Disclaimer: NCIS does not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.
If there's one thing Gibbs can't stand, it's hitting a dead end. They've been working this case for three days, now, and they're no closer to finding answers than when they first got the call. Gibbs's patience is at its end. He wants a lead. Now.
"DiNozzo!" he announces his presence with an impatient shout. "What did you find at the victim's house?"
Tony's mouth twists into an overly bright smile. The one that, Gibbs knows from experience, means he's about to launch into a rambling explanation. Sure enough, his senior agent begins, "Um…Lieutenant Nielson had a serious lack of fashion sense, and a fondness for Sci-fi movies that goes beyond what is really socially acceptable? Oh, and really bad taste in cologne. I mean, I know you're more of an au naturel kind of guy, Boss, but even you must know that there are decent scents, and then there are – "
Gibbs cuts him off with a scowl and a cuff to the back of his head. "What did you find that's relevant to the case, DiNozzo?"
"Ah. Right. Um…"
"Spit it out, DiNozzo!"
"Honestly? Not much. The guy's clean, Boss. Nothing on his computer, no suspicious amounts of cash or unusual credit card activity, nothing to suggest drug use or relationship problems…"
"So you're telling me we've got nothing?"
Tony blows out a breath. "Yeah."
Damn it, that's not good enough! Gibbs has had it with dead ends. Narrowing his eyes, bites out, "You disappoint me, Tony. I'm going for coffee!"
Turning to leave without bothering to wait for a response, Gibbs doesn't see the stricken look on Tony's face.
When Gibbs had come back into the bullpen, armed with his fourth coffee of the morning, it was to find Tony's desk deserted. He'd turned impatiently to McGee. "Where's DiNozzo?"
"Uh, not sure, Boss. He didn't say."
Now, nearly an hour later, DiNozzo still isn't back. Gibbs is just about to tell Ziva to swing by his apartment, when his desk phone begins ringing.
"Yeah, Gibbs." A familiar voice answers him. "DiNozzo! Where the hell are you?" He pauses, listening to Tony's explanation.
"You did what?"
Tony sits slumped on the curb, resting his elbows on his knees as he contemplates his impending doom. There's no doubt in his mind that he's in for one hell of a beating when Gibbs gets here. Judging from the conversation – if you could call what they'd had a conversation – his boss was seriously pissed.
OK, so maybe going to interrogate a suspect without backup wasn't exactly the brightest idea he's ever had, but it had paid off, hadn't it? Trust Gibbs not to see it that way, though. No, his boss hadn't seemed to care at all about the discrepancy in Sergeant Matthews's story. In fact, Tony isn't convinced that Gibbs even listened to that part of his explanation. "You stay where you are, DiNozzo!" he had ordered, and Tony doesn't dare disobey. So he waits, all but holding his breath, for his boss to arrive.
All too soon, he hears the screech of car tires that so often accompanies Gibbs's driving. Bracing himself, he stands up quickly and goes to meet him. He has to stop himself from wincing at the expression on his boss's face. He hasn't seen him this mad in…well, in a long time, anyway. If ever.
He's expecting a head-slap as soon as he gets within range, but to his surprise, the anticipated blow never comes. Instead, Gibbs grabs him by both shoulders and leans in close, nearly hissing into his face. "What the hell were you thinking, DiNozzo?" he demands. "I mean it – what the hell were you thinking?!"
Tony nearly gulps. God, this is worse than he thought. He tries to head him off. "Boss, I found something –"
"I don't care!" Gibbs interrupts furiously. "I don't care! You don't go into a potentially dangerous situation without backup!" When Tony tries to protest again, his boss shakes him sharply. "Ever!"
Tony slumps, defeated. "It won't happen again." His tone is flat.
Gibbs stares at him for a long moment, then releases his grip on his shoulders and says quietly, "Go home, DiNozzo."
"What?" Tony nearly squeaks. Gibbs has never sent him home before. Not even for some of his stupidest mistakes. And there have been a few. So what, is he suspended, now?
