Tony begins his new assignment at Cheyenne Mountain.

Third and last in the series that began with TAD and continued with PCS. FMC stands for fully mission capable.

As always, all rights in this work are given to the respective copyright owners.

When Tony DiNozzo left the director's office, it was still early enough that the only other member of his team he could see in the bullpen was Gibbs.

He didn't know whether that was a good thing or not. He had to tell the team that he was transferring, but would it be better to tell them all at once, or should he tell Gibbs first, and then the others?

Whatever half-formed plans Tony might have had to simply pack up his desk and slip out before Ziva or Tim arrived dissolved the moment Gibbs, apparently sensing Tony's gaze, looked up and met his eyes. His decision, it appeared, was made for him.

"Suck it up, DiNozzo," he muttered and started down the stairs.

It was hard to believe that just a few years ago, Tony wouldn't have considered leaving Gibbs' team. But ever since Kate's death, and especially since Gibbs' return from his Mexican hiatus, the team had felt less and less like … he hesitated to use the word, but no other one seemed to fit, either. It had felt less and less like home, like a place he belonged.

The team hadn't been perfect when it was Kate who sat across from him, but it had been tolerable. Then Ziva joined the team, and the team hadn't been quite right since. Welcoming her back to the team - hell, to the country - after she'd threatened his life…well. That made the decision to leave easier than he would ever have expected it to be.

Now he just had to see how the others would take it. Starting with Gibbs.

"Morning, Gibbs."

The other man's eyes narrowed just a hint, the only sign that he'd noticed Tony's use of Gibbs rather than Boss. "You're in early."

"I came in to finish up reports from the Hadwell case last week," Tony replied. "Turns out the director wanted to see me first thing."

Gibbs frowned. "For what?"

"Meeting with Jack," Tony said, then corrected himself. "Colonel O'Neill."

Gibbs' frown turned into an outright scowl, and Tony was oddly glad it wasn't directed at him. "They need you again? The hell's wrong with them that they can't get an -"

"Gibbs." Tony didn't shout, but something in his inflection got through to his boss and Gibbs broke off to glare at him.

"They're getting one," Tony said. "Me."

"You? What do you mean, you?"

Tony stiffened at the implication, and it was his turn to scowl. "Nice to know you think so much of my abilities after all these years."

"What?" Gibbs stared at him, shocked, then his expression cleared. "Not what I meant. I meant why you? Why not an AFOSI agent, like before?"

Tony relaxed a little, though the sting from Gibbs' reaction lingered. "They had one. Washed out."

That was all he felt comfortable saying in this environment, and he hoped Gibbs would understand what he couldn't say.

Thankfully, Gibbs smirked. "What'd they expect from a wingnut?"

Tony chuckled. "Jack asked me to apply after my last TAD there."

A myriad of emotions flickered across Gibbs' face in micro-expressions that only those who knew him well could read. Tony identified anger, pride, frustration, regret, and finally acceptance among them.

"I get it," Gibbs said finally. "It's a hell of an assignment, and I might've gone for it myself when I was younger. When do you leave?"

"I have to be on site in a week," Tony answered. "So I'm going to tell Ducky, Abby, and Jimmy, and then I'll be back to clean out my desk."

Gibbs' lips tightened, but he nodded. "Steaks at mine before you leave town."

Tony grinned. "You got it, Boss."

"Not your boss anymore, DiNozzo."

"My boss until I leave today," Tony countered, and headed for the elevator before Gibbs could reply.

Ducky took the news better than Tony had hoped. The older man's expression had turned grave, but he'd shaken Tony's hand and wished him well.

"It has been a pleasure, Anthony," he said. "Do keep in touch, when you can."

"I'll try, Ducky," was all Tony could promise.

Jimmy, though, seemed genuinely happy for him. "I know you can't give me details," he said, "but what you have said…good luck, Tony."

"Thanks, Black Lung," Tony said and offered his hand. Jimmy ignored it, instead moving to pull Tony into a hug. Tony returned it, clapping the younger man on the back.

"You ever decide you want a change of scenery," Tony said, "give me a call. There might be a place for you where I'm going."

Jimmy's smile was a little hesitant, and Tony thought he saw Jimmy's eyes flick to Ducky and back. "I'll - keep that in mind, Tony. Thanks."

And on that mostly hopeful note, Tony nodded a farewell and headed to Abby's lab.

As always, his approach was paved with sound - hard, driving rock music echoed down the hallway from the lab. Tony found himself stepping in time with the beat, almost dancing, and decided that was just another sign that he was making the right decision for himself.

Tony strode past Abby - absorbed in her work as always, she didn't seem to notice him - and shut the music off.

