Title: Fifteen Percent
Pairing: non, gen, team fic
Summary: The experts said the survival rate was fifteen percent. You would think someone would have wanted to know.
Spoilers: Post 'SWAK' but before 'Twilight'
Disclaimer: Bellisario owns them. I just kidnap them and feed them cookies.
Notes: This was originally published in our wonderful gen fic anthology Brotherhood #1 2006. Many thanks to the editors and proofreaders for making it one heck of a zine!
"Okay, Agent DiNozzo, ready to go?"
Special Agent Kate Todd watched as the gurney's rails snapped up, flinching inwardly at the loud clang. DiNozzo didn't seem to have any reaction except for a grunt, then a wink to Nurse Emma, as he'd so teasingly dubbed the nurse in charge of the isolation ward. He didn't even react when the oxygen line was once more reinserted for the journey upstairs. He did pause in his flirtations, however, to draw in a breath as a sudden bout of coughing jerked his upper body practically off the bed.
Kate rubbed her right palm against her thigh. She stared at the issued blue pajamas, her hand absently stroking the wrinkle that folded just above her knee, trying very hard to ignore the coughing, the nurses' urgent voices, and the rattling of the gurney. Watching Tony's face crumple into another fit was too painful to witness, but listening seemed no better. She turned her head and scanned the chamber she'd soon be leaving.
Just one day after they caught that bitch. One day after DiNozzo opened a letter he never should have opened and breathed in a face full of bubonic plague. One day after her team leader stormed into the isolation ward hell-bent to fix something no one else seemed able on fixing; not the doctors and not even the crazed Hanna Lowell who promised a cure in her plague-laced letter despite there being none. It seemed impossible to think, only yesterday, she'd thought she and Tony were going to die in here.
The hand now curled into a fist.
Kate looked around at her surroundings. The blue-tinted isolation room and its thick, reinforced glass still looked forbidding, so cold. She blinked, disconcerted still by how everyone seemed distorted under the UV light, the medical personnel going by like neon ghosts.
Kate shivered, fingering the delicate silver cross around her neck. She'd be glad to be out of this place soon. And Tony, now no longer infectious, was being transferred to the regular ward of Bethesda to recuperate from the damaging effects of the Y. Pestis.
You could have left last night, her inner voice reminded her. She'd stayed overnight to…she didn't really know.
Keep DiNozzo company?
Oh, shut up.
"Any chance of a house call, Nurse Emma?"
Tony's voice, harsh, raspy from violent coughing, still held a bit of humor, enough so the nurse did indeed laugh and reply back impishly that she'd think about it. Kate snorted as the conversation drifted to sponge baths.
No. DiNozzo definitely didn't need the company. A majority of the female persuasion appeared to agree with the agent's own belief that he was charming; charming enough to ensure gentle companionship during his hospital stay. Kate rolled her eyes, imagining DiNozzo's boasting when he returned and the lewd remarks he'd share with their youngest agent, McGee.
Despite herself, Kate glanced back and saw the nurse tucking in the coverlet once more before turning around to fill out her clipboard. The moment she turned away, however, Tony grew quiet. He just folded his arms across his stomach and stared at the high ceiling, saying nothing. Lying there on the gurney among the white-coated activity, he looked almost…small and lonely.
Ridiculous, she told herself but found herself sliding off the bed she perched on.
"If you even think of passing on that cold, Kate…" Tony warned as he caught her approach in the glass's reflection. The disquieting expression on his face was gone now. Maybe never there to begin with. "You go stay on your side."
"Please," Kate snorted. "I think you have other problems to worry about besides my cold, DiNozzo." Immediately, she regretted her words when his grin faded. Not enough to be noticeable unless someone was looking for it. And damned if Kate knew why, but she was. Looking for it, that was. How odd to find herself missing that stupid smirk of his.
"Yeah," he rasped. "I can't imagine the reports I'll have to file when I get back." A cough cut sharply into his words. Tony winced. "This won't kill me. The paperwork will."
Kate laughed, her voice strained. "Think of it this way, Tony. No more isolation for you and me."
