A/N: So, technically, this isn't the sequel to Instincts that I had in mind... But it is a follow-up fic, at least.
In the Sentinel TV series I was always disappointed that (it seemed to me) they drifted away from actually using Jim's abilities to solve cases/be useful. That inspired me for this short story with Tony and Gibbs (in the same 'verse as Instincts, with them as Sentinel and Guide, of course).
I'm pretty sure this could be understood without having read Instincts, as long as you're familiar with the idea of Sentinels.
Gibbs' driving had officially been dubbed reckless. "Insane" was another word Tony had heard used—or gasped—by victims of his boss's lead-footed relationship with the gas pedal.
Tony let out a "geez, smooth ride" as Gibbs swerved the car at an impossibly tight, last-minute angle, into the parking spot. If years of working with Gibbs hadn't exactly inured Tony to his boss's driving style, it had diluted the hair-raising effect of it. After all, what was dying in a car crash compared to frying under one of Gibbs' glares? It was all comparative after a while, when it came to what "scary" meant in their line of work. Gibbs behind the wheel wasn't something to laugh at when you were in the passenger seat—or in a position to be mown down—but there were other things on Tony's list of dreaded ends. No need to let Gibbs know he wasn't on the edge of his seat, though; knowing the man, he'd willingly make the ride less tameif requested.
The neon-sign-lit windows of the bar garishly blared their respective beer adds through the gathering darkness. Tony could feel the pulse of the music from inside, vibrating through his fingers as they rested on the handle of his door. Was touch turned up a notch too high, or was the music really going to be that loud? It pained him just thinking about the over-stimulating abundance that awaited them. But there was nothing for it.
Shucks. He hadn't thought he'd hesitated that long. Did being a Sentinel predispose him for some kind of…thought-zoning? It did sound like an excuse to be explored—"zoning" would beat "brain burp" for gaining sympathy any day. Maybe he could even plead it and escape a few head-slaps.
Uh oh. Making Gibbs repeat himself: that was an uncontested brain burp. "YeahBoss?" he answered hastily in his best, snap-to-it voice that said, while he might have been dallying a moment ago, now he was so single-mindedly focused on the problem at hand he didn't have the time to so much as space his words.
"This going to be a problem?"
He placed a slight stress on the word "problem" which, to the casual observer, might've made the question sound faintly mocking. As if his admitting a problem would only earn him a laugh—the question as good as saying "get your act together." The truth was, though, that although Gibbs was always ready with a stern look and a not-so-encouraging word for wayward agents who didn't have their acts together, he never kicked a man when he was down. The question was genuine, and concerned.
If anything, it made Tony want to get his act together even more, and he tried to laugh it off. He felt the attempt fail even while he produced an easy chuckle.
Gibbs' gaze challenged his façade, waiting for an answer with eyes dedicated one-hundred-percent to gauging his reaction.
"Oh, come on Boss, it's a bar."
"I can see that, DiNozzo. I didn't ask you to identify the building."
Tony gave another, not-so-easy, chuckle. He was getting better at this being a Sentinel thing. He didn't cringe away from the thought so much, after all, which was progress. But still, it was getting late and they'd just ended a week-long case. He'd only been home two or three times during the investigation, to grab quick showers and almost as quick naps. That didn't mean he was incapable of backing up Gibbs during a simple interview. Ziva and McGee had already gone home, Gibbs letting them off early with a proud "good job" that had the three of them grinning with satisfaction. Unlike his teammates, Tony had lingered, feeling just as satisfied, but also feeling ridiculously loath to return to an empty apartment, and ridiculously grateful when Gibbs hung around too, and didn't comment on his continued presence.
They'd been about to grab a bite to eat when the call had come in on a double homicide. A marine's wife, murdered. She'd been alone in the house, no children, her husband deployed. The police had been on the scene, trampling evidence and bagging the body, but NCIS had won jurisdiction in the end. Turned out the marine knew someone of some consequence in the Navy Yard—probably pulled a few strings—and had wanted the best NCIS could offer working the case. Ducky would be doing the autopsy first thing in the morning, and what was left of the crime scene was being preserved. They'd swung by the home, regardless of the hour. She'd been murdered in the back yard while taking out trash, and whatever else there was to be seen could only be helped by daylight, and some sleep.
