"Lost and (Not Quite) Found"
A filler for the end of "Missing" – Gibbs' thoughts on his favorite agent.
Possible OOC Warning: if you see Gibbs as uncaring and/or all-knowing, this might not be the fic for you. From watching MH's depiction of Gibbs, I see a man who is gruff and tough, but capable of lots of emotion. He has friends he loves deeply, smiles often, and has a very physically affectionate relationship with Abby. I also think he has an enormous soft spot for Tony. Ths fic explores how he might have felt during "Missing."
All dialog is from the NCIS episode, "Missing." No money is being made and I don't own anything to do with NCIS except a healthy dose of fan-fever!
Nervousness was not a state in which Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs ever expected to find himself. He had long believed nerves to be a useless and debilitating emotion felt only when someone was not good enough at their job to stay on top of things. So, he realized with no small surprise that he was nervous; in fact, nervous energy strummed through his body with no relief. That the danger had passed did not help for the sick tangle of nerves deep in the pit of his stomach would not ease. In fact, they seemed to be getting worse the farther they got from the crime scene and the closer they got to the Navy Yard.
Just a few short hours ago, his Senior Field Agent, Anthony Dinozzo – make that Very Special Agent Anthony Dinozzo – had been trapped deep in the sewers beneath the city, cajoling, convincing and ultimately carrying an injured Marine to safety. Gibbs could still vividly recall the moment when he was talking with Dinozzo by phone and the younger man crashed to the ground, only to be dragged away by a killer. Recovering the phone, left all alone and still open to Gibbs' number, had not helped. In fact, the lone reminder of the missing man had made things worse, driving home to Gibbs how fragile his agent's tie to him had been.
Knowing that Dinozzo, that Tony, was being held captive by a crazed killer made Gibbs sick. Dinozzo had been on his team for just over two years; in that time, the younger man had taken many risks and had already been injured more than any agent under Gibbs' command. Ever. However, this was the first time that the younger man had simply vanished, gone from Gibbs' circle of protection. That he needed to protect his agent was a given. After all, Gibbs might be a bastard to his team, but he was a grizzly bear when they needed his protection. If the grizzly factor was somehow higher when it involved Tony Dinozzo, no one commented. They wondered, speculated, worried, and even thought it was sweet, but they never, ever commented. They simply moved out of Gibbs' way until Tony was safe and sound, on Gibbs' six where practically everyone in the Yard knew he belonged.
This time though, Gibbs could not seem to let it go. He was accustomed to shoving his feelings down deep, focusing only on the job until it was done. It was second nature to him. This time, however, his nature had failed him. He could not get the image of his second-in-command, clutching the woman in front of him as a shield, out of his head. Gibbs had never seen the wild-eyed look of fear and desperation in his agent's eyes. Even when the woman's threat had been neutralized by Tony's own hands, he had still just stood there, holding her in place as if to protect him from his rescuers. He had looked much more like a desperate criminal than a skilled agent.
Now that the immediacy had passed, Gibbs realized with a start that Tony had been shielding himself from the other agents, protecting some essential part of himself that he had needed to survive. The moments spent with Tony keeping the barrier between them were necessary so that the younger man could shore up that hidden part and lock it away. Gibbs was surprised at the shaft of pain in his chest at the thought that Tony had needed to protect himself from Gibbs.
On the way back to the Navy Yard, Gibbs could not shake the image of Tony clutching the woman to his body. The wild-eyed man was somehow superimposed with an image he had long tried to suppress, one of his much-loved daughter Kelly. When she was four, she had contracted a nasty case of the flu and had been bed-ridden with fever for several days. He remembered sitting with her in the middle of the night, suffering through her sickness-induced nightmares. Several times, she had jerked awake, sitting up and clutching Mr. Snuggles, her favorite teddy bear to her chest.
Gibbs knew she was using him as a talisman to ward off the boogeymen from her dreams. It had taken quite a bit of talking each time to settle her fears and get her to release her stranglehold on the bear. This image of his daughter had somehow merged with Dinozzo, and he could see them both standing together in his dreams, each trying to protect themselves from demons Gibbs could not see. He had been able to rescue Kelly from hers, and wanted to rescue Dinozzo with a passion that continually took him by surprise.
