he dropped a glass and it shattered in the sink.

Gibbs barked, "Don't touch anything! All I need is for you to cut yourself and bleed to death."

Pulling his hand back, Tony stepped aside and let Gibbs carefully pick the shards out of the sink. When he was done, Tony said, "You don't have to come back tonight. I think I'm going to be fine now. I probably just did too much, too soon."

"Yeah, and I'm going to make sure you don't do that again," Gibbs stated evenly.

Tony held his hands up in surrender at the pointed glare and agreed, "All right, all right! I won't lift a finger except to flush the toilet."

Gibbs' lips twitched, but he didn't actually smile. "Good. I'll see you around 1900 tonight."

Following the other man to the door, Tony asked hopefully, "Give Kate hell for me?"

At that, Gibbs grinned and answered, "I will."

"Yes!" Tony exclaimed gleefully.

Shaking his head, Gibbs left the apartment and Tony locked the door behind him. Humming happily to himself, Tony headed for the sofa to check out the news.

* * * *

Kate groaned at the throbbing pain in her head, but the vibrations only worsened the pain. Her stomach was more than a little queasy and she swallowed in an effort to keep it where it belonged. There was a whimper of pain from beside her and she stiffened, suddenly wondering how much she'd had to drink and whose bed she was in, because she knew it wasn't her own.

Bracing herself, Kate cracked an eyelid and silently thanked God that the blinds were drawn or that it was too early for the sun. She carefully and slowly turned over, cringing in anticipation of what she might find.

A very naked Abby, however, hadn't been anywhere on the list.

Suddenly very awake, too awake, Kate forced herself to look around and discovered that she was in a large, open-lidded coffin. Abby was curled up in a ball beside her, arms over her head as if to shield herself. Which, if she felt anything like Kate did, was more than likely. Abby's hair was down, the black locks hiding her face and trailing down her shoulders. Even severely hung-over, Kate could appreciate the long, lean lines of Abby's body, as well as her curves.

Taking her life in her hands, she whispered, "Abby."

"ëckoff," Abby groaned.

"Abby!" Kate whispered louder. "It's me, Kate!"

Abby went very still, then peeked one eye up at her, groaned again and pulled a pillow over her head.

Well. Not the most flattering reaction I've ever had. Thanks a lot, Abby, Kate thought, affronted. She climbed out of the bed and started gathering her clothes, yanking them on willy-nilly. She ignored the itchy, sticky feeling that told her she'd come a lot the night before, even if she couldn't remember it.

She found her watch and discovered that there was enough time to run home for a shower before going into work, thankfully. Taking one last look at the lump on theÓbedÓthat was now buried under the sheets and blankets, Kate sighed and said quietly, "I'm leaving, Abby. You can pretend this never happened, if that makes you feel better. I'll see you later."

Abby's apartment was easy enough to get out of, and in a few minutes, Kate found her car in the parking lot and started home.

* * * *

Jethro quirked an eyebrow at the sight of Kate dragging into the office twenty minutes late. Just as he opened his mouth to razz her obviously hung-over self, she glared at him from behind the sunglasses and snapped, "Not. One. Word."

Smirking, Jethro replied, "I was just going to ask how you were feeling."

Kate grunted something unintelligible and headed for her desk.

Chuckling to himself, Jethro dove back into the reports that he'd been going through.

The perks of management, he thought dourly. Not only do you get to solve the cases, you get to suffer through death by paperwork each and every time.

The morning passed quietly, which was a nice change. He plowed through report after report, bringing everything up-to-date in anticipation of more time off in the near future. Jethro didn't know how many setbacks Tony might suffer through, so he had to be prepared. There was going to be at least time off for the visits to the DA's office, and any other incidents or episodes that Tony might succumb to, from stress.

It was an insidious thought that goaded him into even contemplating the possibility that Tony might not be able to go back to work. That the stress of the job would force him to seek a desk job or leave law enforcement altogether. That they wouldn't be able to work together at all, in the future.

Shaking off those damning thoughts was difficult, but Jethro did the best that he could by focusing on the work in front of him and the fact that it was only a couple of weeks since the attack. Tony would heal, he'd go through re-certification and be working again in no time. And he could, after all, do the paperwork no problem, as had been witnessed the last week he'd been working without any trouble at all.

He kept half an eye on Kate throughout the morning, too, not liking her behavior. He'd seen her hung-over before and it hadn't been like this. She'd been pissy as hell and ill the day after, but never tense and withdrawn. Generally, she ranted at Tony as quietly and viciously as possible, drank a lot of water and took aspirin like clockwork. Finally, at lunch, he went over to her desk and said, "Let's get lunch."

She swallowed uneasily. "Not a good idea, Gibbs."

"Fine. Let's take a walk," he ordered impatiently. "Unless you'd like to talk about what your problem is right here in the office, because I've got no problem with that."

Kate cursed under her breath and put her sunglasses back on, grabbing her purse and falling into step with him. They went out the front and he almost smirked at her moan of pain when they walked into the bright sunshine. They were halfway down the block before he asked, "What's the deal?"

"I'm hung-over, Gibbs. What else do you want to be wrong?" she demanded painfully.

Glancing over at her, he replied, "How about the truth?"

She sighed, putting her hand to her head, and stopped walking. "I had a one-night stand last night that I'm wishing wasn't a one-night stand, okay? I'll get over it."

"Anyone I should worry about?"

Kate shook her head, looking out at the street as she answered, "I doubt it. Probably happens all the time to this person, even if it doesn't to me."

