Two Negatives Make a Positive

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: So, back when I saw Light Sleeper for the first time, I was stewing enough about how Tony was treated that I came up with a couple ep tag ideas. I didn't have time to write them then, but one of the tag ideas stuck around, so here we go...

Thanks to rebecca for betaing this for me and to Aurelia Priscus for a quick consult. Even if they did force me to rewrite a chunk of it. :-P

Tony straddled one of the rolling chairs in Abby's lab and folded his hands across the back. He used his toes to push himself over next to her and peered at the evidence laid out on the counter. "I just don't get it," he said, resting his chin on his arms. "He's been pissy with me all day. Not quite like I spilled his coffee. Just, you know, like I got him a small instead of a large or something."

Abby didn't even look away from the evidence she was examining. "Everyone has bad days," she said, distracted. "Even Gibbs."

"Especially Gibbs," Tony muttered.

She looked up just long enough to roll her eyes at him. "You know better than that. He's not nearly as grumpy as he likes to pretend half the time."

"Yeah, well, I don't think today was just a bad day." Tony watched curiously as Abby went over some sort of sweater with a magnifying glass. He wondered what she was looking for.

"How could today not be a bad day?" Abby asked. "You've been bitching to me about it for nearly half an hour now."

Tony winced; he hadn't meant to pass the bad vibes along. "Sorry. It's just...he wasn't doing it to anyone but me. McGee got advice, Ziva at least got tolerance. he shut down when I was trying to be nice. I swear, I was falling all over myself to keep him happy and I got nowhere."

Setting the magnifying glass down, Abby hitched herself up onto a stool and let her hands hang down between her knees. "I swear, Tony, when it comes to Gibbs all your people skills vanish into thin air."

"They do not!" Tony protested, sitting up straight.

"They so do. You're just lucky boss man never had any people skills to begin with. It's like math with you two." Abby grinned. "Two negatives make a positive."

Tony snorted. "So what am I missing, oh oracle of Gibbs?"

Closing her eyes, Abby took a deep breath and spread her hands, palm up, as if invoking some deity. "I see...Gibbs..."

"What a shocker," Tony muttered under his breath.

Abby cracked an eye open. "You want your insight or not?"

Tony raised his hands. "I shall atone with a Caf-Pow."

She nodded and closed her eyes again. "I see Gibbs coming in to work. He catches a case...involving Marines. Dead Marine wives...innocents." She raised an admonishing finger, silencing Tony's protest without even opening her eyes. "Apparent innocents. Maybe he wasn't feeling too peachy before, but now he's really twitchy. Then he discovers that an unhappy marriage might have been involved. With Gibbs, definitely a sore spot. All he wants to do growl at someone."

"Okay, I can see why he'd be in a bad mood," Tony said. "But why take it out on me?"

Abby blew out an exasperated breath and gave up the oracle pose. "Who else was he supposed to take it out on? McGee's been a field agent how long?"

"Just over a year," Tony said. Strange. It seemed longer.

"And Ziva's only been around for a few months," Abby said. She paused, obviously waiting for some sort of dawning realization from Tony. He shrugged helplessly. She reached out and thumped him in the shoulder. Hard. "They're both still rookies, Tony!"

He paused, frowning, and rubbed his shoulder. "I guess they are."

"And what happens if you step on a rookie too hard too soon?"

Tony sighed. He got it now. "You can totally destroy their self-confidence and ruin them as an investigator. But Abs, Gibbs has never gone as easy on me as he does on them, not even when I started."

Abby hit him again.

"Ow!" Tony protested, rubbing his shoulder. "What was that for?"

"Being stupid! When you started with Gibbs you had more than five years of field and investigative experience under your belt with the PD. You were new to NCIS, but you weren't new to this kind of work. Gibbs is harder on you because he knows he can be harder on you, that you'll react by working harder, not by freaking out or obsessively checking everything with him before running with it."

"Oh." Tony thought about that for a minute. He...kind of liked it, actually. "So you think he'll be better tomorrow?"

Abby tilted her head and took a long look at him. "Probably. But I think it would be nice if he didn't have to wait until tomorrow to break out of the bad mood."

Tony regarded her warily. "You're planning something."

"Come on, Tony," Abby wheedled. "Haven't you ever had a really shitty day? When nothing feels right even when nothing is wrong and everything feels that much worse when something goes bad?"

"Of course I have. I just don't see what you expect me to do about Gibbs's bad mood," Tony said defensively.

"Now you're just being dense." Abby got up and walked around behind Tony, putting her hands on his shoulders and pushing him, rolling chair and all, towards the door of her lab. "Go. Gibbs could probably use a friend about now."

Tony climbed off the chair and hesitated in the doorway. "I'm not sure I qualify. Maybe Ducky--"

"Ducky is a great guy, but cheering people up isn't his strong point," Abby said firmly. "And if you don't qualify now, that doesn't mean you won't by the time the night is over."

Tony hesitated once more, but slowly turned and made his way towards the elevator. If he was going to show up unannounced at Gibbs's house, he decided, a bribe was definitely in order.


There was no answer at Gibbs's front door, which was no surprise, given what Tony knew the man would be doing after a long, shitty day. So he pushed the door open--unlocked, as usual--and closed it behind himself. "Boss?" he called out, not wanting to surprise Gibbs. A surprised Marine could be lethal.