Gibbs just stares steadily back. "You take the rest of the day off, and come back to work tomorrow with your head screwed on straight, or so help me…"
Tony tries to reason with him. "Boss, I don't need – "
"It's not a request, Tony. I don't know what's going on with you today, but you figure it out, and you come back ready to do your job. We clear?"
Tony's answer is not far from a whisper. "Clear."
Gibbs drives back to the office at his usual furious pace, wondering what the hell has gotten into the kid. Tony can be reckless, sure, but he's a good agent. And he's definitely not stupid. So Gibbs can't figure out why on earth he would go and see Matthews without backup. Especially since Ziva and McGee have been at the office all morning without any real leads to work on.
He knows he shocked him by sending him home – actually, now that Gibbs thinks about it, he's probably wondering if he's being suspended. To be honest, Gibbs is a little surprised, himself. That's not the way he typically handles screw-ups. But if that's what it takes to bring the kid up short, make him start using his head again…well, then, so be it.
Gibbs spends the rest of the day living up to his reputation for being a bastard – snapping at anyone in his path, demanding answers now, and generally riding his team's sixes. He finally sends his people home, hoping that a fresh start tomorrow might bring some better luck. He's not one to let up until a case is solved, but even he can see no real advantage to forcing his team to pull a late night tonight. They'll need to follow up on the hole Tony found in Matthews's story, of course, but that can't happen until he can check the flight records. And that can't happen until the office opens tomorrow morning, no matter how many people he calls and intimidates. So for now, they might as well all get some sleep.
Or maybe not all. For his part, Gibbs spends the night working on his boat, inhaling more sawdust than is probably healthy and washing it down with a couple of shots of Jack. He ends up falling asleep under the boat for a few hours, before giving up on the idea. But then that, too, is hardly unusual for him.
It's just after four in the morning when Gibbs grabs a cup of coffee and heads back to work. If he can't sleep, he figures he might as well get something done. There's a reason he has a reputation for always getting in ahead of his team. As a former marine, he's always been an early riser. Couple that with a classic case of insomnia, and Gibbs seems to be up before dawn more often than not.
As soon as he gets out of the elevator, he stops short at the sight that greets him. Tony is at his desk, slumped over with his head propped in his hand, eyes glued to his computer screen.
"What the hell are you doing here so early, DiNozzo?" Gibbs demands, his brusqueness masking his sudden spike of concern.
The kid jumps about a foot, before turning to peer at him through bleary eyes. "Boss?" At the bewildered inquiry, Gibbs sighs. The single word is slurred, enough to let him know that the redness in Tony's eyes doesn't just come from tiredness. What the hell is his Senior Field Agent doing at NCIS, drunk, in the middle of the night?
"What're you doing here, Tony?" he repeats, this time in a softer tone.
"Came back in to look through the…the data…again. Didn't want to screw up again." He turns to look at his boss, raising earnest eyes in his direction. "I'm gonna find somethin', Boss! Not gonna disappoint you this time." He repeats, almost to himself, "Not gonna disappoint you."
Gibbs closes his eyes briefly in dawning realization, his words from this yesterday coming back to him. Christ, Tony! he thinks ruefully. That's what this is about? Well, the two of them are going to have to have a little talk, that's for sure. But not tonight. There'll be no reasoning with him in his current state, and not much point in yelling, either. With that in mind, he lays a gentle hand on his agent's shoulder. "C'mon, Tony. Let's get you home."
Gibbs tunes out the younger man's protests as he takes him by the arm and maneuvers him into the elevator and out to the parking lot. He's silent on the drive home as Tony rambles about movies, seemingly oblivious to the implications of their situation. Gibbs is impressed with his own self-control as he manages to resist the urge to smack the kid when he starts doing incredibly bad Sean Connery impressions. It's times like these when Gibbs has no trouble at all picturing Tony during his frat-boy years.
He pulls into his driveway and ushers him inside. Tempted though he is to chew him out for his lack of judgment, he knows better. He's had enough experience dealing with Tony when he's had a few too many to know that there's no point – none of it will get through, anyway. Instead, he goes into the kitchen, fills a glass of water from the tap, and hands it to him, along with a bottle of aspirin. "Take two, and drink the whole glass."