As they stood in the sewers frozen in a bizarre tableau, he and Kate had simply stared at Tony and his hostage. Gibbs was uncharacteristically afraid to speak, for he did not understand the look in Tony's eyes. However, he finally took an instinctive step forward, needing to rescue just as he had saved Kelly. What he intended to do, he did not know. He just knew he had to act.
However, before he had time to step in and fix things, he saw his senior agent take a deep breath and slide his eyes shut for a brief moment. When he opened them, Tony was back, just like that. The permanent twinkle of mischief was back in those depthless eyes, and Gibbs heard him absently make a joke to Kate as they handcuffed the killer and checked on Atlas, the fallen Marine. Gibbs took just a moment to think, wondering how Tony could contain such diametrically opposed feelings: one moment, his eyes held indescribable pain and palpable fear; the next, he was joking and teasing as if his life had not been in constant peril for over a day.
Strange, Gibbs thought, and troubling. But now was not the time to dwell. Fixing emotional pain could come later. Right now, he had a scene to secure, a killer to arrest, a victim to save, and an injured agent to attend to. When he pushed the first three duties to Kate and collected Dinozzo himself, Kate offered a grim smile and a gruff, "Take care of him, Gibbs" before getting down to business.
Gibbs had hauled Tony to the surface, pretending not to notice when the younger man stumbled upon taking his first steps in the light. He had resolutely plopped Tony down at the ambulance, ignoring the protests of "I'm fine" with practiced ease. He stalked the scene, surveying Kate's efforts but finding himself unable to stray too far from the ambulance. The need to check Tony's body with his own hands and eyes, to insure permanent damage had not been done, was nearly overwhelming. He longed to touch – a grasp of the arm, a quick hug, a reassuring ruffle of hair would have settled the older man to no end. But, he knew that such a gesture would be rebuffed at best, recoiled from at worst.
Gibbs had learned long ago that his favorite agent did not tolerate displays of affection. The famed head slap, first meant as a semi-joke to force Dinozzo into line, was the only time Gibbs could touch the other man without him shying away. While Gibbs had a reputation as a bastard, those close to him knew him to be a gruffly affectionate man. He was openly demonstrative with Abby and wished for the same easy affection with Tony.
However, the younger man had early in their relationship proven to be, in Ducky's opinion, a contradiction on legs. Actively seeking attention of any kind, Tony rejected it as soon as he got received it. Gibbs had learned in the first few months of their partnership that there were only two kinds of genuine affection Tony would allow. He would grudgingly accept physical comfort when sick or hurt, but only after he had wearied himself beyond an ability to keep his shields in place.
Gibbs was constantly bemused as to the second expression Tony would allow, the infamous head slap. The few times Gibbs had tried to encourage the younger man with words of praise or physical expressions of affection like those he bestowed on Abby had engendered a deeply suspicious reaction. Tony seemed unable to accept Gibbs' emotions, and any kind of action beyond the stereotypical bastard-Gibbs most of the world knew was met with dismissal and disbelief.
So, one day when Gibbs was particularly frustrated at his second's occasional cluelessness, he had lightly bopped him on the back of head just to get his attention. For whatever reason, Tony had taken it far more seriously than Gibbs had originally intended. That the only time Tony knew that Gibbs cared was when he hurt him, however slightly, troubled Gibbs greatly. However, since the slaps were the only way to get through to Tony, he continued to use them. Other than the head slaps, Gibbs had long ago ceased physical contact with his confounding agent.
When the rest of team had picked up on their significance and subconsciously assigned Tony a degree of distinction for being the favored recipient of the head slaps, Gibbs had been secretly pleased. He liked knowing that Tony had something that was special and unique to him, just as he was to Gibbs. He knew that the other man looked upon those acts as a benediction of sorts, seeming to be genuinely surprised to find himself worthy of the brusquely affectionate gesture.
Gibbs' reflections on his complicated second occupied him until they arrived back at NCIS headquarters. As he entered the elevator, he heard Kate and Tony bantering about Dinozzo's assortment of cuts and bruises. He was still worried about the younger man, who was still a little too glassy-eyed and restless for Gibbs' taste. Glancing from the corner of his eye, he saw Tony wince as he probed an already-purpling bruise. The wince was followed by a soul-deep sigh that Gibbs knew Tony figured they would not notice. The sigh only served to ratchet Gibbs' worry even higher.
