Title: My own direction
Author: Cosmic

Email: bananacosmicgirl at hotmail . com
Website: www . cosmicuniverse . net
LiveJournal: bananacosmic . livejournal . com

Parts: 1
Words: 3 700
Rating: PG
Genre: Angst
Characters: Anthony DiNozzo
Pairings: None

Warnings: None
Spoilers: Up to 6x16 "Bounce"

Beta: Triskellion

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations from the TV-show "NCIS", created and owned by David P. Bellisarius and CBS. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Summary: Boat. Bourbon. Basement. He gets it now.

Author's notes: This started out completely differently, with a scene in my head that isn't in the fic – because once I started writing, Tony grabbed me and just went where he wanted to, and not really where I'd planned for him to go. That means this is gen and angst, because wanted Tony to be angsty. (The scene I'd originally planned on writing can be found in 'McPompous').

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My own direction
By Cosmic

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The room is dark.

Tony hasn't turned on the light since he got back from work; it seems unnecessary. He doesn't want to look at the mess that is his apartment; he knows he'll feel guilty about the fact that he hasn't cleaned in two weeks. There is a layer of dust across the kitchen counter – that was how long ago it was he made food at home.

Most of all, he doesn't want to catch sight of his own reflection.

Boat.

Bourbon.

Basement.

He gets it now. Perhaps he should buy a house so that he can build a boat in the basement – it wouldn't fit in his living room – or perhaps he should start with a very small boat.

He wonders if he'll ever be able to look at himself in the mirror again. How many other innocents has he put away? He wasted three years of Renny's life. Three years. That's longer than Tony has stayed at most of his jobs – NCIS not included because for some reason Tony is reluctant to leave NCIS – and definitely far longer than any relationships he's ever had. Renny has a family; Tony's pretty sure he has a wife – or had, anyway, because not all wives are understanding and supportive when their husbands get sent to jail.

Tony takes a drink of bourbon. He doesn't actually like it but he bought a bottle of the stuff years ago, because Gibbs seems to like it. Perhaps it's just a good way to get drunk very, very fast. Tony feels the liquid washing through his system – it isn't his first glass – and he can't remember the last time he ate, so that might contribute to his rapid descent into intoxication.

He shouldn't be drinking. Sake bombing with the Japanese agents should have scared him off all booze for at least a week – but then so should many of the other drinking binges Tony's been on. Tony can't find it in himself to care. He'll get to work tomorrow and be hung over and it will be exactly what Gibbs, Ziva and McGee expect. He'll be back to playing the idiot, the one who can barely add two and two together and get four – the butt of the joke whichever way he turns. Ziva will smirk at him and McGee will look down his nose, all superior.

McGee has been doing that a lot lately.

Haven't you learned anything from me?

Yeah. Not to go on undercover dates with a doctor whose father is the world's biggest arms dealer.

There's a stab somewhere deep inside when he thinks about McGee.

He's always thought of McGee as his Probie, his protégé. Tony is supposed to teach McGee stuff, and McGee is supposed to be green and stumbling, taking in every word with a slightly awed look – and even after the stumbling and the awed looks stop, McGee should still learn from Tony.

Now the roles are reversed.

Tony wonders if he's ever looked down at McGee the way McGee seems to be looking down at him.

Think he'd go easy on us?

Tony isn't sure that McGee knows he heard those words. They made him stop mid-step, halting just for a brief second.

A few years have passed since the incident with the undercover cop McGee mistakenly killed, but that doesn't mean Tony has forgotten about it. He thinks back and tries to recall any instance during the investigation when he was hard on McGee but he comes up empty handed. He can't remember being harsh to McGee about it. He recalls going over to McGee's place around midnight at some point and keeping him up all night, just so that McGee wouldn't replay the events in his head until he went crazy – was that being harsh with him? Tony just wanted to help, in his own way.

Tony wonders what he's done to deserve McGee's dislike. Director Vance doesn't like Tony – it doesn't bother Tony much but he's very aware of it – but Vance loves McGee. It's an ill-kept secret at NCIS that Vance much prefers the type of agent that McGee is, with his advanced degrees and his extensive computer knowledge, to the type of agent that Tony is. Does that have anything to do with it? Tony was on Jenny's good side – for a while, anyway, until that all went to hell – and now McGee is feeling the perks of being popular with the Director.

Briefly, bitterly, Tony wishes that Vance will send McGee on a suicide mission, like Jenny did Tony.

He takes another swallow of bourbon and it burns its way down his throat.

