Distress

Chapter 22: McGee

"Yeah?"

"McGee?"

"Tony? Wha—what time's it?" Tim propped himself up on an elbow, clutching the phone to his ear. "We gotta case?" He coughed, clearing his throat.

"No. Ah...I need to ask a favor." That was enough words in a row for Tim to hear the pain in Tony's voice. Yesterday came flooding back. The take-down in the warehouse district: a whole alpha to omega surround sound full light show weaponry experience that included knives, guns, fireworks, and even a whip. Tony had been stabbed and blown up. Sounded worse than it was, when he thought about it like that. It was only a small firecracker, after all, and Tony's burns had been treated at the scene. And Ducky had been able to stitch up the knife wound when Tony refused to go to the hospital.

"What is it?" Tim had a feeling that maybe Tony had been hurt worse than he had let on. He himself had been unscathed, fortunately, especially since he had been in the gun battle part of things. Sometimes, when aiming and firing, Tim couldn't help but wonder how he had gone from debugging code to shooting at bad guys.

"I think maybe...maybe I should go to the hospital—" Damn. If Tony was asking to go to the hospital, it had to be bad and in fact, he could hear retching in the background.

Tim cut him off, "I'm on my way. I'll be there in fifteen." He held the phone between ear and shoulder as he pulled on jeans. "Tony? Tony? You okay? Do I need to call an ambulance? Tony!" He heard a muffled thud and miscellaneous rustling noises before Tony's voice came on, tired sounding but strong enough.

"Probie. It's fine. No ambulance. Just come get me, would you? I'm at Gibbs' though."

"What?" Tim looked at the clock. Three o'clock. "Why are you...wait...where's Gibbs? Why doesn't he drive you?"

He heard water running, assumed Tony was washing his mouth or hands. "He got called to MTAC. He didn't know how long he'd be but he was waiting for the call, knew it was going to take a while. Ducky left for his conference tonight, so I can't call him." The guy was almost panting. "Listen, Tim, I gotta get shoes on," as if that was a monumental task, "I'll see you when you get here, okay."

"Okay, Tony, I'm on my way out the door now."

"Thanks, Probie."

McGee was worried, Tony never called him Tim, and sped through D.C. to Gibbs house, radio off, the only soundtrack the hiss of wet pavement under his wheels.

He left the keys in the ignition and ran up the lawn to the front steps, opened and fell through the unlocked front door. Tony was a shadowy figure in the dim hallway, leaning forward, almost doubled over, in a chair. He didn't straighten when Tim came in.

Tim approached quickly but slowly rested a gentle hand on Tony's back. "Tony?"

"Okay, probie, help me up." Tim slipped a hand under his arm and pulled. He ended up hauling Tony up, the other man's full weight almost tipping him over.

"Okay. Whoa. Okay, Tony. Hold on, just hold on...let me just...stay there okay just...okay...okay I gotcha. You okay? Tony? Is this alright?" Tim babbled. Other than a single inhaled gasp, Tony was silent.

He finally muttered, "Yeah, yeah...let's just go okay?"

Tim didn't know how he got Tony down the stairs. And he couldn't figure out how the other man could have left the scene in such bad shape. Ducky stitched him up and they had all seen him go, though Gibbs had been driving him home.

Once Tim got him in the passenger's seat, Tony slumped against the seat belt.

"Tony? You okay?"

"Yeah, probie. M'okay now. Thanks fr'getting me." Despite the slurred words, Tim was reassured.

"Just hang on, okay?"

Tony slumped against him, convincingly ill, at the check-in window of the emergency room and was whisked away pretty quickly. Tim was left holding Tony's wallet, rifling through it for an insurance card and details for paperwork. Tony had been all but passed out so Tim really didn't have anything to report to the nurse at intake. Tim wondered what to do next. Gibbs was listed as his medical proxy so he figured maybe he should let Gibbs know.

He hesitated, but finally decided to call, figuring the other man could send him to voicemail if he wanted. He must have because Tim found himself listening to the shortest voice mail message in the world. "It's Gibbs." McGee left a message, equally brief, asking Gibbs to call him.

He pressed his lips together and looked at his phone, trying to decide what next. Well, it can't hurt. He wrote a brief text telling Gibbs that he was at the hospital with Tony.

To his surprise his phone rang within seconds of sending the text.

"McGee. What's going on?"

"Boss, Tony called me—"

"Why didn't he call me?"

"I think he thought he couldn't reach you in MTAC." Tim waited and was rewarded for his patience with Gibbs angry bark.

"McGee! Report!"

