Title: Debate

Author: Yuma

Summary: Sometimes, it's better not to think…Tag to 3rd season episode "Bait"

Spoilers: Bait Author's

Notes: This was a fic from Brotherhood 3, back in 2006. It won a FanQ thanks to our readers out there!

He wished most cases ended like this.

Absently rubbing his thumb deep into the socket of his shoulder—damn thing still ached where that bastard Ari had shot him—he gazed thoughtfully at the teenager clinging to his mother. The woman, originally thought dead, was just as tearful. It appeared she couldn't decide whether to hold her son, talk to him, or talk to her husband. She looked like she was trying to do all three at the same time. Three voices all mixed in a chatter sounding oddly like his team.

It was a good kind of chatter. Happy. Too many cases ended in mournful tears.

Gibbs absently nodded good night to the director, watching as she went over and coaxed the trio toward one of the meeting rooms for privacy and to discuss the ramifications of the boy's actions. The boy had been used, manipulated to become a walking bomb. He'd gone into his classroom, demanding to speak with his dead mother, his strings and the bomb strapped on him being controlled by vengeful bastards sitting watching nearby. Gibbs could imagine how pissed the director had been when he'd offered himself up as a hostage, leaving DiNozzo in charge. All things considered, his senior field agent had been faced with a couple of tough calls but had pulled through pretty damn well.

Wasn't his concern anymore. His part in this story was finished. He did, however, linger long enough to nod at the boy, whose red-rimmed eyes flicked over one shoulder to seek him out as the family was led away.

Cynthia, the director's secretary, bid him good night as he exited the executive offices and went down the stairs. His nose twitched. His team must have ordered pizza. Sausage and pepperoni. 'Course, it was DiNozzo's favorite. He'd probably coaxed David and McGee to get it in celebration of a successful hostage situation where no one had died, kid with bomb included. Gibbs shook his head, taking a deep breath to bark at them to get back to their reports. He paused halfway down the stairs, narrowing his eyes.

He fully expected to see everyone still around DiNozzo's desk, eating, laughing, none doing what they were supposed to be doing. To his surprise, David and McGee were back in their seats. Abby was standing over McGee, giving him suggestions the agent was choosing to ignore. She punched him in the arm, and McGee was about to return the favor, but his fist halted inches from her forearm. He blanched when he saw Gibbs leaning casually on the stairs' railings. McGee ducked back behind the computer, the typing louder and faster now.

"We saved you some," Abby chirped, unfazed when she caught sight of Gibbs as well. She hopped over, waving a box from the local pizzeria before dropping it on his desk. She waggled her eyebrows at him, rocking back on her heels, waiting.

"Where's DiNozzo?" Gibbs muttered as he fished a still-warm slice out. He counted the desks. One empty. He scowled. Damn it, just when he thought DiNozzo was finally done with his antics, he pulled this crap. "Don't tell me he left without giving me his report—"

"Uh," McGee spoke up behind his computer. "Tony said he already e-mailed it to you." The younger agent sounded surprised. "He only just left."

"Probably afraid we would find out which movie he got his idea from when we boggle him," Ziva muttered.

"Google," McGee corrected. His mouth snapped shut when Gibbs shot him a glare.

A few punches of the keyboard confirmed it: sure enough, DiNozzo had e-mailed him the entire report. Gibbs raised an eyebrow. Usually, his second-in-command was the last to leave, preferring not to have an audience as he finished up his paperwork.

"Hot date," Ziva smirked.

"Did I ask?" Gibbs asked tightly. The Mossad agent ducked her head. Gibbs grunted. He took a bite out of the pizza.

"Tony said he was tired. Wanted to catch some REMs," Abby offered. She grinned brightly at Gibbs. "He did have a long day, channeling you, Gibbs."

"He's not Gibbs," Ziva grumbled. She raised her dark eyes at the senior agent and reluctantly added, "It was a good idea, though."

