Gibbs kept his face impassive as he sat in the Director's office, waiting for Morrow to initiate the conversation. He had known this day was coming, ever since he had brought Tony home from the Hospital. Didn't mean he had been looking forward to it.
"Agent McGee seems to be making excellent progress in the gym." Morrow observed with a raised brow.
"Yes, sir." Gibbs simply nodded.
He didn't need to check the security cameras to know that DiNozzo had been tutoring the kid on the sly. Which was exactly what Gibbs had intended all along. If they were conspiring against him they would work out any lingering awkwardness in their relationship before it had to be tested under fire in the field.
"Agent Todd appears to have made some promising progress updating our profile data base," Morrow didn't give him a chance to reply to that. "Although, there is a limit to how useful that kind of work can be in the long term."
"I know." Gibbs rubbed at his nose.
"How is Agent DiNozzo?" Morrow asked urbanely.
Gibbs sighed. He'd known that was where this was leading. His team couldn't be kept out of the loop on active cases indefinitely. Normally, it wouldn't have been that much of a problem. Before he had recruited Kate he and Tony had worked several cases as a two-man team. But both Kate and McGee were too inexperienced for that.
"We're getting there."
Morrow fixed him with a steady look. He knew that Gibbs thought a great deal of the younger man and saw him as a future team leader. But he couldn't afford to be sentimental about this.
"There are other jobs he could do. We always have positions for a skilled investigator and with his track record .."
"With all due respect, sir," Gibbs tone was tightly controlled. "DiNozzo is a field Agent. You can't put him behind a desk. He's been working dammed hard on this, but nerves and tendons don't knit overnight."
"Yes, I spoke to Dr Mallard," Morrow sighed. "I must say I admire Agent DiNozzo's attitude and determination. He's a good man and I'd be sorry to lose him. But my hands are tied on this."
"I can stall them until the end of the month," Morrow allowed. "Have Agent DiNozzo cleared for field duties by then or start looking for his replacement."
"He'll be ready, sir." Gibbs vowed. Whatever it took.
Kate looked up for the third time in twenty minutes, at the noisy sounds of whooping and glee coming from DiNozzo's desk. Turning her attention to the next file she tried to block him out. And failed.
"Alright," Kate was suddenly on her feet and in front of his desk. "You want to tell me what's going on with you and Gibbs?"
"Going on?" Tony didn't look up from his computer.
"Well, for a start he's not been on your back about playing video games in company time."
"Its physical therapy," Tony grinned at her and waggled his fingers. "I'm honing my dexterity."
"And he hasn't jumped down your throat for hanging out in the lab with Abby all Monday afternoon."
"I'm convalescing. I needed a nap."
"On Tuesday, he let you drive."
"Hand eye co-ordination. Those stick shifts can be tricky things."
"And he didn't say a word when you took a three hour lunch yesterday, with Buffy or Bambi or whatever her name was."
"Ah, now that was work related."
"You really expect me to believe that?" Kate scoffed.
"He might not, but I sure as hell do," With his usual sense of timing Gibbs came around the corner. "And her name was Barbie. Lt Commander Barbara Harvey to you, material witness in a cold case. DiNozzo might have got her to give up a new lead."
"See, work related." Tony smirked.
"Tony," Gibbs walked past him, seemingly without looking. "Go see Ducky."
"Gibbs, I'm fine," Tony leant back past his monitor so he could look across at him. "I've only been playing this for twenty minutes tops."
"And before that you typed up those reports, did that Internet search and spent an hour shooting at the range. Don't make me said it again."
"Boss, I'm not overdoing it."
"Then you won't mind Ducky taking a look." Gibbs tone brooked no argument.
They both watched as Tony gave an audible huff and headed for the elevator. Without turning to look at Kate Gibbs raised a brow.
"Something on your mind, Agent Todd?"
"No," Kate shook her head. "I'll just be over here. At my desk, going through these files. Again."
Gibbs grinned as he saw Abby wearing her headphones and bopping away to whatever music she had chosen to rot her brain with today. Putting her Caff-Pow on the desk in front of her, he waited for it to grab her attention.
