Disclaimer - Season Four definately doesn't belong to me. I'm the person throwing things at the TV.
AN - Finally able to post as a seperate story. Many thanks for all those who reviewed before!
Gibbs sat in his basement looking at the empty spaces where his life used to be. Above him, he heard the sound of the front door closing as Director Shepherd let herself out. With a sigh, he ran a tired hand over his face, as he tried to work out exactly what she had hoped to achieve by her parting comments.
"When you're as good at something as you are; when you can make a difference like you can; you just don't quit."
The thing was there was something wrong with her version of a pep talk. He hadn't quit. He had retired. Alright, so maybe he had had reason to be grateful that she hadn't filed his paperwork just yet. He owed Fornell. But he had made his intentions clear when he left and he wasn't a man to go back on his word.
He was halfway up the stairs when a sound at the front door caught his attention. Pulling his Sig he crept forward stealthily, just in time to see his former Senior field Agent, bracing himself against the wall with one arm, as he toed off his shoes, all the while balancing a large brown paper bag in the crook of his other arm, a six pack set on the small table beside him.
"Hey, Boss," His former senior field Agent greeted him easily, as he removed his shoes and retrieved the six-pack, before continuing on into the kitchen, all the while blithely ignoring the Sig still levelled in his direction. "I figured your cupboards would be bare, what with the termites and all, so I thought I'd order in. Got all your favourites."
"Thursday night." Gibbs realised.
"You remembered, that's great," The pleased smile that hovered over DiNozzo's lips as he set out the cartons and plastic forks tugged at his heart. Before Gibbs had left the two of them had had dinner together every Thursday night they weren't working a case. "Guess your memory's getting better, Boss."
"Yours isn't," He softened his words by putting his gun away and coming forward to pluck one of the cartons out of the younger man's hand. "I'm still not your Boss."
"Really?" Tony tipped his head on one side in that way which told Gibbs he wasn't buying it. "Because for a guy who's not my Boss you've been hanging around the office a lot and all those suggestions you've been making sounded a lot like orders to me."
"Re-instation was only temporary. You know that."
"C'mon Gibbs, first you come back because Ziva needs you, then because Fornell asks for your help. How long before Abby gets another stalker, or McGee gives himself a paper cut? Airplane food isn't that good. The commute from Mexico has got to be getting a little old."
"Flight's already booked," Gibbs sidestepped the question with the ease of a seasoned interrogator, as he savoured the food and wondered when he had last eaten. "And I still have a hot tub to finish."
"You'd rather have a hot tub than days of monotonous paperwork broken up by weeks of no sleep, frustrating dead ends and moments of life threatening terror?" Tony shook his head. "You're not the retiring type, Gibbs."
Gibbs just looked at him and said nothing.
"C'mon, you must have, what? Another three years. Maybe even four, before it becomes mandatory." Tony grinned brightly at him.
Gibbs didn't want to rise to the bait. He knew the ex-cop was just doing it to get a reaction. DiNozzo had plenty of ways of finding out exactly how old he was if he even cared. Although, the truth was he was still young enough to see retirement as a waste of time. And none of the usual options for ex- law enforcements officers held the slightest appeal.
"Thought I might move to Hawaii," He deadpanned, just to see what DiNozzo's reaction would be. "Set up a detective agency. Already have a couple of those shirts in my wardrobe. Never had the chance to wear 'em before. Now would be a good time."
Tony paused, his eyes narrowed as he tried to work out if he ws being played or if his Boss really would have trouble passing his Physch evaluation. Finally deciding that Gibbbs was merely yanking his chain, he pointed an accusing plastic fork.
"You really need to shave off that moustache, Boss. It's doing weird things to your personality."
"No, DiNozzo. Almost getting blown up, losing the last fifteen years of my life, having to stand by while a whole ship full of sailors died for nothing, has done weird things to my personality," Gibbs said feeling suddenly weary. "Now can we just drop this?"
"If you're not my Boss." Tony reminded him, hopping up to sit on the counter with a smug look. "You can't tell me what to do."
"No, but I can break your legs."
