A/N: From Episode 7.05 (143) “Code of Conduct,” in which Jimmy has the “genius” idea that the liquid nitrogen which had killed the officer must have been carried in a small container – possibly a thermos. Gibbs gives Abby a kiss for good work, after which Jimmy puts out his cheek, only to be head slapped by Gibbs.
“How could I be so stupid?“ Jimmy thought with a sigh, as he got on the elevator. “Of course Abby gets a peck on the cheek, but why did I think – even for a millisecond – that he’d give me one, too?”
His thoughts were interrupted when the doors opened and the object of his obsession – Leroy Jethro Gibbs – walked into the small metal box that he often commandeered as his private office. Instinctively, Jimmy backed himself into a corner, wishing that he could somehow make himself invisible, or at least smaller. No such luck.
“Palmer,” was Gibbs’ only acknowledgement.
“S-Sir,” Jimmy stammered, then inwardly kicked himself. He hated how he usually groveled or fled before the man, or, in nervous confusion, did or said things that were completely inappropriate. Like sticking his cheek out, as he’d done earlier today, expecting to get the same reward as Abby from the imposing Special Agent. Remembering it anew, he felt those cheeks burn with embarrassment. The few seconds it took for the elevator to reach the parking lot level felt like hours.
Jimmy’s misery suddenly turned to panic, however, when Gibbs unexpectedly killed the power, bringing the elevator to an abrupt stop and plunging them both into the semi-darkness of the emergency lights.
“Did you seriously expect…?” the older man began, rounding on Jimmy, who actually pressed himself against the wall like a small animal trapped by its predator. Seeing him cowering there, Gibbs paused mid-sentence.
“I thought Ducky said you liked being head slapped?” he demanded, surprising Jimmy enough to snap him out of his mental freeze.
“Dr. Mallard said that?” he gaped. “But… But why would he…?”
“You tell me,” Gibbs grunted, still fixing the younger man with his cool gaze.
Jimmy suddenly remembered the first (and only) time the ME had laid a hand on the back of his head.
“OH! Oh…” he mumbled, his voice trailing off.
“Oh, what?” Gibbs prodded.
Jimmy swallowed, realizing that Gibbs expected an answer, and that there was no chance of getting out of this elevator until he gave him one.
“Well, I, ah, um… when Dr. Mallard did it, you see, I was sort of… well, just a tiny bit, um, glad, y’know, because… well, since it… it signifies – when you do it, to Tony and McGee – that they’re, you know, part of the team. Your team,” he finally managed, trembling from head to toe.
“So you liked it because it made you feel like part of the team?” Diggs slowly asked for confirmation.
“Y-Yes, S-Sir. I mean, Agent Gibbs,” Jimmy stuttered.
“But you’d rather be treated like Abby than Tony, I assume.”
It was a statement, not a question, but Jimmy felt compelled (in his panic-stricken state) to answer it anyway.
“Y-Yes, Sir. That is, if you… I mean, if I was… were, y’know, like Abby. I mean, if I were a… a girl. Young woman. Sir!”
Gibbs seemed to ponder this for a moment, which gave Jimmy the time he needed to catch his breath, although by no means enough to calm down. His heart was still racing when Gibbs shrugged and took a step closer.
“Well, why didn’t you just say so?” Gibbs said.
“I… I’m sorry?” Jimmy responded, more confused than ever.
Gibbs grabbed Jimmy’s face securely with both hands, then planted his lips on the younger man’s left cheek.
“There. You happy now?”
Jimmy melted and pooled in a puddle on the floor. At least, that was what it felt like. His legs simply gave out from under him and he landed on his bottom, staring up at Gibbs in utter shock.
“Palmer, if you’re gonna be part of the team, there are a few things you’re gonna have to learn,” Gibbs patiently explained, squatting to get down to his eye level. “Number one: Always anticipate! Number two…”
He grabbed Jimmy by his jacket and roughly pulled him up into a standing position.
“Learn how to work on a boat! Are you any good with hand tools?”
Dazed, all Jimmy could do was jerk his head vertically.
“Good. We’ll grab dinner on the way over,” Gibbs told him, turning the elevator power back on.
Jimmy knew that he was in for the ride of his life.