"Hey!" she whirled, and the scowl on her face lightened somewhat when she saw him. "Tony? What are you doing here?"

"I came to talk for a minute," he said. "There's something I need to tell you."

"Can't it wait? I'm in the middle of -"

"It won't take long." Tony cut off what was sure to be the start of a rant about whatever case she was working on - not one of the MCRT's cases, because they didn't have an active case at the moment - and that rant would take longer than what he had to say. Which was, simply, "I'm leaving."

"Leaving?" Her eyes widened and she stared at him. "Leaving NCIS?"

"No, not NCIS. Just the MCRT. And Washington."

"What?" Abby's lower lip trembled. "But - Tony! You can't leave. You're the glue that holds this team together."

Tony gave a half-hearted chuckle. "I wish I could believe that, Abby."

"It's true!"

"Maybe it was, once," Tony admitted, thinking back to the early days with Kate and even before her. "But it's not now, and it hasn't been for a long time. The team's got more cracks than an old road after a frost, and I'm not sure anything can hold it together much longer. But that's not why I'm leaving."

"Then why?" Abby sounded so lost, so desolate, that for a moment Tony wanted nothing more than to hug her and tell her everything was going to be all right. It would be, he reflected, just not the way she thought.

"You know I went to the Air Force on loan-out a couple of times," he said, and it was more a reminder than a question. When she nodded, he said, "They offered me a full-time position."

"Wait - the Air Force? But you said you're not leaving NCIS?" Now Abby looked confused.

"It's an unusual situation," Tony said. "But the base where I'll be working has Marine as well as Air Force personnel, so it's not too big a stretch."

Abby studied him for long moments. "You're not going to change your mind, are you?"

"No, Abby. I'm not."

"I'm going to miss you!" She flung herself at him, and Tony barely had time to brace for impact before her arms were around him, holding him so tightly he thought he heard bones creaking. "You're wrong, you know - you really are the glue that holds this team together."

Tony's eyes closed, and he spoke more to himself than to her when he answered. "Maybe. But you ever think about the glue itself? It gets squished and squeezed into the spaces between the things it's holding together. It doesn't get to be what it wants to be. What it needs to be."

Abby stepped back and when she looked up at him, her expression was more serious than he remembered seeing it in a long time. "I hadn't thought of it that way, Tony. I'm sorry you've felt squished and squeezed."

"Thanks, Abby."

"And I'm still sorry you're leaving. I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too." Tony hugged her again, thankful that at least she understood.

After a detour to the supply room, Tony headed back to the bullpen. Gibbs' desk was vacant - coffee run number two for the day, Tony supposed - but Ziva and Tim were at their desks. Since neither of them bothered to greet him, Tony just went to his desk and started to assemble the storage box he'd gotten from the supply room.

It wasn't until he was putting his Mighty Mouse stapler into the box - and, wow, that was a longer coffee run than usual, Tony thought as he caught sight of Gibbs' empty desk again - that Ziva appeared to notice what he was doing.

"Have you been fired, Tony?" she asked.

He wanted to think it was a joke, that after he'd risked his life to save her she'd finally learned to respect him, at least a little - but, no, her tone suggested she was completely serious, even if she'd try to play it off as a joke later.

"The opposite, actually," he answered, because buried in the plethora of forms he'd signed there was a promotion from Senior Field Agent to Supervisory Agent. He assumed that was related to the pay raise Jack had promised, but he'd gotten too used to titles not meaning anything on Gibbs' team, so it was just one more form, one more technicality before he could move on.

Strangely, Ziva had no comeback to that, and Tony took the moment of silence to give his desk a last once-over. Satisfied that he wasn't leaving anything of importance behind - and oddly disappointed that eight years of his working life fit into one banker box - he secured the lid and straightened.

Ziva was staring at him, and for once he could read her expression clearly. She was stunned.

"You have been … promoted," she said.

"Transferred," Tony said. "The promotion is a side benefit."

"You have been promoted." There was no mistaking the disbelief in her tone, and unlike Gibbs, she hadn't made it a question.

"You know," Tony said, "after Israel and Somalia, I would've thought you might have adjusted your opinion of me. But it doesn't matter anymore."

He was careful not to say you don't matter anymore, but the words echoed in his mind, and he found that he couldn't argue with them.

McGee had risen and come around his desk, and Tony half-expected him to stutter when he spoke. "Seriously? You can't really be leaving?"

Tony shrugged. "Why not? I've been here eight years, and - things changed. People changed."

"If this is about Israel -" Ziva began.

"I'd say don't flatter yourself," Tony said, "but yeah, that's part of it. There are other parts."

