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Pushed Too Far

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“Is there anyone you need to call, DiNozzo?”

 

“Forget about it, McGee. He's still alive.”

 

“What's a hot case to you, DiNozzo? Shadowing a tight ass?”

 

Tony bolted upright in his bed, rummaging for the switch of the lamp on his nightstand in slight panic. Soft light illuminated his hunched form when he finally found it and in the mirror that hung in front of his bed, he could see his hair sticking into every direction, his eyes red from the tears pouring from them and cold sweat running down his forehead. The T-shirt he used as a pajama was rumpled and nearly chocking him where it had become tangled by his neck. All in all, he looked exactly like he was feeling: horrible.

 

‘It was just a nightmare. Get a grip, DiNozzo!’ – He scolded himself, and still breathing heavily as if he had just finished running a marathon, he heaved himself out of the bed with the clear determination to walk into the kitchen and get a glass of water.

 

It only remained a wish though, as he collapsed onto the floor as soon as he started to stand.

 

‘Damn!’ – He boxed the soft carpet in anger, frustrated with himself, with the job and most of all: his boss.

 

It had started a few of months ago, with a terrorist attacking NCIS, taking Ducky, his assistant and later also Kate as hostages. His demands had been clear: he had wanted his dead partner’s personal effects returned to him, and a free way out with them. At that time, and for long weeks after that, they hadn’t known his identity and Gibbs had become so focused in trying to find the bastard that he had started to neglect their other duties. Now, even though they already knew the man’s name, they still didn’t have him, and the boss was getting more and more difficult to live with each day.

He had always served his ‘the second B is for bastard’ persona well, but not like this. Never like this.

 

And it was also beginning to seem like Tony’s mere presence was setting the man off: the normally bubbly and chirpy young man was unusually silent and withdrawn lately, and everyone had notice it but Gibbs. The leader of MCRT was giving out more head slaps than ever before and 90% of these were aimed at his long-time field agent’s head. Most of them were followed by some malicious comment as well.  

 

If Tony wanted to have dinner, it made Gibbs angry, so he had all but stopped eating altogether.

If Tony made a movie reference, he got slapped, so he wasn’t talking about his hobby anymore.

If Tony happened to make a joke to lighten the mood, he got silenced with a death glare, so he never did it now.

If Tony did something to annoy the man… things were said. Hurtful thing that stung for a long time afterwards and left a gaping black hole where the young man’s soul used to be. And he couldn’t stop that, since he never knew what would be considered ‘annoying’ by his boss. Like yesterday for instance, when the battery had run out of the remote control they used for the big screen in the bullpen, and it stopped working. Unluckily, Tony happened to be holding it at that time, and when Kate was talking about the next diagram and Tony hadn’t been able to change the picture, Gibbs had gotten so angry that he had physically pushed the young man away and sent him down to Abby’s lab ‘before I’ll do something I’ll regret later, DiNozzo’. Tony had, of course, run and bought new batteries but by the time he had been allowed back into the bullpen, Gibbs had only said: ‘McGee has already repaired it. He at least knows what he’s doing.’

 

It had hurt. It was still hurting.

 

Tony half-sat, half-lay on the floor for a long time, trying to decide what to do. Before joining Team Gibbs, he had never felt like his job was his life and his colleagues were his family. Job-hopping every two years hadn’t been a problem back then. With NCIS, something had changed in him… Having an own apartment and a steady life was better than he had expected and with Gibbs, Abby and Ducky there, then Kate and Tim joining their team, he had gained a grandfather, a father and loveable though annoying siblings he had always wished to have. A family. Now this family was falling apart and somehow it always seemed like – along with Ari Haswari of course – he was one of the main reasons for this. He was mostly the cause for Gibbs’ foul mood and angry outbursts.

Could he continue to do this to his teammates?

 

The young agent gave up on his previous plan to drink water and laid down on the floor to sleep. He just didn’t have the energy to climb back into the bed.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

Early in the morning the next day, Tony was summoned into the director’s office for a private briefing. With Gibbs’ hard glare following him all the way upstairs, the young man made his way heavyheartedly towards his possible doom: whenever Jenny called him away from a team meeting, it always meant something bad had happened in relation with his strictly confidential undercover assignment that warranted his immediate attention. Otherwise, she’d just wait until he was alone so that nobody would get suspicious. Of course, you couldn’t fool Gibbs: he already knew something was going on and it certainly didn’t improve his feelings towards his senior field agent.

 

He knocked on the door and immediately received the reply to enter.

 

“Tony. I’m sorry to do this now but… something happened.” – She began as soon as they were safely locked in the office, away from curious ears. He just nodded for her to continue, too tired for pleasantries. Between the ‘private errands’ he was running for her all the time and Gibbs’ obsessive hunt for Ari after hours, he was so exhausted he didn’t care about the proper protocol of talking to one’s director anymore. Especially not a director who certainly wasn’t treating him like just any other man under her command. – “In the early evening today, we’re expecting a plane to arrive with La Grenouille's men on board. We don’t exactly know how many and we don’t know who. I want you to go and take pictures for us to analyze.”

 

Not so long ago, this would have been such a ridiculous and unlikely request that he’d had laughed out loud. Not now though. Now Tony wasn’t surprised by any assignment she pushed onto him anymore.

 

“Sure.” – Was all he said, shrugging his shoulders as if he had agreed to something absolutely normal, like taking a walk around the lake and eating an ice cream. – “When?”

 

“7 PM. I’ve made arrangements for you to pose as an airport worker.”

 

“Great. And Gibbs?”

 

“Let me worry about Jethro.”

 

Tony sighed, dreading the consequences he’d have to endure and she wouldn’t even know or care about.

 

“As you wish, director.”

 

This was going to be a great day…

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“DiNozzo! Just where do you think you’re going?” – Asked Gibbs at half past 5 PM when Tony prepared to leave for the airport. He needed time to get there and change into his clothes as a maintenance worker; make himself look the part completely.

 

Kate and McGee, both still engrossed in their respective tasks at their desks, looked up in surprise upon hearing the question.

 

Tony tried to ignore Kate slowly shaking her head at him, warning him not to say anything. He knew she meant well but he didn’t have time for this; he had a mission to accomplish.

 

“Ahm… Out? For a while?” – He tried, not really knowing what to do. Originally, he was only supposed to be working ‘til 4 today; not that Gibbs ever cared about this small detail. He already had more overtime piled up for this year than ever before in any of his jobs; even though he had always been willing to work hard.

 

Out? For a while?” – Repeated the boss in a dangerously low voice, narrowing his eyes as if saying ‘I’ll slay you if you so much as move towards the elevator another inch’. – “Did I hear you right?”

 

“Really Boss… I’m sorry but---”

 

“If you go now, don’t even bother coming back.” – Interrupted him the older man, clearly considering the matter closed. He wasn’t even looking at his agent anymore, having dismissed him completely and evidently not caring about what he was doing. Tony stood in the middle of the bullpen, feeling conflicted.

 

Kate and McGee gasped audibly. They, especially Kate, had of course noticed how Gibbs’ behavior towards his ex-favorite agent had changed lately, but this venom they heard from him now was of a totally new level.

 

Then Tony saw Jenny standing on top of the catwalk, staring pointedly at him, indicating towards the exit with her head. With a heavy heart, Tony nodded almost invisibly at her and walked out. What else was there to do? He just hoped she’d really ‘take care’ of it, like she had promised.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“I want his name! I want it today! And don't tell me it's Moby Dick!”

 

“War is not fair! And we are at war. Until I dismiss you, which could be any moment now, you will fight that war 24/7. That includes eating, sleeping, taking a crap. Got that?”

 

“Don’t bother coming back!”

 

Tony fell out of the bed with a small shriek and banged his head into his nightstand.

 

“Damn!” – He cursed, rubbing his temple. – “Damn it all!”

 

Staggering into a semi-standing position, he glanced at the clock: it was only 3:12 AM. He could have slept another hour and half before getting up; not gonna happen now.

 

The day before he had gotten back into NCIS at around half past nine. Nobody had been there by then and it had suited him just fine. Alone in the office, he had finished his research in blissful peace and called it a day only a few hours ago.

 

He was also positive he had skipped all mealtimes yesterday, though he couldn’t remember clearly.

 

Now he sat helplessly on the bed, thinking about how his life had become such a mess in such a short time. He couldn’t even tell with absolute certainty anymore which happenings were the nightmares and which ones were real. He was sure he was losing his mind and soon he’d start murmuring to himself while walking on the street and losing his grip on reality.

 

And the day hadn’t even really started yet…

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“Good morning, Boss.” – Said Tony as soon as Gibbs strolled into the bullpen with two cups of coffee in his hands. The older man didn’t as much as acknowledge his presence but the young agent wasn’t about to give up so easily. What had happened the day before wasn’t his fault after all, and Jenny had promised to deal with it! – “Boss… I think I found something yesterday when---”

 

“McGee? Where are you?” – Shouted the team leader, ignoring his senior field agent altogether.

 

“Here, Boss… I’m… ahm…”

 

“Stop stuttering and get Kate and Ducky. We’ve got a dead marine at the shore.”

 

“I’ll get the van.” – Said Tony dutifully.

 

Gibbs shook his head.

 

“McGee. Tell Kate to get the van.”

 

Tim gave Tony an almost pitying look before disappearing in the elevator.

 

Tony was left behind, and as Gibbs walked away as well, he wondered when and why his boss’ attitude towards him had changed from good-naturedly joking to outright emotional (sometimes even physical) abuse and if maybe… just maybe being totally overlooked was even an improvement to the by now always seriously painful head slaps...

 

No, absolutely not.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

Tony’s day had been long and dull. The rest of the team hadn’t returned until late in the evening, during which time he had finished all his case reports and even worked on three cold case files to occupy himself. He had expected Jenny to talk to him about their successful airport-operation or even about what she was planning on doing with Gibbs’ attitude, but she never even looked for him. He was beginning to think she didn’t care about anything beyond her vendetta against La Grenouille at all – which was probably the case. Why should she care about him, anyway? He was just one agent amongst hundreds of others in the agency for her. A nobody but a tool to be used when needed and be discarded when not. Still, it didn’t mean knowing this made it hurt any less…

 

He sighed for the tenth time in the evening; turning yet another page, he rubbed his hurting eyes and willed them to focus on the blurry words written by one of the agents many years ago. The man had been retired for about five years now so Tony had never met him, meaning he couldn’t get help deciphering his illegible handwriting now. And Gibbs complained about his writing being messy…

 

“Tony…? Are you going home soon?” – Asked Tim, a bit unsure. He didn’t understand what was going on with the boss and his friend but he knew there was definitely something wrong.

 

“It’s okay, Probie. I just want to finish these.”

 

“What are those?”

 

“Cold case files.”

 

“But then why? We weren’t ordered to do that… There’s an ongoing investigation…”

 

Tony glances towards Gibbs who was acting as if he couldn’t hear them at all.

 

“An investigation I’m not allowed to take part in.” – He said bitterly.

 

“Ahm…” – It was clear McGee didn’t know what to answer to that. Luckily, Kate came to his rescue.

 

“Come on, Tony. It’s time to go home.”

 

“No, Kate. You go. It’s fine.” – He wanted to talk to Gibbs and hoped that with the others gone, the man would be more willing to listen to him. Perhaps he just wanted to demonstrate how strict he could be…

 

Kate seemed to understand his unspoken request, and took a confused Tim’s arm to pull him towards the elevator.

 

As soon as the two disappeared, Tony stood and cleared his throat.

 

“Khm… Boss? About yesterday---”

 

“What is it, DiNozzo? Didn’t I tell you not to come back at all if you dare leave in the middle of the investigation?” – Gibbs exploded, shouting so loud that all the remaining agents around the office cringed. Tony didn’t flinch though; sadly, he was already used to being spoken to this way.

 

“I had orders from the director.” – He simply said. – “It’s not my fault. I came back afterwards to finish my task and I even found---”

 

“Do I look like I care?”

 

“No, Boss. You don’t.” – That was true. He could already see it wouldn’t matter what he had to say. Gibbs simply didn’t care at all.

 

“Right.”

 

“Well… that’s it then?”

 

“What? Did you expect a dinner invitation, DiNozzo?”

 

Tony felt himself getting angrier and angrier.

 

“No. I actually didn’t expect anything.”

 

With that, he stormed out of the squad room, fuming all the way home, thinking about how he’d come to hate his life and what he could do to change this horrible situation.

Chapter Text

Tony didn’t sleep that night. He didn’t eat or watch TV either. He just sat on his bed in the darkness, musing about his options.

 

He could go to Jenny and ask for a transfer to another team. She would do it too – it was, after all, partly her fault Tony was in this mess. Not that she seemed to be aware of any of it. Or maybe she was, and she just didn’t care?

He could also continue as if nothing had happened. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d had to bear the boss’ attitude. He had done it many times before to take the wrath and spare his teammates of having to do so. Back when they had been working with Blackadder and she had messed up that operation… Brr… He shuddered just thinking about what he’d had to endure then for a while, even after she had been fired. But then things had gone back to normal – at least to what was considered normal for them. Perhaps this could be the case now too?

Then again, he could leave… He had done this before as well… In Philly, and Baltimore… But truth be told, those jobs had been different. He himself had been different.

 

He really didn’t know what to do! He wanted someone to talk to but the only person who came to mind was exactly the reason for his frustration. The realization that he didn’t have anyone to confide in momentarily threw him off balance. He was totally and completely and utterly alone.

 

Alone.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

The next day was Saturday, and for a change, Team Gibbs wasn’t working. Tony used this time to visit an old… well, not friend. Certainly not. Maybe acquaintance. Or foe.

 

He knocked on the door and didn’t have to wait long to hear a gasp from inside followed by the key moving in the lock.

 

“DiNutso? To what do I owe the displeasure?” – Asked a very surprised, tired-looking Fornell. The man’s meager hair was sticking up in all directions (which for someone being half-bald was quite an accomplishment in Tony’s opinion) and he was wearing a slightly battered deep blue bathrobe. The man was trying and failing to rub the sleep from his eyes and squinted to look up at his slightly taller visitor. It was obvious he hadn’t been expecting company. Well, his problem.

 

“We need to talk.” – Was all Tony said, making his way inside, not having the patience to wait for an invitation that he knew would probably never come anyway.

 

Fornell rolled his eyes and sarcastically said:

 

“Sure, why don’t you come inside?” – Seeing the young NCIS agent already perched on his favorite leather armchair, he added with a sigh: - “Just make yourself comfortable.”

 

Tony looked around.

 

“Is there something for breakfast? I’m starving.”

 

Fornell blinked a few times in disbelief before – apparently deciding he wouldn’t get rid of the insufferable intruder anytime soon – shrugged and went into the kitchen to make omelet for the both of them. By the time he finished the young guest had gone through his DVD collection, commenting on each film and on his taste; or rather: the lack of it.

 

“Dirty Dancing? Really? I didn’t take you for the romantic type, Toby.”

 

Fornell grabbed Tony by the ear and pulled the yelping man to the table.

 

“Eat.” – He commanded.

 

He needn’t say it twice: the boy seemed to be starving. They ate in silence for ten minutes, during which time Tony had three helpings of the delicious breakfast.

 

“That was amazing!” – He said when he couldn’t eat anymore. – “If the FBI doesn’t work out, you could open a diner!”

 

“I’m gonna make some coffee.”

 

“With sugar and milk for me.”

 

Fornell rolled his eyes.

 

“Anything else perhaps?”

 

Apparently, Tony didn’t get the sarcasm because he seriously answered:

 

“Hm… Do you have some cookies for dessert?”

 

“I’ll have to look.” – The exasperated man said, shaking his head. After some minutes rummaging around in his cabinet, he pulled out a purple colored plastic bag. – “I have some chocolate animals biscuits left. Might be past their expiration date though…”

 

“Wonderful!”

 

As Tony excitedly dug into the bag, Fornell sat down again, slowly slipping his coffee. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out what the kid wanted in his apartment: they didn’t even like each other. And still, there was something about the his eyes… He looked so lost and sad. Well, whatever the reason, the boy should have gone to Jethro with his problems! That was what he always did; the FBI agent knew that very well. So what could have happened that caused him to come here?