"This can wait," Gibbs commented, still holding out for a genuine answer.
"We're just gonna ask a few questions, have a look around, see if anyone who frequented the bar seemed to have a grudge going against Sergeant Lawrence, since he also was a regular patron…"
"Didn't ask what we were here for, either."
"Yeah. Right, Boss." Tony smiled cheerfully. "We going in now?" He raised both eyebrows, eyes wide with exaggerated youthful innocence. "I am old enough."
Gibbs knew the real problem, Tony could tell by the way he studied him, and it made him squirm. The truth of the matter? Even though several months had passed since that nightmare of a sensory-spike early on in his Sentinel learning curve, bars still made him want to shudder from the memories. He'd never felt so out of control as he had then.
"Let's go," Gibbs finally consented—but Tony could tell he was going to have one watchful Guide on his case.
"Lisa gets more tips from that man in one evening than I get for a week of being on my best behavior." The dark-haired waitress wasn't exactly bitter sounding. Full lips were quirked in an expression that, if not fondly exasperated, was at least grudgingly good natured. "He asks for her by name every time he comes in."
One elbow leaning casually against the polished wood of the long counter, Gibbs led the questioning. "Does she seem to reciprocate the attention? Appreciate being singled out?"
"I should say so." The waitress, Tricia, snorted, actually managing it quite prettily, her glance drifting towards Tony with interest.
There were no naive probies, or sharp-witted ex-mossad assassins, to impress tonight with his finesse at flattering. Gibbs never bought that shallow showiness anyways, and Tony was too drained to attempt it, focusing strictly on the case. At the same time, despite his fatigue, he was oddly wired, senses responding with surprising ease to his command—not a small mercy, surrounded as he was by potential sensory disaster-causers.
"Has Miss Sanders talked to you much about him?" Gibbs continued.
"No. Not that she needs to say anything to anyone. Lisa glows when he's around, and only comes back to earth when he's gone." Tricia shook her head. "You can read that girl like a book. Doubt she knows how to keep anything a secret."
Tony had to force himself to take a normal lung-full of the murky air. Between an empty stomach and the smoke, he was feeling more than vaguely nauseated. The beat of the music was a pounding, unpleasant irritation that was going to leave him with a headache, too, if this took much longer.
"If you wait, you can talk with her yourself. Her shift starts in a few minutes." This helpful information was aimed with another coy shift of brown eyes in Tony's direction. She wasn't the eye-batting type. Tony noted, absently, that she had a smooth, demure quality to her that he might have found serious appeal in he were less distracted. She smiled at him, and it wasn't the silly, flirtatious come-hither look he'd seen pasted on many a gorgeous face. It made hers all the more attractive because it was tempered: coquettishness mixed with world-weariness.
The door jangled open to admit a newcomer, and Tricia nodded towards the petite blond working her way through the crowd. "Speak of the devil," she murmured wryly.
"Thanks for the information," Tony said with a tip of his head, receiving another smile, and feeling uncharacteristically, and embarrassingly, shy in receiving it. He could feel Gibbs' all-seeing eyes watching him, and cleared his throat with an belated waggle of his eyebrows in what was supposed to be a roguish "woah, hot stuff" expression. Gibbs was utterly unimpressed by his lameness, as usual, and they turned to interview Miss Lisa Spenser: probable lover, or would-be lover, of one Sergeant Kevin Lawrence.
"Might we have a moment, Miss Spencer?" Gibbs stepped into her path, going through the process of displaying his badge and asking for the time that no one ever wanted to give.
Predictably Lisa turned up her nose at them—and a dainty, already slightly turned up, nose it was—and gave them an exasperated look. "I go on work—"
"—in just a few minutes." Gibbs smile was tight. "Could we have one or two?"
"Maybe one." Her hair was not-un-presentably mussed. It gave her a harried look, though. She sighed. "What's this about?"
"Sergeant Lawrence's wife was murdered just a few hours ago. Stabbed multiple times."
Tony smirked a little, inwardly. Gibbs might be spot on in his self-asserted reason for the extra "B" in his name, but he was nothing if not to-the-point.
