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A Hard Road

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Tony sat at his desk, going through the case reports that Ziva and McGee had given him before leaving for the evening. He sighed, looking across at his old desk, and wishing nothing had changed, he missed Gibbs just as much as they did, more in fact, and he just couldn’t understand why they had turned on him the way they had when Gibbs had left. He knew that McGee had always looked down on him for not going to MIT, for not being as smart as him, and Ziva had always considered herself better than him, but they had never been so coldly spiteful before Gibbs had left. He sighed again, slapping the folder shut unread, he plain and simple could be bothered to read it right now.

He turned the desk lamp off, grabbing his backpack and coat and heading for the elevator. His cell rang just then, and he glanced at the screen, smiling as he saw an unknown number, and hitting the icon to pick up.

“Hi,” he said, his smile brightening and his voice softening as he stepped into the empty elevator car.

Jenny watched him go, her eyes narrowing at the way the call obviously made him happy, clearly despite what Ziva had told her, DiNozzo was involved with someone, and that was why he was being resistant to committing to the undercover op she wanted him to take on, she would have to do something about that.

/x/

McGee sat at his computer, feeling more than a little resentful, he had gotten a call from Director Sheppard asking him to come back in and find out who had called DiNozzo’s cell phone earlier that evening, he had been on a date, with a very pretty and willing young woman who had been very impressed with both his qualifications and his writing career, and somehow, even indirectly, Tony bloody DiNozzo had managed to wreck it for him.

“Hello,” he muttered, suddenly more interested in the screen in front of him, the call the Director was interested in had come from a burn phone, in fact, looking further back, there were a lot of calls to and from burn phones, going back months.

“Did you find who he was talking to?” Jenny asked eagerly, coming down from the landing above, where she had been watching him work.

“No, the call was from a burn phone, he’s been sending and receiving a lot of calls to various burn phone numbers for three months now,” McGee said almost gleefully, there was no really legitimate reason for so many untraceable phone calls, so clearly Gibbs golden boy DiNozzo wasn’t so golden after all, and he was sure that Ziva would love to help bring him down, as soon as the Director authorized an investigation.

“Thank you, Agent McGee, I need you to keep this information to yourself for now, I will speak to him myself when he comes in tomorrow,” she said, taking the papers he offered out to her bearing Tony’s phone records.

“Of course, Director,” he agreed with an oily smile, keep it to himself and Ziva maybe, he couldn’t wait to tell her that DiNozzo could be on his way out, and they might finally get the recognition they deserved as the backbone of the MCRT.

/x/

Tony found Ziva and McGee already at their desks when he came in the next morning, both smirking unpleasantly at him, but after the previous night’s phone call he was too happy and relaxed to allow them to get to him right now.

“The Director said she wanted to see you as soon as you came in,” Ziva purred, a glimmer of malice lighting in her eyes.

“Fine,” he sighed, his good mood evaporating as he put his gear behind his desk and hung his coat up before taking the stairs to the upper level two at a time.

“She’s waiting for you, Agent DiNozzo,” Cynthia said, a hint of sympathy in her eyes, she hated to see the way the gregarious and fun loving agent was being beaten down by the people around him.

“Thanks Cynthia,” he nodded, rapping twice on the door and entering a Jennifer Sheppard’s call.

“You wanted to see me Director?” he asked blandly, looking straight ahead, keeping his eyes focused on a point above her head. It was a cheap shot he knew, he was well aware that she didn’t like anything reminding her that she wasn’t the powerhouse she wanted to be, that she was a woman and a rather diminutive one at that, but she had been engaging in her own cheap shots lately, encouraging McGee and David in their insubordination and undermining him at every turn since he first turned down her stupid, shady undercover mission, so he would take what he could get.

“Yes, yes I wanted to see you,” she said with a nasty smile, her fingers coasting across two folders on her desk before she retook her seat, trying to swing the balance of power back in her direction as she didn’t offer him the seat across from her.

“I think it’s time to discuss your undercover mission,” she said directly.

“All due respect, Director, but we have discussed the mission as much as I intend to. Unless you have changed the mission parameters significantly, including proper back up, and changing the target to one actually inside the organization, I am not going to risk my life or my career on what is looking more and more like an unsanctioned op every time I hear about it.”

“I think you will reconsider this time, Agent DiNozzo. I have here your phone records for the last three months, there have been a lot of calls made to and from burn phones, which to me is cause for suspicion, you take the undercover, and I’ll lose this folder, you continue to refuse, and I will start an investigation into you which will be guaranteed to damage, if not destroy not only your career with NCIS, but any chance you would have of working anywhere else,” she said triumphantly.

He looked at her for a long moment, allowing her the moment of smug satisfaction, allowing her to think that she had the upper hand, and then he smirked, his eyes cold and hard, an expression straight out of Gibbs repertoire, and took the wind out of her sails.

“Investigate away, I have nothing to be ashamed of, I have broken no laws, which I’m not entirely certain you can legitimately claim, having McSnoopy go through my phone records without probable cause or a warrant, and yes, I know it was him, he and Ziva looked far too pleased with themselves when I got in this morning. The calls to and from the burn phones are personal, relating directly to my personal life. Not that it is any business of yours, but they use the burn phone for this very reason, because I no longer felt I could trust my ‘colleagues’, because I knew that sooner or later, someone would try to find out who I was seeing and use it against me. So investigate away, Director, I’m sure my lawyers and the union rep will love a chance to investigate back.”

Jennifer stared at him for a long moment, she had been so sure he would cave, and she had no idea what to do now with the angry and dangerous man standing on the other side of her desk. She had to admit to herself that right at this moment she was afraid, she had threatened him, woken the sleeping tiger, and that tiger had woken up mean with the only person who could tame him long gone for parts unknown.

“Are we done, Director, or are there any more threats you would like to make?” he asked, his tone dripping with ice.

“You are dismissed, Agent DiNozzo, I want your reports from yesterday’s case on my desk in an hour,” she said, managing somehow to keep her voice level.

“Of course,” he said with a thin veneer of civility, turning his back on her and walking out of the room.

She slumped back in her chair, her heart racing a mile a minute, she hoped he had calmed down some by the time he came back up, and he also hoped that he didn’t resort to physical means to remonstrate with McGee for his part in this morning’s little fiasco, she couldn’t afford to have the computer whizz out of commission.

The smug smirk slid off McGee’s face as he saw Tony coming back down, heading straight for him like a laser guided missile, the set of his shoulders and face reminding him forcibly of Gibbs on a tear, and he swallowed hard, suddenly very aware that Tony was the team’s brawn, that he was every bit as dangerous as their former boss, as well as being bigger, and quite possibly stronger into the bargain.

Tony came to a halt in front of McGee’s desk and slammed his palms down onto the surface and leaning in very close, increasing the comparison to their departed mentor.

