Spencer stood at the bullpen area, looking around with confusion.
It was only three days ago that he received the call that Gibbs had been injured in a bombing. He had been in Vegas after returning his mom there once the Fisher King’s case was over, and it took him time to collect his belongings, book a flight, board it and return to Virginia. When the Hospital told him Gibbs had been discharged the previous day, he didn’t hesitate in heading to the Navy Yard, using his FBI credentials to get through the doors and up to the floor where he knew he could find the ex-Marine.
Which was why he was more than a bit bewildered to find a stranger sitting at Gibbs’ desk and giving orders with the man himself nowhere in sight.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood there before someone approached him, but he knew he wouldn’t have noticed her if she hadn’t started talking.
“Can I help you?”
The hint of an accent in her voice, combined with a complexion most would refer to as ‘exotic’, helped him put a name to the face he had never seen before. Ziva David, a Mossad Liaison within NCIS. He could see two men behind her, watching them, and could only guess these were Anthony DiNozzo and Timothy McGee – though for the life of him he couldn’t tell which was which.
“Err... yes,” he said after a pause that was just long enough to be uncomfortable. “I’m looking for Agent Gibbs.”
If the three’s full attention wasn’t in him before, it was now.
“You know Gibbs?” David asked, surprised.
“I do,” Spencer replied. “Is he here?”
“He’s not here,” one of the men said. “Special Agent DiNozzo, by the way,” he added. “These are Special Agent McGee and Officer David. And you are...?”
The effect the name caused was immediate.
“Reid?” McGee asked. “Dr. Reid from the BAU? I read your Engineering Doctorate work, it was... wow.”
“Sorry for intruding the geeky moment,” DiNozzo cut in, “but what is an FBI Agent doing in the Navy Yard?”
“As I said,” Spencer said, trying to fight the feeling that this was an interrogation, “I’m looking for Agent Gibbs.”
“He’s not here,” DiNozzo repeated.
“When will he be back?” Spencer asked.
Spencer’s eyes widened slightly before he pulled his composure back together. His eyes darted between the three before settling on DiNozzo, marking him as the one in charge.
“Do you know where I can find him?”
“Most likely at his home,” DiNozzo shrugged.
“And if he isn’t?”
This time, it seemed like the NCIS Agents were the ones caught by surprise.
“You...” McGee started, glancing at the other two. “You’ve been to Gibbs’ home?”
“Yes, and he isn’t there,” Spencer replied, starting to get impatient. “So if you could please tell me when will he get here, or when he’ll return from whatever case or mission he’s currently on –”
“He won’t,” DiNozzo replied. “He... Gibbs retired yesterday. If he’s not home... I honestly don’t know where he might be.”
“Retired?” Even though he knew the meaning of the word, it didn’t seem to register in Spencer’s mind. “No, he wouldn’t – he wouldn’t retire. NCIS was his life.”
“Key word being ‘was’,” DiNozzo told him. “As in, past tense. What do you need from him, anyway? Maybe I could help.”
“It’s not... it’s not work-related,” Spencer muttered. “I... I got a call from the Hospital and I...”
“You got a call from the Hospital?” DiNozzo repeated. “Sorry, who did you say you were again?”
Four faces looked up to see the NCIS Director, Jenny Shepard, rushing down the stairs. When she reached Spencer, she stopped just before she pulled him into a hug, studying his face instead.
“Where were you?” she asked. “I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday.”
“I was on flights and driving,” Spencer replied.
He didn’t miss the way David muttered, “Never be unreachable,” under her breath, but he didn’t care much for it, either.
“Is it true? Did Da –” He cut off, glancing at the curious agents behind him before resuming. “Did he really retire?”
“I... I’m afraid so,” Jenny said. “Why don’t you come up to my office? You have a lot to catch up to after the past few days.”
The hesitation and worry were clear in Spencer’s voice as he followed the Director up the stairs, three sets of eyes following them all the way up. As soon as the door closed behind them, newly appointed team leader Tony DiNozzo turned to his co-workers.
