Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo was now coughing in between every word he tried to utter as he insisted on making the attempt to talk his doctor out of making the phone call.
"Seri…serious…seriously, Brad, I…don't…need any…anyone to…come…hold my…hand," he finally got out. "It's late, too…late to…call. You'll…wake…"
"Tony," Dr. Bradley Pitt said as he held the wall phone handset. 'How quaint and old-fashioned', Tony noted. At least he could think the words without coughing through them, though even remaining quiet, as Brad had suggested, wasn't stopping the coughing all that much. Oh joy. "I'm calling Tim."
The agent looked at his watch: two in the morning. Well, calling Probie was better than calling Gibbs. Tony pulled the oxygen mask down from his mouth. "Fine."
"Number?" Dr. Pitt asked patiently, placing the mask back. Tony removed it irritably.
"I can't…talk…through…this thing. The number? It's…um, it's…in my…mobile…phone, which I…think…is…still…drying…out."
"Stop talking," Brad said. He placed the mask back. "Leave it alone. I've got numbers in my office." The doctor stepped out the door. "Annie?" he called. He turned to Tony. "I'm going to have Annie watch you."
"Where…would…I…go?" Tony eked out. "Or am…I exp…expected…to perform…a soft…shoe?" He coughed a few more times before he was able to take a shaky breath.
"One: I don't know. Two: Stop being a wise-ass. And three: Leave – The – Mask - On. Jesus, you're worse than my kids or my dogs." Dr. Pitt watched as Tony opened his mouth to answer. "Stop. Talking. Now." Tony gave the doctor his best wounded look and then nodded once in assent. "Ah, Annie. Please watch Tony. Don't let him talk. Don't say anything to make him talk. Make sure he keeps the oxygen mask in place."
"Do you need any blood drawn?" the nurse asked.
"No…unfortunately," Pitt said with a hint of wicked regret. "It's all down at the lab. Just watch that he doesn't run."
Tony started to remove the mask with his hand. Annie swatted it. Hard. "Ouch," Tony whined through the mask.
"Leave it alone," the nurse warned. "Go ahead, Dr. Pitt," she added, not taking her eyes from the sick man sitting up on the gurney. "I'll watch him like a hawk." This girl was smaller than Abby, but then again, so was an angry hawk. DiNozzo felt justly threatened.
Brad let out a heartfelt and decidedly mean guffaw. "I have no doubt." Tony frowned at his friend's back as he left the room.
Tony DiNozzo's long recovery time from the plague, and numerous scheduled follow-up check-ups and appointments for blood work, had placed him in Brad Pitt's office, that would be the other Brad Pitt, and the only one that counted for Tony DiNozzo these days, with unfortunate regularity. At least Tony still looked at it as unfortunate, despite knowing in his head that it was something that he had to do. The disruption to his schedule had not, even after two years, managed to feel anything like a normal thing. It was The Plague, after all. Brad had become a good friend, and sometime golfing buddy, though neither man had the time to improve their games above a mid-twenties handicap. Those handicaps, though, within just a few points of each other, made their golf games fun and very competitive. Tony figured that their friendship had given Brad The Physician the added benefit of keeping tabs on his miracle patient in between regular doctor visits. Brad usually had a smile on his face following their golf extravaganzas, mostly because Brad didn't seem to suffer from ADD on the golf course the way Tony did. DiNozzo hated times like this, though, when the smile was wiped clear off of the doctor's face as he watched the agent struggle with coughing and breathing. He'd had rare bad moments these past two years, and had only on the odd occasion seen Brad Pitt with anything but mostly friendly, though sometimes fiercely competitive looks on his face. Today's look was the exact opposite of what he was used to seeing.
It was also the clearest indicator that Tony had experienced so far on this day that he was in bad shape. All the trouble coughing and breathing was just pathetically obvious and cliche. Brad hadn't even bothered to wait for test results to let that look slip onto his face. But the look on Pitt's face was nothing compared to the look Tony DiNozzo would receive if Leroy Jethro Gibbs found out about this, so it was good that Brad was calling Probie. They were all safe.
Pitt walked back into the examination room. "Tim's on his way." Tony just nodded his head as he finally leaned back into the pillow. All this coughing and trying to breathe and talking and worrying was exhausting. Oh! Shit. Tony's eyes widened at the realization, too late, far too late, that McGee didn't have the balls not to call Gibbs. Damn.
"No one's safe," Tony whispered.
"What's that?" Brad asked as he reviewed his patient's chart. The mask had garbled whatever Tony had tried to say.
"Nothing," Tony answered morosely. The agent remained quiet and closed his eyes.
