Title: Cold and Wet Is My World
Author: rebecca
Rating: PG
Pairing: Gibbs/Tony pre-slash
Summary: It's not about getting wet, it's about whether he'll get pneumonia.
Notes: For those who noticed--yes, the title is stolen shamelessly from TS. This is the first in the Elements series; I think you can figure out which one this is meant to be. With thanks to skripka for the beta.


Gibbs didn't think he'd ever heard quite that blend of fear, anger, and desperation in McGee's voice as he scrambled down the bank, running full-out toward the narrow wooden dock. He didn't stop to think--he shoved the handcuffed suspect at Ziva and ran after him.

They got to the dock just in time to see Tony dive into the water.

"What--" Gibbs whirled on McGee.

"Brown's case," he said, trying to catch his breath. "He threw it into the river. Tony went after it." He bent over, hands on his knees.

Gibbs looked at the gray river, the little choppy waves and the skim of ice near the bank, and up at the cloudy sky. The wind cut through his jacket and he bit back a reflexive shiver. "He better get out of there soon," he muttered, glaring at the water. "Because I'm not going in after him."

But seconds ticked on and there was no sign of Tony. Another, and another, and Gibbs was about ready to dive in after him when Tony's head broke the surface. He took a deep breath before diving back under. Again, they waited, watching the waves subside over his head, counting silently until he popped back up again. This time, it seemed to take him a bit longer to gather his breath before he sank back under. "He's going to kill himself in there," McGee said anxiously. "Boss--"

"What do you want to do, McGee? Go after him?"

Even as he spoke, Tony came up for the third time. But this time he began swimming back toward the dock, heaving the metal case onto the wood before crawling clumsily after it. "Got--the evidence--Boss," he gasped before collapsing into a shivering ball.

"Shit. McGee, get Ducky here and call the ambulance. Now." Gibbs pulled off his jacket and knelt down next to Tony, stripping off his drenched shirt and wrapping the jacket around him, trying to generate some warmth. Tony was shivering uncontrollably and he seemed dazed.

Ducky came bustling over, Palmer following with blankets piled in his arms. "Good God, Jethro, what did he do?" Ducky asked, startled.

"Dove into the damn river after Brown's case. McGee, take it back to the truck. You and Ziva get it and Brown back to the office. Give the case to Abby and throw Brown into interrogation. He can wait for all I care." Gibbs knelt behind Tony. "Ducky, help me get him out of his clothes?"

"Of course, of course." Ducky knelt on Tony's other side. Between the two of them, they wrestled him out of his soaked clothes, throwing them to the side for the moment. Tony's lips were blue, even as they wrapped him in blankets. "How long was he in the water?" Ducky asked.

Gibbs shook his head. "Long enough to come up for air twice before swimming back here. Two minutes? It wasn't that long."

"It's January in Maryland and that water's almost frozen over," Ducky pointed out. "And it's windy here, which doesn't help any. Let's get him bundled up as best we can."

Gibbs tucked the blankets more securely around Tony. "DiNozzo!" he barked. "You with me?"

Tony managed a shaking nod. "J-just c-c-cold, Boss," he got out. "N-nothing a hot sh-shower would-wouldn't cure."

"Tony, while I appreciate your stubbornness--on occasion--that water's too cold to take chances, especially with your lungs," Ducky told him matter-of-factly.

"M-my lungs are f-f-fine," Tony stammered.

"You let the doctor decide that, DiNozzo. You hear me?" He knelt behind Tony, his chest pressed against Tony's back, trying to generate warmth. In another lifetime--but no. It wasn't the time for that type of thinking. It never was.

Tony grimaced--or maybe he was just trying not to let his teeth chatter. "Y-yeah, Boss," he managed.

It seemed an eternity before the EMTs arrived and by the time they did, Tony was shaking uncontrollably, even wrapped in the blankets with Gibbs on one side of him and Ducky on the other, both blocking the wind as best they could. "We've got him," one of the EMTs said, easing Tony onto the gurney and strapping him in, blankets and all. "We'll see you at the hospital."

