So, Tony thought to himself, this is how I die. Figures.
He hadn't meant for it to happen. Of course not; that would be ridiculous. But the fact of the matter was that it had, and now he was as good as dead.
He was sure that someday they'd all be able to look back at this moment and laugh, that they'd find it all rather funny. Well, I won't, Tony amended in his head. I'll be dead. Maybe my spirit will look on from the afterlife and chuckle a bit, assuming I wind up somewhere with good reception to the here-and-now.
Either way, he was sure that, given the inevitable passing of time, his teammates would raise a beer to his memory with smiles on their faces at the thought of him and his manner of demise. He knew that he would had it been somebody else in his position, and Lord knows they all used dark humor to get through the hard times anyway.
Still, it kinda sucks that this is how it ends, though I can't say I'm surprised, Tony thought with a mental sigh as he looked into the murderous blue eyes of his Boss.
Truly, he hadn't meant to fall into the wall and pull the Code Blue cord. It just sort of… happened. You know, like an accident, Boss, Tony's mind chirruped in amusement. If only he could see it from my perspective. He'd find the whole thing funny, too, and we could go along our merry little way a bit older and wiser for the experience. Next time I'll know to listen to the nurses when they tell me to stay in bed.
Really, all Tony had wanted was to go to the bathroom in peace. Nurse Susan had removed his catheter after they had brought him back from the Imaging Department, fresh from a batch of scans and tests that had shown no neurological damage, thank God. She had informed him that it was time for him to start rebuilding his strength and get used to moving around again. She had told him to press the call button for help if he needed to go. But noooo, I had to try and do it myself. "DiNozzos don't need help. DiNozzos are tough and independent." Thanks for that, Dad.
"What the hell is going on, DiNozzo?"
Uh oh. Boss is using his "quietly pissed" voice. Yep, this is definitely how I die: murdered to death by the wrath of Gibbs.
"Uh, hey there, Boss. I guess you heard the Code Blue page, huh? I had all my scans and tests done, and I'm okay. That's good news, right?"
Gibbs didn't say a word, but Tony watched in morbid fascination as his jaw flexed and his hand twitched in a ghost of a headslap. He swore that he could actually feel the impact and flinched a bit before straightening up as best he could on the bed and meeting his Boss's glare with more courage than he thought it possible for any man to possess.
"Well, uh, anyway, I was trying to get out of bed, you see, and I kinda tripped over my IV pole and fell into the wall and, uh, I might've pulled the Code Blue cord, ya know, by accident."
Still no answer. Glare intensity at 80% and holding steady. Proceed with caution.
Tony swallowed hard and licked his lips nervously, eyeing Gibbs the way he would a particularly fierce-looking, angry dog on a threadbare lead. One wrong move and he'll tear my throat out before I can blink.
"So, yeah, I'm sorry about that. Didn't mean to worry you, Boss. Uh, did you get your coffee?"
"I dropped it when I heard the Code Blue, DiNozzo."
Oh… oh, God! I broke Rule 23! I'm dead; I'm so very dead!
Tony could do nothing but stare in horror at Gibbs, dread turning his mouth to ashes and causing his stomach to launch into a gymnastic routine worthy of Olympic gold. He braced himself for impact, sure that his doom was upon him.
Then, something strange happened.
Tony watched as Gibbs' expression changed. The anger flickered into a look of relief, and Tony watched the man unclench his muscles and relax his stance slightly. The anger didn't disappear, but it softened, morphed into something less all consuming and more… paternal. That was the only word Tony could find for it.
He looks like a man who just pulled his kid out of traffic after telling him not to leave the yard.
Tony looked on in amazement as Gibbs sighed and rubbed a hand over his face before settling himself in the chair next to his bed, shaking his head the whole way. Once again, his tongue decided to start moving without consulting his brain first, and some detached part of his mind shouted a desperate, unheeded warning as he began speaking.
"So that's it? No headslap, no sudden acts of violence? You're just gonna let it go? I made you spill your coffee, Boss!"