“If you ever so much as contemplate sniffing in the direction of my private life without probable cause or a search warrant again, then assuming you don’t mysteriously vanish one dark night, I will have you in court and make sure that you are buried in a hole so deep and dark that you will never claw your way out. Am I clear?” he hissed in a low voice.

“I…I was under direction…” he started to stutter, but Tony cut him off, his eyes growing even colder.

“Am I clear?” he hissed again.

“Crystal,” McGee said in a sulky tone.

“I don’t know who you are any more Probie, would you have pulled this shit on Gibbs?” he asked, stepping away, his tone suddenly devoid of the anger, sounding weary instead.

“No, but I respected Gibbs,” McGee said before he could bite his tongue, Tony stared at him for a long moment, aware of Ziva snickering softly behind him.

McGee managed to hold his eyes for a long minute, jutting his chin out mulishly to demonstrate that he wasn’t afraid of the bigger man, even if he was, but Tony simply stood and held his gaze until McGee was forced to look away, and only then did Tony return to his desk and pull the files he had been given the night before to him and starting to read the reports.

He read them through numbly, McGee’s last jab still echoing in his head, he had known that they resented his being placed in charge so unceremoniously, but that…that was a step too far, how much longer could he risk staying here, going into the field with them, when he no longer had any surety that they had his back, how could he trust that they wouldn’t worry more about their own skins than backing him up if everything went pear shaped.

/x/

Director Sheppard entered her office the next morning feeling tired and drained, she had gotten very little rest the night before, still on edge about what DiNozzo’s next move might be, and how she was going to manage the undercover op without him, she had put it together certain she could get him onboard, and she wasn’t sure that there was anyone else available to her who could step in, not to mention, she wasn’t sure what DiNozzo would do if she went ahead with the op, given his suspicion that it was unsanctioned.

She saw the envelope in the center of her blotter as she came around the desk to put her purse in the drawer, and wondered if this was the MCRT team lead’s first strike in retaliation or something more sinister. She pulled out some latex gloves and picked it up cautiously, remembering the reports she had read about the bio-weapon that had made it into the building once, there was no way in hell she was going to open it without getting it checked out.

She headed down to the lab, knowing that Abby would more than likely already be there, she had been brought a lot of evidence to process by Agent Balboa’s team the previous day. The pounding beat of Abby’s atrocious music greeted her the moment she stepped out of the elevator, and she sighed, steeling herself to go in.

Abby quickly turned the music off as she saw the Director come into her lab.

“Director, what can I do for you?” she asked uncertainly, past experience had shown her that the Director never came down here unless it was something bad, or she wanted something.

“This letter was lying on my blotter when I came in this morning, there is no indication of who it’s from and how it got there, so…”

“So, you figured better safe than sorry. I so totally get that, it was awful when we nearly lost Tony because of that letter,” Abby said, gloving up to take the letter and taking it over to the hood to open it.

“No powder, just a letter,” she reported after carefully slitting it open, but still being careful.

“I would keep your gloves on to handle it anyway, there is still the possibility of…” she trailed off, staring at the letter she had just taken out of the envelope. She hadn’t meant to read it, but Tony’s signature at the bottom of the short missive had leapt out at her and drawn her attention to the rest of it.

“Tony quit,” she whispered, shocked.

“Miss Sciuto, the letter,” Jenny demanded, holding her hand out.

Abby withdrew it from the hood, handing it over in shell-shocked silence. Jenny winced as she read the short and pointed resignation.

Director J Sheppard

Due to recent events, I am tendering my resignation, effective immediately. I no longer feel that there is anyone in this agency who I can trust to watch my back, or any interests other than their own. I have no desire to become another statistic because backup is not there when I need it.

I will be considering my options regarding our last discussion.

T DiNozzo

Anthony M. DiNozzo Jr

“What…why has Tony quit?” Abby asked in a little voice, having only read the first line. She may have not been as nice to him as she used to be since Gibbs left, because he was dragging his feet about finding him and persuading him to come home where he belonged, but that didn’t mean she loved him any less.

“I don’t know, but I will be finding out,” Jenny lied, she knew exactly why the annoying bastard had quit, and now she needed to run damage control. If he told anyone about the undercover op she was arranging, or the threat she had used to try to force him to take part, she would never manage to get to the Frog.

“Make him change his mind, please, we can’t lose him as well as Gibbs,” Abby begged her as she turned toward the door.

“I’ll do what I can,” she lied again, walking out. As long as she could ensure he would keep his mouth shut, she would be glad to see the back of him.

Hurrying back upstairs, she saw McGee and Ziva just getting settled at their desks.

“McGee, David, my office, now,” she said shortly.

They looked at one another, and then hurried up the stairs after her, filing into her office and standing silently as she settled in her seat.

“Agent DiNozzo has tendered his resignation, effective immediately,” she said without preamble, dropping the letter on the desk.

Seeing the slow, smug smirks starting to appear on the faces of the two people standing across from her, she headed them off quickly.

“I am not willing to accept it at this time, and in this manner. You two will get him back here; I want to speak to him, face to face, before I will even consider allowing him to turn his back on this agency. Don’t call him, go to his home and bring him here personally,” she said, not wanting to give him the chance to make any damaging phone calls if he felt he was being threatened further.

“Yes Ma’am,” they said reluctantly, they finally had shut of him, and she wanted to bring him back, it wasn’t fair.

“Perhaps he will resist returning with us, and we can…persuade him,” Ziva said slyly as they headed down to the car park.

/x/

Ducky looked up as Abby burst into autopsy, tears causing her makeup to streak down her face in a most unattractive fashion.

“Whatever is wrong, Abigail?” he asked, handing her some tissues.

“Tony left, he just quit, left a note on the Director’s desk some time before she came in this morning. Why would he do that, why would he leave without a word to us?” she wailed.

“Oh dear,” Ducky sighed, sinking into a chair, suddenly feeling every one of his years.

“Perhaps he felt he had nothing to stay for,” he said tiredly.

“How could you say that, why would he think that, he has us, he has Timmy and Ziva…” she protested, wiping at her eyes with the wad of tissues he had given her.

“Ah, but does he? Timothy and Ms David have been treating him abominably since Jethro left, and I am very much afraid that you and I, despite caring a great deal for young Anthony, have rather let our own personal feelings regarding Jethro’s leaving to get in the way of offering him any kind of support and comfort.”

“They do say hindsight is twenty/twenty,” the softly voiced comment made them both jump; Ducky had forgotten his assistant was in the room, and Abby hadn’t registered him.

“Mr Palmer?”

