Jethro Gibbs stood next to the hospital bed and looked down at the man huddled beneath the covers. His gaze ran over the man’s pale skin. Anthony DiNozzo looked better than the last time Gibbs saw him, but he wasn’t sure if it was because the younger man was actually looking better, or if it was because he was no longer under the blue UV lights.
He could see the purple bruising under Tony’s eyes. It was really the only color on Tony’s face. Gibbs clenched his fingers in the pockets of his pants. He had come so close to losing the younger man. He really hadn’t thought that Tony had made it that far under his skin. Oh he knew that he would have been pissed if it had been Cait or McGee that had been infected, but he had been damn near homicidal when he found out it was Tony.
His left hand reached out of its own volition and his fingers ran though the younger man’s hair. The last time he’d felt this hair, it had been a combination of wet and stiff with sweat. Now it was back to its usual clean softness. He had never been able to fool himself. The head smacks weren’t because Tony deserved them. Hell, they weren’t about Tony at all. Well, other than the fact that it was Tony’s hair Gibbs needed to feel underneath his fingers and that was really the only way to do it without questions being raised. Sometimes he thought Tony knew that and did things that would give him an excuse to smack the man. Other times he just figured it was Tony being Tony.
Suddenly Tony convulsed in a fit of coughing and he rolled onto his side with his back facing Gibbs. The coughing was still violent and Gibbs knew that the younger man’s chest and abdominal muscles had to be sore. He ran his hand up and down Tony’s back. Trying to relax and comfort the stricken man. As he watched Tony being racked with coughing he thought back to the woman responsible for this. While he realized that a big part of the reason she did this was because of a brain tumor that interfered with the woman’s normal thought patterns, he wanted nothing more than to have that woman in front of him, so that he could blow her brains out. Or maybe so he could slowly choke the life out of her.
Gradually the coughing eased and Tony rolled onto his back and looked up at Gibbs.
“Boss? Whatcha doin’ here?”
Gibbs flinched internally at the rough sound of Tony’s voice. The vocal cords being damaged by the almost constant coughing. Nothing showed on his face however. “Just checking on you, DiNozzo. How long are you gonna be taking up space that they could be using for someone who really needs it?” Time to be the hard-ass that Tony was expecting him to be. He knew that if he acted the way he really felt, Tony would start to think that the doctors hadn’t told him everything and that he was really dying.
“They say they want to keep me for at least two weeks. Still got some crap in my lungs that I gotta expel and then I have lung therapy and they want to check on how much lung damage I’m gonna end up having.” Tony gave a self-depreciating laugh. “They are all excited. They don’t often get someone who was so far along with Pneumatic Plague and survived. They’ve been talking about papers and seminars.” Tony coughed a few more times and then grabbed the basin off of the table and spat into it. “They wanna keep all the crap I’ve been coughing up. You know, to make sure that I’m not getting an infection, or the pneumonia coming back.” Tony fell back against the pillows and tried to catch his breath.
Gibbs took the basin from Tony and placed it on the table. “They’ve been talking about the papers and seminars in front of you?” He tried to keep the anger out of his voice, but he was pretty sure it didn’t work.
“Nah, they’ve been in the hallway. They just didn’t realize how good my hearing was. Not really their fault, Boss.”
Gibbs was slightly mollified but he was still going to have a talk with some of those doctors. “So how much lung damage are they thinking?”
“Ten to twenty percent loss of lung capacity. They aren’t too terribly concerned about that. They said that I would still pass the physical requirements to be an agent. They’re really concerned about the chances of me developing asthma. They also said that I’d be much more susceptible to developing pneumonia in the future. That in addition to getting the flu vaccine that we are required to get, I should get the pneumonia vaccine as well. ” Tony gasped for breath. The lung damage making it’s self known.
Gibbs thought about the lung damage. Tony was young, healthy, and active. His lung capacity was greater than the average persons and a ten to twenty percent loss would probably put him on par with someone who was a smoker and they let smokers be agents. The biggest problem would be if he developed asthma. If they could keep the asthma under control he would be fine, but it would take a while to find the correct treatments for him.
“Well your health insurance will cover the vaccine and you’ll just have to get used to being like the rest of America. No more running marathons.”
Tony laughed. “Yeah, Boss. I run so many marathons.” Tony’s expression fell. “What about the asthma?”
“No worries about that. You aren’t gonna get it. Consider that an order and when have you ever not followed an order, DiNozzo?”
Tony opened his mouth to argue but then closed it. He got a thoughtful look on his face. Gibbs was sure he was thinking about all of the orders he’d given the agent. Tony was very good at following orders, even the orders that Gibbs had only given him in his own mind. Gibbs had ordered the man to be alive after he’d been kidnapped. He’d ordered the man to do what ever it took to stay alive after they found out that the antiquities thief they had chained Tony to was a serial killer. And the latest order, that he would live and not give into the Plague.
“I hear and obey, Boss.”
“Good. Because you will hear from me if you don’t, DiNozzo, and it won’t be pretty.”