Tony winced even as the last syllables left his mouth, mentally kicking himself. You just can't leave well enough alone, can you, DiNozzo? You just have to antagonize him, don't you? He tensed and broke eye contact, ready for the resurgence of Gibbs' ire.
"It was just coffee. I'll get another cup."
Tony's head snapped up so fast he almost gave himself whiplash. Eyes wide, he looked at Gibbs who was staring back at him with a look of exasperation mixed with fondness that Tony had never quite seen before, at least not so openly. Gibbs must have seen his complete consternation, because he didn't stop there.
"Some things are worth more than coffee, Tony. I'm just glad you're okay."
Tony's mouth opened and closed a few times, and to his embarrassment he felt his throat close up and his eyes start to sting. That's the nicest thing anybody's ever said to me.
Unable to handle the sudden swell of emotion, Tony fired off the first thing that came to his mind to try and break the discomfort he was suddenly feeling.
"Gee, Boss, I didn't take you for a 'Hallmark moment' type of guy. Next you'll start reciting poetry or quoting Shakespeare, and we both know it's all downhill after that. Don't worry; your secret's safe with me."
Gibbs let out a snort that sounded suspiciously like a muffled laugh, and Tony relaxed at the amusement he saw in his Boss's eyes. He grinned widely, relief mixing with the tide of emotions he was currently swimming through, and was happy to see Gibbs' returning smile.
The moment ended when Tony broke into a jaw-cracking yawn. He blinked his eyes sleepily, surprised at the sudden surge of weariness that swept over him. Before he could say anything, a voice broke in with a warm Scottish brogue. "Anthony, my dear boy, it's good to see you awake!"
"Hiya, Ducky. Heard I was out of it for a while, and I have you to thank for keeping Gibbs from being banned from Bethesda for life, so thanks."
"Yes, well, we all must do our part. Now, how are you feeling?" As Ducky asked, he was already reaching for Tony's chart, scanning the remaining monitors as he did so. He tutted to himself under his breath as he read the numbers and the results of the scans and tests.
"Oh, you know, can't complain, really. Nothing a little R and R won't cure. I was thinking maybe on a beach, preferably somewhere warm and sunny like the Caribbean, with clear waters and hot chicks in bikinis. Can you write me a prescription for that, Doc?"
The Scotsman looked at Tony over the tops of his glasses, a genial smile on his lips.
"I'd say you have quite a ways to go yet before you are well enough to go anywhere so exotic. If you do well, you might be able to go home in a day or two, but I would not be surprised if you are here for longer."
Tony frowned at that, feeling the beginning of a pout forming. His hatred for hospitals was well known and documented. He glanced over at Gibbs and caught the resolute stare of his Boss that said you are going nowhere until I say you can go, DiNozzo. Tony's crafty brain immediately kicked into overdrive, and he began plotting his escape even as he felt exhaustion begin to pull him down into sleep.
"Not that I don't enjoy your company, Ducky, but I'm feeling a bit wiped out. Think I'm gonna take... a little…"
He was asleep before his head fully settled onto the pillow. The last thing he felt before he dropped off completely was a calloused hand gently brushing the hair off his forehead.
Man, if Gibbs wasn't ready to kill me before, he must be by now.
Tony knew that he was being difficult, but he couldn't help himself. He hated hospitals. Nothing good had ever happened while he was in one, and ever since his lovely bout with the plague he'd developed a near phobia of them. The food was bad, the sheets scratchy, the floor too noisy to get a decent night's sleep, there was never anything good on TV, and the wounds on his back were itching and driving him nuts.
They had moved him out of ICU and into a regular room about 24 hours after he had come out of his coma, and he had been in his new room for about a day. The nurses on this floor had apparently been warned about the dangers of a Gibbs/DiNozzo combination and were watching him like hawks. He'd yet to find a prime opportunity to spring himself.
He had compensated for his discomfort by whining more than usual to anyone who would listen, which was usually Gibbs and Ducky. He didn't whine to the pretty nurses, though, preferring to flirt outrageously. He wasn't sure which Gibbs found more irritating.