"Like what?" McGee asked.

The knowledge that he was leaving, that nothing and no one would stop him, allowed Tony to speak freely for the first time in years. "Like not your concern. Or maybe, if you had been concerned, you'd know."

"What do you mean, Tony? We're friends -"

Tony couldn't help the bitter laugh that escaped. "Friends, McGee? You think we're friends? Friends don't make fun of friends in their books. Friends don't set out to hurt friends. You've done both, so no, we're not friends."

"Oh, you can tease, but you can't take it?" McGee tried to look intimidating, Tony would give him credit for the effort, but the softness of McGee's face and his lack of charisma otherwise kept him from achieving his goal.

Both pleased that McGee had grown a spine and disappointed that he couldn't see the difference between the situations, Tony shook his head.

"Yeah, I played pranks on you, and I teased you," Tony said, "but it was always meant to help you grow into the agent I thought you could be. You needed someone to push you out of your keyboard comfort zone, and I did the best I knew how. Ask yourself how you paid me back for that. Or ask yourself - "

Tony cut himself off. There was a fine line between speaking freely and losing it, and he was dangerously close to crossing it. He cleared his throat and told himself to back off.

"Tony…" Ziva's voice took on a pleading note, edging just shy of desperation. A skilled undercover operative himself, Tony had to admire the deftness of her transition. "Surely there must be some way we can convince you to stay. The team won't be the same without you."

No, it won't be, Tony agreed silently. Whether that would be for better or for worse remained to be seen. For now, he considered several responses before settling on summoning some of his Tony Macaluso persona.

Who better to deal with a trained Mossad operative than one of the Mafia's most feared caporegimes, after all?

Deliberately, Tony clapped his hands slowly. It wasn't a reaction Ziva had expected, if her expression were anything to judge by.

"Tony?" she ventured.

"I might have believed you meant that," Tony let his hands drop to his desk and leaned slightly forward on them, "if I didn't know you asked Gibbs to choose between us."

It would be difficult, Tony thought, to decide which one of them looked more surprised, Ziva or Tim.

"How did you -?"

"When did she -?"

They spoke over each other, and Tony decided to answer Tim's question first. "When we were coming back from that trip to Israel. As to how I know - like I always say, work smarter, not harder."

From the corner of his eye, Tony saw Gibbs returning from wherever he'd been - the lab, or maybe the coffee run he'd originally assumed. Tony met the other man's gaze for a moment before looking first at Ziva, then at Tim, wondering what to say … and then concluding that there was nothing left to say, except

"Good luck." Tony turned away from his former teammates and met Gibbs' gaze once more. "Thank you."

He might clarify that over steaks, or he might not. Either way, it had needed to be said and now it was.

Gibbs shook his head. "No, DiNozzo. Thank you."

Tony nodded and, before tears could do more than well in his eyes, grabbed the box of his things and started for the elevator.

Eight years, he'd told Tim and Ziva - more accurately, almost eight and a half. It was a large chunk of his life to leave behind, and leaving it behind was the right thing to do, but that didn't mean he wouldn't grieve the loss, at least a little.

Fourteen days later, just before 8:00 a.m., Tony pulled into the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in a rented SUV. He'd driven his Mustang across the country, but it didn't agree with Colorado in the late fall. He'd rented an SUV for the time being, although he was rapidly concluding that he'd need to buy one just to be sure he was safe during Rocky Mountain winters.

Today, at least, the forecast only called for rain, not sleet or snow, but still Tony was glad for the four-wheel drive capability of the Toyota Highlander he'd rented. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, after all.

He parked the Highlander and grabbed his go-bag from the passenger seat before heading toward the entrance. The go-bag was more habit than necessity - it was unlikely he'd have to go to another freaking planet to investigate a crime, even if he had served as a trial attorney on another planet not too long ago.

Thanks to two previous visits to the Mountain, Tony recognized the MP on duty at the security desk.

"Good morning, Sergeant Lawrence," he said. "NCIS Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo reporting for duty."

"Like I don't remember you, DiNozzo," Lawrence shot back. Then the rest of what Tony said seemed to register. "Reporting for duty?"

"Not a TAD this time," Tony said. "You're stuck with me, instead of some AFOSI chair force type."

"Not sure a fake swabby is any better," Lawrence countered. "But at least you can find your way to the mess without assistance."

"But not without an escort," Tony said. He might have been read in on the full scope of projects at the Mountain months before, but that didn't mean he had free run of the base. Not yet, anyway.

"Escort's on the way," Lawrence replied. "Shouldn't be more than five minutes. Plenty of time to secure your cell phone."

"The cell phone I left in my car?"

