Thanks to everyone who took the time to review and alert and what not.
Had hoped to be a little quicker with the update, but lambing has started now and things are a bit hectic. Torrential rain and snow is on the way; ideal weather for lambing. Don't you just love the spring in Britain!
Here it is, the last chapter of 'Two Weeks Notice,' finally! It's quite a long one. Hope I don't disappoint.
"I've made my decision."
"Tony…" Gibbs started, dreading what decision he would hear from his Senior Field Agent.
"No!" Tony almost shouted. Gibbs felt his heart fall into his stomach, lead-heavy; so Tony was going to leave…
"You can't interrupt me," Tony continued, unaware of Gibbs' inner thoughts as he was too busy concentrating on his own emotional turmoil. "I need to say this and you need to listen."
"Ok," Gibbs nodded, his throat dry. It hadn't been an out and out 'fuck you, I'm off,' so maybe there was some hope after all.
"I want to stay at NCIS and I want to stay on your team. I think I need to leave, I think things might be better for me if I did go. But I want to stay.
"My whole life I've had to fight for what I want. I fought to do sports in school and because I didn't focus on the things my father thought were important I got sent off to Rhode Island Military Academy. I fought to do Phys. Ed. at college when my father wanted me to do business, so I had to fight for a scholarship and bust my ass off at every kind of job that exists to pay for it all.
"I wanted to go into law enforcement when my father wanted me to go into the family business and I haven't seen the man since he told me I was going to end up in the gutter. I wanted to make detective even though everyone thought I was some rich, spoilt brat who couldn't do the job and I fought hard everyday to prove them all wrong!
"I fought hard at NCIS to show everyone that I could be on your team and survive. I fought hard to beat the Plague. I fought hard to catch Ari because I wanted him to pay for what he did to Kate. I fought hard to keep the team together when you went to Mexico because I wanted what was left of my weird pseudo-family to stay together.
"I'm tired of fighting for everything in my life Gibbs; I have never felt this bone-deep exhaustion that I'm feeling right now." Tony let out a mirthless chuckle. "The irony of it all is that this is the one time that I'm fighting for something I don't want and everyone else seems to be fighting for what I do want, and I…I don't understand why I've been fighting this hard for something that I really don't want.
"When I handed in my resignation I honestly didn't expect this…this sort of fallout," he gestured helplessly. "I expected the 'why's' from Ducky and Abby and Jimmy, and I expected some anger and confusion from Ziva and McGee, and maybe even some head-slaps from you trying to get me to see things your way.
"I…I didn't think you would all fight this hard to get me to stay, I didn't think you'd give that much of a damn, and I sure as hell didn't expect Vance to react the way he did!"
"We're a team Tony," Gibbs interjected quietly, aware that Tony had asked him not to interrupt but felt like something needed to be said. "We're may even be more than that; of course we were going to fight to keep you."
"But I didn't know that," Tony insisted, trying to get his point across. "I knew that you'd be pissed and want to know why and I knew that maybe you might want me to rethink things but I never expected that I'd be made to doubt my decision to leave! A lot has happened here, at NCIS, that has made me begin to doubt myself and I…"
"Tony," Gibbs interrupted once again, eager to make Tony see that he couldn't blame himself for everything. "Everyone's made mistakes, especially undercover…"
"No!" Tony interrupted. "There are some things that can't be forgiven and can never be forgotten. You can't just ignore all the mistakes I've made because I handed in my resignation, Gibbs; I fucked up and I should be held accountable! You don't get to white-wash over everything; I'm good at my job and I should have known better!"
"Ok," Gibbs acquiesced, all too aware of how well Tony took platitudes when he was worked up. He knew they didn't work either; they didn't work when his marriages failed, they didn't work when Kate died and they definitely didn't work when he lost his beloved wife and child.
"When you got shot," Tony continued, "and you were bleeding out in my arms…I have never felt so numb and so silently panicked at the same time, not even when I had Kate's blood on my face and her brains in my hair. I don't know what I would have done if you had died. I know everyone thinks I see you as some kind of pseudo-father figure but that's not true; the word 'father' for me…it doesn't have too many great connotations. But you're definitely important to me; the team is definitely important to me.
"You've taught me a lot Gibbs, on the job and off, and I think I probably would have ended up in a gutter somewhere in Baltimore or another city further down the line if you hadn't shown up when you did. And you may not be my father but you sure as hell gave me a family.
"When everything settled down here after I first arrived I found a sister in Abby and an almost grandfatherly figure in Ducky; we can just ignore Blackadder, right?" Tony asked, a small smile reaching his eyes for the first time since he entered the hospital room.
Gibbs laughed, all too aware of just how much animosity there had been between the two of them. He had never thought much of Blackadder either, but she had lasted longer than most and as he had normally scared most people away he had had to make do.
Neither one of the two agents spoke for a while, both silently taking everything in; Gibbs was trying to figure out whether Tony had decided to stay or not and Tony was wondering if he would come to regret his decision.
"Tony," Gibbs started, taking the other man's silence as a sign that he was done talking for now. "You don't have to fight to go; in fact I think we've all made it pretty clear that we'd fight Hell and high waters to keep you."
"Yeah," Tony said, an unusually shy smile creeping across his face. "I think I'm just starting to figure that out."
