Chapter one


He remembers what it felt like when he first found out.

‘The blood tests were negative.’

Tearing the suit off feels fantastic after being stuck in it for over an hour, hardly able to work with clumsy, gloved fingers. Breathing the office air feels like freedom.


‘Not for DiNozzo.’

Gibbs doesn’t look at him, and he’s glad. He knows he looks stricken – he feels like he’s just been dumped in cold water.


There is no answer from Gibbs. His eyes are glued to the computer screen as Cassie works. Tim can barely think, even though his brain is in overdrive. He recalls what he knows of the Plague from his history lessons – and none of it is any good.

He realizes now, sitting by Tony’s side, that ‘not good’ doesn’t even begin to cover the damage the illness is causing.

Tony struggles to breathe, his forehead sweaty with fever still. It has been two days since Tim first came to Bethesda, and Tony is better – at least the doctors are saying he is; Tim has half a mind to doubt it. But then, the time between the coughing attacks is lengthening, and sometimes, it’s even half an hour between fits.

They haven’t talked much; Tony has mostly slept, and Tim’s not sure if he knows just how careful a vigil Tim has kept over him. He prefers it if Tony doesn’t know – he doesn’t need more material for teasing than he already has.

‘Scared of losing me after all, McWorry? I knew you cared about me.’

And though the teasing is annoying, all Tim wants is for things to get back to normal. The office feels empty without him there. Gibbs is snappy and Kate looks like a hollow shell.

“You should go home, Probie.”

Tim looks up at Tony. Tony’s on the bed and Tim’s in the chair, meaning Tony is slightly higher up than Tim. It feels natural for it to be that way; though they are almost the same height, it always feels like Tony’s looking down slightly at Tim.

“You, uh, don’t want company?” Tim asks, wondering if he’s worn out his welcome. He probably has.

“Don’t mind you here,” Tony says, to Tim’s surprise. “But Gibbs gotta have something else for you to do.”

Tim shakes his head. “I have my laptop, so I can do most of the stuff from here.”

Tony gazes at him, and there’s something unreadable in his eyes. “Why are you here, McGee?”

Tim doesn’t know what to say, so he stammers, “I—uh, you—ah—”

Tony smirks at him. “Cat got your tongue?”

Tim stops trying to form a sentence, and snaps his mouth shut. His thoughts are still running a mile a minute, trying to come up with a good answer, but at least he can stop himself from sounding like a stuttering fool.

Finally, he settles on a quiet, “Just thought you wanted company.”

He hopes Tony will accept it.

Tony’s eyes are piercing, not unlike Gibbs’ intent stare, as he looks at Tim. Tim feels like he’s being picked apart from the inside, and he fights the wish to look away. He raises his chin just a smidge, defiantly.

Tony finally nods. “I do. ‘s nice.”

“Good,” Tim says, and ducks his head back to his laptop, pretending to be busy. In reality, he has nothing to do; work has been slow, and all they’re doing is looking through cold cases.

He feels Tony’s eyes on him.

“What?” he snaps, not very harshly.

“What cases are you working on?” Tony asks.

“Lyndon,” Tim says. “But there’s nothing new here.”

“Can I look?” Tony asks, eyes lighting up like a kid on Christmas. Tim wonders if he’ll ever be quite so happy about reading about murders – but then, Tony has expressed his boredom twice, just in the last hour.

“Gibbs’ll kill me if he finds out I’ve given you work,” Tim says.

“Oh, live a little, Probie,” Tony says.

Tim’s indecision lasts for about ten seconds. Then he can’t resist the combination of pleading and challenge in Tony’s eyes, and he stands, placing the laptop in Tony’s lap. The bed is already raised at an angle, so it’s a comfortable position for Tony.

Tony reads in silence while Tim leans on the bed, re-reading over Tony’s shoulder. The case is old – from the late eighties – and it seems unlikely that they’ll catch a break in a hospital bed in Bethesda. Who knows, the murderer might not even be alive anymore. The investigation had pointed towards the wife of the murdered Lieutenant, but there had never been any evidence, least of all enough to bring to court.