“I’ll talk to my contacts, see if any of them have any information about Dr. Spencer Reid,” Ziva said before he could say anything.
“I’ll start hacking into his FBI files,” Tim added. “Shouldn’t take too long – I kept the backdoor from last time I had to hack in.”
“Do it in Abby’s lab,” Tony told him. “I don’t want to risk him or the Director coming back before you’re done and catching sight of what you’re doing, and I think she could use some company right now.”
“Heading down now,” Tim nodded, and Tony sat down by his own – previously Gibbs’ – desk.
He hesitated for a moment before opening Gibbs’ NCIS files and starting to dig through them, searching for any case that might have a mention of Dr. Reid’s name. Ten minutes later, Ziva had given up on her contacts, he had given up on trying to find information in Gibbs’ files, and the Director’s door remained closed.
Only one thought remained in Tony’s mind, refusing to fade away even for a moment.
Who was this man, who seemed so close to Gibbs... and why didn’t any of them know he existed?
Spencer looked at the men who sat in the living room, talking to his mom.
He recognized the first of them, the younger-looking one who has done most of the talking. He was the man from next to the dumpster a few weeks ago. The one who gave him sandwiches.
He didn’t recognize the other one, but took slight comfort at the fact that he didn’t look like Social Services. He knew what they looked like – one of them came and took Ashley, the girl who used to live a few houses down the street. People at the school said they gave her new parents, somewhere else.
He didn’t want new parents. All he wanted was his mom.
When the men gave his mom a paper to sign, he tensed. His breath hitched in his throat when the man from next to the dumpster turned to look at his hiding place, as if he knew he was there all along.
When the man approached him, he didn’t say anything.
“Hello, Spencer,” the man said. “I’m Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. You can call me either Jethro or Gibbs, whatever makes you feel more comfortable.” He paused for a moment before adding, “Do you recognize me?”
“Yeah,” Spencer said quietly. “I saw you a few weeks ago. You gave me sandwiches.”
“I’m glad to see you remember,” Gibbs smiled softly. “How are you?”
“Are you going to take me away from my mom?” Spencer blurted out.
Gibbs hesitated for a moment, glancing at the other man. “What makes you think that?”
“That’s what happened to Ashley,” Spencer muttered. “Two men came to her house and took her away from her parents. They gave her new ones. I don’t want you to take me from my mom.”
“We’re not here to take you from your mom,” Gibbs replied. “Actually, we’re here to make sure you stay with her as long as you can. I’m going to start sending the two of you money for food. You won’t have to dig through dumpsters anymore.”
“What do you get from this?” Spencer asked.
“Knowing that I helped someone in need live a slightly better life.”
Spencer studied the older man’s face closely.
“I’m not sure if I believe you,” he finally stated.
“Yeah,” Gibbs sighed, ruffling the boy’s hair fondly. “I’m not sure if I believe me, either.”
Jenny Shepard had only met Dr. Spencer Reid twice in all the time she knew Gibbs.
The first time was when he received his doctorate. Gibbs invited her to the event while they were still dating, and while she didn’t come as his date as planned, she couldn’t bear to miss the chance to finally meet the young man Gibbs spoke so often about. The second time was when he graduated from the FBI Academy just a year ago, shortly after she became Director of NCIS. She was there as a friend, not as an official representative, and even though her face was recognized by many it didn’t take from the attention placed on the newly graduated.
In both times, nobody could miss the pride Gibbs felt for Spencer, or the love between the father and son duo. Just like nobody could miss the obvious distress the young man was currently in.
“Amnesia?” he repeated. “Da- He has amnesia?”
“His memory seems to slowly come back to him,” Jenny explained. “He seemed to recognize the team members and me, but judging by what Ducky told me, he still has big gaps in his memory.”
“Gaps,” Spencer said slowly. “Gaps like... like me.”
“I can only assume,” Jenny replied. “I just... I don’t see any other explanation as to why he hadn’t called you yet.”