Silence hung between them again as they each took in the other's words and expressions. However, Gibbs could stand it no longer; despite Tony's long speeches about what he did and didn't want, the older man still had no idea what his final decision was. He hoped it all meant that Tony was staying, but he also didn't want to create false hope and see his team's future dashed against the rocks along with that hope.
"So, are you planning on sticking around for a bit longer?" he asked, trying to sound casual, trying to sound as though this decision would not become the be all and end all of 'Team Gibbs.'
"I'd thought about it," Tony admitted, although he would never admit to just how much fun he was having in being deliberately vague with his boss. "You really want me to stick around? Cos I've still got three days to go if you want to change your mind; my two weeks notice is almost up."
"I think I could probably survive another few years with you as my Senior Field Agent," Gibbs smiled, and the laughter dancing in his eyes allowed Tony to see that he was no where near as nonchalant as he was trying to appear.
"You'd have to destroy my letter of resignation; it is an official letter after all," Tony pointed out, keen to keep the tone of the conversation light for a few moments more.
Gibbs' shoulders sagged with relief; "Tony, I've wanted to do that since the moment you handed it in," he confessed needlessly.
"Well, that's good," Tony gave his Boss a relieved smile. "Cos I don't really want to lose another family," he admitted quietly.
"Neither do I," Gibbs assured him with a tired smile of his own.
Gibbs was exhausted from physiotherapy and from his talks with both his father and Dr. Pitt, as well as the affects of his injury. However, at this moment in time he felt all his exhaustion fade at the thought that somewhere deep down Tony still found it within himself to forgive him; he wouldn't even consider sticking around if that wasn't the case!
Of course, being Gibbs, he had absolutely no desire to let his Senior Field Agent know just how much his staying meant to the older man. He felt he'd been overly emotional over the past few days; he secretly tried to blame the drugs rather than face the possibility that he was far more deeply invested in his team than he had ever intended to be.
As he was trying so desperately not to meet Tony's eyes at that particular moment in time, afraid of what his own eyes might reveal, Gibbs missed it as all traces of humour leave the younger man's face and a stern expression took hold.
"But Gibbs," Tony's almost severe tone of voice brought Gibbs' startled eyes up to meet those of his Senior Field Agent. "I swear on my mother's grave that if you ever treat me like your own goddamn puppet and yank my strings to your own personal tune again, then that's it; I will not only leave NCIS for good and never look back, but I will probably shoot you before I go. There will be no two weeks notice next time; understood?"
Gibbs was a little taken aback; Tony had never threatened him before. The Senior Field Agent had shouted at him plenty of times (especially over the past few days) when he thought Gibbs was wrong or being an ass to someone on the team, but the younger man had never taken this threatening tone with him before.
It was a shock, but more than that, it was a wake-up call; he couldn't afford to fuck things up with Tony again because he knew there would be no more second chances.
Gibbs nodded, "I understand. I'll do my best to make sure it never happens again," he tried to assure the younger man, all too aware that it was not a promise he could really make.
Tony knew that too. "If I stay there is every chance that a case may come up and you will need to use me, but next time Gibbs, just tell me. I've worked with you for eight years and I think I've done more than enough to prove myself trustworthy; no more head-fucks, got it!"
"Agreed," Gibbs nodded. That, of course, had been the real issue all along for Tony, not that Gibbs had used him, but that he hadn't told him about it; Tony went in blind not knowing the 'who' and the 'why,' and he saw that as a sign of Gibbs' lack of faith in him.
"Well, now that that is all sorted out, I think I should go. You look like crap and I sure as hell feel like crap; you should get some rest and I have a date with my own bed that I really don't want to miss."
Gibbs knew that was true, he could feel his own exhaustion nipping at his heels and weighing down on his eyelids. He also knew that if Tony was feeling anything like him then he was feeling all talked out too. They both needed some time to think over what had been said and come to terms with Tony's decision to stay; that, of course, was the most important point in Gibbs' mind…Tony was staying.
He felt like he might actually sleep well with that particular burden eased off his shoulders. He knew the guilt of driving Tony to this would leave a bitter aftertaste for a long time to come, but that was his own burden to bear. Now all he had to do was make sure he didn't screw things up again; easier said than done of course.
"Ok," Gibbs finally agreed out loud. "I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked nervously, hoping that Tony wouldn't reconsider overnight.
Tony nodded. He was exhausted; the talk and the nervous few hours that led up to it had taken their toll. "I'll be there, Boss" he assured Gibbs. He turned to leave when he heard his name being called.
"Tony, I'm really glad you decided to stick around."
Tony couldn't say that he was too; it was early days and there was no way of knowing what might happen to make him regret staying. However, he could see the sincerity in Gibbs' eyes and could hear it ringing throughout his voice, and he appreciated the fact that the usually stoic man was being so open and honest with him.
"Sleep well, Boss," he said with a small smile. "I'll bring coffee tomorrow…good non-hospital coffee, I promise!"
"Ah, coffee," Gibbs said wistfully.
Tony's quiet laughter could be heard as he headed down the corridor; for the first time in days, maybe even months, Gibbs felt that maybe everything would turn out alright after all.
Gibbs had slept soundly overnight and was eager to talk to Dr. Pitt. He knew that the young doctor had a soft spot for his accident-prone Senior Field Agent and was therefore more likely to let him out of the hospital to attend the dinner at Sorrentino's that was being prepared in Tony's honour.
He'd asked a nurse to fetch Dr. Pitt as soon as he clocked in for his shift; unfortunately that wasn't until after lunch which meant that Gibbs was left feeling irritable all morning.