 

“So, DiNutso…” – He began when Tony declared not to be able to swallow anything else. – “… care to tell me what brought you here? Other than my culinary talents, of course.”

 

The kid’s previously bright eyes immediately darkened and he hung his head as if in shame.

 

“It’s about Gibbs…” – He admitted. – “I thought, since the two of you are best friends---”

 

“We’re not best friends. We’re not even friends.” – The older man corrected. – “He let me marry his ex-wife! I’m sure he hates me.”

 

“He did warn you though.”

 

“Is that what he says?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Hah! He even gave his blessings. Couldn’t be happier that I took her off his hands!”

 

“Well, whatever. You’ve known each other for ages.” – This couldn’t be denied. – “So maybe you’ll be able to give me some advice…”

 

“Advice on what?” – Tobias narrowed his eyes suspiciously. If the kid wanted to prank his boss…

 

“On how to make him like me again. Or at least tolerate…” – Tony’s voice broke, as if he were close to tears.

 

Fornell was surprised.

 

“What are you talking about? He loves you as if you were his own! I’ve never heard him talk with such a pride about anyone else!” – That was true. His old friend was literally obsessed with the young man he had found in Baltimore and brought home with him as if he had just adopted a stray puppy. Though now that he thought about it, he could swear he hadn’t heard Gibbs talk about DiNutso’s heroic accomplishments for ages… - “What the hell happened?”

 

Tony played absent-mindedly with a salt cellar, causing salt to spill onto the table. Instead of apologizing and cleaning it up, he formed patterns and funny scripts with it. Fornell, who liked everything clean and tidy, had to bite his tongue not to comment on the mess he was making.

 

“Who knows…” – Tony trailed off. He couldn’t tell Fornell about his undercover assignment, since it was top secret. He rephrased what he’d been about to say to: - “I’ve been assigned to do some work for other projects too. So he’s not my only boss now. But it’s not my fault, it was the director’s call!”

 

“Oh… Maybe---”

 

“But that wouldn’t normally be a problem if it weren’t for that damned Ari Haswari!” – Spat Tony. Now that he’d begun, he couldn’t stop. – “He’s obsessed, Fornell! He has completely lost it!”

 

“Is that the terrorist who—”

 

“Yes! And now Gibbs likes Kate because she faced that bastard and lived to tell the tale. She’s a hero. And he likes Probie because he developed the program that helped identify Ari. And he likes Abby because she’s Abby and he can’t not love her. But me? I didn’t do anything, I’m just an agent who disappears from time to time to do this other assignment and who can’t even contribute to the chase enough to---”

 

“Stop it, DiNutso and go back a bit: did you say he prefers everyone on the team over you?”

 

“YES! That’s exactly what I’m saying, Toby!” – Tony heaved a sigh that sounded suspiciously like a suppressed sob and continued: - “And it’s understandable because Kate’s brave and Tim’s a genius and Abby is Abby and---”

 

“I don’t believe it.”

 

“Well, you should. So, what should I do now?”

 

Tobias thought for a moment.

 

“What does your director say?”

 

“Nothing. I can’t go to her with that; she has enough problems with her own--- khm, nothing, forget it. She doesn’t care because I’m just one nameless agent of many. Besides, I’m sure she’d be happy if Gibbs threw me off the team. Then she could use me even more…”

 

“DiNutso… That can’t be true. I don’t know about the NCIS but in the FBI, we take care of our own.”

 

“Yeah, well… Maybe you’re lucky to be working there then. It used to be like that at NCIS as well. Until recently…” – Tony sat down the now empty salt cellar (its content on the table was arranged as a picture of a hanged man) and stood before promptly collapsing onto the chair again, completely void of energy. – “Damn…” – He muttered angrily.

 

Fornell jumped up to help him.

 

“When was the last time you slept?”

 

“Ahm… I don’t know…?”

 

“Is that a question or a statement?”

 

“Not a question.” – The young man looked sheepish. – “I really don’t know. A week ago or so…”

 

“Jesus, Kid! Come on, I’ve got a guest bedroom.”

 

“I don’t want to be an inconvenience.”

 

“Now you’re worried about it!” – Fornell exclaimed in awe. – “Move it, DiNutso, I can’t carry you on my own. March!”

 

With a little help from the weakened NCIS agent whose energy seemed to have left him completely, Fornell finally managed to put him to bed. He even draped a thick blanket over the shaking man before closing the blinds. As he was leaving the room, there was an almost inaudible whisper:

 

“Thank, Fornell. I didn’t know where to go…”

 

“Ah… It’s fine. You know…” – He said after some contemplation. – “… my offer about taking you on in my team still stands. If you’re interested. DiNutso? DiNutso?”

 

Too late, the boy was already asleep and the FBI agent didn’t have a clue if he had heard anything of what he had said.

 

The older man shook his head fondly.

 

‘Blasted kid.’

 

It seemed like this annoying rascal was somehow growing on him.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

When Tony finally woke from his nap and ate a rich dinner, it was already late afternoon. Fornell had been sitting at his desk working through the case files he had brought home for the weekend the whole time his guest had been resting and now he was ready to tear all his remaining hair out in frustration; he had made absolutely no progress in his ongoing investigation. For that reason, he coaxed the boy to go running with him, and just ten minutes later, as they were sprinting next to each other (not that it was easy keeping up with the much younger and fitter man, mind you), Tobias was thinking about the situation.

 

Here he was, side by side with a kid he had thought he couldn’t stand, and found he liked the troublemaker just fine. It seemed when he wasn’t surrounded by his NCIS teammates and didn’t feel like his position was threatened by them, Tony didn’t feel the need to show off or even constantly make some noise. With no reason for endless jokes or insults; the boy simply seemed content in a friend’s presence and just relax. He was actually quite a good company.

 

Fornell was sure he could be a better boss to the kid than Gibbs was: he wouldn’t always make him feel like he had to prove himself over and over again; he wouldn’t make team decisions without talking it over with him first. Oh, yes. He knew how Agent Todd and Agent McGee had been hired; each time, Tony had been the last to know about it. And while the kid didn’t mind – actually he liked – his new teammates, it must still feel shitty not to be included in changes like that; like his opinion on team matters didn’t count for anything at all. If you have a team, you have responsibilities, and the fact that you’re the leader doesn’t change that. If anything, it makes you even more responsible to be attentive. At least in Tobias’ opinion. As the head of an FBI team himself, he could never imagine ignoring his people’s feelings like that.

 

No wonder the kid was so insecure under his carefully crafted frat boy façade: it seemed to be Gibbs’ leading style to consciously leave his team wondering about his intentions, so that they would never feel secure enough to slack. So that they’d strive to be better and better all the time, hoping to get some recognition along the way. That might work with a certain type of person just fine, but not with someone like DiNutso. People like DiNutso needed protection from their own self-destroying ways and the sure knowledge they are valued for who they are and not for what they could accomplish if they pushed themselves even further.

 

The question was: would it help if he talked to his old friend about this or not? Should he even stick his nose somewhere where it most definitely didn’t belong?

 

Just one look at the boy next to him gave the answer: he needed to at least try.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

Fornell had entertained the lost NCIS agent all weekend, making him sleep in the guest bedroom and feeding him three times a day. They watched movies, talked about books (because he found that contrary to popular belief, the boy did read quite a lot and was incredibly intelligent) and they even played with Emily’s jigsaw puzzles and some silly board games. The young agent was especially good with Cluedo and Monopoly but had no idea how to play chess. In the end, Fornell only let him go Monday morning when the young man had to go to work. He himself had something else on mind…

 

At 10 AM he met Gibbs in their favorite burger bar.

 

“What do you want, Tobias? I have work to do!” – Growled the NCIS lead agent as soon as he arrived to find his friend already waiting for him in a booth, sipping coffee and reading the morning paper. – “So, whatever it is, just spit it out.”

 

“It’s good to see you too, Jethro. Why don’t you sit down?”

 

“Because I don’t have time for this! I have a terrorist to catch!”

 

The FBI agent hardened his glare, causing Gibbs to finally heave a sigh and sink onto the seat across his friend. Fornell nodded.

 

“Better. So, Jethro: how are you and your team? I mean, aside from the obvious manhunt.”

 

“There is nothing aside form that, Tobias. This is the only important thing now. I will catch that bastard if that’s the last thing I’ll do!”

 

“And if it’s the last thing one of your team members will do?”

 

Silence followed this question during which Gibbs narrowed his eyes dangerously and stared at his long time friend with some amount of curiosity mixed with lots of anger.

 

After a while, the NCIS agent exhaled slowly before quietly asking:

 

“Just what the hell is that supposed to mean!?”

 

Fornell held the murderous gaze firmly, refusing to be intimidated. He had married the man’s ex-wife, for God’s sake, he was not about to back down now!

 

“Well, what do you think, Jethro? Maybe you shouldn’t be so blinded by hate and rage as to not notice when one of your people is struggling!”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about but it’s none of your business anyway. My people, my rules. And if DiNozzo went crying to you---”

 

“So, is that all you can come up with regarding this topic? That DiNutso must have been complaining?”

 

“That’s the only thing that matters. If he hates me so much, maybe he should go over to the FBI!” – With that, Gibbs suddenly stood and walked away, leaving his friend looking after him flabbergasted.

 

‘Well… Yeah, Jeth… Maybe he should…’

Chapter Text

Kate, Tim and Tony were sitting at their respective desks, each engrossed in their task: Kate was trying to profile what kind of people their new serial killer was choosing to hunt after. So far, the only thing they knew for sure was that he murdered solely navy officers but they needed something more. Tim was helping Abby with a computer problem that may or may not include hacking the Pentagon’s main server. And Tony… Tony hadn’t been given anything productive to do, so he had decided to contact all relatives and friends of the four victims they’d had so far to try and find a connection between them. Anything that might explain why they had been chosen to die at a young age. And so brutally at that...

 

“I think I might have an idea.” – He announced suddenly, after having had a fifteen-minute conversation with the mother of Petty Officer Riley Brooke Jensen, victim number two. – “I just got confirmation that all four of them belonged to the same religion: Jehovah's Witnesses. All had had enough and announced that they wanted out before---”

 

“DiNozzo!” – Came the bellowing call from the direction of the entrance to the squad room, making everyone cringe and turn to see Gibbs standing in front of the lift, keeping its doors open with one hand and motioning towards the young agent with the other, seething in anger. – “To my office! NOW!”

 

Tony shot a desperate look at the desk across from his where Kate was visibly trying to sink into the floor and disappear in it. No help from there. A quick glance at McGee revealed the younger man sweating and swallowing hard, looking anywhere but at his colleague. No help either. With a resigned sigh, Tony stood and walked towards what felt like his doom.

 

“Yes, Boss---?” – As soon as the elevator stopped in mid-ascent, he was roughly pushed at the wall and he hit his head so hard it literally made him see stars. – “Ouch—"

 

“You just had to go and cry to Fornell, didn’t you, DiNozzo?” – Tony had no idea what to say to that. He’d have never thought the FBI agent would betray his trust like that! Apparently, the man had gone and told Gibbs everything about how he had spent the weekend with him… Even though he had thought they were becoming something akin to friends. God, he had been so stupid… Again. - “You have nothing to say?” – Continued the leader of MCRT with venom. – “How about you tell me what the hell you were hoping to gain with running to someone who’s not even NCIS?”

 

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing whatsoever.”

 

“Sympathy, maybe?”

 

“Sympathy? From you, Boss? Don’t make me laugh!”

 

Gibbs glared but Tony just about had had enough now, so he couldn’t care less anymore.

 

“That’s all?”

 

“Yep.”

 

Gibbs let Tony exit the elevator and refused to talk to him at all during the whole day after that. The two other teammates stubbornly refused to look at him, as if afraid that showing him any kind of support or even being civil with him would bring their boss’ wrath at them too. As if he were contagious. Even Ducky and Abby seemed distant as soon as they sensed the atmosphere within the team; they probably thought the young agent must deserve whatever he was getting from the others.

 

There were some calls and messages from the FBI agent, but given the betrayal, Tony didn’t feel like answering. He had wanted help making things better and now everything was just worse than before! How could he have been so stupid as to think Gibbs’ friend would help him!? Him, the nobody… Of course Fornell went to the team leader. He couldn’t do anything else. Stupid, Tony, stupid, stupid…

 

The senior field agent had never felt so alone in his entire life so the new assignment from the director for the afternoon and evening almost seemed to be a blessing rather than a curse.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

It was nearing midnight when Tony got home, still looking like a ragged homeless man and clutching his guitar like a lifeline. He knew he had been spotted today and recognized as the worker from the airport. He knew the mystery man was suspicious and would most likely try to find him. His life was in danger but the only thing the director seemed to care about was to find out the identities of the men from the meeting. She didn’t have time to worry about small, insignificant matters; matters, for example, like Tony’s safety and health.

 

It took him three tries until he managed to press the key into the hole and another two to finally successfully open the door, for his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t really control his movements. As soon as he stepped into his apartment though, his senses alerted him of something out of place. He was not alone! Could they have found him already!? Surely not… Or? Grabbing his previously hidden weapon from under his too-big sweatshirt, he cautiously made his way towards the kitchen from where suspicious smells were coming. Smells like baked chicken breast with mashed potatoes and pickles. Tony, being too tired and worried about thinking of a reason a burglar would break in to cook him dinner, jumped behind a counter and shouted…

 

“Federal agent! Come out with your hands--- Fornell!? What the hell are you doing in my home!?”

 

“Geez, Kid! Put that gun away before you injure someone!” – Groaned the older man from where he was kneeling on the floor, rummaging through the cabinet, clearly looking for something and feeling frustrated not finding it. – “Do you have a pan? I want to make crepes for desert.”

 

Tony had no idea what crepes were but he didn’t care either. He was speechless so he just stood there, gun lowered and held dumbly at his side. He couldn’t move nor could he say anything for a long while; his sluggishly moving tired mind not quite catching up to the happenings just yet. In the end, he just shrugged and decided to take a shower. Maybe he was just hallucinating and when he freshened up, his thoughts would clear out as well.

 

No such luck. Of course, really: when could things be so easy for him!?

 

When he returned into the kitchen the first course was already waiting for him, steaming on beautifully arranged plates, while the intruder stood at the stove, apron around his waist, finishing the last few of those whatever-was-their-names he was making.

 

“You should have warned me, you know.” – Tony scolded. – “I nearly shot you!”

 

“But I did!” – Defended himself the FBI agent. – “I tried to call you at least four times and when you didn’t pick up, I sent you an SMS and two e-mails!”

 

“Oh…” – Shooting a quick glance at his cell, Tony decided the man was telling the truth: he had really written he’d be here to make dinner, Tony just hadn’t read it in his anger…

 

Not knowing what to say or do, the young man stood stupidly. He was still angry but… he was also very hungry and tired and sad and---

 

“I’ll be with you in a moment. Do you like Nutella or cinnamon and sugar fillings better?”

 

“Ahm…”

 

“Whatever. I’ve made both.”

 

“Fornell… How did you get in?” – Asked Tony finally, having wondered about it ever since he’d decided he hadn’t imagined his guest.

 

“Come on, boy. I’m an FBI agent: I can get through any door.” – He said, steering the boy to the table.

 

“I see.” – But he didn’t. Not really.

 

“So, tuck in! Don’t let the food get cold! But keep in mind you’ll have to eat the crepes as well.”

 

“What are cr… crapes?”

 

“CREPES, Tony: crepes.” – The older man looked stunned to find someone didn’t know about this dessert. – “It’s common French street food but it’s popular across all Europe. I’d have thought you’d know it being Italian and all…”

 

Tony shrugged.

 

“I’ve never been to Italy.” – He admitted, taking a bite from the chicken. It was delicious, just like everything else Fornell had made him before. – “Listen… Gibbs… Why did you tell him about the weekend?” – He couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice. – “I thought I could trust you and you just took it and threw it back in my face!” – He added, putting down the fork and knife, directing all his attention at the older man.

 

The FBI agent blinked confusedly.

 

“What are you talking about? I’d never do that! I didn’t!” – He insisted.

 

“Well, you must have told him something, since he confronted me about coming to you to cry!”

