Distress

Chapter 4: What Gibbs Needed

3 weeks earlier

Tony had developed a very unusual skill set as a result of his very unusual childhood and adolescence. He was a consummate actor and an unparalleled snoop. He kept himself in extraordinary physical condition, exercises designed to provide both maximum power and speed. All the better to hit back and run away. In addition, his conditioning allowed him to excel at sports which allowed him to hone his acting ability—he could misdirect in word or in deed. If his father hadn't been such a creep, in addition to neglectful and therefore an unknowing accessory to abuse as well as a passive abuser, Tony might well have worked for the C.I.A. Instead, a more straightforward, less cerebral sort of justice suited him better. Nevertheless, he had the instincts and skills of both predator and prey; he could be ruthless and canny, subversive and recursive. He understood the value in things others might discount. For instance, First Impressions and Heart.

People said "Oh, I disliked him from the start," or "he had cold eyes". And far be it for Tony to discount those kind of instincts. Sometimes there was something there. Knowing whether to pay attention was more a matter of knowing whether you were usually right about such things than whether eyes were actually windows to the soul. No, what Tony cherished was the initial period of getting to know someone or something. The first time he saw a movie or ate at a restaurant. A night with a beautiful woman. The first week of a new workout regimen. The first few years of an assignment.

The initial period of anything was when you had access to things that it could take you years to find out later. Take Gibbs, for instance. On meeting him, Tony was immediately and increasingly aware of just how much he wanted to impress and please this man. He didn't know why...yet, but knew it would be interesting to find out. Gibbs then was—was still—magnetic. Strong and decisive and smart, quick and irritable and much more charismatic than he wanted to be. And silent. Quiet where other people talked. But in those early months of Gibbs, Tony recognized something of himself; he didn't know what exactly, but something about Gibbs was the same. Like to like. So when the little personal information Gibbs did give up was all about the ex-wives—grumbling about alimony and seven irons and so on—the hunter in Tony thrilled to the misdirection and the prey in him recognized the dodge. Gibbs said so little that it seemed that what he said must be true. And maybe it was, as far as it went. But Tony—pretty Tony, funny Tony, good-for-a-laugh or a few bucks Tony—leaned over counters, and hung out at transoms, flirted with secretaries, borrowed and illicitly copied keys, and even slept with a low level functionary at city hall named Leonard. All without being noticed. And then by the time that the initial era of getting to know Gibbs was over, by the time that Tony bounced into work one day only to find his senses duller with affection and experience and the training that now bound the younger agent to the older, he already knew something that even Ducky wouldn't know until years later. The truth of Gibbs' first wife. And daughter.

First impressions. They didn't tell you anything for sure. They told you what to look for. Heart was entirely different.

So then, during that case with the kidnapped neglected boy, in a vulnerable moment, Tony revealed that he knew Gibbs had lost a child, acted on that knowledge to ask Gibbs to interfere on behalf of the boy. Tony did that. Because of a tragedy that Gibbs kept buried. Deliberately and with great care. With as much skill as anyone Tony had ever met. And now Tony wondered exactly what he had done that day. Forced Gibbs to relive Kelly's death, to cry? Or had he done something...else too? Was it wishful thinking to believe that maybe Tony was the only person that Gibbs would have done that for? At the time, it seemed...just...just a request, a favor. Okay, a huge favor. And Tony had been pleading, unable to get the boy's devastated face out of his mind, unable to look at the man in front of him without seeing his own father. And Tony had seen Gibbs aid the wounded before. But not usually, or often. Come to think of it, never on a personal level. Why had Gibbs done that? Why had Gibbs done that for him? Tony couldn't stop thinking about it.

Maybe Gibbs wondered too. Tony thought he did. Maybe. It seemed like sometimes Gibbs looked at him like he was wondering. Or maybe he was thinking about the boat. Hard to tell really. Damn knowing someone so well. At least Kate was new. Her interactions with Gibbs gave Tony new insights into the man. So when Tony broke up with Michele the Social Worker, as Kate called her, and Kate remarked that she, Kate, would probably have killed Tony, Tony was surprised that Gibbs brought up rule 12: Never Date a Coworker. What did that have to do with Michele? Did he really think Tony would date Kate?

But that day bred bigger problems. Colonel Will Ryan, a former Marine commander of Gibbs, had gone rogue and Gibbs did the same, if not so publicly. Going off to meet the colonel on his own, losing his FBI tail, walking into a bar without backup or recon. Tony was pissed that he had missed the way that Gibbs was protecting them all, but he, Kate, and Abby all made it very clear that they were his team and Gibbs all but thanked—thanked—Abby! He nodded to Kate, said he would try to remember next time...but not him, not Tony. Gibbs threatened to break Tony's fingers, seemed fixated on the fact that Tony took his cell phone.