Jackson had returned shortly after visiting hours started at ten only to find his son scaring out a nurse that looked to be fresh out of school.
"Leroy!" he admonished his son. His son, however, didn't look the slightest bit repentant.
"She was messing around with my IV when I told her I didn't need anymore fucking drugs!"
Jackson knew that his son must be in a foul mood because Leroy rarely ever swore in front of him. When he was younger and in a bad mood, his mother always knew how to handle him and Jackson had let her, allowing her to bring calm and quiet back into their household as quickly as possible.
Even if Leroy was still the same person he was all those years ago he wouldn't have a clue how to appease him. He certainly didn't know what to do with the man before him now. Shannon and Kelly's death had changed him; the distance between them that was created after Leroy enlisted in the Marine Corps grew further still.
Jackson did the only thing he could think of; he left his son to silently stew and he headed back out of the hospital. Abby had told him that his son valued good coffee above everything else.
He'd noticed a small café nearby and thought that a cup of coffee might help improve Leroy's spirits…maybe two would be better…just in case.
The young girl behind the counter looked as thought she should still be in high school, but she was nice and polite and very cheerful and Jackson felt himself smiling along with her, temporarily forgetting about the black cloud that awaited him back in the hospital.
Almost 20 minutes later, Jackson returned to his son's hospital room, with four cups of coffee and some baked goodies from the café. He took his own cup and a muffin and placed the rest on the table on the end of Leroy's bed.
"You calmed down any?" Jackson asked, with a raised eyebrow, daring his son to treat him like he had the poor nurse.
Gibbs acknowledged his father's dig at his behaviour with a small nod, but dammit, he wanted to get out of here and he'd rather do it without all of the paperwork that follows signing out AMA.
He took a big gulp of coffee and felt some of the tension leave him; this coffee was really good!
"Sorry," Gibbs said, breaking his own personal rule yet again. "I've been waiting for Dr. Pitt to come and sign me out. Yesterday, he said he wanted me to stay one more night and then he'd be back to sort out my discharge and he's not due in until after lunch. I don't like hospitals, I hate waiting and I really need to get out of here."
"You hate waiting? Well, that's a surprise!" Jackson said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He might not know that man his son had grown to be very well yet, but there were certain facets of his personality that emerged during his teenaged years that had clearly never left.
Gibbs shot his father a half-hearted glare and carried on drinking his coffee. He wondered if the other two cups were supposed to be shared between the two of them or whether his father's sense of self-preservation ensured that Gibbs would have his standard three cups of morning coffee.
"Yes, they're both for you, LJ" Jackson assured his son having seen the younger man eyeball the cups hungrily.
Gibbs was glad that his father had come back into his life; a lot of time had passed since the funeral and he'd thought about the man from time to time. It was only recently, since the trip to Stillwater, that he had begun to relive some of the happier memories.
He didn't know the ins and outs of DiNozzo's childhood; he didn't think it was one full of abuse and torment but he didn't think it had been a happy one either. In fact, more than anything, Gibbs believed that his Senior Field Agent had led a very lonely childhood.
He and his father had their issues, who didn't? There had been rules as he grew up, like not touching his father's rifle, but there was nothing very strict. He had lived a very balanced childhood, one with scraped knees from bikes and tree-climbing and one with hot chocolate before bed and a night-time story. That was the kind of childhood he had strived for with Kelly.
His father may have screwed up in bringing a stranger to Shannon and Kelly's funeral, but there were worse sins out there. Now they had a chance to patch things up before it was too late; he wondered if Tony would ever have that opportunity with his own father.
"Dad, what are you doing tonight?"
Jackson looked a little thrown by the question but answered nonetheless. "I imagine I'll be trying to find some more food in those cupboards of yours. Really LJ, what do you actually eat?"
Gibbs ignored the possible forthcoming lecture about his grocery shopping and carried on with the original topic. "We're going to have a meal at Sorrentino's tonight, the team that is. Would you like to come?"
Jackson didn't know what to think. The last time he had met anyone from the team his son had seemed more than eager to limit their interaction, and yet here he was now with a clear invite to a meal with them all.
"Is this to do with DiNozzo?" he asked curiously.
"It is. One of his friends organised a meal for everyone at a small family restaurant that Tony likes; the owner is a bit of a mother hen towards him."
Jackson thought that was a bit rich coming from his son considering how much time and effort he had spent worrying over the boy from his hospital bed, but he refrained from saying anything along those lines. "Don't you want to keep this limited to just the team then? It seems like it could become kind of personal."
"Dad, I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't want you there. Besides, you've yet to meet Ducky, and I'm beyond one hundred percent certain that everyone, especially Tony, would like the chance to uncover some more dirt from my childhood; you clearly didn't tell them enough in Stillwater."
The older man was surprised to hear that his son was so readily prepared to put himself in front of the firing line; unlike his son, Jackson could talk for hours and would do so willingly. He had always thought you could get further with a few kind words that you could with a stern look.
"Well, if you're sure you don't mind your old man showing up and embarrassing you in front of your friends." He would look forward to spending more time with his son.
Gibbs smiled in response. He did want his father there; a few hours together during visiting hours whilst stuck in a hospital bed could hardly be counted as quality father-son time. More than that though, he felt like he owed Tony this. He had been abrupt with him in Stillwater, eager to keep the team and especially Tony away from his troubled past.