 

“I spoke to him, that’s true. But I only tried to warn him about what he was doing to his team. I didn’t mention names or anything in particular. I didn’t need anyone to come to me to see what’s going on: I do have eyes!” – Fornell defended himself, though he knew now it wouldn’t matter a lot. Of course his friend had known whom he had talked to and had been angry about it… He was probably only treating Tony this poorly after all. Damn. – “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause any more trouble to you…”

 

The NCIS agent glared at the table angrily.

 

“Any more? There’s no more than this, Fornell! I’m in hell every day!”

 

“I’m really sorry.” – The agent hung his head in shame. – “That was really not my intention.”

 

Tony felt awful. The man had been nothing but supportive of him ever since he had just barged into his life a few days ago. He believed he had only wanted to help and here he was, spatting at him bitterly. No wonder he didn’t have any friends willing to stick with him!

 

“It’s fine.” – He said, and continued to eat. – “So, you were saying something about those crepes…”

 

Fornell smiled, happy about the obvious peace offering.

 

“Oh, yes! See, a crepe is a very thin pastry…”

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

Half an hour and a completely devoured dinner later Fornell was saying goodbye to the kid, ready to go home and hit the sack. The boy seemed to be nearly falling asleep standing anyway and he figured it wouldn’t do him any good to anger Gibbs even further by having him oversleep tomorrow.

 

“I enjoyed the conversation, thank you for coming.” – Tony said a bit shyly, still somewhat embarrassed about his earlier attitude towards the older man who had behaved with him the way he had always wished his father would. – “And the dinner was fabulous.”

 

“You’re welcome. Listen… I’m very sorry about causing you trouble with Jethro. It honestly wasn’t even remotely my intention.”

 

“I know. It’s fine. That’s not the reason Gibbs hates me…”

 

“He doesn’t hate you.” – The disbelieving look the young man gave him told more than any words could. – “You know, I meant it: you’re always welcome on my team.”

 

“Fornell…”

 

“You don’t have to give me an answer now. Think about it. Well. Good night then.”

 

“Good night. And thanks again.”

 

As he was getting ready for bed, Tony was giving about this new possibility for the first time some serious thoughts: Fornell had been trying to recruit him ever since they had first worked a joint case many month before, but he had always done it in an almost teasing, sarcastic manner. Tony had never thought he meant it. They hadn’t even liked each other… Now though things were becoming different in so many ways.

 

Gibbs, who used to be like a father figure to him, was quickly becoming distant and disdainful towards him; nothing he did could please the man anymore, and he was always at fault whatever went wrong. These days, the young agent was sure his boss would easily blame him for the global warming if he had the opportunity. And the director wasn’t helping either. He wanted out of her assignment and sometimes he wanted out of Team Gibbs too.

 

Fornell, on the other hand, was becoming something of a good friend. Even more similar to a father than his own father had ever been. He was becoming something Gibbs had been before… Before Ari and before The Frog. When things had been more simple and much better.

 

But if things can change so quickly, what was there to say it wouldn’t happen again if he joined the FBI? And if it did, where would he go next? Job-hopping might have worked back before he had an own apartment to upkeep and before he had settled down but now… it wouldn’t work forever. He needed to grow up and settle down.

 

And adults didn’t need fathers anymore! Tony needed to make his own decision, not based on the person he would go to but the job he would do. He needed to think this over very carefully…

Chapter Text

About a week later, Tony still hadn’t come to a decision about what he really wanted to do with his life, though he was getting increasingly desperate for some change. Any change that would mean he gets free of the director’s demands and Gibbs’ snarls.

 

“I think they saw me the last time, Jenny.” – He repeated for the umpteenth time with a sigh, not really expecting her to be more interested in his problem this time around than ever before he had tried to make her see sense. That is to say: not at all. – “Don’t you think it would be advisable for me to lie low for a while?”

 

As predicted, she immediately shook her head in disagreement, since him lying low wouldn’t suit her plans.

 

“It will be fine, Tony, you’ll see.” – She assured him, though he had no idea how, save for being a prophet which he knew she wasn’t, she could know this for sure. – “It’s been days and we don’t have any intel about them making any moves to try and find out your identity. To be honest, I’m not sure they noticed you at all.”

 

“Well. I am.”

 

Jenny stood and walked up to him, putting her hand on his shoulder in a placating way as if to remind him of his place. Why he needed to be calmed like a little boy with a temper tantrum, Tony didn’t know, since he was fairly certain he wasn’t acting irrational at all. If anything, he was being the only responsible one in this room; and that said a lot because she was supposed to lead this whole organization and to look out for her people!

 

“I told you: it will be fine. You just introduce yourself to her. Make an impression, as a first step. Nothing more. She doesn’t know you and she wasn’t present previously to have noticed you.”

 

“But her father was! Don’t you think she’d want me to meet him at some point if we were to get serious…?”

 

Another sigh from her. She was clearly becoming impatient, ready to move on and have Tony do her bidding without complaining.

 

“We’ll cross the bridge when we get there. You haven’t even met her yet.” – She said exasperatedly. – “You’re running a bit ahead here.”

 

“It doesn’t matter. I know what you want from me.”

 

“Tony…”

 

“I need to think about it.” – He insisted. – “This secret assignment is already interfering with my work with the team. I’ve had problems with Gibbs and---”

 

“I’ll handle Jethro.”

 

Tony had to work hard not to burst out in a hysterical laugh, as he had a feeling it wouldn’t help him on the long run to make fun of the very person who particularly held his entire career in her hands.

 

“Don’t take it the wrong way, Jenny, but you didn’t help the last time you said that either.” – He said finally when he was able to speak without shouting. – “And I was nearly kicked out. I wasn’t allowed to work on cases for days as a punishment for disappearing on your orders!”

 

“He didn’t have the right to do this. I am the leader of NCIS. If I give you an order, you obey it, and even Gibbs can’t do anything about it.”

 

The young agent was intelligent enough to read between the lines and understand what she was really saying: she had basically stated in a no nonsense way she would order him if she had to and then there would be no decision for him to make. And also that she would take him from team Gibbs if that was the price of having him full time for her twisted little side-project. (Tony still wasn’t certain this operation was even authorized by the higher ups, though he was clever enough not to ask questions about it.)

 

He hardened his glare and squeezed a “Yes, director” out, before nodding to her and leaving her office with a morose feeling in his stomach.

 

Yep, his situation wasn’t improving at all…

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

Tony had to admit: Dr. Jeanne Benoit was a beautiful and very intelligent young woman who had a great sense of humor as well. She was exactly the type he would be after in a second, had things been different. But as it currently was, he was feeling only disgust with himself and the whole situation as he muttered a shy ‘I’m so very sorry’ for ‘accidently’ running into her and offered to invite her for a coffee to make up for the one he had just spilled with his clumsiness.

 

“It’s all right, you don’t have to feel bad. It happens. And you don’t have to buy me another one, really. It’s fine.” – She assured him kindly but Tony wouldn’t let this go so easily.

 

“No, no. I insist.” – He smiled the most charming way he could and pointed towards a café at a near corner. – “That place has amazing cinnamon rolls; you haven’t lived until you’ve tried one!”

 

She gave him a mischievous wink.

 

“Oh, really? Well, I guess I can’t say no to that, can I?”

 

“You certainly can’t! Shall we then?”

 

“Okay.”

 

About a quarter of an hour later Tony knew he would definitely try to win her heart if things were different. Jeanne was not only beautiful and intelligent: she was also so full of life and so carefree that he felt instantly at ease with her. They talked about everything from films to books and hobbies and jobs… Well, the job subject was somewhat awkward since Tony couldn’t tell her about being NCIS. He had to lie through his teeth and say he was a professor in film and media at the university and taught young people for a living. He also had to tell her his name was Tony DiNardo, though this detail didn’t bother him as much as the other lies.

 

He had wished to be someone else since he was about five years old and understood what a mess his family really was... That was what made him so good at undercover assignments: the possibility to have a different life, something completely new, appealed to him. He simply liked to experiment and hoped that maybe, just maybe, he’d find his real self along the way as well.

 

Right now, for example, he wished they didn’t have to say goodbye so soon…

 

“I had a great time, Tony. I can honestly say I’m glad you nearly knocked me over.” – She laughed.

 

“It was fate, Jeanne.” – He smiled. – “I hope you’ll agree to meet again sometime…?” – He phrased it as a question but looked her deep in the eyes so that she could see he was serious about this.

 

She nodded almost immediately and Tony detected a hint of enthusiasm in the way she assured him they’d indeed meet again.

 

“Saturday?” – She suggested. – “I’m supposed to be free for the weekend for once. Maybe this is fate.”

 

They agreed to have dinner in a restaurant of her choice, since it had been Tony who had picked the café.

 

The young NCIS agent felt wonderful as he walked towards his car and only when he was sitting inside and the implications of what he had done dawned on him, did the smile vanish from his face.

 

He was already falling in love with his mark. Damn…

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“I’m having dinner with her on Saturday.” – He reported dutifully to the amused-looking director.

 

Jenny Shepard sat at her desk with her fingers intervened and her elbows resting on her pulled-up knees, looking for all the world as if she had just won the lottery.

 

“That went quick.” – She chuckled. – “And to think you were reluctant at first---”

 

“I still am!”

 

Smile quickly wiped from her face, Jenny shifted uncomfortably.

 

“Tony…”

 

“Look, I don’t like doing that to her. It’s unfair; she doesn’t deserve this. And I don’t, either. I’m sure we can get close to the Frog another way---”

 

“Tony, we have talked about this.” – And there was this soothing tone of voice again you’d usually hear from parents trying to calm down their hysterically crying toddler. Tony felt nauseated. – “This is the fastest way. The only way I can think of right now. It doesn’t mean we won’t try other things but… well. This has to happen, Tony.”

 

“Fine. Whatever.” – He was so very tired. He just wanted to go back down into the bullpen and lose himself in the case they were working on. He was wasting time trying to talk to her anyway. – “If that’s all…?”

 

“Yes, you may go. Thank you.”

 

Later, as Tony presented his findings to the team, he thought he could feel Gibbs’ gaze burning the back of his head like laser. It hurt more than any head slap could.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“You look like hell.”

 

“What the---!?” – Tony shrieked, dropping the key he had been about to insert into the lock of his door. – “Jesus, Fornell! You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

 

The older man smiled as if the most delightful thing had happened and didn’t look bothered about the other’s discomfort at the least.

 

“You’re too easy to scare.” – He simply said as he entered after the young NCIS agent. – “And you’re late. You were supposed to be home half an hour ago.”

 

Tony didn’t even want to know how the man knew his work schedule, so he just shrugged.

 

“Gibbs tore my first case report into a hundred little pieces claiming my handwriting was illegible and had me redo it from scratch.” – It was true. The team leader could always come up with new and creative ways to torture him. The frightening thing was: they were all legal. Ah, well. Mostly…

 

“Ah…” – Fornell obviously didn’t know what to say to that. He liked Gibbs well enough; you could call them best friends even if he didn’t want to admit it; but he just couldn’t understand the other man’s sudden evil behavior towards his young colleague. The man was borderline abusive, really. – “Khm… Do you have something to eat? I’m starving!”

 

Tony experimentally opened the fridge but against all hope, he only found a gaping emptiness. He glared at it for a while as if it had single-handedly done him a great injustice before he concluded that, sadly, a staring contest wouldn’t help the situation at all. He slammed the door shut and felt an incredibly childish glee upon seeing a magnet Abby had brought for him chattering about the importance of home decoration fall off and land on the perfectly white tiles with a soft ‘thud’. – “Nope. Sorry. I didn’t have time to do any shopping lately…”

 

The FBI agent, who hadn’t seen the constantly working boy in days didn’t look surprised at all upon learning the young man had neglected to take care of himself. He sighed and motioned for his new protégé to follow him towards the door.

 

“We’re going out.” – He announced once it became obvious Tony wasn’t about to comply without an explanation. – “I’m hungry. You’re hungry. And I know a good Chinese place.”

 

“I can’t use chopsticks.” – Declared Tony but finally began to move. He was hungry after all.

 

“We’ll get you a fork.”

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

The Chinese Restaurant Fornell had mentioned was just around the corner, though Tony had never seen it before. However, he wasn’t surprised: it wasn’t as if he had a lot of time to roam the area for sightseeing purposes; he was happy to get four or five nights a week in his own bed. Mostly, he just slept in the office, slumped on his hard desk or stretched out on the floor under it. Abby would also lend him her futon every once in a while and even Ducky’s autopsy tables could come in handy sometimes. It was more convenient not to have to travel to and from work when you only had three hours in between…

 

“So, care to tell me why you look worse than some day-old corpses I’ve seen in autopsy?”

 

Trust the older agent not to beat around the bush.

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I look just as dashing as always.” – The young man tried with a forced smile but he didn’t even need to see Fornell’s incredulous expression to realize he wasn’t too convincing. So, he gave up pretending and with a sigh, he said: - “It’s not easy around NCIS for me right now…”

 

“Did something happen?” – Fornell wanted to know.

 

“No. I mean… Nothing new. The same thing is still happening: Gibbs hates my guts, Kate and Tim are a great team without me and… I don’t know. Everyone is concerned with finding Ari and I guess I just don’t fit in anymore. They don’t need me.” – He finished, deliberately avoiding talking about Jenny and her personal vendetta he was caught in, since it was still top secret even though by now he was pretty sure Gibbs knew all about it.

 

The older man wasn’t to be fooled though.

 

“There is something else as well, isn’t there? I mean, you look like you haven’t slept for days. If Gibbs ‘doesn’t need’ you and isn’t giving you much to do, then who is?”

 

Damn, the FBI agent was smart.

 

Tony sighed tiredly.

 

“I can’t talk about it.”

 

Fornell nodded nonetheless in understanding.

 

“Okay… I guess I’m getting it now.”

 

“No, I don’t think you are.” – Insisted Tony, hoping to God he was right. The last think he needed was to be accused of giving out restricted information to the FBI. That would be a spectacular end to his career for sure…

 

“Believe me, Kiddo: I am.”

 

“Oh…” – What was there to say to that? Fornell might know NCIS better than he thought… He was so dead!

 

“Your other assignment you mentioned before, isn’t it? Something to do with the director and having another boss Gibbs is not happy about? I get it, boy. I sure do. Haven’t we all done some undercover work or another? It can be difficult if your team leader is not supportive or mindful of the added workload…”

 

Tony blinked a few times, baffled with the fact that the older man had guessed things so easily. In the end, seeing Fornell’s all knowing smile, he just shrugged.

 

“I… I think I can’t do this anymore. I like her… I mean, really… And I shouldn’t. And Gibbs will kill me, and I’ll break her heart and then Gibbs will kill me and Jenny is going to kick me out and… well. Did I mention that Gibbs is going to kill me? What do I do now?” – He asked, desperately needing someone to understand.

 

The FBI agent didn’t have an idea who the mysterious woman the kid was blabbering about could be, but he had a pretty good idea why he had such a conflict about liking her… Oh, were they really that similar? Because so many years ago… well, he wasn’t going to go there, not now. The boy needed his mind on the present.

 

“Your mark?” – He guessed.

 

“Huh?”

 

“The woman you’re falling in love with. I suppose she’s your mark.” – Tony opened his mouth to argue but Fornell held his hands up. – “You don’t have to answer; I know it anyway. And it’s fine. It happens to the best of us.”

 

The young NCIS agent snorted bitterly.

 

“It wouldn’t happen to Gibbs.” – He whispered and was surprised to hear the other man’s roaring laugh.

 

“You’re kidding, right? It wouldn’t!? It did! Well, she was not his mark but his undercover partner, but it’s not better in any way, if I say so! Not better at all!”

 

“What!? Gibbs fell in love with an agent he was undercover with? But that’s… argh…”

 

“Yep. You see, Kid? Contrary to what you; and Jethro, for that matter; might believe, your boss isn’t as flawless as he wants to seem to be.”

 

“But… Wait a minute… Wouldn’t that be…? In Paris…?”

 

“Aha.”

 

“Dear God…”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Tony shook his head in disbelief.

 

“Great. And they’re both trying to bring me down! The hypocrites! Pff… But seriously, Toby…” – He ignored Fornell’s indignant yelp at the name, and continued as if nothing had happened. – “… what do I do now?”

 

The FBI agent regarded his young friend thoughtfully, contemplating how to answer best. He knew very well what he wanted. The question was: what did the kid want and need? He wouldn’t push him into something he’d regret later, that was for sure. Boy was being manipulated by too many people already without him joining the club.