"Uh, yes, boss. Well, Tony called me to take him to the hospital—"

"I'll be there in twenty." McGee had just time to hear protests in the background and Gibbs curt refusal before the other man ended the call.

"Mr. McGee?"

"Yes?" Tim's head swivelled.

"Mr. DiNozzo would like you to wait with him."

"Oh. Okay."

Inside the small partitioned room, worried that he would lean up against the curtained wall and fall through, Tim thought Tony looked worse not better, but he was conscious and coherent.

"McDoctor." Tony's lips compressed in what could have been a smile.

Tim tried for a joke. "I'm surprised you didn't call me McNurse or McCandyStriper, Tony."

Tony's voice held more amusement than his face showed. "You don't have the legs."

McGee laughed. "Tony, you had better not let Gibbs see you wearing his red hoodie."

"Yeah. Good thing he's not here." Tony didn't sound happy but it was hard to tell.

"He's on his way."

Tony's eyes snapped open.

"What?"

"He's on his way. I texted him and he got it. I still kinda can't believe it. I mean, I don't think he has ever responded to a text bef—"

"Gibbs is coming?"

"Yeah, Tony. He should be here," Tim checked his watch, "in ten minutes or so."

A spasm of pain crossed Tony's face and he lurched up and on his side. "McGee...trashcan…" McGee grabbed a bucket on the counter and Tony threw up in it. A nurse hustled in and took over from him, shooing him out of the room.

Tim raised his voice to reassure Tony, even as he was sent back to the waiting room, not sure why he felt it would help, "Gibbs is on his way, Tony."

Tony didn't answer.


Gibbs had been like this for months, on and off, different, somehow. Ever since Kate died and the aftermath with Ari. Ziva was around now and Tim hadn't been part of the team so long that he didn't know what it was like to be new, and yet she made it hard. Maybe that was part of being a federal agent, being difficult. Though—he looked down at his hands where they rested between his knees, the hard plastic of the cold hospital waiting room chair having put his ass to sleep and forced him to shift restlessly and sit forward—he didn't think he was difficult. Maybe it is is because he didn't come straight to it, not having planned to be a cop, or a fed, or a Mossad operative or anything more exciting than possibly an F.B.I. analyst.

Damn he was tired. Tim ran his hand over the back of his head, and wondered what was wrong with Tony, whether he'd find out before Gibbs got here, whether he'd have to be the one to tell Gibbs. His thoughts spun around full circle. Gibbs had always been gruffly protective of them with outsiders, even from early days, even though he showed no mercy when they were alone. But now, now that Kate was gone, McGee sometimes caught the other man staring at him, at Tony, Abby, sometimes even Ziva, as if measuring them, weighing...something. But with Tony he'd always been a little closer and Tim had figured it was just because they had been together longer, knew each other longer. And maybe it was, they certainly seemed more in sync than ever. Tony fulfilling commands that Gibbs never issued. Gibbs turning to look at just what Tony had been saving to show him. This synchronicity was usually mundane, having to do with finding records or names or an incidental piece of evidence. It was rarely a big deal. The leaps of intuition or revelations that led to closing a case most often were either something one of them came to alone or more often, took the whole team.

But Tony was always the risk-taker, that hadn't changed, and while the man seemed to have more than nine lives, this last year had been tough, from Y Pestis to whatever this was tonight—

"McGee!" Tim jerked upright, realizing that this was not the first time his name had been called.

"Yeah, boss!" The response was automatic.

"Tim…" And there it was, the softening. Tim was starting to get used to it. The other man waited almost patiently. "Where's Tony? What's happening?"

"He's...I don't know, Boss. He called me, said he needed a ride to the hospital," Gibbs lips thinned, frustrated with not being called, McGee knew, "so I went and got him. He keeps throwing up and is in a lot of pain, but," he rushed to the good stuff, "he never lost consciousness really and has been totally with it most of the time."

"Okay, okay." Gibbs turned and marched toward the front desk. He had a quick conversation with the nurse and then followed her into the hospital. He looked back once, dismissing Tim, should he wish to be released. Tim sighed and sat back down.

Not long later, Gibbs came back. He was stone-faced and grim.

"They're operating."

"What? Why?"

"When Tony got stabbed, must have nicked something. They are going to find out what, repair it."

The older man sat down heavily on a plastic seat nearby. A beep sounded from inside his Carhardtt jacket. McGee gave him a long sidelong glance. Gibbs was in jeans, t-shirt, and jacket, so the MTAC meeting couldn't have been a diplomatic call.

