The New Kid
I knew I was in over my head, that’s why I’d called him in the first place. The case on the Enterprise was too contradictory for me to handle on my own in the time frame I’d been given. I needed help and, as soon as I’d realized it, there was only one person I could call.
At least, that’s what I’d been telling myself. Right up until I’d heard Gibbs’ voice on his answering machine. “Gibbs, talk” it had said. The sound of his voice, the terseness of his message, it brought it all back to me. I was fighting the swell of memories as I’d left my own message, causing me to be shorter in tone than I’d intended. Face to face, I’d never call Jethro Gibbs boat ‘stupid.’ Never.
Just the thought of him, down there in his basement, working with his wood and getting all sweaty while listening to my voice…. my need for Gibbs instantly became a lot more personal than a simple case.
I’d known, theoretically, that he had a new team working for him. It wasn’t so much a shock that he’d brought them along as much as it was a punch in the gut when I saw him walk off the plane.
Tall, good-looking, athletic. A brunette with a killer smile. Every time I’d talked to Abby over the last couple of years, she’d swooned over Anthony DiNozzo but, still, I hadn’t expected him to be so… alive, I guess. Vibrant in a way I’d never been, even when I was his age. Superficially, there was a slight resemblance to me but I wasn’t kidding myself. I was the kid next door; Tony DiNozzo was the matinee idol.
And he was in love with Gibbs, that much was patently obvious.
Inane pleasantries got me through the first few minutes. Well, as many inane pleasantries as Jethro Gibbs had the patience for. I’d been introduced, of course. Kate Todd seemed like a real pistol. If she were red-headed, I’d be worried that *she* was the one that had caught Gibbs’ eye. When I’d been introduced to my replacement, though, that notion had been dispelled. Something about the way Gibbs’ said DiNozzo’s name. You would had to have known him well – and there weren’t many that Gibbs allowed to know him that well - to hear that tone in Gibbs’ voice. When I shook DiNozzo’s hand, I was surprised to see a flicker of insecurity behind his glib smile. That surprised me. Gibbs wasn’t one to nurse an insecure personality and, of all people, I should know that for a fact.
As we made our way through the ship, I made a first attempt at getting to know this DiNozzo better. My main reason for calling Gibbs had been to ask for his assistance on this case, but as soon as I’d heard his voice, I’d realized that there’d been another reason as well. I’d missed Gibbs, both on the job and in bed. Working together again professionally, that was a temporary thing. I couldn’t do anything about that. Resuming our relationship, though, that might be more possible. Rule #12 didn’t apply so much anymore, since I wasn’t assigned to Gibbs’ office and maybe this time, we’d manage to be more than fuck buddies. DiNozzo, however, was an unexpected complication and, under Gibbs’ supervision, I’d definitely been taught how to size up the competition.
“You the one in my desk now?” I asked with a friendly smile that felt plastered on.
“That’s right. Gibbs must have told you about me,” DiNozzo replied, looking like he was working up a sweat exuding all that confidence.
“Actually, no, Abby mentioned it in passing.” I took pleasure in answering. Then, to establish myself as the one with the more Gibbs experience, asked, “Just assigned?”
DiNozzo looked like he’d swallowed something unpleasant. “Two years.”
“Really,” I said, then walked off, leaving DiNozzo in my wake, confused.
I was exaggerating, of course. Gibbs hadn’t mentioned DiNozzo to me, but then, I hadn’t talked to the man since leaving his team. It had been too easy for Gibbs to let me go and that had stung. I’d kept in touch through Abby and Ducky, which was probably why I’d been on the offensive since realizing that DiNozzo had accompanied my old boss. Abby had sung the man’s praises so often that I was heartily tired of her Tony tune. Seeing the way he flinched when I said Gibbs hadn’t mentioned him felt good, if only for a second. It didn’t hurt that Gibbs was ahead of us and hadn’t seen.
That was the last I had for petty entertainment for a few minutes. Gibbs had started his barrage of questions and orders with an effortlessness that never ceased to amaze. Still, DiNozzo was in the room when Gibbs finally made a personal comment.
“You’re lookin’ good, Stanley.”
Gibbs gave me that little-boy smile and I looked to the side to disguise both how much the comment meant to me - and to gauge DiNozzo’s reaction. “Appreciate you comin’, Boss.”
I felt DiNozzo start and I snuck a quick glance at him. What? Didn’t the kid know that Gibbs had an enlisted man’s hatred for being called “sir”?
I wasn’t the only one to make note of the tension in the air. Gibbs looked over to DiNozzo and barked, “You waitin’ on something?”
The kid managed look both defiant and wary as he left.
Round one had gone to me and, yet, I still didn’t know if there was truly a competition.
I was glad we were outside when Gibbs finally touched me. That way, I could blame the flush on my skin to being out in the sunlight.
“Always anticipating, Stan. Some things never change.”
Gibbs patted me on the neck; I’d forgotten how he used to do that. The warmth of his hand lingered long after the sensation of Tony DiNozzo’s eyes boring into the back of my head faded away.
