The Unexpected Confidant
Disclaimer: Not mine and I'm not making any money from this. Trust me.
A/N: Dedicated to Blacklung, a gift to say thanks for your support!
Tony slammed his fist against the control panel and the elevator doors, ignoring his haste, glided slowly shut.
He felt a slight shudder as the car began to descend and he quickly flipped the emergency stop button and brought the elevator to a halt between floors. Placing both hands palm down against the wall, he proceeded to rhythmically bang his head against the panel as he considered the scene that had just transpired in the bullpen.
He shouldn't have allowed McGee to rile him, to get under his skin.
That was definitely not cool.
But, it had been obvious from day one, that the younger agent doubted his ability to lead the team, now that Gibbs was gone. Oh he hadn't come right out and said it of course, but the odd raised eyebrow, the small hesitations whenever Tony gave an instruction and the meaning-filled looks that he cast at Ziva practically shouted 'doubt'.
Hmm yes, at times, she was just as faithless as McGee. He saw it reflected in her eyes, but to date, she had held her tongue and appeared resigned to the change in leadership.
He'd managed to ignore it up to now. To pretend he didn't notice and just get on with the job. He knew he was a good agent and he knew he could run an investigation with his eyes shut. Gibbs would never have left the team in his hands if he'd had any doubt about his ability. But still, given the time he'd worked alongside the other two, he was disappointed by their lack of faith.
Tony grimaced at his choice of words. Who was he kidding? He wasn't disappointed, he was hurt.
The past six weeks had been hard as they all became accustomed to the vacuum that Gibbs departure had created in the bullpen.
Still, the cases kept on coming, the world hadn't stopped its turning and bit by bit, they seemed to be adapting to the 'DiNozzo' method of investigating.
Yes his style was different to Gibbs. Hell, everyone's style was different to Gibbs!
Tony preferred a more interactive style of leadership where group discussions were encouraged and a degree of good natured fun was the order of the day.
Where as Gibbs, well…….
Gibbs was the iron fist and Tony the velvet glove.
Taking a couple of deep breaths to calm himself, he closed his eyes and leant his head back to rest against the wall.
God, he missed the old man.
Missed having him there to share the responsibility, missed the unspoken communication they had shared, the ability to read the other's train of thought and the complete and unquestionable trust that each had in the other.
If there was one thing that Tony missed above all else, it was having someone to go to when he was uncertain of his next move. Someone with whom he could bounce an idea or a theory without them thinking he couldn't handle it. He certainly couldn't go to either Ziva or McGee. The expectation they had for him to fail needed no encouragement.
So who did the Boss go to when he had his rare moments of doubt?
Wise enough to offer advice and a different perspective and discreet enough to keep his assistance to himself.
Ducky it is then! He flipped the switch and set the elevator back in motion and a moment later, it came to rest at the basement level.
Eager now, he strode out as soon as the doors opened, checking his stride impatiently as the automatic doors outside autopsy took their sweet time opening.
What was with the doors in this place? He thought, irritation causing him to vent his spleen on the inanimate objects and give them a small helpful shove.
Expecting to see the elderly ME stooped over a cadaver, Tony hesitated and looked around the large, slightly chilled room.
Four stainless steel autopsy tables, freshly sterilised and mercifully bare, stood in silent invitation down the centre of the room. From the deep sinks to the end wall lined with mortuary refrigerators, the place positively sparkled.
And was disconcertingly empty.
"Ducky?" he called, half expecting the diminutive ME to step out of a store room, but there was just silence.
Needing a few more moments to gather his thoughts before returning to the bullpen, he took a seat at Ducky's vacant desk, closed his eyes and expelling a long breath, tried to work the tension from his shoulders and neck.
The unexpected sound of his name fractured the silence and Tony shot out of the chair, sending it crashing into the filing cabinet to the rear of the desk.
"Geez, Tony, I'm sorry, I thought you heard me come in, are you okay? What are you doing here?" Jimmy Palmer said apologetically.
"Well, right at this moment, I think I'm having a heart attack," Tony answered with his right hand on his chest, feeling the frantic rhythm of his heart beating against his sternum. "Where the hell did you come from Palmer?"
"I was in the locker room getting changed," Jimmy replied, smiling nervously. "I was on my way out when I saw you sitting here. I didn't mean to startle you."
"Not your fault. I didn't think anyone was here and I wasn't expecting my name to be called. Thought it might be one of…you know?" Tony said his eyes flicking toward the mortuary drawers.