Gibbs didn't call back, but Tony could hear the faint sound of voices, so he made his way towards the basement door. It was cracked open a little and the evening news drifted up from below. Adjusting his grip on the bag of Chinese he carried, Tony took a breath, pulled the door open further, and padded down the stairs.

Tony hadn't been down here too many times before. Just the occasional night when Gibbs wasn't answering his cell and something came up. Still, it hadn't changed much. The old, battered TV was the same. The light, not all that bright and focused on the boat, was the same. Even Gibbs, dressed in a pair of jeans and a grey t-shirt, was pretty much the same.

It seemed as though he was still in the same bad mood, too. He was leaning into the sanding block, his jaw set in a hard line, gaze fixed on the boat. There was no acknowledgement of Tony's presence, which was good, Tony supposed, because at least it meant Gibbs wasn't kicking him out.

Carefully setting a couple of tools aside, Tony pulled himself up to sit on the workbench and set the bag of food beside himself. He dug into it and pulled out his own dinner and a plastic fork. He didn't say anything, not to greet Gibbs or to offer him food. If he was hungry, the smell would get to him soon enough.

Instead, Tony sat there and ate and watched Gibbs work on the boat. There was something hypnotic about the motion of the sanding block. Steady, even strokes, sawdust drifting gently away from the wood, a testament to progress made. Tony thought maybe he could see why Gibbs liked this.

Abruptly, Gibbs straightened up and turned around, stalking over to the workbench and dropping the sanding block on it with a clatter before reaching out and taking the carton of Chinese, complete with fork, right out of Tony's hand. Tony didn't even blink, just reached into the bag and retrieved the other box.

Gibbs paused before eating a single bite of Tony's food as he got a whiff of the new entree. Tony couldn't help smirking a little as he traded Gibbs's favorite for his own momentarily co-opted meal.

Food in hand, Gibbs turned back to the boat and stepped in between two of the ribs, sitting down on the planking beneath that Tony knew had been his bed on more than one occasion. "What do you want, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked gruffly, his attention on his food.

Tony shrugged. "A vacation in the Bahamas, a pretty girl on either arm, and a million bucks?"

Gibbs snorted. "A million bucks doesn't go as far as it used to."

"You'd be surprised what I could do with a chunk of change like that," Tony said lightly. He wasn't blowing smoke, either. You didn't grow up in a family like his without absorbing some financial know how, whether you wanted to or not. Whether you had access to the real cash or not.

"No, I wouldn't," Gibbs said, cocking an eyebrow at him.

Tony paused. Regular background checks didn't usually go into that sort of detail. But then, when had Gibbs ever settled for the basics? Especially when it came to security. He probably knew more about Tony's family's finances than Tony did, especially after being out of touch for so long. "Okay, so maybe not," he conceded. "What about you? What would you do with a million bucks?"

"I've got everything I need," Gibbs said shortly.

"That's not the same as everything you want," Tony said, pointing at Gibbs with his fork.

"No, it's not." Subdued. That wasn't a mood Tony was used to associating with Gibbs.

He hesitated before speaking, not quite sure what tack to take when Gibbs was like this. Joking? Brush it off? Change the subject? Somehow, none of those seemed right. "Sometimes we can't have the things we want most," he said instead, quietly. "That doesn't mean it isn't nice to have some of the other things."

"You're barely thirty-five." Gibbs set his food aside abruptly. "Excuse me for not considering you the voice of experience."

"You're barely past fifty," Tony shot back. "Excuse me for not considering you dead yet."

Their eyes met and Gibbs snorted a laugh. After a moment he shook his head and picked up his food again. "I'd like to finish this boat and actually sail it," he said after a few bites.

Tony finished the last of his own dinner and tossed the carton and fork back into the bag. "You go sailing often?" he asked, curious. He could swear Gibbs hardly ever took personal time and he never seemed to be out of touch when Tony had to call him.

Gibbs shook his head. "It's been years." Regret colored his tone just a little. "It seemed like every time I arranged it something would come up and I'd have call the marina and cancel."

"I know the feeling," Tony commiserated. "I've had to cancel three weekends in a row sometimes."

Gibbs actually paused. "You sail?"

"Yeah," Tony said, inexplicably pleased. "Since I was a kid."

The look Gibbs shot him then was distinctly speculative. "We've got the weekend off."

Tony grinned. "I've already got a boat reserved."

Gibbs's eyes narrowed, but he didn't seem angry. Just suspicious. "Food," he lifted his carton of Chinese, "and a sailboat on tap? Was this a set up?"

"No," Tony said quickly. He paused. "Well, not by me. Abby, maybe. Although I don't know how she could have predicted the food, even if she did suggest the visit."

A snort. "Abby knows you well enough to know you'd stop for food on the way over," Gibbs pointed out.

Tony considered. "Do you think this means I don't owe her that Caf-Pow after all?"

"I think that you'll lose a valuable body part if you withhold caffiene," Gibbs said dryly, a small smile curving the corner of his mouth.

"Yeah, probably," Tony laughed. Watching Gibbs, seeing the tension go out of his shoulders, Tony suspected he owed Abby more than a Caf-Pow.