He should go to bed. He'll have a hangover tomorrow and the others will act the way they always do. He'll feel better and at home knowing his place on the team, even if that place is the clown and idiot.

--

He's not as hung over as he had expected when the alarm goes off the next morning. There's a dull ache in his head and his mouth tastes foul but he isn't nauseous.

When he sees himself in the mirror he wonders who the shadowed man is. When did his eyes lose their sparkle?

But now you're making it right. And me proud.

That's something at least. Gibbs proud? It feels like something out of a dream.

Yet a small part of him wonders if it's too little, too late.

He was the one who kept the team together while Gibbs went off on his Mexico vacation and all he got for his troubles was a You'll do and then boxes dumped back on his desk when Gibbs decided to return. He has saved Gibbs' life, he's been there through the multiple times Gibbs decided to say sayonara to the team and go off with Franks – what was it, a week ago since the last time? – and he's fought to come back to it all after being sent to the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Sea Hawk.

You've been doing— a hell of a job, Anthony.

Yeah, he has.

A small fire lights within him as he thinks of all the crap they've been through – and while Ziva and McGee, and Abby, Ducky and even Palmer get thanks and hugs and kisses on their cheeks, what has Tony gotten? If he's been doing a hell of a job, then why can't anyone ever tell him that? Why wait until the last possible second?

Why wait until it's already too late?

He thinks of Abby and her reaction to him being the team leader. He can understand why she doesn't want Gibbs to leave again, but really, wasn't that a bit over the top? And when Tony wasn't exactly like Gibbs then he gets—

I'm waiting for you. You're late.

He remembers her being the same way when Gibbs was in Mexico. Trainee? She hadn't been in the mood for such a "joke" at the time, being far too busy sniffling over the lack of Gibbs – as though Tony didn't miss the man just as much – but if she had been in a good mood, she would have done the same thing then.

Tony knows he'll never be Gibbs. And now, unlike then, he's not sure he wants to be. He is his own person – or at least he should be.

Tony dresses in one of his suits, because today he needs to feel good and the suit helps him put on his persona, and he brushes his teeth until they shine. The drive to work is uneventful, the day bright and beautiful. Tony knows the route in his sleep and has almost driven it asleep a few times after particularly exhausting cases with multiple all-nighters.

He's early. Gibbs has obviously already arrived, judging by the jacket on the chair, but he's gone somewhere else. McGee and Ziva have yet to come in.

Tony turns on his computer and while he waits for it to power up he lets his mind drift to Ziva. After years of working together, he still can't figure her out – but at least she has been nicer over the last couple of days than McGee. She listened to him, making no particular smart remarks, and she has given him the information he's asked for, rather than what McGee did – giving it to Gibbs instead.

And yet, they've had their fair share of unpleasant sniping. Their banter is laced with bitterness now. Tony can't place exactly when it started; maybe it's been slowly growing out of frustration on a demanding job, or perhaps it was their time apart over the summer. Tony knows that it took a turn for the worse during the mess with Michelle.

Tony sighs as he thinks about Special Agent Lee. Even now, he has a hard time forgiving Lee, because besides being a spy and killing two men, she was also the reason why Vance broke up the team and sent Tony to spend three hellish months on board ships.

Then again, considering Vance's dislike for Tony, he might have done that anyway, especially with the events surrounding Jenny's death in mind.

Gibbs comes down the stairs, coffee in hand.

"Morning, boss," Tony, unable to conjure the usual energy.

Gibbs grunts his reply and Tony thinks that, yeah, they're back to normal. Gibbs has done his month's share of talking in the last few days.

But then Gibbs stops by Tony's desk and stares at Tony. Tony pretends not to notice, studying the computer screen instead and trying not to fidget. He wonders what he looks like to Gibbs, to the rest of the world – do they see the weariness, the anger, simmering just below the surface? Do they feel just how desperate he is to please, when it seems he can never satisfy anyone?

"Stay away from the bourbon tonight," Gibbs says finally, and heads to his own desk. Tony wonders if Gibbs knows what Tony drank last night or if he simply assumes that's what Tony drank because it's what Gibbs drinks.

The others arrive within minutes of each other. McGee is carrying coffee and even at the early hour of the morning, there is a smug smile on his lips. Perhaps it is because Tony is no longer boss – maybe McGee thinks it bothers Tony more than it actually does.

Tony doesn't want to be boss, not here – because they don't want him to be the boss.

Ziva looks pretty, wearing makeup as she has taken to doing lately. Tony doesn't know why; perhaps it has something to do with the reason she keeps flying back to Israel regularly. Perhaps she has someone to pretty herself up for. If that's the case, Tony is happy for her.

