A/N: Thanks to CSIGeekFan, Will and Obsessed Pam for reading through everything for me. Also, I know it was quite a while ago now, but a huge thanks to mirajo for sparing the time and having the patience to indulge my Tony/Anthony obsession. Thanks again to everyone for reading and for all your comments. Hope you enjoy the final chapter. SA


Chapter 7 – Notes and noticing


Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo had just finished reading through his team's reports. Each member had dutifully completed his or her account of the investigation and one-by-one the reports had appeared on his desk before McGee and Ziva had headed out for the evening. Although DiNozzo had handed the Boss's baton back to Gibbs outside the airport, they had agreed that DiNozzo would sign off on the reports before they got passed up the chain. He'd just read Gibbs' report, somewhat surprised that the man hadn't waited until DiNozzo had got back from the head before leaving; he'd hoped to have had a quick word. DiNozzo closed the file and placed it on top of McGee's and Ziva's before adding his own report to the pile.

It had been a landmark day for him. Knowing he wasn't infallible; that he'd screwed up was nothing new. Admitting it—out loud—to his whole team, Gibbs included; that was new. And although the case hadn't been closed exactly as he would have liked, the day had ended much better than he thought it ever could.

He owed Abby big time.

If someone had told him earlier that if he just 'stopped craving' or 'searching' for something that it would find him, he wouldn't have believed them. But he was older, wiser now – still Anthony D DiNozzo, just with a few of the rough edges knocked off. Still sporting a mask (a mask that proved invaluable undercover) but a mask that was not as impenetrable as before – because that was the way he wanted it. It was the way it had to be. There was no going back. The old Tony DiNozzo had resigned, and in his place stood the person that had always been there but seldom seen - Anthony. This new Tony deserved a chance and Gibbs had given him–Anthony–that chance from the first day they'd met. Gibbs had seen Anthony back then; known Anthony was in him. Today, he'd acknowledged Anthony. Given him the recognition he'd been searching for all his life; someone to say that he was making them proud. That Gibbs had been the one to say it, made it all the more poignant. He honestly hadn't expected ever to hear it, having resigned himself to the fact that he would never get that kind of recognition. He'd stopped searching.

And then – those words.

'Making it right... and me proud.'

There was more behind those words than Reny's case.

'Boss... I...'

'Not your fault.'

'We both know I screwed up.'

'Yeah. Three years ago.'

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

'Anthony.'

Tony placed the reports in the filing cabinet behind his desk and locked it. He'd send the reports to Vance in the morning. Vance, not Jenny, he thought. Powering down his computer he opened his left hand drawer intending to grab his Sig but a slight rustling caught his attention. Recognising the off white paper immediately—he was going to kill Abby—Tony grabbed the crumpled A4 sheet and headed over to the shredder. Scary as it was, old Tony was going to be shredded into tiny little pieces and new Tony was going to enjoy doing it.

The sheet wouldn't go in, and as Tony smoothed and straightened the edges he noticed the additional writing on the opposite side. He'd recognise that scrawl anywhere. Over the past eight years, his desk had been littered with hastily scribbled notes in the exact same handwriting.

As he read the words, Tony fought hard to swallow the lump that began to form at the back of his throat.

.

Anthony's Strengths

.

Honor

Courage

Commitment

.

PS - Basement 21:00. Bring Bourbon. Boat's covered.

.


Forty minutes later, after a brief detour via his own apartment, DiNozzo stood leaning in the doorway at the top of stairs that led down to Gibbs's basement. Bourbon clutched in left hand; paper in right, Tony surveyed the scene below.

Gibbs was studying plans and checking measurements, bent over the bench at the side of the room. Without warning, his boss grabbed an old mug and a glass jar, tipping both their contents out and onto the bench. Gibbs sighed impatiently before swivelling around, folding his arms, leaning back against the bench and looking up in his direction.

"Gonna stand there all night, DiNozzo?"

They both quirked a smile.

Tony slowly made his way down the wooden steps—examining each in close detail—until he reached the sawdust-coated basement floor. Walking over to the bench, Tony held out the bottle of Bourbon to Gibbs.

"Thanks... for noticing, Boss."

Both men stood together, wanting to say more but neither doing so, trapped in their usual rule of choice - silent understanding. Talking wasn't allowed. It wasn't what they did. Except that Gibbs decided to break the unspoken rule.

"Ack, DiNozzo. You did good," Gibbs sighed, taking the bottle from Tony.

"McGee hates me," Tony stated matter of fact and tucking the sheet of paper into his pants pocket.

"He'll get over it." Gibbs stiffened. "Or he'll answer to me."

"No."

"No?" he queried; Tony's firm response having amused him.

"Leave it. Back off."

Gibbs poured two generous measures of Bourbon and handed the glass jar to Tony.

"Why?"