“He’s been dying inside a little every day since Agent Gibbs walked out, and those two upstairs turned on him, but every time he came down here hoping for a sympathetic ear, Abby would harangue him on why he hadn’t found Gibbs and made him come back, and you would vent on how mad you were at Gibbs for not telling you about his family and for leaving. The only person who offered him any kind of support at all, the only person willing to listen to him, was me, and let’s be honest here, he might like me well enough, but he hadn’t known me all that well, or all that long, he needed his friends. The only bright spot he had, as far as I could tell, was whoever he has been seeing, and even there, he didn’t dare let anyone know anything about it for fear of it being used against him, in fact I don’t think he saw whoever it was very often at all, mostly it was phone calls,” Jimmy said, face flushed and breathing a little hard he nodded once and quietly walked out of autopsy.

“Oh Ducky, we’ve been awful friends to him,” Abby wailed, struck to the core by Jimmy’s rant.

“I rather fear you are right dear girl, perhaps this evening we should visit him at home, apologize and see if he is willing to allow us to mend fences,” he said sadly.

“Definitely, we have to let him know that we still love him, that we didn’t mean to hurt him,” Abby said miserably.

/x/

McGee and Ziva had been knocking on Tony’s door for five minutes with no response from inside when Ziva lost patience and nudged him aside, skilfully picking the lock and throwing the door open. The moment they stepped inside, they knew that this wasn’t going to be good, everything was gone, the place was stripped clean.

“No dust, it hasn’t been empty long,” Ziva said, moving through to check the bedroom and the bathroom.

“Mr DiNozzo moved out last night, and if you had come to me first, like you should have done before breaking in, I would have told you that. I’ve called the police,” a man said in a conversational tone, making them both reach for their guns as they turned.

A thirty something man with untidy dark hair stood leaning on the doorframe glaring at them.

“I’m Special Agent McGee, NCIS,” McGee said, flashing his badge.

“Uh huh, so you have a search warrant then?” he asked, holding his hand out expectantly.

“Agent DiNozzo is a colleague of ours, we were concerned about him when he didn’t answer the door,” McGee said, trying to sound more confident than he felt.

“And we come back to where you should have come to me for the key instead of breaking in,” the man said, not giving an inch.

“Did he leave a forwarding address?” Ziva asked brusquely.

“Still waiting to see a warrant,” the man said, keeping his tone bland.

“Someone called the police?” a deep voice spoke from the hall and the man turned to see a big bear of a uniformed police officer, and his partner.

“I did, Kyle Morrison, building manager. I got a call from one of the other units telling me someone was breaking in here, and I came up to find these two inside. They claim to be Federal Agents, but they don’t have a warrant, and they didn’t follow proper procedure to secure a key from me.”

“And why would they break in to an empty unit?”

“The man who lived here was definitely a Federal Agent, he moved out last night, they claim to be colleagues of his, but surely if they were genuinely colleagues, they would have known he was moving, and they wouldn’t have asked me for his forwarding address.”

“Did you give it to them?”

“Nope, don’t have one to give them even if I was inclined, he put a redirect on his mail months ago, to a PO Box.”

“All right, we will get this sorted out at the precinct, you two will have to come with me, and we will need you to make an official statement Mr Morrison.”

“No problem,” he agreed.

“We’re NCIS,” McGee objected as the two police officers approached them, handcuffs at the ready.

“Well, you’ll excuse us if we want to get official confirmation of that. Put your hands behind your heads, fingers laced,” the big man said, passing his handcuffs to his smaller partner as they obeyed. In short order they had been relieved of their weapons, including all four of Ziva’s knives, much to her disgust, and were on their way out to the squad car in handcuffs.

/x/

Jenny Sheppard stormed up to her office in a fury, so much for dealing with DiNozzo quietly, so much for bringing him back in line, the bastard had packed up and vanished, and now rumours were buzzing all through the building about the departure of a second MCRT Supervisory Special Agent in three months, how he had been hounded out by his team, abetted by Sheppard herself. How the two remaining members of the team had been arrested for breaking and entering in an effort to harass him somehow on her orders.

She had spent the last two hours down at the police station trying to smooth over McGee and Ziva’s idiocy, she couldn’t believe that after the previous day’s debacle they had broken procedure and entered the apartment without a warrant or seeking the building manager for a key. She had no idea what to do to get this situation under control now, she had an enraged former agent out there who could potentially get her fired, taking away her chance to get at the Frog, and no way to find him without making the situation worse.

/x/

Jimmy bit his lip as he sat in the staff canteen, listening to the rumours flying, the latest one, carried in by a member of Balboa’s team who had come in hunting for coffee was that Tony DiNozzo had pulled a vanishing act, and McGee and Ziva had been arrested for breaking and entering.

Slipping unnoticed from the room, glad for once that he was invisible to most of the staff around here; he hurried down to the locker room, digging into his bag for a slip of paper that Tony had given him months ago, a phone number to use in an emergency, in case something should happen to him. Taking the number and his cell phone, he quietly left the Navy Yard, heading over to one of the benches that lined the jogging path alongside the river. After a quick glance around to make sure there was no-one in earshot, he punched in the number and listened to the ringing.

“Gibbs,” the brusque voice that answered just as he was about to give up stole his breath and held him silent.

“Who is this?” Gibbs voice sounded again, more impatient now.

“A…agent Gibbs,” Jimmy stuttered, shocked.

“Palmer? What the hell, how did you get this number?” Gibbs demanded.

“Uh, Tony gave it to me a few months ago, to use if anything should happen to him.”

“What happened to him, is he ok?” Gibbs tone instantly switching to alarm.

“He…I don’t know what’s going on, but everything has gone nuts here, Tony resigned last night, McGee and David broke into his place today looking for him, and he was gone. I don’t know where he is and I’m worried about him.”

Gibbs swore softly for a moment, and from what Jimmy could hear, it sounded like he was pacing.

“Palmer, why did Tony give you this number? I kind of expected to hear Ducky or Abby if this phone rang.”

Jimmy noticed that Gibbs had never had any expectation of hearing from McGee or David, and realized that Tony had to have been in touch with Gibbs at some point telling him that his team had turned on him, but not apparently that he had lost a lot of the closeness to Ducky or Abby.

“I…they…they didn’t do it on purpose, but they were…I was kind of the only…”

“You were the only one he could call a friend?” Gibbs asked, sounding sad now.

“Yeah, they didn’t mean to hurt him, not like the other two, but they were so wrapped up in their own pain they kind of couldn’t see his.”

“All right, damn it Tony where the hell…Palmer, I need you to go to my old house and check if he’s there, I know it hasn’t sold yet, so he might be laying low there. I don’t want you to arouse any suspicion though, go after work, don’t tell anyone, not even Ducky or Abby, if he’s there, tell him to call me, if he’s not, you let me know straight off. Can you do that?”

“You can count on me,” Jimmy promised.

“Good, I’m not going to answer this phone again, it will go straight to voice mail, just in case someone else gets hold of your phone or the number, so just leave a message for me, and I’ll call you back, ok?”

“I understand.”

