Angel of Death
Although no longer contagious, Dr. Pitt said it would probably take a few weeks for Tony to fully recover from his exposure to Y. Pestis. The lingering cough was the most obvious sign of the illness that had nearly killed him a little more than a day ago. The rough, hacking cough disrupted Tony's sleep, making it hard for him to get the rest the doctor said he needed. Having noticed that Tony seemed to rest easier when others were around, Pitt okayed letting one of his teammate remain with him around the clock, at least until Tony was a bit stronger.
Gibbs had sent Kate home, ignoring her protests with practiced ease. He was glad she's stayed with Tony through the worst of it, relieved that the younger man hadn't been alone. But he also resented like hell that he couldn't be there himself, to help Tony through what had to have been one of the most terrifying moments of his life. He had the chance to be here now, to make sure Tony was really going to recover and get better, and he was taking it. Tony mattered too much to him not to.
Gibbs sighed softly and rubbed tiredly at his eyes. He was relieved that the younger man was no longer coughing up blood. That scared him more than Gibbs cared to admit.
He hadn't been sure ordering Tony to live was going to work. The younger man had looked like death warmed over when Gibbs had seen him the first time. Gibbs shuddered at the memory---usually people he saw who looked that bad were already on one of Ducky's exam tables.
He clenched his hands into fists, flexing his fingers before moving to raise the blankets that had slide down a bit. He smiled tightly, studying Tony's face. The younger man had never disobeyed him before, and he damn sure didn't want him to start doing so now.
"You are going to live, DiNozzo." Gibbs whispered, ignoring how desperate he sounded. Dr. Pitt said the worst was over, he told himself. But it didn't hurt to remind Tony he wouldn't tolerate having an order disobey. "You are going to live."
Feeling another presence in the room, Gibbs turned to look, expecting to see one of the medical staff on the night shift. He was on his feet in an instant when he realized it wasn't a doctor or nurse that had entered. Without conscious thought he placed himself between the intruder and Tony, one hand resting on his weapon.
He knew this stranger even though he didn't actually recognize the face. It had to be one of them. Once the alabaster skin and dark eyes had been seen and faint chill that wafted from him were felt, it was impossible for Gibbs not to know who and what the stranger was. The half unfurled over the stranger's shoulders cemented the knowledge.
"You can't have him." Gibbs hissed, eyes narrowed in impotent anger, determined to do the impossible.
The stranger smiled quizzically, head cocked to one side. Midnight eyes, darker than coal, seemed to suck up what little light remained in the room. "And how would you stop me?" The question was soft, gentle, openly curious.
Gibbs glared. He didn't know how to stop an angel of death, but he damn sure wasn't going to let Tony go without a fight. He unconsciously tightened his grip on his gun, but didn't draw it, knowing the weapon wouldn't do any good. But he wasn't losing any more of his own, especially not Tony. Not now, not ever. There was so much he hadn't gotten to say yet.
"You take me instead." Gibbs made it a command rather than an offer or suggestion. His chin came up in defiance, challenging.
The angel shook his head slowly. "It does not work like that." A graceful shrug caused the wings to open widely before closing to settle neatly against broad shoulders. The angel opened his hands, palms toward Gibbs. "Everyone has to go some time."
"It's not his time." Gibbs' jaw tightened, unwilling to back down. Tony was going to live a long life damn it. He'd see to it. Even if he couldn't be a part of it, even if he never got the chance to tell him how much he cared---none of that mattered as long as he knew Tony would be okay.
"It is not your time either, Leroy Jethro Gibbs." The angel countered mildly.
Gibbs tried not to start at the full use of his name, oddly surprised by the fact the angel knew him. He wasn't sure what to make the angel's placid, forthright demeanor. The last time he'd encountered one of the many who ushered souls from one world to the next, things had happened so quickly he wasn't sure what had happened. He'd only come away with a feeling of rage and frustration that he'd been unable to stop it and another good man had been lost because of his ineptitude.
