Summary: Tony hadn't had a head slap in months. He really wanted one. Why wouldn't Gibbs give him one?
Rating: PG-13, T
Spoilers: Tiny references to 'The Curse', 'Missing', 'Iced'. A few spoilers for 'Judgement Day', 'Last Man Standing', 'Agent Afloat', 'Cloak' and 'Road Kill'.
Disclaimer: NCIS characters belong to Bellisario, CBS and Paramount.
Hit me boss, one more time!
Chapter 1 – Ignored
His gaze shifted from his computer screen and over towards the woman sat at the desk opposite to him. She was locked in concentration, her eyes tightly focussed on the report she was completing. Her dark hair scraped back from her face revealed her external beauty. He liked her inner beauty too.
He was staring. Focus Anthony.
Tony glanced at the clock at the bottom right hand corner of his computer screen. 21:15
McGee had gone home and Gibbs had gone for coffee about ten minutes ago. Tony wanted to catch the midnight screening of ‘Goodfellas’.
Just need to get this done and then I’m outta here
He’d almost finished his report, it just needed a few finishing touches before he was happy to send it over to Gibbs. It wouldn’t take long and besides, he really needed to get a quick look at ‘Ibeatyou.com’ before Gibbs returned. ‘StrawDog24’ had been ahead in the poll for best ‘deep in thought’ face when he’d last checked this morning... and he had a reputation to uphold.
He’d have to be quick though... Gibbs would be back in five maybe ten minutes and if he caught him surfing again well he’d...
He’d what? Tony thought for a moment. What exactly would he do?
Tony rocked the scroll wheel of his mouse back and forth and leaned back in his chair.
Take this morning. This morning he’d jumped at the chance of mending a few broken bonds between McGee and himself and when Gibbs had caught them messing around, Tony pulling McGee’s eyebrows back in a vain attempt to help Tim find his best ‘psycho’ face... what was McGeek thinking... best ‘psycho’ face... Gibbs had... well... all they’d had in response was a “would you two like some time alone together?” Not a sniff of a head slap... nothing. Surely that had warranted one.
Not that he minded not being on the receiving end. After all, some of them stung for a few seconds, they could be a bit humiliating, especially in front of McGee, and they often took him by surprise.
He hadn’t been on the receiving end of a head slap for some time now. He tried to think when the last time was. He searched his mind for memories of the last few weeks. He remembered being smacked in the face a couple of weeks ago, his vision turning grey and the room closing in on him before falling into nothingness... and then waking to find the Secretary of the Navy standing over him. He pushed the memory away and tried to go back further... weeks... months... he couldn’t remember. He rubbed the back of his head, willing that familiar action to jog his memory... and what he found shocked him.
The last time Tony had been on the receiving end of a swift slap to the back of his head had been when he’d been Agent Afloat... stationed on the USS Seahawk. And Tony had been both provider and receiver of that little gem.
That had been about three months ago.
He did the Math. Three months since he’d been back... four months at sea. It had been seven months... seven months since he’d felt that little sting produced by the swift connection of Gibbs’s hand with the back of his head.
Somehow... he wasn’t sure why... he thought he missed it.
Tony crashed back to attention and spied the look of concern on Ziva’s face. She had tipped her head to her left and the realisation had dawned on Tony.
“Gibbs... boss?” Tony turned to look at the man who was now back at his desk and currently taking a large gulp of coffee from a Styrofoam cup. Tony watched as the cup was slowly lowered from Gibbs’s mouth and carefully placed back on the desk. Gibbs had licked his lips and was now looking in his direction.
The eyes were blue... not stern... not glaring at him... just blue.
It had been an order, not a question, but it had lacked its usual ferocity that Tony had been accustomed to. At least before... before... at least before he’d been sent away.
“E-mailing it now boss”, Tony responded quietly, an uneasiness beginning to swell in his core. Why wasn’t Gibbs pulling him up? He usually did... before.
Tony quickly completed the finishing touches to his report and e-mailed it over to Gibbs. He heard the ‘ding’ of a new message arriving on Gibbs’s computer and heard the familiar ‘tap tap’ of Gibbs’s fingers on the return key.
He struggled for a moment and then braved a brief glimpse in his boss’s direction. Gibbs was squinting, his head silently shifting from left to right, trying to focus on the screen in front of him.
“Do you want me to print it for you boss?” Tony piped up, “16 point okay for you boss?!”
There was no mistaking the cheek. That should have got a reaction.
It didn’t. Gibbs hadn’t moved an inch... and yet he’d had to have heard him. Gibbs had ignored it. He’d been ignored. Gibbs was ignoring him. Why?
He knew why.