Nodding slowly, Jethro questioned, "You're sure you're okay?"

"Fine," she assured him tiredly. "Let's get food, since we're out."

Even though he wasn't convinced, Jethro could see that the pain was real and left it alone. He'd been in that kind of situation before and the sooner it scabbed over, the better. Talking it to death wouldn't do anything except make things worse. "Yeah, okay."

Pulling out his cell phone, Jethro dialed Tony's phone number and smiled when the other man picked it up with, "I'm not lifting a finger."

"You better not be," Jethro warned. "What are you doing?"

"Watching one of the talk shows. ëMy husband slept with my mother's lesbian lover, I think."

Jethro laughed, cutting it short at Kate's curious look. "Good. I'm glad to see that you're feeding that brain of yours."

"Is that Tony?" Kate asked. At his nod, she held out her hand imperiously and he surrendered the phone. "DiNozzo, get your ass to the office, we know you're faking it for the sympathy and time off. Uh huh. Yeah. What are you talking about!? Right. Bite me, Tony. Here's Gibbs."

Jethro grinned briefly as he took the phone and asked, "Nice to see you haven't lost your touch."

"Come on, Boss, give me a little more credit than that," Tony protested humorously.

"All right. We're coming up on the food place so I'll let you get back to your Emmy award winning show."

"Okay. I'll see you tonight!"

"Bye, DiNozzo."

Slipping the phone back in his pocket, he caught Kate looking at him funny and demanded, "What?"

"Nothing. JustÓthe sooner you put him on a leash, the better, you know that, right? For all our sakes, considering his taste in women."

Jethro grinned, satisfied that she'd both divined it on her own, and had no problem with it. "Yeah, I know."

* * * *

Abby felt lower than pond scum as she forced herself to continue working on the lab analyses Gibbs had sent down to her an hour ago via Kate. First was the fact that she'd essentially cheated on McGee with Kate. She wasn't a cheater and never had been. She was either a one-woman woman, or a one-man woman at a time. She took relationships very seriously, which was why she tried not to get pinned down to one in the first place.

Second was the fact that she honestly couldn't remember what the hell had gone down with Kate the night before. Heh. Well, aside from her, of course. The last thing she really remembered was laughing hysterically with Kate and leaning on the woman as they'd searched for a cab. It had been a great night. They'd had some supper, gone to a couple of clubs, gone to a lot of bars, gone to some more clubs, and then started back to Abby's apartment, where Kate had parked her car.

Third, and most important, was the way she'd treated Kate on waking up this morning. She'd been so shocked that it had been Kate in her bed that she'd acted like the worst kind of scum in the universe. Kate deserved nothing but her respect, especially considering that it was more than likely that she'd seduced Kate. It was pretty hard to imagine things going the other way. Kate was open minded, but she was pretty sure the agent wasn't that open minded.

So now, despite her attempt at fierce concentration on the DNA samples, Abby's thoughts kept drifting back to Kate and the tired, beaten tone of voice that had announcing her departure and that Abby could pretend nothing had happened.

"Abby, my girl. Are you all right?"

Ducky's voice startled her but, fortunately, she wasn't holding anything breakable just then. Sighing, Abby shook her head and answered glumly, "I'm lower than pond scum, Ducky. You shouldn't be around me, I might drag you down."

Ducky's eyebrows rose as he said, "I think that I shall risk it. What's the problem?"

"I had a one-night stand last night and when I woke up this morning, I treated the other person just awful!" Abby wailed. She collapsed forward, hiding her face in the crook of her elbow. "I suck rocks, Ducky!"

"There, there," he soothed, rubbing her back. "I can assure you that you don't suck rocks, my dear. We all make mistakes when it comes to love. I'm sure that young Mr. McGee will forgive you, as long as you're honest with him."

Abby groaned. "I know he will, that's my problem!"

Ducky paused, then said, "I'm afraid I don't follow."

Sitting up, she explained, "I think I might really, really like the person that I slept with last night, more than I like McGee. I mean, I hadn't really thought about it, not consciously, but my subconscious is a tricky, tricky thing and was probably thinking like this all along. So I think maybe I did what I did last night under the cover of alcohol so I wouldn't have to worry about consequences, to give myself a way out, you know? But then, this morning, I just felt so horribly guilty and sick and my head was pounding, that I treated the other person like dirt and they can barely look at me now, so now I'm really screwed because I do like them a lot!"

There was another, longer pause as Ducky digested her explanation. Then, at last, he sighed and confirmed, "Abby, my dear, I'm afraid that you have a rather accurate assessment of your situation."

Abby groaned and thumped her head against the lab table, glad that it exacerbated the headache already in place.

* * * *

Kate grinned broadly to herself at what she'd just overheard. Who said eavesdroppers never heard anything good? Stupid saying. Humming cheerfully to herself as she headed back to the elevator, Kate toyed with the thought of how long she should make Abby suffer before letting her off the hook. She finally decided on at least through the weekend, depending on how the other woman tried to make it up to her in the meantime, as she headed for her desk.

"You look a damn sight better," Gibbs observed, quirking a curious eyebrow in her direction.

With a Cheshire grin, Kate replied airily, "That's because there is a God, and she's a woman who likes payback."

Lips pursed, Gibbs wisely didn't comment, instead going back to whatever it was that he had been doing when she'd gotten back. Still humming, she sat at her desk and briefly considered not making Abby suffer, then dismissed the idea.

