Disclaimer:  All these characters belong to Bellesario and the PTBs.  I'm just taking 'em out for a spin. 

Spoilers:  Missingpretty much the whole thang.

Author's note:  My first trip out with the NCIS team.  Thought it was going to be a drabble and then it just went on and on.  Seems like DiNozzo has been catching it more and more lately and I thought I'd take a stab at getting into Gibbs head just a bit.  I think I'm blaming it on the stress of hunting for the terrorist.  This story was inspired by an interview with Laurie Lynn Drummond on NPR who was talking about her new book of short stories Anything Can and Will Be Used Against You.  She was talking about the lengths that cops will go to get rid of the smell of death.  How it was a greasy, cloying thing that permeates every pore, was so strong that you could taste it and very hard to get rid of.  And then I thought of Tony's experiences in the episode Missing.  Pretty horrific stuff if you break it down.  So maybe Tony didn't brush off the experience that easily and maybe just maybe Gibbs realizes that he's been hard on the kid…

A Matter of Trust

DiNozzo is so good-natured, so damn sunny-side up. Gibbs smiled at the thought he couldn't help taking a shot or two from time to time.  

Told him he was 'irreplaceable.'  The look on DiNozzo's face when he saw McGee sitting at his desk reminded him of the look of a kid who realizes he's gonna be last to be picked for a neighborhood game of B-ball. 

DiNozzo has to know I wouldn't give him the time of day if I didn't think he was competent, Gibbs assured himself.  Hell, Tony has promise, shows a talent for ferreting out facts.  It's his seeming casualness, DiNozzo's playfulness during investigations, which occasionally frosted Gibbs and his sense of orderliness in the Universe.  Hell, it downright scared Gibbs sometimes.  What if Tony's recklessness got him killed?  He had friends just like Tony in Iraq.  Smart, brave, cocky… and very, irrevocably…dead. 

Gibbs got a taste of how it would feel to loose the kid yesterday when DiNozzo trailed Major Sacco to the bar.  Flipping through the final case report, he feared that he had almost let Tony down.  Tony had been getting to him all through the investigation - yet he was still getting the job done.  When DiNozzo proposed putting a tail on Sacco, why didn't Gibbs insist on backup?  He'd not broken procedure to let DiNozzo solo, but he had seriously bent his own code to maintain the safety of his team.   Abby knew it too.  When she gently challenged, he'd smugly replied, "He does his best work when there isn't an audience around."  Last time he would ignore Abby's bad feelings.

Fingering through the case file, Gibb's knew one thing was true.  He'd let his frustration with the kid and a tough case color his judgment.  Maybe, if he was honest with himself, he'd just wanted to get DiNozzo and his constant chatter out from under foot so that he could think.  Gibbs mused grimly that lack of patience almost got the kid killed.  He saw the waxy desiccated remains that Tony and Atlas had been lock away with.  Gibbs couldn't erase the gruesome image of what he might have seen if they'd arrived too late to save Tony from that house of horrors. 

Gibbs pulled out the Gunny's statement.  Certainly the marine had admitted his culpability in the horrifying way those women had died years before.  Yet he saved the end of his statement to commend DiNozzo for his resourcefulness.  "The actions of Anthony DiNozzo, his resourcefulness and confidence in the success of his mission, insured our success.  I owe him my life."  Short and succinct - Marine style.  It was while Gibb's was interrogating Atlas in the hospital that the older marine opened up about what happened.

"I was ready to give up, but the kid... you know…he talks nonstop."  Gibbs remembered how the Marine looked when they found him.  With the swelling down, and some food in him, Atlas looked less like the man who was almost at death's door last night. 

"Yeah. I know.  He's a one man talk show."

The gunny smiled not unkindly.  "If I had a gun, I would of taken myself out.  But then, she drags the kid into the room, doesn't say a word and dumps him there.  I felt sorry for the bastard.  I deserved what I got - the kid didn't.  He'd be bunking with two rotting corpses once I kicked it.  He wakes up and his mouth is off and running."

Gibb's couldn't help but sympathize.  "Lucky for DiNozzo that you didn't have a gun."

