T.L.C. Gibbs' Style

Part 5

He would have liked nothing better than to shower, but accepted he didn't have the energy of a half drowned kitten so he made do with a swift stand up wash and then he put up with the ignominy of being escorted back to bed where he collapsed, noting that the sheets had been changed for crisp, fresh ones.

He sighed as his body sank into the bedding, aware that Gibbs was now standing by the window looking out.

He tried gauging the man's mood.

"Er...thanks, Boss."

He got an almost imperceptible nod and again, he couldn't help but begin to feel the keenness of the imposition placed on his superior.

Then, as if reading his mind, Gibbs turned and fixed him with a long, hard glare.

The undercurrent of tension in the room became more apparent as Tony found himself holding his breath.

"So...you ready to explain why you disobeyed my orders to stay at the Command Post?"

Even aching as badly as he was, Tony's reflexive instinct was to scoot further down in the bed as if he could hide under the covers.

Concealing his smile, Gibbs recognised the gesture for exactly what it was. Evasive.

"That's not going to work, DiNozzo."

"Boss?"

The all too innocent query almost had Gibbs where Tony wanted him. Almost.

Tilting his head to the side, the ex-gunny looked closely at his senior field agent, noting the weariness and pallor, but also seeing something there that wasn't right. He needed to make that look go away otherwise he knew recovery wasn't going to be smooth and for sure there'd be a next time when his senior field agent would make an unacceptable decision to put his life in jeopardy.

'As if anything ever went smoothly when it concerned DiNozzo,' he thought wryly.

"Sometime this year might be a good idea," he stated dryly, making Tony wince.

He could see Tony begin to squirm, but he was not going to be put off. He'd put Tony in the Command Post for a reason - the weather had been foul and he'd been fully aware of what might happen if said agent were out in the elements - case in point, he thought grimly.

The line of questioning was, however, clearly unpopular.

"Like I said before, Boss...I realised that every exit hadn't been covered."

"So?"

Tony refrained from rolling his eyes. It had got him a head slap on previous occasions and right now he wasn't sure his fragile head could take it.

His eyes dropped to the floor.

"So I went to cover that base." His words were flat, without life.

Gibbs speared him without further warning. "And why didn't you use that thing inside your skull to radio Agent Denny? It was included in his area of cover. Or am I mistaken?"

Tony's colour faded to an even paler shade as he realised where the interrogation was heading.

"I asked you a question, DiNozzo!"

The silence was disturbing. And so the older man decided to up the ante.

"So presumably you felt you knew better than me, could supersede my orders to-."

"No!" The denial was emphatic.

Lightning quick, Gibbs snapped, "What do you mean 'No!' - how else should I read it?"

Tony winced - again. He knew that tone well, knew it boded nothing good in his immediate future, but no matter how much of an ass Denny was, he wasn't going to be the one to voice it. The man wasn't on his team, thank God, so...

His gaze flickered to the older man but almost instantly skittered away like a beetle whose dark world had been unexpectedly opened to the elements.

There were certain rules he lived by and sick or not he wasn't about to break this one. And as Gibbs watched the various expressions flicker over his agent's face, the end result was clear.

The DiNozzo stubborn look had over the years since childhood been honed to perfection and now it was applied with firm resolve.

Tony inhaled deeply, but it was a mistake as the hitch in his breathing morphed into another raw coughing fit that had him curled over the edge of the bed fighting for air.

He was vaguely aware of Gibbs supporting him as the violence of the spasm threatened to expel both his lungs, and he would have liked nothing better than to ask, order, beg to be left alone, to not have his boss see him like this, but he could barely take in enough air to keep the dark spots in his vision at bay, what about speak.

Eventually, the spasms lessened, allowing him to slump in exhaustion, half in, half out of the bed.

And finally Gibbs voice penetrated his ringing ears surprising him with the gentle concern conveyed.

"Easy does it, Tony...Come on, let me help you."

Whether he wanted the assistance or not, it was out of his hands, he was helpless and could only accept as he was carefully set back into bed, an extra pillow placed behind him so that he was almost sitting up, the strong, gentle hands holding him until he'd gained his equilibrium.

Scowling, Tony felt the saliva and thick mucus that had dribbled down his chin, but before he could raise the back of his hand a cool damp cloth was swiped across his face, erasing the sweat along with the embarrassing tears and other stuff which had him squirming away from the care whilst paradoxically longing for it.

"Quit fidgeting, DiNozzo."

"I...I'm...good," he gasped.

"The hell you are."

But as his painful vulnerability assailed him in all its powerful intensity, Tony wanted nothing more than to bury his head in his hands and cry. The raw recollection of Gibbs in the basement cursing him out on the phone, complaining that he was a 'lazy son of a bitch and needed his ass kicking, struck him anew - an excruciating blow.

It was intolerable.

Did Gibbs, he wondered frantically, think he was putting this on to get attention? His face burst into a deep hot blaze of colour and without thinking he jerked up, thrusting aside the covers and swinging his legs over the side. He had to get away.

Returning from the bathroom, Gibbs eyed the sick man with exasperation.

"What the hell-."

He caught Tony just as he was about to make a spectacular fall, and holding him under his arms Gibbs pushed him back on the bed, only to find him attempt the same inexplicable move.

"Hey!"

The ex-gunny's sharp bark stilled the struggling man, but only for an instant and as the ex-marine saw the wild determination in the fevered eyes he knew that the brief respite wouldn't last long unless he brought the situation under speedy control.

With one hand splayed over Tony's heaving, struggling chest, Gibbs grabbed Tony's chin in a vice-like hold.

"Hey! Quit this. Now!"

