Title: Hope and Despair
Author: Cosmic

Email: bananacosmicgirl at hotmail . com
Website: www . cosmicuniverse . net
LiveJournal: bananacosmic . livejournal . com

Part: 1/1
Words: 4 109
Rating: PG
Genre: Angst, hurt/comfort
Characters: Leroy Jethro Gibbs
Pairings: None

Warnings: None

Spoilers: 5x01 "Bury Your Dead", general spoilers

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations from the TV-show "NCIS", created and owned by David P. Bellisarius and CBS. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Summary: Gibbs reacts to Tony's car being blown up. Tag to 5x01, "Bury Your Dead".

Author's notes: This is gen, a oneshot written to explore Gibbs' character a bit more in "Bury Your Dead", with an extra scene at the end. I think the episode is rather dull, unfortunately, especially as a season opener, but the scenes where the team believes Tony is dead are wonderful, and as such, I thought I'd explore it more.

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Hope and Despair

By Cosmic

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There is a moment, a standstill, where my heart stops and the world comes crashing down around my ears.

He can't be in that car, he just can't.

It explodes on the screen before us, the room silent and still despite the crash – it must have shaken the surroundings, echoed down the streets, made the earth vibrate as though a small earth quake had just happened.

In M-TAC, we notice none of these things. Ziva gasps, while McGee's mouth is hanging open. Jenny stands beside me, eyes wide with shock at what has just transpired on the large screen in front of us.

"Oh my god!"

"Tony!"

I don't know what to think or feel, and I'm sure I have just died, because I can't feel my own heartbeat anymore.

Tony has just died, black and white pixels giving us a front row seat to his death scene. It still burns, of course – mere seconds have passed, despite the feeling that an eternity has already gone by. An eternity without him, without Tony – from now on, each second alive must feel like this. Dragged out, torture, raw and horrid, second after second passing, moments filled with the knowledge that I will never again see his face. His smile lit up the word, his jokes made the unbearable bearable.

I'm already thinking of him in past tense – is it so easy for me to accept his death?

No.

No, I'm not accepting it. It must be some mistake. He can't be dead. It's his car, but it can't be him.

I bark out my orders, I tell McGee to get the car, and I watch as they move about numbly. Ziva, who never shows much emotion, is in shock, her eyes still wide and mouth agape. I see the indecision on McGee's face; he wants to touch her, to comfort her, but knows there is no way to do so because he's feeling the same way and he doesn't want to be comforted. He drops his hand, lets it hang for a second, before resolutely stalking up the stairs. His hands become fists and I know he's fighting tears.

I watch on the screen, where the shell of the car still burns, black smoke traveling towards the skies.

Jenny turns to me, has words for me, but I don't want to hear them and a single look at her tells her as much. There is nothing she can say to make me hate her less right now. I want to hurt her, because she's responsible for this – she's the one who decided to put him undercover, she's the one who should have protected him. She failed, and there is no forgiveness in me to give her.

McGee brings the car around. He moves out of the driver's seat and I take my place there, wondering if I should be driving in the state I'm in. But I'm the best we've got – I don't want Tim to drive now, and riding with Ziva is always a near-death experience. Jenny sits next to me. She didn't even try to take the keys.

The drive is silent and fast, but it seems to take forever. The tires screech as I turn corners at speeds too high, but there is no Tony beside me now to comment on it, and the lack of jokes makes even breathing difficult.

It feels like I'm back, fighting a war on enemy territory when we turn onto the street of the explosion. The air has started to clear, thin lines of smoke rising towards the heavens, and the air is filled with smells – burning rubber, explosives, fire—and burnt flesh. It has been decades since I was last affected by the smells of a crime scene, but now it makes me feel ill.

The car is in pieces all over the street. A wheel is lying on the sidewalk; a part of what might be the roof has been thrown up and away, landing thirty feet away. People have stopped and are staring at the wreckage, whispering and pointing from beyond the perimeter put up by the police.

I stare at the body in the car.

The body.

Tony.

He is bent forward, as all burn victims are, his fingers still holding onto the wheel. There is nothing of Tony left, not even a hint of skin or hair or clothes. It's all burned, black and red, an almost artistically charred version of a human being.

His face flashes before me, bright and happy, although I realize that he hasn't had as many smiles for me lately. The Director's undercover work left him tired and split in two, working double shifts – and for what?

I want to hear his voice, so desperately, but the body before me will never again form words.

I inhale, willing my own voice to be steady as I speak.

"McGee," I say, but he doesn't react. He stares at the black figure in the car, disbelief written all over his face. I know he's seen Tony as invincible. "McGee!"

He reacts, but it's sluggish as if he's not quite there. I understand; I feel as though I'm dreaming, stuck in the midst of a nightmare. I want to wake up, I want to go to work and find him there, whole and healthy and alive – but I know that this is no dream; it's our reality.