However, he had a lot of ground to cover with Tony in regaining the younger man's trust. By giving Tony full and open access to his childhood he thought that it might show the younger man just how much he trusted him; whether it be work related or something of a more personal nature, he trusted Tony and needed him to know that he wanted nothing more than to earn back some of the trust that he had taken for granted for so long now.
As morning visiting hours came to an end, he drew up some directions to Sorrentino's for his father, gave the man full permission to do some 'proper' grocery shopping, as the older man had phrased it, and added a few items of his own.
He was looking forward to this meal, and hoped that any damaged bridges between him and Tony had only been a little singed rather than burnt to a crisp.
Dr. Pitt had better get a move on, Gibbs thought darkly. His anticipation of the night's events once again evoked his infamous impatience.
The day had passed slowly, with the team once again looking over cold cases. Both Ziva and McGee had to know that it was because the Director didn't want them working a current case when their lead agent might be leaving half-way through it, but neither one of them complained in the slightest, and for that, Tony was grateful.
Lunch had come and gone before he realised, so wrapped up as he was in a cold case of Pacci's. He'd liked the quiet, sincere man; he was glad to be able to work the murder case and catch the son of a bitch that took one of their own.
Ziva placed a small Chinese take-out box on his desk along with a bottle of water. He thanked her and set about filling his stomach, wondering as he did so, just how he was going to tell Ziva and McGee that he was staying.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Vance leaning over the railing above and regarding the bull-pen with an unreadable expression. Tony got up and walked up the steps to meet him.
"Director," he greeted politely. "Can we talk? In your office?" he added, noticing that the two of them had drawn more than a few pairs of eyes.
Since his very public resignation almost two weeks ago, the scuttlebutt had been raging throughout the Major Crimes Unit about anything and everything; it ranged from Tony finally having had enough of Gibbs' physical abuse, to him resigning before he was fired because his Boss had finally had enough of his antics. It was all getting pretty annoying.
Vance nodded and led the way back to his office. He sat himself behind his desk and gestured towards another chair for Tony.
"What can I do for you, Agent DiNozzo?"
"I've been thinking things over…"
"I should hope so," Vance interrupted, one eyebrow raised as though he would had expected nothing less from the man opposite him.
Tony nodded, all too aware that it was next to impossible to be in a situation like his and not think things over. "I want to stay here at NCIS." He quickly looked up at the Director, trying to gauge his opinion on that.
His facial expression never changed, but Vance could feel himself doing a little internal happy dance; it may have taken him a long time, but he had finally come to realise that as much as he may dislike DiNozzo the man was a damn fine agent.
When DiNozzo had first handed in his letter of resignation, Vance could not deny that his initial reaction had been one of utmost joy; he had thought DiNozzo was too computer illiterate to matter in this technological age, and he did not have the reputation that Gibbs did.
However, DiNozzo's resignation had sparked a whole host of job offers, some from within NCIS, and some even from within the Major Crimes Unit itself. The FBI had offered him a job, Simmons had offered him a job, even the local Metro PD had given him an offer.
It was then that Vance realised that as much as he may not personally like one very Special Agent DiNozzo, the younger man had to be doing something right to garner so much interest in his professional future.
He did a lot of digging around in DiNozzo's file, trying to find something that might explain more about the unpredictable man only to come up empty-handed. He'd managed to find a few interesting bits of history, but nothing that would explain why he had lead agents coming up to his office trying to pilfer DiNozzo for their own teams.
His talk with Gibbs had revealed as much about DiNozzo as it had done about the older man; he knew right then and there that he would never get Gibbs to accept anyone else as his Senior Field Agent, and a happy Gibbs led to a much more peaceful time at NCIS HQ.
"Well, I'm glad to hear that Agent DiNozzo," he finally confessed. He may not like the man, but he wanted to excel in his position as Director of NCIS, and to do that he needed competent people working beneath him. "May I ask what made you change your mind?"
"I'm just not sure that I could leave everyone behind," Tony shrugged, and Vance knew that he wouldn't get much more out of the usually quite verbal man. He was beginning to figure out that it was what DiNozzo didn't say that said the most; he may talk, but rarely about anything of substance as he would keep his more personal thoughts to himself.
Vance nodded, accepting the answer for now. "Have you given any more thought to my other offer?" he asked, referring to an suggestion he made about making Tony a team leader in the near-future.
"I have," Tony admitted. "But I haven't come up with an answer yet. Can you ask me when the position is open?"
"Of course," Vance assured. One thing he had discovered when reading DiNozzo's files was that while he took over as team leader during Gibbs' little sojourn to Mexico, the team's case-closure rate never dropped. Considering he had been juggling a new position of responsibility, a fractured team and an undercover operation, he thought that Tony would make an ideal team leader for his Agency.
"And can we still not…"
"I won't say a word to Agent Gibbs, or anyone else," Vance interrupted.
Tony nodded, a relieved smile briefly flickering across his face. "Thank you Director Vance." He stood up to leave when the Director's voice stopped him.
"Does everyone else know you're staying?" Vance inquired curiously.
"I've told Gibbs, and I thought I should tell you before anyone else," Tony pointed out; the man was the Director after all, and he could refuse to accept Tony's decision to stay at NCIS.