Confused, Jimmy's eyes followed Tony's and when realisation dawned on him, he laughed.
"Oh don't worry," he assured. "Petty Officer Neilson was just picked up by the funeral home – we have no guests for the evening. Were you looking for Doctor Mallard? "
"Um...yeah I was, is he here?" Tony asked looking about, even checking under a nearby table as though the ME might be hiding.
"No he had to leave early," Jimmy explained "Some kind of crisis at the nursing home."
"Is Mrs Mallard okay?"
"Oh yes, just some sort of misunderstanding…they have a new nursing sister at the home and well…….apparently Mrs Mallard refuses to be examined until the nurse shows her knickers."
"Checking her intentions," Tony murmured, recalling a similar incident with Kate several years ago. "Good for her."
"What?" Jimmy asked confused again.
"It's not important." Tony replied, noticing for the first time that Jimmy was dressed in his street clothes instead of his regular blue scrubs.
"You on your way out? Don't let me hold you up? I'm just gonna sit here for a minute if that's okay."
"Sure, no problem," Jimmy said, detecting the slight slump of Tony's posture and his tired appearance. "Will you get the light on your way out?"
"No problem," he replied wearily.
Jimmy walked to the elevator and pressed the call button. He knew Gibbs' abrupt departure several weeks ago had been tough on all of his team but none more so than Tony. The leadership of the team had been unexpectedly and suddenly thrust upon him, giving him no time to deal with his own feelings. He had investigations to run and a team to manage – and not just any team. The Major Case Response Team.
He had heard Dr Mallard proudly proclaiming that Tony was a highly suitable replacement as Team Leader, but it appeared to Jimmy that the tired-looking and slightly dishevelled man he'd just left sitting at Ducky's desk, could use a friend.
Turning, he took two steps back towards the Autopsy Room and hesitated, not wanting to step unbidden, over the boundary between work colleague and friend. Taking a deep breath, he collected his thoughts and pressed on, re-entering the room.
"Um…Tony?" He ventured. "I was kinda wondering…that is…I thought maybe…you know what? …don't worry, you probably wouldn't want to anyway."
Tony watched the younger man's awkward spluttering with a mixture of confusion and amusement. "Well done, Palmer, you just had a conversation all by yourself."
Jimmy laughed nervously and wondered whether he'd made the right choice. 'Oh well, as Doctor Mallard would say, in for a penny in for a pound.' He cleared his throat and tried again.
"I was just wondering, well, it's after eight and I thought you might like to go out and grab some dinner?"
"With you?" Tony asked in surprise.
"You and me?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Well…..Yes."
Tony watched the young ME silently for a moment before responding. "Thanks for the offer Palmer but I still have a mountain of paperwork to get through before I leave tonight."
"Come on Tony, you were here before I arrived at 6am and you spent most of the day at the crime scene, I bet you didn't even stop for lunch," Jimmy said, refusing to take no for an answer. "There are a few nice bars a short walk from here, we can grab something to eat and be back in an hour."
The thought of dinner suddenly aroused Tony's appetite and his stomach rumbled loudly.
"You see!" Jimmy said victoriously "Even your stomach agrees with me."
Tony pursed his lips contemplatively. He had to agree, it had been a hell of a day and his stomach was beginning to think that his throat had been cut. After the confrontation with McGee he wasn't quite ready to face him yet, so maybe he needed a break to regain a little perspective. He lifted the receiver from the phone on Ducky's desk and dialled Ziva's extension.
"It's me," he said when the phone was answered. "I'm leaving the building for an hour. As soon as you've finished your reports, you and McGee should go home and get some rest. Leave the paperwork on my desk; I'll sign them off when I get back." Ending the call, he replaced the receiver and looked up at Palmer with wide eyes.
"You know Palmer, there's a new bar and grill that opened a few months ago down the block.
O'Hennessey's, I think."
"O'Shannessey's," Jimmy corrected, adding "I…er…drive by there every day."
"The guys on Murray's team had dinner there last week. They said the waitresses there make Pamela Anderson look as flat-chested as a ten year old boy!" Tony said with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Well…I wouldn't say that," Jimmy began, colouring when Tony's eyes widened in surprise. "What I mean to say is…I wouldn't say that in front of Ziva or Abby."
"Oh...okay…good point." Tony's eye's narrowed in suspicion as he watched the slight flush of Palmer's features and his stomach rumbled loudly in anticipation of a long overdue meal. "Come on, Palmer, I'm famished and you're buying!"