First reactions to blunt statements were too invaluable to waste, and usually produced some sort of noticeable effect. In this instance, there was no reason for Lisa to be grieved, given she hadn't known the woman—but there wasn't much surprise to be found on her face, either. Her expression was tight-lipped, eyes void of anything volatile that Tony could see. There was something there, though, he was certain of it.
Tony decided it was time to try making his heightened senses good for something other than hampering Gibbs. Not that Gibbs would complain about that, and Tony had to admit, this Guide and Sentinel thing wasn't feeling as unnatural as it once had. Still, he'd failed enough times on his end, he was beginning to wonder if they really were the "superpowers" Abby claimed them to be—or just a super-curse he was forever to be burdened with.
He paid attention to his hearing, blocking the rock 'n roll from his mind, and honing in on their suspect. It was like looking at something close up, bringing it into sharp focus, even while everything in the background blurred so as to become indistinguishable. But his focus was a small beating amid the throbbing noise, the blood rushing through veins and pumping through a single heart. He was so surprised when his effort paid off that he almost lost his tenuous hold, but he steeled himself mentally, hoping the strain of concentration wasn't showing on his face. Gibbs voice, and Lisa's, were close enough that they were included in his small circle of focus—but their words, like the rest of noises, were somewhat muted and fuzzy sounding.
Gibbs might've said something else while he was busy finding her heart-beat, but now he was saying coolly, "Did you kill Clara Lawrence?"
The change in rhythm was too drastic to miss. Tony'd thought it fast when he first found it, but the thumping of her heart-beat definitely increased at the question. Tony's eyes flew to her face, found it still unreadable, save for a glimmer in her eye. It wasn't fear or guilt, Tony realized, but excitement and self-convinced righteous anger.
Gibbs might've reacted as well. Tony didn't see, because his attention was solely on her furiously pumping heart, and even before she'd answered "Yes," Tony had known the truth, and seen her hand creep towards the inside of her jacket. It took no thought, and needed none, for him to step between Gibbs and the blade that came flashing out to arch in a vicious downward thrust.
He grabbed her arm, fast, and held it, knife suspended. But before he could relieve her of the weapon, she performed a well-executed head-butt square to his nose.
A few second later—or possibly a few minutes, unclear as the sequence of events were—Tony found himself on the floor, pinning down a squirming Lisa. She was making unintelligible noises of outrage, and Tony realized his fingers were still clamped around her wrist. He was a bit impressed with himself. He was also dazed, ears ringing oddly, as if he'd been dunked under water and the water was still clogging his eardrums.
"DiNozzo, you can let go now."
There was a hand on his wrist now.
"Let go, Tony."
That was a Guide-order. Tony obeyed, watching as new hands took his place, restraining her, locking cuffs around her wrists. He heard rights being read off: "You are under arrest for the murder of Clara Lawrence, you have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law; you have the right to talk to a lawyer and have a lawyer present with you during questioning…" He fell back on his rear, not trying to stand yet, wondering why he felt as if he'd hiked a mountain, there and back again.
Gibbs was back in his face, and cursing under his breath, examining him. "What were you thinking, DiNozzo?"
That was boss and guide speaking. Neither one was happy.
"We got her, Boss," Tony found himself stating the obvious with a little wonderment. "First stop after investigating the crime scene, and we nailed her." He chuckled. He was tired, and a little giddy to realize they'd solved two crimes in one day—so shoot him for being a little undignified. He did undignified every day with less cause.
Gibbs didn't share in the laugh. Another curse. Tony was pretty good at reading Gibbs' cursing, and this one definitely meant something new had popped up.
Tony mumbled a "Hmm?"
To which Gibbs growled, "Yeah, DiNozzo, we got her, and she got you."
"I don't think so, Boss. I'm pretty sure…"
But Gibbs wasn't interested in his take on things right now. He was shrugging out of his jacket, and—
"Yeah, 'ow'. You've been stabbed, in the shoulder, DiNozzo, so stop squirming."
Tony craned his neck to try and see the source of the sudden burning sensation, pain spiking under the pressure Gibbs was applying. "How'd that happen?"