"There was a reason you didn't say goodbye to me last time," Tony flashed him his most irritating grin, before taking a large forkful of noodles, chewing and swallowing before continuing. "You knew I'd talk you out of it."
"That so?" Gibbs expression gave nothing away. "And what makes you think you would have succeeded?"
"Because I'm good," Tony reminded him, not faltering under Gibbs glare. "And because it's what you want too."
Gibbs found he couldn't look at the conviction in those green eyes. Damn DiNozzo for knowing him better then he did himself. He'd thought it would be easy, help Ziva and then turn right around and head back to Mexico. But then he had got back here and realised exactly what he had been missing. He had been almost grateful that Fornell had needed his help. Almost, grateful that a little child had been put in danger because it gave him the excuse he wanted to stay in DC. What kind of a bastard did that make him? He turned abruptly away, forcing himself to take a breath to ensure that his voice was rock steady before he spoke.
"Retirement comes with a cake and a banner, some bad punch and worse speeches," Tony dismissed that as he reached over pulled two beers from the six pack, flipping the tops off them before passing one to Gibbs. "We never even had time to take up a collection. Don't get me wrong. I get why you did what you did. After what went down in Philly, I couldn't get out of there fast enough."
"I know," Gibbs agreed softly. "I remember."
The look of gratitude on DiNozzo's face spoke volumes. Gibbs knew he had hurt the younger man by not remembering him. Even if it was for a damned good reason, DiNozzo had been overlooked and forgotten too many times in his life to ever be truly comfortable with it. It was important he understood Gibbs still recalled some of the things that had turned their friendship into family.
"I'm not saying it was the same thing, Boss," Tony hastened to assure him. "I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like for you. Feeling like you had lost your wife and daughter all over again and then knowing how to stop that terrorist attack. It's enough to make anyone go a little loco."
"You saying I was acting loco, DiNozzo?" Gibbs demanded.
There were times when that tone alone would be enough to make DiNozzo back down, shirking back down into his turtle necks as if he could make himself physically disappear. Then there were the other times, like now, when he would simply wrinkle his nose as he pretended to ponder the question.
"Maybe," Tony gestured with his fingers a fraction apart. "Just a smidgeon."
Gibbs shook his head. He knew there was no point in arguing with DiNozzo when he got like this. Besides, there was also the fact that he was right. Leaving had been an emotional reaction to the trauma of the explosion and everything that had followed. He hadn't recognised himself in the NCIS Agent everyone wanted him to be and the only solution he could think had been to get out of Dodge, to flee to the one person who seemed vaguely familiar.
Mexico had been good for him. It had given him time to heal, body and soul. As time passed other memories had softened the raw edges of his grief. Mallard's dry wit and steadfast support, McGee's eagerness to please, Ziva's steadfast loyalty and Abby's eternal optimism, he liked to think Kelly might have had some of her insight and compassion.
Some memories had been more difficult to come to terms with. When he realised he had been married again he had felt like an adulterer. Kate's murder had hit him hard, also Chris Pacci's death because he couldn't spare a few minutes to help him. Then there was the helpless burning anger he had felt as he tracked down Hanna Lowell knowing that DiNozzo's life was ticking away. The gnawing fear he had felt every time the younger man was hurt or missing.
"I can't come back," That was about as close as Gibbs was prepared to admit that he wanted to. "The Director already filed the paperwork."
"You still have four more days." Tony reminded him.
"Jenny tell you that?"
"Not exactly." Tony looked a little sheepish.
Gibbs resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. He definitely remembered that look. It meant that his senior field Agent had done something. Now he wasn't sure if the ex-marine was going to be proud as punch or pissed as hell but that he felt strongly enough about whatever it was to get his ass kicked if need be.
That always made Gibbs pretty damned proud all by itself.
"The others don't know," Tony looked up at him. "I didn't want to get their hopes up. I asked Jenny to put off on filing your retirement papers until all your accrued leave was used up. I only accepted the promotion TAD, I always knew you'd come back."
