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Bent Not Broken

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Tony woke to the sound of his name being hurled at him like an insult. It was not the shout which woke him, however, but the hand smacking and glancing off the back of his head. "Ah!" He hunched forward to get away from it, already too late, then rubbed the back of his head where it smarted. "What was that for, Boss?" he asked, looking up from his seat in his chair to see Gibbs walking past his workspace. 

"Sleeping on the job. You should know better." One side of his mouth twitched up into half a smile.

Rubbing at his eyes, then his nose, Tony cleared his throat. "I wasn't sleeping," he insisted, calling after the man. When Gibbs made no reply, and instead stopped to look over and sign some paperwork Ziva presented him with, Tony rose from his seat and went after his boss. "I wasn't--" he began, but was cut off. 

"You were *snoring*, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, glancing sideways at the man. He handed the papers back to Ziva and moved on, making his way around the room. He stopped at Patterson's desk and took a file folder, leafing through it and then passing it off to Thompson on his next stop.

Tony stayed on his heels. "Okay, but it was only because of my extreme devotion to my work. I was up late last night working," he said in his usual tone which was a mix of seriousness and humor. This time, however, he was not joking. "I think I might have a lead on one of the cold cases--"

"Interesting choice of words," Gibbs said, still not looking at Tony but raising an eyebrow specifically for Tony's benefit. "Given that you have a cold." 

"A..." Tony laughed, which turned into a cough. He tried his best to stifle the sound altogether. "Nah, Boss. I'm not sick." 

Gibbs moved on, hitting McGee's workstation and pretending to pay more attention to the words and images on the man's computer monitor than to Tony. When he spoke, however, it was not about the case McGee was working. "Coughs, sneezing, congestion, probably a fever of some degree. You're clearly sick, DiNozzo." 

"I'm not!" Tony insisted. 

"Rule number seven," Gibbs said lazily. 

Tony rubbed the back of his neck, wincing slightly, and stopped the moment he realized he was doing it. "Rule number..." He rolled his eyes as he recalled rule number seven. "Always be specific when you lie. Right, but--"

Yet again, Tony was cut off. Gibbs turned and stared him down for a moment. Then Gibbs pressed the back of his hand to Tony's forehead. As he did so, he stood on his toes, peering over the partition into Tony's cubicle to note the abundance of balled-up tissues scattered over Tony's desk. "Rule number three: don't believe what you're told; always check." He sighed. "And you're definitely running a fever. Go home." 

Tony sighed as Gibbs moved on. But the next cubicle was his and he realized Gibbs was already packing up his things and shutting down his computer. Tony darted over, resisting the urge to grab his things out of Gibbs' grasp. His hand was busy rubbing at his nose anyway. "Okay, okay. So maybe I have a little cold. A tiny, little, insignificant cold. But I don't need to go home. Did you hear me when I said I had a lead?" 

With a no-nonsense tone, "If you really had one, you'd have told me by now. So quit the games. Why did you come in today if you were sick?" 

Tony's jacket and case were thrust at him, and he took them, albeit reluctantly. "Rule number eighteen?" he answered hopefully, rubbing at his nose again. 

Gibbs froze for a minute, then a smile broke out on his face. "You're forgiven. Now go on home, DiNozzo, before the only one who'll be able to make heads or tails of you is Ducky." 

*    *    *    *    *

As the channels cycled through for the third time, Tony groaned. "Three hundred channels and not a single decent movie on. How is that poh-possible?" Tiredly he set the remote down and helped himself to a few tissues from the box on his lap. He pitched forward with a double sneeze, then pulled the blanket around himself more tightly. 

Tony snuggled into the cushions of the couch and glared over at the cabinet beside the television. Why were his DVDs so very far away? Why hadn't be bothered to load a few into the six disk DVD-changer before settling down on the couch for the afternoon? And why had he not been able to fall asleep after four long hours of trying? Following another sneeze, which shook him thoroughly, he decided against getting up for the DVDs. He'd just have to make do with a Pauley Shore movie... assuming he could determine which was the least offensive of the three that were on now. 