 

In the end, he decided to answer the question with another one of his own:

 

“What do you want to do?”

 

Tony needed a moment to pull his thoughts together and try to make sense of the whirlwind that was raging in his head.

 

“I… don’t know…?”

 

“Is that a question? Do you or do you not now, Agent DiNutso!?” – Pressed the older man, knowing very well the other man needed to be pushed a little bit into making his own decision. There was no way around it now.

 

Tony squared his shoulders.

 

“I don’t want to be someone’s punching bag anymore.”

 

“Very good. What else?”

 

Once started, the senior field agent was becoming more and more determined to put his point across.

 

“I don’t want to be a puppet moved on strings anymore either.”

 

“I hear you.”

 

“I’ve had enough of being the subject of joke around the bullpen!” – Tony emphasized, waving around his fork and causing other dinner guests to stare at him in confusion. He ignored everyone as he went on. – “I don’t want to be the class clown anymore! I want to be taken seriously and I want my opinion to matter. I want my boss to listen to me when I have something to say and I don’t want him to take out all his frustration on me just because he feels it doesn’t bother me!”

 

“I’m proud. So now maybe you should----”

 

“I want my colleagues to like me as a friend for who I am and not just tolerate me for the comic relief I can bring into the job!” – Tony continued. – “I want to be respected as an agent and as a person.”

 

“Okay… So---”

 

“I want to date this girl without having to lie to her and without any hidden intentions. I want her to get to know me and not an undercover persona who doesn’t really exist and who’ll break her heart one day.”

 

“DiNutso---”

 

“I don’t want to be anyone’s pawn in this big game of chess called ‘covert operation’ that’s in reality only one person’s personal obsession!” – A piece of his Sweet and Sour Chicken flew off the fork he was gesticulating with and ended up in the hair of the elderly lady sitting behind Tony. Luckily, she didn’t notice it, but Fornell paled noticeably and futilely tried to grab the young man’s arm to keep him still. Of course, it didn’t work. – “I want things to go back to normal! But if it’s not possible, then…” – The young NCIS agent trailed off and finally placed his fork onto the now empty plate, staring at it as if he hadn’t even noticed it before and had no idea how it got there.

 

The older man held his breath, waiting.

 

“Then what…?” – He asked quietly, when it became apparent his companion wouldn’t or couldn’t go on without some prompting.

 

Tony took a deep breath and whispered.

 

“Then I think it might be time for me to move on…” – Tony had never expected it could be this easy. He had been thinking about his situation for so long but he had never ever dared say these words even in his head, let alone out loud. And now that he had done it, he felt like he had been freed from a horrible burden and grown wings! It was amazing. – “Yes. I believe I should look at my options.” – He repeated, feeling as surprised at himself as his friend looked.

 

“You mean it?” – Fornell wanted to make absolutely sure they were both on the same page here. After all, it wasn’t everyday Gibbs’ most loyal St. Bernard expressed any dissatisfaction with how things were going at NCIS. – “Are you really willing to at least think about what else you could do?”

 

Tony blinked before making his final decision.

 

“Yeah.” – He said with determination. – “I am absolutely prepared to change my life. So… Any ideas, Toby…?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5.: Another Choice Offered

 

After two hours of debating Tony’s options, a choice had been made: Anthony D. DiNozzo Jr. would transfer to the FBI and as a member of Fornell’s team.

 

“You’ll have to work your way up the ladder, of course.” – The older agent had warned sternly. – “It wouldn’t do for me to bring you in and make you my right-hand man right away.”

 

Tony knew this to be true – he didn’t want his future teammates to resent him, so he’d agreed to become a probationary agent for three months to have the opportunity to prove himself to everyone.

 

And now, they were here, standing in front of Jenny Shepard’s closed office door, waiting in anticipation to be invited in.

 

“Nervous?” – Asked Fornell.

 

“No.” – Tony lied but the way he was chewing his nails betrayed his real feelings. He was horrified.

 

“It will be fine.”

 

“I know.”

 

Cynthia looked up from her paperwork and smiled warmly.

 

“The director is ready to see you now.” – She said. She had a feeling she knew what this whole visit was about and she felt conflicted: on one hand, she liked having Tony around because he was a good friend and an entertaining company… But on the other hand, she had seen what being here had been doing to him lately, and if a new job would help him find himself again, he deserved the chance to have it.

 

Tony nodded at her gratefully and took a deep breath. Then, he let Fornell push him into the office, just to come face to face with an abashed-looking Jenny. It was as if she expected to hear something she wouldn’t like; she just didn’t know what. Seeing Tony and the feared FBI agent together ought to have given her some ideas though…

 

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It had taken Tony nearly half an hour to properly explain the situation to the director, during which time his new friend and future boss was sitting next to him for comfort but had refused to open his mouth, letting the younger man take the lead. It was his battle to fight.

 

Now, having heard her employee’s decision, Director Shepard looked very crestfallen.

 

“I never knew the situation was so bad for you, Tony. I would have helped…” – The young agent wisely kept his thoughts about the matter to himself, thinking privately that she had known, or at least, should have. She was the director and she knew Gibbs better than anyone. How could she be that ignorant!? – “Is there something… anything… I can do to change your mind?”

 

Tony shook his head.

 

“Sorry, but no. I’ve made my decision. It was not easy but now, it’s final.”

 

“But… What if I talked to Jethro?” – Fornell snorted so quietly that Tony was sure he was the only one he heard it. – “Or I could put you on another team. Even other city. In Los Angeles or New Orleans---”

 

“No. Jenny. Sorry. The FBI is waiting for me.” – The young man confirmed what had only been implied before. – “I’ll be on Toby’s team.”

 

Fornell groaned at the name but nodded in confirmation.

 

“That he will be.” – He said, uttering the first words since they entered and he greeted the director.

 

Jenny shot him a glare which the FBI agent ignored. She shook her head in denial.

 

“There’s no need to run to the concurrence, Tony. We can surely arrange something for you here…” – She turned to him pleadingly, clearly in distress. Tony almost felt sorry for her. Well: ‘almost’ being the key word.

 

“No.”

 

“And if you could be agent afloat? Maybe---”

 

“Hell: NO! You think confining me to a ship would be a good idea, director!?”

 

She seemed more and more desperate.

 

“Okay, okay, you’re right of course! No ships. So, you know, I was going to offer you something… Not now but in a couple of months, because that’s when the current leader there retires and the position becomes available. Anyway: Tony, you could get your own team in Rota.”

 

“N--- What did you say? My own team?” – Tony was stunned. He had never expected this. – “In Rota, Spain?”

 

“Exactly. In about two and a half months.”

 

Tony gave her a half-hearted cheeky smiled.

 

“Tell me the truth, Jenny: you wouldn’t have offered it to me if I hadn’t expressed the wish to leave, would you?”

 

She shook her head vehemently.

 

“I swear to you: I would have. And you can check because I already sent all your information to the team there. It’s all yours, Tony. Honest.”

 

“And what about… you know what? You’d have just let it all go to waste so that I can have my team?” – Compared to how obsessed she’d been recently, this just didn’t seem plausible.

 

She sighed.

 

“I hoped it would be solved by then, but if not: I’d have put another agent on the assignment.”

 

“I am already in.” – Tony reminded her. – “It’s not so easy to just make me disappear and introduce someone else.”

 

“I know that. And still: I’d have done it.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why?”

 

“Yes: why? You never seemed to care what was going on with me on a personal level. Why do I only learn now that you actually did listen?”

 

For a while, the director didn’t say anything. She appeared to be contemplating her answer, trying to come up with a way to explain her previous behavior the best. In the end, she looked Tony in the eyes, saying:

 

“I am sorry. I was too engrossed in the assignment, too invested… It’s not that I didn’t see what it was doing to you. Or what Jethro has been like. It’s just that the operation was; and still is; very important and you were the key person in it. I still believe we don’t have any other agent who could have done it better than you. I wanted to finish it and then reward you; make everything right afterwards.” – Tony was speechless. – “I’m not proud of it.” – She added in a whisper.

 

The young NCIS agent felt conflicted: he had never imagined to get an offer like that… His own team! He could be team leader and he could live in Spain! In Europe. Far away from all these new, sad memories and the problems he’d had here. He could begin a new life.

But… He looked at Fornell who was sitting next to him, doing his best to look unbothered by the developments, and failing badly at that. The man had offered him an out; an option when no one else had even listened to him.

 

Oh… What should he do now?

 

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“You know I can’t give you your own team. Not now, at least.” – Said his friend once they had ordered their meals in the restaurant they had chosen. After the conversation with Jenny, they both felt they needed some nutrition to make it through the rest of the day and had decided to come here for dinner. Tony, of course, hadn’t given Jenny an answer about the matter immediately; he had asked for some time to think about his options. – “Becoming a supervisory special agent and leading your own people… it is huge. Most agents never even get the chance.”

 

“I know that.” – Tony nodded. He knew this could very well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

 

“You don’t need to decide right now.”

 

“I know that too.”

 

“We don’t even have to talk about it for now.” – Said the older man, obviously wanting Tony to talk about the topic.

 

“I---” – Tony was saved from having to repeat his answer for the third time by the arrival of their buffalo chicken wraps. – “These look delicious.” – He said instead, effectively changing the subject.

 

“So, Rota…”

 

Or not.

 

“Toby…” – He enjoyed hearing his friend groan at the name. – “Can we just pretend for a while that this conversation with Jenny never happened? Please?”

 

The older man’s expression clearly showed his opinion: he didn’t want to pretend anything like that; he wanted to talk thing over and have Tony make his decision now. Still, he obviously didn’t have another choice but to agree.

 

“Sure. If that’s what you want.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

They continued eating in silence, each engrossed in their own thoughts; each uncertain about the future.

 

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“You know, we are like a huge family. With uncles and aunts and parents and siblings and…” – Fornell had been going on and on about the FBI for the past two days whenever they met – and that seemed to happen a lot. Tobias just popped out from behind a bush when Tony went out to get coffee for the whole team, or suddenly materialized in NCIS Headquarters to ‘drop off some papers or another’ and then he ‘just wanted to say hi to his favorite team’.

True to his word, the older man hadn’t asked Tony to make a decision or to tell him what he was thinking about the matter and for that Tony was immensely grateful. However, it didn’t mean he wasn’t just trying to convince him every other way available. – “… and the Christmas celebrations! You should see them! I swear you’ve never seen so much food at once before! And when the director starts to sing! That’s a sight to behold! And you get to see Sacks eat enough for three…”

 

On the other hand, brochures about Spain and Rota in particular kept appearing on his desk every time he stepped away from it for just a second, and he had gotten three CVs along with the director’s handwritten note that he could choose his own team if he opted for the position. The pictures about the city looked very inviting and there had been even some recommendations for holidays nearby with the promise to have enough spare time to actually travel to places.

 

Kate and Tim had taken to throwing him questioning glances over their own paperwork when they thought he was too occupied to notice it, and just the other day he had accidently overheard Ducky talking to Abby about ‘an inevitable change’ coming that would ‘probably hurt us all deeply’. Abby had looked close to tears and had mournful music blaring from her speakers for hours.

 

The only person who didn’t seem to have noticed any change in the atmosphere was his current team leader: Gibbs was as immersed in his quest of finding Ari Haswari as ever, blind to anything but the measures required to achieve it.

 

Well, that and to Tony’s real and imagined faults.

 

“Pull yourself together, DiNozzo! Your thoughts clearly aren’t here with us lately!” – The comment was accompanied by yet another head slap, causing Tony’s ears to ring. The hits were getting more forceful each time they were administered.

 

“Sorry, Boss.” – The young agent muttered, wincing as he rubbed his hurting temple.

 

They were checking the recordings of all airport cameras – for about the thousandth time – looking for Ari who, according to Gibbs, must have arrived back to the States in the last couple of days. When asked how he knew this, the only reply had been: “My gut’s telling me.” No room for argument there.

 

By now, even Kate and McGee seemed completely exhausted and fed up with the leader’s obsession but – like always – none of them had dared voice any complaints. So, when they had been instructed to go over the migration records again and again and again, they had both just groaned before starting to work. Promptly, Kate had fallen asleep on her desk reading the charts and Gibbs, in an uncharacteristic act of compassion, had covered her with his coat and decided to leave her to her much deserved rest. Ever since Ari’s attack on NCIS, the boss had been more lenient with Kate and Abby then ever before, having probably realized how close they had come to lose them: Kate because she had actually been stuck in Autopsy and Abby because, had she not been too afraid to go there herself, could easily have been the one taken hostage.

 

The same couldn’t be said for the ‘boys’ on the team though: it was as if Gibbs made them personally responsible for the terrorist’s invasion and their inability to catch him ever since. And while he was still somewhat civil to McGee – probably given the fact that he was still a probationary agent and therefor not to be made responsible for any shortcomings of the team – he was quickly becoming absolutely rancorous when it came to Tony, and the situations was worsening as the days went. Now, venomous comments like “if you’re even capable to do so” or “if it’s not too much effort for you” had become as frequent as morning greetings for normal people, and Tony felt like the change couldn’t come soon enough. It wasn’t even the question of ‘what’ anymore as much as the ‘when’.

 

One Wednesday evening, after a day of four hard Gibbs’ slaps and at least a dozen biting remarks, Tony had had enough. As soon as he got home, he dialed the number by heart and when he heard the phone being picked up before the third ring, didn’t even wait for the other one to say anything.

 

  • I’ve made my decision – He informed the person on the other side of the line.

Chapter Text

“And you’re completely sure?” – Asked Director Shepard for the second time in ten minutes.

 

Tony looked at his friend and future team leader who was, once again, standing next to him.

 

“Utterly and totally and absolutely sure.” – He grinned.

 

“There’s no changing your mind?” – Jenny tried.

 

“No. I already have my FBI T-shirt and a matching ball cap. Without a nine-millimeter hole in it, mind you.”

 

“Fine. If that’s what you really want…”

 

“It is. Will you sign my documents then?”

 

The director read through the papers.

 

“Have you already talked to the director of FBI?”

 

Fornell stepped forward.

 

“We did. He’s happy to have Tony and he assured me he’ll be assigned to my team as soon as the paperwork’s done.”

 

“And how did the other agents take it…?” – She inquired.

 

Slacks nearly chocked on his coffee.” – Indeed. The older agent had gotten a coughing fit after the big revelation that had lasted three whole minutes before he could, reluctantly, congratulate Tony and welcome him to the group. The others were better though: it seemed most of them had known about their boss having become friends with their NCIS counterpart and weren’t surprised to learn he would join them. – “They were fine. I’ll be all right.” – He said, trying to convince her as well as himself.

 

“But Rota---”

 

“Had it come earlier, I’d have been happy. But Toby…” – Like always, he ignored his soon-to-be boss’ indignant groan. – “… offered me the job first and that way, I can keep my apartment and don’t have to move away.”

 

“Offers like this don’t come every day.” – She reminded him once again with motherly sternness.

 

“Yes, Jenny. I know.”

 

“Maybe it won’t come ever again. You’ll be a new FBI agent; you’ll have to work hard to achieve again what you already have here. It’s a setback, while I offered you a promotion.” – She pointed out.

 

Tony nodded.

 

“And that’s fair. I’m ready to work for it and prove myself.”

 

Without further comments, Jenny grabbed a pen and signed all the documents before pressing a button at her desk. Soon, her secretary entered the office.

 

“Cynthia, please, take these to HR and have them arrange Special Agent DiNozzo’s transfer to the FBI. Effective immediately.”

 

The young woman turned towards Tony so quickly that he thought her neck would surely hurt for a few days after that.

 

“But… The FBI…? I thought Rota---”

 

“That will be all, Cynthia, thank you.”

 

Knowing a dismissal, however kind, when she heard one, the young woman nodded and excused herself, throwing Tony a look that told him she wouldn’t let this drop so easily and he should prepare for a talk later. Great, so she was in on it too…

 

“Thank you, Jenny…” – He said once they were alone again. – “It means a lot that you understand.”

 

“I wish you all the best, Tony. And I’m so sorry it’s come to this… I know it’s mostly my fault.”

 

He wasn’t about to argue with her, though, in his opinion, the biggest part of the blame lay with Gibbs.