"There is that." Tony smirked although Kate thought it looked forced, the lines around his eyes and mouth contradicting the jovial tone. She reached out a hand before she could stop herself.
"Aw. Katie gonna miss me?" Tony caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. The smirk was back.
She snatched her hand back. "You wish," she snapped. "I'm going to take this as a vacation, DiNozzo. No more movie references, no more perverted jokes for weeks." She pretended to sigh in relief.
Tony chuckled, about to reply before another coughing fit took over. This one sounded horrible, deep and wet, so much so that the nurse was back beside him. Kate found herself pushed aside. She could only watch, a sinking feeling in her stomach as the nurse, all lightness gone, curtly ordered Tony moved upstairs immediately.
As the gurney started toward the exit, Kate hurried over to walk alongside it. Their eyes met just as they reached the exit, and Kate stopped where she was.
Tony looked over to the nurses, then back at Kate. He waved a hand feebly in the air. "Later," he whispered.
"Sure," Kate whispered back and watched the gurney get rolled away, past the mechanical doors and McGee, who had just arrived with Dr. Mallard.
"Hey," McGee called out once he realized who was rolling past him, but it was too late. He stood in the hallway watching the gurney for a moment. His shoulders slumped. "I tried to get here as soon as I could," he complained, entering the isolation ward once the gurney went too far for him to see. The doors hissed shut behind him as he gave the hallway another look over his shoulder.
"Ah, yes, but traffic was horrendous," Dr. Mallard explained. The medical examiner patted McGee on the shoulder, his blue eyes also looking in the direction the gurney took for a moment before tearing himself away. He smiled gently at Kate before pressing a small duffel bag into her hands. "Here you are, my dear. Abigail went over to your apartment and picked up a change of clothing like you asked."
"Thanks, Ducky," Kate murmured, her eyes still glued to the hallway.
"Abby's stuck in the lab a while longer. Gibbs wanted to finish the analysis of the letter and send those findings to Atlanta," McGee explained, misreading Kate's look. "She said to give Tony a kiss for her, though." He made a face. "I'm hoping she meant you."
Kate's fingers curled around the duffel bag. "No. I think she definitely meant you, McGee." She smiled briefly at McGee's groan. She looked over her shoulder, back at the iso-chamber. It was empty now; the bed Tony had been on was still rumpled, the blankets tossed aside. Squinting, she wondered about the spot on the pillow now flattened from use.
Kate turned away.
"Let's leave her alone to change," Ducky suggested. Knowing eyes stayed on her face for a moment before he turned to the younger agent. "We'll be outside, Caitlin."
"Hey, yeah, we could go upstairs to check on Tony with you after you're done," McGee said over his shoulder as he was ushered out.
"Sure," Kate murmured as the doors hissed shut. It didn't sound like a bad idea, after all.
Kate twisted a strand of her dark hair around a finger as she watched yet another nurse walk by without a glance at her or McGee.
Hospitals were never the warmest places on earth. Kate always thought the walls were a little too flat and sterile for her. She remembered when one of her brothers had been taken to GW. A stupid accident with a skateboard and a set of stairs Josh still crowed about, proudly wearing the scar on the back of his head like a badge. The hallways looked so long then, so white when she stared down them. She recalled sitting there with her mom and her other brothers, thinking how stupid Josh was, having skated down those stairs despite a similar mishap weeks before. Kate remembered waiting, fuming, and there was still no sign of her father or brother from the ER. The annoyance at her brother's stupidity morphed into an incessant tapping of her sandals as she wondered why it was taking so long. Maybe Josh's injury was not as minor as her parents claimed. As the wait grew, Kate's tapping grew to the point her mother pulled her sleeve, hissing at her to stop.
Kate picked on the sleeve of her shirt. If only McGee would at least stop pacing the hallway, maneuvering around the medical personnel and the occasional uniforms with awkward apologies. Kate understood the younger agent's anxiety. They were all used to being out there doing something, not sitting and waiting for someone. She just wished he would go pace somewhere else. She was half-tempted to stick out a foot and trip the man.