"Boss?" One whispered, raspy word from behind him made Gibbs flinch. He hadn't meant to disturb the younger man. Tony needed to rest.
"It's okay, Tony." Gibbs didn't look over his shoulder, unwilling to take his eyes off the angel. "Everything's fine. Go back to sleep."
The hacking, painful cough forced Gibbs to turn around. It was impossible for Tony to breath through coughing without sitting up. Physically exhausted by the past two days it was difficult for Tony to sit up on his own unaided. Gibbs couldn't let him suffocate even if it meant turning his back on an angel of death.
Gibbs helped Tony sit up, supporting him as Tony struggled to clear his lungs. He snarled silently in anger and fear when he saw the angel suddenly appear on the other side of the bed, one hand reaching out to lightly pat Tony's back. Tony stopped coughing almost immediately, his breathing easier and clearer than it had been since he'd been infected.
The angel smiled beatifically, eyes taking on an indigo color as they met Gibbs startled, wary glance. "Death is not always a bringer of pain and suffering."
Gibbs wanted to snap at the angel to get the hell away, but he wasn't sure if Tony was even aware of its presence and he didn't want to draw attention to the angel if the younger man couldn't see it. Most people were oblivious, unless they were dying. Ducky was a notable exception, much like Gibbs. The former Marine assumed the nature of the older man's job and his association with Death might have something to do with his sensitivity.
Gibbs wasn't sure why he could see them, but he had ever since his time in the Gulf and he was damn glad it was a rare occurrence. This was the first time he'd ever actually spoken to one. He just wanted the damn thing to go away empty handed.
"Thanks, Boss." Tony rasped quietly drawing Gibbs attention away for the ethereal being.
Gibbs helped him lie down again, unconsciously running his fingers through Tony's hair in a soothing gesture. It was a liberty he'd never allowed himself before, but couldn't deny himself now. "Better?"
"Yeah." Tony sighed. "Can...I have...some water?"
A small cup appeared, the angel holding it to Tony's lips for him to drink before Gibbs could even voice a protest. The water or whatever was in the cup didn't appear to have caused Tony any harm, but Gibbs shot a fierce glare at the angel anyway. He didn't like this. Not one bit. Death wasn't supposed to be helpful.
Tony frowned slightly, forehead wrinkling as tired green eyes stared at the angel. "I know you." The statement was more of a question.
"Yes, you do." The angel gave Tony a warm, fond smile. "It has been awhile, Anthony Michael DiNozzo."
Tony blinked, a sudden grin appearing. "Sam."
"Hello, Tony." The angel readily took the hand Tony offered. They engaged in what had to be some sort of ritual handshake Tony had probably learned in college.
Gibbs shook his head. Tony was on good terms with most people, Gibbs thought with a silent sigh, but this is ridiculous. Only Tony would be on a first name basis with an angel of death.
"You here for me?" The question was surprisingly calm. Tony sounded more disappointed than upset.
"No." Sam shook his head. "Not this time."
Green eyes narrowed darting from the angel to Gibbs and back. Tony frowned, accelerating breathing and heart rate showing up on the monitors still attached to him. "He can see you."
Sam held up one hand in a placating gesture. "I am not here for him either."
"You sure?" Tony sounded as close to panicked as Gibbs had ever heard.
"My word on it."
Tony nodded, his breathing slowing again, a small cough escaping as he relaxed into the bed.
"Why are you here?" Gibbs interjected, determined to get an answer.
"Bethesda is a very busy place." Sam shrugged casually, wings once more ruffling before lying flat.
Gibbs grimaced, unable not to acknowledge the simple truth in that statement. People died in the hospital every day, it was an unavoidable fact of life. To his surprise, Tony gave Sam a sympathetic look.
"Sorry, Sam." Tony reached out and captured one of Sam's hands, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Job sucks, but someone's...gotta do it."