 

“I hope we’ll keep in touch.” – He said instead and let himself be pulled into a warm embrace.

 

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” – She let him go and held him at arm’s length. – “Tony, your undercover assignment is now officially over as well. I must ask you not to reveal the truth to Jeanne for now, because the operation needs to continue.”

 

“Sure. I understand.” – As much as he wanted to come clear, he knew very well what needed to be done. He wouldn’t ruin all the hard work they had already done. He also knew, however painful it was to admit, that things with Jeanne couldn’t continue. It was all based on a lie and that, luckily, would come to an end now. But it was not something he could explain to her. – “Goodbye, Jenny.”

 

“Goodbye, Tony. Take care.”

 

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Telling the team had been even more difficult than Tony had anticipated, making him even more grateful to Fornell for remaining by his side, giving him silent support all the while he’d had to deal with Abby’s tears, Kate and Tim’s confusion or, like right now, Gibbs’ frightening anger.

 

“How dare you! How dare you make me the last to hear about this!? I’m your team leader, DiNozzo! You have a problem, you talk to me first and don’t run crying to the FBI or the director!” – The man’s head was quickly becoming red as a tomato and he gasped for breath as if he had just finished running a marathon.

 

Tony had to work hard not to revert back to his old ways, where he’d have just given in and shaken it off with a ‘sorry, boss’. However, it wasn’t time for that anymore. Now he was trying to impress upon the man that he was ready to stand on his own two feet; it meant he had to prove that to himself first. He wouldn’t back down!

 

“It’s not as if you’ve been very approachable lately, Bo--- Gibbs.” – Tony remarked. – “When should I have tried to talk to you; between a head slap and an insult!?”

 

“You’re whining like a little boy, DiNozzo. Are you a little boy?”

 

“Jethro, maybe---”

 

“You shut up, Tobias. You just stabbed me in the back! Some friend you are!”

 

Fornell felt himself get angrier and angrier.

 

I stabbed you in the back? Just how the hell did you work that out!?”

 

Gibbs, on his part, was just as angry as the FBI agent, if not more so, and he, like always, made sure everyone knew it.

 

“Admit it: you just couldn’t wait for DiNozzo to run to you so that you could lure him to the FBI! You’ve been wanting him for years!” – Gibbs spat. – “Ever since Tony joined my team you’ve been going on and on about how you want someone like him. How you want HIM!”

 

Tony felt dizzy: was it true? Had Fornell really wanted him way before? Why hadn’t he known about it? But he didn’t have much time to dwell on it because the shouting match continued…

 

“It’s true I’ve wanted him.” – Shrugged the FBI team leader, not bothering to deny the truth. – “And I’m glad he’s finally coming to work for me. But it doesn’t mean that what happened is my doing, Jethro. Maybe you should think about it some more.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, just because we’re experiencing difficult times---”

 

“You mean you’re experiencing difficult times. Your people are experiencing unbearable times thanks to you.”

 

“There’s a terrorist on loose who nearly killed three of my people! Four, if you count what could have happened to Abby! It’s not a good time to expect to be cuddled!”

 

Tony growled.

 

“I would never expect to be cuddled! I didn’t when I was 5 years old and I don’t do it now either.” – He said. – “I only wanted to be treated like a human being instead of a punching bag.”

 

“Oh, and you had it so bad here, hmm?” – Gibbs’ eyes were murderous and Tony took an involuntary step back upon looking into them. – “Was it so horrible to be my senior field agent? To be my most trusted man? I let you get away with almost anything, DiNozzo, don’t tell me you didn’t notice!”

 

“I---”

 

“Didn’t I let you work in your own style? To flirt whenever you saw someone in a skirt? Didn’t I give you much more leeway than anyone else would have?”

 

“Gibbs---”

 

“Did I ever ask how many hours you pulled or when you arrived or left?”

 

“No, because I worked double and triple shifts all the time and never got paid for---”

 

“I made you my senior field agent!”

 

“Only in name though! I never got the higher paygrade that should come with it, nor the respect or authority! Just the extra paperwork and responsibilities and my teammates’ teasing!”

 

“Didn’t I do everything in my power to help clear your name when you were framed for murder? Did I doubt you for even a second?”

 

“Of course you didn’t!” – Tony couldn’t believe this was even an argument here. Should he be grateful his boss hadn’t believed he’d slaughtered a woman in cold blood and severed her legs!? – “I sure hope you know me better than that.”

 

Gibbs snorted.

 

“I thought I did.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“Figure it out for yourself, DiNozzo.” – The NCIS team leader replied, turning away from his ex-agent and his oldest friend. – “I’m done with that conversation.” – He declared, opening a dossier and pointedly starting to read a report.

 

Tony and Fornell stood there for a minute or two longer, waiting to be acknowledged or dismissed, or anything in between. Nothing happened; Gibbs didn’t even look up from his reading anymore as if he had no idea he had company. When Tony was starting to feel dumb just waiting for something that would apparently never happen, his new team leader grabbed his arm and gently pulled him towards the elevators.

 

“Come on, Tony. You need to say your goodbyes to your friends. I don’t think you’ll be coming back as an NCIS agent anymore.” – The older man said honestly, throwing a glance backwards to see Gibbs still pointedly not looking at them.

 

Tony just nodded. He knew Fornell was right: there was no going back anymore.

 

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After they left, the bullpen was so silent you’d have heard a pin drop. Gibbs, when he was sure Tony and Fornell weren’t anywhere near anymore, threw the files across the room and turned to his remaining teammate who had been standing not too far away during the exchange, and were still too stunned to move.

 

“WHAT!?” – He bellowed. – “Am I really such a horrible team leader?” – He demanded, making Tim flinch. – “Do you two want to leave as well? Because then I’m sure Fornell would be happy to take you too! You should run to catch them, they can’t be far away yet!”

 

The Squadroom around them suddenly emptied, as all the agents miraculously found something very important to do outside the building.

 

Kate narrowed her eyes angrily.

 

“You know, Gibbs. Sometimes you can be a real bastard.” – She declared simply, still too out of it to really articulate what she wanted to say. She couldn’t believe she’d lost her partner for good… Life in NCIS without Tony DiNozzo… She couldn’t even begin to image what it would be like!

 

“Oh, yeah!? I’m a bastard, really? So then maybe the two of you really should---"

 

Jenny, having observed the whole scene carefully hidden from view, now stepped forward and addressed the raging man:

 

“Jethro! My office.”

 

“Not now, I’m---"

 

“NOW.”

 

“Fine.”

 

As soon as she closed the door behind them, she rounded on him.

 

“What are you doing, Jethro!? Your team has just lost one of its members; why are you shouting with them?”

 

“I’m not!” – Roared the pissed-off NCIS agent.

 

“Yes, you are! Everyone fled in fear but your two people! And what do they get for that? You telling them to go to the FBI too!”

 

“Well, if that’s what they want! Apparently I’m a horrible person to work for!”

 

The director sighed sadly.

 

“Nobody said that.”

 

“Oh, yeah? What about DiNozzo? Or you didn’t hear about that, Jen?” – He mocked.

 

“There’s no need to take that tone with me, Jethro!” – Jenny warned before looking down sadly. – “Of course I heard. I did my best to keep him here. We lost a good agent, and I don’t want to lose any more!”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“That means you need to pay attention to your attitude!”

 

“And what about your attitude? What about your little project that had DiNozzo half-dead on his feet for weeks, hmm!? Your secret assignment that caused him to leave us in the middle of a case or that prevented him from coming when I called? What about these? Is it really only my fault he’s had enough?”

 

Jenny wiped her eyes and her voice hitched as she said:

 

“No, Jethro. It’s not only your fault…”

 

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Tony’s first few weeks at the FBI passed in a blur: he had so many things to do, like frequently visit the HR department to make sure all the paperwork was all right and to collect his new gun and badge and so much to get used to, like and most of all: being a probationary agent yet again, that he really didn’t have time to dwell on his sorrow.

 

It turned out even Sacks wasn’t as bad as he had initially thought: the man seemed all right when you weren’t one of ‘those crazy guys over at NCIS’ but a trusted teammate. Of course, it helped that this time he wasn’t suspected to have killed anyone either. His other colleagues were all fine too and Fornell was the best boss he could ever ask for: patient and understanding of his situation more than he could have expected him to be. Their friendship didn’t suffer because of the new boss-subordinate status; if anything, it got even stronger. Tony knew he was always welcome at the older man’s house and Emily adored her ‘Uncle Tony’ as well.

 

Things were great and Tony knew he should be completely satisfied with his life now and forget everything that had happened before. The problem was: it wasn’t so easy. So, by the fifth week since his departure from Gibbs’ team when he was already a full-fledged agent of FBI and not occupied with trying to fit in anymore, all the pain returned with full vengeance to haunt his dreams and waking hours.

 

“What’s wrong? Did something happen in the office I don’t know about?” – Asked the senior agent during dinner, having noticed his silence that day.

 

“No… It’s just… I don’t know.”

 

“Tony?”

 

“It’s Ducky’s birthday today. I think my team’s--- I mean: my old team is celebrating right now.” – He said, blushing at his slip.

 

Fornell sighed.

 

“I see. Have you talked to any of them since…?”

 

“No.”

 

“Maybe you should then.”

 

“Really? You think so?”

 

His friend nodded, seemingly certain of his advice.

 

“Sure, Kid. Call them; chat a bit.”

 

“But what if they don’t want to talk to me?” – That was Tony’s biggest fear: that his friends weren’t his friends anymore. It was one thing that Gibbs had apparently given up on him, but the sad fact was that none the others had tried to contact him either. Maybe they were angry with him for leaving? Abby had cried quite a lot when he had told her of his plans and Tim and Kate hadn’t understood his ‘rash’ decision to ‘run’ either… - “I think I should just wait for them to---”

 

“Nonsense, DiNutso. Beats me why but they all adore you. You’re like a brother to them.”

 

Tony sighed sadly.

 

“I used to be, Toby… Not anymore.”

 

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Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the NCIS bullpen wasn’t much better either.

 

“You were a real jerk to him, Gibbs, and you know that.” – Declared Kate angrily, in a straightforward way only she would ever talk to their boss; not even Abby, who was the closest to the man of them all, would say that so easily. – “You didn’t even let him explain. He couldn’t come to you with his troubles and you weren’t making life easier for him either.”

 

The team leader glared at her for a moment as if trying to decide if he should argue with her or not. Apparently, he came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth it, because in the end, he just shook his head.

 

“Maybe my approach to problems doesn’t always work well, but---”

 

“Not ALWAYS!?” – Kate repeated incredulously. – “Gibbs, you’ve got three ex-wives and at least a dozen agents who wouldn’t work with you even if their lives depended on it! Witnesses cower before you and suspects regularly burst into tears when you’re interrogating them! I’d say ‘not always works’ is some spectacular understatement!”

 

Gibbs glared some more.

 

“It works though, doesn’t it?” – He asked.

 

“Oh, yeah, definitely. If your goal is to chase everyone away, then it does.” – With that, she left for the night, never looking back to see the broken expression on her boss’ face.

 

Tim had left about half an hour ago; he had been so heartbroken about Tony’s leaving that Kate hadn’t wanted to talk to Gibbs in his presence: poor boy was back to the insecure young man he’d been in his early days with NCIS when he’d been afraid to even open his mouth to ask a question, let alone suggest anything during an investigation. Kate hadn’t known Tim had admired the older agent so much; especially since Tony had given him enough grief for a lifetime, but it turned out McGee had appreciated the attention anyway.

 

Gibbs, now alone in the dark Squadroom, knew he had screwed up royally. He knew he had lost Tony because of his own stupidity. Even if he hadn’t noticed it on his own (which he had, actually), he had been told repeatedly so by Ducky, Kate, Jen and Abby already. McGee was thinking the same, it was written on his face clear as day, however he wouldn’t dare say so out loud. No matter, the team leader could read him like an open book.

 

So, yes, thank you very much: he KNEW.

 

He just didn’t know how to make it better.

 

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Fornell’s team had just finished their latest case with the successful capture of three highly dangerous criminals. The team (consisting of six agents now that Tony had joined too) was looking a bit worse for wear but still happy and contented.

 

“All right, everyone!” – Fornell shouted to get his people’s attention. – “Good work you all! Those who don’t require medical attention are free to go. Have an early night; rest. You can hand in your reports within two days from now.”

 

‘Those who don’t require medical attention’ meant everyone but Tony, who’d had the misfortune to get grazed by an errant bullet on his left shoulder. It wasn’t even bleeding a lot and he’d wanted to just forget about it but his new boss would have none of it.

 

“Really, Toby: I’m fine! I don’t need an ambulance! I just want to go home and sleep for at least 10 hours; is that too much to ask for!?” – He complained while he was shoved towards the waiting MEs. Tony could have sworn he could see the evil glint in their eyes at the prospect of getting him in their clutches. – “They’re sadists!”

 

The two MEs who had apparently heard him, gave him identically irritated glares and one of them made a show of pulling out a syringe that was, in Tony’s humble opinion, far larger than what would have been absolutely warranted in a situation like that. Or, in hindsight, any situation whatsoever.

 

“Stop complaining, DiNutso, unless you want to spend the whole night in the hospital.” – Fornell warned, sensing danger. – “And you will have your shoulder looked at.” – He added, before his young friend could open his mouth again.

 

“That’s not fair!” – Muttered Tony under his breath while the female ME prepared to give him the dreaded shot.

 

“What was that, DiNutso?”

 

“Nothing… I--- OUCH!!!!

 

Never before had he needed medical attention because of a graze. Never before had anyone made such a fuss just because he had a small, insignificant injury. Never before had he felt so cared for…

 

Yep, Tony thought as he was rubbing his arm that now hurt more than before: his life had definitely changed a lot.

Chapter Text

Three months had passed since Tony had joined the FBI, and his probationary period was now officially over.

 

“Congratulation, Probie!” – Cheered Patrick James ‘P.J.’ or ‘Pajamas’ Montgomery, one of Tony’s new teammates, holding up his coffee in a mock salute. – “You survived three months with us! Not everyone can claim to have done the same!”

 

“Not a Probie anymore then, am I?” – Asked Tony cheekily, knowing full well he wouldn’t be rid of the nickname so easily; he knew he wouldn’t have stopped calling McGee ‘Probie’ just because he wasn’t really a probationary agent anymore…

 

Sam ‘Sammy’ Ryan rolled her green eyes sweetly.

 

“Dream on, Probie…”

 

While not his type and also considerably older than him, Tony couldn’t bring himself to contradict her so he just shrugged and took a big bite out of his chocolate chip cookie. It was delicious; his new teammates surely knew his Achilles' heel and had had the right idea about where to bring him. (As a second choice, just because Fornell had vetoed their first one: a pub. He’d said alcohol was out of question since they’d have to start early the next day and he didn’t want to have agents with heavy hangovers to deal with. Apparently, their lead agent knew his underlings way too much…)

 

The day – his last as a probationary agent – was over and the group was out celebrating this milestone. To everyone’s surprise, even the usually grumpy Sacks who liked going home right after work ended, had attended the ‘party’. He was currently engrossed in a rapidly whispered conversation with Fornell, seemingly not quite agreeing with what he was being told.

 

Siles ‘Sly’ Field, yet another agent in their little group, shook his head in disbelief.

 

“They just can’t stop working, can they?” – He asked, motioning towards the two senior agents in the far corner of the coffee shop. – “I bet they’re arguing about that case with the corrupt agent.”

 

“Nah, I don’t think so. Maybe it’s about that horrible woman who annoys her neighbors with her loud music all the time…” – P.J. guessed. – “The Office got twelve complaints just today…”

 

While the others were preoccupied with trying to find out what their boss and senior field agent were talking about, Tony had much darker thoughts running through his head: three months. Three months since he’d left NCIS and not once had he talked to any of his old colleagues and friends. Though Fornell had tried to persuade him to call at least Kate, Tim or Abby, he just hadn’t been able to bring himself to do it yet. And now, he thought, it might already be too late. What would he say? How would he explain why he hadn’t contacted them sooner? Would he want to know why the others hadn’t called him?

 

Suddenly feeling nauseated, he stood.

 

“Thanks guys, for everything. I think I’m going home now…”

 

“What? But, Probie, it’s still early! Tobias said we could stay ‘til ten!” – Complained Sly.