Gibbs nodded and gave Ducky a hand up. "He'll be all right, Jethro," Ducky said, brushing himself off.

"What did you mean about his lungs?" Gibbs asked as they started back up the hill.

"Well, after the plague, you know. A serious upper respiratory illness, even one like bronchitis or pneumonia, can make one more susceptible to other, similar illnesses in the future. After Tony's bout with Y. Pestis, it's probable that he'll always be a touch more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses in the future." Ducky reached the top of the hill and turned to Gibbs. "I'm sure he'll be fine, Jethro."

Gibbs grunted and got out his keys. "You coming with me, Duck?" he asked.

"I'll meet you there. Mr. Palmer and I should get the truck back to the office first." Ducky rested a hand on Gibbs' arm. "He'll be fine, Jethro. Likely all he needs is to warm up a bit. He wasn't in the water long enough to get more than a possible mild case of hypothermia--easily treatable."

That wasn't very reassuring.

He got to the hospital and found out from a nurse that Tony had been moved to a regular room for the night. "It's just for observation, Agent Gibbs," she said placatingly. "With his history, and with the dunking he got, we want to make sure he won't get sick. That water wasn't exactly clean, and given how cold he was when we got him in here, we just want to keep him overnight. He'll be fine by tomorrow." She tucked her hands into the pockets of her scrubs.

"Unless he gets pneumonia," Gibbs said flatly.

"Yes." The nurse didn't flinch from the look on his face. He had to give her credit for that. "Which is why he's here."

"I want to see him," Gibbs told her.

"This way." She led him down the hall, her white clogs squeaking a little on the floor.

Tony was looking out the window at the rain that had started to fall, wrapped up in blankets from his chin down. "Hey, Boss," he said. "They won't let me go home."

"Nope," the doctor said cheerfully. She was a tiny woman--no more than 5', if that--with red-gold hair bundled up in a knot and green scrubs on over an off-white turtleneck. "Not until we're sure you're not going to get pneumonia. Besides, you'd miss the Jell-O. I think it's green tonight."

Tony rolled his eyes. "My favorite," he said dryly.

She laughed and turned to Gibbs. "He'll most likely be fine, Agent Gibbs. We just want to make sure."

"They can't resist my charm," Tony said with a grin.

"You keep telling yourself that, cutie. I'll be back to check on you later." She hung up his chart, nodded at Gibbs, and left.

"Making friends already, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked mildly.

"I've got to have something to do in here. Besides, she's not interested in me. She's twenty-six, graduated from Georgetown, and is dating an investment banker. She used to be a gymnast, almost made it to the Olympics..." Tony's grin flashed again. "Imagine the flexibility."

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "I don't even want to know how you got all that information in ten minutes," he said dryly. He wasn't surprised. Tony had a way of getting information out of people--especially attractive women.

"There had to be some kind of reason you hired me, right?" Tony said cheerfully.

"Something like that." Gibbs leaned against the window. "There a reason you're still bundled up like a mummy?" Hearing Tony talk normally was a good thing, but the way he was lying under the layers of blankets was not all that reassuring.

Tony made a face. "Still cold. They've got heat packs around me under here--I keep telling them all I need is a hot shower, but they don't like that idea so much. Want to get me out of here?"

"Nope. Serves you right, for diving into that water." Gibbs looked at Tony, studying him carefully. He was still pale, looking a bit drawn. Gibbs took a step closer and rested the back of his hand on Tony's forehead, noting that the skin felt cool.

He hid the wry smile, remembering how his mother had used to check him for fever or cold. Somehow, he didn't think Tony would appreciate being kissed on the forehead by his boss, no matter how much said boss--well. Anyway.

"Hey!" Tony pulled his head away. "I'm fine, Boss. Just a little cold. I'd have been fine in the field if you'd have let me shower and find dry clothes."

"You could barely walk, DiNozzo. Settle down; you're not going anywhere for the night." Gibbs looked around the hospital room, out the window at the building next door.

"Ziva's never going to let me live this down," Tony mumbled under his breath.