Gibbs blinked hard as the depth of compassion and understanding in that decision hit him. The ex-marine had walked out the door without so much as a by your leave and expected his former senior field Agent to pick up the pieces with a simple "you'll do." Abby would have been inconsolable, McGee quailing at the thought of filling DiNozzo's shoes and too scared to admit it and with Ziva's loyalty to Gibbs rather than NCIS, she could have gone either way. By all accounts, DiNozzo had held them together and done a damned fine job of it too.
"I gave you the Team, DiNozzo," Gibbs challenged. "Are you telling me you can't handle it?"
"Your background checks are through enough to discover that I used to work as a life gaurd during my college vacations but you don't think to sneak a peek at your team's closure rate while you were away?" Tony continued to dig into his meal. He knew that Gibbs was pleased with his performance. He wouldn't even be thinking about leaving again if he wasn't. "You trained me well, Boss and I'm good at my job. That's not why I need you to stay."
"Scuttlebutt is, Jeff Walker's promotion is going to create a vacancy for a team lead in Rota, Spain," Gibbs offered as if they were still having the same conversation. He fixed the ex-cop with a steady look. With his background, experience and language skills, DiNozzo would be an ideal candidate for the position. "You want me to come back so you can jump ship?"
"Do you want me to go?"
"Do you want me to want you to go?"
They both grinned.
"Spain sounds nice," Tony pretended to consider as he settled himself more comfortably on the counter top. "Hours of sunshine, girls in bikinis, Monte Carlo just a stone's throw away, did you know the first Bond movie, Casino Royal was set in Monte Carlo? It would be like living the dream."
"Casino Royal was the first book," Gibbs corrected. "Dr No was the first movie in 1962. Sean Connery. They didn't film Casino Royal until this year. Daniel Craig."
"See Boss, I always knew you were listening to me." Tony beamed.
"You should take the posting, Tony. It would be a good move for you." Gibbs told him seriously.
"I probably wouldn't even make the shortlist. Rota's a pretty desirable posting and there are plenty of other Agents who can speak Spanish and look good in a swimsuit." Tony shook his head.
Gibbs ground his teeth so hard he almost broke his jaw. He would never get used to the way that DiNozzo could be so damned cocksure one minute and so all fired insecure the very next second.
"Besides, I can't exactly leave the States right now," Tony continued. "I've met this girl. She's smart and funny and I really like her. I think she might be good for me."
"Yeah?" Gibbs was pleased. It was high time DiNozzo thought about settling down. "That's great, Tony."
"So, will you stay?" Tony pressed.
"Thought you said you didn't need me?" Gibbs raised a brow, hiding his smile as Tony grew a little flustered under his gaze. God, he'd missed this He'd missed sparring with him. He'd missed his insight and his humour and the way he could always lighten his mood. He'd missed him.
"I don't need you to stay," Tony managed as nonchalantly as he could, before taking a deep breath and pressing on with the real reason he'd come over here tonight. "But I want you to. I missed you, Boss."
In answer, Gibbs pulled out his hip flask, reflexively rubbing his thumb over the names of his wife and daughter, before he unscrewed the lid and took a long swallow, wiping off the top with his sleeve, before passing it over to Tony. He waiting until the Italian had nodded his acknowledgement and taken a drink, before he allowed his lips to curve in an approving smile.
"You're not so bad yourself, DiNozzo."
"Does that mean you'll come back?" Tony pressed.
Gibbs shook his head. He should have known DiNozzo wouldn't just give up on this. It just wasn't in his nature to let things drop. It was one of the characteristics that made him an outstanding investigator. It also made him as annoying as hell.
And Gibbs wouldn't have him any other way.
Which was why he couldn't do this to him, if he came back there would always be a handful of people who thought DiNozzo couldn't cut it. And even though they would both know the truth, the razzing and innuendo would be difficult for the younger man. He deserved better than that.
"It means I'll try to do a better job of keeping in touch this time," He allowed, stepping forward to cup a warm hand around the back of Tony's neck. "Make sure you're keeping up the good work."
Whatever the younger man had been about to say was cut off by the ringing of a cell phone. Gibbs narrowed his eyes as Tony fished out a sleek black phone that definitely wasn't his NCIS issue cell. Making a face Tony flipped it open and spoke briefly to the person on the other end, never once taking his eyes off Gibbs.
