Four years ago it was a given that he was the go-to guy when it came to the running, chasing, tackling, fist-fighting parts of the job. Kate could handle herself when thrust into the situation, and Gibbs certainly never needed help in a fight, but he usually had Tony manhandle anyone who chose to be difficult. And McGee… well, one of Tony’s primary responsibilities when it came to the Probie had been to teach him how turn an opponent’s aggression against him and pin down someone – like most Marines and Sailors – who had more hand-to-hand combat skills than FLETC ever left their graduates with.
Then there’d been Ziva. Ziva who could kick about six people’s asses at once. Ziva who could defuse a bomb with eyebrow tweezers or fire a grenade launcher or probably – given the way she drove – manage a Sherman tank.
There’d been a time when Tony handled Gibbs’ technical issues. A time when he was the one resetting a cell phone or recovering a lost password or running a reasonably complex computerized search that would give them the link between the three dead bodies or eliminate all but one of the nine suspects.
But now there was McGee with his MIT degree and ability to convince even Gibbs’ computer to play nice with others, including Gibbs himself. McGee who could hack into other government agencies and make sure that NCIS was at least four steps ahead of the FBI or ATF or DMV or whoever else they needed to run an endgame around to do their own jobs.
Morrow had respected his cop skills and pretty much made it a policy to stay out of Gibbs’ way as long as Gibbs didn’t step over the line that only the two of them knew the location of. And back then Tony had been perfectly pleased to stay in Gibbs’ shadow and more or less under Morrow’s radar.
Jenny had apparently found him competent at least. She’d been willing to take what most people saw as a liability – his playboy persona – and make it an asset. She’d sent him deep undercover, encouraging him to lose more and more of himself to the cover, to help her solve a case she’d been on for seventeen years. She’d taken him along as part of her personal detail in California. But then again, there was the way that had ended.
Now there was Vance, who thought Tony was a waste of space and money. He didn’t have Ziva’s fighting skills or international connections. He didn’t have McGee’s tech savvy or the forensic and scientific knowledge of Ducky or Abby.
Vance, who it seemed some days, couldn’t even be bothered to learn his name and constantly referred to him as Gibbs’ ‘boy’. Not giving him the dignity of a name or title. Certainly not trusting him to be in charge of anything or anyone. Ever. Hell, if he heard Vance say one more time that the ‘wrong’ person had come out of that fight between him and Rivkin, he was likely to find that toothpick somewhere it was never intended to be.
Even Gibbs had trusted him to lead the team at one point. Of course Gibbs had just been blown all to hell and woken up without a clue who Tony even was. He’d had so much head trauma he thought he was still a Marine. Was reliving the loss of his first wife and only daughter. He was probably less than overly concerned who he left in charge of a team he didn’t remember leading at a job he’d had to be told about.
But even then, once Gibbs’ memory had returned solidly, Gibbs had come back and dumped Tony’s Mighty-Mouse stapler and American Pie coffee mug and four months worth of case files back on his desk without even asking if Tony minded. In some ways that was easier. Gibbs made a decision and they all lived with it. Had he asked if they liked it better with Tony in charge, Tony would have been forced, once again, to listen to Ziva and McGee go on and on about how he was no Gibbs and how they were grateful that Gibbs was back where he belonged. Which apparently also put Tony back in his place.
This past month had been absolutely hellacious and he wasn’t sure the next month, or six, or year would be better. He wasn’t sure how much more he could take the battering with a smile and a joke and, as often as not, the last piece of the puzzle that he’d never get credit for finding.
He slid a screwdriver into his plaster cast and scratched his elbow as best he could reach. McGee had been pissier than normal lately. Tony had taken the smart remark about how he’d learned not to date the daughters of international weapons dealers with as much grace as he could muster at the time, but that had, it seemed, only served to make McGee come up with nastier and nastier comments as if he was trying to see what it would take to make Tony take a swing at him.