Ducky, at least, was able to take his complaining in stride, and he was very effective at heading off Tony's worse moments with entertaining stories that usually were enough to distract Tony from his undesirable situation for at least a few minutes.
Abby, Tim, and Ziva had all stopped by at least once. Abby had shared the latest, juiciest NCIS gossip with him and showered him with balloons, cards, and gifts that she had strong-armed from concerned coworkers. Tim had brought his portable DVD player and a few movies, for which Tony had promised not to glue anything to his desk for at least a week as a reward. Even Palmer had swung by with a new edition of GSM and a deck of cards, and they had spent an hour or two playing poker. Palmer had cleaned him out; the autopsy gremlin was a surprisingly sharp card shark.
Ziva had sat with him while Gibbs went home for a shower, a repacked go bag, and a quick nap. He had given her a long look before walking out of the room, though Tony wasn't able to see his face. Ziva's "I'll take care of him, Gibbs," must have been enough, because he nodded once before leaving the room, squeezing her shoulder as he passed.
Her visit started off a bit awkward, neither sure what to do with the other yet after Rivkin and Somalia. Still, Tony was nothing if not a smooth talker and a charmer, and he soon had her drawn into a discussion of the pros and cons of various Bond villains that led down so many rabbit trails that Tony wasn't sure how they ended up discussing the filmography of the Three Stooges when Gibbs returned. Gibbs had smiled his half-smirk when their conversation devolved into laughter just after he entered the room.
It had been a bright spot in a dreary couple days of more tests, poking, prodding, and boredom mixed with frustration. Tony hated feeling like an invalid, and he especially hated asking for help going to the bathroom. Gibbs had finally put his foot down and glared him into submission when he had insisted on getting there by himself for the third or fourth time and almost went tail over teakettle yet again, tangling himself in his IV line somehow.
All in all, Tony was sure that Gibbs was regretting not killing him after the Code Blue fiasco, and at this point Tony was willing to let him finish the job if it meant getting out of there.
After what felt like the hundredth request to be released, Ducky finally gave him the good news just before leaving for the night.
"Anthony, I've just finished consulting with Dr. Weisman, and he's agreed that you can go home in the morning, provided you continue on your current course, mind you."
Tony let out a whoop of joy at the news, happy to finally have an end in sight to his miserable stay.
"Did you hear that, Boss? I'm getting sprung!"
"Yeah, I heard, DiNozzo. I'm sure the whole hospital is planning a party as we speak."
"Now, Anthony, please allow me to finish. You'll only be released on the condition that you have somebody to stay with you who can assist you with your continued convalescence at home."
"Don't worry, Duck. Tony's coming home with me."
Gibbs' words had the ring of finality to them, and Tony was too excited at the prospect of busting out to offer any protest. Besides, he had expected nothing less. It was a long-standing tradition that Tony would stay with Gibbs after any serious injury, and they had a lot of unfinished business that demanded their attention.
Tony's face darkened for a moment at that thought but pushed it aside in favor of celebrating his upcoming freedom. He smiled and nodded as Ducky peppered him with instructions and directions on how best to heal outside the walls of the hospital, vowing solemnly to obey his warnings and not set himself back by overdoing it. I'd agree to just about anything if it meant getting out of here.
With a few last words of wisdom, Ducky finally excused himself, bidding Gibbs and Tony a good night and promising to be there bright and early for his discharge in the morning. Soon Tony was alone with Gibbs, the older man firmly settled into the sleeper chair that the nurses had brought him when they realized he wasn't going anywhere.
A comfortable silence settled between them, neither quite ready to sleep but both disinclined to talk. Tony settled back into his hospital bed, feeling more grounded than he had since he had awakened now that the end of his stay was in sight. The minutes passed easily, and as Tony felt himself start to drift off, he mumbled softly into the quiet of the room.
Gibbs' response was equally soft and surprisingly gentle considering the source.
"Goodnight, Tony. I'll be here if you need me."