"Thank you Agent DiNozzo." Vance was glad that the younger man seemed to respect the chain of command at least some what. He didn't miss that that still didn't stop Gibbs from being the first person to know. Vance may be the Agency's Director, but he would never be 'Boss' to anyone on that team, especially not to Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo.
Tony came back down the stairs and rang down to both autopsy and the forensics lab, asking for Ducky, Jimmy and Abby to come up to the bull-pen.
Ziva and McGee looked on as these calls were being made, and both were completely nonplussed. Had something happened in the Director's office? Was something wrong with Gibbs?
Apparently similar scenarios had run through the minds of Abby, Ducky and Jimmy as all three of them came racing into the bull-pen, aiming straight for Tony with a look of slight panic written across their faces.
"Tony?" Abby asked with trepidation. "Oh my God! Is it Gibbs? I knew he shouldn't have been walking around. He had a hole in his lung and they were making him walk around and do physiotherapy and he wasn't ready and they could be all sorts of complications and now he might…"
"Abby!" Tony almost shouted, trying to get her to stop and calm down, and more importantly to take a breath. "Gibbs is fine," he insisted. Once again he noticed that more than a few pairs of eyes were watching them all with interest. "Office, now."
Everyone dutifully followed him to the elevator which was swiftly paused mid-levels somewhere.
"You know, one of these days, the emergency brakes on this are going to give way and we're all going to plummet to our deaths," he predicted wryly.
"Tony!" Abby squealed impatiently, stamping her foot as she did so.
"Right, sorry. It's kind of cramped in here too, so I'll be brief. Yeah, so…um…I'm going to stay here at NCIS, with Gibbs' team, with you. Sorry Probie, no Senior Field Agent badge for you just yet."
Neither Ziva or McGee didn't know what to say, so sure as they had been that their team would be broken irreparably when Tony left.
Jimmy too was left momentarily stunned; he'd spent so much time trying to organise things and keep busy because he didn't want to think about losing Tony's friendship.
Abby was having unusual verbal problems, although she certainly didn't have any problems expressing herself; with a shrill squeal she threw herself at Tony who stumbled at the unexpected weight and winced when she caught his bad shoulder and he pulled on his bad side.
Ducky's verbose nature didn't escape him; "Anthony, my dear boy, I'm so glad that you've decided to stay. NCIS would be a very different place without you. I assume you've already spoken with Jethro."
"Yeah, I told him last night. Ow!" he cried out, rubbing his arm that Abby had just whacked, hard. "What was that for?"
"You've known that you're going to stay since yesterday and you're only just telling us now…that's what that was for!" Abby pulled her best stern expression and stood with her hands on her hips, however, her absolute joy at Tony's decision to stay soon brought about another hug and another smile.
"Does the Director know?" Ducky inquired curiously, eager to know what the man's reaction might have been.
"I just went up and talked to him. OW! Abby!"
"You told The Toothpick before you told us?" she demanded to know.
"Well I didn't want to have to tell you that the Director changed his mind and told to me take a long hike off a short pier."
"Ok," Abby said as she hugged him tightly, her enthusiasm blinding her once again to the painful grimace that crossed Tony's face. "You're forgiven."
"Thanks Abs," Tony managed between to too tight embrace and the pain flaring up in both his side and his shoulder. "Vance is letting me stay and there don't appear to be any issues there," he said to Ducky.
"Tony," McGee suddenly found his voice, "I'm really glad you decided to stay." He meant every word too; there were times when he found the Senior Field Agent beyond annoying, but he knew he still had a lot to learn from the man and he was eager to show that he could be a good Field Agent and not just some desk bound computer nerd.
"Thanks Probie, I did feel a little bad when I realised that I'd be leaving you to act as a buffer between Gibbs and the world. I already know that you make a good Senior Field Agent, but that was for me and not for Gibbs," Tony pointed out with a wicked grin.
McGee gulped; he too had spent a lot of time wondering about what it would be like to be Gibbs' Senior Field Agent and not once did his imagination come up with something pleasant. He wasn't as thick-skinned as Tony pretended to be and Gibbs' approval meant just as much. He wasn't sure that he would ever be able to fill Tony's shoes as Senior Field Agent; perhaps this was how DiNozzo felt about becoming team-lead when Gibbs went off to Mexico.
Ziva was still having difficulty expressing her emotions; she was much more used to burying her feelings and focusing on getting the job done. However, she knew that Tony would need something, a few words, a gesture, just something to let him know that she had meant it when she had told him that she wanted him and only him as her partner.
"Tony," she started quietly, making sure she had his attention. "I'm glad you will be here, watching my six."
"Well, it's a nice six to watch," Tony joked, wagging his eyebrows suggestively.
Everyone, even Ziva who groaned loudly but could not keep her true emotions from her eyes, felt themselves smile at this; it had been a long time since Tony had joked with his team. His jokes and the way he sometimes refused to take things seriously could often rub the team the wrong way, but they had missed his easy smile and they were glad to see its return, even if it was at their expense.
"I catch you 'watching' and you will lose more than your eyes," Ziva promised with a feral grin.
Tony smiled in return, he always liked it when Ziva gave as good as she got.
They jumped when there was a banging above them and then they heard an angry mutter. Tony released the emergency button and returned to the bullpen's floor. When the door opened, Special Agent Reyes and his team were geared up and had obviously been waiting to use the elevator.
"DiNozzo, despite what your Boss might think the elevator does not constitute a good office!"
Tony didn't look in the slightest bit chagrined as he left the crowded elevator with a grin and a small pat on the Lead Agent's shoulders.
