Bouncing Back

Spoilers: S6 episode Bounce

Disclaimer: As with all my stories, I do not own any characters mentioned herein and no breach of copyright is intended.

A/N: I couldn't help but wonder at how Tony's emotions varied throughout this episode. It really was one of the more unguarded displays of emotion we've seen from this enigmatic man. I think he was seriously rattled by this case and allowed us more than the usual peek beneath the mask.


It was late and the office - usually alive with activity - was dark and quiet, the low glow from a couple of desk lamps, the only indication that anyone was still working.

A muffled voice, laughing quietly into a telephone across the room, diverted his attention from the reports he'd been signing and his glance flicked up to identify the source.

Tony tossed the pen onto the desk's surface and leant back in his chair, raising his arms above his head to stretch his aching back. The muscles in his shoulders and arms rippled as he strained upwards, the fine fabric of his favourite Zegna shirt pulling tight across his chest. He rolled his head from side to side to ease the niggling pain in his neck.

His head still throbbed mildly, a reminder of last night's heavy 'sake' bombing' session with the guys from the Tokyo office. He grimaced as he placed the heel of each hand on either side of his head, closed his stinging eyes and gently massaged his temples.

It had been a long day and given that the usual '9-5' shift was practically a non-existent entity on Team Gibbs, 'a long day' was really saying something.

What was it about this case that had him bouncing back and forth between his customary cool, confident self and the noticeably rattled side he'd displayed today? Maybe it was simply the effect of last night's drinking session…he'd have to watch that in future.

He shook his head in silent denial, knowing well that it was more than just his aching head and 'morning after' funk that had his usual tight control so destabilised. His emotions had been on a roller coaster ride since he'd arrived just after 7am.

All that was missing was the cotton candy!

No. It wasn't so much the fact that he'd made a mistake; sure he had felt guilt at what had happened to Rennie but it was the timing, the fact that it was this case that he'd screwed up.

That was what had got under his skin and stung so badly, why he'd struggled to maintain his usual façade'.

Thinking back, he remembered those first few days after Gibbs' sudden retirement. It had been so important for him to be a good leader and to fill those enormous shoes. The devastating void, the vacuum that Gibbs' departure had left in the team had had the potential to unravel them all.

He'd seen that.

He'd stared, open mouthed, at the shock and disbelief on the faces of his team mates, a shock that was mirrored on his own and realised that…this was it.

This was the moment.

He had two choices, either he step up to the plate and take a swing, or he could hide in the dugout and watch as NCIS' #1 investigative team slowly imploded.

Pushing back his chair, he stood up and strolled slowly across the bullpen to McGee's desk, half smiling at the ridiculously oversized coffee mug that sat beside the younger agent's computer screen.

He'd been well aware that both McGee and Ziva had doubted his ability to take on the Lead Agent role, certainly in the first few weeks he'd encountered plenty of resistance. However before long, the questions and challenges to his authority had lessened and the team had actually begun to work, almost seamlessly.

But the Rennie Grant case had been his first.

His first case as Team Leader and - despite the surreal feeling that it held - he'd relished the opportunity to run the investigation, his own way. A speedy resolution and prosecution had him walking that little bit taller into the bullpen, a renewed confidence in his step.

He wondered if any of them had realised - or even cared - how important that had been for him. How necessary it was for him to be able to carry on as though nothing had changed.

Maybe it was his need for everything to be normal, for the team to function without Gibbs at the helm that had fed his eagerness to call 'case closed'. As if…maybe…everything was going to be ok after all.

Tony rested his butt on the edge of McGee's desk and lifted a hand to massage the back of his neck, as he reluctantly accepted that there was certainly some truth in that theory.

Seeing Rennie again this morning – well - it had brought it all back. The uncertainty, the doubt, the ridiculous and somewhat embarrassing feeling of abandonment that he'd battled in the weeks after Gibbs' departure. That need to project an image of confidence and control when on the inside, he was nothing of the sort.

So, Rennie claimed he was setup – big surprise! He'd made the same claims three years ago but couldn't support them.

Oh, but now he had proof!

