Though his gaze is trained on the apartment building down the street, Gibbs spares a sideways glance at Tony. He hasn’t been keeping track, because that would be crossing some creepy line, but he’s pretty sure that if he had been counting, the tally of DiNozzo’s coughs, sneezes, and sniffles would be up in the dozens so far during this stakeout of theirs. Tony currently sits with his fist to his mouth, eyes tightly closed, lips pursed, and body shaking as it holds in coughs. Tony insists on keeping this secret, as if Gibbs doesn’t know by now that Tony’s coming down with something.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the shaking stop and an uncertain breath being taken. Then Tony reaches for the bottle of Pepsi that came with the pizza they’d polished off about forty minutes back. Tony takes a sip, then a swallow, and then sputters it out with a full-on cough. It’s desperate and strong at first, bringing tears to Tony’s eyes. Then the cough backs off, still wet and hard to stop until Tony finally manages it. Tony screws the cap on the bottle and throws the almost-full bottle into the back of the car to keep himself from making that mistake again. “Went down the wrong way,” Tony covers his ass, clearing his throat repeatedly and sniffling lightly.
Gibbs doesn’t believe him for one second, but doesn’t say so. He just gives Tony a look, a look Tony turns away from, pretending to be concerned about the motionless apartment building. The door hasn’t even opened in the last half an hour. “Wait!” Tony sits up in his seat and points. The door’s opening and the tension in the car intensifies. This might be what they’ve been waiting for.
But it’s not. It’s just Mrs. Kramer from 6B with her walker and her white toy poodle. Again. “That’s the fifth time. That dog must have a bladder the size of a pea,” Tony remarks, chuckling at his own pun. Then he flops back and clears his throat. He scrubs his nose with the knuckles of one hand or rubs the back of his neck when he thinks Gibbs isn’t looking.
But Gibbs is looking. Gibbs is always looking. Gibbs doesn’t ever miss a thing, especially not when it comes to Tony. He knows Tony better than Tony thinks he does. And he wonders if Tony thinks the same about him. If he does, he just might be right. You can’t work with someone in this kind of job for ten years and not know them inside and out. You can’t work with them all day and go home with them at night and not know what they’re all about. You can’t spend almost every minute of the day with someone and not notice when they start feeling sick.
Tony gives another silent cough and fidgets in his seat. He glances out all the windows, which would have looked more like a casual three-sixty if he had actually been looking. But he’s got a dazed, unfocused look and suddenly he can’t stop moving. He grips his armrest, fingers flexing. He rubs his eye and forehead. He presses a palm to his chest as it rapidly rises and falls. He toes the edge of the passenger side floor mat with his shoe. He rakes fingers through his hair. He glances out the windows again.
Gibbs wants to say something, but he knows better. He knows that if he presses, Tony will just feel shame and guilt. He knows he’s got to be patient and let Tony come to him. He knows Tony’s concentration is already shot and Gibbs is the only one who’s really still on the job right now.
Tony’s hand comes to rest on the metal door handle, toying with the idea of opening it. Tony’s not supposed to leave the car during the stakeout, not when it’s just the two of them on this shift. So even considering the idea of leaving must be killing the man. But Gibbs doesn’t like the look in his eyes or the shade of his face or the flush in his cheeks. He wishes he could give his permission, but he knows better than to do that. This is being recorded, after all. Gibbs reaches over to give Tony’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze, but his hand doesn’t make it that far.
It’s at that very moment that Tony throws open the car door and bolts down the sidewalk. He’s like a lion when he wants to be, pouncing on his prey. But in this case, he claims the trashcan by the far streetlamp as his own and bends over with his head in it. Gibbs winces in sympathy.
Now it’s his turn to feel restless. He wants to go after Tony, to touch him and calm him, to stroke Tony’s back as he heaves, to whisper softly in Tony’s ear that he’ll be all right. He’ll make sure Tony’s all right, because that’s what Gibbs does. Tony watches his back when they’re at work and Gibbs watches over Tony all other times. But he knows he can’t leave the car, can’t let himself get distracted. He’s still got a job to do and Tony’d never forgive him for putting him through all this just to botch the operation now.
The door to the apartment building opens and Gibbs sucks in a breath, though he isn’t surprised. When it rains it pours here in Washington, D.C. The blond women he identifies at once as Lieutenant Frazier leaves the apartment building. She walks normally, no limp, no sign of distress. In fact, if anything, she’s got a bounce to her step as she strolls down the sidewalk toward… shit. “Eyes on Frazier,” Gibbs says quickly. “She just left the building, heading south on 20th. She’s walking toward Agent DiNozzo.”
