Transitional States

Part 1: Things Fall Apart

Disclaimer: The usual.

Author's Note: AU Season 4 (because Tony never seems to take the Rota assignment in fics.) Picks up after 4x02, with the following conceits: 1) Tony & Ziva were romantically involved during Gibbs' Mexican hiatus, and 2) Tony refused the Benoit op.

This is also looking to be a fairly long fic, though I'm not going to promise any clear posting schedule since my Muse tends to be ... fickle. Expect some (lots) angst, some (lots) action (if you read my non-NCIS fics, you know of what I speak), and, more importantly, a competent Tony DiNozzo instead of the buffoon the actual show seems to love so much this season.


Tony

Thirty-six hours. The director gave him thirty-six hours to make a life-altering decision. It hardly seemed like enough time and, for the first time in his life, Tony DiNozzo found himself completely unsure about what to do.

He was seated at his desk – his old desk; Gibbs hadn't wasted any damned time in reclaiming his territory – and was staring at the monitor before him without actually seeing it. The rest of the team was already hard at work, filling out paperwork with an almost visible sense of delight. Every few seconds, Ziva or McGee would glance over to make sure that Gibbs was actually back and this wasn't a dream or illusion or hallucination brought on by too little oxygen (or too much).

And each time they did, Tony noticed.

Though he knew it was childish of him, DiNozzo couldn't help but to feel insulted at their obvious giddiness at the return of their old boss. Had he really done such a bad job as team leader? Their closure record certainly hadn't changed while Gibbs was gone, they hadn't lost anyone and they'd continued to operate as a well-oiled machine. For the most part.

But everything had changed with the frame job on Ziva.

Tony shot her a quick, discreet glance, frowning at how she seemed utterly unwilling to return his look. Things had gotten weird between them since that entire nightmare a week earlier and DiNozzo still didn't know why. Overnight, without any explanation whatsoever, they had gone from intimate partners who routinely slept together to virtual strangers. Ziva hadn't even bothered telling him why she was avoiding him, why she no longer returned his calls or always had 'plans' when he suggested getting together.

Unconsciously, Tony's eyes slid to where Gibbs sat and his frown deepened as a terrible theory began weeding its way through his subconscious. It wasn't until after Gibbs left that Ziva had instigated the relationship and now that he was back, she dropped DiNozzo like a hot potato. She couldn't … they wouldn't … he didn't …

Tony sighed.

No one seemed to notice or care that he was struggling with something, and DiNozzo once more felt anger stirring within his stomach. He'd busted his ass to keep this team together after Gibbs quit, had turned down a plum undercover assignment for Director Shepard so he could focus on the job (and on his burgeoning secret relationship Ziva, though Jenny hadn't needed to know that), and this was how it was going to be? He suddenly felt like the odd man out, the one person who honestly wished Gibbs had stayed retired, and it made him sick. Other than Abby and Ducky (and Jenny, but she didn't really count), he had the most experience with the older man and should have been happy to see him back to something resembling normal.

Once again, his eyes drifted to Ziva and Tony realized he needed to talk to her before making any decisions. She was leaving for Israel tomorrow to debrief her father about that entire Iranian fiasco and was going to be gone for the entire week. All day, he had been trying to corner her alone, to arrange just a few seconds to explain his situation, and she had consistently managed to avoid him. If she really wanted the relationship to be over, all she had to do was say so. He was a big boy. It wasn't like he had been falling for her or anything. Nodding to himself, he clicked on the inter-office messaging service and typed a quick message to her.

Need to talk to you, he stated carefully. Important. Dinner 2nite?

Can't, came her rapid response. Have plans. Talk after I return?

Very Important, Tony emphasized. Drive you to airport tomorrow?

Gibbs driving me, Ziva replied and DiNozzo frowned. It would be out of the older man's way to pick her up. Unless …

R U staying at his place? Tony typed hesitantly. His finger was poised over the Enter key but he could not make himself press it, so he erased the message and started over. What plans 2nite? he queried. The answer caused him to grimace.

Dinner with Gibbs.

He logged off of the IM without hesitation and fought to keep his expression calm. His head began to pound as horrible images of Gibbs and Ziva raced through his brain. Being intimately familiar with the sounds she made during sex only made his imagination run that much wilder, and he seriously wished for some sort of brain soap that could wipe them away. Even worse, though, was the sickening realization that she might have just used him, that she saw him as little more than an asset to be discarded once he was no longer useful, that the feelings he'd begun having for her were obviously not shared. He wanted to throw up. Or punch someone. Or both. Yes, definitely both.