He’d very nearly found out that morning. Tony had groused that they had an awful lot of paper evidence to search through and McGee had grumbled something about the fact that it would have gone faster if Tony hadn’t run Ziva off.
Gibbs had stepped in at that point and sent Tony down to wait for Abby’s toxicology report, leaving McGee with all the bills and bank statements to sort on his own, but Tony was still fuming. He had wanted to knock McGee’s teeth in. He wanted to remind him that Gibbs had ultimately been the one to chose between him and Ziva. He wanted to threaten to quit, to ask McGee if he wanted to be left alone with Gibbs. But that just made him think of a time before McGee and before Ziva and even before Kate. When it had been just him and Gibbs, once Gibbs sent Vivian Blackadder back to the FBI. And at that particular day and time, he missed those days more than he’d ever be willing to say out loud.
So he’d gone down and waited for Abby’s report. She was trying to see things from his perspective, but it was obvious to him by the way she didn’t regale him with every random thought that flitted through her head as she worked, that she was still holding him responsible for Ziva’s departure as well.
She’d given him a hug with the tox report - jarring his arm again, and really, she should have learned by now - but hadn’t asked what was wrong. For all the times he’d blown off that question, he kind of wished someone would ask now. But he suspected that he’d made his own bed there by blowing it off, by insisting that he could handle anything or anyone, for all those years.
He’d brought Gibbs the tox report down in the evidence garage where he was supervising a group of new recruits as they dissected a car rumored to contain a camera memory chip ‘hidden inside somewhere’. Gibbs had just nodded and scanned the report, not saying anything to Tony.
Tony nodded back, even though Gibbs hadn’t been looking at him and headed back to the squad room.
With McGee in the conference room with the papers, Abby in her lab with the rest of the physical evidence, and Gibbs in the garage, Tony realized with sudden clarity that if he was going to do what he was thinking of doing, he’d never have a better opportunity.
He pulled up a blank document and began to type, looking up every once in a while to make sure he was still alone. He had a slightly hysterical moment when he realized he hadn’t been looking around furtively like that since he’d been looking for porn to send over to Kate just to wind her up.
He stopped typing and hung his head over his keyboard. Something had changed. Back then they’d gotten some pretty intense cases, but he’d tackled them with all the energy and enthusiasm of a golden retriever puppy. Lately it was all he could do to drag his ass out of bed to tackle relatively mundane cases. Back then the fact that he had been Gibbs’ right-hand-man had been enough to keep him on his toes. He was so damn proud that instead of having to quit and move on when things got uncomfortable or boring he’d been chosen. And he’d learned, once he got to D.C., that he’d not just been chosen. He’d been chosen by the notorious Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
He wondered when that changed. Maybe about the time Gibbs had started bringing on other team members. When he’d subtly told Tony that he wasn’t enough.
He finished typing and hit print. He wasn’t sure if it was losing Ziva or the fact that McGee was letting him know in no uncertain terms that he no longer needed Tony’s guidance or if it was that Gibbs seemed to take him for granted now… but the time had come.
He reached behind him and pulled the paper off the printer and signed it without reading it over. He set it face down in his out box and began setting up a spreadsheet for the documents McGee was sorting. He’d finish this case and it would be some of the best work he’d done. He wouldn’t ever deliberately let Gibbs down. Even now.
He’d gone in and gotten the first set of papers from McGee and was entering data on the computer when Gibbs came back from his latest coffee run. Tony took a minute and composed himself, watching covertly as Gibbs settled himself behind his desk and turned on his computer.
Gibbs, of course, noticed that he was being observed straight away. “You got something for me, DiNozzo?”
Tony blew out a deep breath. “Yeah, Boss, I do.”
Tony took the paper from his out box and crossed the aisle between their desks, taking a second to be grateful that he didn’t have to do this in front of McGee or anyone else.
Gibbs held out a hand without looking up. “What is it?”
Tony held out the paper. “My resignation.”