"Speed!" McGee blurted out. "That was it! It was—eep." McGee began typing furiously on his keyboard. "Report's almost finished, Boss."

Gibbs resisted rolling his eyes. He glanced back at Abby, taking another bite of pizza and chewing it thoughtfully.

"Still was a good idea." Abby beamed. "Add a coffee cup and a few slaps to the cranium, and you could have a mini-me."

He almost choked on a piece of pepperoni.

It took a couple of glares, but the reports were typed, proofed, and e-mailed to him before he finished the second slice. Finishing the coffee he'd found on his desk—most likely a peace offering from DiNozzo for his comments out in the hallway—Gibbs nodded curtly as, one by one, his team all went home. Then he signed off his computer and headed down for his own car. He was looking forward to a few hours of contemplation over his boat. His fingers twitched, longing to have a chance to do nothing, think about nothing except for coaxing silk out of rough wood with a scrap of sandpaper.

Getting home was a short trip, but he felt tired nevertheless. He could still feel the dampness of one of the students' tears when he'd first entered the classroom. He thought her eyes looked familiar, but he pushed that memory away before it could bunch his fists and make him pound his steering wheel. He'd raged already about the unfairness of it all, of stolen innocence. There wasn't enough left inside him to do it again. He just wanted to work on his boat until light crept over the horizon and he could go to bed and pretend he didn't dream.

Gibbs gave his door a shove and watched it swing open before he entered. He checked the kitchen hallway, the wastebasket still in the center of the room, hidden in the darkness of the house, undisturbed. He shut the door quietly behind him as he studied the living room beyond the kitchen, cold take-out still on the table, chopsticks in the box like stakes in the ground.

Gibbs looked around the room once more, listening to the quiet. He sighed, shaking his head, and flicked the light on and headed straight for his refrigerator. He barely gave its contents a glance, reaching in by memory for three long-necked bottles and a pile of cold cuts packets. Gibbs tossed his car keys onto the counter and steered straight for the door leading to his basement.

He didn't bother turning on the lights, knowing each rickety step by heart, easily avoiding the one that moaned under his feet. When he reached the last step, Gibbs grumbled, "What the hell are you doing here, DiNozzo?"

The single light bulb in the back blazed with a tiny tug of its chain and filled the corner with yellow light. Tony sat on one of the stools, his feet on its top rung. He was still in his work jacket, his face looking worn and tired.

"Last I checked, you were heading home." Gibbs nodded toward the garage. "You take a wrong turn somewhere?"

The younger man shrugged. "You should really lock your door, Boss," he just said. He caught the bottle easily with one hand and blinked at what he held before turning back to Gibbs. "Should I even ask how you knew?"

"Get off." Gibbs waved him away. "That's my seat."

DiNozzo hopped off, just in time to catch the zippered bag of cold cuts tossed at him. "Oscar Meyer? Wow. You're pulling out all the stops."

"Mind telling me what you're doing here?" Gibbs barked but didn't wait for a reply as he hung up his jacket and his holster on a rusty nail he'd hammered into the sheetrock a while back. He rolled up his sleeves, reaching behind him for the sandpaper he knew he'd left there the night before.

"Thought of something else to add to my report," DiNozzo replied breezily.

"You could have e-mailed it from home."

"Then you wouldn't see it until tomorrow."

Gibbs glowered at him from between the ribs of the boat. "Go home, DiNozzo," he muttered. "Whatever it is, it can wait." He studied one of the curved planks that was going to be aft. There was that stubborn tree knot again, refusing to smooth out. He ran his hands across the bump, noting the shallow scratches that looked recent, and frowned. "Did you touch this?"

"Uh, just checking to see if you missed a spot, Boss." Tony smiled, white teeth flashing. "Ever consider installing another light down here?" He dropped to the third step from the bottom, stretching out his long legs as he leaned back. With a quick twist, the bottle cap hissed and freed. "You know, a plasma hi-def would look really nice in that spot over those saws there."