Sam smiled, his free hand reaching to lightly caress Tony's forehead. Gibbs watched Sam like a hawk, only relaxing when he literally saw Tony's color improve, the heart monitor beeped steadily in the background. Tony's eyes drifted closed before fluttering open again.
"Go to sleep, Tony. Rest."
"Wanna...talk...to you." Tony shook his head like a stubborn child resisting a nap. "Haven't seen you...in years...got to have stuff to...talk about."
"There will be plenty of time in the future. An eternity, in fact." Sam smiled warmly, eyes changing to a slate gray, hand moving to cover Tony's eyes. "Sleep."
The command was gentle but clearly unavoidable as Tony settled into sleep again. Gibbs couldn't resist double checking. He placed two fingers on Tony's neck, relieved to feel his pulse still beating strongly, not trusting the machines around him.
Sam stepped back, eyes once more a deep indigo meeting Gibbs blue counterparts. "He will sleep for the rest of the night, and most of the morning."
"What did you do?" Gibbs was still uncertain how to deal with an angel of death that hadn't simple killed and left.
"I don't kill people." Sam's light chastise held a definite note of hurt and made Gibbs wonder if the angel could read his mind. "The force of life, the soul, can only abide so much, and only animate the body for so long. I usher them home, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, when they are ready. Ease their passing whenever possible. No more, and no less."
Sam's eyes rested on Tony again, his expression warming to one of fond affection. "Tony has always understood. It is but one of the many things that makes him so special."
Sam straightened, shoulders squaring as he faced Gibbs. "As for what I did," Sam made a meaningless hand gesture, "infections and disease have a natural course of life as well. I simply hastened that along."
Sam stepped back, head cocked to one side as though listening to something. "It is time for me to go."
Sam arched an eyebrow, waiting silently. Gibbs shook his head, still trying to grasp what the hell had just happened here. "Angels of death don't just pay friendly visits."
Sam blinked, giving him a quizzical look. "How would you know?" He laughed lightly, a soft musical sound that was reminiscent of the tinkling of bells.
Dark eyes once more rested on Tony. "For him...I do a great many things."
"Why? What is Tony to you?" Gibbs growled. He hated that he didn't understand.
"Tony is an old friend."
That wasn't not possible, Gibbs thought. People didn't make friends with angels and certainly not those that are harbingers of death.
Sam smiled enigmatically. "Anything is possible."
The angel stepped forward, his countenance suddenly less benign and more chilling as he leaned into Gibbs' personal space. "Tony stayed for you. Fought hard to live...has fought harder than most ever do, just for you." Dark eyes narrowed. "Make sure you are worth it."
Gibbs swallowed, not afraid but definitely uneasy with the implied threat. It was decidedly unnerving to face off against a being he couldn't really do any damage to, couldn't even be sure was real.
Sam sighed softly and shifted so that he no longer towered over Gibbs, pose less threatening. "Tell him what secrets you have, share your heart...life accords you only so many second chances Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you may not get another."
Sam smiled gently again, reaching out to lightly brush pale fingers through Tony's hair. "He deserves to be happy." Dark eyes regarded Gibbs steadily for a moment. "And so do you, I think."
And with that Sam vanished. Gibbs blinked. He expected something more obvious---a puff of smoke, a flash, roll of thunder... something. The room seemed brighter now, warm than it had been with the angel gone.
He sat down, taking a shaky breath. That wasn't something that happened every day and he needed a minute to just absorb it. One deep breath in, Gibbs let it out very slowly.
He shook his head, looking at Tony sleeping peacefully. If it weren't for how much better the younger man looked and how much better he was breathing, Gibbs would be inclined to dismiss the whole thing as a strange dream. But then he had is own past experience to draw on as well---not that it even held a candle to what had just happened. Not by a long shot.
Without thinking, Gibbs took Tony's hand in his, entwining their fingers, drawing comfort from the warmth he found. Sam said Tony had stayed for him, fought to live for him. Maybe it was time to share a few things. Before he wasted another chance to do so.