From his place beside Tony, Tim sees Tony’s eyelids drop slowly. Then, just as they close, Tony opens them wide again, snapping back to wakefulness, until another thirty or so seconds have passed, and he repeats the procedure.

Tim grabs the laptop.

“You should sleep.”

“Gee, McMommy,” Tony says, glaring up at him. “You my nurse now?”

“You need to sleep, Tony,” Tim says, putting the computer on the chair he’d been sitting on earlier.

“It’s all I ever do here,” Tony snaps – and then they both immediately regret him doing so, as it brings about a fit of coughing.

Tim helps him lean forward as he gasps for breath, each cough sounding like he’s going to spit out a damaged lung. It’s a wet, unpleasant sound, and Tim rubs circles with his hand on Tony’s back. He’s done it before – he’s helped Tony a number of times by now. It seems to soothe Tony. Neither of them mention it afterwards.

Tony rests back against the bed again. Tim still holds one hand on Tony’s shoulder; he has a hard time letting go.

Tony has his eyes closed as he tries to breathe calmly.

Tim places a napkin in Tony’s hand so that he can wipe his mouth. He’s not so physically weak anymore that he can’t do that by himself. He brings the napkin up to his mouth with a shaking hand, and wipes away the mucus he’s coughed up.

Long minutes pass. Tim stands next to Tony, his thoughts running to Hanna Lowell, and all the things he’d like to do to harm her. Brain cancer isn’t enough; Tim wants to give her the pneumonic plague, wants her to hurt the way Tony is hurting.

“You—look—murderous,” Tony says, between labored breaths.

Tim shakes his head to clear it from the thoughts of that awful woman.

“Sorry,” he says. “I was just thinking—uh, never mind.”

“’bout killing me—put me out—of my misery?” Tony asks, and there’s a ghost of a smile on his lips.

Tim grins briefly, blocking all negative thoughts for now. Tony doesn’t need negativity; he won’t be helped by the maiming of Hanna Lowell.

“Don’t think so,” Tim says. “You’re stuck here.” Tony’s eyes close again, and Tim squeezes his shoulder. His hand still hasn’t left Tony. “Sleep. Gibbs’ll have you pulling all-nighters soon enough anyway. You should enjoy your time off.”

Tony gives him a half-hearted glare. “Fantastic vacation, this.”

But he’s tired. It’s painfully visible just how much of a toll the plague is taking on Tony’s body – the dark purple circles around his eyes, and the sickly bluish tint to his skin. He’s lost weight, and every movement he makes – what little he does move – is shaky.

Tim fights the urge to bend down and kiss Tony’s forehead. He doesn’t think it will go over very well at all – and it will leave Tony with teasing fodder for life.

“You should—talk to the daughter,” Tony says, eyes already closed, and if his muffled breathing is anywhere to go on, he’s half-asleep.

“The daughter?” Tim echoes, and then he remembers the Lyndon’s daughter – she was six at the time of the murder, which meant she was twenty by now.

“Might’ve seen something—something she didn’t want to say back then,” Tony says. “And the—sweater. DNA.”

“Tony, sleep,” Tim says gently, and though he doesn’t dare to give Tony a forehead kiss, he does move his hand there, to run over his damp forehead and hair. “We’ll talk about the case when you wake up.”

“You promise?” Tony mumbles, and Tim’s not certain he can even hear Tim anymore.

“Yeah,” Tim says. “I promise.”

It feels odd beyond words to reassure Tony this way. Tony, who is all teasing and grins, flirting with women and bragging about his conquests, never showing the least bit of weakness. He wonders what it’s like for Tony, who is used to being in control, to be this way. To be near helpless, in need of other people to care for him. He can’t imagine any scenario where Tony would like that. He can’t even imagine any scenario where he, Tim, would like such a thing.

He gives Tony – who is now sleeping, his head falling gently to the side – one last long gaze, before letting go and sitting down. He wonders how long it will be before Kate arrives; she’s been at the office for a couple of hours, but said would be there as soon as possible. Gibbs might come by too, and Abby, and Ducky.

Flipping his laptop open, Tim hopes they’ll stay away for a little while longer.

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