All the usual disclaimers apply: I don't own the show or the characters, only my own story. This takes place in season three, immediately after "Hiatus, part 2". As always, feedback is very welcome.

Life's certainties

It wasn't his team. It would never be his team. They were all Gibbs' team, and nothing was going to change that. Not even Gibbs himself.

Tony DiNozzo sighed quietly as he walked around his desk and sank into his chair. Dragging his eyes from the closed doors of the elevator, he looked around the bull pen. The others looked as stunned as he felt. His world shifted dangerously on its axis. There were no certainties anymore. If Gibbs could leave everything he'd worked so hard for, without one backward glance, then perhaps there were no real foundations to the life Tony had built in Washington and at NCIS. He'd always believed that Gibbs would be there; the rock on which he founded a life he hoped to be proud of. A life to call his own, beyond the influence of his father and his family's wealth.

No-one had ever imagined Leroy Jethro Gibbs leaving NCIS. Never even thought that Gibbs was capable of leaving. Although, Tony mused, Ducky hadn't seemed as surprised as the rest of them. The coroner had known Gibbs longer than anyone else, so perhaps he'd seen the seeds of this possibility in the younger man many years before. Unreasoning anger rose in Tony at that thought. The least Ducky could have done was to warn him that Gibbs was capable of something like this. As fast as it rose, the anger ebbed away, replaced by a blanket of despair. None of this situation was Ducky's fault, after all; it was the result of bureaucratic stupidity. If the higher-ups had just listened to Gibbs in the first place, the ship would never have been blown up, the crew would never have died, and Gibbs would be here in the office. Where he belonged, where Tony needed him to be.

The heavy weight in his hands drew Tony's gaze down. Gibbs' gun and badge lay cradled in his hands, their weight a reminder of the responsibility the older man had passed to him. The scene replayed in his head, looping over and over, as though he was watching a scene on one of his DVDs. Perhaps with time, he'd learn to understand the nuances in Gibbs' departure.

The gun and badge were laid into Tony's hands. "You'll do." The slightly amused, knowing smile on Gibbs' face, as he reached out to clasp Tony's shoulder. "It's your team now." And then the series of goodbyes to the others, culminating in the walk into the elevator, and Gibbs' exit from all their lives.

Tony placed the gun and badge on his desk, and turned to drag his backpack out from under the desk. Digging through the contents, he finally pulled out his NCIS t-shirt. He laid it on the desk and gently wrapped Gibbs' gun and badge in the soft material. Then he scratched through his top desk drawer, in search of the key to the bottom drawer. Finding it, he slid his chair back and turned the lock on the drawer. Carefully, respectfully, he laid the material-wrapped parcel in the drawer, next to the flat metal box he kept there. Allowing his feelings to guide his actions, he reached into the drawer and picked up the box. Slowly, he placed it on his desk, and released the catch.

Tony sensed that Abby and McGee had drawn closer, and even Ziva was intrigued. He knew Gibbs wouldn't have wanted him to share the contents of the box with anyone, and under normal circumstances, he would have respected the older man's wishes. But Gibbs had changed the rules. He'd left them to fend for themselves, and Tony wanted to make sure that they all shared the same goals. Gibbs' medals and citations filled the box. The older man had never seen the point of collecting or displaying the awards himself, being satisfied with knowing that he'd done the job he felt duty-bound to carry out. But Tony felt differently, which was why he'd always been available to collect the items now stored in his desk. Some things should be remembered and celebrated, no matter how solemn the event. Sometimes even the bad things had to be commemorated.

Gibbs leaving them was the worst thing that could have happened to the team, and this would be its commemoration. One by one, Tony laid the medals out upon the desk. Each lay on its citation; a litany of bravery, self-sacrifice and duty to country. And now that they knew about Gibbs' first wife and child, symbols of the purpose that Gibbs had chosen to make his life bearable again, after suffering the worst loss imaginable. Tony mused on that for a second, recognising in Gibbs' decision the only possible choice of an honourable man facing overwhelming despair. He'd made a similar choice himself, not so many years ago, when he chosen to accept Gibbs' offer to join NCIS.

Thinking back, he remembered how he'd felt then. He'd been angry, furious at the futility of trying to help those who refused to be helped. They'd refused to see the truth and made him an outcast for pointing out the obvious. He'd wanted to walk away and leave them to suffer. Tony realised suddenly that Gibbs was angry too, raging against the blind denial and idiocy that kept bureaucrats from accepting help, even when the solution to their problems was staring them in the face. And in Gibbs' case, telling them loudly what they should be doing! Gibbs was reacting in the same way that Tony had, years before: he wanted to leave everything behind, and let the stubborn fools suffer the results of their own actions.

Tony had tried to walk away, but Gibbs had changed everything for him. With a few slaps to the back of Tony's head, and some well-chosen and sharply-pointed words, Gibbs had changed Tony's life. And it was suddenly crystal clear to him that even if Gibbs hadn't made the job offer to him, he would have found some other arm of law enforcement to work in. It was a calling he wouldn't have been able to leave behind. Gibbs' faith that Tony would make the right choice back then had been unwavering. Tony's faith could be no less.

So, some things were still certain, after all. Perhaps the situation wasn't as dark as it seemed now. Ducky always did say that things looked better when you saw them from a different perspective. Good advice, Tony reflected, feeling the first stirrings of hope in his heart.

Tim's quiet gasp on seeing the history of Gibbs' service laid out in one place was enough to drag Tony out of his thoughts. The younger agent reached out towards the nearest medal, and then drew his hand back sharply. Somehow, it seemed disrespectful to touch the small piece of metal without Gibbs there to grant permission. Looking up at the faces surrounding him, Tony found the strength to speak. "Take a good look, team. This is a one-time only deal. This is what we're aiming for, from now on. Only the best will do. We need to make Gibbs proud when he comes back." The dawning hope on Abby's pale face replaced the trail left by the single tear she'd been unable to suppress as the elevator doors had slid shut. That look alone was worth the words Tony had spoken, and every risk he'd probably have to take to deliver on his promise. Tony nodded once at Abby, sealing a silent pact, then nodded at Tim and Ziva in turn. Ziva nodded once sharply in return, and smiled a silent endorsement of his view.

"I know he's coming back to us. I don't know how, or why, or even when; but I do know that he'll be back." Tony's voice was sure and unwavering, in spite of the fact that he still felt close to breaking himself. Many things would bring Gibbs back. The little things like Abby's smile, Ziva's ineptitude in using English idioms, Tony's never-ending movie references, Tim's earnestness. And the biggest thing of all would bring him back as well. The job would draw the older man back. Gibbs had a need to see justice done, and to prevent others from suffering the losses he himself had suffered.

Lifting the first medal, Tony gently replaced it in the box. As he continued to place the medals back in storage, the others slowly drifted away. By the time Tony had closed the box and replaced it in his drawer, turning the key to keep Gibbs' possessions safe until his return, the bull pen was empty. Resting his hands on the desk, Tony considered the responsibility that rested on him now. He wasn't sure that he was ready to be the leader of any team, much less Gibbs' team. But Gibbs had said he was, and he would do his best to do what the older man had wanted. Gibbs had yet to be wrong about something this important.

That thought made Tony smile to himself. As he collected his backpack and stood to leave, Tony felt his world shift on its axis again, settling back into a comforting sense of the familiar. Life was full of uncertainty, after all, and change was something you couldn't avoid. But some things were as certain as the laws of nature. Gibbs might not be here at the moment, but Tony was certain of two things: it wasn't his team; and Gibbs would come back.