Shifting uneasily, he recalled that moment in Interrogation and relived the disbelief, feeling again the growing pressure in the pit of his stomach as the first nagging seeds of doubt had been sewn in his gut.

'Had he been wrong? Did he arrest an innocent man? Did his enthusiasm to prove his ability blind him to the facts?'

He couldn't avoid it. This time Rennie had succeeded where he'd failed three years ago; he had Tony second guessing his own findings and worst of all, he had Gibbs witnessing the whole exchange.

He'd known that Gibbs was watching in the observation room, the only thing for it was to brazen it out! Pretend he was just as confident now of the outcome as he had been after the initial finding.

He might have known it was useless, that the Boss would see straight through him and before he could dwell too long on the whys and wherefore's, Gibbs had passed the lead to him.

'Hmm…very clever. Clever and cunning. That was Leroy Jethro Gibbs.'

Tony's eyes drifted across to Gibbs' desk, noting the jacket slung carelessly across the back of his chair.

'Still here,' he thought. 'Probably down talking to Ducky before he adjourns to his basement for what's left of the evening.'

'Boat, Bourbon, Basement.'

Oh yeah...he understood alright, just as the Boss had understood that Tony needed to lead this investigation. If it turned out that Rennie had been framed, if he was ever to make peace with himself for helping to convict an innocent man and rob him of 3 years of his life, he had to be the one to clear his name.

Walking back to his desk, Tony gathered the reports that he'd been signing, shuffled them together and placed them inside a red folder on Gibbs' desktop. He powered down his computer and tidied his belongings, grabbed his backpack from behind his chair and straightening, paused to stare for a long moment around the empty bullpen.

It was there that Gibbs found him a few minutes later, standing stock still like a statue, his eyes wearing a vacant look.

"Forget something, Tony?" he asked quietly.

Startled, Tony's head snapped up and he shook himself slightly, "Oh, hey Boss…um, no. I was just finishing up some reports, you know how it is."

Gibbs' eyes looked pointedly toward Tony's clean desktop and back to the younger agent still standing in the centre of the room.

"What's on your mind?" Gibbs asked.

Tony hesitated, ready to deny there was anything troubling him but then exhaled a long slow breath and spoke softly.

"It's the Rennie case."

"Thought we'd put that one to bed," Gibbs replied.

Tony gave a small, self deprecating laugh and continued, "Yeah, it's just…I really needed that one to be right…the first time."

"Why that one, Tony, what makes it so different from all the others?" Gibbs moved slowly forward and took a seat on the edge of his desk, facing the younger agent.

"It was the first case we caught after you…well, you know," Tony smiled, and nodded his head toward the south.

Gibbs allowed a small smile to twist the corner of his mouth as he waited for Tony to continue.

"You cast a long shadow, Boss…all the way from Mexico," Tony replied. "Let's just say, there were some who doubted that I was the right person for the job."

"Including you?" Gibbs replied. "I never had any doubt, Tony. Wouldn't have left you in charge back then if I had and I wouldn't have handed the lead to you today, if I didn't know you could handle it."

"That's just it though, Boss," Tony replied quietly. "I made a mess of it back then."

"Tony, you've been in law enforcement long enough to know that occasionally, you'll make a mistake or follow a wrong lead. It's what you do when you realise it that counts," Gibbs reasoned. "It was a team investigation and a team mistake, but you were Lead Agent and so - you carry and feel the greater responsibility. I'd have been disappointed if you hadn't."

Green eyes met Gibbs' blue ones as Tony considered the older agent's words and gradually the worry left his face to be replaced with a small, self conscious smile.

"You could use a drink, I'm buying," Gibbs invited as he straightened and grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair.

Tony hesitated, "Not Sake'?" he asked, wincing at memories of that morning's hangover.

"No, not Sake'…" Gibbs replied. "We can swing by and pick up a pizza on the way."

Tony's eyes lit up as his empty stomach growled in anticipation and, his worries forgotten, he headed for the elevator with a spring in his step. "What are we waiting for? C'mon Jethro!"

"On your six, Boss," Gibbs obliged as he fell into step behind the younger man.


Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. As always, your comments are appreciated.