Fortunately, knocking at the door distracted him. Unfortunately, it meant he definitely had to get up. He brought the blanket with him, wrapped around his shoulders, but he still shivered on his way across the living room. He unlocked the door and pulled it open to reveal none other than Leroy Jethro Gibbs. He blinked several times, not sure about what he was seeing. There were only a few reasons Gibbs could have for showing up. "What are you doing here?" He scrubbed his hand against his forehead, wondering whether he might be more feverish than he thought 

Gibbs' eyebrows rose in surprise. "I'm carrying a box of Kleenex under one arm and a container of chicken soup in one hand. If you can't deduce from that what I'm doing here you're off my team, DiNozzo." 

Tony cracked a smile. 

"So can I come in, or are you busy entertaining?"

Tony laughed as he pushed the door open wider, allowing his boss entry. "No woman would want me in the condition I'm... I'm in--" His face fell and he raised his arm, directing another sneeze into the crook. The sneeze gave way to coughs and sniffles.

Gibbs headed inside, closing the door behind him and then directing Tony back to the couch which was clearly the base of operations. Empty, used glasses sat on the coffee table and used tissues were far more numerous than they had been earlier that day. From the look of it, Tony was definitely going to need the extra Kleenex box. But Gibbs hardly paid them any attention as he led Tony over and sat down beside him. 

He moved very matter-of-factly, clearing room on the coffee table and rearranging the couch cushions so that it was more comfortable to fit them both. He got up a moment later for spoons and bowls as he insisted on sharing the meal with Tony, even though Tony insisted he wasn't hungry. He figured he could choke down a little chicken soup if Gibbs had gone to all the effort to bring it. And it wasn't as though he could exactly say ‘no' to the senior agent. 

As Tony sat on the couch, waiting for Gibbs' return and trying to work himself up to being hungry, he remembered the DVDs that were again too far away to bother with. "Hey, Gibbs," he thought to ask. "On your way back, could you grab--" A maddening tickle in his nose cut him off just in time for a rather strong sneeze. When he opened his eyes afterwards, he looked up to see Gibbs returning and Tony found himself feeling a little self-conscious. He couldn't have looked too great sneezing like that. He rubbed the back of his hand against his nose, sniffling. "Sorry," he said automatically. 

Gibbs shook his head, taking a seat right beside Tony again. "Don't tell me you've forgotten rule number four, DiNozzo." 

Having forgotten not to use the word ‘sorry', Tony nodded. Then he accepted a bowl of soup. Cupped in his hands, it was warm and comforting before it even hit his system. It seemed almost a pity to waste it by eating it, but he knew it was just going to get cold anyway. And, once he had a spoonful or two, he had to admit he felt better. All thanks to Gibbs. "What is this, rule number thirty-something: always bring a sick co-worker good chicken soup?" 

"Something like that. Now quit talking and eat." Gibbs seemed to be concentrating on the task of eating his own helping of soup. 

"Right, Boss..." He struggled against another sneeze for a moment, and lost the battle. He groaned afterwards, setting the soup aside in favor of tissues. And he shivered when the warmth was noticeably gone. 

But then he felt an arm slide around his shoulders, and the warmth that came with it made him smile. Gibbs held the whole package of Tony-plus-blanket and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Then he picked up Tony's bowl and handed it back. "Soup's good?" he asked after Tony had taken a few more bites. 

Tony nodded but, altogether too soon, he had to lean forward and set the bowl back down again. His breath hitched and the sneezes came in a threesome this time. He groaned again but found a warm arm squeezing him and a soft shoulder offered for him to rest his head upon. "The soup's great," Tony told him. From this position he could not see Gibbs' face and Gibbs could not see his. So he risked a follow-up. "And so's the company." He looked carefully for signs that Gibbs was uncomfortable with that - uneven breaths or his body tensing up - and found none. 

Curious, Tony lifted his head and Gibbs moved in for what might have been a kiss.

"Wait," Tony said, pulling back as much as he could without breaking Gibbs' hold. 

Gibbs smiled at him, with a charming grin and endearing crow's-feet at the corners of his eyes. "I'm not worried about catching your cold at this point." 

Tony shook his head, rule number twelve sitting unshakably in the forefront of his mind. Even somewhat feverish, he knew this might not be the best idea, even though most of him was practically crying out for it. "I thought you didn't want people who work together to develop relationships like this..."

With a shrug, "It's complicated, DiNozzo. But that rule's more like a guideline, anyway," Gibbs paraphrased.

Tony's face brightened with the recognition. "Hey, that's from Pirates of the--"

Tony was cut off again, but not because of a snappish statement and not because of a sneeze. It was due to a pair of lips pressing firmly against his own.