I hear Jenny and Ducky talk; Ducky tells her that he would have been killed by the shockwave, the death instantaneous.

"Small mercies, my dear boy," Ducky says.

Perhaps later, when there is time, I will be happy about this piece of knowledge – at least he didn't suffer.

When Jenny asks about identification, Ducky says the height, weight and general build are a match, and with each word, my heart sinks just a little lower. For once, my gut is churning but silent; I have no idea of what to do, what to think. The images of the car blowing up replays in my mind, over and over again, and my chest aches more with every passing second.

Jenny and Ducky talk, and I tune them out. When Jenny turns and leaves, I'm glad; I don't want her here. She doesn't deserve to be here, because she's the reason for it all. Her hunt for the Frog is driving her mad, and it cost Tony his life.

"She blames herself," Ducky says to me. I don't respond, because I know he will hear the hatred in my voice if I do. "Should she?"

I give him a long look, and he stares at me with wide eyes, not wanting to think that Jenny is responsible for this. I can't reply to his question, but he knows.

"Let me know when you finish," I tell him, and walk away.

Ziva gets Tony's ID and shield from the car, and the look on her face is one of a person who is broken. I know she's used to being in control, and this is as far from in her control as things can get.

We return to the office once the photos have been taken and the body has been moved, the little evidence there is bagged and tagged. Jenny has left before us and it's just me, Ziva and McGee, and we're just as silent now as we were on the way to the scene. Through the rear view mirror, I see McGee open his mouth to speak, but he closes it again. I know that if he did speak, it would be to say that there's a possibility that it isn't Tony. Perhaps someone else was driving the car. But McGee never voices this, because he knows that any hope is too easy to shoot down, and any hope leaves him open for even more hurt, so he stays quiet, and for that I am grateful. I want them working, I want them to be certain that it's Tony, but I don't need to hear their theories when they have no evidence to back it up. It's too hard to listen to.

When Kate died, there was no question about it. The shock was the same, but there was no doubt, no small ray of hope that perhaps the bullet hadn't grazed any vital part of her brain. Now there is hope, that perhaps Tony wasn't in the car, and the knowledge that that hope might be crushed as soon as the DNA tests come back, hurts even more. It's a drawn out pain, like a knife in my heart, twisting slowly.

I leave Ziva and McGee in the bullpen and I go down to Abby's office. She's distraught, wearing her heart on her sleeve as she does so often. She babbles, and I listen, and I want to tell her that things will be okay, that it's not Tony. She throws her arms around me in a tight hug, and I feel the desperation in her voice as she asks me to tell her that it's not him.

"I wish I could, Abs," I say to her, and I can't remember wishing for anything quite so fervently since finding out that Kelly and Shannon were killed.

There is a bottle of Scotch on the table and in just minutes, my anger towards Jenny Shepard multiplies as Abby tells me of the tests the Director has had her run, and the results it's given. The veil of secrecy that she has placed over the agency drives me mad, and I know that more lives will be at stake if she is allowed to continue.

Anger is good, hatred is good. I've felt it before; it's empowering. I want to make her answer, to fess up to what she's done and why. Her father is dead, but someone is going to great lengths to convince her otherwise, she says. She claims her father was murdered, and I know that this is why she hates the Frog so much, despite the coroner's report saying Colonel Shepard took his own life. And in her insane wish for revenge, she has gotten my agent killed.

My agent.

Killed.

Tony.

His face flashes before me again, and I see myself slapping his head, because once again, he's gone off on a tangent unrelated to the case.

She calls Tony her agent. I want to snap at her, I want to yell at her, saying that if this is how she takes care of her agents, then I don't want anything to do with her. I want to wring her neck for sending Tony off into danger without backup.

"And Jethro, if you think I'm obsessed with La Grenouille because of my father," she says, "you're wrong."

I'm furious, and if she were a man, I would have punched her, but she's not and I don't. But I have to get out of there, before I hurt her, because she's looking at me as though Tony's not dead and as though if he is, it's not her fault.

I snap at her, and leave the office, a part of me wanting to go to the shooting range to get some anger out.

When I get downstairs, McGee and Ziva have realized that Tony was following the Frog's limousine. They tell me, and Jenny who's followed me downstairs, how the limousine is connected to La Grenouille, but I barely listen. In my mind, the explosion plays out again and it makes my heart stop each time. I want to go back, to change things.

Then Ducky enters the squad room, and suddenly, there is relief washing through my body. I would never have thought I'd be relieved that Tony had the Plague, but I am, because it made for a quicker identification – identification that means it wasn't Tony.

It wasn't Tony.