"There's always the stairs," he pointed out, and went back to his desk before Reyes could say anything. Reyes stepped into the elevator with his team only to find three people still in there; Abigail Sciuto, Dr. Mallard and his assistant Mr. Palmer.
"Going down?" Abby asked, adopting her best impression of Tony's impish grin.
Tony managed to finish work at a reasonable hour, as did everyone else. He had hoped that everyone could go out for a bite to eat or maybe even a drink together, as a reunited team. However, it seemed as though everyone had unavoidable plans. He wasn't all that surprised; after all, he still technically had two days of his two weeks notice left.
He drove the now very familiar route to Bethesda and was surprised to find Gibbs was fully dressed and sat on his bed. His bag was by his feet and in his hands a bundle of paperwork.
"Gibbs?" he asked curiously; he'd thought the older man would be limited to a hospital bed for a little while longer yet.
"I've been granted a stay of execution," Gibbs said, not wanting to give anything away about just why he had been allowed to leave.
"Yes, and you have strict instructions to follow," came a voice from behind Tony. He turned and found himself face-to-face with Dr. Brad Pitt.
"Doc, what's going on? I thought he was supposed to be having a pretty strict physiotherapy regime that would keep him in here for a few more days."
"He's doing ok in physio and he can complete it as an outpatient. I was hoping to speak with either you or Dr. Mallard about making sure the stubborn idiot doesn't go and do something stupid,"
"Like driving off the edge of a pier?" Tony asked, smirking at his Boss. He was used to a dressing down after a hospital visit, but he'd yet to see Gibbs get a good telling off for his actions; he was going to enjoy this.
"Yes," agreed Brad. "That sort of thing."
"And getting blown up?" Tony added, his grin deepening as Gibbs' eyes narrowed.
"I think he gets the point, Tony. Do you think you or Dr. Mallard can survive him long enough to get him to behave? I may not have done the work on him but that doesn't mean I want him darkening the corridors of my hospital or scaring away my nurses again," the young doctor finished with a pointed look at Gibbs.
"Come on, DiNozzo, get me out of here," Gibbs requested as he got slowly to his feet, ignoring Brad's comments and Tony's look of incredulity at the fact that he was being allowed to leave hospital so soon; he was always forced to stay in his hospital bed for far longer than he needed to be by either Gibbs or Ducky…well, they tried to keep him there at any rate.
"Not so fast hot-shot," Brad pushed Gibbs back down onto the bed and disappeared into the hallway, returning seconds later pushing a wheelchair.
Gibbs scowled at the thing and Tony couldn't help but grin again.
"Hospital policy," Brad insisted. "I'm doing you a favour releasing you now, so you had better behave and do as I say at least until you leave the hospital."
"He will be ok though, right?" Tony asked uncertainly. He didn't like hospitals much either so he could sympathise with his Boss; however, he didn't want the man's health to deteriorate because he was being too stubborn.
"If he takes his antibiotics and the painkillers, comes to his physiotherapy sessions, does his breathing exercises and takes it easy…" Brad almost spat out these last few words trying to get his point across to the stubborn older man who was sat glaring at him. "…if he does all these things, then he should be fine. The most important thing is that he doesn't overdo it; plenty of rest is the best medicine for him right now."
"Ok," Tony nodded, trying to take it all in.
"You going to be around to take care of it or do I need to pass all these instructions onto Dr. Mallard?" Brad asked; Gibbs had told him earlier but he wanted to hear it straight from the horse's mouth.
"I'll be here," Tony promised with a steely tone, letting Gibbs know just how firm he intended to be in his care-giving.
Gibbs smiled and sat himself down in the wheelchair. "Now that all of that is sorted get me out of here. I want some food…some real food. Let's go to Sorrentino's; I could do with some nice home-cooked Italian."
Tony shook his head; "And everyone thinks I'm the one with issues about food," he muttered as he grabbed hold of the wheelchair. He gave his thanks to Brad and promised to keep in touch with him about Gibbs' condition.
"Alright," Tony said, once he had placed Gibbs' bag in the boot of his car. "Sorrentino's it is; it will be nice to see her fussing over someone else for a change," he mused.
Gibbs snorted at that; "DiNozzo, that woman lives to mother you!"
"I don't know Gibbs," Tony said as he peered in through the windows of his favourite family restaurant. "It looks pretty dark to me, maybe she's closed for the night."
"Don't be stupid DiNozzo, Rosa wouldn't shut this place down even for an hour. Come on," he called, going to the door and pushing it open.
"Boss, I really don't think…"
"SURPRISE!" a loud chorus shouted out and as the lights were flicked back on Tony caught sight of everyone.
Abby was rocking back and forth on her heels, her hands clasped together held in front of her in eager anticipation. Ducky had his hand on Jimmy's shoulder and was talking quietly to the younger man as Jimmy watched Tony's face, nervously trying to gauge his response. McGee was stood to one side with a goofy across his face, while Ziva was sat down nearby looking unsure of what to do with herself.
What really surprised him though, was the old man sat across the table from Ziva; what on earth was Jackson Gibbs doing here? He turned to his Boss and was about to ask the very same question but Gibbs forestalled it, holding his hand in the air firmly indicating 'stop.'