They walked, in awkward silence, to a bustling little area a few city blocks from the Navy yard, with quite a selection of cafes, restaurants and bars. Each of them wondered whether they could maintain a conversation for the time it would take to order and eat their meal.
Although Palmer had been Ducky's ME assistant for over a year, Tony really didn't know too much about him and, with the exception of fifteen minutes ago, he couldn't ever recall having spoken more than a few words at a time to him.
They stopped on the sidewalk in front of O'Shannessey's Bar and Grill, listening to the lively music playing inside and watching the faces of the happy patrons. It certainly looked like it had a nice atmosphere and Tony was keen to see for himself. Palmer had turned with his back toward O'Shannessey's as he looked at the restaurants across the road.
"So, what'll it be…Thai, Chinese, Italian…." Palmer asked.
"I thought we could try O'Shannessey's," Tony replied noting Palmer's reluctance to go into the Bar and Grill. "Come on Palmer, loosen up, this place has food, beer, music and buxom waitresses – what more could you ask?"
"I don't know Tony," Jimmy squirmed uncomfortably.
"Palmer, you're young, you're in your pri….you're young! I realise you may be a little out of your comfort zone but just do what I do and you'll be fine," Tony reassured him already opening the door and holding it impatiently for him to enter.
"Oh, this is so not good," Jimmy muttered, taking a deep breath and following Tony through the door.
They walked to the counter and waited for the very well endowed hostess to look up from the reservation book.
"May I help y….Jimmy!" she squealed. "It's good to see you!"
Tony's jaw dropped open and Palmer's face turned scarlet as the very pretty hostess rounded the counter to plant a kiss solidly on his cheek. Unashamedly eyeing Tony from head to toe, she beamed a bright smile and asked, "Who's your handsome friend?"
"Shelley, this is Tony. We work together," Palmer advised still blushing.
"Well, it's nice to meet you Tony," Shelley replied, then quickly turned her attention back to Palmer. "Your usual table, honey?"
Desperately trying to avoid Tony's wide-eyed expression, Jimmy nodded, "That'll be fine," before allowing the hostess to lead them to their table.
They made their way through the busy bar area and were seated in the rear booth, which was rather private and sheltered somewhat from the music and voices of the other patrons. Shelley handed them both a menu and bestowed another brilliant smile as she announced that Angie would be their waitress tonight and hoped they enjoyed their meal.
Tony was still shaking his head in disbelief. "You been holding out on me, Palmer?"
"No… I mean, okay…I should have mentioned that I have been here once before…."
"Hi Jimmy!" came the squealed greeting from another well-endowed waitress. "You just can't stay away from the place can you?"
"Okay, maybe more than once." Jimmy reluctantly admitted to Tony as Angie approached their table wearing a dazzling smile. Angie took their dinner orders, flirted outrageously with Tony and tottered off to the kitchen on ridiculously high heels.
Tony silently waited as Jimmy inspected the condiments on the table and frantically searched for a reasonable explanation. Finally, he rolled his eyes and decided to go with the truth.
"Okay, sometimes when it's quiet at work, Doctor Mallard allows me to take a few hours study time," Jimmy explained. "A few months back, I was walking to the library to study for an exam and I noticed O'Shannessey's had just opened for business. I came in for coffee and sat down here and…it really is quiet between the breakfast and the lunchtime crowds and I guess I've been a regular ever since."
"And after all this time, Ducky still thinks you go to the library?"
Jimmy looked stricken. "You won't tell him will you Tony? I already feel really bad about betraying his trust."
"Your secret is safe with me Palmer," he said flashing his mega-watt smile as Angie returned to place two glasses of water and napkins on their table. "I can't think of a better place to study the human anatomy."
Another five minutes passed quietly while they waited for their meal until Tony decided to find out a little more about the younger man.
"So Palmer," he said. "You play any sports, got any hobbies?"
"Gesundheit," Tony quipped.
Jimmy smiled wanly, "No, I spent a lot of my youth with philately."
"They can give you a shot for that now, clears it right up," Tony quipped, but as Jimmy opened his mouth to explain, Tony continued. "Come on Palmer, stamp collecting?? That's not a hobby, that's a cry for help!"
Jimmy laughed. "It's really quite fascinating actually, I have quite a collection." He became a little more serious as he explained. "Growing up, there was just my Mom and me. I had chronic asthma and was diagnosed with diabetes at 10, so I spent a lot of time indoors."
"I'm sorry," Tony grimaced, feeling he'd well and truly put his foot in his mouth.