"Yeah, that cell phone." Lawrence gestured toward the elevators. "Your escort will be here in a few minutes. Your permanent credentials will be ready by 1600."

With a flick of his fingers that wasn't exactly a salute, Tony grinned at the sergeant and turned toward the elevators that would take him into the bowels of the Mountain. He'd barely arrived when the doors slid open to reveal Captain Doctor Samantha Carter.

A little of Tony's good mood evaporated. He liked the captain well enough, but some of their interactions had reminded him a little too much of Kate. Fortunately, he didn't expect to be working too closely with Carter, and he nodded a greeting.

"Morning, Captain."

"Agent DiNozzo." She reached out to hold the doors open. "If you'll come with me, I'll show you around."

Tony stepped into the elevator. He knew where many things were thanks to his two previous assignments, but he'd always been escorted, so he didn't know all the details of getting around this particular base.

"I was expecting some sergeant," Tony said honestly as the doors slid shut. "Seems like ranking officers have better things to do than escort newbies, even on a project like this. Maybe especially on a project like this."

"And normally it would be," Carter said. "But I wanted to talk to you."

Tony gave an internal sigh. Apparently, some things from his former life were going to carry over. "You want me to hit the stop button?"

"What?" Carter frowned, then seemed to take his meaning and shook her head. "No, that would just bring the maintenance crew right away. The ride should be long enough for me to say I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" Tony repeated, not entirely certain he'd heard her correctly. Her expression convinced him he had. "Sorry for what?"

"For, well, bitching at you on P5-772."

For a moment, Tony didn't get the reference. Then he remembered he'd only ever been on one planet other than Earth. "Telos?"

"Yes." Carter took a breath and let it out. "You were right - I didn't like your methods. You're also right that I didn't - don't - know enough about what you do to tell you how to do it. I was wrong, I'm sorry, and I'll try not to do it again."

"Apology accepted," Tony said immediately. "On one condition."

"What's that?" Carter asked. The elevator came to a stop.

"Next time, get a conference room," Tony said. "Or find an empty office. Sensitive conversations do not happen in elevators ever again."

Carter blinked at his vehemence, but nodded agreement.

The elevator doors opened and Tony stepped into his new life.

A month later, Tony found himself thinking his new life wasn't much better than his old one.

Well, he corrected himself, at least here he worked alone, and no co-workers who pretended they were teammates were constantly cutting him and his abilities down or, worse, betraying him for their own reasons. In that respect, his posting to Cheyenne Mountain was an incredible gift, and Tony shamed himself by looking that gift horse in the mouth.

At least it's not a Trojan horse…

And he did not need his subconscious making smart-ass remarks right now, thank you very much.

Even if those smart-ass remarks might hold a grain of truth.

Tony stared at the far wall of his office, not really seeing the painting of the Front Range hanging there. He'd bought it the first weekend he was in town when he'd visited an arts and crafts fair, a permanent reminder of the new direction his life had taken.

If he were going to be honest with himself, he'd have to admit that Cheyenne Mountain wasn't getting to him in the same way the postings on the Seahawk and the Gipper had. On board the aircraft carriers, he'd been alone in more ways than just working alone. He'd been the lone civilian amongst thousands of Navy personnel, and because he was, effectively, a cop sent to restore order to the lawless lands below decks, they'd been even more reluctant to engage him in conversation.

Here at the mountain, there were a number of civilian consultants, so Tony wasn't the only one out of uniform. More to the point, everyone on the Stargate levels of the base was willing to talk to him, even include him in their poker games sometimes.

So Tony knew he had no reason to complain, and every reason to be grateful, and he hoped he showed none of his dissatisfaction to anyone else, especially Jack O'Neill.

Today, at least, he had a case report to write up. Nothing serious - a minor scuffle between two of the Marines on base brought on by a simple misunderstanding. Nobody had been hurt, and Tony wasn't recommending disciplinary action for either of the men involved, other than the verbal warning he'd given them. He'd stressed, though, that a second offense would carry a much more severe penalty.

He was just submitting the report to the higher-ups when Jack showed up at his office door, improbably dressed in civilian clothes.

"Heading into town for dinner, if you want to come along," he said.

"The usual crew?" Tony asked.

"Nah. Carter's knee-deep in something with Daniel and Teal'c doesn't want to stretch his undercover skills tonight."

"Undercover - as what? The Incredible Hulk?" Tony shot back, without heat. It was a joke among the entire SG-1 crew that Teal'c could only ever go undercover in roles where he wouldn't have to speak.

"Frankenstein's monster," Jack corrected, and Tony laughed.

"Sure, I just submitted the incident report. Let me just shut down."