"You need to go back, boss? I can stay here with Tony."

Gibbs was tempted, McGee could tell. But as he watched, Gibbs eyes flicked to the doors leading to Tony and he shook his head, handed the phone over to McGee.

"Can you…" He met McGee's eyes, irritated that he needed to ask for help, "can you text the director—her number is there somewhere—and tell her Tony's in surgery and I'm staying here?"

McGee took the phone, glad to have something to do. "Sure, Boss." He did as he was asked. Gibbs was leaning forward in his seat, elbows on knees, eyes set on the ground in front and between his feet. He didn't glance over and made no move to take the phone back. McGee held it awkwardly until it vibrated with an incoming text.

Again, he glanced over at Gibbs, but Gibbs didn't move. Tim ventured, tentatively, "She says to call another member of the team to wait here and get your...um...self...back to MTAC."

"No."

"No?" McGee wished he could take it back. He wasn't interested in playing the role of director here.

"No." Gibbs sat up and took the phone, flipping it open again to press a speed dial button. He rose and walked a distance away. Gibbs didn't seem to say much, and most of it seemed to be variations of "no". McGee could definitely make out "no", "hell, no", "find someone else" and "try me". That said, McGee could see no difference in how he said "no" in the beginning of the phone call versus that at the end, and he suspected the director was frustrated. McGee was warmed by the idea that a member of the team's welfare came before whatever national or international crisis required Gibbs' presence.

Not for the first time, Tim envied Gibbs' calm, his casual disregard for what others thought, including the higher-ups. So he was surprised at the noticeable tremor in Gibbs hands as the other man returned to his position, his eyes now burning holes in the doors to where Tony was probably in surgery.

"Boss?"

No answer. Gibbs in profile was just as intimidating as full frontal Gibbs. A muscle twitched in his jaw.

"Gibbs?"

Gibbs hands gripped white on his lower thighs and he didn't seem to hear him. Tim decided to get some coffee for the man before trying again. He knew he had time, so he wandered down to the lowest level of the hospital where the lights were bright and several shops were open 24 hours a day, including a coffee shop. Ten minutes later, he sat down again next to Gibbs and held the coffee out.

Gibbs didn't look like he had moved but as the scent of coffee reached him, the other man sat up and looked over at Tim, reached for the coffee, drank a quarter of it in one go. He grunted, which McGee took to mean "thank you".

"What do you think happened to Tony, boss?"

"They musta stitched him up not realizing that the knife had gone in as deep as it did."

"Was he okay when he got home? I mean at your house? Why was he...was he at your house so you could keep an eye on him?"

Gibbs turned and looked at him, an expression on his face that Tim had never seen. If...if he didn't know any better, he would think that Gibbs looked a little guilty.

"You play a lot of video games, don't you, McGee?"

"Uh...yeah, boss. Why?"

"You ever play handball?"

"What's that?"

"Kinda like soccer but with your hands. Street game. Probably not your thing, huh?"

"Um...no, probably not." McGee could not figure out where this was going, ventured, "I played tennis in college."

Gibbs nodded but McGee didn't think he really registered it. McGee could have said he played Quidditch and it wouldn't have mattered.

Gibbs looked up at the hospital doors again, glared as if willing them to open. "Just a minute." He rose and stalked to the nurse's station, asked a question. The nurse on duty typed something into the computer and then shook her head, kind but firm.

Gibbs sat down in his chair again, but this time leaned back, turned his body and attention toward McGee.

Alarmed, McGee had to work to not draw back, move even one more seat away. Gibbs sighed and said, "Tim…"

Alarm turned to panic, "Oh my god, what? Tony is really sick. He's dying isn't he? It's the plague, the plague came back, he—"

Tim stopped his babbling the instant Gibbs' hand reached out and held his forearm. Tim realized he had scooted back out of instinct even as he leaned forward to ask his questions.

Gibbs let him go and then said in a low voice, almost gentle. "No. No, Tim, he's not dying. No one's dying." Another glare sent toward the closed hospital doors, as if they were responsible for producing Tony in decent shape.

"Then what? You are making me really nervous here, Boss."

Gibbs turned, definitely reluctant, to meet Tim's eyes. "Tony is living at my house now." Gibbs never stumbled over his words. There were so few of them he hardly had time. But he swallowed now, in the pause, and the investigator in Tim took note of the tic. "We are together." Gibbs took a breath and finally met Tim's eyes steadily. "Got it, McGee?"

"Uh...I don't think...so. What do you mean?"

Gibbs' jaw tightened, he looked away, as if searching for words. "Together, McGee."