"Boss – "
"Do it." In no fit state to argue, Tony actually gulps before doing as he's told. "All right, DiNozzo," he tells him, grabbing him by the arm again and starting down the hall, "you're going to get some sleep now." If Tony remembers any of this in the morning, Gibbs is sure he'll get an earful about steering him around like a lawnmower. For now, though, he is thankfully compliant, following his boss amiably into the guest room.
Tossing him an old t-shirt, Gibbs orders, "Put it on, and get in bed. You stay there until I tell you otherwise."
Shooting him a goofy-looking grin, Tony strips to his boxers and pulls the t-shirt over his head before crawling into bed. Burrowing deeper under the covers, Tony questions absently, "Where're you goin', Boss?"
"Back to work." Feeling a surge of tolerant amusement at the way Tony has curled up, smashing his face into the pillow, Gibbs can't stop himself from reaching out and ruffling the kid's hair. "You stay put, DiNozzo."
Tony sounds like he's already half-asleep as he murmurs, "On it, Boss."
Tony wakes up to the not-unfamiliar feeling of not knowing quite where he is, or how he got there. Rubbing dry eyes, he takes in his surroundings. What the…oh, shit! With a sinking feeling, he realizes where he is. Snippets of last night come flooding back to him. He groans aloud, pulling the pillow back over his head. Could his life get more humiliating? Not to mention, Gibbs is going to kill him!
He's almost afraid to look at the clock. When he does, he thinks he might actually be sick. 6:00 p.m., the little red numbers read. No question about it, he's as good as dead. Between how pissed off Gibbs already was at him last night for going to question Matthew alone, and finding him at the office drunk as a skunk, and now missing almost an entire day of work? Well, he hopes Abby will bring black roses to his funeral, at least.
Not bothering with a shower, though he suspects he could really use one, Tony hurriedly pulls on his wrinkled clothes and heads out. He doesn't have a car, of course, but he figures he can put up with the bus for one day. And every minute he delays is only going to give Gibbs even more time to stew. He is not looking forward to that conversation. To top it off, his head is still throbbing, and he still isn't quite sure what he may or may not have said last night.
As soon as he makes it to the door, he stops in his tracks. There's a piece of yellow notebook paper tacked to the door, with a note in Gibbs's scrawl:
"Go back to bed."
If he weren't so worried about his imminent doom, Tony would have laughed. Trust Gibbs to have him figured out. He didn't even have to be here to know what he would do. And if that's what he considers "leaving a note," it's really no wonder the man has three ex-wives.
Well, he can't pretend his orders aren't clear. He might as well just stay put until the boss gets back. Still, there's no way he's going back to bed – even if that soft pillow does sound pretty fabulous right now. Jesus, how much did he drink, anyway? It feels like a tap-dancing elephant has taken up residence in his head. Mostly to kill time, he decides he might as well take a shower after all.
He stays in the shower until the hot water begins to run out. By that time, he's feeling a little bit better, though he's still really tempted to hit the sack again. But no. Note or no note, he doesn't want to be snoring when Gibbs finally comes back. He feels like enough of an idiot as it is without surrendering that last bit of dignity.
What he wants to do is watch TV, but since he doesn't feel like going down to the basement, he settles for checking out the bookshelf. It's an odd collection of reading material – a couple of boating and carpentry magazines, Marine Corps manuals and training guides, a few thriller-type novels. He nearly chokes when he sees McGee's latest masterpiece among them. Shaking his head, he picks up the nearest magazine and is almost comatose with boredom from reading about tide patterns when he hears the front door open.
He jumps to his feet, biting his lip as Gibbs comes in and looks him over. Taking in his rumpled appearance, his boss shakes his head. "Well, at least you're in better shape than last night."
Tony winces. "Ah, about that, Boss – "
Gibbs just shakes his head. "Save it, DiNozzo. We'll talk later."