Almost at once, Tony cursed himself. From day one, Ziva had insisted that what they had wasn't a real relationship and he'd initially been okay with it. Friends with benefits was something he was all too familiar with, but knowing … or rather, suspecting that he was a stand-in for the man she really wanted… how in God's name was he going to be able to work with either of them now?

"You ready?" Gibbs asked abruptly. He was standing in front of Ziva's desk, directing his question to her, and Tony once again felt his stomach twist when she gave the older man a smile. Gathering her belongings, she stood and shot a quick grin in McGee's direction.

"I will see you when I get back, Tim," she said.

"Have a nice flight," McGee replied. His teeth still glinted impossibly bright and Ziva smirked before glancing in Tony's direction. Her smile faltered for a moment and Tony forced a smile on his face, knowing she'd recognized he was upset about something. It wasn't enough to make her stop her exit, though, and DiNozzo felt his heart clench.

"Shalom, Tony," she said as she followed Gibbs toward the elevator.

"Goodbye, Ziva," DiNozzo answered. If she heard the finality in his voice, the hint of anger and bitterness, she ignored it. Tossing him a brief confused look, she began speaking softly to Gibbs who barely seemed to be paying any attention.

A moment later, she was gone.

Tony stared at his monitor for twenty more minutes, barely noticing when McGee left for the day. His thoughts raced around in circles before he finally forced himself to his feet. Powering down his computer, he gathered his gear and left the office, fury warring with confusion and despair. Things had been going so well…

Several hours later – he wasn't quite sure how many – he found himself parked in front of his television, unable to actually pay attention to what was on as he tried to figure out what to do. Don't make assumptions, he reminded himself. Just because she was having dinner with Gibbs and he was driving her to the airport in the morning didn't mean they were sleeping together. He liked redheads, not brunettes.

But they had secrets together, secrets that would allow her to rouse him from an amnesiac state or would cause him to give up his self-imposed exile to help her. She called him Jethro and he let her. Not often, of course, but enough that it stood out. Hell, Tony had known him for over five years and he still couldn't get away with it. What the hell was he supposed to think?

He found himself dialing her home number before he really knew what he was doing. The machine picked up after the third ring, and Tony felt his inner alarms going off. From personal experience, he knew she never let it ring more than twice, even if she was in the shower or dead asleep. The voice message on her cell answered both attempts to reach her there and Tony stared at his phone for a long moment as he contemplated calling Gibbs. What would he say? I'm trying to reach Ziva to talk to her about our non-relationship relationship and by the way, are you sleeping with her?

"Screw it," he murmured as he dialed the number. Gibbs picked up on the second ring.

"What?" the older man demanded.

"It's me," Tony said. "I'm trying to get in touch with Ziva. She's not answering her phones."

"She's here," Gibbs said and DiNozzo felt his stomach fall. "And asleep. It's two in the morning, DiNozzo. Is it important?"

"No," Tony answered flatly. "Sorry for waking you." He hung up before Gibbs could reply and threw his phone against the wall with as much force as he could manage. It shattered in an explosion of plastic and electronics.

Seconds later, he was out the door.

Instinct took him back to NCIS and he found himself at his desk with no real memory of how he got there. For nearly two hours, he worked on non-urgent paperwork as he let his brain cycle through all of the information he'd learned. Yes, there were other explanations for why Ziva would be at Gibbs' house tonight, but coupled with her sudden avoidance of all things DiNozzo, it added up to a very uncomfortable truth. Tony blew out a breath – he was suddenly exhausted, drained both physically and mentally. There was no way he would be able to work with either of them now, not with the terrible images racing through his brain.

It was time for a change.

He was waiting for Jenny when she came in that morning. From the disapproving way she glanced at him, Tony knew she realized he hadn't changed clothes since yesterday, but thankfully, she made no comment.

"I've made my decision," he said without preamble. "Rota it is." Director Shepard gave him a nod.

"I'll start the paperwork," she said. "Do you want to tell Gibbs or should I?" DiNozzo shrugged.

"Doesn't matter to me," he answered. Bitterness leaked into his voice though he tried to hide it. "As far as I'm concerned," Tony added, "he can find out the same way I found out he was leaving." Jenny frowned.

"Is something wrong, Tony?" she asked. He shook his head.

"Not anymore," he replied. "How soon can I transfer?"