I fight the urge to fall into my chair as the adrenaline suddenly leaves my body. I look around and see relief on my team's faces, and I look over at Tony's desk. It suddenly feels right again, as though the world was turned over but now turned back, and things are jumbled but it's a mess that can be sorted out.

It's the relief I never felt when they said Kelly and Shannon had been killed; they never came back.

Jenny asks, "If it's not Tony, then who is it?"

I barely keep my voice from shaking as I add, "And where is DiNozzo?"

I want him there, in front of me, grinning and happy, before my relief can be complete. I want to see him, touch him, know that he's real under my own hands, before I allow myself to truly believe it. Even if Tony isn't the body down in autopsy, there is still a chance that he is in danger or even dead, considering that the girl he's been under cover to seduce is the daughter of an international arms dealer.

Jenny is like a bloodhound on a trail, wanting to know everything about the Frog's company.

"If La Grenouille is in DC, this could lead us to him," she says.

"Or DiNozzo," I say, because I can see in her eyes that the Frog is the sole thing on her mind – she doesn't even reflect on Tony. She wants to avenge her father, and that is more important to her than the life of the agent who's risked his life for her.

"Well, obviously DiNozzo is our first priority," she says, lying through her teeth. She can't even make herself sound worried about him.

I have just ordered Ziva to call the hospital about Tony, when CIA comes into the bullpen by way of Agent Kort. He's angry and spewing but not the least bit concerned about Tony, who must be with La Grenouille – it can't be a coincidence that his car was following the Frog's limousine. Jenny snaps back coldly. I give him a line about misplacing his arms dealer, which has him glaring hatefully at me, and I don't mind. No matter what they say, this man isn't on our side.

"Special Agent DiNozzo's car was bombed this morning," I say, "but I guess you knew that."

There is smugness on his face as he turns around, perhaps mixed with annoyance – I'm certain he wishes Tony had been in it.

"He wasn't in it," he says.

I want to reach out snap his neck, but I restrain myself – Tony isn't dead after all. If he had been, Kort wouldn't have been alive now.

When the elevator dings, he is suddenly standing there, before me. His clothes are in a disarray; he looks like he's been through hell – but he's there. He grins at Kort but I can see that it's not a true DiNozzo grin because it doesn't even come close to reaching his eyes, and he looks at Kort.

"Hey, my car blew up this morning – did you do that?" he asks, in a tone that could have just as well been an inquiry about the weather.

When Kort grabs him and pushes him against the wall, I have my gun out before I have much time to think, and I have to remind myself not to shoot.

No one threatens my agents.

Kort leaves, grumbling, angry, and I know he's trouble just waiting to happen, and I wish I had an excuse to shoot him. The elevator doors shut behind Tony, and he smiles at us, another smile that doesn't reach his eyes.

"What, no balloons?"

The Director demands his presence in her office immediately. His face falls and for a moment, I see anger flaring in his eyes. He's changed; I can see it. It's been coming over the last year, but the day's events have obviously shaken him to the core. I can only imagine what he's had to tell the girl.

I follow the two up the stairs, no questions and no words. I will be there when Jenny talks to Tony; I have no intention of leaving him alone with her again any time soon. I still want to reach out and touch him, to assure myself that he's not a hallucination, but real and whole and safe in front of me, but I don't.

He tells us what's happened, and we listen in silence. I hear the pain in his voice as he talks about Jeanne. He loved the girl, and the last thing he needs is Jenny's cold words. He can barely look at me, and I'm unsure of why – I try my best to look encouraging, although I know it's not a look I usually wear.

"You're not supposed to fall in love with them," she says, her voice like ice. I wonder how it's possible for her to have no understanding at all.

"Thank you so much for that, Director," Tony replies, sarcasm dripping from each word. "I'm gonna keep that in mind for next time – oh, wait a minute – there's not going to be a next time!"

I'm proud of him, and even more so when he stands up to the director and refuses to tell her about what Jeanne said to him. She is treading in dangerous waters again, and I want both myself and Tony out of her office very soon. Her words are cutting and hurtful. Before me, Tony sits with bleeding wounds, and yet she just keeps stabbing.

When Tony says that La Grenouille is going to call, to arrange a meeting, because NCIS is the only agency he trusts, I can hear that he thinks this is a ridiculous notion – Tony no longer trusts NCIS, or at least he doesn't trust her. Time will tell if that has disturbed his trust in me as well.

When we're finished, he and I leave. His head is down, and this close, I can see the dark shadows beneath his eyes. His hands are in his pockets, and I suspect it is because they are shaking.

I finally give into my wish to touch him when he turns to go down the stairs; instead, I drag him towards the elevator. He looks slightly surprised, but it's quickly replaced by tiredness. He seems used to people pulling at him in every direction.

I stop the elevator and I turn to him.