"Thanks, Gibbs." She pulled out her earpieces and took a happy slurp.
"What you working on, Abs?"
"Shh," Abby tilted her head to where Tony was seated on the other side of the glass doors, looking at something on the computer, it seemed like all his attention was on the screen, but Gibbs knew better than to assume. Ever. "It's a surprise." She signed.
"Yeah?" Gibbs put down his coffee to free up his hands. "What kind of a surprise?"
"If I told you that, it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?" Abby signed smugly, pleased with her logic. "How's Tony doing? Is he going to get a little gold star on his sig?"
Gibbs glanced over at Tony who was watching the exchange with open curiosity. With a small smile, Gibbs signed deftly. He'd never say it out loud, but at least he could put Abby out of her misery.
"Don't worry, he's doing great."
"How great? Details, Gibbs, details." Abby signed impatiently.
"He was already a good shot," Gibbs grinned tightly. "Now he's better."
"Yeah, go Gibbs!" Abby clapped, as she jumped up and down, before sobering up to sign seriously. "I just couldn't bear it if .."
"I know, Abs," He leant forward to kiss her on the temple. "I love him too."
Across the room, Tony didn't realise that he had gone completely still. Hadn't noticed that he was no longer breathing. All right, so he was beginning to get the idea. But to have Gibbs come out and, well not exactly say it, but ..
"Since when did you sign anything other than swear words?" Gibb's voice from directly over his shoulder, made Tony jump. Schooling his expression carefully he turned around.
"Boss, didn't see you there. That's a nice shirt. Is it new?"
The glare clearly said, answer the question or die.
"Um, since, Abby started teaching me?"
"Let your fingers do the talkin'," Abby chirped her agreement. "It's really helped. Dr Walters thinks he may get 95 mobility back."
"This was your surprise?" Gibbs tilted his head on one side as he regarded Abby.
"I never said it was a surprise for Tony," Abby looked smugly at the still slightly stunned look on Tony's face. "Although, whatever works."
Tony walked through the entrance to the firing range, ignoring the curious looks he was getting as he signed himself in and went to the locker room to gear up. He wished he could have found a less popular time slot to do this, but he hadn't had that luxury.
"Tony?" McGee's voice came from behind him. "Is that you?"
"We really need to work on your powers of observation, McGee."
"Does Gibbs know you're here?"
"What are you, Probie? My Mother?" Tony demanded as he checked his weapon. "What Gibbs doesn't know won't hurt him. Or me."
"You really think Gibbs won't find out?" Kate's voice asked, as she came up beside McGee.
"You gonna tell on me, Katie?" Tony fluttered his eyelashes at her. "I'm wounded."
"Of course not," Kate defended herself. "But you know Gibbs. He always finds things out."
"Yeah, well. By then it will be too late."
Tony had prepared for this as thoroughly as any undercover operation. He knew Gibbs was tied up in a videoconference in MTAC for at least an hour.
"Oh my God, you're going to re-qualify." Kate realised.
"Or not." Tony said flatly.
His eyes were unreadable. He thought he could do this. He was pretty sure he could and he knew Morrow had been breathing down Gibbs' neck about it. So, best to just get it over and done with. And if he failed he wouldn't have to see the disappointment in Gibbs' eyes.
At least not right away.
"Um, I really think Gibbs would want to be here for that." McGee worried.
"He'll get the memo."
"McGee's right. Gibbs is going to be really pissed if he misses your moment of triumph," Kate declared solidly, showing her support. "Maybe, you should give him a call."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence. But contrary to popular opinion, I don't need a cheerleading squad," Tony was decisive; as he placed his cap on his head and headed out towards the firing range. "You two should get back."
They didn't leave. They couldn't. Kate watched with her heart in her mouth as Tony shot a few warm up rounds, getting the feel of the wind conditions and the weight of the gun in his hand. They were well placed and nicely grouped. But they didn't matter. All that mattered was how well he shot under pressure.