The call disconnected with Gibbs’ usual lack of fanfare, and Jimmy headed back in to work, he just had to get through the afternoon without giving anything away, no problem, he thought uncomfortably. He wasn’t entirely sure who he had expected to answer that call, a member of Tony’s family maybe, but he was pretty sure Gibbs had never been on his little mental list.

/x/

Gibbs painstakingly set the burn phone on to voice mail, leaving the generic message there, just in case, he didn’t want anyone hearing his voice if they got hold of the number, he made sure it was charging, and then moved out onto the beach, cursing up a blue streak under his breath. He knew Tony had been holding out on him about how bad things actually were there, and there was nothing he could do about it right now, nothing he could do at all until Tony contacted him, he would have turned his cell off the moment he decided to go to ground, to prevent NCIS using it to track him.

He wondered what the hell had happened to make Tony cut and run, he had been determined that he would stick it out no matter what McGee and Ziva did to make him miserable, and to do it the way he had, quitting and splitting in one night, that indicated to Gibbs that he didn’t feel safe, not good.

He heard the sound of an engine approaching along the access road, and looked over, expecting to see Mike Franks’ truck, and instead he felt his stomach unclench at the sight of a very familiar Mustang. The car pulled to a halt beside Gibbs’ own beat up truck, and the driver sat for a long moment before tiredly starting to lever himself out. Gibbs had moved toward the car even before it had stopped moving, and he was there the moment the driver made it upright, his arms wrapping around him tightly.

“Christ Tony, you scared the hell out of me, and Palmer too for that matter,” he chided.

“Jimmy called you?” Tony asked, sagging into his strong embrace.

“Yes, he was worried about you, I asked him to check my house tonight in case you had gone to ground there. What the hell happened Tony?”

Tony’s grip on Gibbs tightened, and he realized the younger man was shaking a little, and judging by the damp on his neck, crying too.

“I’m tired Jethro, so tired. I don’t want to do this right now.”

“All right, come on, let’s get you inside and put you to bed, you can tell me after you’ve rested.”

He guided Tony into the small house, getting him into the bedroom and sitting him down on the edge of the bed, Tony was pliant under his hands as he got his shoes and shirt off and eased him down to lie comfortably on the mattress. Tony was asleep before his head touched the pillow, and Gibbs gently brushed the tear streaks off his face and carded a hand through his hair soothingly before pulling the sheet over him and leaving him to sleep.

Heading back up to where Tony had parked the Mustang, he pulled the two bags Tony had brought out and locked the car up, he would have to get a tarp or something to cover it, the car stood out around here, it would be talked about, and he didn’t want any attention drawn this way until he knew why Tony had run.

The sky was darkening toward evening when he finally heard Tony stirring inside, and a moment later, the younger man padded out onto the porch barefoot and wearing his shirt un-tucked and unbuttoned.

“Feeling better now?” Gibbs asked as the other man slumped down beside him on the hand carved bench.

“Yeah, did Jimmy call back yet?”

“No, not yet.”

“Don’t tell him I’m with you Jethro, you can tell him I’m safe, that you’ve heard from me, but don’t tell him I’m here,” he said quietly.

“Why?”

“What he doesn’t know, he can’t let slip or be made to tell. Too many people know where you are, even if they haven’t come down here and tried to pressure you into coming back yet. Abby was trying to nag me into doing that.”

“Ok, fine, all I will tell him is that you’re safe. Now, are you going to tell me what the hell was really going on over there, last time we spoke, you were determined to stick it out, you said that you thought it would get better if you stuck with it. What the hell happened Tony?”

“I probably could have stuck it, if I had had the backing of the team against Sheppard, or Sheppard against the team, or a little more moral support from Ducky and Abs, but…” he shook his head and sighed, looking out over the water, which was slowly taking on a red tint as the sun started to set.

“Sheppard wanted me to take part in a shady undercover op, I said no, but she kept on pushing. She had McTraitor illegally pull my phone records, and they found all the burn phone calls. She tried to threaten me with an investigation.”

“God, I’m sorry, I should never have…”

“Don’t, just don’t Jethro, it wouldn’t have helped if you had have been using your own phone number, she was looking for somewhere to put pressure on me either way. She would have tried to use you against me. Anyway, I called her on it, told her to investigate me, but be prepared to be investigated back by my lawyers and the union rep, because I was pretty damned sure the op she was trying to force me into was unsanctioned.”

“That doesn’t really tell me why you hightailed it out of there, I would have thought the threats would make you more determined to stick it out.”

“Yeah, they would have done, only, when I confronted McGee about the phone records, and asked him if he would have pulled that shit on you, he said no, but he respected you. I realized then, that not only were they spiteful little shits who wanted me to quit, but they didn’t have my back at all, that they would be just a shade too slow in a bad situation, and Sheppard would damn well cover for them, because I wouldn’t play ball with her. I learned a long time ago to recognize when it was time to get out, Jethro, you know that.”

“I do, so what are you going to do now? You can’t let her get away with what she did, aside from anything else, if you think she’s trying to run a shady undercover, she is abusing her position, she is a threat to the agency and everyone working there.”

“Yeah, I know, but I wasn’t sure what I can do now that I’ve left.”

“Shame you don’t have any proof really, we could have taken it to SecNav and let him deal with the whole mess.”

Tony squirmed uncomfortably beside him, and Gibbs looked over, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Tony?”

“How much of your memory has come back?”

“Nearly all of it, why, what does that have to do with anything?”

“Do you remember those skills I have that we decided we were going to keep between us; because they didn’t fit in with the dumb jock front I wanted to project?”

“Yes,” Gibbs said slowly, wondering where this was going.

Tony pulled a flash drive out of his pocket, holding it on his palm for a moment before offering it over to Gibbs.

“When I went in to leave my letter on her desk, I may have accidentally broken into her computer and copied everything she had mentioning the guy she wanted to bring down with her op. I haven’t read all of it, I was too busy copying it and hoping not to get caught, but the gist of it seems to be she is after some arms dealer code named ‘la grenouille’.”

“I’m missing something; I don’t understand why you would have a problem with bringing an arms dealer down.”

“Normally, no problem at all, but it was the way she was going about it that was setting off alarm bells. She wasn’t offering me any backup, she didn’t want me to be fully undercover, she still wanted me to be in the office doing my job, she wanted me to target his daughter, make her fall for me, to get me an in, but couldn’t offer me any evidence that the girl was connected in any way, shape or form to the old man’s business, and finally, when I did a little bit of quiet snooping of my own, after the first time she asked me, I found that the CIA and the ATF already have eyes on this guy, and she wasn’t planning on letting them in on her little game. I would have more than likely gotten myself very dead if I had got involved in that little mess, and she would have found a way to cover her ass and make it look like I had gone bad.”

“And everything off her computer is on here?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you bring your laptop with you? I sure as hell don’t have a computer,” he snorted.