"Palmer organised this for you; he wanted you to have one last team meal in case you decided to go," Gibbs explained. "Abby phoned my father and I invited him here; I wanted him to meet my team. But DiNozzo, that doesn't mean its time for twenty questions; maybe ten if you behave," he added with a grin.
Tony nodded, unsure as to why Gibbs was allowing him this unusual liberty with his Boss' private life. He'd leave the issue alone and promised himself that if he did find himself doing some pretty heavy digging into Gibbs' childhood then he would attempt to rein himself in – easier said than done of course.
He headed towards Jimmy, who, with a gentle push from Ducky was coming to meet him slightly away from everyone else. Tony didn't know what to say; no-one had ever gone to the trouble of organising a surprise party for him before. He'd been to plenty of parties before; ones that he had organised himself, ones that he had been invited to, and some very wild ones that he and his frat buddies had crashed, but never one that was being held in his honour.
"Jimmy, I don't know what…thanks," Tony said with as much heartfelt feeling as he could inject into one word.
Palmer smiled, glad that Tony was ok with the surprise; Tony might sometimes act like a small child, but Jimmy knew that he was not a big fan of surprises.
"It was the least I could do, Bandit," Jimmy said, unsure of what else really needed to be said.
"You didn't have to do anything, but I appreciate it Love Machine," Tony grinned back.
"Ok, very good," mumbled Gibbs, "But can we sit down and get a drink now?"
"Only if that drink is a can of soda," Tony said with a knowing smile.
"Like hell DiNozzo, it can be a beer or it can be a glass of bourbon, but my drink is going to have a damn percentage on the side of the bottle."
It was exactly the reaction that Tony had expected. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a list of 'do's and don'ts' from Brad. "No alcohol with your antibiotics," he pointed out gleefully; turnaround was fair play and in his mind he had been waiting a long time for Gibbs to be forced to follow these sorts of instructions, instructions that Gibbs always made sure he followed to the letter.
He walked off to greet everyone else and then went over to Jackson. "Mr. Gibbs," he greeted the old man politely. "How are you doing?"
"Very well, thank you Agent DiNozzo; how about yourself?"
"Tony, please," he insisted. "I'm good," he said and he was he realised that he really was. The future may hold more problems for him with his position on Team Gibbs, but right now the fact that he was not only staying in DC, but that he was staying with these people who meant the world to him, helped ease the heavy burden that he had been carrying on his shoulders for so long now.
"That's good," Jackson nodded; his unfamiliarity with the younger man and his own son's reaction to DiNozzo's possible resignation made him think twice before opening his mouth. Abby had told him that Tony was an excellent agent who respected his son and followed him with a strong sense of loyalty; she also said that he was insecure, especially in regards to Leroy's opinion of him.
Jackson was about to try and initiate further conversation when a heavily accented voice called out. He turned to see that the cry had come from a small woman, so small in stature that Jackson could hardly believe she had such a powerful voice to her.
"Antonio!" Rosa Sorrentino came bustling out of the kitchen and headed over to her favourite customer. She gently grabbed his chin with a small hand and shifted his head so that she could look into his eyes. She was evidently happy with what she saw there, as she grasped his hand and gently led him over to the centre of the room where several tables had been pushed together to make one big one.
"Tony," Ziva greeted from her seat with a soft smile. She enjoyed watching DiNozzo being fussed over by this tiny Sicilian woman; Tony liked attention but not if that attention was focused too closely upon him and his welfare.
"Sit," Rosa demanded.
"Mama…" Tony began.
"Silencio!" Rosa said loudly but not unkindly. "You told me you would not get shot," she pointed out.
"I didn't get shot," Tony mumbled, ignoring the various snorts of disbelief that came from around the table. "I didn't," Tony insisted a little louder. "The bullet grazed my side, that is not getting shot."
Mama Sorrentino raised an eyebrow at that but left it for now. "And the other bullet?" she asked quietly but with a steely tone.
Tony gulped slightly; "You know about the…" he trailed off as he saw Rosa nod her head. "Well, the vest caught that one," he backtracked. "So I'm just a little bruised; that's not really being shot either."
Mama Sorrentino shook her head and threw up her hands in despair and went back to the kitchen, mumbling in Italian as she went. Tony tried hard not to blanch at the thought of her going into total mother hen mode in front of everyone.
Everyone seated themselves round the table and the afternoon turned to evening quickly. Ducky and Jackson had spent a great deal of time talking together and only rarely did their conversation include tales of Gibbs; their naturally verbose natures meant that they were the designated story-tellers for the evening.
Palmer and Abby had spent most of their time entertaining Tony with tales of a new agent on one of the other Major Crimes teams; this agent was apparently more than a little klutzy and definitely lacking in common sense. Everyone agreed that they all wanted to be present when this agent made himself known to Gibbs.
Ziva and McGee had been a little quieter than usual; both were silently trying to reassure themselves that Gibbs was healthy and ok, and that Tony was indeed going to be sticking around for a little while longer.
McGee was sure that DiNozzo would be up to all of his old tricks with superglue and paper-balls in no time at all, but he also knew how much Tony valued this team and so for now Tim was happy to just sit back and watch the Senior Field Agent relax.
Ziva was glad she still had her partner; she liked McGee but she did not think that he yet had DiNozzo's prowess in the field. She recalled when she returned had first returned from Tel Aviv and rejoined Gibbs' team; her partner's absence had hung heavily in the bullpen. The silences were too long and Gibbs' temper was too short; it was during that period when she realised just how much of a buffer Tony created between a pissed off Gibbs and his exposed team.