She'd just settled into cleaning out her email inbox when they got a call about a base murder. She grabbed her gear, filled her water bottle, and snagged the bottle of aspirin in her drawer, not knowing how long they would be out at the crime scene. The car ride over was quiet and more than once she looked over at Gibbs, wondering what the problem was.

It wasn't just that Tony wasn't around to keep in line, though that probably had something to do with it. Kate knew just how much Gibbs enjoyed his constant tug-of-war with Tony. There was something to his expression that she hadn't seen before and it took a while for her to figure out that it was worry. Startled, she asked, "What's wrong with Tony that you aren't telling us?"

Gibbs' jaw tightened, telling her that she'd scored a direct hit, but it was a few minutes before he reluctantly admitted, "Tony might not be able to come back to work again."

Kate was stunned. "What? Why not?"

"Because he gets debilitating migraines when put under stress," Gibbs explained. "It happened at the DA's office yesterday. That's why I had to bring him to the hospital. And if he can't handle the stressÓ"

"Then he can't work at NCIS," Kate finished, her good mood evaporating instantly. What fun was going to work without Tony around to harass like the little brother she'd never had? It was different than interacting with her sister, very different, and she would miss it intensely if Tony couldn't go back to work with them.

Not that she'd ever admit that, unless under pain of perjury.

Gibbs nodded, adding, "The doctor said it was still too early to tell anything for sure, butÓyou didn't see him, Kate. The pain he was inÓit was excruciating. He couldn't even hold his head up, it was so bad."

Kate knew that despite his hypochondria, Tony actually had a pretty high tolerance to pain. For him to have been that bad off, it had to have been just as excruciating as Gibbs described. "So when will we know?"

Sighing explosively, Gibbs answered, "No timetable. Head injuries are iffy at best. It's difficult to predict who will have a full recovery and who won't, even in mild cases. And the attack that Tony sufferedÓ"

There was no need to prompt him to go on, because Kate remembered exactly what Tony had looked like right after the attack. Gibbs pulled into the base, showing his badge at the gate, and followed the directions that they'd been given. After Gibbs parked outside the tape, Kate climbed out of the car, grabbed her gear from the trunk and headed for the scene. Assessing the bloody area with a glance, she sighed, knowing that this one was going to take a long time.

* * * *

Exhausted by the thirty-six hour day he'd just put in, Jethro let himself into Tony's apartment and was glad to find the other man sacked out on the sofa. They'd been in touch via phone over the last day and a half, but it wasn't the same as being able to look at Tony and check in on him. There was a lingering worry in the back of his mind, a kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The good news was that they caught the psycho and a widow would have her closure. It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong damn time, a crime of opportunity, rather than motive. Which made things both easier and more difficult, all at once. Easier, because it hadn't been planned and there had been evidence left at the crime scene. More difficult because there wasn't any logical choice of suspect to begin with.

It was done, though, and he'd ordered Kate home to bed. Not having Tony around had hampered them to an astonishing degree. Jethro hadn't really realized just how much the younger agent did during the course of an investigation.

Looking down at the innocent expression on Tony's sleeping face, Jethro smiled and thought, I did realize, I just didn't let myself think about all your contributions, not really. Your intuition, your willingness to do any task, your language skills, that bizarre humor to diffuse tension. All of it such a vital part of the team. What're we going to do, if we have to do without you, Tony?

He fervently prayed that they wouldn't have to find out.

As if sensing the gaze on him, Tony stirred, yawning and slowly waking. Jethro moved away from him to set his bag down by the door. When he turned back, Tony was awake and looking at him with a pleased smile. "Hey."

Sitting up, Tony replied, "Hi Boss. All the I's dotted and T's crossed?"

"In triplicate," Jethro confirmed dryly.

"Hungry?"

"Tired."

Tony nodded, commiserating, and stood. He moved a little too fast, though, and swayed, unbalanced. Jethro leaped forward and caught him, holding on tight to make sure he didn't fall over completely. Tony clutched at him, eyes closed, and didn't move for several long moments.

"You okay?" Jethro asked.

Tony's eyes opened and he stared back at Jethro with something akin to wonder, as if just figuring something out. "You always catch me."

An unwelcome flush heated Jethro's face, even as a teasing smile surfaced. "Someone's got to keep you from hurting yourself, DiNozzo."

"Tony."

Jethro hesitated before questioning softly, "What?"

Serious, Tony stated, "My name is Tony."

Understanding that this was the signal that he'd been waiting for, Jethro nodded and echoed, "My name is Jethro."

Humor lit Tony's gaze as he quipped, "Now that we've been introduced, how about mphÓ"

Jethro swallowed the rest of the sentence in his kiss, unable to wait a moment longer. Just as he took in Tony's eager moan as the younger man returned the kiss enthusiastically, opening his mouth to it. Wrapping his arms around Tony's waist, Jethro devoured his willing victim thoroughly, tracing his tongue over teeth and along the roof of the mouth. When he pulled back, they were both breathing heavily and his cock throbbed with urgency, complaining loudly about the lack it had suffered over recent months.

Tony's hands gripped him tight all of a sudden, and Jethro knew it wasn't anything to do with passion from the draining of color from Tony's face. He quickly guided Tony back down to the sofa and helped him lie down. Crouching beside the sofa, running his fingers gently through the thick mop of hair, Jethro waited patiently for the clenched set of Tony's jaw to loosen. It did, finally, and Tony breathed a long, deep sigh of relief.

"I hope that wasn't a comment on my kissing technique," Jethro teased lightly.

