Written for the NFA The Name's Palmer. Jimmy Palmer. Challenge
Disclaimer: All names and trademarks recognised as "NCIS" do not belong to me; I've just borrowed the characters for my own purposes.
Characters: Palmer, Tony
Genres: Gen, Friendship, Slight-Angst
Warnings: Set between season three and season four; minor spoilers for season six's 'Bounce'
Word Count: c.2,300 words
Summary: Gibbs is gone, and Tony doesn't know if he can do it anymore. Can someone snap some sense into him? Inspired by season six's 'Bounce'. Written for the NFA The Name's Palmer. Jimmy Palmer. Challenge.
Tony DiNozzo was staring blankly at the wall in front of him. He had forcibly shooed the workers from the evidence garage with a well place glare; Gibbs would have been proud of it, Tony had thought bitterly afterwards. But Gibbs wasn't here, so Tony wasn't even sure why he cared.
'Damn you, Gibbs,' Tony thought angrily. He kicked the wall, winced and hopped on one leg while he tried to rub his toes. With a heavy sigh, Tony wandered back over to one of the benches and leaned heavily on it, resting his weight on his arms. He bowed his head, and wondered if clicking his heels three times and repeating "there's no place like home" would send things back to normal.
'Life's not a movie, DiNozzo,' he scolded himself.
He sighed. Maybe he should just throw the towel in; he'd been thinking that more and more lately. One little letter and then everything would be someone else's problem. McGee and Ziva would probably be happier, and Abby might finally stop crying. He wasn't one to be a quitter, but even he could recognise when he'd lost.
There were footsteps behind him and Tony didn't look up. It was probably McGee or Ziva come to find him. Tony wished they wouldn't. He just needed some time alone, some time to clear his head before facing the music again, or in this case, a serial killer who had already killed three female naval officers. They had gotten nowhere, and the latest victim had been killed right under his nose.
Tony was not happy.
The footsteps stopped, and the silence that followed almost seemed hesitant. Then, a paper cup from a local coffee shop appeared on the bench next to his arms. A voice cleared his throat, but it wasn't a voice he heard every second of the day. He glanced sideways at the paper coffee cup; it certainly wasn't from the place he and his (Gibbs') team usually went to.
Tony lifted his head, silently groaning as his weight transfered from his arms to the rest of his body, and turned around. He did a double take, and blinked twice. Then he blurted out,
"Palmer?! Why the hell are you bringing me –" He glanced at the coffee cup again. "–coffee?!"
Jimmy Palmer stood behind him, looking awkward. He had his autopsy robes on, but had covered the top half with a jacket. He shrugged and said nothing, paling a little under Tony's gaze.
"Palmer?" Tony repeated, staring at the younger man.
Palmer straightened his shoulders and met Tony's gaze. "I thought you could do with some caffeine."
"Riiight," Tony drew out the word. He was sounding much harsher than he should have been. After all, all the kid was doing was being nice and bringing him coffee. "Is there something you want, Palmer?"
"Well, yeah," Palmer replied, rubbing the back of his neck, and Tony noticed that he was clutching an identical paper cup. "Doctor Mallard sent me to find you. He thinks he has something from the latest victim."
"So why didn't he call?" Tony snapped.
To his credit, Palmer didn't flinch and Tony wondered when the Autopsy Gremlin had grown a spine. He shrugged again. "Doctor Mallard tried, but you didn't answer. Then he tried McGee and Ziva, and they didn't know where you were either."
"Oh. Right." Tony suddenly remembered he'd left his cell phone back in the bullpen after storming out. He grinned lopsidedly. "Opps; knew I'd forgotten something."
Palmer said nothing and took a sip from his coffee cup. Remembering his own cup, Tony picked it up gingerly and sniffed it warily. It wasn't something he normally had, he knew that for sure. He took a tentative sip, and cocked his head to the side. It was quite pleasant, really, and didn't taste as though Palmer had put poison in it or anything like at.
At Tony's curious look, Palmer offered lightly, "Its Jamaican Mocha, the good kind."
Palmer shrugged again. "Always helps me."
"Anything," Palmer replied. "My friend introduced it to me at college and it kinda stuck. It gets me through the long hours of study, or the long hours of Doctor Mallard's stories." He offered Tony a crooked grin with his last statement.