"Gee, I don't know, Tony. Make a wild guess."
Tony gritted his teeth. "Oh."
Gibbs tone softened a little. "Ambulance is on the way. Sit tight."
Tony kept his voice low, "I heard her heart speed up before she said it."
Gibbs didn't say anything for a minute, then not-quite-hissed in his ear, "Next time you plan on playing lie-detector, you inform me first. Got it?"
Tony knew the pain must've been getting to him—maybe a little blood-loss, too. He thought he heard a hint of something like pride, or approval. If there was even a drop of either, however, there was a deluge of the opposite. Gibbs didn't go for heroic, self-sacrificial stunts. In people other than himself, that was. And, current condition numbing his mind or not, Tony had to admit that it had been one of his more reckless attempts.
"You listening to a word I say?"
Gibbs had still been talking? Oh no, Gibbs had still been talking. But in the question Tony was pretty sure he'd heard a comforting amount of concern. He realized now that he was leaning against his boss, having relaxed into his support without thinking about it.
"Read you loud 'n clear, Boss."
As soon as they were inside, DiNozzo headed straight for the couch. Before Gibbs could steer him in the direction of the guestroom he'd collapsed onto the cushions with a soft sigh.
"Dunno how you manage it, Boss…" Tony murmured.
"Your couch, it's the best. Always wake up with a crick in my neck if I try sleeping on mine. Yours was great, though, the last time. "
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "You make a habit of sleeping on your couch?"
Tony shrugged. "Doesn't really seem worth the effort of going to bed when you've stayed up past midnight watching Magnum marathons." He yawned, looking ready to fall asleep on the spot.
The wound had turned out to be more of a deep gash. No serious damage, but he'd needed stitches. After an examination he'd been given the go-ahead to leave with a bottle of pain-killers to take as needed. Ducky and Abby had both been to see him in the ER, thoroughly flustering Tony with their concern, until Gibbs had broken up the party and dragged his mildly protesting Sentinel home. He'd had to firmly insist that no, Tony's calling him to let him know when he got back to his apartment had not been what Ducky had meant when he'd suggested someone should keep an eye on him. They were in only partially charted waters with the medicine and how it worked for Sentinels, after all. Sandburg had written down all the information he knew: all the reactions Ellison had had to various medicines, from cold medicine to anesthetics. But there was no telling how reactions among Sentinels might vary, and how many reactions, or lack thereof, might have been simply peculiar to Ellison, rather than a Sentinel thing.
"I do have a guest room," Gibbs commented lightly, as Tony seemed content to claim the living room.
"Someone else using the couch?" Tony patted the plush arm with satisfaction. "If you don't mind, I think I'll just—"
"Yeah, DiNozzo, I do mind. Food, pills, and then the couch. In that order."
"I don't really think I need them, actually."
Gibbs just grunted his opinion of that claim. He wasn't blind. Tony's arm had been immobilized with a sling, but the kid was still in pain, hiding brief flinches as he shifted around. What he really was looking to evade was food. Tony might be recovering in some ways from the growing pains of becoming a Sentinel, but Gibbs had yet to see a complete return of his usual exuberance for good old junk food. It used to be as simple as putting the bowl of ice cream or slice of pizza in front of him and watching him dig in. It wasn't absent-mindedness as to his own well-being that had Tony "forgetting" to eat after a long day of being focused on work at times like this. Comfort food for Tony, these days, seemed to consist of absolutely nothing. Which wasn't acceptable.
Gibbs had it on his growing list of questions to ask Sandburg if Jim had ever shown the same aversion to eating after extending his senses. For Tony, it didn't seem to be connected exclusively to over-extending his sense of taste—as if using his Sentinel abilities to any degree lessened his appetite.
Gibbs gave Tony a pointed look, and repeated unbendingly, "In that order." He left before Tony could protest further, striding for the kitchen.
When he returned to the living room after in a few minutes, Tony was sprawled at a tilted angle against the arm of the couch, not quite asleep, but with eyelids beginning to droop.
He started at Gibbs' return, staring blankly into the bowl he was handed.
"Knew there was a reason you're paid to be observant." Gibbs sat, eating a spoon-full out of his own bowl.