Tim noted the clenched jaw, the frustration at work in the muscles. He also saw the worry lines and the darting glance the older man shot the doors to the operating wing. And then those blue eyes were on him, impatient and demanding. A response was automatic, required. Any response.

"Ah...yes boss. I understand...I guess. You and Tony—"

"Nothing has changed, nothing will change, at work. Do you trust me?"

Tim was still trying to absorb the first part. Gibbs and...Tony? Were together? Like romantically? Gibbs? Tony?

But he knew the answer to the second part, absolutely. "Yes, yes, boss. I trust you."

Gibbs nodded, let out his breath, took another. "Next one's harder. You ready, Tim?"

His first name. The only time Gibbs had ever said it was after Kate died. Honestly, Tim didn't know if he was ready for what Gibbs would ask next. And yet…"Yes, Boss...er, Gibbs. Go ahead."

"Do you trust Tony?"

Tim's first response was no. How the hell could he trust someone so fickle? Tony was moody and dismissive. You couldn't trust a thing the man said, that was clear from the beginning. But. But he had Tim's back, his six, that was for sure, proven over and over. You could trust his actions. And not just in the field. More than once, Tim had gone back to edit his reports, remembering something he had forgotten or not done well and noticed that the corrections had already been made. And Tony's antics were so well timed that sometimes McGee thought it was deliberate, to draw attention away from him or to lighten the mood. He wasn't entirely sure. And then there were the times Tony invited him out, or included him in pranks—a sharp pain at the thought of Kate, so often the target of those pranks—or gave him some shitty job that led to him finding an interesting piece of evidence...

Gibbs waited patiently, let him decide.

Stunned by this turn of events and his own new perception of his own thoughts, McGee sighed and slumped back in his seat. He was so tired all of a sudden. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes, speaking without looking.

"Yeah. I guess I do." He rolled his head to the side and opened his eyes to look at his boss again. "I am pretty surprised, Gibbs."

Gibbs smiled at this understatement. "Yeah, well. I'm pretty surprised myself, still."

"Yeah?" The faint stirrings of curiosity started to make themselves known. "how long…"

"Why's that everyone's first question?" Gibbs had stretched out too and asked the question of the ceiling.

"Everyone?"

Gibbs looked over. "Kate—"

"Kate?...That was...that was...months ago!"

Again, a faint look of guilt on Gibbs face. "Shoulda told you, McGee. Just never seemed like a good time."

McGee found he was more pissed at Tony for not telling him than Gibbs. He thought that maybe they were starting to be friends...of a sort. "I'm glad Kate knew, I guess, before she...died." McGee took a deep breath of his own. "It's none of my business, boss, really—"

"That's just it, Tim. It is, a bit, since it affects the team. I hope the one good thing about our not telling you before now is that you can see it doesn't affect anything."

If there was any justice in the universe, the stubborn doors would open and end this painful conversation.

Well, that answered that question. Tim had been doing this job long enough not to really believe there was much justice in the universe anyway. Just what you made yourself.

Gibbs went back to pretending to be a statue.

The doors did open, many times, before Tony's doctor finally emerged and each time Gibbs watched until it was clear that those entering or exiting had nothing to do with Tony. And then he watched some more.

McGee refilled their coffee once. Fell asleep despite himself. He jerked awake when the bank of seats lurched as Gibbs stood.

"Family of Tony DiNozzo?"

"That's me."

The doctor looked down at his clipboard. "And you are…"

"Jethro Gibbs."

"Yes, Mr. Gibbs, I can see here you are Anthony's medical proxy. He is doing well and should be waking up soon. The nurse is with him but it is usually a good thing to have someone with a patient when he wakes up. Would you—"

Gibbs was already walking forward. "Let's go, Doc." He twisted to look back at McGee. "I'll let you know as soon as I can okay, McGee? The doctor said he's going to be alright. You can go home, you know."

"I know boss. You go. I'll be here."

Gibbs nodded once and sped up, disappeared between the doors that led to Tony.

A nurse came for McGee about an hour later. "Mr. McGee?" He heard a nurse say quietly into the early morning hush of the waiting room.

Tim wasn't asleep but it still took a second to register his name. "Yes! Yes…" He rose and walked a few steps forward.

She smiled and patted him on the arm. "Right this way. Your first name is…" She looked at him in question.

"Tim….er...Timothy."

She grinned.

He smiled a little too. "What?"

"I knew your name wasn't Gandalf."

And now he laughed. "Tony's awake, huh?"