"So?" Tony was starting to get irritated with Palmer. All he wanted to do was be alone, and with Palmer in the room, it kinda defeated the purpose.
"I just thought you could do with a pick-me-up." Palmer was starting to look a little affronted by Tony's snippiness.
"Well, gee, thanks, Palmer," Tony replied sarcastically. "I have a serial killer on the loose and a cup of coffee is going to make it all better."
"No," Palmer replied slowly. "I just thought it might help you clear your mind, give you a fresh perspective."
"Oh, my mind's really clear," Tony continued his sarcastic rant, "except for the pictures of bloodied dead girls. It's just so easy to forget about them."
"In case you don't remember," Palmer snapped, "I assisted with the autopsies and all the cases. You saw the pictures, I saw the real thing."
"Fine," Tony retorted, yanking his NCIS cap (which he hadn't bothered to take off after returning from the latest crime scene) from his head and shoving it into Palmer's chest, "you take the case. See how far you get."
"I'm not an agent, Tony," Palmer pointed out, and Tony rolled his eyes. Of course Palmer wasn't an agent; there was no need for him to point that out.
"Well, you're sure trying to be one." Tony gestured to his stance and the way he was sipping his coffee. "Minus the clothes, obviously."
There was a silent pause as Tony and Palmer looked at each other. Finally, Tony sighed and asked, "What does Ducky want?"
"He thinks he found something," Palmer replied immediately, slightly relieved that were back on the topic of work. "He might have some DNA from the killer underneath the body's fingernails."
"Penelope," Tony corrected, almost unconsciously. "Not the body, Petty Officer Penelope Cooper." He paused and looked sad. "Twenty-two years old."
Hesitating, Palmer reached out and patted Tony's shoulder, quite awkwardly, if they were honest. "Right, Penelope, got it," Palmer said quietly. Then he said firmly, "You'll find out who did this."
"Really?" Tony muttered darkly. "Do you really think that? If Gibbs was leading the case, he'd have been caught by now."
Palmer shook his head. "You don't know that." He paused. "Agent Gibbs is not Superman, you know."
"Sure feels like it sometimes," Tony grumbled. "I can't do half the things he does – did – and the things I can do, I can't do half as well. Might as well give up now."
"So that's what this is?" Palmer queried, knowing he was quite possibly playing with fire. "You're feeling inferior. Has anyone actually told you that?"
Tony was silent as he fiddled with the coffee cup in his hand. He took another sip of the concoction and decided that it tasted quite good. Then he sighed and said, "No, but sometimes it feels as though they're thinking it."
"Ziva. McGee. Abby. The Director. Even Lee," Tony replied, looking down at his feet. "I'm not Gibbs," he said quietly. "And it's like they all expect me to be."
"No they don't," Palmer replied firmly. "No one expects you to be a clone of Special Agent Gibbs, except maybe yourself."
Tony paused, as though he was mulling Palmer's word over in his head. Then he finally burst out, "But how else can I be? Gibbs is the boss, Gibbs gets things done. He gets results."
Palmer sighed and sipped his coffee. "One, Agent Gibbs is not the boss anymore, you are. Two, you get things done – just look at that embezzling case the other day. Three, as I just said; you get results. You may get them differently to Agent Gibbs, but you get them."
"But you don't get it," Tony continued angrily. "He just handed me his badge as though everything was totally fine, as though I wanted to be the leader. He left me there, by myself, when I had no idea what the hell I should be doing."
Tony sighed and finished, "He left me."
"Ah." It dawned on Palmer. "You're upset because Gibbs abandoned you, not because you can't do your job."
"Gibbs didn't, uh, abandon me." Tony looked embarrassed. "He, er, retired."
"He left you to fend for yourself," Palmer replied firmly. "I'd call that abandonment."
"Maybe," Tony said, almost sadly. He looked at his shoes. "Maybe I really should quit. Might be better for everyone."
Palmer reached out and squeezed Tony's shoulder again, this time with little hesitance. "You won't quit," he said quietly. He cut off Tony's reply with a wave of his hand and said, "You won't leave McGee and Ziva to fend for themselves. You never would."
Tony massaged his temples as Palmer's words soaked in. Palmer was right (wait, since when did that happen). He couldn't just up and go, leaving McGee and Ziva by themselves. He'd be no better than Gibbs, and he wasn't about to abandon his team, not even Lee who was a little weird, even by Tony's standards.