"You let me deal with her," Gibbs told him before glancing at his watch. "And--" He didn't want to leave, but he had to. The case, as always, took priority. And if he stayed...there was too much of a chance he'd let something slip. ? "Yeah, I know. Go deal with Brown--and tell Abby that if she doesn't get anything out of that case, I'm going to kill her."

"You go after Abby, DiNozzo, and I'm going after you." Gibbs raised an eyebrow at him.

"Right. Um. I'll see you back at the office tomorrow, Boss?" Tony offered hastily.

Gibbs nodded. "Call when they're ready to spring you and someone'll come get you."

"With clothes? I mean, not that I'd mind, but McGee..." Tony grinned. "Well, I wouldn't want him--"

"End it there, DiNozzo. Just end it there." Gibbs hid the faint smile and headed for the door. He pretended not to hear Tony's wistful sigh as he left; he was pretty sure Tony hadn't meant him to hear it anyway.

When he got back to the office, McGee jumped to his feet as soon as he walked in. "Is Tony--"

"He's fine, McGee," Gibbs said shortly. "Already charming the doctor. He'll be out tomorrow."

McGee nodded in relief. "Good. Abby's got the case now--she's working on breaking the lock."

"They're keeping him overnight for a dunking?" Ziva asked skeptically.

"They're keeping him overnight because he got a mild case of hypothermia, compounded by being immersed in bacteria-filled water," Gibbs didn't-quite-snap at her. "It's not about getting wet, it's about whether he'll get pneumonia."

"If he gets pneumonia that easily--" she persisted.

"He doesn't," McGee spoke up. Gibbs looked at him in surprise. "But the doctors think he might be more susceptible to things like it now, after the plague." McGee shrugged. "You compiled his dossier. You should know."

There was no sarcasm in his voice, nothing but simple fact, and yet Ziva looked like she'd been slapped. "I see," she said stiffly. "Brown is in interrogation waiting for you."

He didn't have the time, the energy, or the inclination to soothe her ruffled feathers. He just nodded and headed for the little room.

It didn't take long. Brown held out at first until he found out they had his case. Gibbs didn't see the need to tell him they hadn't opened it yet, and Brown obviously didn't think of it. It was all downhill from there.

By seven, they were ready to call it a night. "Are you going to the hospital?" Ziva asked as she gathered up her bag.

He hadn't intended to, but..."Yeah," he found himself saying. "Why?"

She shrugged. "Mind if I come along?"

The irrational part of his brain did, but he had no reason to say otherwise. "Come on, then," he said. He flipped off his light and gestured toward the elevator.

Tony was sleeping when they got there, and there was an IV in his arm--one which hadn't been there earlier. The doctor was looking over his chart as they walked in; she saw them, put a finger to her lips, and led them outside. "He's running a fever," she said quietly. "So far, it's just low-grade, but I don't like the way he looks. The IV's more of a precaution at this point. How long was he in that water?"

"Not more than a couple of minutes, if that. We got him out of his clothes as soon as he got out of the water."

"Good." She glanced back into the room. "Odds are it's just the shock to his system. But again, with his history..." She shrugged. "You know how it goes."

He did. "Will he be able to go home tomorrow morning?" he asked instead.

"If his fever's gone, I don't see any reason why not." She tucked a curling lock of hair back behind her ear in what seemed like a habitual gesture. "Is he always that--"

"Yes," Ziva said without even waiting for an answer.

To her visible surprise, the doctor grinned. "Good. I don't get to meet too many men who actually have senses of humor. Especially cute ones." She grinned again. "I'd rather you didn't wake him up, but if you want to visit you're welcome to."

"We'll do that," Gibbs said, perhaps not as politely as he could have.

"Take it easy, Agent Gibbs," she said, unruffled. "I want him to get better as much as you do. This is my job." She glanced back inside the room again. "I've got to go. If he wakes up while you're visiting, tell him not to pull out the damn needle again or I will cuff his wrist to the bed rail."

"He's pulled it out already?"

The doctor made a face. "In his sleep. Twice."

Gibbs nodded. "I'll make sure he understands."