As the targets were prepared for the next round of shooting, Kate glimpsed a familiar head making steady progress through the small knot of onlookers and her breath caught in her throat.
"Gibbs?" McGee paled.
"Morrow." Kate swallowed hard.
She knew he occasionally came down here to look over his Agents. It was just Tony's ill luck that today was one of those days. Or at least she hoped so, because if he had got wind of this and come down here especially to watch Tony re-qualify, then Gibbs wouldn't be far behind.
"Ducky's here and Abby," McGee noted the new arrivals out of the corner of his eye. "Do you see Gibbs anywhere?"
"No, but that doesn't mean he isn't here." Kate bit her lip.
For his part, Tony remained entirely focused on the target. Raising his gun and squinting slightly at the target he began working through the set patterns and scenarios needed for re-qualification. In twenty minutes at was all over.
"Nice shooting, Agent DiNozzo." Morrow nodded his approval.
"Thank you, sir," Tony acknowledged.
In normal circumstances praise from the Director and in public no less, would have made his day. Right now, there was only one person's opinion that interested him. And suddenly there he was, easing his way to the front of the small knot of onlookers, his expression unreadable.
"Gibbs?" The ex-Marine stood unmoving, inclining his head only slightly he turned away, walking a few paces before hearing DiNozzo's slightly anxious. "Boss?"
Gibbs grinned tightly, knowing that he would have got his message across. Still, DiNozzo had earned this. He'd shot dammed well, exceeding even Gibbs expectations. Turning back he met Tony's eyes and allowed himself a proud smile.
Turning back he heard Tony's excited 'Yes.' As he punched the air and his friends crowded around to congratulate him.
It was almost 2am, when the elevator doors opened to reveal Anthony DiNozzo, his tie rankishly askew, his shirt partly unbuttoned, and his hair sticking out at every angle. He glanced at the mirrored walls, pausing for a second before exiting to rub a smear of pink lipstick off his face.
The bullpen was in darkness apart from the occasional pool of light around the desks of the duty staff. They barely glanced up as he entered, used to his nocturnal working patterns. Although the small package he was carrying, wrapped in a bright pink napkin caused one or two raised eyebrows.
Wandering over to Gibbs' desk he put the large slice of cake in his top right hand drawer. The ex-Gunny didn't eat a whole lot of sweet stuff, but Tony knew that he had a real weakness for cake with frosting. Thoughtfully, he also reached into his jacket pocket and brought out the twisted piece of silver that he had been carrying around as a talisman ever since that day at the firing range.
He usually ate on the run and mostly with his fingers. Dates he took out to restaurants. Friends sat on the sofa and balanced plates on their knee while watching DVDs. He never invited people round for high-class dinner parties based on how useful they could be to him. He does not live in a house based on status and sterility. He has no idea why anyone would want to own a pastry fork and the only knife he really needed, had saved his life more than once, was a present from Gibbs.
This had been a present for the man his father wanted him to be.
Not who he was.
He liked who he was better.
He hadn't ended up in the gutter, he had a job he loved with people who loved him for what he was, and not what he could do for them. And he had absolutely no place in his life for a canteen of solid silver cutlery in a rosewood box. Knowing that Gibbs would understand the symbolism, he dropped it carefully next to the piece of cake and closed the drawer.
Walking over to his own desk he ran a hand across the surface, turned his computer on and tipped his chair back, so he could settle his feet on the edge of the desk.
He was back.
He dropped his feet to the floor, and pulled open a drawer, maybe, he'd just work for an hour or so. As he reached in to pluck out the file on the Danvers case he paused. Next to the file there was a large bottle with a post it note stuck to it. Seizing the bottle by the neck he pulled out the bourbon with a grin and looked at the note. It wasn't signed, but he would recognise that handwriting anywhere.
"Never doubted you for a second."
Alone in the darkness his grin got even wider.
AN - this is it - the end, final chapter, done. Thank you all for your company and reviews along the way. I hope you enjoyed the last chapter - and there will be another story along soon(ish).