Ziva glances at him. "Did you celebrate the closing of the case last night? You look a bit tired."

"What's there to celebrate?" McGee asks. "It wasn't really closed, what with Renny getting away."

There it is again, the glee in McGee's voice. Tony hides a frown, trying to block out the sound of their voices.

"He served three years in prison," Ziva says. "Perhaps he has earned the right to the money."

Tony would like to think so. Legally, he shouldn't have done what he did with letting Renny go, but morally, he simply couldn't stop the man.

"Still not a closed case," McGee says again.

Tony double-clicks a document on his hard drive that he hasn't had open in a while. The last time he took a long, serious look at it was after Gibbs made his car-dive into deep cold water, dying and then never thanking Tony for saving his life. Tony remembers the cold – it stayed with him for hours, long after he'd showered and changed into dry clothes. Ambulances took Gibbs and Maddie to the hospital, but Tony refused help and spent the evening wrapped up in every blanket he could find, still unable to get warm.

And then he went to work and received a head slap as though absolutely nothing had happened.

He changes the date at the top of the document. Other than that, there is little that needs changing. When Tony's done, he prints it, and walks over to the printer to get it before anyone else sneaks a peak. He hasn't decided to give it to anyone yet; he doesn't want it to be a rushed decision.

A part of him wants to go upstairs and ask for a team of his own – but he won't, because Vance doesn't like him and Vance would certainly never recommend him for a team leader. For a second, Tony wishes for Jenny – but that's a web of lies and complicated feelings that he doesn't want to get into, so he pushes the thought away.

Fornell has a standing invitation for him to join the Bureau. Tony isn't thrilled with the idea but he can probably get used to it. It doesn't matter if he gets to be a team leader or not; right now, he just doesn't want to be here, where he can't go anywhere. The only thing to do as Gibbs' Senior Field Agent is to be Gibbs' Senior Field Agent – a silly, immature caricature of himself – and when the need arises for him to take the lead, then he's a bleak copy of Gibbs himself, rather than his own person.

If Tony leaves then McGee will be the Senior Agent.

As Tony thinks that, it seems to fall into place: that's what is supposed to happen. Tony is supposed to resign and go work someplace else – as he's already concluded, he's been at NCIS way too long anyway – and McGee is supposed to shoulder the role of Gibbs' second in command. McGee will make a good Senior Field Agent, probably a better one than Tony ever was with his brains.

Ziva will continue to do what she's been doing – kick ass and develop her investigative skills even further.

They will get a Probie of their own, someone McGee can train and watch as he or she develops into a full-fledged agent. Tony wonders how long it will take to find someone who is able to function with Gibbs breathing down their necks. Perhaps Wilson – he seemed like a good kid and he proved that he could think on his feet.

Abby will love having McGee as the Senior Field Agent. She won't have to train McGee to arrive at the very second she's found something – they already have their shared geek brain.

Ducky might be saddened by Tony's departure, but he'll understand and move on – he's seen agents come and go under Gibbs' rule several times already. At least Tony won't be leaving in a body bag – and who would've thought, really, considering the number of times Tony has wound up in harm's way? He has scars on both the inside and the outside to prove it, from bullet grazes to plague scarred lungs.

Briefly, he thinks of Palmer. He hasn't talked much to Palmer, except that summer when he was team leader. Palmer was his sounding board when he felt Ziva and McGee stopped listening to him. It happened a bit more often than he would have liked. But Tony still can't say that they are friends.

"Tony?"

Tony is awoken from his thoughts by Ziva, who's looking at him curiously.

Tony realizes he's been holding the printout in his hands all along and he folds it down the middle, hoping Ziva hasn't seen it. Then again, perhaps he shouldn't bother hiding it. They will know soon enough anyway.

"Do we have a case?" he asks.

"No," Ziva says. "I just came to see what you were doing."

Tony realizes he's been standing by the printer for a few minutes too long. Without a word to Ziva, he heads back to the bullpen and his desk, dropping down. Ziva follows, sitting down at her desk and giving him a curious look which he ignores.

He grabs a pen and signs the letter of resignation. It feels oddly like a relief to do so, even though he puts the piece of paper in his desk once he's done.

--

They catch a case. It takes them nineteen hours to crack it, which means it's three in the morning by the time they're done, and Tony is rightly exhausted. The case has done little for his mood, with two little girls being brutally murdered by the father's jealous lover, but the thrill of the chase still gives him a short high.