"I'm sure you will." Again, she pushed back a lock of hair, grimacing impatiently. Gibbs had the feeling she didn't suffer fools gladly. "I'm off shift at eleven. I'll come check on him before then." She nodded politely to both him and Ziva and left.

"She thinks he is funny?" Ziva asked in disbelief.

Gibbs just shrugged, reminded for a brief moment of Kate. "Are you coming in?" he asked instead.

She nodded. "Just for a moment."

Tony was asleep, still bundled up under the blankets. His face was turned away from them, to the window. Gibbs frowned at the shadows under his eyes, not liking them any more than the doctor had. "DiNozzo, you dove into the damn river," he muttered. "If you go and get sick on me again--"

"Last time wasn't my fault," Tony mumbled without opening his eyes. "And I'm not sick."

"Then why do you have a fever?"

"I'm naturally warm-blooded." Tony yawned and stretched before turning and looking at them. "Thought you'd be at the office all night, Boss."

Gibbs shrugged. "Not much point. Brown confessed once he found out about the case."

"What was in that thing?"

"We don't know. Abby's still working on it." Ziva smiled faintly. "She said she might have it open by tomorrow."

"So you mean I dove into that freezing, unsanitary river, risked my health, ruined my clothes, and ended up here overnight for information we don't even have?" Tony groaned and thumped his head on the pillow. "Typical."

"If you hadn't gotten the case, we never would have gotten Brown," Ziva told him. "Besides, exercise is good for you."

"Okay. Next time, you dive in." Tony smiled innocently. "You're good at swimming."

She bristled and Gibbs decided to step in before things got too antagonistic. "Your doctor--"

"Jaime," Tony filled in. "Jaime Knight."

"--told me to tell you that if you pull out that IV again she's cuffing your wrist to the bedrail." Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "I wouldn't put it past her."

Tony grimaced. "I didn't mean to, Boss."

"So don't do it again."

Ziva rolled her eyes. "I'm going," she said briefly. "I just wanted to stop in."

"See you tomorrow." Tony gave her a brief grin; she nodded in return and left.

Once she was gone, Gibbs gave in--briefly--to temptation and walked over, resting his hand on Tony's forehead. "Hey," Tony complained again, although Gibbs noticed he was slow to move away. "I'm fine."

"You're feverish," Gibbs said brusquely, dropping his hand. "That's not fine."

"And I've got this lovely IV in me full of all sorts of happy drugs that will make it go away and by tomorrow morning I'll be good as new." Tony sighed. "Boss, much as I appreciate you stopping by--although I'm not sure why you're here--I'm okay. I shouldn't even be here."

"Deal with it, DiNozzo." Gibbs shoved his hands into his pockets to refrain from more temptation. "You want to argue with that doctor of yours? The one with the red hair and--I'm betting--the temper to match?"

Tony paled. "Or I could just stay here and eat my green Jell-O and sleep," he said hastily.

"Good idea."

"Occasionally I have them." Tony yawned and settled down into the pillows. "Sorry for the trouble, Boss."

Gibbs shrugged. "You did good, DiNozzo. You got what we needed. Just don't get sick over it."

"I'll try." Tony yawned again and Gibbs took that as his cue to leave.

"I'll see you in the morning," he said matter-of-factly.

"Mm-hmm." Tony was already drifting off.

Damnit. Gibbs knew he should leave, but he couldn't quite turn around. Tony was asleep after all, and...what was the harm, really? It wasn't like he was going to do anything.

Just stand there and watch him like a stalker, his brain said acidly. He told it to shut up and leaned against the windowsill, watching the blankets rise and fall a little as Tony breathed, the flutter of his lashes against his skin.

God, he had it bad. The last person to make him feel like this...well, as with everything else, it hadn't ended well, and there were many, many reasons Tony was never going to know. He didn't have to list them to know what they were.

But it didn't help sometimes, and right now, he wanted to hold Tony more than he wanted to be prudent. So he watched, and kept quiet, and allowed himself to pretend--for a little while--that what he felt wasn't one-sided. That he wasn't as pathetic as he knew he was.

