Author's Note. Like others, I had a fanfic reaction to "Escaped." Others have done it better, but … well … sometimes you just have to write it down. This is a one-shot.
Gibbs stopped what he was doing and listened. He was sure he'd heard something, but it was covered up by the sound of the sanding block.
There it was, the pounding on the door evident now in the silence.
"It's open!" he yelled, and went back to his work.
The pounding continued. He moved to the bottom of the stairs.
"It's open!" he yelled again, just in case they hadn't heard last time.
The pounding continued. He stormed up the stairs and yanked the door open.
"I said, 'it's open!'" he said, loudly, to the man standing on his front step.
"I heard you," Ducky said, quietly. He brushed past Gibbs and walked into the house.
"I don't remember inviting you in," Gibbs said, a little wary of the coroner's level of calm.
"Actually," Ducky said, with a hint of a smile, "I'm not a vampire, or so says Abigail. I can enter homes without having to be invited."
Gibbs looked at his guest, unable to form a comeback. He closed the door and turned back to face him.
"Hi Ducky," he said with a half-smile. "This is a surprise."
"Yes, I imagine it is," Ducky replied, with little emotion. "I suppose I should say 'welcome back'."
"Except that's not why you're here," Gibbs said, carefully. "To say hello or welcome me back."
The coroner looked at him, not giving an inch.
"Why are you here, Ducky?"
"I'm not entirely certain, Jethro," he said, taking a step forward. "Why is Tony sleeping off most of a bottle of scotch at my house? He was quite upset, and not entirely rational, when he got there, and I'm relatively sure I only got part of the story." "Maybe you can fill in the rest," he continued, "just so I know what I'll be dealing with in a few hours."
"I don't know what DiNozzo's problem is," Gibbs said crossly, as he headed for the basement. "You'll have to get that from him."
"Did you really just dump his files onto McGee's old desk and toss Miss Lee into the hallway?" Ducky said, with quiet anger. Gibbs stopped, with his hand on the basement doorknob. "You couldn't have approached that differently?"
"I'm sorry, Ducky," Gibbs said, still looking at the basement door. "I didn't realize that I had to clear that kind of thing with you."
"Jethro," Ducky said with a sigh, "why? I understand the need to reclaim your old space, but did it have to be done that way?" Gibbs turned to look at the older man. "You couldn't have simply waited for everyone to come in, explained the situation, and then allowed Tony to gather up his own belongings from his desk?"
"It's not his desk, Duck," Gibbs said. "Never was. It was temporary."
"Oh, well," Ducky said, his voice laced with sarcasm, "I suppose, then, that you should have made that clear by pissing on it before you left. Marking your territory for when you returned." Gibbs opened his mouth to speak, but Ducky cut him off. "As I recall, Jethro, you said, on several occasions and in very strong terms, that you were 'not staying' … you were not coming back. You were quite clear. So exactly how were we – how was Tony – to know that it was 'temporary'?"
"You handed him a badge and a gun and left him in charge, and he did the absolute best he could do for three months," Ducky continued, as he circled Gibbs and kept his attention. "It wasn't easy for him – managing McGee and Ziva and Abby and their disappointment and feelings of betrayal; Abby alone was a full time job for the first three weeks. Then a new agent was added to the mix, not to mention having to meet the expectations of the Director, who – along with several others – regularly reminded him that it wasn't really his job yet and that he'd have to, at some point, formally apply and interview for it. For a job he'd already been doing for months."
"And then you wander back in because you couldn't stand to NOT be there, and instead of thanking him for keeping the team going in your absence and giving him the courtesy of a little advance warning, you toss him to the curb and expect him to be thrilled that you're back."
Ducky stood in the middle of the living room, glaring at Gibbs.
"Just wondering, Duck," Gibbs said, with a quiet smile. "Why isn't DiNozzo here, telling me this himself?"
"The immediate reason is because he is currently unconscious on my living room couch," Ducky said, in a tone that instantly took the smile from Gibbs' face. "But a more accurate answer is, because he never will," Ducky said. "He'll just write it off as being 'one of those things' and then he'll start looking for another job. A quick look at Tony's file and you can see that this is the exact reason he left both Peoria and Philadelphia. Someone higher up took another job, didn't like it, and came back. Both times, Tony had been promoted and then tossed back to his old position. The worst part is, he'd done a very capable job both times, just as he did this time. And both times, he just walked in one morning and found himself back where he started."