"Gonna yell at me for not sharing, boss?"

I have to wonder what kind of boss I am, if he thinks that's what I'm going to do. A part of me wants to reach out and pull him into a hug, but I know this is neither the time nor place for such affections. He looks exhausted, the twinkle in his eyes gone.

"I'm sorry I lied," Tony says, and I realize I've been silent for too long.

"Don't apologize," I say.

"Yeah, sign of weakness," he says. "I seem to have a few of those lately."

"Falling in love is a weakness?"

"On the job it is," he says, studying the ground and not meeting my gaze for more than a second at a time.

I hear the pain in his voice, and I can't imagine what it was like when Jeanne found out the truth. I have been through three divorces, but none of them have been brought on by lying. This was his first real relationship, and it doesn't bode well for his ability to have any more deep, meaningful relationships, when it ended like this.

"So what now?" I ask, not because I need to know, but because Tony needs to figure it out.

"I—I haven't thought much about it," Tony says haltingly. "Not much time, between my cover being blown and then my car being blown, and, well, everything being blown."

Dejectedly, he looks up, staring at me. His gaze is intense, and I can see the bleeding emotions in him.

"If you need time off, just tell me," I say.

"You offering me time off, boss?" Tony says. "Things must be really bad."

My sharp look at him makes his humor-free grin disappear.

"You didn't think I was dead, did you?" he asks, hesitating.

"It was your car, DiNozzo," I say. "Your car, your badge, your ID, your cell phones."

"Yeah, but—I mean, you had to know—"

Suddenly, he looks guilty, and I realize that it's because he's made us worry. Because he made me worry. He thinks it's his fault, this too, because he's taking the blame for everything else, so why not this as well? Again, I want to wring Jenny's neck, for turning Tony into this ghost of his usual self. I wonder if Tony's ever going to be the same; I suspect he's not.

"We saw your car get blown to pieces, and your cell phone was in the car," I say, in a tone more calm than I really feel. "Logical conclusions were drawn."

"I—I'm sorry, boss," Tony says.

"You're not the one who should be sorry," I say.

We both know who should be sorry, and she's not acting the least bit apologetic. Instead she insinuates that Tony is at fault, for following orders and spending all his free time with an arms dealer's daughter, and finally falling for her.

"I messed up," Tony said. "It's all just a mess."

"That, it is," I say. "But we'll fix it."

"Even the Director?" Tony asks.

I know he sees the change in my eyes as they harden. I don't know if she can be fixed, saved from herself. Her obsession with La Grenouille is like an infection, spreading through the agency and its operations.

"She's not your responsibility, Tony," I say.

"Yeah," Tony says, and I hear in his voice that somehow he thinks it is – probably because he still thinks he's the one who messed up.

I know we need to get going; the others are waiting for us in the squad room, and though they will act as though they didn't care, they want to see Tony just as much as I did, to make sure that the scene by the elevator wasn't their imagination.

He looks so young, and yet so much older, all at once. There is the streak of wanting to please everyone that makes him childlike, and the weariness of having the weight of the world on his shoulders. He hasn't had that slump of his shoulders before; it's new, a gift from Jenny. I hate her for it.

When I pull him into a brief hug despite my earlier decision not to, he stiffens, as though he was waiting for something different. I haven't hugged him before, even after his stint in the hospital with the plague when he nearly died, and it seems long overdue. He relaxes slightly and I pat his back.

It's a brief hug, and he looks shocked as we pull apart. I can see the wheels turning in his head as he wonders what that was all about. I smile slightly, and flick the switch to get us moving again.

"Don't tell the others, or they'll want hugs too," I say, trying to end the conversation on a light note, because we both need it.

"Can't have that."

He flashes me a small smile, and this one reaches his eyes, if only briefly. There is still hurt and pain, and it will take time for him to build up the bravery to get into another relationship or even trust anyone else, but he'll get there. I'll be by his side, I know, for as long as he'll let me, and quite possibly for a while after that.

The doors open, and Tony hesitates for a second. He gives me a long look, a silent thank you. I nod, and motion for him to go.

He does, striding into the squad room, and he slaps McGee over the head, and I hear him tell McGee it's because he thought Tony was dead. They tease each other, even though I hear that there is little happiness in it now. There is reluctance in Ziva's voice, and McGee doesn't know what to do with himself. They all did think he was dead, and they each took something from his desk to keep, to keep him around, something to remind them of him. Now they pretend that they took it because opportunity was given, but I know differently, and I hope Tony knows too.

I walk to my desk, and I'm glad that they're all looking at Tony, because I don't want them to se the relief and happiness on my face, which is there because Tony is where he's supposed to be – on my six.

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What we call despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.

- George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

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Author's notes: Comments are appreciated, as always.