Tony let his gaze drop from Gibbs back to his own desk and then wander upwards towards Ziva. Her head was down, concentrating hard on her report... the usual configuration. She was oblivious to the unease, the hurt and guilt he now felt. His eyes darted back to Gibbs before they drifted down back to own desk. He stared in the direction of his monitor. Anyone watching him would have thought he was completely focused on some e-mailed report or case file, but he didn’t see... couldn’t see the words in front of him.
Before Jenny’s death, a crack about Gibbs’s sight would have earned him a hard one... like the time they’d been investigating the murder of Lieutenant Mark Schilz and the theft of $1.2 million from the Eisenhower’s safe. He’d poked and prodded to see how far he could push Gibbs before he’d reacted. It hadn’t been a surprise when Gibbs had finally relented... but he had been surprised that the force of it had made him flinch... for real.
The memory was as vivid as if it had happened only yesterday.
He could recall them all now... every single slap, knock, stroke and gentle touch to the back of his head... side of his head... and front of his head. And there were many.
He felt the tiny sting of each and every slap... he felt the warmth of that single ‘Attaboy’ and... he felt the reassuring comfort of the sole time Gibbs hands had cupped his neck.
He missed them.
He missed the sting of the wake-up call... he missed the genuine affection of the half-hearted slaps... he missed the physical contact Gibbs openly used to demonstrate his disapproval... or more rarely... his approval.
He missed the slaps... God, how he missed them... they’d saved his life. They were acknowledgments... recognitions of his being. He didn’t like not being acknowledged. He didn’t like not being noticed. He hated being ignored.
He longed to feel that sting again.
Gibbs hadn’t touched him at all since he’d been back. He’d shaken his hand when he’d been reassigned from the USS Seahawk to DC. That had been a big deal. Gibbs didn’t usually shake hands with his team... and that had made him feel... well... kinda special really. But since that day there had been nothing.
He wanted Gibbs to react. He wanted him to hit him... slap him... whack him. He wanted him to acknowledge him... to accept him... to give him something he could work with. He wanted Gibbs to make everything right again... he wanted... he wanted forgiveness.
He desperately wanted forgiveness from the one man he deeply and passionately respected... but that wasn’t going to happen... not anytime soon... not from Gibbs anyway. And he could understand that. How could he expect Gibbs to forgive him when he didn’t deserve it? When he couldn’t forgive himself.
Being told something was not your fault was one thing... but being forgiven, or forgiving oneself was a completely different matter. He didn’t know whether he’d ever be able to forgive himself... but he was beginning to learn to live with his guilt.
His eyes, a hint of sadness creeping through the green, swept a path from his desk to his boss. He’d probably never feel that little sting at the back of his head again and, as he watched Gibbs busily tapping on his keyboard, found himself wondering whether it was time for him to move on.
A/N – Was my first venture at a Season 6 issue. Originally posted Dec 2008 on ff.net. Two chapters only. Gibbs point of view and ramblings next.
The boss looked up as SA3466996, blowing his nose loudly, walked into the office.
“You okay?” McColleague asked.
“Dine”, sniffed SA3466996, throwing a tissue in the trash and placing a new stack down on his desk.
“You know... if you’re not well... go home. We can manage”
“Do... I’m dine”, SA3466996 replied from behind the stack of tissues.
The boss looked at SA3466996. He could be an idiot at times. “Cold or Flu?”
“I’m dine”, SA3466996 spluttered.
The boss sighed, “Go home SA3466996”
The boss looked up. SA3466996’s two blood shot eyes would be no match for the pair of steely blue eyes that he now had trained on him. Nevertheless... he was trying. He held them in a concerned glare.
“McColleague”, he said, his eyes firmly locked in combat with SA3466996’s, “make sure he gets home”
“Will do boss”
SA3466996 lost the battle.
Hit me boss, one more time!
Chapter 2 – Equals
Tony had been driving him crazy today. He’d had to summon all the strength he had to resist the urge to slap him.
When he’d walked into the squad room earlier that morning and he’d seen DiNozzo fooling around with McGee he could have slapped the pair senseless. He knew DiNozzo was trying to smooth the knots in his relationship with McGee. DiNozzo was still Senior Field Agent but McGee had had a taste of being ‘the boss’ not so long ago and there was still an air of tension around them. A smug McGee and an uncontrolled DiNozzo was a fateful combination, especially if Vance was around. He was having trouble keeping Vance at bay. Vance pulled no punches about his dislike of DiNozzo but he was worried that Vance was using McGee. If Vance had caught them this morning instead of him, that would have been another nail in both DiNozzo’s and McGee’s coffins.