A faint smile graced Tony's face and he replied, "No, definitely not. I may have forgotten to take my meds this afternoon."

Restraining the impulse to throttle him, Jethro just asked, "Are they still in the bathroom?"

"Unless they walked away, yeah."

"Don't move."

"Not going anywhere, trust me."

Jethro snorted in dark amusement and walked over to the bathroom. Once there, he realized that he hadn't asked which ones hadn't been taken. He grabbed all the bottles and brought them to the kitchen. After taking out an apple, he poured a glass of milk and brought everything back to the living room. Tony had already put some pillows under his head, so Jethro held out the apple, which Tony took and started munching on. When it was half gone, he counted out the right pills and handed them to Tony, along with the milk. That done, Tony returned to eating the apple, giving the core back to Jethro.

"You realize that this means I'm going to be zonked out the rest of the night, right?" Tony pointed out.

Jethro shook his head and countered, "I'd rather that, than you in the ER again."

"Oh. Yeah. Good point."

"Come on, let's get you into bed, Tony," Jethro ordered, not bothering to hide his exasperation.

It took a few minutes to get him upright again, but the trek to the bedroom went all right. When Tony was comfortable, he grabbed Jethro's hand and said, "Stay with me. It's more comfortable here than on the sofa and this is where you'll wind up eventually anyhow."

Grinning faintly at the reasoning, Jethro acquiesced and pulled off his shirt, shoes and socks. He climbed into the bed and they shifted until he was spooned up behind Tony, his arm an added pillow for the other man.

"MmmÓthis is nice," Tony murmured, drowsy.

Jethro kissed the spot just under his ear and agreed, "Very nice. Now go to sleep, DiÓTony."

Even though Tony was already heavy with sleep in his arms, he laced their free hands together, curling Jethro's arm around his front, too. "Night, Boss."

Chuckling warmly at the continued use of ëboss,' Jethro kissed him again and replied, "Night, Tony."




Part 4
The next morning proceeded like the others where he'd taken all his appropriate pills the night before: Tony woke feeling normal all over. Which meant in this case, that his body was comfortably ready for action. Even more so, since Gibbs was spooned up behind him for the first time ever, one strong arm slung over Tony's chest. He felt the tickle of warm breath across the back of his neck and was slightly sweaty from the shared body heat. Still, it beat waking up alone by a long margin.

He shifted and carefully pulled free of Gibbs' arms, surprised when the older man did nothing more than mumble and turn his face into the pillow. Tony had been convinced that Gibbs had an alarm clock wired directly into his brain, but since it was seven and he hadn't woken yet, there went that theory. Smiling at the sight the older man made buried against the pillow, he left and went to the bathroom.

After taking care of business, Tony headed into the kitchen and made some toast to take with his meds. Staring at the pill bottle in his hand, Tony wondered if he'd be taking them the rest of his life. If he'd be stuck on desk duty because his brain couldn't handle the stress any more. It sure as hell wasn't the way he'd pictured his future.

"It's only been two weeks, Tony."

Canting his head over at Gibbs, Tony asked, "How do you know what I'm thinking?"

A brief grin flashed over Gibbs' face and he announced, "You're pretty easy to read, DiNozzo. Sorry to kill that delusion."

Snorting, Tony replied, "Thanks."

"You're welcome. And it has only been a couple of weeks, so relax. Give yourself some time to heal. I think you rushed it, going back to work after only a week," Gibbs said slowly. "I think you need to stay home and watch tv and sleep so your body can heal properly."

"Is that my boss talking, or my lover?" Tony questioned.

A slow smile spread over Gibbs' face as he replied, "Lover. I like the sound of that. And it's just me talking, DiNozzo. I don't separate myself into little pieces like that."

Of course he didn't. Gibbs was so straight-forward that it was almost ridiculous. Not that he couldn't lie or deceive, the other man had proven that in the number of stings they'd participated in, but on a personal level, he simply chose not to.

"I can't just stay home and do nothing. I'll go nuts," Tony said firmly.

Gibbs snorted and agreed, "I know. And then you'll drive Kate nuts, which will drive me nuts."

"I could just take the short cut and drive you nuts first," Tony suggested cheerfully.

"You could, but I don't recommend it," Gibbs informed him dryly. "Look, Tony, I'm not all that great at compromise, but how about you come to work and steer clear of field work?"

"I was."

"No, you were running down leads when you thought my back was turned."

Busted. Tony sighed and said, "They were very mundane leads, Boss. Tame ones, even."

"But it was still more stress than your body needs right now," Gibbs countered. He closed the distance between them and gripped Tony's shoulders, staring intently at him. "Come in and stay at the desk for two weeks and we'll revisit the topic then. After your next doctor's appointment. Okay?"

Tony sighed again, but knew it was a better deal than he could have gotten. Nodding, he agreed, "I'll stay in the office and let McGee and Kate run things down."

"Good," Gibbs said, dropping his hands, but not his eyes.

Feeling on the spot, pinned by that piercing gaze, Tony insisted, "I won't move from my desk, Boss, I promise!"

A grin surfaced and Gibbs said, "I believe you, DiNozzo, I'm just admiring the view."

Heat flushed its way over Tony's face and he muttered, "That's hard to believe."

A minor wrinkle marred Gibbs' brow, but he only leaned in closer, setting his arms to either side of Tony on the counter. Tony stared back at him, feeling the heat spread through more than just his face at the other man's closeness. Licking his dry lips prompted Gibbs to simply cover Tony's mouth with his, wetting them with his own saliva in a deep kiss.

