Disclaimer. Too short to be worth suing over.

AN - Living in Britain I haven't actually seen the ep yet - apart from the snippets put up by kind American folk - so apologies if anything doesn't quite gel with canon - but I needed to write this!

Tony had no idea how long he had sat on the hard wooden floor in the empty apartment, looking at the bracelet on his right wrist. He knew it was long enough that his butt was sore and all his tears were long since spent. Long enough for his eyes to feel dry and scratchy and the bruises where Kort had grabbed him and thrown him up against the elevator wall to throb gently.

"Smelled you coming, Boss." He murmured, without opening his eyes.

His only response was a grunt, as Gibbs put away his lock picks and sat down on the floor beside him placing the Pizza box in his lap and flipping open the lid. The warmth of its contents leeched through into Tony's chilled legs and the rich scent of pepperoni, sausage and cheese filled the empty room.

"Eat something, DiNozzo."

Tony opened his eyes but he could barely even look at the Pizza, never mind eat any of it. Gibbs' own tastes turned to Chinese or a simple sandwich, when he bought Pizza it was because Tony had done especially well, or worked especially hard, or just sometimes because he knew his Agent needed a little extra attention. 'Gibbs' love in a box' Abby called it. And right now, Tony didn't feel he deserved it.

"I screwed up, Boss."

"No more than the rest of us, DiNozzo," Gibbs sighed. "I was the one who taught you to trust in your chain of command. Jen should have seen this coming long before now and nipped it in the bud. Instead, she let her dammed obsession with the Frog blind her to everything and now you're paying the price."

"She asked me if I was getting too involved," Tony admitted. "I said 'only in the mission.' I didn't want her to pull me, plus its not like she could have seen this coming. With my reputation, who would ever have believed I'd actually fall in love?"

"Anyone with two eyes and half a brain." Gibbs surprised him.

"Pardon me?"

"Tony," Gibbs scrubbed at his face, not sure how far he should push this. "Being alone isn't the same as being a loner. You've always needed people. You go out of your way to be nice to them, you spend your working life helping perfect strangers, most of your down time is spent taking care of your friends. The main reason you agreed to this operation in the first place was because Jen said she needed you."

"She really thought you were completely in the dark," Tony's laugh had a slightly hysterical edge. "Even that time you sent me home from the Boondocks, she never even questioned why you had decided that your senior field Agent would be better deployed riding a desk in DC than working the actual crime scene."

"No one has that many dental appointments." Gibbs snorted.

"I never wanted to lie to you. You know that, right?"

The pain in his voice was so raw Gibbs had to close his eyes for a moment. Tony was already hurting over Jeanne. He didn't need to worry his team was going to reject him. They had already come too dammed close to losing him once already today. Losing faith in his ability to speak for a moment Gibbs simply wrapped an arm around DiNozzo's shoulder, letting his actions speak for him as he pulled him in under his wing. They sat in a comfortable silence, each taking solace from the others even breathing.

"She wants me to choose." Tony spoke softly.

Gibbs snorted his opinion of that. Ziva had already told him about the letter, the perfect flowing script on the thick, expensive paper, the words brutal in their simplicity. Not a sign of love or forgiveness to ease the burden she was placing firmly on his shoulders. Did the woman have no idea what she was asking Tony to give up?

"You're not leaving."

Tucked under arm, he couldn't see the look on Tony's face but he knew he had struck the right note when he heard the hint of irony in his Agent's voice.

"Its that simple?"

"It worked the last time."

Tony was silent for a moment. He remembered the intense pain from the ceaseless coughing, the effort of taking even a single breath, the way no one quite wanted to meet his eyes. He had had felt himself beginning to slip away to a place where nothing and no one could have reached him. Gibbs had just forced his way past all of that, pouring every ounce of will and determination into a simple declaration of need and love. You will not die.

"You didn't give me much of a choice."

"You don't get to choose if you are loved or not," Gibbs advised him quietly. "You just are."

Tony blinked hard, swallowing the lump that rose in his throat. If he was honest with himself his feelings for Jeanne stemmed from the fact that she wanted him and she was there. For as long as he could remember all he had ever wanted was to be wanted. The idea of having a family both elated and terrified him. He couldn't stand to think of something perfect degenerating into the lies and accusations that scarred his parent's marriage. So, he pushed people away, constantly testing to see if they really loved him.