Gibbs chose to ignore him as he ran his palm across the fourth rib, deciding on a starting point. He glanced over to DiNozzo once more, observing the agent staring at the beer. His mouth thinned as Tony tipped the bottle back and took a long draw. A pause, then another tip of the bottle.

"Heard the kid's mom was alive, after all."

Gibbs shrugged one-shouldered. "Witness protection program."

"Neat," Tony commented. Another drink. "So, kid didn't lose his mom." He toyed with a slice of bologna, plucking it out of the package. He peeled the skin off. "Don't think he would have ever detonated the thing if he had a choice, Boss."

"I know." Gibbs ran the sandpaper across the plank, pushing up along the curve, against the grain. He paused, studying DiNozzo between two ribs. "It was a good call, Tony," Gibbs said quietly. "That bomb would have blown anyway, deadman switch or not."

"Yeah," Tony said brightly. He waggled his eyebrows at Gibbs. "Would have really pissed you off if you got blown up, huh, Boss?"

A smile quirked at the corner of his mouth. "You think?"

Tony smirked. "Though it would have meant McGee would really have to call me Boss from now on." His smile faded. He swallowed and turned his head.

Gibbs sobered. "I know you had a shot but didn't take it." His voice trailed off.

"Why?" Tony guessed. He smiled sadly and looked down at his beer. "Guess I had one of those famous gut feelings of yours." Another drink, this one a longer one, then another. Tony made a face. "Gross, where did you get this?" He finished it anyway.

"You're not driving."

Tony paused, his hand hovering over the second bottle perched on the counter next to the stairs. He shrugged. "Cab dropped me off. Car's still in the shop."

"I'm not driving you home," Gibbs warned before he twisted around and grabbed a grittier sandpaper. Stubborn knot needed more work. He needed something to dig deeper.

"Couch?" Tony asked hopefully.

"Whatever," Gibbs grumbled before he went back to sanding.

The rough scraping of sand versus wood went on for a few minutes. Gibbs watched out of the corner of his eye as the second bottle was finished off just as quickly, another slice of lunchmeat—this time the smoked ham—demolished in a tangled mess on Tony's lap.

"Head shot," Tony said suddenly. He made a face, but it went away quickly. "Everyone kept saying I should take the head shot on the kid. End it right now. Hell, even Madame Director asked if I had what it takes to-" He looked ill. Tony set aside the cold cuts package and the ripped bits on the step.

"I would have made that call," Gibbs said quietly as he guided the sandpaper up the rib, just under the knot, and stopped. He rubbed his thumb over the darker wood that had hardened with time. Stubborn bit, bruising what was otherwise a perfect plank of pine. Curving and warping the wood. "If I felt there was no other way, I might have taken the shot."

"Me, too."

Gibbs paused, looking up. Tony was starting the third beer. "You throw up, you clean it up," Gibbs warned.

Tony lowered the bottle. He stared at the floor before him. "I would have taken the shot, Boss." He sighed deeply and leaned forward. He pinched a spot between his eyes. "Everyone kept telling me to take it, to give the okay for some sniper on a rooftop to zero in and aim for his head and put a hole in there like K–" He sucked in his breath.

"You didn't take it."

"Because my gut was telling me the shot wouldn't have saved the day, happy ending, roll credits."

"Your gut was right."

"No," Tony corrected. "Your gut was right. Mine..." His brow furrowed. He tilted back the bottle and took a long gulp. The gulp must have gone down the wrong way because abruptly he coughed. Tony bowed his head, a fist to his mouth as the fit grew.

Gibbs waited, listening for the cough to either grow or slow. His shoulders relaxed minutely when he realized it was truly from the beer and not...something else. Gibbs went back to sanding. He tried staring at the knot, willing it to go away, but, damn it, it seemed to get darker and darker. It might never truly go away.