He didn't know how long he stayed there before Dr. Knight came back in. She raised an eyebrow at him, but didn't speak as she checked Tony's vitals. When she motioned him outside, he followed her.

"Don't nurses usually do that sort of thing?" he asked wryly.

"We're shorthanded tonight, and it's quiet. I can read a thermometer as well as anyone else." She grinned. "Sue me for trying to enjoy the few pieces of eye candy we get around here."

He had to smile. "I thought he said you had a boyfriend."

"Mmm. I do. Doesn't mean I don't look." As she spoke, she gave him a very deliberate once-over.

"You're not like most doctors I've met," Gibbs said wryly.

"I'm not like most doctors I've met either." Knight pushed back a curl impatiently. "Look, Agent Gibbs--unless he takes a turn for the worse tonight, we'll discharge him tomorrow morning. There's really no reason for us to keep him here, and if it wasn't for the fact that we still don't know the long-term effect of Y. Pestis on his lungs, we wouldn't have him here now. Couple of Tylenol and he'd likely be fine. I'm just not willing to take chances."

"I appreciate that, Dr. Knight. I'm not either." Not with Tony.

She smiled. "Call me Jaime. I haven't been a doctor for that long--you say that and I keep looking around for someone else. Rather like changing your name, not that I've done that either." She paused to take a breath. "Anyway, this is my long-winded way of telling you to go home and get some sleep, because if I'm lucky he'll sleep through the night, wake up, and we'll get him out of here and back on his merry way to you." Jaime shrugged. "Unless there's something you know you're not telling me, in which case I'll have to find some very creative ways to circumvent my oath to do no harm."

"Firecracker," he muttered under his breath.

"More like Spark. I'm too small to be a firecracker." Jaime grinned. "That's what my dad used to call me. But is there something I should know about his medical history?"

"If there is, I sure as hell don't know it. You'd do better to ask Ducky." Gibbs looked back in the room. "Look, Jaime--it's not that I don't believe you. But I've lost one agent in the past year, I've almost lost two others, and I'm not letting Tony go down on my watch, even from something as stupid as a dunking. So if you don't mind, I'd like to stay around until I know he's all right."

She studied him carefully, her blue eyes sharp with intelligence. "All right," she said finally. "That's fair."

"Thank you."

Jaime shrugged. "I'm going to go get a cup of coffee. You want one?"

"How vile is the coffee around here?" he asked.

"It'll take off your stomach lining, but it'll keep you awake. C'mon. He's going to be asleep for a while, I've got a break due me, and drinking hospital coffee by yourself is a sure-fire way to end up jittery and depressed." Without waiting for an answer, she started down the hall. He followed, a little bemused.

They got coffee from the hospital cafeteria and took a seat in uncomfortable molded chairs across a scarred Formica table. Jaime drained hers in two long swallows and settled back with a sigh. "That's better." She yawned and rubbed her eyes, looking about twelve. "I don't know who has longer days--doctors or law enforcement."

"Depends on the day, I think," Gibbs said. He took a swallow of coffee and barely managed to hide the grimace. Jaime was right; the stuff was pretty vile--even by his standards.

"Yeah, probably." She smiled. "So why did he dive into the river this time of year?"

"Going after evidence." Gibbs shrugged. "Part of the job."

"Fair enough." Jaime stretched as much as she could. They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes; Gibbs sipped his coffee and Jaime sprawled back in her chair, eyes closed. "So, we gonna go check back on Agent Cutie before you start having separation anxiety?" she asked finally, opening her eyes and getting to her feet.

He hid a wince. She might be teasing, but her words cut too close to home. "Aren't doctors supposed to be diplomatic?" he asked as he stood and tossed out his coffee cup.

"Would you appreciate it if I was?" she countered.

Gibbs just hit the button for the elevator.

Tony was awake and looking out the window when they returned, and from the way he tried to make himself smaller in the bed, he wasn't too thrilled to see them. "Hi," he said weakly.

Jaime's eyes narrowed. "Tony, where is the IV I know was in your arm fifteen minutes ago?"

"Um. Funny you should ask," he said, giving her a little-boy-lost grin.