Um, OK, then. Tony wisely shuts up, thinking, not for the first time, that Gibbs is probably the hardest person he knows to figure out.
"You eat yet?" Gibbs abruptly demands.
"I'm fine, Boss." That's definitely a lie. Almost as soon as the words leave his mouth, Tony realizes that he's starving.
"Mmm" is Gibbs's only response, and Tony finds himself wondering how a grunt can sound sarcastic. He follows him into the kitchen, perching on the edge of the table as Gibbs pulls a box out of the cupboard and starts cracking eggs into a mixing bowl.
Grabbing hold of the box, Tony feels his eyes widen. "Pancakes?" He doesn't know why he's so surprised, but somehow his boss just doesn't strike him as the pancake type.
Starting to beat the mixture, Gibbs raises an eyebrow at him. "You got a better idea?" When Tony shakes his head, Gibbs cracks a small grin. "Plates are in the cupboard over there, silverware's in the drawer."
Obeying the unspoken instruction, Tony quickly sets the table. Within a few minutes, Gibbs has a plate of pancakes ready. He opens the fridge, grabbing a bottle of maple syrup, and uses a fork to slap two steaming pancakes onto Tony's plate. "Eat, DiNozzo. You look like crap."
Tony considers giving a smart-ass reply, but decides he doesn't quite dare. Instead, he eats in silence as Gibbs does the same. By the time finishes the two on his plate, along with three more from the platter, the throbbing in his head has faded almost completely.
Finally, leaning casually back in his chair, Gibbs speaks. "All right, DiNozzo. You want to tell me what this is about?"
Tony decides to play innocent. "What what is about, Boss?"
To his surprise, Gibbs actually laughs softly at that. But then he sobers. "Don't push it. You know what. Taking off to question a suspect alone. Not telling anyone where you were going. Showing up to the office in the middle of the night, drunk off your head. I leave anything out?"
Tony doesn't know what to say to that. It's one thing to admit to himself that he's afraid of disappointing Gibbs, but he can't quite bring himself to say the words aloud. It would just sound too pathetic. Besides, Gibbs just isn't that touchy-feely of a guy. The whole thing would be way too awkward. So he says lamely. "I – I don't know, Boss. But I swear it won't happen again."
"Better not. But that's not really what concerns me right now." Well, what, then? Tony wants to ask. He doesn't though, just waits for Gibbs to continue. When he does, it's not at all what Tony is expecting. He clasps his hands together and leans forward, staring intently across the table at him. "You're a good agent, Tony. You need to remember that."
"Huh?" Tony's so taken by surprise that that is the most intelligent response he can come up with.
Gibbs continues to regard him with that same intensity, asking quietly, "If I were going to get rid of you, don't you think I'd have done it by now?"
"Boss that's not what I – "
"No?" Gibbs challenges. For some reason, Tony finds he can't quite meet his eyes. Sighing, Gibbs stands up, and crooks a finger at him. "C'mere." Tony obeys, trying to hide his confusion, and starts in surprise as Gibbs rests one hand on his shoulder and uses the other to tip his chin upward. Piercing blue eyes meet his as Gibbs says quietly, "You haven't disappointed me yet, Tony." As Tony's eyes widen, Gibbs gives him a brief shake, just as he did yesterday outside Sergeant Matthews's place. His tone firm, he adds, "So stop worrying so much about it, and start showing some judgment."
Tony finds he has to swallow hard at that. Gibbs really isn't the sentimental-moment type. So coming from him, that means a lot. A whole lot. Finally, when he's sure he can keep his voice steady, Tony replies, "I gotcha, boss."
Gibbs's hand on his shoulder tightens briefly, then he nods briskly and lets go. "All right. Come help me with these dishes. Oh, and DiNozzo?"
Tony is about to turn back to face him when he feels a large hand connect firmly with the back of his head. "Ow!" The slap had actually been lighter than usual, but Tony still feels the need to protest. Just on principle. "What was that for?!"
Gibbs just grins. "Oh, I think you've been needing that for a while."
A/N: Feedback is definitely welcome! I'd love to hear from you.