Tony groaned into it, his hands sliding around Gibbs' waist to pull him flush, relishing the strong body against his own. He could feel how hard Gibbs was and moved his legs further apart, both to steady them and give Gibbs more room to maneuver. The bait was left, however, and Gibbs merely gentled the passionate kiss and pulled back.

A faint grin hovered over Gibbs' face as he murmured, "Just making sure last night wasn't an aberration. And that kissing me doesn't hurt you."

Chuckling, Tony corrected, "Not hurt, no."

"Funny, DiNozzo. I wish we had time for more, but we're already late," Gibbs pointed out.

With a sigh, Tony acknowledged the truth to that and asked, "Breakfast on the go?"

"Breakfast now. You have pills to take," Gibbs stated firmly.

Tony smiled at that, realizing that no matter what their relationship was, Gibbs wasn't going to change. And that yes, that was a good thing.

* * * *

Kate frowned at the single blossom in a small glass vase at her desk, not recognizing what it was as she sat down. It looked familiar, she just couldn't place it. It was pinkish-purple with many petals that spread out from the center.

"Someone piss you off, Kate?"

Glancing over at Gibbs, Kate replied eloquently, "Huh?"

Gibbs smirked and explained, "Lotus flower. Means ëestranged love.'"

"Something Gibbs has experience with," Tony piped up, ducking the automatic, though slower than usual, swat to his head before moving to his desk.

"Peanut gallery notwithstanding," Gibbs replied, taking his seat with a minor glare at Tony. "I was tempted to use that one a few times."

Kate smiled at the thought that Abby was apologizing, however subtly. She probably thought that Kate wouldn't know what it meant. Which, actually, was true, but Gibbs was like an odd encyclopedia sometimes, equally as knowledgeable as Ducky, but with a more selective, and succinct, database.

Thankfully.

Tony suggested, "Maybe it's a secret admirer."

"No note," Gibbs observed.

Eyes rolling, Kate placed the vase in a better spot so as not to get accidentally knocked over and said, "Stop ruining my fun, Gibbs."

Even more thankfully, Gibbs' phone rang, preventing him from answering.

Tracing her fingers over the flower petals, Kate just played with the blossom a moment before standing and heading for the lab.

* * * *

The music playing was as loud and obnoxious as it ever was, in Kate's opinion, but so very Abby that she didn't really mind it. The lab tech was engrossed in something on her screen that wasn't visible from her current angle, but the tapping of fingers on the desk meant Abby was reading, not working on a report.

Employing Gibbs-like stealth, Kate walked up behind Abby and leaned forward, asking, "What're you doing?"

Abby gave a little shriek of fright and jumped away, hand to her chest. "Kate! Don't you ever do that again! Only Gibbs has the right to scare the ever-loving crap out of me like that! What're you, taking lessons?"

Smirking, Kate observed, "Gibbs gets to smack Tony, scare you, I wonder what he gets to do to Ducky that no one else can."

There was a pause before they both said, "Nothing."

Sharing a chuckle with the other woman, Kate continued, "I can't see even Gibbs getting away with doing something like that to Ducky."

"Me, either," Abby agreed, still grinning. "So what brings you to my humble lab?"

"Just wanted to thank you for the flower," Kate answered.

Abby's freeze was almost not noticeable as she replied, "What flower?"

Leaning on the table, Kate said, "I know it was you, Abs. Lotus flower means ëestranged love,' according to Gibbs and I can't think of anyone else who'd want to apologize to me right now. Not even Tony, for a change."

With a sigh, Abby tugged on a pony tail before saying, "I really am sorry, Kate. I was scum. Lower than scum. Lower than the scum on scum."

"I don't think scum has scum," Kate observed.

"I shouldn't have treated you like that."

Even though she knew the answer, Kate questioned, "So why did you?"

Squirming a little, Abby explained, "I'm seeing McGee and I like him, but youÓyou're all thisÓenergy and put-togetherness and strength and, well, I've always been attracted to people with those qualities."

"Still doesn't explain why I had to slink out of your apartment that morning."

Abby pulled on her hair again and said, "Because I was stupid and hung-over and not thinking and looking for an excuse. I can only just, you know, claim temporary man-ness for that and beg forgiveness."

Keeping her voice soft, Kate replied, "If you don't know why, Abby, you're only going to do it again. And I'm not going through that again. Ever."

Heaving another sigh, Abby finally admitted, "I like you. A lot. I can't help it! No offense, Kate, but I don't want to like you like that."

Not sure if she should be flattered or insulted, Kate simply asked, "Why not?"

"Because you're my friend!" Abby wailed, bouncing in her distress. "Because you're pretty much my best friend! I don't want to screw with that!"

Kate nearly smiled at that, but she could see that Abby was really upset so instead, she closed the distance between them and gripped Abby's shoulder. Making sure that she had the other woman's complete attention, she said sincerely, "I like you too, Abby."

Abby blinked a few times in surprise and asked, "You do?"

"Yeah," Kate confirmed. "How about we start over and really see where this takes us? After you break up with McGee, of course."

Wincing at the stipulation, Abby nodded and sighed. "That'll be fun. Not."

* * * *

The day had turned out better than Tony had anticipated. When Gibbs had ordered him desk-bound for real, he'd figured on being stuck doing reports. Instead, he was actively involved in the case, just swapping places with McGee. And not that he was super-computer-genius or anything, but it was Tony's digging through the paper-trail that led them to the identity of a long-time embezzler.