"Tony…" Jaime sighed. "I need that IV to stay in. I am not taking chances with you getting pneumonia on me, not when you're running a fever and the nurse told me she heard congestion in your lungs earlier. I warned you, if I had to--"

"No," Tony said hastily. "No, I'll keep it in, I promise."

"You've pulled that needle out three times already," Jaime pointed out. "What's going on here, Tony?"

"It's just uncomfortable." Tony made a face. "Can't you give me pills or something?"

"No, I really can't." Jaime sighed. "Tony, I'm going to go get the nurse and get this fixed. But if you won't let it stay…"

"I will," Tony said immediately.

She studied him for a minute before nodding and leaving.

"What's the problem, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked once she was gone.

"I have a thing about needles." Tony grimaced. "Do I really have to stay tonight, Boss? This isn't really doing anyone any good."

Gibbs rested the back of his hand on Tony's forehead, a little concerned to find it warmer than the last time he'd checked. And once again, Tony moved away a little more slowly than he could have. Maybe. Gibbs mentally smacked himself upside the head for dreams and focused back on reality. "If the doctor says you stay, DiNozzo, you stay."

Tony sighed. "Yes, Boss."

He looked unhappy, and not just in the 'having to stay in the hospital overnight' way. "Tony, what is it?" Gibbs asked again.

"I don't like hospitals, and this is ridiculous." Tony glared at the blanket. "Next thing you know they'll be putting me under blue lights and Kate--" He stopped cold. "Never mind," he said quietly. "I'll behave, Boss. I won't take it out, I'll stay here like a good patient and in the morning I'll leave. Okay?"

"Is that why?" Gibbs asked, gesturing at Tony's arm.

"No. Not--no." Tony shook his head. "It's nothing, Boss. Just an old memory or three."

Tony clearly didn't want to talk about it, and Gibbs wasn't going to ask. Not given his track record with communication.

Jaime came back in, wheeling an IV stand. "Okay, Tony," she said, going to wash her hands. "You've got one last chance. Pull it out again and I will not only cuff your wrist to the bedrail but I will also bribe your boss to stand here and watch you all night."

It wouldn't take much of a bribe, Gibbs thought wryly, careful not to let that show on his face.

Tony just sighed and held out his arm.

She really did have tiny hands, Gibbs noticed as she pulled on a pair of gloves and swabbed down Tony's skin with an alcohol wipe. Then again, she was barely bigger than a child.

He thought briefly that she was about the same age Elizabeth would have been, if... And as always, he blocked that train of thought. There was no sense in going there, only pain, and he had enough of that in the rest of his life.

Tony grimaced when the needle slid in smoothly, but otherwise just watched as Jaime taped it down, her hands quick and efficient. "There," she said, pressing on the tape gently. "Don't pull it out, okay?"

"Yes ma'am," he said with a cheeky grin.

She laughed and peeled off her gloves. "Uh huh. Relax, settle down, get some sleep. Okay?"

"I'll try."

"Fair enough." Jaime tossed her gloves in the trash. "Hit the call button if you need anything--I'll be around for a little while yet, and surprising as it sounds we do have nurses on this floor. Somewhere." She grinned and nodded at Gibbs before leaving.

Tony glared at the IV in his arm. "I hate these things," he muttered.

"You're not supposed to like them, DiNozzo. But you're supposed to put up with them." Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "You want to tell me why you're not?"

"No," Tony said cheerfully.

"Let me rephrase, DiNozzo. What's going on?" Gibbs rested a hand on the head of the bed.

"Do I really--"

"Tell me," Gibbs said evenly.

Tony sighed and dropped his head back, looking at the ceiling. "When I was five, I was bitten by a friend's pet snake," he admittedly. "He thought it wasn't poisonous. We found out the hard way that it was. I was in the hospital for nearly a week recovering. Six days of lying in a hospital bed, coloring as best I could with a swollen arm and putting on a brave face for the nurses and the doctors."

"What about your parents?" Gibbs asked quietly.

"What about them?" The resignation and bitterness in Tony's voice told Gibbs all he needed to know.