Nodding slowly, Spencer knew there was truth in her words. Though it happened, it was rare for Spencer to not call Gibbs after something big had occurred – both good and bad. Gibbs, on his side, never failed to call Spencer after being in a life threatening situation, the call often being the first thing the older man did once he got his phone and some privacy.
For him not to call Spencer after something like this... his amnesia was the only explanation Spencer could think of.
Jenny took one look at the young man’s face before pulling him into a tight hug, pausing when he flinched slightly.
“Are you hurt?” she asked.
“Bad case about a week ago,” Spencer replied. “I was cleared to drive the next morning and should be back in the field by next week. I’m fine.”
“What’s the damage?” she asked.
“Don’t ‘Jenny’ me, Spencer,” Jenny scolded. “What’s the damage?”
“A few bruised ribs and smoke inhalation,” Spencer replied.
“Smoke inhalation?” she repeated. “From what?”
Spencer hesitated for a moment before seeing the look the Director was giving him. He sighed, muttering his reply quietly.
“I ran back into the house the bomb exploded in to save a little girl.”
Jenny’s eyes widened, and she didn’t hesitate before pulling up Spencer’s shirt to see a number of blue bruises and small burns. Pushing her hand away, Spencer pulled his shirt back down.
“Does Gibbs know?” she asked.
“Do you honestly believe he would have let me out of his sight for a moment if he did?” Spencer questioned, closing his eyes for a moment. “Maybe if I told him, I could have stopped him from boarding that ship to begin with.”
“There’s no point in wondering about what might have happened,” Jenny told him. “What you should be concerned about is what you’re going to do next, and the people who are here. I know that Ducky has been trying to call you for a while, too.”
“I haven’t even touched my phone since I got the call from the Hospital,” Spencer admitted.
For the first time in a few days, Jenny felt a smile forming on her lips.
“Gibbs would have been disappointed.”
“Yeah,” Spencer agreed, feeling a small, worried smile of his own growing. “He would have.”
The more time Spencer spent at the Gibbs residence, the more he allowed himself to feel at home there.
He still visited his mother, though the visits were no longer regular, and were fewer and far between. As his seventeenth birthday came and passed, Spencer was starting to realize that while Deanna was and would always be his mom, she was never really a parent. Ever since William left, he was the parent.
Until Gibbs came into the picture. He was the best father – the best parent Spencer could have hoped for.
Tough and yet still caring. Set clear boundaries and yet still knew to let go, if it was needed. And, most importantly, there was never a time that Spencer needed him and he wasn’t there – if not in person then on the phone.
When Spencer received his ‘Doctor’ title a few months before his eighteenth birthday, Gibbs was cheering from the crowd with the other families, and his mother was having a particularly bad day. When he stepped off the stage, he was engulfed in a tight, rare hug, and was then introduced to Jenny Shepard.
Though neither his father nor she spoke about it in this event, Spencer knew of their past relationship and managed to reduce the level of awkwardness that was threatening to swallow the three of them. When Jenny smiled and told him she’d heard a lot about him, he didn’t doubt her sincerity for a moment.
Because that was what his Dad was like. He cared for very few people, but he cared for them wholeheartedly, and without bounds.
Still, something seemed wrong when Spencer and Gibbs arrived home after the graduation ceremony. The older man was spending more and more time in his basement, only coming out for meals – when he remembered to, that is.
With not much else to do, Spencer kept busy by methodically going through the house and cleaning it up, placing everything he wasn’t sure his Dad would want to keep in a box and putting it aside for the two of them to look through later. But the house was only that big, with that many rooms, and with the basement already preoccupied, Spencer soon found himself moving to clean up the attic.
There weren’t many things up there but dust and cobwebs, but it was enough to keep him busy for the morning. Lunch was a quiet affair, and Spencer excused himself early to go back to work.
He sunk back into the task of clearing the attic, the hours flying by as he cleaned and tidied out the large space. He didn’t stop for a moment – not until he came across a large, heavy box at the back of the room.
Opening it up, Spencer started going through everything that it held inside, pausing when he reached a stack of pictures.