"Naw, the kid's alright.  I was ready to give up.  He wouldn't hear of it."  Gunny looked NCIS agent up and down.  "Marine?"


"You yank the kids chain about some Marine Rule #9?  Never go anywhere without a knife - sound familiar?"

It was Gibb's turn to smile.  "He's too easy sometimes.  The lessons need to be memorable."  Once he finished, Gibbs heard his own words.  There weren't too many lessons lately, just a lot of ass chewing.  He looked out the window, lost in his own world of guilt.

"Maybe he's not as easy as you think.  He said he always suspected that you were making it up.  But the kid knows good advice when he hears it.  That one saved our lives, so I guess I owe you, too."  Sensing the agent's preoccupation, Atlas added.  "Don't be too hard on yourself.  DiNozzo's all right.  And you must be doing right by the kid.  He really looks up to you.  And from what I can see, it's justified."

Gibbs laws looking out the window at NCIS now.  Did he really deserve Tony's respect?  Some of the things he'd said to and about Tony the previous day spun through his head like a dark merry-go-round of self-recriminations.

"He's about a step from vanishing himself."

"Call in late, don't bother coming back."

"DiNozzo!  You still here?"

Gibbs raked shaking hands though his hair.  In the florescent twilight used to conserve energy at the office after hours, Gibbs assumed that he was alone.  All he could hear were the last things that Tony said to him on the phone before he disappeared.  

"Ah…I'm not feeling so well…I think I screwed up Boss."

Under his breath, Gibbs replied to the voice in his head, "I screwed up, DiNozzo.  I royally screwed up and you were almost collateral damage."

A gentle hand patted Gibb's shoulder.  "Young Anthony is alive and well thanks to you and Kate."

Bloodshot, cerulean blue eyes looked into the wise old coroner's.  "It was a close thing, Ducky."

"Hmmm.  That's what Anthony said."

"Tony's still here?"

"I found the poor boy in the locker room a little the worse for wear.  Worshipping the porcelain god I think you American's call it."

"DiNozzo's sick?  He was typing up his report when I left for the hospital to interview Atlas.  Ducky, you should have called me."  Gibb's was already jumping out of his seat ready to bundle Tony off the hospital when Ducky's hand halted Gibb's in his tracks. 

"Just a little delayed reaction, Jethro.  Adrenaline, fear and death are a potent mixture that few are completely immune to.  He'd also ingested quiet a potent cocktail from our beautiful serial killer."

"DiNozzo was a homicide detective in Baltimore.  He's seen death like that before."

"Mmmm, well maybe this is a little different, don't you think Jethro?  Few of us get to see such a graphic premonition of our own potential demise.  The smell of death is a greasy, cloying thing and our young friend was dumped within inches of a corpse that was juicy to say the very least. Many officers bury their clothes in the back yard to absorb the smell after working a murder scene like the one Anthony found him self in.  You know that.  I think our young friend had decided to burn his - smart boy.  I found him wrapped in a towel sitting in one of the lavatories retching his guts out.  Paused long enough to ask me if I had some magical concoction to wash the smell away.  You know how hard it is to get out of your nose and hair.  He favored me with a valiant attempt at one of his high wattage smiles.  I might have been fooled if it wasn't for the fact that I have a few other specimens in the cooler that had more color on their face than he did at the moment."

"Not to mention his earlier preoccupation with the plumbing."

Ducky cracked a rather enigmatic smile.  "Yes, there was that as well."

The Forensic specialist paused for a moment, his eyes getting the far away look that often heralded one of his patented stories.

Gibbs cleared his throat, gaining the coroner's attention once again.

"Gave him some of my lavender scrub.  You know I met the sloe-eyed French mademoiselle that first gave me that fabulous English lavender scrub in Bologne.  I order it by the case now. You know some of the best English lavender is grown in Provence?  Really amazing stuff.  Quite skin softening - like a baby's bottom.  Helps me sleep like one too."

"Ducky…" Gibbs growled.

"Ah yes, Anthony.  That's exactly what he's doing."

