Walking at full speed with a singular aim, Tony burst through the door of the men’s room. He didn’t bother with humming or checking his reflection in the mirror, he just went straight for the urinal. As he stood there unzipped, eyes closed, relieving himself, he heard a sneeze. It made him jump, stream faltering for a moment from the surprise.
He’d thought he was alone. Okay, so he hadn’t exactly bothered to look, but there was definitely someone in one of the stalls. “huh-T’Chehh!” Someone with the sneezes. Allergies? Head cold? “ehhh-HEPTchooo!” Definitely head cold. Tony chuckled to himself. Cold and flu season had started late in Washington, D.C., this year, but apparently it had finally hit NCIS. “epTishuhh!”
Tony wondered who it was. He didn’t know the sound of everyone’s sneezes, though he was sure it wasn’t McGee, because McGee’s sneezes were smaller, more cough-like. And it couldn’t be Gibbs because Gibbs never got sick.
The toilet flushed in the stall and Tony hurried over to the sink to wash his hands. He kept his gaze trained on the mirror, expecting the stall door to open so he could tease whoever it was. But the door didn’t open while Tony washed his hands and dried them, but still the stall door didn’t open. Whoever it was seemed to be waiting patiently for Tony to leave. Fair enough. Tony shrugged. He knew how it felt to be sniffly and miserable at work and couldn’t blame the guy any. He wouldn’t want to be stared at either.
Tony left the bathroom but his curiosity won out. He was a born investigator. So he hid around the corner and watched the door to the bathroom. If anyone came upon him just now, he would look pretty silly. And if Gibbs discovered him, he’d get a head slap for sure. But Tony didn’t have long to wait. The door to the bathroom opened not a minute later and out walked Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
Confused, Tony waited for Gibbs to vanish down the hallway, and then he went back into the bathroom. He checked the stalls, but the place was empty. Tony faced himself in the mirror, trying to figure out how this could be possible. It was true Gibbs had been a little feverish after he’d been blown up and he had been in a coma for a while, but that wasn’t the same thing as a flu or head cold. Gibbs might be a private person and not tell them about his personal life, but he never outright lied when he offered up information. When he said he never got sick, Tony had actually believed him, and so had the rest of the team. Knowing what he had to do, Tony headed back out, in pursuit of his boss.
Gibbs was sitting at his desk, going over some files, but glanced up when Tony came in, as if Gibbs had been there an hour waiting. “Progress, DiNozzo?”
The only real progress Tony had made today involved voiding his bladder and identifying someone sneezing in a bathroom stall, but he put on a smile and flopped down into his desk chair. “Petty Officer Erich’s family is spread out across the country. He’s got a brother in New Mexico, a father in Seattle, a sister in Texas and another in Miami, and a mother who works for Donald Trump in New York. I don’t think it’s going to be easy to…” He trailed off, not surprised but rather stunned to see what he was seeing.
Gibbs’ face was twitching. There was a dazed look in his eyes but intense concentration apart from that. Suddenly, Gibbs bent over, hiding himself behind his desk as if he’d dropped a pen. His body shook as he sneezed powerfully. Then he sniffed and straightened back up.
Tony pretended not to have been looking, but rubbed his own nose. He could feel Gibbs’ gaze on him and Tony made an even more exaggerated display of rubbing his nose. “Excuse me.” Tony faked a little cough. “I think I’m coming down with something.”
Looking over, Tony’s eyes met Gibbs'. There was a look, a connection, an understanding, and something wonderful fluttered in Tony’s chest. His whole body tingled as he sniffed needlessly but loudly.
Gibbs lowered his eyes and looked back down at the files on his desk. “Just make the phone calls, DiNozzo. Start with the mother.”
“Right, Boss.” From then on, Tony barely took his eyes off the man. Every time Gibbs went to sniffle, Tony made a big production of grabbing a tissue from the lower drawer in his desk to rub his nose. Every time Gibbs cleared his throat or gave a little cough, Tony pounded his chest dramatically. And every time Gibbs sneezed, Tony blessed himself, whether he was on the phone or not.