The pictures were of Gibbs, a woman and a girl. Occasionally, other people were present – he noticed Papa Jackson in some of them – but mostly, it was the trio that starred in the pictures.
A specific picture caught his eye and he picked it up to examine closely. It was of Gibbs and the little girl. She couldn’t be older than seven, maybe eight years old, and Gibbs was carrying her on his shoulders as they were both smiling at the camera.
Spencer’s Dad looked happy in the picture, happier than Spencer had ever seen him. The dark cloud that always seemed to hang above him, from the first time they met, was missing. It saddened Spencer a little to know he was never able to make Gibbs that happy.
He was unaware of the man that had been observing him for the past several minutes until Gibbs spoke aloud.
“Her name was Kelly.”
From Jenny’s office, Spencer went straight to the morgue. He knew Ducky wanted to see him just as much as he wanted to see the older man, but he wasn’t ready to find an anxious Goth already there, talking to the medical examiner in a speed he barely caught up to.
“There’s nothing Tony or Ziva managed to find out about him from their contacts or the old case files,” she said. “And McGee got locked out of the FBI files when he tried to hack in – and then Fornell called and told him to keep his nose out of other people’s business. How does this Reid guy know Gibbs? How does he know the Director? And Tony heard she said you’ve been trying to call him, as well –”
“Have you considered the possibility that Jethro kept his relationship with Spencer a secret for a reason?” Ducky asked.
“It can’t be a secret,” the woman huffed impatiently. “More than two people know about it – check rule number four.”
“Yes, well...” Ducky sighed. “Let’s just say that it won’t be the first time Jethro made an exception for Spencer.”
“An exception? For Gibbs’ rules? I mean, who is this kid?”
“You know,” Spencer started tiredly, “you can always just ask me.”
The change in the atmosphere of the room was so clear Spencer could almost feel the shift in his bones. The woman flinched slightly at realizing she was overheard by the very same person she was talking about, but Spencer noted with no little amount of respect that she didn’t back away from him. Ducky looked like he needed a good night’s sleep, but his smile didn’t appear to be forced.
“Spencer,” he said. “How are you?”
“I’ve certainly had my better,” Spencer shrugged.
“Yes,” Ducky nodded, “the director told me all about your physical condition at the moment. Though, I suppose your mental state isn’t far better. Come,” he added, marking Spencer to move closer. “Take your shirt off, I need to examine you.”
“I’m afraid I’m a bit different than your usual patients, Ducky,” Spencer said, trying to hide his embarrassment at taking his shirt off in front of a woman he only just met. “They mostly appear to be dead.”
“All the better for me,” Ducky said without missing a beat. “At the very least, you’ll talk back, and I assure you there will be no scalpels involved. Now, sit down,” he instructed sharply. “Ducky’s orders.”
Sighing, Spencer moved forward and sat down on the chair before Ducky.
With nothing more than a quick glance towards the Goth who stood next to him, Spencer pulled his shirt over his head, holding back a wince as the movement tore at his aching muscles. He ignored the sharp intake of breath coming from her, as well as the look on Ducky’s face at the sight.
“Oh, dear,” the coroner muttered, looking over the colorful bruises as he poked on prodded the skin around them, evoking a hiss out of Spencer’s mouth. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, my boy. May I ask what happened?”
“Explosion. A week ago.”
“And am I right to assume that Jethro doesn’t know?”
Spencer didn’t reply.
“Who are you?” the woman breathed out.
“Abigail...” Ducky started.
“No,” Abigail said. “Because Gibbs clearly cares about you, by the way Ducky and the Director had been treating you, and you care about him enough that you don’t want him to worry about you. But we can’t find anything about you or about how Gibbs is related to you and –”
“Abby,” a voice said from behind.
“Who are you?” she repeated. “I just... who are you?”
“I...” Spencer’s voice caught in his throat, all too aware of Abby’s wide eyes, Ducky’s sad ones and the person who stood behind him. “I’m... Gibbs is...”