Gibbs sighed in frustration.  He was too tired and careworn to deal with Ducky's stream of consciousness ramblings.  "Ducky, cut me some slack.  How is Tony?  Bullet points, the Readers Digest version, Ducky.  My brain can't track lavender, baby's butts and French girlfriends.  Not tonight."

Ignoring Gibbs curt instructions as usual, the coroner at least got to the heart of the matter.  "He's sleeping on the couch in my office.  I offered to take him home.  He said he just needed a quick nap and would head home in an hour or two.  Between the lavender and the chamomile tea and just sheer exhaustion - he should be out for at least eight hours.  He'll be fine Jethro."

Gibbs turned on a dime and headed for the elevator, leaving the coroner to follow in his wake.  He didn't stop until he entered Ducky's office to see Tony safely curled up and sleeping deeply on the couch.  DiNozzo's usually tan complexion looked gray.  He was wearing scrubs obviously provided by the coroner.  Circles under his eyes like bruises made the agent look younger and more fragile somehow. 

Striding over to one of the cabinets, Gibbs grabbed a couple of sheets they used for the less animated visitors of Ducky's domain and draped them over the younger man. Watching from the doorway, it amazed the coroner yet again to  be witness to this side of his friend that so many others seemed to think didn't exist.  Gibbs stood over the younger man for a moment, his expression grim.  He stepped out of the office and closed the door soundlessly. 

Duck was waiting for him.

"You didn't let him down, Jethro."

"I didn't see where this case was going until it was almost too late.  And I didn't realize…"  Gibbs waved his hand back in the direction of Ducky's office. 

"You've had a lot on your mind. Preoccupied with that terrorist fellow.  You will catch him."

"So preoccupied that I'm missing some things that are right under my nose.  And my temper, especially with Tony…"

Ducky favored Gibbs with a fatherly smile.  "I just think of you as more…intense lately.  And don't think that you are the only one who can play his cards close to the vest.  Young Anthony has been studying with the master."

"Sure.  Why would he tell me anything?  He probably thinks I'd chew him out for laying down on the job."

Ducky shook his head as if frustrated with tutoring a particularly dim pupil.  "He tries to read you like the text book for his most important class.  You're his mentor and the last thing the boy wants to do is show weakness or let you down."

"I'm not feeling so well…I think I screwed up Boss."

Gibbs took a deep breath.  DiNozzo should have been yelling for help that he was going to be the latest victim of a particularly gruesome serial killer – instead he was preoccupied with confessing to his hardass boss. 

"Just great.  He can't trust me enough to be honest about how sick he's feeling."

Firmly, Ducky replied, "Jethro, are you trying to miss my point entirely?  He trusts you more than you realize."  Gibb's looked quizzically at the older man.

"While I was making Anthony tea, I asked him how he was able to stay so cool when he found himself drugged and sharing less than pleasant accommodations with a cadaver and another man that was well on his way to a similar state."

"He just shook his head and said, 'It was bad, Ducky.  Can't lie to you – but I had to take care of Atlas.  He'd had it rough and was just about ready to give up.  So I focused on the problem 'cause I knew Gibbs was on the case."

"I told him that he had guessed right.  You know what he said?" 

Gibbs shook his head.  Knowing Tony, there was no telling.

"He said, 'No guessing needed.  Last thing I heard before I totally passed out in the alley outside Hammersmith's was Gibbs hollering out of my cell phone – Tony.  Can you here me?  We're coming for you.  I had the easy job, Duck.  I just had to keep us alive long enough for the boss to keep his word.  Piece of cake.  No way a Marine like Gibbs is gonna leave a guy behind.  It's that Marine rule thing of his.' "

Gibbs allowed himself a genuine smile for the first time in quite a while.

The older man mirrored the smile. "He trusts you with his life.  We all can make mistakes, but we all know to what lengths you would go to for any one of us.  You have yet to learn to what lengths our team will go to make sure they don't disappoint you." 

"I'm learning, Ducky.  Maybe I'm slow.  But I'm learning."

The End.

Well that's it.  Drummond mentioned that some officers do bury their clothes to help absorb the smell.  Love to hear what you think.