 

“Yes.” – Nodded Sammy in agreement. – “Why would you leave now? It’s only half past eight…”

 

Tony shrugged.

 

“Just tired, I guess. You all stay and enjoy yourselves, all right? See you tomorrow.” – With that, he made his way out of the café, ignoring the others’ worried glances that followed him all the way to his car.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

Meanwhile, Fornell and Sacks were indeed engrossed in their own conversation, though, in reality, it had nothing to do with either of their current cases.

Instead, it was about a future one.

 

“I still don’t think it’s a good idea, Tobias.” – Insisted Sacks for the tenth time. – “He’s not ready. He’s just becoming a full-fledged agent here, he shouldn’t be leading a case yet!”

 

Fornell sighed, feeling tired of the discussion and he also feared a headache was approaching.

 

He massaged his temple and sighed.

 

“I told you already, Ron: he needs this.”

 

“And I told you: if he needs to talk to them, then let’s arrange a party. Or let’s invite them for Christmas. Whatever. But to make Tony lead a joint case!? Why?”

 

“Because the kid needs to gain his self-worth back! And he needs to prove to the NCIS that he didn’t regret his decision.”

 

Sacks raised an eyebrow.

 

“And he didn’t?” – Fornell just growled and motioned for the waitress to bring him another lemonade. – “Okay, okay… So… What’s the plan?”

 

Fornell waiting until he got his drink and he swallowed the whole thing with one gulp before answering:

 

“Here’s what we’re gonna do…”

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“The NCIS…? Me?”

 

“Yes, Tony. I told you… We’re the liaisons with them and we got an assignment---”

 

“I got that part! I just don’t know why it has to be me!”

 

“Because Sacks and I need to go to a conference, and Field and Ryan are needed on the Thomson-case. So, it’s got to be you or Montgomery and---”

 

“How about Pajamas then?”

 

Fornell felt as if he were talking to a particularly dumb child.

 

“He doesn’t even know anyone there! You do! Better than any of us, I might add…”

 

“All the more reason for me not to go there!” – Tony argued. – “They know me and they hate my guts! They won’t work with us if I’m the one going there… I think---”

 

“Bullshit.” – Was the simple answer.

 

“But Toby---”

 

“Tony, listen: Montgomery is way behind in paperwork and you’re ready. With your reports and to lead your own case, I mean. Hell, it’s probably more difficult for me to let you go than it is for you to do this. But you need it. You’ll see.”

 

“No, I don’t.”

 

“Too bad. You’re to be there in an hour.” – With that, Fornell patted his young agent’s back and gently pushed him towards the elevators. – “Get ready, DiNutso: it’s party time!”

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“Yeah… ‘Party time’… indeed.” – Tony muttered under his breath. – “Of course, he would think of it as a party. Pfff!” – He continued grumping as he walked up to the security guard at the gate of NCIS building. – “Hi, Ralph, how are you?”

 

“Tony! Geez, I haven’t see you in ages!” – The old man smiled. – “Where have you been? You haven’t been injured, have you?” – He eyed Tony warily, knowing quite well that injuries happened to him a lot.

 

“Nah… I’m FBI now, Ralph…” – Tony whispered, flashing his new badge.

 

The kind security guard’s mouth fell open at once.

 

“I’ll be damned! YOU, Tony!? How? Why?”

 

The ex-NCIS agent sighed.

 

‘It’s a very long story, but I guess it’s for another time. I believe Jenny--- I mean: director Shepard is waiting for me…”

 

“Sure, Tony. Just go.”

 

“What? No visitor’s card?”

 

“Nah! It’s always going to be your home, Kid.”

 

Tony felt his eyes sting painfully as he shook the kind man’s hand, thanking him, and made his way upstairs. He didn’t want to use the elevator for he feared he might have met someone there… anyone. So he walked. He had never done that before; at least, never on his own accord and by the time he arrived at the level of the bullpen, he remembered why: his legs hurt and his lungs were on fire as he was breathing heavily.

 

‘Damn, I’m getting old…’

 

However as soon as he arrived to his destination, he wished he were back on the stairs again.

 

“Tony…? TONY!?” – McGee exclaimed, jumping up and running towards him.

 

“McGeek… Why don’t you shout a bit more? They haven’t heard you three levels down…” – Tony sighed, a bit unnerved by the way his former colleague was standing in front of him and staring as if afraid he was just an apparition.

 

“Tony, Tony, Tony Tony!” – Abby screamed and jumped into his arms, apparently not having the same problem as the computer genius.

 

“Argh… Hi, Abby! Probie, maybe they did hear you three levels down… Argh… I’m glad to see you, too, but I can’t breathe!”

 

“Sorry…” – The Goth smiled, finally letting go. – “You’re back, Tony! You realized you belong to us, right? Admit it: you can’t live without NCIS! Of course you can’t, this is your family! We’ve missed you and---”

 

Tony hated to disappoint her.

 

“Abbs… Sorry but… I’m just here for a case.” – He said shyly.

 

She deflated as quickly as a popped balloon; even her ponytails stopped bouncing.

 

“Oh. I see. Well, I’ve got to go back to the lab. Excuse me.”

 

“Abbs…” – But she was already gone and Tony kicked his old desk in frustration. – “Great… just great. Damn!” – He yelped in pain.

 

“Ouch! Look out before you throw a hit!” – Came the indignant lecture from somewhere on the floor.

 

Tony stood on tiptoes (wincing as his left foot protested against the movement) and peeked over the desk to find a petite dark-haired woman sitting among a huge pile of wires under it, rubbing her arm he had apparently hurt with his little outburst and glaring daggers at him. She reminded Tony of an angry, hissing cat, ready to scratch his eyes out.

 

“You mean, ‘throw a fit’?” – Tony began cautiously, trying to decide if she even belonged there or not. He was sure he had never seen her before.

 

“Whatever. Just don’t do it again.”

 

“Sure… And you would be…?”

 

She made a show of standing and offered him a hand to shake.

 

“Ziva David. Mossad. I’m here to talk to Special Agent Gibbs.”

 

“Ahm…” – Tony took her hand tentatively, as if afraid she’d suddenly pull his arm out of its socket and run away with it. – “Mossad…?” – He looked questioningly at Tim who just shrugged.

 

The Mossad Officer smiled cheekily.

 

“This is the place where you say your name, Agent….?”

 

“DiNozzo. FBI. Probie, where’s Kate? And Gibbs?”

 

“I’m not a Probie anymore. Actually, I’m---”

 

“I’m not a Probie anymore either, Probie, and it still doesn’t stop anyone calling me that. So, to my questions?”

 

McGee shook his head fondly, remembering the times with Tony as his partner. He had never been able to win an argument against the slightly older agent back then either. Apparently, this hadn’t changed a bit.

 

“Gibbs is in MTAC with the director.” – He said finally. – “And Kate is his protection detail, so she was allowed in too.”

 

“Protection detail? Why does Gibbs need protection?”

 

“Because Ari---”

 

“It doesn’t concern you anymore, DiNozzo.” – Gibbs called from the catwalk, appearing with the same perfect timing as ever. The NCIS team leader, followed by Kate and the director, strolled to his desk and turned towards the screen. – “I guess you’re here as the FBI agent somebody insisted we involve, right?" - He observed, never looking Tony in the eyes.

 

At least Jenny and Kate eyed Tony fondly, looking like they wanted to hug him like Abby had but didn’t want to do it in front of Gibbs who was, simply said, ‘pissed off’. Again. Nothing new there.

 

Tony decided not to let himself be intimidated by the man.

 

“I guess. I only know you have a John Doe in Autopsy who could be a marine and then the case is your jurisdiction. But if he turns out to be a civilian, the case is ours.”

 

“Oh… By ‘ours’ you mean the FBI’s?” – Tony wasn’t sure if Gibbs really sounded mocking or he had just imagined it.

 

“Yes. The FBI’s. If he’s a civilian.”

 

“Interesting.”

 

Tony decided to quit talking to someone’s back and turned to Jenny instead, who was smiling warmly at him.

 

“So… the case…?”

 

“Yes, Tony. The director of FBI and I agreed it would be best to handle the case together until we can decide whose responsibility it will eventually be.” – She explained, surprising Tony. As far as he knew, neither the FBI nor NCIS had ever agreed on anything like that before. They usually all wanted the case for themselves and fought tooth and nail for jurisdiction. – “An unidentified man was found shot dead in a dumpster. Three bullets killed him. We don’t know much more. Yet.”

 

“Ahm… And why do you think it could be your case? So far it sounds like any murder we investigated in Philly and Baltimore… What does either of us have to do with it?”

 

It was Kate who answered.

 

“It could be serial because the MO matches four previous killings; all across the US. So, that could make it yours. But the man wore a marine’s uniform, that would make it ours.”

 

“And…?” – Tony still didn’t get it. It wasn’t like NCIS to hesitate to just start working; consequences be damned. So, the question remain: why was he here?

 

McGee cleared his throat.

 

“The uniform wasn’t quite all right… I mean, it could be nothing, but it could be fake. And nobody can identify the man. Why wouldn’t his prints be in the system if he’s a marine? Or his dental records? There’s nothing. He’s a ghost.”

 

“Oh… I see. Curious.”

 

Gibbs looked at him with a half-smile.

 

“Ya think, DiNozzo?”

 

Tony felt some of the old normality returning as he allowed himself to relax a bit.

 

“Yeah. Creepy. It reminds me of a film. It was about---”

 

“Agent Gibbs.” – Interrupted Ziva about whom, it seemed from the identical surprised expressions, everyone had forgotten during the exchange. – “May I speak to you? Privately.”

 

Gibbs regarded her somewhat cautiously while Tony felt irritated; how dare she ruin his moment of reunion with his old friends!?

 

“Why don’t you just climb back under my old desk, Mossad-lady, hmmm?”

 

Ziva wasn’t fazed though.

 

“Because I already found my pin.”

 

“Your… pin…?”

 

Kate rolled her eyes.

 

“I think she means ‘hairpin’, Tony.” – She said helpfully.

 

“Exactly that.” – Ziva confirmed. – “So, Agent Gibbs: can we talk.”

 

“Aha.” – Was all the lead agent said and motioned with his head towards his ‘office’, meaning the elevator.

 

Ziva looked somewhat surprised but a firm nod from Jenny had her follow the NCIS agent right away. As they both disappeared, the director’s warm smile returned; apparently, she wasn’t disturbed by the sudden, unexplainable appearance of a Mossad agent at NCIS.

 

“Agent DiNozzo, welcome back. Please, feel at home, even if it’s only for a short while.” – With that, she started towards the stairs as well, leaving the three old colleagues standing a bit awkwardly, neither really knowing what to do or say. The lack of any contact during the past three months hung heavily between them, and not one of them wanted to address the big elephant in the room.

 

“She’s a bit crazy.” – Said Tony finally, as an effort to make small talk.

 

Tom frowned.

 

“The director?”

 

“Of course not, McGeek! That Ziva chick!”

 

“Oh. Yeah, I suppose she is…”

 

Awkward silence again, during which Tony wondered whether it would be inappropriate to sit at his old desk and check if Ziva had done something other than look for her ‘pin’.

 

This time, it was Kate who broke the stillness.

 

“Ahm… So, what do you think she wants with Gibbs?”

 

“It’s probably about Ari.” – Offered Tim. – “I mean, she’s from Mossad; what else could she be here for?”

 

“I don’t like her.” – Concluded Kate. – “I don’t like her at all.”

 

“I hear you.”

 

Tony had decided to sit on the desk, and relished the semi-familiar feeling of being in the bullpen and debating with his teammates… khm… old teammates. He felt entirely at home even though he liked it by the FBI a lot and wouldn’t want to change a thing now.

 

He also wished he could find out how exactly it had happened that he’d been sent here… alone. It seemed like Director Shepard wasn’t surprised to see him here at all and Fornell had looked too smug for his own good when he had presented this task to him. Did his new boss want to help him get over his insecurities about the way his career at NCIS had ended this way? If yes then it might just be working, Tony had to reluctantly admit, hating that he was that easy to read.

 

One thing was for sure: this assignment would be interesting…

Chapter Text

Gibbs emerged from the elevator about twelve minutes later, looking irritated, and ignoring the angry mutterings and murderous looks he received from the people who had been impatiently waiting for the lift. Ziva followed after him, smugly smiling at a cussing man who was precariously balancing an enormous pile of files in one hand and vehemently tapping on the call button with the other.

 

“Gear up, let’s go.” – Barked the lead agent, grabbing his gun from the drawer.

 

“Gibbs… what did Ziva want?” – Whispered Kate, eyeing the new brown-haired woman with disdain. However, instead of answering her, Gibbs just glared at her darkly as he prepared for the new assignment. – “Right… None of my business.” – Sighed Kate. – “But you’re putting on a bulletproof vest, Gibbs.”

 

“Kate---”

 

“No, Gibbs; no use protesting. The director said it was my job to protect you, and that I’m making the calls in that matter. And I’m telling you to wear the vest.”

 

“Fine.”

 

“And before you try to argue your way out of it, let me tell you it also means that--- Wait a minute… What did you say? Fine?”

 

“Yeah, Kate: fine.” – He pointedly strapped on a bullet-resistant vest and pulled a jacket over it so that it wouldn’t be visible. – “Happy now?”

 

Kate blinked in surprise.

 

“I guess…”

 

“Good. Let’s go, people!”

 

Tim, Kate and Tony followed after him, still in daze, leaving Ziva behind, standing in the bullpen.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“… And so, he was found right here by a homeless man searching through the trash for something to eat.” – The police officer finished her recounting, having shown the group the places of interest. – “Then we called you.” – She added helpfully, looking at them expectantly, as if she thought they’d solve the case in the blink of an eye.

 

Gibbs had become bored with her explanation a while ago and so he had gravitated towards other witnesses to question them. Kate had followed him, talking about ‘security detail’ and not being able to leave the boss alone. So, that left Tim and Tony with the police officer, and since McGee didn’t seem to want to say anything, Tony took it upon himself to thank the woman and gently dismiss her. As soon as they were finally alone, Tony turned to his ex-teammate:

 

“How’s it been going, Probie?”

 

Tim looked down, avoiding eye-contact.

 

“Good… I guess.”

 

Tony had crouched down to look for clues behind the dumpster, so he had to squint against the sun, looking up at the younger agent who was fidgeting nervously.

 

“You… guess? What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“I dunno… Tony… Since you left it’s been… difficult. With Gibbs. And… Well. Ithinkweallmissyou…”

 

“What was that, Probie? I didn’t quite catch it.”

 

“Don’t make me say it again!” – McGee protested. – “Anyway… It’s different. What about you?”

 

The young FBI agent peered under a folded cardboard box and wrinkled his nose in disgust at the smell that escaped as he moved it. Soon after that, yelping at the sight of a dead rat he quickly pulled his hand back, suddenly feeling thankful for the rubber gloves he was wearing.

 

“Geez… Ah, well. It’s different for me, too. Obviously.” – He said shrugging as he stood on a discarded mattress with suspicious yellowish spots on it to be able to look into the dumpster properly. – “Team’s fine, everyone’s nice.” – He explained with his upper body inside the huge metal bin, making his voice echo and his words sound muffled. – “Fornell’s a great boss; no headslaps anymore. Slacks isn’t as bad as I thought he would be either.”

 

Tim, who was leaning against the wall and doing his best not to vomit at the mere sight of the scene, decided to finally ask the question that had been bothering him during the last three months.

 

“Tony… Why didn’t you call us? Are you angry with Kate and me, too? Or Ducky and Abby? Did we do something to hurt you?”

 

With a loud ‘thump’, Tony plummeted headlong into the dumpster and disappeared under all the trash and debris. It took a great deal of effort to straighten and some more strength to hold onto the edge and balance himself on it; thus preventing him from sinking again. He turned towards his old teammate in surprise, ignoring the greasy green substance now decorating his hair.

 

“Why would I be angry with you, guys? I thought you were angry with me!”

 

“Jesus, let me help you.” – McGee grabbed Tony by his shoulders and started to pull; together they managed with some difficulty to get the drenched FBI agent out. – “Why would we be angry? We thought you were!”