There was another moment of silence, and then Tony looked up at Palmer, who was still standing in front of him, impassive. "Since when did you turn into the little psychologist?" he asked, genuinely curious.
Palmer shrugged. "I'm taking a few courses at college. Doctor Mallard thought it might be a good thing."
"Hmmm, maybe," Tony mused, glancing up at the ceiling. Then he turned to Palmer with a tiny grin on his face. "So, Special Agent Palmer, if you were in my shoes, what would you do?"
"With the serial killer case?"
"Well . . ." Palmer thought about it. "I'd try and find a link between the bod, er, women."
"Been there, done that," Tony muttered, raising the coffee cup to his lips. "They don't know the same people, don't go to the same cafes, shops, drycleaners. They don't date over the internet, don't have a MySpace, don't even like the same sites. They don't share the same yoga teachers, pilates teacher or even the same gym."
Palmer shook his head vehemently. "Oh, no, I know. I'd try thinking outside the box."
"Outside the box."
"Yeah, you know," Palmer started. "Clothing brands, favourite colours, even some of the more obscure hobbies such as aqua aerobics."
Tony glanced at Palmer curiously and smirked, so Palmer rushed in, saying, "Not that I know anything about aqua aerobics."
"Sure," Tony smiled, looking as though he didn't believe him. "Whatever you say, Palmer."
"I don't!" Palmer replied hotly.
Tony raised his hands. "Hey, I'm not judging. Probie likes manicures and what not, so whatever floats your boat, I say." Palmer flushed and Tony's grin grew.
Feeling more like himself than he had in a long time, Tony concluded, "So, Special Agent Palmer, thinking outside the box, hey. That's what you'd do?"
Tony cocked his head to the side. "Not bad, Palmer. Not bad at all. I like it. Special Agent Palmer. Who would have thought? You been watching CSI again, Palmer?"
Palmer blushed a deep shade of red and Tony smirked. "So that's what you do when you disappear."
Palmer choked on his coffee.
"Nothing wrong with CSI, Palmer," Tony said casually as he whacked Palmer on the back. "Just as long as you remember it NCIS, not NCSI."
"Not going to forget that anytime soon," Palmer rasped.
"Good, good," Tony replied with a grin. "Righty-o, time to get back. I have a killer to catch."
Tony drained the rest of his coffee and threw it haphazardly towards the rubbish bin. It bounced on the edge and fell in: the perfect shot. Tony grinned at his accuracy, but shook his head as Palmer tried to hand him back his NCIS cap.
"Nah, you keep it, Palmer," Tony grinned. "Consider yourself an honorary Special Agent."
Palmer looked genuinely touched. "Thanks, Tony."
"No, Palmer, thank you," Tony corrected quietly, deadly serious. "It's exactly what I needed. If Gibbs were here, he would have whacked on the back of the head." Seeing Palmer's look, Tony warned, "Don't even think about it, Palmer."
Palmer backed away, his hands raised. "Wasn't even thinking of it."
"Sure," Tony muttered, and then raised his voice. "Back to work. You said Ducky had something?"
"Lead on then, MacDuff," Tony announced cheerfully. "Or should that be Special Agent Palmer?"
As Palmer walked back to the lifts that would take them back to the main areas of NCIS, Palmer mused, 'Special Agent Palmer . . . I could get used to that.' He grinned, and glanced over his shoulder at Tony, who nodded back.
Definitely Special Agent Palmer.
Later, when Ziva had been arrested for murder and Tony was half-sure he was about to lose his agent, Palmer, codename Black Lung, who had taken his role as provision provider very seriously, found Tony in the evidence garage again.
Tony was propped up by his arms on the same bench, and was staring blankly at the wall. This time, there were no hesitant steps or awkward silences. A coffee cup appeared on the bench next to him, and Tony didn't even need to look at it to know who'd bought it.
He picked it up and turned around to face Palmer, who was sipping his own coffee. Tony nodded and gestured his thanks with the cup, taking a huge sip from it. Jamaican Mocha: the coffee he never bought himself, but sometimes drank.
Palmer smiled. "You'll get her back, Tony. We all know that. I know that. You caught the serial killer before he killed again, after all."
Tony smiled back at Palmer. "Ah, yes, my finest moment. Couldn't have done it without you, Palmer."
Palmer blushed. "Sure you could have."
"No, Jimmy, I'm not sure if I could have."