The spark of rebellion was still there so he added a more severe shake and added softly, "You keep this up and your backside will be getting close up and uncomfortable with one of Ducky's slippers. Do you hear me, DiNozzo?"

Gibbs gave him a further shake to emphasise the point, watching the flame of dismay wash over his cheeks, accentuating the fever that still lay in his eyes.

"Well that's one way of kicking my ass, I suppose," Tony muttered sullenly, deliberately refusing to look Gibbs in the eye.

For a second the older man frowned, perplexed by the words.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

And unable to stop himself, Tony spat back, "I screwed up, I admit it and I may be a son of a bitch but, hell, I'm not stupid and I'm not lazy, Gibbs, not when it counts."

As much as he detested it, he couldn't prevent the childish whine in his voice as he made clear his protest at what he considered an injustice.

Which could, he admitted, be the reason why Gibbs was now looking at him as if he could, at the very least, shoot him down. In flames. Just for good measure.

When he next spoke, Gibbs' tone was deceptively cool and composed.

Tony, his heart still beating fit to burst, went on high alert.

"So you heard me talking on the phone about giving the lazy son of a bitch a good kick, huh?"

Tony didn't bother to nod, but now kept his eyes riveted on the grey-haired man looming over him ominously.

"And is that why you decided to do a bunk? Which, by the way, resulted in you nearly frying your insides to a crisp."

Tony dared admit nothing. There was something definitely off in this scenario and he was beginning to get just an inkling that he might have jumped the gun with his hasty decision to run.

A good head slap right now might have been the welcome solution by both parties to lower the tension, but one, Gibbs knew Tony was in no fit state to receive this form of reprimand. And two, if he laid his hands on his junior agent at this minute, the way he was feeling, he was liable to knock him into next week so strong were his feelings. So physical was out. Which left the alternative, and whereas it might not be as satisfactory, the psychological way could still do the job.

Stepping back and out of Tony's personal space, Gibbs continued to give the sick man a critical glare.

"We're not done here, DiNozzo, but it can wait. Right now you're going to sleep."

Again he saw the slight challenge in the hazel eyes and Gibbs paused, deepening his glare.

"Sleep means you close your eyes and rest."

The ex-gunny raised a warning finger to stave off any possible defiance.

"You dare to get out of that bed before I tell you to and I'll come down so hard on your sorry ass, sick or not, you won't know what's day or night...have you got that?"

The lump in Tony's throat would only allow him to nod, albeit reluctantly, but it was a nod all the same.

Satisfied that he'd got his message across, Gibbs removed the extra pillow, pressing a gentle hand against his agent's now pale forehead and brushing back his hair, satisfied that the sick man's temperature was slowly returning to normal. And only when the slow, deep, even breathing indicated sleep did he leave the side of the recumbent man.

Staring suspiciously at the proffered bowl, Tony made no move to accept what Ducky was holding out to him.

"Anthony, it's just oatmeal with honey. You need to eat something if you intend regaining your lost body weight. So, come on, eat up."

Tony took the bowl, his scowl remaining in place, and it must have reminded Ducky of something in his diverse past, because he asked, "Did I ever tell you about the time I was a young doctor, fresh out of medical school?"

Gibbs, who had just returned from headquarters, walked in and saw the glazed look of his senior agent with Ducky deeply involved in telling yet another of his infamous stories, with a bowl of untouched food resting on the bed between them.

Taking pity on the young man under his care, he decided intervention was necessary and at an appropriate point stepped in, saying, "Ducky, I think Palmer's looking for you; why don't you head back. I've got things covered here and anyway, McGee was right behind me so he should be walking in as I speak."

Not in the least fazed by the interruption, the M.E. obligingly got to his feet and seemed to notice the oatmeal that still hadn't been touched.

"That needs eating, my boy."

"I'll take care of it, Ducky, don't worry."

And Gibbs reached for the bowl and proffered a spoon of the cereal to his agent.

The mutinous expression he was greeted with and the outraged, "I can feed myself!" almost had him laughing out loud.

Fortunately, a light tap on the door and the entry of the computer expert on Gibb's team produced an immediate effect on the ailing man and ignoring Gibbs and the spoon he called enthusiastically, "Hey, Probie, what gift have you brought to cheer up a starving man?"

Characteristically, McGee frowned, often a little hesitant when it came to following his colleague's train of thought, but not on this occasion, though he did start umming and ahhing until Tony felt it only fair to put the man out of his misery.

"No sweat, it would have probably been a waste anyway."

He was still pointedly ignoring the proffered food and wondering how much longer Gibbs would wait to give him a head slap.

"Not if I'd brought you those chocolate chip hazelnut cookies from your favourite deli," McGee stated smugly.

Tony's eyes lit up with lust, but the light instantly died when McGee grinned wickedly and held up empty hands.

Scowling, he retorted, "You do realise you're torturing me, Probie and you know what that'll get you when I'm up and in top form?" The menace was all too evident and had the younger agent frowning worriedly, never sure whether Tony was joking or not. He decided he'd better try appeasing the patient.

"Abby said to tell you the deli's out of your favourites, but she'll bring you something later."

Satisfied, Tony again looked with distaste at the spoon which hadn't moved. McGee was now looking at it too.

"You two finished?"

"Yes."

"No!"

"You." Gibbs' eyes fixed on the new arrival. "Here."

As McGee practically snapped to attention, Gibbs indicated that Tim should take his place whereupon the bowl and spoon were thrust into his hands.

"Make sure he eats this - all of it."

And walking out of the room, he paused in the doorway, not even bothering to look back.

"Don't even think it, DiNozzo. I'll know."

He smiled broadly as he listened to the put-upon groan of a highly frustrated senior field agent who had just been sbpiy to order McGee to eat the stone-cold oatmeal.

TBC