So now, riding back to his apartment with Gibbs, watching the other man drive slower than he usually did, Tony had to admit that maybe, if he couldn't get back into the field, his life wouldn't be over.

Maybe.

"What're you thinking about?"

Tony smiled when Gibbs looked over at him and answered, "The future."

"Oh?"

The cautious syllable prompted Tony to rest his hand on Gibbs' thigh and reply, "Yeah. I think it's going to be a good one, no matter what happens."

Gibbs' shoulders relaxed a bit as he said, "Can't see why it wouldn't be."

"So what's for supper?" Tony asked, grinning a little.

"Well, first we're stopping at your place to get your clothes and necessities. We can stop and grab something on the way back to my house."

"Why don't we go to your place to get your clothes and then pick something up on the way to my apartment?"
"First of all, DiNozzo, your apartment is too small for two grown men whoÓ"

Tony's grin got bigger as soon as Gibbs' voice trailed off because he'd realized that Tony had been yanking the older man's chain.

"DiNozzoÓ" Gibbs sighed, shaking his head.

Chuckling, Tony pointed out, "I gotta be me."

Gibbs snorted and muttered, "Truer words, DiNozzo."

Still, Gibbs' hand descended on his to give it a light squeeze, so Tony figured the other man wasn't all that annoyed. The rest of the short ride passed quickly and they pulled up in front of Tony's apartment building in short order. Gibbs was a solid presence beside him, which was comforting in the way a brick wall was comforting; it would take a hell of a lot to move him from Tony.

Checking for messages while Gibbs emptied the fridge of perishables, Tony hissed in surprise when his father's stilted voice said, "We heard that you were in the hospital and that it was fairly serious, but you've already been released. We're glad that you're all right."

"Who was that?" Gibbs asked quietly from behind.

Tony kept the riot of emotions locked down by force of habit as he turned to say, "My father," and walked passed Gibbs to his bedroom so he could pack. ëWe're glad,' as in, Tony's mother and father, not just his father alone. Of course, they were so out of touch that it wasn't a big surprise. He'd gotten a power sander last year for Christ's sake.

"Hey. You okay?"

Tony nodded and zipped up his duffel bag. "Fine. Fridge all cleared out?"

"Yeah," Gibbs confirmed, still eyeing him. "You want to talk about it?"

"If I did, I'd've started already, don't you think?" Tony snapped.

Neutral, Gibbs just shrugged and answered, "Maybe."

Knowing that the enemy wasn't even in the same city, if enemy was even the right word, let alone in the same room, Tony took a deep breath and slowly released it. "Sorry. I'm justÓnot now, okay?"

"Okay."

And it was okay, Tony could see. Gibbs wasn't going to pressure him, he never had and probably never would, trusting Tony to come to him when he needed to. Part of the reason that he'd stuck around so long, really.

They left after that and stopped for Chinese food, the smell of which drove Tony crazy on the rest of the ride to Gibbs' home, he was so hungry. Once inside, he said, "Don't bother with the plates, I'll just eat them."

Gibbs laughed and pushed him towards the sofa, ordering, "Eat. I'll bring your gear upstairs."

"You're not hungry?"

"Not enough to eat the plates, no."

Grinning, Tony started spreading out the containers and groaned when he saw there were only chopsticks.

Great. Just great, he thought in irritation.

Grumbling to himself, he moved to the kitchen and rifled through the drawers for forks and then, because he was there, grabbed plates, too. It would save Gibbs a trip, after all. Hurrying back to the living room, he arrived the same time as Gibbs, who gave the cutlery a surprised look. Shrugging, Tony said, "No forks."

Gibbs smirked a little, but didn't comment as he sat beside Tony. They sorted out who had what and were eating fast enough to suit Tony's stomach. Conversation ranged between work and sports, segueing briefly into politics before retreating to sports again. Shaking his head at Gibbs, Tony muttered, "I can't believe you're an independent. It's throwing away your vote."

"DiNozzo," Gibbs growled in warning.

Pleased to have scored a hit, Tony just smiled innocently and attacked the remaining egg roll.

Gibbs shook his head in amusement as he observed, "You've got to have a hollow leg. Where do you put it all?"

"Same place you put all that coffee you drink," Tony retorted, patting Gibbs' stomach without thinking. "Spare tank."

Gibbs arched an eyebrow at him just as Tony realized that his hand was still on the firm stomach in discussion. Just like that, the air was charged and the pleasant contentedness from a full stomach was banished by heat and desire. Clearly on the same page, Gibbs leaned in and kissed him, slow and deep, and Tony groaned at the contact, lying back as Gibbs moved forward to lie on him, between his legs.

It had been a long time since he'd made out on a couch like a teenager, but it sure as hell hadn't lost its appeal. Endless kisses in all different varieties kept him gasping for air and rubbing his hands up and down Gibbs' back, encouraging more.

Gibbs, however, wouldn't be rushed. He maintained the devastatingly slow pace and it was an eternity before he started rubbing up and down against Tony's body. One of Tony's legs dropped to the floor, opening himself further to Gibbs and he moaned when Gibbs took his mouth away and started sucking and licking his way down Tony's throat in a far too slow manner. "Gibbs, God, you're going to kill me!"

"Good," Gibbs muttered biting sharply at his ear.

Tony jerked up hard at that and gasped.

Licking the small hurt, Gibbs stood and said, "I've got a bed. Let's use it."