“I know, I made sure to bring my laptop,” Tony said with a faint smile.

The cell phone inside rang then and Gibbs got up and fetched it, waiting until it registered a new voicemail before he flipped it open and played the message, putting it on speaker so they could both hear.

“Uhm, I went by and checked Agent Gibbs house, to see if Tony had gone there, but there was no sign of him, and one of the neighbours said that he hadn’t seen Tony since he went to check the house was secure the weekend before last. Please call if you hear from him, we’re all very worried.”

“He’s not alone, he wasn’t alone when he went by your house to check if I was there,” Tony said instantly.

“No, the question is, who is with him?”

“Abby and/or Ducky, if it were the other pair, he wouldn’t have tacked on the part about them all being worried, he would have said he was worried, or just left it at ‘please call if you hear from him’, he’s not as naïve as he makes out.”

“A lot of that going around. Do you want me to call him back, knowing someone is there?”

“I don’t mind if they know I’ve been in contact with you, not now that I’m not there for them to nag at anymore, still don’t want them to know where I am now though.”

“I know, I won’t let on,” he promised, dialling the number to return the call.

“Palmer?” he said bluntly as soon as the call was picked up, there was a momentary silence before someone answered.

“Gibbs?” Abby queried in a tiny voice.

“Abby, put Palmer on will you, please.”

“You’re on speaker, if that’s ok…um…we’re at Ducky’s house so no-one else will be overhearing,” Palmer sounded hesitant.

“How did they get involved Palmer?”

“That was my doing Jethro, after Mr Palmer’s rather spirited defence of young Anthony this morning, I suspected if anyone would have been trusted with an emergency contact number, it would be he. I observed him making a telephone call during his break that he felt the need to leave not just the building, but the complex for, which confirmed my hypothesis to me. I challenged him directly, and he told me that it had been suggested that Anthony may have gone into hiding at your former residence. Jethro, Abigail and I may not have been the friends Anthony needed this last few months, but we do care for him deeply, and we are very concerned at the precipitous manner of his disappearance. We were hoping to get the opportunity to begin making amends with him, but as Mr Palmer indicated, he was not at the house.”

“He called me about an hour after Palmer did, he wouldn’t tell me where he was or what was going on, but he says he’s safe, and that he’ll keep in touch when he can.”

“But he’s definitely safe?” Abby piped up.

“He said he was, and I have no reason to disbelieve him; unless you’re saying I have reason to disbelieve him?”

“We are rather concerned at the way things are shaping up here Jethro, Timothy and Ms David are strutting around smirking, they’re trying to make out that Anthony had gone bad, Director Sheppard has issued an arrest warrant for Anthony citing him as armed and dangerous, I fear if he encounters local law enforcement, they will shoot first, with questions as an afterthought, but equally, I am concerned that if he is brought in, she may be able to bury him.”

“He’s done nothing she can bury him with Ducky.”

“She used some phone records to get the warrant, there were an awful lot of calls to and from burn phones, Gibbs,” Abby put in quietly.

“And despite the fact that we changed the number every few weeks, I still have each one of those phones, and they can be matched to his records.”

“You? He was talking to you and he never said?”

“Did you give him reason to trust you with that information Abby?” he asked bluntly.

“No, but….”

“But?”

“If I had known he was talking to you, I would have stopped nagging at him to find you and bring you back,” she said.

“If you had stopped nagging at him, he might have told you he was talking to me, you’re not putting that guilt on him Abby,” Gibbs countered firmly.

“No, I know, I am sorry Gibbs, and now I’m never going to get to tell him that, because I know that whenever he quit a job before, he cut all ties, so even if we clear this up so he’s really safe, I’ll probably never see him again,” she said, audibly crying now, there was the sound of heavy footsteps receding, and a door closing firmly.

“Oh dear,” Ducky sighed deeply sounding tired.

“Jethro, I know I don’t have any right to ask this of you, of him either, but when you hear from him next, please try to convince him to call us, we really would like the chance to tell him how sorry we are for not being there when he needed us.”

“I’ll try, but no promises; you know how stubborn he can be.”

“I know, and in the mean time, if there is anything the three of us can do to help him clear this mess up, we’re there for him.”

“I’ll tell him Ducky,” Gibbs said, hanging up the phone before any more could be said, and looking at Tony with concern in his eyes.

“She’s still looking for leverage to use against me, I told her the burn phone numbers related directly to my personal life, she’s not right in the head Jethro, I’m afraid she means to threaten…well, I suspect she thinks my girlfriend, to get me back in line.”

“She should know better by now, even if she did manage to find out who you’ve been talking to, making that kind of a threat would only make you more dangerous.”

“Damn it, I should leave, keep moving for a while, I don’t want to bring this kind of crap to your doorstep, you left to get away from this kind of shit.”

“You’re not going anywhere, you’re staying here, we’re going to look at what you got from her computer, and then we’re going to SecNav and dumping the whole mess in his lap,” Gibbs said firmly.

“And then?” Tony questioned softly.

“Tony, we’ve spent the last few months talking, aiming to get back what we had before I got my damn fool ass blown up, I’m not losing you now. I was going to ask you to put your wedding ring on, to actually wear it instead of having it on a chain, when you came up in a couple of weeks,” he said quietly.

“Oh…really?” Tony asked, his voice small, insecure.

“Really, you gave me this when I left, told me to give it back to you when I was ready. I’m ready, if you still want to wear it,” Gibbs said, pulling a chain from his pocket and letting the white gold wedding band on it dangle in the dying light.

Tony held his hand out, and Gibbs let the ring and chain drop gently into his palm.

“Wear your ring, please Tony,” he asked softly.

“Will you wear yours too?” Tony asked.

“Already do, as long as I’m not doing heavy work, don’t want it damaged,” he replied with a faint smile, holding his hand up to show what Tony had been too exhausted to notice when he arrived, and to stressed to notice since waking up, the matching band to the one in his hand.

“You put it where it belongs for me,” Tony said, taking the ring off the chain and handing it back, shoving the chain in his pocket for the moment.

Gibbs smiled and took Tony’s left hand, gently sliding the ring into its proper place, then raising his hand to kiss it lightly.

“Closet romantic,” Tony accused fondly, tears glimmering faintly in his eyes at the gesture, he had only very rarely gotten to wear his ring since their wedding day, not wanting to risk being split up at work, or worse one of them being forced to leave NCIS altogether, Gibbs had said that Tom Morrow wouldn’t care one way or the other as long as they did their jobs, but they had known he was going to be leaving even before the whole Ari mess, and they hadn’t wanted to chance the replacement Director’s good will, a good call as it turned out.

“Guilty,” Gibbs acknowledged, leaning in to steal a soft, sweet kiss.

“I love you,” he breathed as they parted.

“I love you too, Jethro,” Tony whispered back.