"Good idea," Dr. Pitt said. "The staying quiet and the resting, I mean. Again, you look just like my oldest kid. She fights and fights and fights admitting she's tired until she just crashes. At least you gave in…about two minutes before the crash."
"Ha," Tony said half-heartedly through the mask, followed by a short burst of coughing.
Brad stood by the bed and looked into his patient's face. Tony's eyes were closed, but Brad needed them open for a minute. He flicked his finger onto his friend's forehead.
"Ow!" the agent yelled, followed by some coughing, opening his eyes wide at the rude and painful intrusion.
"Got your brains turned on, Tony? You will cough less, and thus strain your body, including your lungs, less, if you don't make any noise. 'Ha' and 'Ow' both qualify as talking. Why don't you close your eyes…" Tony gave him the look that said 'I had been doing just that, thank you very much, until you hit me'. Brad continued. "Rest and we'll see what the test results tell us about your treatment." Tony nodded his head and his eyes blinked slowly, just like a child whose battery had drained slowly to an empty charge. The eyes stayed closed, finally. Brad turned to Annie. "Stay with him for a few minutes. His friends should be here soon."
"Friends?" Annie asked. "I thought you only called one person."
"I did. But with this group, if you get one, you get 'em all. Fair warning," he said with a smile as he left to check on some other patients. He figured he had, at best, thirty minutes before he needed to come back to greet the circus.
Exactly twenty-seven minutes later, Brad Pitt met Jethro Gibbs at the emergency room door.
"I've got him in a private room," Pitt answered before DiNozzon's boss could ask where his agent was.
"How is he?" he queried instead.
"Sore and tired from coughing, but he'll be okay. He's got a minor infection in his lung. He probably should have come in before now…" Pitt could feel the emotions roiling in the man walking next to him. "But don't hassle him about it. We have him on IV antibiotics, and I'm going to keep him here under observation until sometime this afternoon. Did you have to go in the drink? You knew he'd come after you," Dr. Pitt admonished.
"He wasn't supposed to be there. If I'd known…"
"Don't worry about it," Brad said as he grasped Gibbs' arm warmly and then steered him down the hallway. Pitt continued talking as he led them to the elevators. "Tony's gonna do what Tony's gonna do. We can't wrap him in a layer of protective plastic."
"We can't?" Brad snorted a laugh but didn't answer as he pushed the 'Up' button.
"Boss!" Tim McGee called.
"McGee," Gibbs acknowledged in a reserved manner. With more emotion he said, "Thanks for the phone call."
"You're welcome, Boss," the young agent returned eagerly as the doors started to close. "Ziva's parking the car," he added, his thumb pointing back down the hall. Gibbs interrupted him.
"Meet us up there," he called out through the slit of the near-closed elevator doors.
"Room 222," Pitt yelled through the now closed doors."
Gibbs turned to Pitt and said, "Don't tell Tony what room he's in. We'll never hear the end of it."
"Wha…ah, I get it. Room 222, the TV series. Isn't Tony too young to know that show?" Brad asked.
"Aren't you?" Gibbs countered.
"Well, you know, TV Land," Pitt admitted. Gibbs returned a crooked grin. "Hey, so television was important to me growing up. And sometimes, when Tony and I get rained out from a round of golf, we play Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit."
"That's kind of pathetic, Brad."
"Well, actually, it's not, Jethro. At least not lately. Tony's still getting over Jeanne. He's seeking normalcy, stuff that's familiar, comforting. I suspect he went after you partly to assure himself that he didn't lose you. You mean a lot to him."
"The feeling's mutual," Gibbs added blithely. The elevator doors opened. Gibbs walked out first, but Brad stopped him from going too far.
"No, Jethro. Listen to what I'm saying. The risks Tony will take in regard to his damaged lungs are in direct proportion to the danger he's in, but I sense that the level of risk he will take on increases with his colleagues being in danger. And it's pretty much through the roof with you."
"I know. It's how Tony is." Pitt allowed them to continue walking toward DiNozzo's room. "Where do you fall in the risk factor?" Gibbs asked.
"I'm pretty low, but I don't push the envelope and force these decisions on him like you folks do," Brad replied.
"Our…business," Gibbs went on, using the euphemism with so many people walking around, "doesn't allow us to measure the risk before risky action is taken."
"I know. I'm not criticizing or suggesting that Tony change his line of work. I know him well enough to know that won't work." They stopped at DiNozzo's room. "He's probably asleep."
"Then I'll go sit with him for a while."
"Sounds good. And I'll go see patients who actually need my help. I think you and your team," Brad said, raising his eyebrows and nodding his head behind Gibbs, "have this one covered." Gibbs turned to see McGee coming down the hall not just with Ziva David, but also with Abby and Ducky following behind.
Gibbs shook Brad Pitt's hand. "You bet we do."