The Way Things Are Done

~ Set in season one, no spoilers. Written for the NCIS Tinsel

Tony had been sitting at his desk for half an hour, shuffling folders from one drawer to another in what might have been an attempt to make it look like he was working. He was actually trying to find a file that he had to write a follow-up on -- if Kate ever looked over and accused him of goofing off he had his rebuttal already prepared, with names and details and I can't believe I have to revisit this case *again*. But she hadn't said a word, and when Gibbs stormed down the stairs and yelled at them to get in the van, Tony jumped up and grabbed his backpack and tensed as Gibbs walked past.

But either Gibbs knew he'd been working, or for once didn't care. He sailed on by, not looking back to see if Tony and Kate were following. He never did look back; Tony was always half-tempted to test if Gibbs just didn't care, or if he could see out of the back of his head. The one time Tony had tested it by waving his fingers in front of his nose, not only had Gibbs turned around, but Director Morrow had walked up and they'd both looked at him like he was insane.

As they boarded the elevator, Tony settled his pack on his shoulder and waited, wondering what Gibbs was going to say about his alleged goofing off. But all Gibbs said was, "We have two dead Marines in the garage of a deserted house."

Deputy Carla Devane was, as Tony knew guys liked to call her, Carla Devine. He didn't stoop to using such a crass line when she introduced herself -- though he knew by the look on Kate's face she expected he was thinking it. But he just smiled, and held her hand for just that extra second that made a woman feel appreciated, then said nothing as Gibbs demanded answers from the Sheriff. Tony gave Carla a slow, but brief, once-over, letting her catch him at it.

She grinned at him, and Tony fell back to walk beside her as they headed towards the house. He listened with half an ear to the Sheriff describe who had found the bodies, and hitched his backpack on his shoulder to check its weight -- making sure he hadn't forgotten the back-up camera for those irritating times when his regular camera decided it didn't care if Gibbs wanted photos of the entire crime scene and then some.

Not surprisingly, the weight was right, and when Gibbs barked out assignments Tony was already pulling the camera out and popping the lens, asking Carla for her phone number and deciding if she was the seafood and wine type, or pizza and beer.

As Tony headed for the garage, the smell of the dead bodies hit him. He hid his reaction with ease, stepping up to view the scene. Gibbs was already clenching his jaw -- the Marines were stripped to their shorts, tied, gagged, and very obviously dead. Tony began taking photos, and as he moved past Gibbs he kept an eye out for it.

But Gibbs apparently didn't care that he'd wasted precious time flirting with the deputy, while the corpses grew infinitesimally colder. Tony shrugged mentally, and continued snapping pictures.

"You know what I think?" Tony gave the Sheriff a direct look. The hard glare of his expression wouldn't be dimmed at all by the dark sunglasses he was wearing.

"What do you think, Agent DiNozzo?" Rolands asked, in a slow drawl that made it perfectly clear he could care less, and didn't think Special Agent DiNozzo had anything interesting to say about anything, ever.

Tony glanced over at Kate as she carefully hauled their murderer towards a police vehicle. Gibbs was only a few steps away, though it wasn't like a scrawny seventy year old woman was going to get very far if she tried to run from a yard full of cops.

The killer had turned out to be the Sheriff's mother in law, who had been sending her daughter regular letters describing the nice young men who came by her home to do the yard work. And how those nice young men made such pretty pictures, all spread out on the floor of the garage.

"I think you're a complete moron," Tony said.

Rolands' face flushed. "How the hell was I supposed to know?" He'd been shouting those same words ever since they'd identified the killer's thumbprint, left on a piece of rope. Everything else had been carefully wiped clean -- the old woman had carefully studied the manuals she'd got from her son in law, describing police procedures for gathering forensic evidence.

Kate had already explained how maybe if the Sheriff had looked into any single one of those letters, he might have discovered what was going on. But he'd brushed them off as nonsense, an old lady's senility. Gibbs had just glared pure hot death at the man, and spoken to the old woman with a tone of respect reserved only for young children and the guy who made the coffee on Fridays. Tony couldn't decide if it was because the old woman might really be senile, or if it was because she reminded Gibbs of a grandmother that used to spank him for using bad language in the house.

But Tony shook his head. "Why the hell did she have to ask total strangers to clean up her yard, anyway? Between you and -- didn't you say you had two sons? Nearly teenagers? Maybe it shoulda been you that was dead in the garage, instead of Marines just trying to lend an old woman a hand."

Sheriff Rolands opened his mouth, but said nothing. Tony turned and headed for the car, not watching as Deputy Devane had the dubious pleasure of escorting her boss to the station for questioning.

As Gibbs fell in beside him, Tony tensed for just a second. But Gibbs didn't comment on his words to the Sheriff. He didn't say anything as they headed for the car. Tony grabbed the passenger seat before Kate got to the car and buckled in, and played with the radio for ten seconds before Gibbs snapped it off.

Tony finished his report two hours after everyone else had left. Gibbs hadn't actually left the building, yet; he'd gone down to the morgue to talk to Ducky. Tony figured they were talking about just how scary old ladies could be.

He would have had his report finished earlier, before even Kate -- but he'd had to fix the printer twice, get a new ink cartridge once, and four times convince his computer to stop typing everything in Chinese. He'd finally got his report printed, in English, and dropped it on Gibbs' desk.

As he went back to his own desk to grab his jacket, Tony realised that he was nervous. He knew he should have been delighted. He should have been crowing about it to Kate, or Abby -- though Abby would celebrate with him, while Kate would have just rolled her eyes and told him he was an idiot.

But he wasn't delighted, and no matter how many times he told himself to relax, he found that he couldn't.

He tried not to think about the fact Gibbs hadn't slapped him on the head once since the case had begun. All that morning, in fact, Tony had told himself that he'd finally done it, finally convinced Gibbs that he'd achieved whatever goals Gibbs had set for him way back on that first day he'd been hired. Not that Gibbs had shared those goals with him, but they'd been easy enough to figure out once the headslaps had begun.

But now that he'd apparently made it -- Tony found himself nervous and paranoid and not at all like celebrating.

He heard the elevator ding and the doors slide open. He hurried to catch it, shoulders tensing tighter as he saw Gibbs step out. Tony nodded casually, forcing himself to sound as normal as possible and said, "Night, boss."

For a second there was nothing, then suddenly -- just as he crossed the threshold onto the elevator -- he did it. Right smack dab on the back of his head.

Tony whirled. "What was that for?"

The elevator doors were closing, however, and Gibbs just smiled and didn't say a word.

As the elevator began to move, Tony smiled in return.