“Come on, let’s see what you managed to get from Sheppard’s computer, then we can dump the whole lot on SecNav, and finally get the honeymoon we never got to have.”

“Permanent honeymoon, considering neither of us is currently employed,” Tony pointed out wryly.

“We’ll figure something out, it’s not as if either of us actually needs to work from a financial standpoint, we can figure out something to do together, to keep from getting bored,” Gibbs said with a shrug as they went inside, and Tony pulled his laptop from one of the bags Gibbs had brought in earlier.

“What are you going to do about Ducky and Abby?” Gibbs asked quietly as they waited for the computer to boot up.

“I don’t know, I have a couple of days to think about it, considering that as far as they know, you have to wait for me to get back in touch with you before you can even ask me. I don’t want to lose them as friends, but they hurt me Jethro, they made me feel abandoned at the time I needed them most.”

“I know, but I abandoned you too, and you were willing to work it out with me.”

“You had a damn good reason for leaving, and you didn’t shut me out completely, besides, we’re married, and I certainly wasn’t going to willingly add to your divorce tally, I wanted us back together enough that I was willing to wait as long as it took for you to be ready.”

Gibbs nodded his understanding of the younger man’s reasoning, and handed him back the flash drive he had given him outside, waiting for him to plug it in to the computer and pull up the collection of folders.

“Early version of the plan,” Tony murmured, pulling one up at random and starting to read through it.

“Any indication on why she is after the Frog?” Gibbs asked.

“Not here, but the tone of this…it seems kind of personal, she hates him, and it’s personal.”

“Keep looking.”

There were various incarnations of the plan in the files, several of which indicated a willingness to use her undercover man as a sacrificial lamb, allowing him to be killed to get the sympathy of the other investigating agencies watching the man, and allowing her to take total control of a joint operation.”

“She’s fucking unhinged,” Tony breathed disgustedly after reading one where she actually contemplated taking out her own operative with a car bomb to achieve her aims, planning to frame la grenouille.

“Yeah,” Gibbs agreed, leaning in to kiss the back of his neck where he was reading over his shoulder. It scared him spitless to see how easily he could have lost Tony if he hadn’t had the sense to refuse to have anything to do with her undercover plans.

“Hey, this one looks like some kind of a journal,” Tony said, suddenly a lot more interested.

“She recorded everything to do with her hunt for the Frog, everything, times, dates, sources, spies, information she should have shared with the ATF, this guy could have been warming a prison cell months ago, but she wanted to get to him personally, she wanted him dead.

“Yes, but why, why the hell was it so personal for her?”

Tony shrugged, not having an answer to offer, and carried on reading.

“Huh, I don’t know if he actually did or not, but she blames him for killing her father,” Tony said half an hour later, coming across the information in one of the more rambling, hate filled entries.

“So, definite misuse of authority for personal reasons. If nothing else that should be enough for SecNav to boot her out of that office.”

“So, how do we get it to him?”

“In person, he’s likely going to want to talk to you, and he’s the only one that can go over her head and get the arrest warrant she put out cancelled.”

“Great, so all we have to do is get to him without me getting shot by a border guard or some over enthusiastic local LEO.”

“I’ll call him, see how he wants to handle it, if it comes to it, we can avoid the border all together and sail up the coast, my boat is still registered in the US, and I still have the slip at the marina, it might even be better that way, considering he can tell the coastguard to let us through unhindered.”

“Fine, you call him, I’m going to see what I can rustle up to eat, I’ve barely eaten at all in two days and I’m ravenous.”

Gibbs watched him head through to the small kitchen area, then rummaged through the night stand drawer for his old cell phone, the one actually registered to him, he didn’t think he would get very far using a burn phone to contact the SecNav.

/x/

Jen paid no attention to Cynthia as she headed into her office, missing the pale, shocked look on her face as her mind was occupied with other things. It bothered her that it had been three days since she had come in and found DiNozzo’s resignation on her desk, it bothered her that he had managed to disappear so thoroughly that neither NCIS, the FBI, or any of her other contacts could find any trace of him, he hadn’t used his credit cards, he hadn’t accessed his bank account, his cell phone had remained stubbornly switched off. It bothered her that the threat implied in the last line of his resignation still hung over her like the sword of Damocles, and she had no idea where he was and what he was doing with the information he had about her plans and his suspicions and the attempt to blackmail him she had made.

Her train of thought was derailed as she entered her office and registered the SecNav sitting in her chair behind her desk, a grim look on his face, her computer was on, the monitor facing her, and she could see her journal page on the screen, detailing her hunt for la grenouille. Well, it seemed like she wasn’t waiting for the sword to fall any more, she thought bitterly, wondering how the hell DiNozzo had managed to get to the SecNav unnoticed by all of the people she had looking for him.

“May I ask how DiNozzo got the information to you?” she asked tiredly.

“Anthony DiNozzo didn’t give me the files, Jethro Gibbs on the other hand sends you his regards, apparently he really didn’t appreciate you becoming a threat to his protégé, and encouraging others to become threats too.”

“What are you going to do with me?”

“Well, you’re out of this office, that much is certain, you were engaged in a monumental abuse of your authority. As to criminal charges, we’ll have to see where we go from here. You will be coming with us now, and my people will be going through everything with a fine tooth comb, both here, and from before your appointment as Director.”

Jen nodded numbly, she knew she was going to be doing jail time without doubt, and if some of the things she had done manoeuvring to get this position came to light, she suspected she wouldn’t see the outside of the prison again before she died.

The door opened again and two agents came in, falling in either side of her and escorting her out.

/x/

Jimmy hurried into Abby’s lab, his face pale, shocked looking.

“Abby, Director Sheppard has just been taken away on the SecNav’s orders, I don’t think he’s done yet either, Agent Paulson says he’s still in the Director’s office.

The two of them hurried out of the lab, moving to where Ducky was holding the elevator for them.

They got up to the bullpen just in time to see McGee and Ziva ascending the stairs in the direction of the director’s office.

“What do you think he’s going to say to them, you don’t think he’s going to put them in charge of the team do you?” Abby fretted.

“With all that they have been doing recently, I suspect they will be fortunate to retain their employment, never mind be promoted to running the MCRT,” Ducky assured her.

“But, how could he know what they’ve been up to?”

“I told him,” the voice from behind them made them all jump, and they spun to look at Gibbs in shock.

“Gibbs,” Abby squeaked, she clearly wanted to hug him, and just as clearly didn’t know if the gesture would be welcomed or not. He held one arm out to encourage her, and she threw herself at him, hugging him tightly.

“I’ve missed you so much,” she whispered.

“I know.”

“We all have, Jethro,” Ducky told him.

“Really? I heard you were kind of pissed at me Duck.”

“I was, but with all that has been going on the last few days, the threat to Anthony and us being so wrapped up we didn’t realize how bad things were, it rather put things in perspective. I just wish…have you spoken to him Jethro? Since our last conversation I mean.”