"If he was doing such a great job, then why did Ziva call me?" Gibbs challenged, trying to pull Ducky off point and give himself a chance to think.
"I don't know," Ducky shot back. "Why don't you ask Ziva? Why don't you ask Ziva why she called you before she contacted her team, or her boss, or the Director? And that's not the point here." Ducky closed the space between them so that they were nearly touching. "The point is that if you continue to treat him like this, Tony is going to leave. And you'll lose the best investigator you have. And why? Because you needed the little ego boost you got, seeing his face fall and knowing that you'd dug a little sword into his side. What pleasure you get out of these gestures is beyond me, Jethro, but it does nothing to make you a better person."
"The best investigator I have, Duck?" Gibbs said with a snort, stepping back a bit. "That's bucking him up a bit much, don't you think?"
"No," Ducky said. "But if you don't think it's true, then please, do regale me with examples of McGee's or Ziva's investigative talents."
Gibbs stared at him in silence, his eyes filled with steely anger.
"Don't misunderstand," Ducky said evenly, "both of them are blossoming nicely, but they've learned as much from Tony as they have from you about how to handle a crime scene. He deserves some credit for that, and he deserves more than you dumping his belongings on a desk and just picking up where you left off." Ducky shook his head. "You've always been stubborn, Jethro, and occasionally you've been boorish. But you've never been cruel. If that's what you've picked up from your three month sabbatical, then I suggest you go back to Mexico and leave us all be."
With that, Ducky walked past him and out the door.
Tony's hangover was monstrous the next morning, even with the Vitamin B shot and other various remedies Ducky had provided. By the time he got to work, Tony was tired and nauseous and wondering if calling in sick would be seen as the coward's way out.
He walked into the bullpen and to his desk. Lee's desk. McGee's desk. Whoever's desk. It was occupied by Special Agent Lee. OK. Apparently another move had been made when he wasn't looking. Whatever. He turned to his old desk. McGee's desk. Someone's desk. McGee was there. Ziva was at Ziva's desk. Great. Now he had no desk. Perfect. A hangover, a headache, no breakfast and no desk. Excellent. Tony was heading to the empty "visiting agent" desk that they kept available when he noticed Gibbs' desk. His old desk. With all his stuff, right there where he'd left it the day before. He turned to look at Ziva and McGee.
"Did I dream this?" Tony said. They both shrugged and looked as confused as he was.
Gibbs walked in, coffee in hand.
"Morning, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, with a small smile. "I tried to call you last night, but apparently you were … out." Tony looked at him, confused and just a bit suspicious.
"As it turns out, I'm not really happy in Mexico, and I've asked for my old job back. I don't know what it's going to mean for you – whether you'll just be back on my team or whether you'll be offered something else – but I didn't want to just take over your desk without an explanation. I figure that, for the time being, we'll move Special Agent Lee over to the temp desk, and you can decide if you want that space or if you want to switch with McGee and take your old desk back. Either way is fine, just have it sorted out by the time I get back from Autopsy. I have some things to settle with Ducky."
With that, Gibbs walked out of the office, leaving the team just as slack-jawed as they'd been when Gibbs said "please" in the interrogation room the day before.
Ziva, McGee and Lee all looked at Tony, as he started packing up his desk. Gibbs' desk. Whoever's desk. In unspoken agreement, Lee moved over to the temp desk and McGee began transferring items to his old desk. In an hour, the room was back to normal.
Tony sat, and took just a minute to get his bearings.
"DiNozzo!" Gibbs shouted, as he came around the corner. "Grab your gear, you're with me. A dead sailor just washed up in Baltimore Harbor. McGee, gas the truck. Ziva, grab a car and bring Agent Lee with you. It's about time she experienced your driving." And then he headed to the elevator.
Tony grabbed his pack and made it just before the doors closed. As the elevator went down to the garage, Tony turned to Gibbs. "Thanks, Boss," he said.
"No, Tony," Gibbs said, staring straight ahead. "Thank you."