"Boss, it's not that I don't appreciate the gesture, but oatmeal? It's…" Tony glanced at Gibbs, saw his raised eyebrow, looked back at the bow and the spoon he was holding, and had a revelation. "That actually sounds edible."
A bowl of Maple Brown Sugar oatmeal later ("YeahBoss. Every last bite."), and with one pain-killer downed with only a token protest, Tony sat under his boss' scrutiny, looking relaxed, and yet still awake.
"You know, I don't think sitting and staring at me was exactly what Ducky had in mind by 'keep an eye on him', either," Tony muttered, a little too relaxed to actually be grumpy.
Gibbs had leaned back in his chair, and smiled faintly at the comment. "Can never be too careful."
"Not gonna jus'…keel over, or anything."
Gibbs wasn't sure if it was the pill, or the exhaustion, or a combination of both, but Tony's words were beginning to slur together rather amusingly. Dressed in the sweatpants and a loose shirt Abby had brought to the ER for him to change into, combined with the mussed state of his hair and the abnormally unguarded expression he was wearing, Tony looked unusually vulnerable with his head lolling against the couch back.
"Your record for being fine when you say you're fine isn't impressive."
Tony looked as if he didn't compute the sentence for a minute, but he didn't strain his mental processes figuring it out. "Still don' have to stare at me like I'm going to drop over dead any minute." His eyes shifted in Gibbs' direction. "S'just a pain pill. Wasn't on Sandburg's list of no-nos, righ?" The "T" didn't quite make it to the end of the word.
"Would I have let you take it if it was?"
"'Course not, Boss-Guide." Tony pulled a sloppy salute, hand flopping quickly back to rest on his knee.
Tony didn't have strain the brain over that one, and Gibbs' smile widened just a little. The kid would get it straight—was getting it straight—bit by bit. Some day he might actually get it into his thick skull that he—Tony—wasn't the only one who looked out for Anthony DiNozzo.
Scratch that. There were a bunch of people who'd take a whole lot better care of him than he sometimes did of himself.
Just when Gibbs thought Tony might be drifting off, the younger man spoke again, words drawn out, muddling together, "Wish'I weren't such a problem, Boss. I mean, I know m'really just…complicating things."
Gibbs wondered how much of this evening DiNozzo would even remember. He sighed, feeling helpless to erase the raw insecurities he knew lurked under the playboy front that wasn't DiNozzo. It was a front that lots of people bought. Gibbs never had, but even though he knew this real side of Tony existed, it was all too easy to forget it during the day-to-day. No, not forget. Gibbs didn't let DiNozzo pull the wool over his eyes, and he reminded him sharply when necessary, often with physical slap to the back of the head, that he knew him better than that.
He hoped Tony understood that, and all the other things he could say, but wouldn't in front of others, for Tony's sake. A slap upside the head might, to most, pass as a casual reminder for the wayward agent to get his act together and quit goofing off. But there were shades of meaning that Gibbs often meant to convey—and a slap upside the head was the kind of language they were both comfortable with. Tony had to understand at least some of the messages: I care about you, kid. Stay focused on the case; I need your insight on this one. And of course, there was always the exasperated wish mixed in that Tony might let slip a little more of the real Anthony DiNozzo more often, and give people a glimpse of just how good he was at his job, and how much he really did care about things. It was all too easy to overlook those glimpses. Small flashes of tamped-down emotion could be missed, and Tony was a pro at conjuring quick grins to hide deep hurts.
Tony wasn't hiding now, but it'd taken exhaustion, being stabbed, and pain pills to get him there.
He was still talking, and though he knew DiNozzo would be mortified if he found out he'd bared his soul so easily, he couldn't find it in him to stop him—that was supposing he could have. It was a rare day when Tony spilled his guts. Almost as rare as the day Gibbs did.
"I'm really a lousy Sentinel," Tony was saying nonchalantly. "Not saying you're not a great Guide, Boss. You are. Guess I'm jus'not a natural at this like you are."
Right then, if his sudden anger hadn't been so at war with his far more overpowering urge to keep him safe, Gibbs might've shaken some sense into the idiot. Where did he get these ideas? Just today he'd gone mobile lie-detector unit, and human shield, in the blink of an eye. If you discounted the stupidity of the idiot mind-set that had DiNozzo acting like he were expendable, Tony'd done more than a good night's work. And here, all of the sudden, he was a failure at life.