“I have, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but I did pass on your message.”

“And is he safe now, has the warrant been withdrawn?”

“Yep, SecNav had the warrant cancelled the moment he arrived here this morning.”

“So, are you coming back, for good I mean? Taking over the team again?” Abby asked.

“There doesn’t seem to be a team to take over any more, does there? Anyway, it isn’t up to me.”

“I am sure whoever takes the Director’s office would welcome you back,” Ducky said.

“Sure they would, but that isn’t what I meant. I’ll only come back if Tony does, and I don’t know that he’ll want to after these last few months, or even if he would want to work under me again, after all, he was made team lead,” Gibbs shrugged.

Their conversation ended as McGee and Ziva were escorted down by another pair of agents, they were led directly toward them, being as they were standing between them and the elevator.

“Gibbs, you cannot let them do this, they are going to deport me, you must help me,” Ziva pleaded on seeing him.

“Not my problem, Officer David,” he said coldly.

“Why? Why are you doing this?” McGee asked, already fearing he knew the answer.

“For Tony, you turned on him, disrespected him, were spiteful and insubordinate to him, and eventually drove him to quit fearing you would get him killed out in the field, you broke the law illegally obtaining information that the former Director tried to blackmail him with, and after you had hounded him out of his position, you broke into his former apartment. Was he lucky he had already run McGee, was he going to resist arrest, take an unfortunate header down the stairs?” Gibbs sneered, pulling Ducky, Abby and Palmer out of the way so that the agents could get their prisoners to the elevator.

“Oh, and Ms David, your father is most displeased that you have shamed him by your behaviour in your official position as liaison, he is looking forward to having you home to discuss it in person,” Gibbs said with a cold smirk as her knees gave way and her guard had to haul her upright again and manhandle her into the elevator car.

“I need to go, I only really came here today to see those three reap their just desserts, and make sure that it would be safe for Tony to come out from wherever he is holed up.” Gibbs said, stepping toward the elevator.

His phone beeped with a text message as he stepped into the empty car, and he reached out to stop the doors closing as he quickly read it.

“Look, I’m sure we all need to talk some more, I’ve opened my house up for the time being, why don’t you come over tonight, we can have dinner, maybe get the air cleared a little bit. That includes you, Mr Palmer, just in case you weren’t sure,” he said, allowing the doors to close before they could shake off their shock at everything that had happened.

“Are we going to go?” Abby asked.

“I certainly intend to, Jethro is right, we need to clear the air, and he may have more news on Anthony, now that he is no longer under threat.”

“Me too,” Jimmy nodded.

/x/

Gibbs let himself into the house, closing the door behind him and letting the lock click into place, it bothered him a little, having the lock there, but with the house standing empty for months while it was on the market, it was plain dumb not to secure it, besides, he didn’t want anyone just walking in anymore, because if they stayed, if he took the house off the market, then come hell or high water, he was damn well living with his husband this time.

“Hey, I’m back,” he called.

“Down here, come and help me with the damn linen,” Tony’s voice drifted up from the basement.

He went down to find Tony struggling to get the sheets folded while trying to keep them from dragging on the dusty floor.

“Any particular reason you decided all the sheets in the house needed washing?” Gibbs asked curiously.

“I was tense, waiting to find out what was going on, I couldn’t cook, because there is no food in the house, and I didn’t want to get shot going to the store for groceries. We will need to do something about that incidentally, if the others are going to come over to talk.”

“They’ll come, and the arrest warrant has been cancelled, first thing this morning, so it should have made it through to all the local LEOs by now, we can go to the store if you want,” he said, helping his husband fold the sheets.

“So, what happened?”

“Jen is fired, and criminal charges are pending, awaiting the outcome of a very thorough investigation, she’s going down. McGee and Ziva were arrested, McGee is facing criminal charges, so even if he doesn’t do jail time, no law enforcement agency will touch him after this, and Ziva is being deported back to daddy dearest, and he is not pleased with her in the slightest, it was a feather in his cap, having her as a federal liaison, and she has embarrassed him with the way she’s acted.”

“Good,” Tony said coldly, he couldn’t bring himself to feel the slightest hint of sympathy for either of them.

“And I was right, SecNav offered us our jobs back, we would have to build a new team, find two new probies, but he wants us to do it. I said it depended entirely on you, and on him agreeing to keep the new Director off our backs because we weren’t going to deny being married this time, he agreed to that.”

“Why depended on me? I thought you were happy down in Mexico.”

“I was, but coming back here made me realize how much I’d missed it all, and it depends on you because you had the team lead Tony, you made lead agent of the MCRT, and I didn’t know if you would be willing to go back to being second in command.”

“I’ll have to see how tonight goes Jethro, but as to going back to second in command, as long as it is second to you, I can live with that. Whatever happens, I still want that honeymoon though.”

Gibbs laughed and pulled him into a kiss.

“We can get started on that now, and when everything is said and done, we get on the boat and spend two weeks going where the wind takes us.”

“Hmmm, there’s no linen on the bed,” Tony pointed out, lightly tugging at the sheet that was still half folded between them.

“Easy fixed,” Gibbs grinned, using the sheet to tow the other man behind him in the direction of the stairs.

/x/

Gibbs opened the door to Ducky, Abby and Palmer barefoot, with his hair still damp from the shower, and looking happy and relaxed in faded jeans and a worn sweatshirt.

“Come in take a seat in the den, dinner should be here shortly, we ordered Chinese, because we didn’t have time to go to the store.”

“We?” Abby queried as they sat.

Whatever answer he might have chosen to give was made unnecessary a moment later as Tony padded down the stairs barefoot and shirtless, towelling his hair vigorously, meaning he didn’t see the three wide eyed stares and one smug smirk aimed in his direction as the light in the den fell on the very clear hickey on his collarbone.

“Was that the food Jethro, have you seen my….shirt,” he finished faintly lowering the towel and finding himself the focus of four pairs of eyes.

“Something you wish to share, Jethro?” Ducky asked with a faintly amused smile.

“Nope, there will be no sharing, he’s mine and I have the paperwork to prove it,” Gibbs said, tossing Tony the shirt that he had left over the back of the chair in the kitchen when he had done the first load of laundry, before he had started on the linens.

“Paperwork? You’re married?” Abby gaped.

“Yep,” Tony said, his voice slightly muffled as he pulled the t-shirt on.

“How long have you two been a couple? I certainly never noticed any changes in behaviour between the two of you,” Ducky said curiously.

“Since about three hours after he tackled me in an alley in Baltimore. It was pretty casual the first few months, after all, I was mid divorce and he had an engagement to deal with, then we were both free, and it wasn’t so casual anymore, we were exclusive, and when we got a long weekend, near enough a year to the day I poached him for NCIS, we scooted up to Canada and made it official.”