Mallard, or Ducky, as they'd all nicknamed him, had gone to the nurses' station to inquire about the room Tony was being moved to. To her consternation, Kate had discovered Tony was nowhere to be found by the time she'd changed. At the nurse's impassive look to her inquiry, Kate snapped at her when they didn't get any answer on where DiNozzo was, the idea of sitting down to stare at yet another long white hallway mysteriously unacceptable to her. Ducky finally took over, escorting her to a chair and advising McGee to call Gibbs and Abby, before heading off to find some answers.
"He's coming up now," Ducky announced, his quiet footsteps stopping in front of her.
Kate's head snapped up. "Where was he before?"
"A slight irritation in the lungs was giving Tony some problems. They sent him to X-Ray again."
McGee frowned. "Well, he's gonna be okay, right? He's not having a…I mean…a relapse or anything?" A worried look crossed his face. He ran a hand across his close-cropped hair. "Cassie said the survival rate was fifteen percent. I mean, those odds aren't good, right?"
Fifteen percent? Oh, God. A chill went down Kate's spine. Her head whipped around to the ME. "Is that possible?" she asked sharply.
Ducky shook his head. "The Y. Pestis is no longer duplicating in his system," he assured her in a soft British accent. He pushed up his spectacles with a slight tap of a finger. "Hanna Lowell's lab altered it with a suicide chain. The virus is dead. Timothy, you must remember the survival rate was based on the Dark Ages and their living conditions at the time. Why, I remember the writer Dempsey of Yorkshire wrote—" He cut his monologue short and studied Kate.
"Yeah, but sometimes these things can go dormant, right?" McGee persisted. "Is there a chance it could…come back or something?"
Ducky was staring at Kate for some reason. His lips pressed thin, he turned and frowned at Tim. "No, it cannot. He will be fine." His voice held an edge of warning.
McGee blinked. "Oh." He exhaled. "Good." He grew silent, his lips pursed.
Kate stared at the linoleum tiles, at the sneakers Abby chose for her. The Goth lab tech had found a smiley sticker and stuck it on the toe of her right shoe, but Kate couldn't find the energy to smile back at it.
Fifteen percent? She swallowed, her throat constricted. The plague was dead. Everything will be fine, she told herself. Pretty soon, Tony was going to be back, the same obnoxious jerk, bugging her, going through her stuff like her brothers used to when they were kids. Her eyes burned. But fifteen percent? Even now with all their technology, fifteen was an impossible number to beat.
But Gibbs sounded so sure, she told herself. Her mouth twitched. Only the ex-marine would think of storming into that chamber and ordering DiNozzo not to die.
"Hey, should we call his family or something?"
Startled, Kate looked up at Tim.
"I mean, I'm sure his family would want to know what happened to him." Tim looked to Kate, then Ducky. "Guys?"
For some reason, Ducky looked extremely uncomfortable. He cleared his throat and said slowly "I believe Jethro would have made the call already."
"But when?" McGee insisted. He stopped pacing and stood there, already patting his pockets for his PDA. "We were both in isolation suits for most of the time. No way to use the phone, and then he went off with Cassie to make the arrest. I don't think I ever saw him make the call. Did you?" He turned to Kate now.
She fidgeted in her seat. "Actually, no. Slipped my mind," she admitted. A twinge of guilt nagged at her. "I don't think I even have their number."
"It's probably in his file," McGee said. "I could call Abby and have her pull up Tony's file and his contact info. We can give them a call and let them know."
"That won't be necessary."
The trio turned around at the flat voice. Gibbs, still in his khaki jacket, stood there in the middle of the hallway, legs slightly apart. He studied the group and frowned.
"Duck, I thought you were just heading over here to pick Kate up."
Ducky grimaced but said nothing.
Gibbs nodded with a jerk of his head to McGee and Kate. "I need you two back in the office. We still have a case to investigate." Gibbs glanced down the hallway. "Have to find out how the hell that letter was able to get past security like that. McGee, get me the sign-in sheets for the mail for the past four days. Kate, check with the local postmaster and find out who was on sorting duty the week of the postmark."