Tony was obviously baiting him. He’d been trying to provoke him... goad him into yelling or giving him a swift, sharp slap. That last jibe about his sight a few minutes ago had nearly had him giving Tony what he wanted. The trouble was, Gibbs wasn’t sure a slap to the back of the head was what he needed right now.
He shot a glance in DiNozzo’s direction. He was staring at his monitor... he looked completely focused... a report... case file maybe. As he scanned Tony’s eyes the tiny little ‘tell’ gave him away. He was somewhere else, deep in thought. Leave him Jethro. He’d leave him. His report was in and it was his own time. Gibbs turned to look at his own monitor.
He didn’t want to break the silent promise he’d made to himself that night, three months ago, when Tony and he had shaken hands. That night that Tony had told them Vance had had him reassigned to DC. That same night he thought he’d have to tell Tony he hadn’t been able to get him back.
He didn’t want to break that promise.
He did the Math. Seven months... it had been seven months since he’d felt that sting in his hand... seven months since he’d heard that familiar crack made by hand and head connecting... seven months since DiNozzo had made that unmistakable and unstoppable ‘Oumph’ in response.
He missed it.
He didn’t want to hurt Tony. That was never his intention. But he missed that contact. He missed letting him know how he felt. He missed the recognition in Tony’s eyes... the absolute acceptance of the wake up calls... the lingering warmth that accompanied the affectionate slaps.
Did Tony miss it? Was he wondering why he hadn’t slapped him once since he’d been back? Was he wondering why he hadn’t slapped any of them?
He was aware he’d been staring at his monitor for a while. He made a point of tapping the keys on his keyboard in quick succession, and was vaguely aware of DiNozzo looking at him. He continued tapping away until, from the corner of his eye, he saw Tony look away. After a few more seconds he stopped and took a gulp of coffee from his Styrofoam cup.
Jenny’s death had been hard to handle. He’d been so angry... angry with Tony. He hadn’t been able to look at him... hadn’t been able to speak to him without the anger swelling up inside him. He had wanted someone to blame and... initially... that had been Tony. He’d told him in the lab that it hadn’t been his fault... but he didn’t think either of them had believed what he’d said.
It had taken a couple of months for the anger to subside and the grief to emerge. Vance had probably done them a favour by splitting the team... especially splitting him and DiNozzo. Those first few weeks after Jenny’s death were bad enough. He wasn’t sure he could have handled DiNozzo those first weeks. He’d lost Jenny and Vance had taken his team... he’d lost his family... briefly. But, he feared, if his family had been around for those first few weeks... he might have lost one of them... permanently. He was glad that hadn’t happened and, as much as it pained him, he owed Vance for that.
He didn’t blame DiNozzo now. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t Ziva’s fault either, or Mike’s.
He blamed himself.
He had trained Jenny and she had learned from him. She’d been a damn good field agent. But she hadn’t learned enough... she’d been focused on the fast track... she’d left loose ends... she’d been reckless... like she had when she sent DiNozzo undercover without backup.
He hadn’t taught her enough about trust... and he hadn’t taught her about when to break his rules.
He wasn’t going to make the same mistakes. Not with Tony... not with Tim... and not with Ziva.
He wasn’t going to forgive Tony. He didn’t need to forgive Tony. There was nothing to forgive. Although he suspected DiNozzo saw things differently.
Tony took some things to heart... other things washed over him with ease... but the way he had treated DiNozzo that day when he had arrived at the diner... he knew that wouldn’t be forgotten. Tony was astute at reading his expressions... and his eyes. He knew that Tony would blame himself for Jenny’s death and he knew that his actions that day would have reinforced that blame. Tony would look to him for forgiveness when it should be the other way around. He should be seeking forgiveness from Tony.
He’d been waiting for a sign from Tony... some kind of ‘tell’ which said that he’d forgiven himself. He figured if Tony was going to blame himself for Jenny’s death he needed to face the consequences of that and he needed to forgive himself. He didn’t think he’d forgiven himself yet, but he was learning to live with it... making progress. It would take time.
Professionally, Tony had been a lot stronger... ever since he came back from the Seahawk in fact. Two weeks ago he’d even squared up to him in Autopsy. It had put him on the back foot for a while and he’d been quite impressed. Tony had stood up to him before... if he’d had an issue about a case or if he’d thought he’d been too hard on the team. But this had been about DiNozzo and DiNozzo usually took whatever was dished out without complaint. This time he hadn’t. He was valuing himself as an equal... considering himself a worthy opponent, and that made Gibbs proud.