Gibbs had spent most of his evening with relative silence too. He had interjected when he thought his father's stories about him were straying too far from the truth, or too close. He raised an amused eyebrow at Abby's impression of him meeting a new agent. He watched both McGee and Ziva as they in turn watched Tony and he found himself examining their expressions.
He also paid close attention to his Senior Field Agent, who had endured mothering from Rosa, teasing from Abby and even the odd tale about him that Ducky had insisted on telling Jackson. He wasn't sure what his father thought of his team yet, but he hoped that the man recognised just how important these people were to him; Tony, perhaps, most of all.
He loved Abby and Ducky was one of his oldest friends, both Ziva and McGee were on his team…they were his people! With Tony though…the two of them had been through so much together since the time they first met in Baltimore. Gibbs wasn't sure just how far he would go to help DiNozzo, and sometimes that thought scared the hell out of him.
What he did know was that no matter how scared he got, he would always go the distance for Tony; he just hoped he didn't screw up again and let DiNozzo doubt him for a second time.
The darkness had descended a while ago outside; the lively ambience and the aromatic smells coming from the kitchen helped to keep everyone in warm spirits.
Jackson had finished yet another story about his son doing something that he ought not to have been doing; everyone was enjoying these childhood stories of their Boss, whose default expression was one of stoic sincerity.
"I can't believe you brought your dad to this; you must have known we'd spend all our time digging up dirt on you," Tony said, a full smile and merriment dancing in his eyes.
"I figured something like that might happen," the older man confessed.
"And you did it anyway? You sure you only damaged your side? I'm thinking you must have hit your head when you went down."
Gibbs ignored him and looked him straight in the eyes so the younger man could have no doubt that he meant every word. "I also figured that it would be worth it."
"Oh," Tony said quietly, as realisation hit. Between the banter the team tossed back and forth, and the mining expeditions into Gibbs' childhood, Tony had thought that it was good to see two previously estranged men reconnect. He'd never suspected that Gibbs' invitation might also have been for his own benefit.
He liked Jackson, and certainly enjoyed listening to the more colourful experiences of his Boss' childhood escapades. More than that, he liked that he wasn't being made the sole focus of the meal.
He was amazed and touched that Jimmy had spent so long trying to get this meal together. However, at the start of the evening he had worried that he might get a little more attention than he liked. He was staying and to be honest, he would rather not have everyone focusing on his near resignation; Jackson's presence had been a God send.
"You know," Gibbs began, gently resting an arm on Tony's uninjured shoulder. "One day you'll have your own team; hell, it could even be tomorrow now that Vance has finally come around! You'll make a damn fine Lead Agent Tony; I think you'll do far better than I ever could."
"I don't know Gibbs, you cast a pretty big shadow."
"You calling me fat DiNozzo!" Gibbs said sternly, but the twinkle in his clear blue eyes and the twitching corner of his mouth gave him away. "I can get the job done Tony, and I get the whole Marine mentality thing, but you can do that and more; you play nice with the local LEO's and piss off the brass and look after your team in a sometimes suicidal way and you're far better at dealing with people than I will ever be. I'm proud of you, Tony."
Tony didn't know what to say; he was still unused to so much open praise from his Boss. He knew that Vance hadn't told Gibbs anything about the job offer; he might not like the Director but he did seem to be a man of his word. And yet Gibbs still seemed so sure that Tony would be running his own team before long.
He didn't think he was ready for his own team yet; he now knew that he had the ability but he wasn't sure that he was ready for the heavy responsibility that came with leading a team. Maybe next year he would feel different; there was still plenty of time to consider it as a possibility.
"Yeah," Gibbs interrupted his quiet musings and this time he made no attempt to hide the smirk on his face. "You'll do DiNozzo," he nodded to himself, the smirk never leaving his face. With a quiet laugh Gibbs turned and headed back to the table to talk with his father.
"Bastard," Tony muttered, shaking his head but smiling none the less. By the shaking of his Boss' shoulders the older man had obviously heard him curse and found it to be just as amusing.
Maybe things would be ok after all.
There you go…finally finished! Please let me know what you think. It certainly ended up being a lot longer than I had intended and the ending is a lot different to what I had originally thought, but I figured this one worked best with the story as it progressed.
Huge thanks to everyone who has read this story, and who has had the patience to stick it out with me to the end.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed, especially the following: TheNaggingCube, thevigilante15, Ann, Gibbs4Eva, NickTonyK, XX-Samantha-XX, scousemuz1k, The Greek Me, angry penguin, Obsessed Pam, Laura-trekie, Sarah1965, The Dream Guardian, Endgame65, diana teo, sarahsrr, Azamiko - who have been following this story from the beginning; your continuing support and feedback has been a real help in both shaping this story, and giving me the drive to finish it.
An extra special thanks to ncismom, (whose story 'A Cry For Help' I thoroughly recommend), tvlover, mamamia1964, catsmeou and gholtlforever for their continuous messages of support.
An extra extra special thanks to CSIGeekFan for all of the constructive criticism which was particularly helpful for someone with my atrocious grammatical skills, so thanks!
A few people have already asked about a sequel; there are no plans for a sequel just yet although I would never write it off as a possibility. However, I have been thinking about writing a prequel, not for this story but for NCIS as a whole; the focus would be on DiNozzo and Gibbs meeting in Baltimore.