"I want..." Tony paused, gently sloshing the liquid around in the jar. "Let McGee figure it out himself. He's intelligent. Way smarter than me. And let's be honest—while I'm in such a rare and willing state of frank openness—what you did, the way you did it... it was very effective at getting me to pull my head out of my ass... see the big picture. If it worked with me, it'll work with McGee. Believe me, Boss. It's very effective."

"Also a bitch to keep up, Tony."

It was as close to an apology as he was likely to get.

"He'll forgive." Green eyes met blue. "In any case, McGee's a quick learner."

Gibbs raised an eyebrow and took a sip of Bourbon.

"If it interferes with a case, then I'll deal with it. I'll speak to him," Tony replied, meeting Gibbs's silent question head on.

"Good. Because if you don't..."

"You will. Leadership. I know."

"McGee won't be the only one I talk to, Tony."

Tony didn't say anything, just nodded his understanding. Gibbs knew there was more to come. Seconds turned into a minute, but Gibbs waited. Tony took a swig of Bourbon and then downed the rest of his drink. Placing the empty jar on the bench next to Gibbs, Tony walked the short distance to Gibbs's boat and began to run his fingers over the smooth hull.

Gibbs matched him, letting the remains of his own drink slip down into the pit of his stomach before pouring two more measures – holding back slightly on Tony's.

"This was never about proving yourself as team lead, DiNozzo. Not to me. Not to anyone." Gibbs took a step forward closing the space between the two of them. "If you'd wanted a team, you would've taken Rota."

"Guess so."

"Guess? Thought I'd smacked that out of you."

Tony snorted, shooting a genuine smile in Gibbs's direction, but refusing the jar that Gibbs offered. He'd had other concerns back then; other excuses for why he didn't want to take the job. Tony waited, watching as Gibbs sighed and set the Bourbon back down on the bench.

"It was about sorting out things in here." Gibbs raised two fingers and tapped his own left temple twice. "Reny's case. Important stuff. Making it right. Showing people things they missed. Things they never even thought to look for. Finding out what's hidden... underneath."

"You're not exactly a top model for 'essence of openness' yourself, Gibbs."

"Nope. But I'm not you, Tony. And you're not me – whatever Ducky says. You don't wanna be me. If it helps, I don't think you're gonna turn into a..."

"Bourbon swigging, Marine-crossed-fed who builds boats in his basement," Tony smirked. "That's a given. My apartment's on the third floor; I hate woodwork, and although I have been known to drink the occasional jar of Bourbon, there's one other tiny little flaw. I'm not a Marine."

"Read the list?"

Tony swallowed. "Gibbs."

"Read it again." Gibbs gestured to Tony's right pants pocket.

Tony resisted the urge to grab and read the paper he'd stuffed in there earlier. "Don't need to," he stated, knowing full well the Marine core values when he saw them.

"Meant it."

"I know."

"Tony. Your list... good start. Need to work at it. Not gonna be easy."

"Yeah, like this past year's been a picnic, Gibbs," Tony snapped, before dropping his gaze briefly back to the boat. "I'm trying."

"You can try harder."

"So can you," Tony rebuked sharply, challenging Gibbs to disagree.

Another minute of silence passed before Tony shifted his stance, reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a carefully folded red patterned tie. After turning it over in his hands twice, Tony thrust it towards Gibbs. "Franks left it with me. Thought you might need it sometime."

Gibbs studied Tony's offering. "Keep it, Tony."

"Gibbs," Tony fudged, "It's not really my colour, ya know. I mean... red and green—"

"Keep it," Gibbs stated firmly, pushing both Tony's hand and the tie away. "If I need it, I'll come collect."

"You mean that?"

"Damn it, DiNozzo!"

"Keeping it, Boss," Tony shot back with a smile, raising both hands and tie in mock defence.

Satisfied that an understanding had been reached, both men returned to their unspoken rule of silent understanding. Gibbs would try to confide more in Tony, and Tony would continue to try and show people more of Anthony.

Tony wandered around the basement, fidgeting with tools and running his hands over the upturned hull of the boat, before returning to the side bench where Gibbs had begun to focus on plans and measurements. Finally, Tony couldn't stand it any longer and broke the silence. "I gotta ask. What d'ya think of my lists?"

"Doesn't matter what I think," Gibbs answered. "You're moving on."

"Matters to me."

Gibbs took a sip of Dutch courage. He owed Tony his thoughts. "Must've been hard to write."

"Nope. Writing was easy, once I'd taken the plunge. Stomaching it... that was hard. You're avoiding the question, Gibbs."

Gibbs's expression revealed the inner struggle as he searched for the appropriate words. "Honestly..."

"Honest would be nice. Not that I like you nice or anything."

Gibbs turned to face Tony. "I thought..."

"You thought narcissistic, arrogant, self-obsessed, irreplaceable, strutting peacock slash SOB who just got one hell of an attitude adjustment?"

Gibbs smiled. "Knew you'd swim."

The End.