Vance is still there when they get back to NCIS headquarters with the lover in custody. Tony's not sure what Vance is doing there – doesn't he have family? – but perhaps it's just to stop by McGee's desk to praise him.

"Good job on tracking down those emails," he tells McGee.

McGee smiles, or perhaps it's a smirk. "Oh, it wasn't that hard, once I—" he says, and then he's off in mumbo-jumbo computer speak where Tony doesn't understand more than every tenth word. Vance obviously understands more of it, what with the nodding and asking questions.

Tony thinks sarcastically that the part where he chased down the murderer and had to tackle him on hard asphalt isn't as worthy of a 'good job' as McGee's computer wizardry. He did well. He doesn't want Vance to sing his praises, but he'd like Vance to see more than McGee; he would like the teamwork to be acknowledged.

But Vance sees only McGee, and McGee doesn't see anyone else.

Gibbs is packing up his things and he certainly doesn't look like he's going to bother saying anything. Tony isn't as irritated with Gibbs, because he did get and me proud yesterday and that still warms.

Ziva hides a yawn behind her hand and grabs her backpack before saying, "Goodnight."

They chorus a 'goodnight' back at her and then McGee grabs his bag and heads out with Vance in tow.

Tony looks up to find Gibbs watching him. For once, Gibbs isn't glaring, drinking coffee or looking like he's on the verge of slapping Tony across the back of his head; instead, he's simply studying Tony.

"Making me uncomfortable, boss," Tony mutters.

A hint of a smile appears on Gibbs' lips. "Got something for me?"

Tony's eyebrows rise. He knows Gibbs is as close to psychic as anyone can be without actually being psychic, but Gibbs' words still throw him. How does he know? Has he seen the letter? Did Ziva see it? But she hasn't given him so much as a look to hint that she did—

"No one said anything."

"Then how—"

Gibbs gives him a look. "Been working with you for eight years, DiNozzo."

Tony's heart beats a little faster. Gibbs talking to him – really talking to him – twice in as many days? Tony thinks he might be dreaming.

He takes the letter out of the drawer. It feels heavy in his hands. It's his life, his family he'll be leaving behind if he does give this to Gibbs.

And yet, he knows that if he stays, he'll be leaving himself behind.

"I can't stay." Tony's voice is thick; it feels like something has lodged in his throat. He refuses to call it tears because the last time he cried was when Paula died and this is nothing like that.

He holds out the letter with a shaking hand. He wonders when the room became so warm – it feels suffocating.

Gibbs merely looks at him. There is no anger, no disappointment in Gibbs' blue eyes – only understanding. It surprises Tony because he would've thought that leaving is a failure in itself.

"You're not running away this time," Gibbs says and Tony wonders just how much of a mind-reader Gibbs is.

He thinks of Philly, Baltimore and Peoria. He ran from all of those places, from being a disappointment, from fearing that he could never live up to his own expectations and the expectations others had on him.

"No," Tony says. "I'm not. I'm just not—there's nothing more I can learn here."

Gibbs' fingers close around the letter. For a few seconds, they're frozen like that – Tony's fingers around one side, Gibbs' around the other. Tony's heart is pounding hard and he wonders if he's making the biggest mistake of his life.

Then he lets go, letting his hand fall to his side. The letter hangs safely in Gibbs' grasp.

Gibbs smiles slightly. "You have some vacation time saved up."

Tony chuckles; he understands what Gibbs is saying. After all, Gibbs could be on vacation in Mexico for three months and still return to his job afterwards. Tony probably doesn't have a full three months of vacation saved up, but he must have some because he can't remember the last time he was on vacation. Whatever he does have saved up will be enough for him to think things through, for him to decide what he really wants. Gibbs is giving him time.

"Thank you, boss," Tony says.

It feels as though there has been a shift in their relationship. Perhaps they've moved towards something other than a boss/team member relationship. All Tony knows is that he likes it.

He grabs his bag, taking two minutes to pack the things he doesn't want the others stealing. It's not much but his Mighty Mouse stapler is one of those things – the others have sticky fingers. Then, after he's done, he turns off his computer and grabs his jacket. His heart isn't as heavy as he would have expected. Perhaps it is because he knows he will have to come back – if for nothing else than to say goodbye to everyone, because he's not about to drop out forever in the middle of the night without a single word – or perhaps it's something else. Time will tell.

Gibbs is still watching him. Tony stands up straight and smiles at him.

"Semper fi," he says.

Gibbs smiles back. "Hoo-ra."

And Tony leaves, his steps lighter than they have been in a long time.

--

The wisest men follow their own direction.
- Euripides

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