"Oh, yes. Woke up swearing like a sailor, sometimes anesthetic takes people—especially young men—that way. He's a little old, but I've seen it before. He's okay now, though. He's on painkillers, so he might doze but he said he wanted to see you."

McGee was half afraid of what he would find. He wasn't sure he wanted to see Gibbs and Tony holding hands or anything. But when stuck his head through the door, Gibbs was across the room, opening the blinds to let in the early morning light. He cleared his throat and Tony rolled his head slowly to face the door.

"McGee!" What should have been loud and cheerful was a hoarse murmur, though it was friendly.

"Hi, Tony." He moved to stand next to the bed, a feeling of deja vu nagging at him. It hadn't been that long since Tony had the plague after all. "How are you feeling?"

"Like crap." But Tony smiled hazily and didn't move, didn't try to sit up. McGee figured he was still on the good pain meds, wasn't well enough to start refusing them.

He glanced over to where Gibbs stood, back to the window and the rising sun, the shadowy form of a steaming cup of coffee where did he get that? at his mouth. When he turned back to Tony, he tried for light. "You know I don't do magic, Tony. I would have settled for Aragorn."

Tony's eyes shut and he huffed out a small mocking laugh. "Hell, neither does Gandalf."

Tim had to think a second. "What do you mean? Gandalf is a magician."

"Yeah? You sure about that?" Tony's eyes were still closed and his head turned sleepily into the pillow as he spoke.

"Are you kidding? He turned the tide of the war, escaped from the tower."

"Presence. Like Gibbs. And the tower? He hitched a ride on an eagle. At best, he had a way with animals."

"Tony, go to sleep. I'll crush you like a bug tomorrow. You don't know what you are talking about."

Tony's words were slurred now, almost muttered. "When I was a kid I read them over and over, McGee. No one ever sees Gandalf do magic. Like Gibbs. The magic happens but no one sees it."

McGee could practically hear one of Gibbs' rare grins behind him. Tony's hand twitched and the fingers uncurled toward him, reached, a demand in the action even though Tony was fighting to stay awake. "Mgeee."

McGee touched Tony's hand, slid his hand around Tony's in a brief clasp. I hear you.

Tony's lips twitched in a smile and his eyes opened a slit, caught on Tim's.

"Wanted to tell you didn't know how." Tony's face contorted in pain as something inside of him settled or twisted.

"Tony? You okay?"

And then Gibbs was there too, across from Tim, on the other side of the bed, a rough hand pressed to Tony's forehead, smoothing back through his hair, and Tim watched as Tony's eyes dropped shut again and his face relaxed, turning to the other man like he was the sun, despite the new light streaming in at his back. The writer in Tim watched it all, noted every fluctuation in expression and motion and intention in this private world he was privileged to witness. The man he was, well, he wasn't sure what he thought but hell, stranger things had happened, would happen, no doubt. He cleared his throat.

"Tony, you should sleep. I'll see you later okay?"

"M'kay, probie. Thanks, Tim." He didn't turn back or open his eyes this time and despite what he had just said, McGee didn't leave until the firm grasp of Tony's fingers loosened and relaxed in sleep.

McGee pulled away and cleared his throat, looked over at Gibbs. If he expected to see Gibbs' feelings in the other man's expression, he was disappointed. Gibbs looked strangely normal, blue eyes giving nothing away, even though his hand had now come to rest on Tony's forearm, thumb stroking the skin gently.

"Get some sleep, McGee, go into the office when you wake up or take the day, whatever you need. Rough day for all of us yesterday." His eyes were intent but warmer than usual. "You did a good job, Tim."

Tim felt the usual thrill at a compliment from Gibbs. "Thanks, boss. Uh...call me if you need someone to stay with Tony okay? The director didn't seem too happy." He grimaced a little, but Gibbs didn't, gave an invisible shrug, as if he cared so little that he couldn't even be bothered to shrug. Tim had seen it many times, or rather not seen it. It continued to impress. The irreverent question of what Gibbs was like in bed flitted through his head and was severely suppressed, but he couldn't help but wonder if Abby was up. She must know and he could ask questions…McGee turned to go. When he got to the door, Gibbs spoke again.

Tim looked back over his shoulder and would later remember the still figure of his boss, unshaven and informal in denim and canvas, but as upright and uncompromising as ever. He must be more flexible than I thought though and as if he heard, Gibbs' lips twitched.

"Thanks, McGee. Appreciate you going to get him, calling me."

Tim realized then that this was big, serious. That Gibbs cared, for himself as well as for Tony. He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat.

"Sure, boss. Anytime."


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