I kept looking back as we trooped through the narrow confines of the ship’s corridors. I couldn’t help it. Not only did I enjoy the sensation of having Jethro Gibbs behind me again, but I could see Tony and Kate beyond him. Tony, I was expecting not to be happy but I was surprised at the shrewd look Kate was giving me.
Seeing Tony DiNozzo as the competition, I’d pretty much only reckoned on Kate in the professional sense. Seeing how she kept looking from Gibbs to Tony and then to me, I began to get the feeling that, somehow, I’d reckoned wrong.
As the minutes in the investigation dragged into hours, I still wasn’t sure. DiNozzo was looking more and more lost but Gibbs didn’t give me any encouragement, either. I relished my moments alone with my former supervisor, but knew it wasn’t the proper place to have the discussion I was itching to have.
“That the best you can do, Stan, after workin’ under me five years?”
My lips twitched with the longing to remind Gibbs that I’d done more than *work* under him for five years. Instead, I tried to match his light tone with teasing of my own.
“At least I don’t taint evidence when I bag and tag,” I reminded him.
Damn but Gibbs was cute when he got defensive. He’s not used to it, I guess.
“I tripped. One time.”
“As I remember it, it was because your eyes were glued to some little….”
He cut him off before I could remind him that he’d tripped because his eyes were glued to my ass.
“You mind if we get back to the tape now?” He asked, with some exasperation
“Sure, Boss,” I said, trying to keep the triumph from my voice. It wasn’t often I got the best of Gibbs.
“We have a job to do, remember?”
“Yes, Boss,” I said meekly. Was that a flare of anger or desire in his eyes?
“Good,” he said simply, not giving me a clue as to how he felt.
It was almost a relief to know that some things, at least, hadn’t changed.
It was good I’d had my moment of triumph, because, as victory often was, it was fleeting.
“Where have you been?”
I felt my stride break at Gibbs’ stark question. I’d heard him use that tone with DiNozzo during this case but not with me. Of course, he’d used it on me when I’d worked under him but I’d almost forgotten how it felt.
“Waiting for a print match,” I explained, trying to stay calm.
“You were supposed to meet me here, Stan.”
There was something unyielding in Gibbs’ eyes.
“I thought this was more important,” I tried justifying my actions.
“Why don’t you let me be the judge of what’s important,” Gibbs said.
“Yes, Boss.” There wasn’t much else I could say.
“That *is* why you called me, right?” There was a distinct note of accusation in his tone.
I felt my stomach drop. I’d seen Kate whispering to Gibbs earlier. The younger agent had grabbed Gibbs and taken him aside when I’d left to do my own errand. I remembered the look she’d given me earlier and kicked myself for being so obvious.
“You know, it’s funny how it’s all starting to come back to me now,” I said. These sudden shifts in emotional direction had been one aspect of working with, and being intimate with, Gibbs that I hadn’t regretted leaving behind.
Gibbs eyes narrowed minutely. “What’s that?”
“Chest pain, upset stomach, all the pleasantries that come working with you,” I said, carefully not mentioning the personal level at all.
“Your breathing’s not labored,” Gibbs said without an ounce of sympathy. “You’re fine. What have you got?”
And that was it.
In that moment, I knew that Gibbs was simply a work colleague, nothing more. Maybe Kate had pointed out that working with me was undermining Tony DiNozzo’s security. Maybe Gibbs had figured it out for himself. Hell, maybe I’d been fooling myself into ever thinking there could again being anything more between us.
Whatever the reason, I knew my chance was over, if it had ever truly been there to begin with. All that remained to be done was salvage whatever was left of my sense of dignity and the only way to do that was to carry on with the case.
“There were a second pair of prints on the saline bag,” I began, prompting a discussion on a new theory for the case.
As we spoke, I watched Gibbs’ face relax. I was right, ours was now purely a professional relationship. I couldn’t help myself, though. When Gibbs walked away from me, I grabbed his elbow. I’d meant to ask about me and him, but at the look he gave me, all that came out was more inane theories about the Wilkes’ death. I patted his arm in apology. After one last exchange of purely work-related words, Gibbs turned and walked away.
And he didn’t look back.
I’m no saint. Later, when the opportunity presented itself, I grilled Tony about his background. Oh, I came across as friendly enough, but I was serious. If there was one thing I’d learned from Gibbs, it was the importance of taking care of my people. Gibbs was no longer mine, in the strictest sense of the word, but that didn’t stop me from worrying about him.
I didn’t miss the quiet pride in Gibbs’ voice when he’d explained that Tony had been a cop before coming to NCIS. DiNozzo’s answers, on the other hand, didn’t please me at all. The kid changed jobs every two years or less? That did not bode well and, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what Gibbs was thinking, in recruiting him.
Even so, I had to admit, DiNozzo handled the not-so-gentle teasing from his female partner well. You could see that her comments about his short tenure at his other jobs bothered him, but he hid it and even had a snappy, if overly charming, come back. I couldn’t figure out what Kate was up to since, if I was right, it was her speaking to Gibbs that had gotten him to back off from me. As I continued to watch, though, I could see DiNozzo relaxing. Obviously, this banter was familiar with him and he found some relief in that familiarity.