Apart from insistent symptoms, Gibbs seemed as good at hiding the fact that he was sick as Tony was at hiding the fact that he was madly in love with his boss. More than a dozen times, Tim or Ziva or one of the other agents in the room, looked over in the correct direction at the sound. But Tony would do something goofy like fall backwards out of his chair or knock his stapler off his desk or pretend his computer had frozen up on him, attracting attention immediately.
It worked amazingly well for far longer than Tony could have imagined. He’d thought Gibbs would call him out or someone would get wise or just happen to look in Gibbs' direction at the wrong time, but no one said a thing. They probably could have kept this up all day at this rate, and Tony would have been happy to do so if not for one fact: Gibbs was ill.
Though the others hadn’t noticed, Tony could see how tired his eyes were and how much slower he moved, even though it was just pushing papers around. Gibbs needed to be home, resting, not ducking and hiding his face behind something every time he felt a sneeze coming on. The effort required to hold back some coughs alone must be exhausting. Overwhelmed with sympathy, Tony’s heart went out to him. And, suddenly, Tony knew what he had to do.
Tony cleared his throat and announced loudly enough so that almost everyone on the floor looked over at him, “I think I’m running a fever.” He hated taking his eyes off Gibbs, but he knew it was necessary as he called out. “Probie! C’mere. Feel my forehead.”
McGee’s shoulders sagged. “Tony, I’m not going to go over there and feel your forehead.”
“Aww, pleeeease?” Tony pressed his hand to his own forehead. “I’m pretty sure I’m feverish. Might be a bad one. I might be dying, even. This could be your very last chance to do something for me. I can’t tell how bad it is. Please come feel for me?”
With a shake of his head, as if unable to believe Tony could be so dramatic. “Tony, I’m not going to—”
“Ziva!” Tony interrupted, noticing McGee glancing over at Gibbs as if to get a sign from his boss that told him to go or stay put. Tony knew he’d have to attract even more attention now. “Ziva, you know you want to touch me. Here’s your chance. And you know I’m always so damn hot. Just feel my forehead and see if I’m hotter than usual.”
Her eyes blazed with annoyance. “Tony, some of us are trying to work here. No, I will not come over and feel your forehead.”
“Pretty please? With sugar on top? And a hand grenade?”
“I do not think that is the expression.”
Tony waved his hand dismissively. “What do you know about that?” He moaned as obnoxiously as possible and dropped his head onto his desk, nestled in his folded arms. “Nuuughhhh. I think I’m dying…”
Tony sat up straight, staring at Gibbs. Gibbs’ stare was icy, cold, and so terrible that whatever was fluttering in Tony’s stomach stopped doing so immediately. “Yeah, Boss?”
“Quit distracting my team.” He sighed and rolled back from his desk in his chair. “I’ll feel your damn forehead. With me.”
“Yes, Boss!” He followed Gibbs through the room, down the hall, and back into the bathroom. The room was empty, though Gibbs checked the stalls to be sure.
Then Gibbs slumped back against the wall. “You didn’t have to do that, DiNozzo.” He pulled a paper towel from the dispenser and rubbed it at his nose.
Grinning, “I’ve always got your six, Boss. You know that.” He stepped forward, concerned. “How are you feeling?”
Gibbs shook his head wearily. “I feel like crap.” Tony knew that admission had taken a lot out of the man. “Don’t think I’m going to make it through the day.”
“You can make it,” Tony said, and Gibbs’ eyes lit briefly at the reassurance. “But you can also claim my fever’s too high and I passed out while you were talking to me. So you have to take me home because I’m too ill to work.”
The stare Gibbs gave him lasted a long time. Then Gibbs turned, nose in a folded paper towel. “heh-Chuffffff!”
Tony stepped closer. “And I started feeling worse in the car and you had to stop at a CVS for some medicine for me.”
Gibbs coughed and snuffled first into the paper towel, then against the back of his hand.
One step closer and Tony was almost on top of him. The exhaustion was even more evident. “By the time you drive there and back in rush hour traffic, the day will be over. There would be no reason to come back to the office.”
After considering his options for a moment, Gibbs nodded. “I appreciate this, Tony,” said the man who never lied.
The flutter was back in Tony’s chest. “I’d be happy to take you home and tuck you into bed, Boss. I could keep you warm and—”
The slap to the back of his head cut Tony off and made him grin.