Waiting for the elevator to reach their floor, he tried to surreptitiously stretch his neck. When that didn't release any tension, he jerkily curled and uncurled his fingers. His body literally thrummed with the need to touch, to check on the younger man, so sure he had been today that he would never see him again.
When Tony oh-so-casually joked, "I want you to say you care," the older man had steeled himself against the depth of pain so carefully hidden beneath the bluster. He doubted that Tony knew how raw his voice sounded to the others. Gibbs suspected that Kate knew something was profoundly troubling her partner since she was not cracking jokes at Tony's expense. That Tony did not notice Kate's careful handling spoke volumes of his emotional state.
As the elevator doors slid open, Gibbs was nearly done in when Tony continued, asking a plaintive "So, are you saying you don't care?"
How could Tony seriously ask that question? Did he truly not get Gibbs' feelings at all? Gibbs cast a lightning-quick glance into the bullpen and let go a near-silent sigh when he caught sight of his salvation. Spying McGee sitting at Dinozzo's desk, he rapidly concocted a plan that would allow Gibbs and Dinozzo to get what they both craved, if only for a brief moment. It was a poor plan, but the best he could do at the moment. He simply could not allow Tony to continue with that little-boy-lost voice practically begging for the very affirmation he would reject as soon as it was uttered.
Gibbs took a deep breath, stifling a surge of irritation at Dinozzo's constant chatter and at his complicated nature. Trying to reach the man behind the mask was proving to be a harder task than he had originally thought. Of course, he also knew that the rewards for his effort were worth every second of trouble.
He wanted to simply take Tony by the arms and tell him how glad he was that Tony was safe, but didn't think it would work. Tony would reject an expression of genuine feelings, wary of hidden motives. However, he had to be sincere in his feelings – the younger man had earned that with his incredible actions in saving Atlas and himself from a near-impossible situation.
With these thoughts in mind, he gave in – just for a moment – to the burning need to respond to that lost child's need for approval. Striding out of the elevator and spinning around, he caught Tony off-guard with the intensity of his gaze. Surprised, the younger man froze, uncertain as to Gibbs' motives. Grasping the younger man's face, secretly reveling in the feel of warm, alive skin beneath his fingers, Gibbs stared into Tony's eyes. He intended for there to be no mistaking his sincerity. He moved one hand up to shake a finger at him in an oddly affectionate gesture and spoke the words burning in his mind, deliberately using his agent's first name to express his earnestness.
"Tony, as far as I'm concerned, you're irreplaceable."
He wanted to leave it at that, he really did. Yes, he was a bastard when warranted, but he truly did not want his team to doubt his regard for them. However, even as he smiled at the instant joy in Tony's eyes at this simple declaration, he also saw suspicion and doubt. Even as Tony practically demanded Gibbs' affection, he already rejected it out of hand. That's why Gibbs knew he had to take this frozen tableau to its next step, though he was loath to do it.
Ignoring the little voice in his head saying that he was being a bigger bastard than usual, he turned back around and continued into the bullpen. Tossing a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure the other agents could hear, he interrupted Tony's nervous chatter and addressed McGee.
"Forget about it, McGee. He's still alive." Internally, he winced even as he kept up the façade of 'amused, yet detached' that he had down so well. He watched the scene play out just as he knew it would. Kate's eyes immediately lit up at the putdown, and McGee was left to stammer an apology to the senior agent.
Tony just stared for a moment, still fatigued from his ordeal. Then, just as he had done in the sewer, he blinked a few times: Gibbs would swear that he could see impenetrable shields snapping back into place. While Gibbs' mask was the bastard, Tony's was the fool. And so he obligingly slid into that role, making affronted faces at McGee's usurping of his desk. He readily responded to the jibes being hurled from both other agents, glibly spouting Twain's quote about "reports of his death being greatly exaggerated." If anyone noticed that his retorts were fairly weak and that his smile did not yet reach his eyes, no one mentioned.