And then, in the end, it was Gibbs' cell phone that led to the warehouse—although Gibbs must have known that would happen. And it was Fornell who backed him up. Gibbs had to go in to stop his friend from killing a crook, a man who was guilty of stealing, but not of conspiracy. Gibbs went in and Fornell went with him, willing to forebear...but only up to a point. It was Fornell who watched the usually silent Gibbs speak to Ryan in what was, for him, a torrent of words. Exhort and even beg Ryan—at one point, to "kill me if you want to kill someone. Lt. Cameron died saving my life."

This was a piece of information that Tony didn't have, revealed in front of Fornell. Fornell had flicked the record option on his phone reflexively to preserve evidence and Tony lifted a copy of the audio file before the FBI had withdrawn from the naval yard. Tony was tortured by the brief glimpse he had of Gibbs holding Ryan and the harsh whisper of words amplified and clarified by the editing software on Abby's computer after everyone had gone home. Ryan's delusional refrain of "I don't understand," and Gibbs' response of "None of us ever do."

Gibbs would never come to him with this. Would never come to Tony when he was weak. Never. Only when he was strong.

So Tony went to him. But Fornell's car was in the driveway. Tony turned around in the street before he ever got all the way to Gibbs' house. From the living room, Tony knew how easy it was to keep track of who drove by on the quiet street. He didn't want Gibbs to think he was checking up on him. As he would have been. Going by Gibbs' now would be about Gibbs, not about Tony. Gibbs would hate that.

He stayed away till Saturday, but thought about going over every night. Through the rest of the week, Gibbs was even more taciturn and less playful than usual and Tony wondered at his own sudden inability to focus on anything other than Gibbs. But Gibbs seemed willing enough to have him sit on the steps of his basement that Saturday night, although he seemed to have just arrived himself. Tony wondered where he had been.

After what felt like hours of very small smalltalk, and a beer for Tony while Gibbs had bourbon, Gibbs moved away from the boat and stood near Tony almost like he was daring him, and commented, "You come by to kiss it and make it better huh, Tony?"

"So what if I did?" Tony made sure his voice was mild but he didn't appreciate the attack.

"Well, don't. I don't need it and I don't want it."

Tony's leg started bouncing where it rested. Gibbs was pissing him off. In fact, he was so mad, it felt like hurt. He felt sick, but answered Gibbs anyway.

"Who asked you?"

Gibbs turned on his heel and went back to the boat. "You know where the door is."

"Yeah, yeah I do. Doesn't mean I'm going to use it."

Gibbs made no response, just turned up the radio and started sanding. Tony knew that this was probably one of the things he did with women, with wives or girlfriends, to shut them out. He wasn't a fucking woman. He didn't care how silent Gibbs was, how much he wanted to do on his own. He just wanted the truth.

"Not til I get what I came for."

Gibbs finished what he was doing but paused, looked up, his body language signaling that he wasn't stopping and wasn't going to interrupt what he was doing for long. But Tony could see the telltale tightening of body and face, the cold eyes, the set mouth. But Tony didn't want soft or open. He wanted Gibbs. He wanted Gibbs? Pushing the thought away, he crossed over to the other man, slipping around the front of the boat, pushed close to the wall so Tony had to squeeze by, but he wanted to be in front of Gibbs, not behind him.

He didn't know what he was going to do. He was a match for Gibbs, he thought. Oh he wasn't good enough for Gibbs, by any means, as an agent or a friend or...anything. Everything he was good at he had learned either from Gibbs or to protect himself. But he had kept his fucking heart goddamn it, and that was worth something. He felt things. That was what he had to offer, for whatever it was worth.

He stood in front of the man he followed, looked up to, stood up to, laughed at, teased, was abjectly grateful to and thankful for. And waited. Finally, with a put upon sigh, Gibbs straightened and met Tony's eyes.

"What?" He bit out.

Tony nodded, accepting.

"I...I'm sorry, Gibbs." When the older man started to speak, Tony put out a hand, laid his palm flat on Gibbs' chest. "No."

Gibbs stopped talking but rolled his eyes a little.

Tony huffed out a little breath of exasperation through his nose. Suck it up, Marine. "You aren't the boss of me, Gibbs. I'm saying I'm sorry that happened to you and to your friend and you don't get to refuse it."

Gibbs stared at him so long, Tony wondered if they were starting a staring contest but he didn't really feel the same level of tension that was there just a minute ago. Suddenly, Gibbs eyes widened, brightened and a small laugh erupted, surprising them both.

Tony knew he must look confused, but he smiled anyway, unable to not respond to Gibbs' happiness, however brief or ridiculous. "What?"

"I am the boss of you."

Tony's grin widened. "Well, yeah. There is that." Gibbs looked down at the hand still resting on his chest, pointedly.

Tony lingered one second more and then withdrew. Headed to the stairs and took them two at a time, feeling lighter somehow.

"Have a good night, Boss."

Tony wasn't there to hear him reply, nodding a little at the boat in front of him. "Yeah."

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