They usually left him.

Sometimes they egged his car and put him on the Herpes website and then left.

Mostly they just left.

He tried not to think about the fact that Jeanne had, in fact, left him. He wanted this to be different. And in a way it was. He could still choose her. They could still buy the house, get the dog, and maybe have a few kids. But somehow Tony didn't think Jeanne would be too keen on Aunty Ziva teaching them knife throwing skills, or Uncle McGee reading them bedtime stories from his latest book. He would probably never get to see Lee and Palmer's wedding. His relationship with Abby would be restricted to phone calls, and IM. Gibbs would visit rarely and it would be strained.


Gibbs had more reason to be angry with him than anyone. He owed Gibbs. The ex-marine had long since earned the right to dress him down for the weeks of half lies and outright deception. For all those times when his senior field agent had been suddenly absent. For the fact that Tony had known he was in over his head and hadn't said a word. Even though he knew Gibbs would be destroyed by his death.

Gibbs had brought him Pizza.

He'd left too. But that had been different.

Tony knew the others hadn't quite understood his reaction. He hadn't been angry or hurt or any of the other thousand emotions they attributed to him with their sidelong looks and whispered conversations. Even at the time, he had understood why Gibbs needed to leave. After Philly he had been almost as raw with pain and fury and with less cause. He wasn't even disappointed to find out that Gibbs was, after all, only human. He'd never been blind to his flaws. He just understood them better than most. No one had ever noticed that he hadn't changed his emergency contact. No matter what, if anything happened to him the person he wanted at the Hospital, or the Police Station or whereever, was Leroy Jethro Gibbs. And he'd always known that Gibbs would be back.

"I do love her," Tony wasn't sure if he was trying to convince himself or Gibbs. "I really do."

"You have leave coming," Gibbs counselled. "You should take it."

"No, I'm fine," Tony scrubbed at his face and picked up a piece of Pizza, chewing mechanically at the thick dough and rapidly cooling topping to prove how fine he was. "I'll be in on time tomorrow."

"Tony, you've had no down time for almost a year. Between your day job and this assignment you've been running yourself ragged. It's a wonder you haven't got sick. Take the leave."

"I was dating a beautiful woman, Gibbs. It wasn't exactly challenging."

"No?" Gibbs challenged. "How about waking up every morning wondering if today is the day your get made? Having to lie to your friends and make nice with your enemies? Going home from watching a good cop get killed or a woman I know you cared about die in right front of your eyes, and having to talk about curtain swatches or some other dammed thing as if nothing has happened? I've been there, DiNozzo. Sometimes, normal is the hardest thing of all."

"The Director will never approve leave," Tony pointed out wearily. "She'll want to use it as leverage to get me to tell her what Jeanne said."

"She already approved it before I left the office."

"She did?" Tony twisted his head around to look at Gibbs as he blinked in honest surprise. "How did you manage that?"

"I asked."

Gibbs eyes glinted with momentary fury, which suggested that his 'request' had been nothing of the sort. Tony almost smiled. At the time, he had barely registered the way Gibbs had simply followed him and Jen up to the Director's office for the de-briefing, every ounce of his body language daring her to try and keep him out.

She hadn't.

Or how he had felt Gibbs' hand squeezing his shoulder, before he had even realised the man had got up out of his seat, never mind registered the glass of water he'd poured for him and placed on the table within easily reach.

"Damn it, Jen. Is this a de-briefing or an interrogation?"

"Its not my fault he fell in love with her." Jenny had defended herself.

"Isn't it?" Gibbs had challenged.

Tony had never seen him so furious. Then again, Gibbs had spent the morning thinking he was dead. That did tend to piss him off. A lot.

"Boss, I'm fine," At Gibbs look he hastily amended his statement. "Well, alright, I'm not fine. But I'm alive and I'll get through this."

That last didn't contain half as much assurance as it had in his head. And he wasn't the only one who noticed, if the way Gibbs' arm tightened slightly around his shoulders was any indication. Tony concentrated on his breathing. In. Out. In. Out, because he felt tired and angry and used and stupid and Gibbs was being nice to him, which really wasn't fair. Not if the ex-marine expected him to hold things together.