He had a new found respect for DiNozzo. He’d seen how he’d worked alone on the carrier. He’d read some of the reports he’d sent back. He’d spoken informally to some of the crew. They’d described him as professional, determined but stubborn... wouldn’t let go until he got to the truth. That sounded like DiNozzo. Sounded like someone else too. They hadn’t said whether he was liked or not... in fact being disliked was the more common experience for Agents Afloat... and that must have been tough... especially for Tony... especially after Jenny’s death... especially alone. He knew Tony wanted people to like him and he craved acceptance. Nothing had been more apparent than when he and Ziva had joined DiNozzo on the carrier and Tony had tried to impress him with the video loop.
But he had still called him boss, even though he hadn’t been his boss back then. He didn’t mind. He just wasn’t sure about it. Most of the time, that whispered “boss” had felt like a term of endearment towards him... but just once, on the USS Ronald Reagan, he’d sensed and heard the echoes within... echoes of a desperate man, clinging hopelessly to the one remaining fragile link back to a safer happier place... a life-line, keeping him afloat, literally. He’d never sensed that again. Tony hadn’t needed to call him boss... but he’d let him.
Tony had been his own boss on the carrier. In fact, he’d been the boss before. Tony had been the boss of the MCRT when he’d ‘retired’ to Mexico. He’d had his own team back then... McGee, Ziva and... Lee.
Lee. She’d been part of his team. He’d have to talk to Tony about that. He’d never really talked to him about Lee.
He’d never really talked to him about Mexico either. He’d put it off for so long and they’d never got around to it. But things had changed since then. Things had been changing since the team had been reunited. Now was the right time.
The dynamics between DiNozzo and himself had changed. Tony was becoming... had become... an equal... although he doubted Tony saw it that way... he may still call him ‘boss’... but he was definitely an equal. He’d seen it on the carrier... felt it when he’d shaken his hand three months ago... and heard it when Tony had yelled at him in Autopsy two weeks ago. He’d known this was coming and that was why he’d made that silent promise three months ago.
And although DiNozzo still messed around, wound him up and annoyingly baited him... as he had done with his earlier swipe at his eyesight... he knew he needed to tread carefully. He really didn’t want to slap an equal... but he desperately wanted to feel that sting in his hand again... hear the familiar DiNozzo ‘Oumph’ again... see the absolute acceptance and lingering warmth in Tony’s eyes again. But he had no idea how a slap would be received. Tony hadn’t been slapped by his hand for over seven months. Would he welcome an affectionate slap? Would a wake-up call just reinforce the feelings of guilt that Tony had?
He missed slapping Tony. He missed that connection between them.
A flash of white to his right caught his attention. Ziva had stopped in her tracks and had turned to face him.
“DNA results. I need a hard copy... for the case file. Abby... she is still in... yes?”
He smiled and nodded to Ziva, watching as she hurried out, resuming her trek to the lab in search of Abby. She hadn’t mentioned the spilt smoothie on her desk or the sopping wet strawberry flavoured copy of the DNA results that was now hidden between two sheets of paper. But she knew he knew... and he knew she knew that he knew. They had their connection.
He needed to find a new connection with a new, equal DiNozzo and if he didn’t find some way that he and Tony could connect soon, he feared he may have to break his silent promise.
He sat, deep in silent thought. DiNozzo was covering the early shift tomorrow. Maybe he could try bringing him coffee... three sugars, cream and a dash of hazelnut if he remembered correctly... and he always did. He would try it.
He caught Tony watching him.
“Something you wanted, DiNozzo?” he asked rather curtly. Damn... he hadn’t meant it to come out like that.
He watched as Tony turned back to his monitor. He’d seen the unease in his eyes and heard it in the voice. He was... they were... wavering. He needed to do something... he needed to do something soon.
He needed to do something he hadn’t done in a long time. Something long overdue.
He knew Tony was watching him from the corner of his eye. He didn’t care. This had to be done. Tony deserved it. He found this sort of thing really difficult to do... hard for someone like him. He stood up and walked around his own desk coming to a halt in front of DiNozzo’s. Tony was fidgeting in his chair but then relaxed, resigned and raised his head to look him directly in the eye.
Gibbs saw the pleading look in the green eyes.
When it finally came... it hadn’t been what either of them had been expecting.
“Tony...” he hesitated, “Good job”
A/N – Well, that’s the end of my ramblings on the absence... so far... of head slaps in season 6!
The boss looked up as SA3466996, blowing his nose loudly, walked into the office.
“You okay?” McColleague asked.
“Dine”, sniffed SA3466996, throwing another tissue in the trash and placing another new stack down on his desk.
“McColleague”, the boss sighed.
“On it boss!”
SA3466996 gave his boss a nervous grin and shrugged his shoulders causing him to collapse in a fit of coughs and splutters.
The boss rolled his eyes and shook his head.