He took a seat in the uncomfortable chair and leaned back. "Sorry, DiNozzo, I don't have a coloring book."

"But you've got a boat. And a bed. So why are you here?"

"I'd rather not get on the bad side of your doctor. And I'd like you to stay on her good side as well."

"So would I." Tony shuddered. "She's scary."

Gibbs wasn't about to disagree.

Tony sighed and looked back up at the ceiling. "I think she put something in the damn IV," he said with a yawn.

Either that, or he really was getting sick. "I'll be right back," Gibbs said, standing. He wanted to find out which one it was.

Jaime was just leaving another patient's room, making notes on a chart. She tucked her pen behind her ear and looked up at him. "Something wrong, Agent Gibbs?" she asked.

"Did you put anything in that IV other than antibiotics?" he asked simply.

"I did, yes. Just a mild sedative. Enough to keep him calm and help him sleep, nothing more. Why?"

"He was falling asleep pretty fast. I wanted to make sure--"

"Are you this much of a mother hen with all your agents?" she interrupted with a smile. "He's fine. Or he will be, if he can keep that IV in." Jaime shoved back a lock of hair. "All right?"

"All right." He moved aside to let her pass before going back to Tony's room.

Tony was asleep now, the faint light from outside casting dim shadows on the blanket. The light from the hall spread about halfway into the room, so his bed was illuminated softly but the room itself wasn't bright. Gibbs closed the door quietly and moved to stand next to the bed, looking down at him. "Ah, Tony," he murmured under his breath. "What am I going to do with you?"

He lifted a hand but dropped it just before he would have touched Tony's face. "I won't keep watching you do this," he said softly. "Ever since Kate...I won't lose another agent, Tony. Not you."

Tony didn't stir. His breathing stayed even and regular; Gibbs raised a hand again, unable to keep himself from brushing his fingers over Tony's cheek. "Not you," he said again.

"I don't need a protector," Tony mumbled without opening his eyes. "'M a big boy."

Gibbs dropped his hand instantly.

"Don't," Tony murmured. "Feels nice. Wish you'd touch me more." He smiled sleepily. "Oops. Didn't mean..."

"Didn't mean what, Tony?" Gibbs asked, almost holding his breath.

"Didn't mean to let you know," Tony said a little sheepishly. "Sorry..."

"It's all right. I'm not angry." Stunned, yes. Not quite sure what Tony had meant, yes. Angry...no.

"But you probably want me gone." Tony stretched and settled back into the bed. "Wouldn't blame you. I'd probably want me gone too."

"I don't want you gone, Tony." Gibbs traced his fingers over Tony's cheek again. "I didn't know." And he was still not quite sure he did. Believing what Tony was saying--what he was implying--was almost too much. It couldn't be real.

"Didn't want you to know." Tony turned into the caress. "Male subordinate, older male boss...you'd have kicked my ass." He snickered a little. "Not what I'd like you to do to my ass, believe me."

"No," Gibbs said quietly. "No, I wouldn't have." He managed not to respond to the second half of that statement. But--how long? And how had he not seen it?

"You gonna kick my ass now?" Tony asked, somehow managing to sound sleepy and wary at the same time. "Cause I'm kinda at a disadvantage here. Although I bet Jaime could take you."

"I'm not going to kick your ass, Tony. But we're going to talk about this when you're awake and out of here. All right?" Talking would be good, especially since he was half-convinced Tony didn't mean any of what he'd just said. He was drugged, a little feverish still...he could be dreaming, or completely unaware of what he'd meant, or anything other than conscious and aware.

But he found himself stroking Tony's hair again, strands sliding through his fingers like cool silk. He couldn't make himself drop his hand now, not when he'd been given tacit permission.

"Mm-hmm." Tony nearly purred. "Sounds good. Just don't stop that."

Gibbs laughed softly. "Hedonist," he said, amused.

"So what?" Tony turned his head a little and nuzzled Gibbs' wrist.

He didn't really have an answer. "Sleep, Tony," he said instead, running his fingers through Tony's hair. "Just sleep."

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