I was already beginning to be ashamed of myself when Tony asked what I’d done before NCIS. I deliberately down-played my own job as a senator’s aide but Gibbs enlightened the others. I could see surprise in both of their eyes. Kate’s was of grudging respect but Tony’s… all of Tony’s insecurities were right there in his eyes. Why had Gibbs done that? I looked over at him, standing in the back. The look he gave me was clear. He wanted me to see Tony’s uncertainty.
Rubbing it in, huh, Gibbs?
Gibbs barked at Tony to pay attention to the samples he was working on and I saw the harsh comment actually steady the younger NCIS agent. Me, I usually took Gibbs’ comments too much to heart. I may have been joking about chest pains earlier, but they’d actually been a problem back in the day. Not an issue with my heart but more along the lines of anxiety attacks. Tony just accepted them as a part of Gibbs, without any outward resentment.
Although all of us focused our attention on the sample and the fact that it wasn’t turning the proper color we thought it should, the back of my mind was chewing on an entirely different subject.
The reason that the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” was so often quoted was because it was true. In the years since I’d left Gibbs’ NCIS team, I’d built up our relationship in our mind. We had been fuck buddies. We’d enjoyed each other physically but that was as far as it went. What I was seeing in front of me was Gibbs nurturing Tony. True, it was being done in a non-sentimental Jethro Gibbs-like way, but the truth of the matter was that I wasn’t deep enough into Gibbs’ heart for him to have done that with me.
I hadn’t ever been.
The only one I had been fooling was myself. Hell, for all I knew, Gibbs had tried to use me to make Tony jealous. I had the feeling that, if that had been the case, then it had backfired on him. Badly.
It brought me some measure of comfort, the thought that Leroy Jethro Gibbs wasn’t a saint either.
The case ended successfully, as cases involving Gibbs usually did. It didn’t end happily, what with an superior on the ship abusing the trust of his men by slipping them illegal drugs. I could see by the tightness around Gibbs’ eyes that he was upset. I wanted to think that a part of that, albeit a small part, might have been because of the way things went down between him and me. For all his apparent callousness, I know it hadn’t been his intent to lead me on. That just wasn’t Gibbs’ style.
“I have to say, it was like déjà vu working with you again, boss,” I said, trying to lighten his mood.
“Good déjà vu or bad,” he asked, unusually playful.
I had the feeling an apology had been offered – and I had no hesitation in accepting it.
“Good…” I started.
“And bad,” we both finished.
I could almost feel the two younger NCIS agents trailing behind me exchange looks.
“You know, Boss, in all seriousness” I said earnestly. It was important that Gibbs understood how much I appreciated knowing I could always count on him. “You know much it means to me that we’re….
Characteristically, Gibbs cut me off before I could continue.
“Aw, hell, Stan.” He said gruffly. “You’re not gonna get all huggy on me?”
I smiled ruefully and glanced at Tony. No, Jethro Gibbs would not want to hug another man in front of Tony, not just then. “No, I guess I’m not.”
“I didn’t think so,” Gibbs said, offering me his hand. “Bye.”
“Bye,” I said, shaking with him. It was the touch of a colleague, not a lover. Not even a former lover. By this time, I expected nothing else.
As I watched him and Kate walk off, I felt a presence next to me.
“You know, in the two years I’ve worked for Gibbs, he’s never shaken my hand once. Never.” Tony sounded sad.
The kid had no clue. Absolutely no clue. If he’d been around five years ago, he’d have known how differently Gibbs treated him than he’d treated me, after only two years. Of course, if Tony’d been around five years ago, Gibbs likely never would have been in my bed in the first place. Not even as fuck buddies.
I looked over at the younger man, expecting to feel jealousy or even superiority, for knowing what Tony did not. Instead, I saw the pain in those expressive eyes and again felt a measure of shame. I was at least partially responsible for putting it there.
“I was in the office two years before he even looked me in the eye,” I said, gesturing to Gibbs with my chin.
“Really,” Tony replied, hope beginning to color his voice.
“Three years before he called me by name; four ‘til he got it right. By then, I’d actually gotten used to ‘Steve.’” I shared a smile with Tony. This was right. Reassuring him was the right thing to do – as a gift to Gibbs. “He must really like you.”
As Tony smiled at me, I realized that the gift of reassuring him had actually been for me too. That smile was so joyful, it washed away the remnants of my shame for having inflamed his insecurities in the first place.
“Thanks,” Tony said and shook my hand.
I watched as he rejoined the other two and shook my head. I fancied that I could see his confidence increase with every step. I hoped Gibbs knew what he was in for, something told me that a truly confident Tony DiNozzo would be a handful. I sighed as I realized that the thought provoked a reaction I hadn’t expected. Tony wasn’t the only one I was envying at the thought. That smile of DiNozzo’s…. part of me was envying Gibbs too.
As I watched their plane diminish in the distance, I came to the conclusion that what I really felt was a sense of liberty. A chapter in my life was closed – I no longer worked for Gibbs but I’d proven that I could work with him.
And when all was said and done, that was more than enough.
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