He could tell Tony wanted to say something but was nervous about saying it. “Spit it out, DiNozzo.”
“What if I can’t follow your order? What if I do develop asthma?”
Gibbs rested his hands on either side of Tony’s shoulders on the bed. He leaned in close. “I will only say this once. You belong to me. I say when you leave this team. No one else. You get asthma, they’ll find a way to control it. And if they can’t? If you can’t be a field agent, then you will assist in research. There will be things for you to do. Do you understand me, DiNozzo?”
Tony swallowed hard. “Got ya, Boss.”
Gibbs watched as Tony’s eyes dilated and the younger man squirmed on the bed. He leaned in closer and heard Tony’s breath catch. He whispered in the younger man’s ear. “Good.”
He straightened up and he heard Tony give a sigh of relief. He turned to grab the chair and bring it closer to the bed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tony adjusting the bulge at his crotch. Looked like the kid was affected by him after all. He sat down in the chair and looked at Tony. He had some color to his face now. That was a good thing.
“So how’s the food in this joint?”
A laugh was startled out of Tony. “The food? Not what I would have expected you to talk about, Boss. Can’t really say for sure. They’ve got me on this soft food, no spices diet. It really sucks, but hey the nurses are pretty.”
Gibbs felt his stomach clench when Tony mentioned the nurses. He’d seen how close Tony and Emma had gotten. It was the last thing he’d wanted to see after he’d finally been knocked of out his denial and had finally admitted how he felt about the younger man. He fought back the urge to tell Tony that when he said that Tony belonged to him, he didn’t just mean in the work sense. He meant that Tony BELONGED to him. He was pretty sure that, that wouldn’t go over well. Tony might be attracted to him, but was he interested enough for more then just a one night stand?
“Already talking up the nurses huh?” Gibbs tried to keep cool.
“Yeah, they are falling all over themselves to help me. They think it’s extremely brave of me that I do a job where the danger is so high.” Tony grinned.
“Think I should tell them the truth, DiNozzo?”
“Ah, no, Boss. I don’t think that’s necessary. Besides, it’s not like I can do anything with them here, and after I get out of here, I really don’t want to see them again. I think it would bring back too many memories.
“So what’s happening back at the office?”
Gibbs smirked at Tony’s change of subject. “Everyone’s trying to get things back in order after the CDC went through and tested and cleaned everything. Cait’s been given the rest of the week off to recover. McGee and I were given yesterday off. Everyone came to visit you yesterday, but you were pretty out of it.”
“Yeah they gave me some good drugs. Still are to tell the truth. They’ve lowered the dosage though, so I’m a little more lucid.”
“Today I had to give a debriefing to the Director. No one’s real happy about this.”
Tony winced. “Yeah, sorry, Boss. I know the letter should have gone to you, and I’m sorry about the crap I’m sure you’re getting, but I can’t say that I’m real sorry that you weren’t the one infected. If any one had to be infected, I was probably the one best able to handle it.”
Gibbs sat forward. “Just what do you mean by that, DiNozzo?”
Tony squirmed. “Just…. face it boss, I’m in better shape than McGee, with Cait’s cold her immune system was already working overtime, and as much as I hate to say it, and I’m sure you’ll hate to hear it, I am a few years younger than you. All things considered I was the best chance for someone to survive. Young, healthy, and active were the keywords from the doctor I believe.”
Gibbs sat back with a sigh. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Tony was right. He was the one with the best chance of survival. That didn’t change Gibbs’ wish, that he had been the one infected. He would rather have died himself, than to have to suffer through watching Tony almost die.
“And don’t think it, Boss. You think it would have been any easier on us, watching you die? If someone had to be infected, this was the best scenario. Me getting it and suffering for a little while, but living. Worst case, was one of the other three of you getting it and dying,” Tony ground out. His hard statement caused another coughing fit.
Gibbs waited for Tony to stop but the coughing only seemed to get worse. Gibbs grabbed for the call button and punched it. The nurse came in and saw Tony doubled over. She left the room quickly.
He ran his hand up and down Tony’s back, wishing that there was something he could do. Tony grabbed his other hand and squeezed it. He realized he’d said that thought out loud.
The nurse rushed back in with some equipment. She quickly put the equipment to work and handed Tony a mouth piece that had what looked like steam pouring out of it. Tony took the mouth piece and started inhaling the steam.
Gibbs gave the nurse a questioning look. “It’s an albuteral mist. It will help to relieve the inflammation in his lungs. He’ll be okay in a few minutes.” The nurse turned to Tony. “You know the drill. I’ll be back in a while to take everything away.”
Gibbs was hard pressed not to laugh, when Tony gave her an insincere smile and rolled his eyes at Gibbs. He watched as the nurse left the room and then turned back to Tony.
“I take it you’ve done this a few times?”
Tony removed the mouth piece. “Oh yeah. Really hate this. It tastes nasty.”
Gibbs couldn’t help but laugh at the little kid expression on Tony’s face. He sat back down in his chair and that’s when he realized that Tony was still holding his hand.