"Two cell phones?" Gibbs queried as soon as he was done.
"It's nothing." DiNozzo shrugged.
"You lied about where you were and what you were doing."
"I don't suppose it would do me any good to say that she's the jealous type?" Tony hazarded.
"You didn't use your name." Gibbs pointed out. They both knew DiNozzo almost always answered his cell with his name, unless, of course, he was undercover.
"It really is nothing," Tony assured him. "A long shot. It probably won't even come to anything, Not to mention Jenny will probably fire me anyway if she finds out you know about it. It's supposed to be need to know."
"You have any back up on this thing?" Gibbs wasn't prepared to let it drop just yet.
"Just Jenny, I told you Gibbs, it's a long shot. The chances are it won't even come to anything. I'm not in any more danger than every other day of the week."
"Alright," Gibbs conceded. DiNozzo knew how to take care of himself, after all, and Gibbs had played enough long shots in his own career to know that most of the time they usually didn't amount to anything. It wasn't as if Jen would be sending him in to tangle with drug cartels or international arms dealers. Not without backup. He had trained her better than that. "If the issue ever comes up, I'll be sure and act surprised."
The tone was a warning. A clear signal to let it drop. To emphasis his point, he began clearing up the now empty cartons and putting the used forks in the the trash. Behind him, he heard the exaggerated sigh, as DiNozzo eased himself off the counter top.
"You can't blame a guy for trying."
"Thanks for dinner," Gibbs glanced over at him, meeting his eyes briefly, before looking away. "I'll send you a postcard from Mexico."
He listened as Tony padded over to the hallway, shoving his feet back into his shoes and picking up his coat. He wasn't remotely surprised when the footsteps returned, the Italian hovering in the doorway as his eyes bored a hold in the back of his neck.
"Will you at least think about it?"
He refused to turn around, knowing that if he had to look at the puppy dog expression he just knew DiNozzo was wearing then he would never be able to maintain his resolve. He had already disrupted their lives enough with his decision to leave. He wasn't about to turn them upside down again by turning aright around and coming back.
His resolve lasted through the sounds of Tony's Mustang pulling away into the night. Through the time it took him to clear away the debris of their shared dinner and put the empty bottles in a cardboard. And for as long as it took him to climb the stairs and walk across the landing.
The door to his spare room was ajar. Pushing the door open slightly he half expected to see DiNozzo sprawled across the bed, his mouth slightly open as he snored. He remembered the first time DiNozzo had stayed here, newly arrived from Baltimore and too caught up in cases to look for an apartment, he'd been living in some down at heel Motel until Abby had ratted him out and Gibbs had dragged him back here. DiNozzo made awkward by his shy gratitude.
Other memories came unbidden. His first lesson in not taking the DiNozzo barometer of 'fine' at face value, when he had found the younger man passed out in the NCIS parking lot. The time he was shot and tried to discharge himself from the Hospital AMA. Stab wounds, concussions, once a simple case of flu that had peaked with a fever of 104. And that damned plague.
Never let it be said DiNozzo did anything by halves.
Then there were the other times. When his boiler went out. Or the building needed to be fumigated. One time the guy in the apartment next door had tried having a bar-b-que in his lounge room and set all the sprinters off. Gibbs would come into the office to find him sleeping on the floor. Ducky, Abby, McGee even Ziva would all have taken him in. Kate was the only one to ever mention a Hotel but then for a profiler she could sometimes be remarkably clueless when it came to Tony. He always ended up with Gibbs.
Sometimes, Gibbs wondered if he didn't sabotage the building himself.
Ducky has his mother and his sister and several nephews and nieces. Abby had Gloria and the rest of her extended clan. McGee still had both his parents and his younger sister. Jen had her brother and his family. Even Ziva had her family back in Israel. Tony hadn't had any contact with his family in years. Gibbs mentally calculated the number of times DiNozzo had needed that room in the last seven years.
Franks could finish his own hot tub. He was needed here.