An hour later, Tony sat across from Jack at a bar called the Happy Bottom, beers on the table in front of them, and their orders placed. Air Force memorabilia lined the walls, all centered around a large black and white picture of a woman in clothing that looked to be from the 1930s.

"Do I even want to know how this place got its name?" Tony asked. "I mean, I've heard of happy endings, but what the hell is a happy bottom?"

"Get your mind out of the gutter," Jack snapped, but his eyes showed his humor. "It's named for the Happy Bottom Riding Club."

"That's … singularly unhelpful."

Now Jack laughed aloud. "I'll forgive your ignorance - this time. It was a dude ranch and restaurant, founded by Pancho Barnes -" he lifted his beer in a silent salute to the picture Tony had noticed a moment ago "- that catered to Hollywood types and the airmen working at Edwards. Air Force Base, for you Navy types."

"Interesting story." Tony knew he wasn't hiding his disbelief very well, and Jack scowled.

"Don't give me that look. Pancho was friends with a lot of Air Force legends - Chuck Yeager, Jimmy Doolittle, Buzz Aldrin among them - and a damned good pilot herself. She broke Amelia Earhardt's world women's speed record, among other things."

There wasn't much he could say to that, so Tony raised his beer. "To Pancho."

"Pancho." Jack touched his glass to Tony's, and both men took a swallow. Then Jack set his glass back on the table and met Tony's gaze steadily. "You want to tell me what's wrong? Or do I have to guess?"

Tony blinked, surprised, but then decided he shouldn't be. Jack wouldn't be where he was if he weren't observant, after all. Their surroundings meant that they couldn't talk openly, though, and Tony searched for words that might explain his feelings without giving away something they shouldn't.

Finally, he settled on, "I don't know what either one of us was thinking when we thought this would be a good fit for me."

Jack quirked an eyebrow at him. "You saying it's not a good fit?"

Tony blew out a breath. "I was agent afloat aboard the Seahawk and the Ronald Reagan. How familiar are you with aircraft carriers?"

"I've seen Top Gun four times," Jack answered easily. "And Crimson Tide twice."

Tony had to shake his head. "Crimson Tide takes place on a submarine."

"I knew that." Jack grinned, and Tony had to chuckle.

"Fine," he said. Then, "The crew complement of an aircraft carrier is close to six thousand people. You have less than half that here."

Tony paused, considering how to continue. He was lucky as hell to have this assignment, and he knew he shouldn't complain. He just hadn't expected it to be as unsatisfying as the Navy Yard, even if it was unsatisfying in a different way.

Before he found the right words, Jack spoke. "You're bored."

"I'm bored," Tony agreed immediately. "I love it here, generally, but I almost went crazy as agent afloat because there wasn't enough to do. Same thing's starting to happen here, and I don't want that."

"Good."

Tony blinked, and blinked again. "Me being bored is good?"

"Absolutely," Jack replied. "Means you're ready for the next phase of your assignment here."

"What next phase?" Tony hadn't intended to sound quite as skeptical as he did, but he didn't apologize for it.

"Getting you more actively involved in missions."

Tony could only stare at the colonel - could he mean what Tony hoped he meant? There was only one way to find out. He leaned forward and met Jack's gaze clearly.

"You want me to visit strange new worlds with you? Seek out new life, and new civilizations, and all that?"

"Yep."

"Why? Why do you think you need an investigator on those visits?"

"You're more than an investigator," Jack said bluntly. "You're a damn good undercover operator - which means you're good at reading people, good at getting them to talk to you, to trust you, even when they have no real reason to. Case in point, what you did that led to your transfer here."

Tony turned Jack's words over in his mind. "So you want me to - what? Schmooze the locals?"

Jack chuckled. "Something like that." He sat forward in his chair, resting his forearms on the table. "My job as team leader is to understand my team's strengths and weaknesses. Daniel's knowledge of archaeology and languages is second to none. He can talk for hours about culture, artifacts, how people do things. Carter's your go-to for astrophysics and quantum mechanics. But she's like me - used to being military direct and blunt, and that doesn't always go over so well. Teal'c - well, he's a bit of a wild card, but even worse at making friends than the rest of us. We need someone with your people skills on the team. That you know your way around weapons is a bonus."

That surprised a laugh out of Tony, but then he fell into contemplation. It certainly wasn't traditional law enforcement, and it wasn't what he'd signed up for - or maybe it was, and he'd just been slow on the uptake - but it would definitely not be boring.

He met Jack's gaze to find the colonel regarding him seriously. "You ready for this?" Jack asked.

Tony smiled. He wouldn't be bored anymore. "Fully mission capable, Colonel."