"Boss, we were just discussing—"
Gibbs didn't turn around. "I heard you, McGee. There's no need."
Kate breathed out sharply in relief. "So, you already called them."
Startled, Kate parroted out a "No?" before she could stop herself.
Steely blue eyes drilled into her. "I'll make the call if the situation arises."
"What situation?" Kate rose to her feet.
"If he's dead," Gibbs bit out. He stalked down the hallway before anyone could say anything. "I want those sheets before lunch!" And, abruptly, he was gone.
Kate stared after him in shock. "He…can't be serious," she managed. "Tony nearly died—"
"Gibbs has his reasons," Mallard cut in smoothly. He placed a hand on her arm. "Come, come. Jethro is right. There are questions that need answering. Can't do that here." He ushered her and McGee out of the hallway. Kate glanced behind her, but, seeing no gurney, her shoulders dropped, and she let herself be led out of the hospital.
It bothered her the rest of the day, a lot more than she'd thought it would. Gibbs' dismissal of calling Tony's family was nothing short of callous, and she wondered now if his storming into the iso-chamber was more out of irritation than of concern for their teammate.
Chewing the end of her pen, Kate stared at the report she was trying to work on. Her last statement about the plague-filled cloud that had billowed around Tony had faded to an abrupt syllable.
A shadow crossed her desk blotter. Kate looked up, her brow furrowed. McGee stood over her desk, rocking from one foot to the other.
"What, McGee?" Kate muttered, annoyed yet glad for the interruption.
"Uh, where's Gibbs?"
Surprised, Kate looked to her left, past the file cabinets the two cubicles shared for a border. Sure enough, their boss was not by his desk. Come to think of it, she hadn't seen him since the hospital.
"Probably went to get more coffee or something." Kate narrowed her eyes at Tim. McGee kept glancing at Gibbs' desk, then past her shoulder towards the elevators. "What?"
"I...well, I know he said there was no need but, well..." McGee's eyes darted nervously left and right. He sighed heavily and placed a small piece of paper on the center of her desk. "Here."
Kate squinted at the neatly written numbers. Her eyes widened. "You didn't?" she said sharply, her head snapping up at him. "You did! Gibbs said—"
McGee raised his hands. "I know, I know. But I think even if I didn't...died, I would still want to have my family to, you know. Be there." McGee hesitated.
"Thing is," McGee reached out for the paper as if to snatch it back. He aborted the move and shoved his hands into his pockets. "I didn't find it in Tony's emergency contact list. Gibbs was his emergency contact." McGee cleared his throat. "I had to google it."
Kate frowned. "So?"
"I just don't understand why Tony's family wasn't listed anywhere."
"Probably the same reason he wanted to be listed as my emergency contact," Kate muttered, remembering the cocky grin Tony gave her when he spied her HR forms way back then.
"Nothing. So, what do you want to do?"
"You found the number, McGee." Kate grinned suddenly. "Your call."
McGee took a step back. "Me?" he sputtered, aghast. His panic was almost comical as his words tumbled out in haste. "What? Uh, no! No way! I-I don't know how to, I mean—Gibbs said no!"
"Then why get the number?"
"Well, because..." McGee's rounded shoulders slumped. "Just didn't think it was right, that's all."
Kate sobered. Tim was right, damn it. It wasn't right. Despite her own independence, there were times she did want to talk to or hear from her parents, even from her brothers. And Tony did nearly di—She shook her head and exhaled softly.
"Look, I'll call them, okay?"
"Really?" McGee sounded relieved. "Are you sure? I mean, I would do it, but I don't know what to say and—"
"I'll do it, Tim." She fingered the paper. She herself wasn't sure what to say, but it needed to be done, right? Gibbs be damned.
Kate steeled herself and picked up the phone. After the fourth ring, she was about to give up when a crisp voice answered.
"Hello? Hi, my name is Kate Todd, I'm with NCIS, Naval Criminal..."