“Spencer is Gibbs’ adopted son,” Ducky finally said the words Spencer couldn’t. “He took him in after Spencer’s mother was no longer able to care for him. I don’t know how they knew each other before, but...”
“Where’s my Dad?” Spencer found himself asking before he could stop himself. “Where is he? Because if he’s not home and he’s not here, then...”
“We’ll find him,” Tony said, walking away from the door and towards Spencer. “We might not know where he is now, but we’ll find him. And I promise that as soon as he sees you, he’ll remember who you are to him.”
Spencer nodded slowly, looking up at Tony as both men tried to pretend they didn’t know it was a promise Tony might not be able to keep.
A week later found Spencer standing at the doorstep of a house to the coast of Mexico. It wasn’t by any means easy to find Gibbs, but after looking through all possible places where the man might be, the whole team reached the conclusion that Mike Franks’ house was the only option.
If Gibbs wasn’t here, then they truly had no idea where to find him.
So Spencer called Gideon, quickly explaining the situation to him before requesting to take a leave to find his father. Gideon agreed without hesitation, telling Spencer that he will write it as days off received from the hospital for Spencer to heal. Once that was settled, Spencer took the first plane to Mexico that he could get, not bothering to stop for a rest before renting a car and driving straight to Mike’s house.
He knocked on the door only once before the man in question opened the door. Spencer didn’t need to say anything before the man sighed.
“Heard a car coming,” he said. “Figured it must be you. I have to warn you... his memory’s not completely back yet.”
“I don’t care,” Spencer replied. “I want to see him.”
“As you wish,” Mike shrugged. “He’s out the back. Probably working on that ship of his.”
Spencer nodded once before moving, quickly moving through the house and towards where his father was. He stood silently for about a minute, doing nothing but observe Gibbs before the older man noticed he was there.
“Hi,” he said. “Can I help you with something?”
“Do you know who I am?” Spencer asked.
Gibbs tensed for a moment, seemingly anticipating an attack before Mike arrived with a frown on his face.
“Spencer...” he started.
“Spencer?” Gibbs cut the man off, the name triggering a memory inside him. “You’re the kid from the dumpster. I gave you sandwiches.”
“No,” Spencer said sharply. “That’s not who I am. Do you remember? Please, I... I need you to remember.”
Gibbs frowned, trying to remember more about the kid who clearly had more in mind about their relationship than Gibbs did. He searched his mind, trying to remember what followed his meeting with the boy in Las Vegas. They found his home and visited. They met his mother – Deanna – and she signed papers for them. And then...
Spencer calling him, scared, and before he knew it he was lying to the cops and taking him in. Christmas with Ducky and Thanksgiving at home, Spencer graduating from university at eighteen and the two of them sitting in the attic as Gibbs shared his oldest secret with the boy who managed to warm his way into his heart.
“Spencer,” he said, a certainty to his voice that wasn’t there before. “Spencer,” he repeated, taking a step forward and pulling the man in question into a hug. “Of course I remember you. I’m sorry I ever forgot.”
“Apologizing is a weakness,” Spencer muttered as he buried his face into his father’s shoulder, his hands grasping at Gibbs’ shirt.
And though Gibbs couldn’t help but agree, he knew by now that Spencer seemed to be the exception to most of his rules.
“Her name was Kelly,” Gibbs said, “and she was seven years old when she died. That’s why I was in Vegas when we met. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next.”
Spencer swallowed hard, opening his mouth to ask the question he was dreading only for Gibbs to shake his head before a single word came out.
“You’re not here to replace her,” he said. “I... I don’t think anyone can replace her. But just because the two of you are different doesn’t mean that I am any less your father. And it doesn’t make you any less my son.”
Spencer didn’t hesitate to believe him, knowing that no matter what was going on, his father will never lie to him.
“Dad?” he started slowly. “I... I love you.”
Gibbs pulled Spencer into a tight hug, one of the rare kind that the teenager was one of the only ones to get.
“I love you, too, kiddo,” he said quietly. “I love you, too.”