Prodigal Son

Disclaimer: NCIS does not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: Spoilers for "Last Man Standing" and "Agent Afloat." While not exactly a sequel to "Father Figures," this story is something of a companion piece.

"I am never alone!" Tony had told McGee. And the worst part was, that hadn't been an exaggeration. For the first week, it had been somewhat annoying, tripping over people every time he turned around. After a month, Tony had been more desperate to be alone than he would ever have thought possible. Now, after nearly four months, he has taken to avoiding going near the edges of the deck, for fear he might just succumb to the temptation to jump.

Because for all Tony likes to give the impression of having a busy social life, he does value his space, and his privacy. A lot. He just hadn't realized how much. Not until he'd spent four months packed in a ship with 5,000 sailors who hated his guts.

It would have been one thing, living that close to so many people, if they had actually liked him. But, as Tony has come to know all too well, the NCIS Agent Afloat isn't exactly the most popular guy on a ship. Hell, for the first month, he could count on one hand the number of people who would actually speak to him voluntarily. And yeah, things are a little better these days. But, well….not that much better. Not really.

"I really need to come home, Boss," he'd told Gibbs. Talk about an understatement. He'd tried to sound casual, like he was still half-joking. Not that he hadn't wanted his boss to realize that he was serious. He had. He just hadn't intended to admit quite how desperate he'd become.

But he is desperate. There really isn't any other word for it. He's desperate for familiar faces. To be with people who actually like him. People who might roll their eyes at him, or punch him in the shoulder, or cuff him on the back of the head, but who, when it really matters, would be glad to see him, too.

God, Tony misses them. All of them.

He misses Ziva, rolling her eyes at his teasing, and giving back as good as she got, threatening him with her crazy ninja skills when he crosses a line. He misses her unique relationship with the English language, being told his hair looks like a porcu-swine and to stop barking up the wrong bush. And everyone here uses contractions. He's starting to think they're overrated.

He misses being able to give McGee a hard time in person, misses pretending not to notice how far his partner has come from the shy, green TAD agent from Norfolk that he'd first started harassing – with the utmost affection, of course – six years ago. It's been four months since he's been able to call anyone Elf Lord, or had someone to bug about his secret life as a novelist. And then, of course, there's the fact that no one on this stupid ship has a name that's quite so nickname-friendly as McGeek's.

And then there's Abby. Postcards and emails just don't cut it when it comes to capturing his favorite forensic scientist's irrepressible enthusiasm. He misses her suffocating hugs and long, tangential rants. No one here wears their hair in pigtails, and Green Satan and Flesh-Eating Foundation aren't exactly the music of choice for most sailors.

He misses Ducky's accent, and his Briticisms, and his bow-ties and long, excruciating stories. Damn it, he even misses Palmer! And when you start to miss the freakin' Autopsy Gremlin, you know you've been away for way too long.

But most of all, Tony misses his boss. His gruff, impatient, impossible-to-please boss. He misses the orders, the "Ya think, Dinozzo?"s, the complete lack of concern for social niceties. He misses the way those intense blue eyes soften, sometimes, in concern. He misses that tolerant half-smile Gibbs does, when he can't help but be amused by one of his jokes, however corny or inappropriate it might have been. And Tony really, really misses those rare, precious moments when he catches a glimpse of real, actual pride in his boss's expression.

And the head-slaps. Yes, damn it, he even misses the head slaps. Maybe even especially the head-slaps. Because it had taken him way longer than it should have to figure it out, but at some point, Tony had finally recognized those signs of affection for what they are. Even if Ziva does have her own opinions on the subject.

So yeah, desperate is a pretty good word to describe how he's feeling right now. This is worse even than when Gibbs had left for Mexico. Because then, at least, Tony had still had the rest of the team. And though to an outsider, Gibbs's gruff, "you'll do" might not have seemed like much of a vote of confidence, Tony had known how to read his boss well enough to treasure those words. So at least then, he'd known that he'd had his mentor's trust.

Now, though, he's completely cut off. He'd been shipped off to this damned floating tin can, without ever having had the chance to explain himself. To try to explain what had happened. To find out if his boss blamed him for Jenny's death, the way Tony had been convinced he should. He hasn't felt so completely and totally…exiled since he'd been sent to boarding school as a kid.

And to be honest, Tony doesn't know how much more of this he can take.


Reassigned to DC. Reassigned to DC!

Tony has had all of two seconds to process the news when Abby draws him into a fierce, suffocating hug. "Tony! You're back!" He wouldn't have thought it possible, but he thinks Abby might actually be even more excited than he is.

He grins at her. "In the flesh."

"For real?" she demands. "Like pinky promise permanent real?"

He thinks his face might crack in half as he assures her, "Reassigned to DC, effective immediately."

McGee tells him with younger-brother-like sheepishness that it's actually good to see him, and Tony leans against the edge of his desk, taking in the wonderfully familiar scene and trying unsuccessfully to stop grinning like an idiot.

He's only half-listening, though, as Abby updates him on every minute detail of life without him for the past four months. As she rambles about her thoughts on Titanic, Tony finds he can't quite keep his eyes off of his boss. Gibbs is looking at him with that soft expression he gets so rarely, but he hasn't yet said anything. They look at each other, both wanting to say something, to make some kind of gesture, both too uncomfortable to actually do it.

But then Gibbs's smile spreads, and he pushes himself off of his desk and comes forward, only a little awkwardly, and offers his newly-reinstated Senior Field Agent a hand. Tony takes it, failing utterly at playing it cool.

His boss's grip is firm, and calloused, and so blessedly real that Tony has to swallow hard against the growing lump in his throat.

Oh, yeah. It's damned good to be home.

A/N: Feedback is always welcome! I'd love to hear from you.