"Spoilsport," Tony grumbled through a grin. He took the hand that Gibbs offered and let himself be pulled up and into his lover's arms. Resting his head against Gibbs' shoulder, not wanting to admit to the dizziness that had occurred at the change in altitude, Tony finally pulled away.

"You all right?"

"Yeah. Fine now."

Gibbs kept an arm around his waist as they went upstairs, but Tony couldn't tell if it was because he didn't believe the dizziness was gone, or because he just wanted to stay close. Tony chose to believe the latter and didn't comment on the unusual behavior. Or maybe it wasn't unusual. He didn't, after all, know what Gibbs was like as a lover. They came to a stop beside the bed and Tony stepped back, not sure what would happen next.

Brushing his knuckles over Tony's face, Gibbs asked, "You done this before?"

"A couple of times. Nothing serious," Tony answered. "You?"

Gibbs' lips twisted a little in some emotion Tony couldn't decipher and he replied, "Enough to know what I'm doing."

There was an awkward pause before Gibbs tugged on Tony's shirt, drawing him close again. The kiss this time was just as slow as before, but there was more intent behind it. Tony surrendered himself to this man's care, knowing the trust was well founded and Gibbs would never do anything to hurt him. Not on purpose, anyhow.

Shirts were removed and pants undone in short order and Tony was stretched out on the bed fast enough to make his head swim. Thankfully, beds were good and supportive for things like that and he lay there getting oriented while Gibbs got acquainted with Tony's chest via his lips and tongue. It seemed an inordinate amount of time was spent on his nipples and Tony couldn't help but arch into the wet mouth as Gibbs kept at it.

By the time he headed south, Tony was so awash in sensation he probably wouldn't have been able to tell up from down without the head injury. When Gibbs' mouth took his cock, Tony nearly jumped out of his skin, even though he'd known that was where Gibbs was going. Moaning, he thrust into the tight heat, desperate to come in a way he hadn't in a long time. Gibbs pulled off and Tony complained, "You spend an hour on my nipples and a minute on my dick? You are a bastard."

Chuckling, Gibbs wrapped a hand around the straining shaft and answered, "I think you need another MRI. Your time sense is screwed up."

"Only because you're screwing with it," Tony muttered, thrusting into the grip on him.

Gibbs' other hand urged Tony onto his side and he obliged, hoping that his torment wouldn't be too prolonged. "You were trained in torture, were you?"

"Maybe," Gibbs answered, a smirk clear in his voice.

A slick finger wormed its way inside Tony, distracting him from whatever he'd been going to say. He wondered briefly just how and when Gibbs had managed to grab the lube, but the thought fled quickly as his lover worked him slowly and carefully, adding two fingers in fairly short order.

"You all right?" Gibbs asked softly.

"You stop now and I'll kill you."

A laugh escaped the other man and Gibbs leaned down to kiss his shoulder with, "I guess you're all right then."

Tony pulled his leg up, opening himself further, and gasped when Gibbs found his prostate. Warm lips pressed into his back, sucking lightly as the fingers stretched him. They were withdrawn, on an irritated protest from Tony, and lube drizzled onto his hole. Three fingers returned and he paused at the full feeling, but it didn't really hurt, there was too much slick for that.

And then the fingers were gone for good, replaced by Gibbs' cock, which slid in slow and steady. Tony groaned in fulfillment and heard it echoed by the man who now covered him completely. Clutching the bedspread, feeling the throbbing shaft impaling him, Tony struggled not to come then and there.

"God, Tony, so tight, so good," Gibbs panted in his ear. "Perfect, so damn perfect."

Just to prove him wrong, Tony concentrated on tightening his ass around the cock, grinning fiercely at the resulting moan and jerk deeper inside his body. He pushed back impatiently, encouraging Gibbs to move, and didn't have to wait long for just that.

Pulling him into a kneeling position, Gibbs thrust into him, slow and hard, nicking his prostate on some rhythm that Tony couldn't keep track of, he was so close to coming. It seemed forever before the pace quickened, and when a hand reached under to grip his cock, stroking him strong and fast, he gasped, "I'm going to come, Gibbs, stop, you gottaÓ"

Bending over him, Gibbs ordered hot in his ear, "Do it, Tony, let it go baby, come for me," and then bit the lobe.

That was the spark that set off the explosion. Tony shouted and came, spilling all over the bed as he was wracked with an all-body shudder. He would have collapsed to the mattress, arms too weak to hold him up, but Gibbs held him tight around the waist and chest, humping into him rapidly before filling Tony with hot seed. Slowly, Gibbs lowered them, breathing heavy in Tony's ear, and settled them on the pillows. Utterly spent and satisfied, Tony just basked in the good feeling and Gibbs' arms around him.

Nuzzling the back of Tony's damp neck, Gibbs slid an arm under the pillows and clasped his free hand to Tony's. A few minutes later, when both their breathing had calmed, Gibbs observed, "Wow."

Tony chuckled and brought Gibbs' hand up, kissing the back of it and agreeing, "Very wow."

"You didn't take your pills at supper."

Laughter shook Tony and he exclaimed, "We just had the greatest sex that I've had in forever, and all you can think about is me not taking my pills? Gibbs, Boss, I've got to say. Not the best compliment in the world."

Gibbs bit playfully at his shoulder and replied, "Just trying to make sure you stay in good health, DiNozzo, now that I've got you where I want you. Stay put. I'll get them."

Shaking his head in fond amusement, Tony couldn't help the wince as Gibbs slowly pulled out of him.

"I saw that," Gibbs announced. "When I get back, I'm going to make sure I didn't tear you, going too hard."