Gibbs let loose a big smile as he sat down, glad to see Tony's equilibrium resetting itself. The tragically frail agent that had used a murderer as a shield against his teammates was not someone the younger man would want anyone to ever see, so Gibbs was thrilled to see the old Tony reasserting himself with McGee and Kate. Now, the conversation was focused, just as Gibbs had intended, on his cruel comment to McGee and not the earlier one to Tony.
Casually studying Tony as he unceremoniously moved McGee's files off his desk, he pondered the younger man. Tony had no idea how important he was to Gibbs. Irreplaceable indeed. In so many ways, Tony was the most important person in Gibbs' life, though he knew the younger man had no idea how truly irreplaceable Gibbs found him to be.
Gibbs didn't want the others to tease Tony about his earlier words because they were real. He had unleashed every ounce of conviction he had to make Tony believe him – he had held his face in an unquestionably intimate display, had drilled Tony's eyes with his own, had stopped their movements and made Tony listen, had used the only word he could think of that came close to capturing how he truly felt about his favorite agent. He hoped that some of it had reached beyond Tony's fears and doubts.
Gibbs didn't want the others to make Tony question Gibbs' feelings even more than he did. Plus, while Tony relentlessly teased Kate and especially McGee, he was rarely deliberately cruel with his remarks. He was also able to take their teasing and practical jokes with much more aplomb than they did his. Gibbs did not want them to tease Tony about the "irreplaceable" comment because he knew that it would only strengthen Tony's disbelief that it could be true. Tony would take their jokes to heart, whereas he could more easily shake off jokes about McGee staking a supposed claim to his desk.
Gibbs sometimes wondered what the others thought of his relationship with Tony. He knew that they saw Tony as an over-eager puppy trying to please Gibbs and assumed that he kept the younger man at the same distance as he kept everyone. To all outward appearances, while Tony desired attention from everyone, he craved it from Gibbs. Gibbs knew that the other agents, including Kate who should really know better, thought that he kept Tony at arm's length. He would love to see their reactions if they were to find out the truth; he and Tony were separated by an arms-length, but it wasn't Gibbs' arm doing the measuring. While he felt that their relationship could easily deepen into something akin to a father/son bond, Tony was the one that prevented it from going any further.
Gibbs often tried to parse out why, and continually came back to Tony's family issues. While he didn't know many details of Tony's life, he knew enough to be saddened. He suspected enough to be enraged. Perhaps Tony didn't want Gibbs to be a father figure because of his real father's behavior. Or, maybe he was afraid that Gibbs' feelings weren't as deep as they appeared. Gibbs suspected that Tony simply had never had a healthy family relationship on which to model his reactions. He didn't know how to accept genuine emotion and so he rejected it whenever someone got too close.
Gibbs regretted that Tony couldn't see how much joy Gibbs took in him. Tony noticed every single thing with his 20/10 vision, but this – the most important thing Gibbs needed him to see – was invisible to the younger man. It figured, really. Tony was contrary even when he didn't realize it.
So, Gibbs just didn't use words very much. He knew they wouldn't get through years of conditioning on Tony's part and, besides, they never came easily to him anyway. While he wasn't nearly as recalcitrant and moody as most people thought, he didn't express himself easily with words. But, he could do action. So, that's what he did. Gibbs showed Tony how much he cared in countless small ways. It was in the smile he didn't try to hide when Tony made an especially funny joke, the fond nod of head when he made a connection the others missed, the shared glance with Ducky right before he threw a carefully-aimed dig at the younger man.
These small acts of affection were fairly obvious to anyone who really looked. The irony that frustrated Gibbs to no end was that the team member with the best vision was the one who couldn't see through Gibbs' actions. Some days, he gave into the urge to head slap Tony just so that the younger man would get what was so obvious to the rest of the team.
They weren't there yet, nowhere close really. He was a very long way from having Tony accept that he was worthy of Gibbs' feelings. Luckily, sheer stubbornness was not a trait Leroy Jethro Gibbs lacked in any measure. He had no intention of abandoning his efforts to bridge the distance Tony kept between himself and the rest of the world. After all, he had never lied to his team: when he said Tony was irreplaceable to him, he had meant it. He wasn't going to give up on the younger man. Not now, not ever.