There’s a thunk-like sound in Gibbs’ earpiece, and Gibbs guesses it’s the cup of coffee McGee’s just dropped. “What’s Tony doing out there, Boss?”
“Gettin’ rid of the pizza we had for dinner,” Gibbs replies. “The hard way.”
Gibbs can’t hear, but he can see, and a shiver runs through his body. Little bumps spring up on his arms because he sees the woman touch Tony, pat his back, cock her head in sympathy. Tony lifts his head, a weak smile on his face. They talk. He shrugs. Then he snaps forward from a sneeze, only just caught in the crook of his arm. They talk some more as she digs a tissue out of her pocket for him. Gibbs holds back a growl of jealousy, knowing it’s liable to make McGee faint. Tony thanks her and shakes his head and she goes on her way.
“She’s on the move again. Going straight for her car.” Gibbs is quiet, unmoving, but he watches her pass by. He sees only the hem of her shirt and her tight black skirt as she walks past the window. Then he watches her reflection in the side mirror, seeing her glide down the sidewalk, graceful in high heels. “She’s getting into her car now.” He watches in his rearview mirror to be sure, not wanting to take his eyes off her even as Tony gets back into the car. “She’s pulling out and heading north on 20th now past G. We’re a few car lengths directly behind.”
Gibbs turns the keys in the ignition and Tony clears his throat, a sound almost hidden when the engine turns over. They follow the car down the street until they get cut off at the weird intersection with Pennsylvania by a snazzy red convertible driven by a dark-haired woman and miss the light. Gibbs smiles. “Ziva’s on Frazier’s tail now. Tony and I are pulling out.” Their shift’s finally over. So Gibbs pulls into a rare vacant parking space and lets the car idle. They cut communication.
Tony sighs and closes his eyes, head resting back against the seat’s headrest. “Boss,” he whispers.
Gibbs unbuckles and turns in the driver’s seat. “Yeah, DiNozzo?”
“I don’t feel so good.” Those are the magic words. He gives a single, pathetic cough that’s small but nonetheless shakes his whole body. “I really, really don’t feel so good at all. Sniff, sniff! I’ve got the chills, Boss. And…”
And he doesn’t have to say it all. “I know. I saw. And I’ve heard you.” He reaches out and tussles Tony’s short hair. “You’ll feel better once I get you back home in bed.”
Tony whimpers and coughs again. “Don’t think so, Boss. I’m pretty sure I’m dying.”
“You’d better not. If you die on me, I swear I’ll kill you.” It’s said with all the strength and no-nonsense-ness of one of Gibbs’ usual threats, but it’s silly enough to produce a weak smile from Tony, who never passes up the opportunity to smile if he can help it.
A sneeze shakes Tony this time, and Gibbs feels a pang in his gut at the tissue Tony has in hand to wipe his nose with. Gibbs digs out his hanky and thrusts it toward Tony’s face with a grunt. Then he shifts the car back into drive and peels out of the parking space, which is immediately claimed.
“Sorry I fucked up the operation,” Tony says. “I didn’t realize it was that bad. Thought it was just a little cold or sniffle or something.”
“It’s not ruined. She didn’t make you, and we might be able to use you later if we need to make contact. Didn’t go exactly as we’d planned, but it’s not completely ruined.” He doesn’t bother signaling, just takes a corner at full speed as the light turns yellow.
Tony moans at the motion and hugs his arms around his stomach.
“And that’s definitely not a little cold or sniffle.” He reaches over and claps his hand to Tony’s forehead. The man’s burning up. Damn him. Gibbs had figured a fever for sure, but not one that high. He’s tempted to take Tony straight to the ER to get checked out. He would do it, but he’d rather get Tony home and changed into comfy clothes. He’d rather be able to hold Tony in his arms and make him soup and growl at him when he tries to eat too quickly. He’d rather get Tony settled on the couch amidst blankets and put in one of the DVDs he bought Tony for Christmas.
“Does that mean I won’t get laid later?” Tony bends his neck to facilitate a head slap. Instead, Gibbs takes his hand and kisses the back of it, limited by the fact that he’s still driving the car. Tony grins that grin of his and ever with fever-bright eyes, he looks almost too good to resist. And Gibbs knows what Tony’s doing, of course. Gibbs knows Tony saw that brief look of fear in his eyes. Gibbs knows Tony’s just trying to keep Gibbs from worrying about him. It’s a patented Tony DiNozzo the Charmer technique and he sees it coming from miles away. But he lets himself fall for it.