"What?" Gibbs stopped sanding. He took a step back and studied the plank. He didn't want to replace it if he didn't have to. The rest of it was fine. It was just that one stubborn spot.

"He's just a kid." Tony swallowed. "He just missed his mother."

"He was forced into this," Gibbs agreed. "The director has a few solutions. I think he'll be okay."

"Good." Tony rolled the now-empty bottle between his hands. He stared at the amber glass rocking gently from palm to palm.

"You wouldn't have taken the shot, Tony."

"I did once before. I wasn't lying to the director when I said I did it before." Tony raised his head, his eyes bleak. "She asked if I had what it takes. Hell, Ziva even asked if I had the cajones for it. I—"

"You're not in Baltimore PD anymore, Tony," Gibbs said quietly. "And you didn't give the order this time. You made the right choice."

Tony stared at the floor again. "What if I had taken the shot?"

"Still would have been a good call."

"Would have gotten everyone killed-"

"Or maybe not," Gibbs interrupted. "There's no way you would have known." He circled his boat, studying the bow for a moment. Damn it, there was another knot, slowly aging and drying in the cool basement.

"I…" Tony rubbed the back of his neck wearily. "I should call a cab." He rose shakily to his feet. "Night, Boss." He picked up the bottles and tossed them in the recycling bin by the foot of the stairs. With a feeble wave over his shoulder, Tony turned away.


He turned back, then jumped, his hands going up automatically. Something rough and coarse struck him. Tony stared numbly at the thick pad of sandpaper for a moment before moving his gaze questioningly to Gibbs.

"Aft," Gibbs said gruffly. "Damn knot. Can't seem to get it out. Work on that one while I finish up the bow."

"Your boat?" Tony tentatively took a step down. "You sure you want me doing that? That three-hour tour is going to be a longer one if I screw this up."

"You won't," Gibbs growled, making it sound more like a threat.

Tony just smirked, moving toward the boat.

"Wrong side, DiNozzo. Aft is over here." Gibbs watched the younger man make his way over, stopping when Gibbs raised his hand. "There." He pointed to the dark circle on the upper part of the plank.

Tony suddenly looked unsure and took a step back. "I...I'm not sure I know what to do, Gibbs." He touched the knot with an index finger, his eyes shuttered.

"Just run the sandpaper over it," Gibbs advised.

Tony gave it a few tries before giving up. He stared at the spot. "It's not working."

"You have to work on it a bit more. Just don't think about it and keep sanding it down." He watched as Tony gave it another try. Gibbs nodded approvingly. "It'll go away eventually, Tony."

"You sure?" Tony asked in a quiet voice. He grimaced, his head bouncing forward a little under the head tap. "Okay, okay. Sanding away, Captain."

"Just keep working on it," Gibbs grumbled as he made his way to the bow. When he walked behind Tony, he reached up and placed his hand on the kid's shoulder. A brief squeeze, and he slipped past DiNozzo. "Just don't think about it."

The rasping scratching on the wood paused. Tony studied the knot, an odd expression on his face. "You really think this will go away?"

Gibbs stared at the boat, standing there, legs apart as he surveyed the skeleton. "Not completely," he replied. He ran his hands across the spine that would serve as its belly someday. Smooth, polished like glass, the wood barely whispered under his callused palms. "But enough to keep afloat."

Tony looked down at the sandpaper. He took a deep breath, his hand curling around the coarse material.

"Don't just stand there, DiNozzo," Gibbs ordered.

Tony gave Gibbs a sharp salute. "Sanding away, Boss."

Gibbs grunted and went back to his own sanding. The sound of twin scrapings filled the room. Gibbs could hear the hesitant scrubbings before the tempo changed. When it matched his—long, careful, drawn-out sweeps across the wood—he smiled.

The End

Additional Author's Notes: Many thanks to myfieldnotes for looking at this back in the day we were all drowning in zine chaos. LOL.