"DiNozzo…" he began, then stopped, trying to think of the right words. They weren't so hard to find, but saying them in a way that Tony might believe them was more of a challenge. "Sandburg was right."
Tony squinted at him in puzzlement. "Sandburg?"
"Said you were cut out for this stuff, and you'd make a great Sentinel." Gibbs smiled, and added, "If I didn't mess you up first."
Tony blinked rather owlishly. "He said that?"
Gibbs nodded. "Mhmm." Well, technically, Sandburg only said the first part. The part about messing him up was a bit of an elaboration on Gibbs' part. But no need to mention that now. "You weren't a failure before, and you're not one now, as a Sentinel or at anything else. Try getting it into that thick head of yours."
"But, I mean…I thought—"
"Yeah, you think of a lot of stupid things, DiNozzo," Gibbs cut in with gruff affection.
A considering silence fell for a minute, and then from Tony again, "My father wouldn't agree with you, you know, about me not being a failure. Didn't before it happened…during it…after…"
"During what?" Gibbs frowned, feeling a surge of protectiveness. "You tell your father about this?" He didn't think DiNozzo had spoken with his father in years. He hadn't stopped to even consider Tony might call him up out of the blue to update him on something as personal as this Sentinel stuff, when his father hadn't seemed to take an interest in anything about his son's life for some time.
"Nah…first time it happened."
First time? The dawning realization of what his words pointed to settled, cold and foreboding, in Gibbs' stomach. That undercover op hadn't been the first time DiNozzo's senses had acted up, after all. "How old were you?" he asked softly.
"Hmm?" Tony's mind seemed to be wandering. He wasn't sharing his memories because of some conscious, emotional turmoil, or a need to "talk about it." His words were unstudied, and, seemingly, offered out of an absent-minded trust. It was a gift, and Gibbs recognized its value. He had scars too, and he knew there was a difference between liking someone, and trusting someone to the degree that you'd let down your guard around them.
In a moment, Tony retrieved the information with a sigh, "Oh…maybe ten."
That one, small piece of information was enough for Gibbs to fill in at least a few missing pieces of information, or at least make good guess. Here and there, from conversations rather similar to this one—during after-hour moments of "weakness"—Gibbs had gleaned that Tony'd been around ten years old during an all-important trauma of his childhood. Namely, his mother's death.
Thank God this conversation was happening with DiNozzo half-asleep. He knew that he was all but scowling, and if Tony'd had half his wits about him right then he'd have been wondering why.
As it was, the other man was finally drifting off. Gibbs sighed, rose, and made a trip to the guest room for a couple of blankets. Returning, he first stopped to shake his head over the entirely uncomfortable looking position DiNozzo had found. Though his upper body was horizontal—head cushioned by his good arm, which was in turn draped across the arm of the couch—he still had his feet on the floor. Gibbs scooped his legs up onto the couch and covered him with the blankets.
As he was preparing to turn out the lights, a muffled voice ventured, "Boss?"
"You must've been a great dad…"
"Get some sleep, DiNozzo."
"What've you got for me, Abby?"
"Well…" Abby turned spun her chair slowly around, the hesitation in her voice as clear as any of her enthusiasm. With Abby, you always knew when something was right, and you knew when something was not.
Gibbs frowned. "What is it?"
"I don't actually have anything for you, technically. Like, as in, something that might have any possible bearing on the cold case you were interested in—"
"You could've told me you didn't have anything on the phone." Which meant she did have something for him. It just wasn't related to the cold case. He let her squirm a little, before relenting with a sigh. "What's the problem, Abbs?"
She smiled at the indulgent tone, and use of her nickname, and Gibbs could only shake his head at his own lack of backbone when it came to one pig-tail-wearing Goth with a pair of pleading eyes that could never be denied. Bad guys toting guns, serial killers, waitresses that went sane to psycho in the blink of an eye—those all were part of the job description. You could get training to resist torture, but there was no book on how to resist Abby.