"Get some rest, Tony," Gibbs voice was unusually gentle. "Eat something half decent. Spend some time at your own apartment. Have a movie marathon or whatever the hell it is that you do. Reconnect with your life."

"Aren't you afraid that I'll just take off?" Tony asked hollowly.

Gibbs stood up, slowly, making a disgusted face as he knees popped. Then he looked down at his senior field agent, still sitting on the floor, with the now stone cold Pizza in his lap. Meeting Tony's gaze he smiled, that soft, paternal, smile, his eyes bright with a hint of pride and fond affection.


He held out a hand and Tony grasped it, balanced the Pizza in his other hand as he levered himself to his feet, his body stiff with cold protesting the movement. Gibbs held on as he swayed slightly, lack of food and too much emotion for any one day finally catching up with him.

"Ugh," Tony blinked hard. "Like a bad 70's disco."

"You're not old enough to remember the Seventies, DiNozzo." Gibbs scoffed, even as he swung Tony's arm across his shoulder and took his weight as he led him out and towards the elevator. Tony wrapped his free arm, the one not holding the Pizza, around Gibbs waist and resisted the urge to drop his head on his shoulder.

"I've seen Saturday Night Fever. And my Junior High was known for its kick-ass discos, if you found us a dance floor. I could show you my moves. Jeanne says she hopes our kids .."

He stopped, biting his lip so hard, he tasted blood and the silence was as empty as the deserted hallway they stood in.

"Elevator's here."

Gibbs herded him gently inside and made no further comment, for which Tony was profoundly grateful. Leaning back against the wooden panelled walls, he tried not to think of anything. He'd take the leave. Making an ass of himself in front of Gibbs was one thing. Falling apart in front of the whole NCIS building would be the stuff of legends and not in a good way.

"How long?"

"A few days," As usual, Gibbs had no trouble following his train of thought. "For now."

Tony nodded, accepting that. Right now, Gibbs would rather have him where he could keep an eye on him. Not to mention, once he had dealt with the initial physical and emotional fallout, it was probably better if he kept busy. Plus, Gibbs was probably hoping that the buzz of working alongside his team on an actual case would be enough to remind him why he took this job in the first place and why he had stayed.

"Hold on," He frowned, as he was struck by a sudden thought. "I never signed any request for leave."

"Nope," Gibbs agreed. "You signed, McGee's request for a new Doo Dah."

Tony's eyes narrowed as he remembered the sheaf of paperwork McGee had shoved under nose. As Gibbs senior field Agent it was his job to sign off on requests for funding and equipment for his team before they were passed up for the Director's approval. Gibbs knew he never read Tim's requests. He trusted the younger man to know what he needed and he never asked what anything was, because if he did McGee would tell him.

"Bastard." Tony smiled.

"So, I've been told." Gibbs shrugged a modest shoulder.

Tony looked at the Pizza in his left hand and the platinum bracelet on his right wrist. He wanted it to be easy. But none of this was easy and whaever he did he was going to hurt someone. And whatever he chose he was going to loose something precious.

It really sucked.

"You know what really hurts?" He said conversationally. "I'd just had the Mustang valeted. Inside and out. Wax polished and buffed to a shine. Haven't even paid the bill yet."

"Maybe, this will help."

Gibbs pulled out a thin, white envelope and passed it to Tony, who gave him a questioning look, before he opened it tearing at it with is teeth to avoid bending over to set down the Pizza box. Inside, there was a check equal to the value of his Mustang drawn on the Director's personal savings account.

He thought he might really pass out this time.

"Boss, I can't take this."

"Your insurance doesn't cover explosion," Gibbs shook his head. "She can afford it and God knows, you've earned it."

For a second Tony flashed on the proud, grin that had spread across Gibbs face as he had refused to tell the Director what Jeanne had said. The way the ex-marine had quickly schooled his features to nonchalance had been almost comical but Tony knew that moment would stay with him for a long time.

"I love you, Boss."

"Yeah," Gibbs looked at him fondly. "I know."

"What if I make the wrong decision?"

"You won't."