 

“And I thought you were, Probie! I thought you wouldn’t want to talk to me after I left! That you’d say I made Gibbs angry and therefore your lives miserable and… things like that. I swear this sounded more logical in my head.” – He admitted sheepishly while trying to get a sticky, bright-pink chewing gum out of his favorite FBI jacket.

 

“So, let me get this straight… We didn’t call each other because we each thought the other one was angry?” – Clarified the youngest NCIS agent, shaking his head in disbelief. – “How pathetic is that?”

 

“Very! Ahm… Maybe we shouldn’t tell anyone about this? You know, to preserve some dignity…”

 

“Agreed.”

 

“And also about my little trip into the trash…”

 

“Tony, I don’t think we need to tell anyone: they’ll be able to smell it from miles away…”

 

“Great. Just great. Just like old times, Probie, I’m telling you.”

 

They started towards the others with Tim inconspicuously trying to keep his distance so that nobody would think he was the foul-smelling one.

 

“So, did you at least find something in there?”

 

“Oh, yeah.” – Tony presented a proud smile. – “Actually, I did.”

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“A USB flash drive?” – Asked Gibbs, turning the small device around in his hand cautiously like a child would a shiny new toy he hasn’t seen before and wasn’t entire sure what to make of it. – “What’s it do?”

 

Kate and Tony exchanged glances while Tim cleared his throat uncomfortably.

 

“Ahm… Boss… it’s a data storage device that includes flash memory with an integrated USB interface.” – He recited as if he had swallowed the text book, but seeing the increasingly impatient expression on the older man’s face, McGee tried a different approach. – “A removable, rewritable data storage that can be inserted into the computer via USB…” – It didn’t seem to be helping much, and Tim swallowed nervously, looking towards his friends for help.

 

Tony felt something akin to sympathy seeing the scared dog face: he knew now without doubt that his leaving had made life more difficult for the remaining two team members.

 

“Gibbs, there could be important information on it. You put it into the computer and you can see the content.” – Added Abby who had appeared in the squadroom about ten seconds ago without being noticed, causing Tim, Kate and Tony to jump in surprise. Of course, Gibbs was unaffected. – “And I found fingerprints from out John Doe on it, so it either belongs to him or, for some reason, had it with him at the time of his death.”

 

“Information? Why didn’t you begin with that, McGee?” – Tim shook his head and started to shake visibly. – “Abbs, you can open the files and read them?”

 

She smiled sweetly.

 

“Sure. In my lab. Come on, Timmy. You can help me.” – With that she grabbed the poor boy’s arm and pulled him away.

 

Kate sighed.

 

“Why do you do that to him, Gibbs?”

 

“Do what, Kate?”

 

“You scare the poor boy to death!”

 

The lead NCIS agent shrugged.

 

“He’s a man Kate, not a boy. And if he can’t handle me, then I’m sure there are other agencies willing to take him. Don’t you agree, DiNozzo?”

 

Tony gave his old boss a dark look but refused to take the bait. He wouldn’t have an argument with him now – or ever again!

 

“Kate, would you like to go out for a burger?” – He asked instead and was glad when the woman agreed.

 

She asked nicely if maybe her boss wanted something too, but he wouldn’t even acknowledge her question, so they gave up with a shrug and left the squadroom along with the grumpy man behind.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“Has he been like that the whole time?”

 

“Yes… I don’t understand, Tony! Okay, he misses you, I get it: we all do. But still, driving us all away won’t help him. Not at all.”

 

“Wait a minute: did you say you miss me? And he misses me!? No way!”

 

Kate rolled her eyes in exasperation.

 

“Are you really that dense or are you just pretending, DiNozzo!? Really…”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Ahh! TONY!” – She reached across the table and slapped him hard on the forehead, imitating a wake-up call. – “Abby cried for a whole week after you left and Tim had a hard time looking Gibbs in the eyes! Ducky was subdued and even Palmer didn’t offer any of his inappropriate jokes for a long time!”

 

Tony felt his cheeks burn and it had nothing to do with the slap he had just received.

 

“I didn’t know that… I didn’t think I was that important to anyone.” – He whispered.

 

But Kate apparently wasn’t done yet.

 

“You’re kidding, right?” – She exclaimed. – “Gibbs has been more unbearable than ever! He doesn’t even care about Ari anymore!”

 

“Now that I don’t believe.”

 

“You’d better not call me a liar, Anthony DiNozzo!” – Kate waved a threatening finger at him but then her expression and voice softened immediately. – “He blames himself, you know.” – She said much quieter.

 

“Pff… I wonder why he’d do that.” – Tony snorted sarcastically.

 

“I know he’s right to do so. I’m just saying he knows he’s at fault for your leaving. And he can’t deal with that.”

 

The FBI agent, currently wrapped in an NCIS sweatshirt while his soiled jacket awaited cleaning, felt lightheaded from all the information he had received.

 

“So he thinks shoving away you two will help him… how exactly?”

 

“I don’t know! But he and the director… They’ve both changed since you left.”

 

“What about Jenny? How did she change?”

 

“She’s creepily nice to everyone and very attentive. She wants us to rest enough, doesn’t let Gibbs work us too late or give us individual assignments if she thinks it’s too much for one person to handle. Like I said: creepy.”

 

Tony narrowed his eyes.

 

“And she isn’t bothering either of you with… ahm… any assignments that are not… I mean… Khm…” – He didn’t know how to phrase it without letting her know the other reason that had contributed to his decision to leave. – “Well… She really doesn’t work you hard?” – Kate studied her ex-teammate for a long time, as if trying to see into his very soul; it took about two minutes for Tony to start fidgeting under her scrutiny and one more before he couldn’t take it anymore; so he changed the subject. – “You think we should bring Gibbs a burger anyway? He might regret by now that he didn’t ask us to…”

 

Kate looked as if she wanted to protest but in the end, they agreed to bring back enough food for anyone, Tony having informed her this was how they usually did it at the FBI anyway.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

Tony balanced the two takeaway bags and a cup of Caf-Pow as he entered the lab. He found McGee and Abby bent over a keyboard, engrossed in their work with Tim looking slightly green.

 

“What’s wrong, McGeek?” – He asked, setting the things next to the two computer geniuses. – “Something happen?”

 

Abby accepted the drink with a soft smile while Tim shrugged helplessly.

 

“The data is encrypted; we haven’t been able to open it yet. Gibbs is gonna kill me…”

 

“Nah, Timmy. He knows it’s not your fault; I can’t open them either. You’re not alone responsible for this.” – The Goth said in an attempt to calm the young man.

 

It didn’t work.

 

“Oh, come on, Abby! You and I both know you can do no wrong in Gibbs’ eyes!” – Tim protested almost hysterically. – “Me, on the other hand!? Everything I do is wrong! I can’t be quick enough, I can’t be good enough, I’m not… Well…” – He looked cautiously at Tony who had been listening intently. – “… I can’t be you…” – He finished in a whisper.

 

“That’s good for you, Probie. Gibbs hated me in the end. Believe me: you don’t want that.”

 

Tim just shrugged, turning back to the computer, so it was Abby who continued explaining.

 

“It’s true though… what he says. Gibbs has been rather hard on him lately. Since you left.” – She gave Tony an accusing glare, silently informing him that, in her eyes, it was entirely his fault. Right now, Tony felt that way too.

 

“I don’t get it.” – He said. – “Gibbs hated my guts in the end! Why would he want Probie to be like me? I thought he’d be happy he’s rid of me!”

 

“Oh, Tony…” – Now Abby’s tone was more pitying than anything else. – “Did you really feel like that? Why didn’t you talk to me? I would have told you why he behaved that way!”

 

“I could tell for myself, Abbs: he hated me!”

 

“No, you idiot! He was worried!”

 

Tony looked at her as if she had grown an extra head.

 

“Worried…?” – He repeated slowly, trying to understand what she was talking about. – “Worried about what exactly?”

 

Abby hit him in the arm. Hard.

 

“About losing you!”

 

“I’m not following…” – Tony admitted, rubbing his arm with a wince. She sure could still be feisty just like he remembered from before.

 

She sighed exasperatedly.

 

“Ari… He was threatening his entire team, Tony! I know he seemed to only be after women but Gibbs wasn’t sure he’d spare either of us. And you were disappearing all the time and he didn’t know why… He thought you were looking for Ari alone, on the director’s orders!”

 

Tony shook his head in disbelief, unable to accept this idea.

 

“That doesn’t make any sense, Abbs! In those last weeks he wouldn’t have cared if I had keeled over dead! What you’re saying can’t be true! Besides, why would he think the director would send me after Ari. Alone? When our team was working the case… Come on!”

 

It was McGee who absent-mindedly muttered an answer while his attention was still on the screen in front of him:

 

“Well, you were always called to the director’s office alone, and you were disappearing all the time, Tony…”

 

“True, McObvious, but Ari Haswari wasn’t NCIS’ only case, was he!?” – Tony pointed out incredulously. – “Gibbs must have been really obsessed not to even consider there could be something else!” – Abby and Tim exchanged a meaningful glance. – “WHAT!?”

 

“Tony…” – The young Goth said soothingly. – “We still don’t know what was going on. Gibbs might… I don’t know. But this whole thing was rather secretive… You and the director had this thing going on nobody knew about and you were always exhausted, haunted… What should we have thought?”

 

The FBI agent shook his head.

 

“You don’t have to know everything. It was need-to-know; director’s orders. Nobody should draw conclusions like that without having all the information!”

 

McGee nodded.

 

“Yes. I think the Boss knows that now. And he’s angry with himself. And me too… I just don’t know why…” – He looked so dejected that Tony didn’t have the heart to continue with the topic, so he questioned the two about their tasks instead, trying to help them find something to present to Gibbs the next time he appeared with his questions and demands…

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“So, not a marine then…” – Concluded the director after Tony, McGee, Kate and Abby had finished their presentation a couple of hours later.

 

“Nope.” – Said Tony. – “Just a serial killer with a fetish for playing dress-up with his victims after their deaths.”

 

“Still better than some others who dress themselves as women and then go kissing unsuspecting agents, isn’t he, DiNozzo?” – Kate teased and then laughed at her ex-partner’s angry expression.

 

Smiling, Jenny gave Tony a curious look. She enjoyed having the young man back, even though she knew, with this finding, he wouldn’t stay long. He wouldn’t have the reason…

 

“It was nothing, Kate’s just joking.” – Tony tried but Tim and Abby both started protesting right away.

 

“Joking? Tony, you totally kissed that man!”

 

“Yeah, Tony, don’t try to deny it, I was there: you were all over her… ahm… him!”

 

“Zip it, Probie! That was a mistake we’re not talking about.”

 

The familiarity of the banter between the agents didn’t escape Gibbs who, in turn, felt even worse than before and decided to go for a coffee instead of listening to it.

 

“What’s wrong? Did I say something to offend him again…?” – Inquired Tony, seeing the older agent’s retreating form. – “I swear you can’t even breathe around here without causing trouble!”

 

“It’s fine, Tony.” – Sighed the director. – “Come on, I need to debrief you and then the case officially belongs to the FBI.”

 

Feeling a sudden, unexplainable loss, Tony gave his friends and apologetic smile and silently followed Jenny upstairs into her office.

 

As soon as the door was closed, she motioned for him to take a seat at her desk while she sat down as well.

 

“Thank you…”

 

“Tony: how have you been?”

 

He looked down, momentarily finding the bright blue pen holder on her desk quite captivating.

 

“I’m fine…”

 

“FBI treating you well?”

 

“Yes. Everyone is very nice.”

 

Jenny felt frustration at his lack of any sort of explanation or elaboration and tried a different approach:

 

“Do you have friends? Do you hang out outside of work sometime?”

 

“Sure…” – Noticing that she was close to losing her patience, he quickly added: - “Especially since now I have a life outside of work.” – Okay, maybe it hadn’t been the most sensitive thing to say, he realized… - “I mean… ahm…”

 

“It’s fine, I know what you mean. I can’t tell you enough how sorry I am for… how things were for you here. I’m truly sorry, Tony. I wish I could change it now.”

 

Feeling uncomfortable hearing her apologize, Tony asked his own question to stop her from doing so:

 

“And how have things been here? I heard that Probie doesn’t have it easy… Neither does Kate, for that matter.” – He said pointedly, willing her to take action, this time preferably before it would be too late.

 

She seemed to have understood, for she nodded quickly.

 

“I know; I’ll talk to Jethro. I actually did not so long ago, it’s just that… well. He needs a bit more persuading. I’m working on it, I swear.”

 

“Good. Because Tim and Kate would find work easily anywhere else.”

 

“I know, Tony. I know…”

 

After that, they talked a bit about the case and how NCIS would transfer everything they had over to the FBI, seeing that they knew now it wasn’t their jurisdiction. They agreed that a couple of agents would come over for the evidence they had gathered and Tony would take the written report to Fornell.

 

“So, that’s it then…?” – Tony asked, gathering the files the director had handed him.

 

“Yes. That’s it.” – She said slowly, knowing very well her ex-agent wasn’t referring to the paperwork at all. – “I wish you all the best. Oh, and greet Agent Fornell for me, please. I have always respected him a great deal.”

 

“Will do, Jenny; thanks. The same to you too.”

 

He was halfway across the room when the director called after him:

 

“How is Jeanne?”

 

Tony froze on the spot. He refused to turn back and his answer was monotonous.

 

“I ended things with her after I left NCIS. I couldn’t keep lying to her and I also couldn’t tell her the truth. It was best this way…

 

“Tony… I’m so---”

 

“I know. It’s fine. It was just not meant to be. Well. Goodbye, Jenny.”

 

With that, he left her office. In the elevator, he met Ducky. The old ME smiled warmly at him, and patted his back in a comforting way, saying far more with that action than he could have with words.

 

“It was good to have you back, even for a little while, Anthony. Don’t be a stranger.”

 

“Thanks, Ducky. I won’t disappear again. I promise.”

 

“Good, my boy. Very good.”

 

All the way back to FBI Headquarters, he mentally replayed all the conversations with his old colleagues and found that – despite some uncomfortable moments here and there – he was indeed feeling better: yes, he had finally talked to them and knew now that they didn’t hate him. That their friendship still stood solid.

 

Well, with everyone, except for one person… He hadn’t talked to Gibbs. Correction: Gibbs hadn’t talked to him. He, if no one else, still hated Tony. What a mess… What did he do to deserve it?

 

He thought about what Abby had said about Gibbs being worried about him. He didn’t know if he believed it. If you care about someone enough to worry for them, do you chase them away…? It all sounded just stupid.

 

He was still thinking about all these when he entered the bullpen and was suddenly hit by a strange feeling. A very strange feeling. He felt like he had arrived home.

 

He looked around and found all his teammates looking at him wide-eyed.

 

“What? You’re like you’ve seen a ghost!”

 

“Ahm…” – Sammy cleared her throat. – “What’s with the NCIS sweatshirt, Probie?”

 

“Yeah…” – Nodded Sly with a worried expression. – “You didn’t transfer back to them, did you?”

 

PJ shook his head.

 

“Nah… He wouldn’t. He knows he belongs to us now. Ahm… Would you?”

 

Tony smiled, warmth filling him from head to toe.

 

“No, of course I wouldn’t. And I came bearing gifts!” – He announced proudly, holding up the box filled with files triumphantly. – “Our case now!”

 

A loud cheering followed his statement and the others gathered around him to see what he had brought for them to solve. They were like children under the Christmas tree.

 

Not so far away Fornell and Sacks sat, watching the scene.

 

“See, I told you.” – The team leader said with a fond smile playing on his lips. – “I knew he’d come home.”

Chapter Text

After the joint FBI-NCIS assignment Tony had kept in touch with his old colleagues. They met at least once a week for tea with Ducky and Palmer, he arranged movie nights with Abby and random meetings with Tim and as long as it was possible: Kate. Even Jenny called him from time to time to ask about how he was and what he was doing. Later, he would become Uncle Tony to Palmer’s daughter and be chosen by the proud parents as her godfather.

The only one who, for a long time, didn’t seem to care whether he lived or died was Gibbs, and that – despite trying to deny it even to himself – hurt more than anything.