Knowing better than to bother arguing with that tone, Tony just smiled at him over his shoulder and said, "Whatever you want, Boss."

Gibbs shot him an odd look, but it was gone too fast for Tony to identify. Shrugging mentally as the other man left to get the pills, Tony thought happily, Nope. This is definitely not going to change anything.

* * * *

Jethro hid a smile as Tony gingerly took a seat at his desk. Just like he'd carefully sat down at breakfast and in the car. Jethro was glad that soreness was the only after-affect of their lovemaking from the night before. He'd been worried that he'd gone too fast, he'd been so wrapped up in getting and being inside Tony, but as usual, the younger man was tougher than he seemed.

Smirking to himself, Jethro opened up a messenger window and typed: Just as well you're confined to desk duty, DiNozzo. You wouldn't be able to chase anyone down today anyhow.

A few seconds later, the answer came back: You're a barrel of laughs this morning, Boss. What happened? Didja get laid last night?

Clearing his throat to stop the laugh from escaping, Jethro typed back: You would know.
His phone rang so Jethro closed the window and picked up the phone, only to have it pop back up with: I won't expect a repeat performance tonight. I know guys your age need a substantial recovery period, Boss. Too bad, because I've got just the idea of what you could do to me.

For a few seconds, Jethro actually lost track of the fact that he was supposed to be greeting someone on the phone when he read that. Flashing a glare at Tony, who merely grinned at him smugly, Jethro finally said, "Gibbs here."

"Something wrong, Gibbs?"

Great. He had to talk to his boss with a hard-on. Just perfect.

* * * *

Jethro sat at attention, but relaxed, his focus on the man behind the desk filled with respect. He and Tom had a good working relationship and he wasn't going to jeopardize that if at all possible, which not being honest would do. He knew Tom well enough, after all these years, to know that the other man wasn't going to make a fuss about him and Tony. Not as long as they kept their personal lives private, which was how Jethro operated anyhow.

Finally, Tom said, "I expect the same level of professionalism that has always been the hallmark of your team, Jethro. What you and Agent DiNozzo do on your own time, is your business. Now. We have more important things to go overÓlike your budget which is consistently under-projected. How many times have I told you to overestimate? That way, when one of your team blows something up, it's already figured in. And overtime. We definitely need to talk about overtime for your administrative staff. I realize you think they live to serve your team, but they have other departments to support and they are hourly, Gibbs, not salary."

Jethro groaned to himself. Tom had taken the opportunity to pin him down about the damned budget of all things. He'd successfully avoided the administrative meeting for a couple of weeks, dreading the mind-numbing effect numbers had on him.

Well, Tom hadn't gotten to his position by not grabbing his chances when he could.

* * * *

Hand on Tony's shoulder, Jethro guided him down the crowded hall away from Karen's office. Tony had spoken with her a couple of times in the last few days and they'd finally settled on a time to go over the game plan for the coming trial. Korinski had been suspended and the three men who'd attacked Tony in the first place had been arrested. He'd been with Tony at the identification at the police station just the day before and, thankfully, there'd been only a ëslight' migraine to deal with after. No hospital visit thereafter, which meant that the medication was working, Tony's body was healing, or, hopefully, both.

Feeling like there was a target painted on his back even in supposedly friendly territory, Jethro wondered how Tony was dealing with so much stress, so well. Did it really make that big of a difference to have him present? Was he really that comforting to the younger man? It baffled him that that was, apparently, the case.

Once they got to the car, Tony walked around to the passenger's side and climbed in, still silent. It was starting to unnerve Jethro a little, how quiet Tony had been over the last few days. The only time he seemed to be himself, to let go for real, was when they were in bed. A fact that Jethro seriously appreciated, both the letting go and the location where it happened.

At work, Tony was at about half-speed for his usual repartee with Kate and McGee, the stress telling most when he couldn't find a snappy response at all to whatever the other two had said. He was deep in thought when he wasn't working on something specific, not unusual given the circumstances, but still putting the team off their stride a bit. Jethro was starting to think that McGee was looking for a head-smack, or practical joke pulled, just to feel normal. Tony had been spending a lot of time in the lab, too, but Jethro had no problem with that since his work was kept up-to-date. He knew that Abby and Tony were good friends and despite her Goth appearance, Abby was a very soothing friend to have in times of trouble.

"You okay?" Jethro asked at last, glancing sidelong at his lover.

Sighing deeply, letting his head fall back on the headrest, Tony answered, "I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop and it's freaking me out that it hasn't yet."

Jethro knew exactly what he meant. There hadn't been a hint of police harassment and that was worrying him, too. Karen had said that Korinski wasn't the apple of the DCPD's eye, but he was still a cop. Jethro had expected, at the very least, to find parking tickets on his car every time he turned around, maybe get it towed a couple of times and impounded, since it was obvious that Tony was staying with him during his recovery. There wasn't much he could do to reassure Tony, so Jethro simply started the car and said, "Let's go home."

Tony offered him a half-smile and put his hand on Jethro's thigh with, "Thanks, Boss. I appreciate everything you're doing here."

Covering the hand briefly with his own, Jethro returned the smile before carefully driving the car out into traffic. It was about halfway back to his house that he realized they were being tailed by an old, nondescript four-door sedan. It kept back in traffic, though, seemingly content to just watch and keep track of them.

Jethro made a mental note to make sure that Tony wasn't alone again until well after the trial. As in, for years to come.

Chapter End Notes:
Updated 4/12/16 due to import issue.
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