"Don't be, I developed my love of basketball watching the games on TV," Jimmy added.
Tony's eyebrows rose, "You like basketball?"
"Love it! To this day I can tell you the stats of the top 10 players in the southeast division of the eastern conference," Jimmy told him proudly as Angie returned with their meals. "I…er…have a head for figures."
"I noticed." Tony replied dryly, dragging his gaze from the attractive and shapely waitress, "So, you ever play ball?"
"No…….my diabetes is very well controlled and I did eventually grew out of my asthma but by then I just wanted to study to become a doctor – didn't have the time," Jimmy said regretfully.
"We have a team in the Police League, just a few guys who get together for a bit of fun. Maybe I'll give you a call sometime if we need an extra guy."
"Me? You'd call me?"
"Sure," Tony shrugged placing another forkful of steak in his mouth.
"What about Agent McGee? Wouldn't he be a little upset if you called me instead of him?"
Tony nearly choked on his food. "McGee!" he repeated. "Probie's idea of a lay-up is when you sleep with an extra pillow propped behind your back. To him, a personal foul is someone with bad breath or body odour!"
The thought of recent harsh words with his newly appointed Senior Field Agent came rushing back and Tony dropped his gaze and leaned back from the table expelling an audible breath.
"Tony? Something wrong?"
"Naa…McGee and I had a…rather public difference of opinion that's all."
"I'm guessing that's not the first time that's happened," Jimmy ventured casually.
"Nope but I let him get me this time, let him get right under my skin until I lost it and nearly tore his head off!" Tony explained with a shake of his head.
"Agent Gibbs' departure has been tough on everybody," Jimmy said sympathetically.
"It's not just that, Palmer, I understand that everyone is settling into new roles and new team dynamics…and I know that I have to earn their respect as Team Leader. It's just… I thought I'd done enough as their Senior Field Agent for them to show me a little respect and loyalty as Team Leader. Guess that's not how it works."
They sat quietly for a moment, letting the words of disappointment hang in the air.
"How many cases have you had since Agent Gibbs left?" Jimmy asked.
"How many have been resolved and closed?"
Jimmy shrugged and sipped from his coffee cup. "Sounds to me like you're doing great!"
"Yeah well, you don't see what I see…the raised eyebrows silently questioning every instruction, the quick glances at Ziva to see if she feels the same…McGee's a gigantic pain in my ass!"
He watched as Jimmy lowered his eyes and cleared his throat.
"You don't agree?" Tony asked.
"No, I'm sure he's been a gigantic pain in your ass." Jimmy quipped, relieved to see the slight grin on Tony's lips. "Tony, you guys have always pushed each others buttons. McGee knew his boundaries when you were his Senior Field Agent, he's just trying to find them now you're Lead Agent…but you know what Tony, it really doesn't matter."
"Agent Gibbs had enough faith in you and your abilities to leave you in charge of his team. Director Sheppard could have replaced you with a more experienced Team Leader but she didn't because she knew you were the best man for the job. McGee and Ziva don't doubt your abilities as an agent but maybe they can feel that you doubt yourself."
"But no matter how well I do, I'll never be Gibbs," he said quietly.
"No, you won't…but you have the advantage…you're the Boss," Jimmy replied. "All you have to do is be yourself and remember the faith that Agent Gibbs and the Director have in you. If you do that, the others will come around."
Tony looked at the younger man for a moment, a little surprised but grateful for the truth and honesty in Palmer's words. If someone had told him a week ago that he'd be having a meal and receiving a pep talk from the Autopsy Gremlin, he'd have laughed them out of town. But the meal was nice and the conversation, although stilted at first, was relaxed, casual and surprisingly insightful. They even shared a common love of basketball and outrageously friendly, big-breasted waitresses. All in all, it was time well spent.
Tony checked his watch and realised an hour had passed.
"I gotta get back," he said rising to his feet. "I got a mountain of paperwork."
Jimmy rose also and with the check in one hand, reached for his wallet with the other when Tony deftly snatched it from his hand.
"Hey, I thought you said I was buying?" Jimmy asked.
"I'll get it," Tony said, adding over his shoulder. "You can get the next one."
As he watched Tony walk towards the cashier, Jimmy couldn't help the ear-to-ear grin that spread across his face.
'The next one!' he thought, and with a warm feeling of acceptance surging through him, he followed his friend to the door.
A/N: Thanks for reading!
Thanks also to Bella and Frogslegslebeau, I don't get a chance to thank you personally but do appreciate your reviews.
I hope you enjoyed it.