And only Abby could go from sheepishness over having called him down here for "nothing," to being authoritative: the queen of her own small domain.
"It's not my problem, Gibbs, it's yours."
Before Gibbs could grunt, glare, or turn away, Abby was up and in his face, hands on his shoulders and that look on her face.
"This is like, almost as bad as you were with Ari."
Gibbs did glare at that. "Abby," he murmured warningly.
"When you get like this I'm always afraid you're going to kill someone, and even if that someone always deserves to be maimed, or dismembered, if you say so, I don't want you put away for life, Gibbs…" She pulled Gibbs into a hug.
Gibbs only resist for a second, then squeezed back. "Abbs, I don't want to talk about it right now."
"Of course you don't," Abby pulled back a little. "You never do. But you gotta tell someone."
Gibbs couldn't help a short huff of laughter. "And that someone's you?"
"Of course." Her lower lip stuck out in the beginnings of a pout. "Or if you're mad at me for calling you down here—even though it is after hours and you really should be home—then I suppose you could talk to Ducky instead."
"I'm not mad at you." More than a little exasperated and not in a mood for her all-too-successful powers of persuasion, but not mad.
"Well, who are you mad at then?"
Gibbs turned away, not un-gently disentangling himself from her hold, and pacing a few steps away.
"It's about Tony, huh?" Abby guessed. "Crazy chick from the bar?"
"She's on the list."
"But not the person currently in imminent peril of being strangled." Abby didn't guess that.
"Strangled?" Gibbs turned back. "Strangling seems a bit too good for a father who'll jump to the conclusion that his son's going nuts without even exploring an alternative explanation, hiding the whole problem under the rug because he's embarrassed someone might find out." As if he thought his own son was some kind of freak. "And refusing to believe him, even when the kid's obviously too scared to be lying."
"Tony's dad—" Abby began with a frown.
"Yeah. Turns out this is the third time, not the second."
"How old was he?" Abby asked quietly.
"He's been experiencing hyper-active senses since he was just a kid?"
"Experienced them," Gibbs corrected, "and suppressed them."
"What did he do to him?" Abby's eyes were wide and full of concern and outrage—the "he" obviously DiNozzo Senior.
"Grounded him until he 'came to his senses'," Gibbs grit out the phrase, smiling humorlessly over the irony of the particular phrase.
Tony had been coming to his senses—coming into them, into being a Sentinel. Tony's account had been sketchy, but he hadn't needed to describe everything in order for Gibbs to fill in the blanks, to imagine with probable accuracy exactly what "he grounded me" had entailed for a ten-year-old, experiencing freaky abnormalities to God-only-knew what extent. That age held enough uncharted territory without having all your senses go wacko. It had to have been terrifying, to be trapped, and have no sympathetic ear to turn to. Only a father to accuse you of acting out to get attention. Yeah, Gibbs could just picture the conversations, and it filled him with a rage that he could hardly contain.
"Oh Gibbs…" Abby whispered into the angry silence of his thoughts, gaze fallen mournfully to study the floor. "That's so sad."
"Now you'll help me cover up the evidence when I do disembowel him with a dull spoon?" Gibbs asked wryly.
"Wipe the spoon clean of fingerprints," Abby confirmed without hesitation.
"I'd wear gloves." Truthfully, though, murdering that man for what he'd done wouldn't have been one of the worst things Gibbs could think of to commit career suicide over.
Abby sighed and—possibly breaking her already impressive record of hugs-per-hour—wrapped her arms around him again, resting her chin on his shoulder with her own unique brand of unabashed spontaneity. "He broke your Sentinel, I know, Gibbs. But he is Tony's dad. You probably shouldn't kill him."
He could feel Abby's head shake a "no," then she gave him a squeeze. "If Tony does give the go-ahead, though, you leave the slaughtering to the forensic genius, 'kay?"
Gibbs planted a brief kiss on the top of her head. "Got to go see to my Sentinel now."
"That's so cute, Gibbs," she deepened her voice to mimic, "'my Sentinel.'" Having pulled back, Abby grinned at him.
Gibbs gave her a "don't push it" look.
Her grin only widened. "I know you'll fix him good as new. I have faith in you, Bossman."