 

Fornell and the team members were all great – a real family. They understood Tony’s need to belong while they also respected the fact that he sometimes required time for himself and space to think undisturbed. They knew he was in contact with his NCIS friends and they didn’t mind. As a matter of fact, they were happy for him; only as long as he didn’t plan to leave them, they had said. With them, Tony didn’t have to play the role of the class clown or to navigate between keeping up to morals and taking the wrath of a mentally unbalanced team leader upon himself to spare everyone else. Like this, he could grow more and more into the agent Fornell had always known he could be, and very soon he became one of the FBI’s most trusted and valued members with many missions of his own. Everyone knew and accepted that one day he would take over Team Fornell, since they also knew that by that time, Sacks who was currently the senior field agent would have his own team to lead.

 

There was one time Tony knew he would never ever forget as long as he lived. One of the most horrible, yet strangely fascinating periods in his life: a dark, rainy day that began with a terrible phone call at 3 AM…

 

  • Tony? Hi…
  • Probie! Hey, what’s up? A bit early for a social call, isn’t it? Don’t tell me something came up for the weekend; I already have five tickets for the game!
  • Ahm… Tony…
  • And these are very good tickets, hard to come by and---
  • Tony! It’s Kate… she’s… dead…
  • Tony…? You still there?

The FBI agent needed a second to compose himself and to decide that no, it was not April Fools' Day and no, McGee definitely wouldn’t joke about something like that anyway. He took a deep breath and swallowed a sob that threatened to escape.

  • What happened?
  • Ari… He shot her, Tony. We were on the roof and he shot her straight in the middle of the forehead. One moment she was standing right next to me and then… she just fell. I still have her blood on my face, Tony! And she’s dead and her eyes were open and she’s still staring at me whenever I close my eyes and---

McGee sounded hysterical as he recounted the events and Tony felt certain his friend was in shock. Where was Gibbs and why wasn’t he with his one remaining team member to help him get through this? Or maybe…

  • Probie… Where’s Gibbs? Is he with you?
  • I… I think he’s with Abby because she was crying so hard and Ducky is with Kate and he said I’m not allowed inside and… God, Tony, I don’t know what to do! Do you think he’s cutting her up? But we know the cause of death, surely he doesn’t need to do autopsy on her, does he? And do you think he’d let Jimmy in? Kid wouldn’t sleep for weeks; he loves… loved… Kate like a sister.

His friend was definitely in shock and, by the looks of it, close to hyperventilating. Tony needed to keep his own grief bottled up and help Tim because, quite obviously, no one else was. Talk about déjà vu… Suddenly it was him again, alone to pick up the pieces of his abandoned friends after one botched assignment. Would Gibbs never learn?

  • Where are you?
  • At NCIS…
  • Are you alone?
  • Yes… No… I don’t know… I think I saw the janitor ten minutes ago… I don’t know…
  • Come to our favorite place, I’ll meet you there.
  • But, Tony… Boss told me to look for Ari… Though I don’t know how… I spent the night on the roof looking for clues and I didn’t find anything because it was raining so hard and it was also dark and Kate’s blood was everywhere… Tony, why doesn’t the rain wash away the blood?

Tony sighed sadly.

  • It does, Probie. It does…
  • But it didn’t, Tony, it’s still there! It’s everywhere!
  • Tim, I’ll meet you in twenty, all right?
  • But Gibbs…
  • Screw him!

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

When Tony arrived at the pre-arranged place, he easily spotted the drenched, hunched figure of his friend, especially since at half past three in the morning, they were the only guests in the entire 24-hour coffee shop. The FBI agent took some time to observe the younger man from afar: Timothy McGee really looked like he had been to hell and back. Water was still dipping from the hair that was now plastered to his head, and he was shivering which had, in Tony’s humble opinion, probably nothing, or at least not everything to do with the temperature. The young man was nursing a huge mug of tea, warming his hands and staring into it as if it held all the answers. Sadly, it didn’t.

Tony prepared himself to be the strong one for the both of them and sat down across from Tim.

 

“Hi, Probie…” – He said slowly, since the other didn’t seem to have noticed his arrival.

 

“Oh, Tony. It’s you…” – Having made this spectacular observation, the young NCIS agent went back to staring into his mug.

 

Tony sighed.

 

“You should drink it before it gets cold…”

 

“Oh… Right.”

 

But he didn’t, just continued gazing into it.

 

“So…” – Tony trailed off, not having any idea what to say to make it easier for either of them. – “We’re here…”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“It sucks.”

 

“It does.”

 

Tony was saved from having to come up with something when a smiling, beautiful young waitress came to take his order. Normally, he would flirt with her and smile his hundred-watt smile. This time, he just glanced at the menu that hung above the counter and said the first thing that was written there: hot chocolate with cinnamon and vanilla. After the woman had left to get him the drink, he wondered why the hell he had ordered it when he didn’t even like hot chocolate at all; though he supposed it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

 

They sat in silence, each deep in their own thoughts until Tony’s drink arrived.

 

“Has Gibbs called?” – He inquired after taking a sip. It was as horrible as he thought it would be. Making a face, he pushed the offending liquid away. – “Have they found something?”

 

Tim just shook his head.

 

“I don’t like tea.” – He said suddenly, after another few minutes’ silence. – “I don’t know why I asked for it… It is supposed to help when you’re depressed but…”

 

“It only helps when you like it, McGenius.”

 

“Oh. Nobody said that… But I like hot chocolate.”

 

“Wanna swap?”

 

“Sure.”

 

Relieved, Tony pulled the strong and luckily still hot Earl Grey close and breathed in the delicious scent.

 

“Much better.” – He concluded.

 

McGee seemed content with his hot chocolate as well if his noisy slurping was anything to go by. When he looked up again, he had a mustache of chocolate decorating his face. Tony realized with a stab of pain in his chest that any time other than now, it would be hilarious and he and Kate would make fun of their friend together. But now it was in the middle of the night and McGee had tears running down his face and Tony felt totally lost and Kate was… Kate was dead.

 

And it was anything but funny.

 

“She’s not coming back, Tony.”

 

“I know, Kid. I know…”

 

Tim tried to choke back a sob but didn’t quite manage it.

 

“I don’t know what to do.” – He admitted quietly. – “I’m alone now. Alone…”

 

Tony shook his head.

 

“I don’t know what to do either. But I do know that you’re not alone, Tim. I’m here with you.”

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

The funeral was a solemn affair. Tony only observed it from farther away, since he didn’t feel like he should be close when it was mostly the NCIS team and Kate’s family around the casket. So, he stood a few meters from the crowd, unseen by most and listening to the priest talking about what a great young woman Agent Caitlin Todd had been, how tragic her death was and the terrible loss everyone was feeling now, thinking all the while that the old man had no idea. No idea at all!

 

Kate hadn’t been a ‘great young woman’! What did that mean, anyway!?

Kate had been fierce and loyal and funny and sneaky and feisty and most of all: a friend. She’d been bitchy sometimes and mean and nasty. She’d also been understanding, supportive and appreciative. She had joked with Tony and helped him prank McGee. They had annoyed Ducky and made fun of a very green Palmer together. Their antics had been called ‘sibling rivalry’ by many, and laughed at by even more. Kate had been Tony’s first NCIS partner as an equal. Before her, Vivian Blackadder had always felt more like a judging, scornful superior who had done her best to belittle Tony whenever possible and hadn’t made a secret of her not so favorable opinion about him. And Gibbs… Well, things with Gibbs had been much better before but still: as a team leader and senior agent, their friendship had naturally never been anything like that with Kate. Kate had been special.

She definitely hadn’t been a ‘great young woman’.

 

And her death? ‘Tragic’!? What the f--- Accidents were tragic! Self-caused deaths were tragic! Being murdered in cold blood was unforgivable, unacceptable, unbelievable, infuriating, maddening, outrageous… take your pick. ‘Tragic’!? That word was meant for more everyday occurrences, not for being shot in the forehead by a sniper right after taking a bullet for your boss! Damn it!

 

And about the loss they were feeling? The priest couldn’t even begin to understand that! Yes, Tony had lost one of his first and best friends. A sister. But McGee had lost a sister and a role-model. Someone who used to stand up for him and who hadn’t been afraid to confront even Gibbs when needed. He had lost his anchor and along with her, all his confidence. Even now he was sitting slumped in his chair in the front row, doing his best not to look up at the casket because he still couldn’t accept the truth. And Abby? She had lost one of the only female friends she’d had: the one who had put up with her extravagant ways; and even more than that: admired her for them. Who’d been willing to make a fool of herself and dress up as a vampire when Abby had asked her to accompany her to a party. Who had drawn her pictures and had plotted with her against Tony…

Ducky and Jimmy had lost a friend whom they had admired a lot.

And Gibbs… Gibbs had lost another daughter. And, Tony thought, this might be the last straw of the man’s already fragile sanity. How he’d get up from here, Tony couldn’t even imagine but as he was watching the once strong and confident older man stare blankly at the black coffin, he, despite everything that had occurred between them lately, didn’t feel anger towards him anymore. He felt something worse: pity. He knew Gibbs would hate that more than anything.

No, the priest definitely didn’t know any of them and the FBI agent wished he would just finish with the obligatory formalities and shut up finally.

 

“I hate funerals.” – Came a voice from behind him. Tony didn’t have to turn around to know who it was. He couldn’t claim to be surprised by the appearance of his boss; he knew the team worried about him since he’d gotten the news. – “They always bore me to death. No pun intended.”

 

He smiled despite himself.

 

“Yeah. Even the music is bad. Kate would hate it.” – He whispered back. – “If she were here, we’d have wreaked havoc by now. Did you know we were actually banned from all public ceremonies?” – Fornell raised an eyebrow but didn’t seem too astonished. – “Yeah… It all began when we ended up at an NCIS party with green hair and pink clothes… It was a bet.” – He reminisced smiling.

 

“Whose idea was it?” – Asked Fornell amused.

 

“Hers, of course.”

 

“Why do I have the feeling she’d insist it was yours?”

 

“Let’s say it’s still unclear.” – Deadpanned Tony. – “The point is, the director; Morrow, back then; wasn’t as impressed as some other agents.”

 

“No, I don’t imagine he was.” – The FBI team leader knew very well their own director would hit the roof if something like that were to happen at one of their ceremonies. He also knew he would love it. – “And Gibbs?”

 

Tony shrugged.

 

“Said he didn’t see the difference. He did headslap me afterwards tough.”

 

“Because you caused trouble?”

 

“No. Because we didn’t involve him.” – Tony smiled. – “It was a long time ago… Before Ari and before the problems began… It was… Those were still good times.” – He finished, turning back towards the mourners to see the casket being lowered into the ground and people throw white roses on it, as they slowly left in pairs or small groups.

 

Fornell squeezed his shoulder to show support before walking away, leaving Tony completely alone to watch the cemetery workers expertly shovel earth and fill the hole, creating Kate’s final resting place. It was heartbreaking and still, Tony couldn’t bring himself to leave. He watched the whole process and when the gravediggers were done, walked closer to the wet mound. For now, only a small wooden cross marked the grave as Kate’s.

 

Tony sat down crossed-legged in front of it, never even thinking about his expensive suit pants becoming soiled. He reached out and traced Kate’s name with his fingers.

 

“Shit, Kate…” – He gasped. Finally alone, he didn’t have to pretend to be strong anymore. – “How did this happen? How did this all happen to us…?” – He felt hot tears roll down his cheeks and smiled at the bittersweet knowledge that Kate would tease him mercilessly about being ‘a big softy’. He could practically see her smirk and hear her laughter. – “You, me, the Probie… and Gibbs. We used to be a team. Thick as thieves. Four against the world, right? We pledged allegiance to our own rules. No… To Gibbs’ rules, actually.” – He chuckled. – “I could still recite most of them, even though we never found out what rule number 3 really was. Was it ‘Never be unreachable’ or ‘Never believe what you’re told. Always double-check’?

 

“It’s both, DiNozzo.”

 

Tony whirled around to find Gibbs standing behind him. For how long had the man been there, listening to him!?

 

“Gibbs…” – He cleared his throat and quickly wiped his face. – “Did you want to be with Kate alone? I can leave…”

 

“No… As a matter of fact, I wanted to be with you alone.” – He sat down beside Tony with a grunt, clearly not caring any more about his dress pants than his ex-colleague did. – “But I don’t mind her company.”

 

Tony looked back at the cross.

 

“She always knew what we were thinking anyway. No secrets.”

 

“True.” – Agreed the NCIS team leader. Then he said out of the blue: – “I made mistakes. Many. I know that now.”

 

Tony was stunned. He had never, ever heard the older man admit to having been wrong about anything. And now he was here, close to breaking his own rule number 6!?

 

“Gibbs---”

 

“Apologizing is not a sign of weakness, Tony. I was wrong to teach you that and even more wrong to follow my own advice.” – Said his old boss, knowing very well what Tony was about to say; like in the old times. – “Admitting a mistake and apologizing for it takes lots more courage than to pretend nothing happened. I think I’ll change this rule for one of the number ones. To avoid confusion.”

 

“You don’t have to apologize to me.”

 

“Oh yes, I have to. And I want to: I’m sorry Tony. Sorry for how I treated you and that I chased you away.” – He held up his hand when he saw Tony open his mouth to protest. – “Don’t say it. I know what I did. I know now. Mostly thanks to her.” – He nodded towards the new grave. – “She never hid her opinion, did she?”

 

“No. She definitely didn’t.” – Tony smiled, remembering Kate’s tirades about some of his dates. – “At least she was straightforward and I always knew what she thought.”

 

“Touché.”

 

“So… There’s only Probie left… I’m sure you’ll want to be extra attentive with him… Help him through this…?” – He phrased it as a question but his glare didn’t leave much room for speculation about his real intentions: to warn Gibbs that he was about to lose the last member of his team if he wasn’t careful.

 

Luckily, the team leader got the message and nodded earnestly.

 

“I’ll take care of him.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

They watched the sun start to sink lower and lower, slowly lengthening the shadow cast upon them by Kate’s cross.

 

“Ari’s dead.” – Declared Gibbs.

 

“Good.”

 

“Ziva will join the team.”

 

Tony glanced at the NCIS agent.

 

“Ziva…? The Mossad chick?”

 

“Yes. She’ll be a liaison officer.”

 

“But why?” – Tony didn’t understand how a complete stranger who wasn’t even an American citizen could be considered the fill Kate’s shoes.

 

Gibbs sighed.

 

“It can’t be just McGee and me.”

 

“It was only the two of us for a long time before Kate came along.” – Tony reminded him. – “And we were doing just fine.”

 

“Yeah. But it was you.” – He shook his head to signal he wasn’t finished yet. – “It’s nothing against Tim. He’s a fine agent and I know he’ll be an incredible one one day. But he still needs to learn.”

 

“I was younger than he is now.” – Tony pointed out.

 

“Still.”

 

“Okay… It’s your decision.”

 

“Aha.”

 

The sun disappeared behind the nearest building at the other end of the street and the temperature suddenly dropped. Tony shivered noticeably and even Gibbs pulled his coat tighter around himself. Still, neither of them moved.

 

“I’m sure your new team will be just as great as it used to be.” – Offered the younger agent honestly.

 

Gibbs nodded.

 

“I’m proud of you, Tony.” – It was said so quietly that at first, Tony wasn’t even sure if he had heard right. But then he saw Gibbs’ smile. – “I told Tobias I expect an NCIS-FBI competition. Bowling.”

 

“You’d like to lose?”

 

“Oh, no. I’d like to show you all how it’s done properly.”

 

“We’ll see!”

 

“Oh, we will.”

 

About a quarter of an hour later the rain started to fall and it tapped rhythmically on the gravestones around them.

 

“It rains a lot lately.” – Tony observed. – “I hate rain…” – He added as an afterthought. – “It’s cold and dark and wet… Brrr…”

 

Gibbs stood and offered a hand for Tony to take. Tentatively, the younger man grabbed it and heaved himself up with his old boss’ help. He realized his legs had fallen asleep in the awkward position they had been sitting, so he tried to shake them a bit to get rid of the annoying tingling sensation. Gibbs laughed at his antics.

 

“I like rain. Do you know why it is?”

 

“No… Why?”

 

“Because it cleans the world and when it goes away, the air is pure, and everything is good as new again. Come on, Tony. Let’s go home.”

 

They both made their way out of the cemetery feeling a strange mixture of melancholy and joy.

 

 

 

 

The End