“You’ve been married all this time, and you’ve managed to keep it a secret?” Abby was beyond stunned; she couldn’t believe something like that had gotten past the gossips in HR.

“Easy enough to do, neither of us changed our marital status, he made me his next of kin and medical proxy on the grounds that he had no family he was close to, and I made him mine for the same reason. A lot of misdirection from a master flirt and undercover man and the thought never even crossed anyone’s mind that there might be more between us,” Gibbs said, smiling over at his husband.

The bell sounded again and Tony looked over his shoulder.

“That has to be the food, first we eat, and then we talk,” he said decisively, going over to open the door and collect their order.

“Well, this is certainly a day of surprises, Jethro, but I am happy for the two of you, you seem well matched.”

“Oh, we are Ducky, without a doubt.”

Tony came back with the food, and the five of them set about eating with an enthusiasm that none of them had really felt for some time. Everything was finally starting to feel like it might finally be getting somewhere near normal again now, for the first time in months, they all had hope that things could be good again.

“Now, Anthony, before we go any further, I owe you a rather large apology,” Ducky said.

“Yeah, me too,” Abby agreed sadly.

“I knew you were struggling, I knew your supposed team mates were causing you stress, but I was too wrapped up in my own bitterness over Jethro’s departure to see just how much you were struggling, how bad things were getting for you. I am sorry I was not there for you when you needed me, I am sorry that I made things harder for you with my thoughtlessness, and I am eternally gratefully that you found a confidant in Mr Palmer when I let you down,” he said.

“It’s ok Ducky, you and Jethro have been friends for a long time, I think I might actually have been more offended if you had shrugged his leaving off as if it meant nothing. It did hurt that I couldn’t talk to you, but I’m willing to let it go and try and be better friends this time if you are.”

“Gladly dear boy, gladly,” Ducky said, reaching over to hug him briefly.

Abby picked at the hem of her skirt for a moment, before finally looking up to meet Tony’s eyes.

“I’m sorry I was such a bitch Tony,” she whispered.

“Hey, you were never a bitch, a little pushy, a little obsessive and a little self absorbed maybe, but not a bitch,” he said sharply.

“Ok, then I’m sorry I was all those things, everything felt like it was falling apart around me, Gibbs was gone, the team wasn’t the same and I didn’t like it. I wanted everything back the way it was meant to be, and I knew you were the one who could do it, but you weren’t, and things just kept getting worse and worse, and I wanted Gibbs back, and I wanted you back, because you weren’t the same any more either, everyone around me was turning into someone I didn’t know and in some cases didn’t want to know and I just…” she was barely getting the words out between hitching sobs at the end, and Tony simply grabbed her, hauled her into his lap and held her tight.

“It’s all right Abs, it’s going to be all right, we’ll fix everything that can be fixed.”

How now both you and Gibbs are gone?” she wailed.

Tony met his husband’s eyes for a long moment, then turned his attention back to Abby.

“We’ll fix it, Gibbs and I will be back, and we’ll build ourselves an even better team than before, team Gibbs will be back in action before you know it.”

“You’re coming back? Really?” Jimmy asked, looking between the two men.

“Yeah, two weeks, maybe a touch more, and we’ll be back.”

“What about the recent revelation of your marriage?” Ducky asked.

“SecNav knows, part of the promise that he made when he asked us to come back was that he would keep the new Director off our backs, and make sure he didn’t try and split us up,” Gibbs told him.

“Well, congratulations, as belated as they may be, to the both of you, and I for one will be glad to see the two of you back where you belong,” Ducky said cheerfully.

“Me too,” Jimmy agreed.

“Me three,” Abby added, not raising her face from Tony’s shoulder, he smiled and hugged her tighter, meeting Jethro’s eyes again, everything was going to be all right now.

Epilogue

Leon Vance stood leaning on the railing outside his office, looking down into the bullpen, the MCRT had just returned from a crime scene, so their area was a hive of activity, and he was pleased to see it.

The year since he had taken over had been a hard one, Jenny Sheppard had left a hell of a mess for him to clean up, and the destruction of the old MCRT hadn’t helped in the slightest, he had been shocked when he had taken office and found that his predecessor had actively encouraged the two junior team members to hound their newly appointed team lead in an effort to make him more reliant on her, to put him in a position where he would take on her insane undercover assignment.

Gibbs and DiNozzo had worked damned hard to rebuild that team, and had gotten the closure rate back up to where it had been before her interference in record time; as much as he may disapprove of couples working on the same team, he had to admit they made a hell of a team, and never seemed to bring any personal problems into the work place with them.

He sighed, wondering how they would take the two pieces of news he had to give them today, they had been chillingly pleased to hear of Jen Sheppard’s death in prison four months ago, although he got the feeling that they were sorry that it was natural causes, not that he blamed them for their hatred in the slightest.

He decided he couldn’t put it off any longer and headed down the stairs to their area of the bullpen, waiting until Gibbs noticed him before coming into their domain.

“Director, what can we do for you?” he asked, and Leon bit down on the smirk, the man might call him Leon to yank his chain in his office, but never in front of the probies.

“I have some news, I heard from the Governor of the federal prison where Timothy McGee was serving his sentence, someone found out he was a former Federal Agent, he was shivved in the shower block, they don’t know who did it yet.”

“Dead?” Tony asked, moving around to stand behind Gibbs, so they were both facing him.

“Yes.”

“Damn, he was up for parole soon,” Tony said, seeming genuinely distressed at the news.

“McGee wrote to Tony, apologized for the way he acted, we had hoped he could get out, get on with his life, and maybe be a friend again,” Gibbs said softly, reaching back to squeeze his husband’s hand as it came to rest on his shoulder.

Leon nodded his understanding, surprised that they had been willing to forgive, but it was none of his business, and he still had more to tell them.

“There’s more, I heard from Eli David this morning, Ziva went missing on a Mossad assignment to Turkmenistan, two months ago. Her body was found three days ago by another team, he got positive identification last night, it looks very much like her partner on the mission, a man named Rivkin, murdered her.”

They nodded, obviously much less upset by that piece of news.

“Thanks for letting us know, give Director David our sympathies when you speak with him next.”

“I will,” Leon nodded, going back up to his office.

Tony and Gibbs remained still, quiet, for a moment, soaking up each other’s presence, and then Tony stepped back, and Gibbs straightened up in his seat, snapping back into work mode.

“Come on, we have work to do, let’s get moving, CPO Walton’s killer isn’t going to catch himself; Lorimer, get on the financials and phone records, DiNozzo, take Bright, interview the widow, I’m going down to see what Ducky has.”

“On it Boss,” Tony said, grabbing his gear again and heading toward the elevator, his probie falling in behind him like a gosling.

Gibbs smiled faintly, it had been a hard road, a few probies hadn’t stood the course, but they had built themselves a damn fine team.

End