A/N: So...how about last night's season premiere? Very possibly my favorite episode yet! I won't use this author's note to ramble on about it, but I did post my opinions on my profile if you're interested. This is a simple tag directly after the end of the episode, where I get to explore some of Tony's angsty thoughts and warm fuzzies between the NCIS boys. :)
Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS.
Where We Belong
Tony watched as Abby held Ziva; a slower, gentler hug than usual, but filled with more sincerity than any other gesture could have shown.
He wasn't sure what to think, what to feel. On the one hand…Ziva was alive and safe, an unexpected bonus to the African mission. Ever since hearing his former partner had died at sea, he had hardly been able to concentrate on anything other than avenging her. And Gibbs had actually listened to him. Gibbs and Director Vance. The rather hastily-concocted plan had worked even better than expected.
On the other hand…where did things go from here? He knew he and Ziva could not go on pretending as though nothing had happened. He didn't even know if she was planning on remaining in the U.S. or heading back to Israel right away. Part of him wished she would leave. Their relationship was too painful now, ruined by all the things they'd said and hadn't said. But the other part of him reasoned that he probably would not be able to function without her, and he certainly wouldn't want anyone else admitted to the team in her place. The conundrum of needing Ziva and wanting her far away at the same time was impossible to solve.
Couldn't live without you, I guess.
How he wished he could.
McGee watched his partner from a few yards away. Not Ziva—she was carefully greeting Ducky at the moment—but Tony, who had headed directly to his desk and whose eyes were fixed on Ziva. There was an almost pained expression on his bruised face.
Tentatively, Tim approached his friend.
The man looked up and smiled at him; not the usual DiNozzo grin—more subdued.
"Great job, Tim."
McGee couldn't help but beam at the rare compliment, a validation of his suspicions (and secret hopes) that he and Tony had grown closer over the past few months.
"You did it all, really. I was just...there."
Tony shook his head. "Couldn't have done it without you. Thanks."
The words were said with absolute solemnity, and since McGee knew the effects of the truth serum had worn off long ago, he realized he was seeing more of the rare, expressive Tony whose face had emerged during Ziva's absense.
"Anytime." He cracked a grin as he clasped his partner's proffered hand. "On second thought, let's try to keep the 'getting captured by terrorists' excursions to a minimum, okay?"
DiNozzo had to laugh at that. "Deal."
And McGee continued on to his own desk. No further words were needed.
The senior field agent looked up in surprise. Apparently he hadn't noticed that Gibbs had been watching him for several minutes.
Gibbs perched on the edge of the desk, his eyes boring into the man below him. Tony held the gaze bravely, and the team leader knew with absolute certainty that the frat boy who had once been his own Probie had really grown up. It had been coming on slowly for some time—since before Jenny died—but now the reality was there before his eyes.
DiNozzo had headed a foreign mission and succeeded even further than his aims. He had performed brilliantly, made the terrorist believe he had the upper hand, and gotten everyone out safely—with some assistance, of course, but he had managed to keep them all alive until that back-up was ready.
Gibbs' question was a simple yet complicated one: "How do you feel?"
It was a mark of how challenging the past months had been that Tony did not fall back on his usual, 'Fine.' Instead he sighed and let his eyes roam the bullpen while Gibbs waited patiently.
"I feel…confused," he admitted finally. "Everything went smoothly, but I expected to be…happier…than I am."
"Things are more complicated than they seem from an outsider's view," Gibbs agreed. "Welcome to the world of heading a major operation, DiNozzo. You're never as satisfied as you think you should be." He knew Tony had also been referring to Ziva being dropped back into his life, but there would be plenty of time to discuss the Israeli officer later. "You did good."
Tony's eyes widened in surprise and gratitude.
"You mean it?"
"Don't make me say it again, DiNozzo."
The Italian laughed, and the genuine sound, missing from the agency for far too long, was music to Gibbs' ears.
"I won't, boss."
They sat in companionable silence for a moment, watching Ziva talk quietly with Palmer. Then Gibbs cleared his throat.
"Have you ever thought about running your own team?"
Tony did not look away from Ziva, but Gibbs noticed how his mouth turned downwards at the question.
"You're ready," Gibbs said quietly.
Tony finally met his leader's eyes.
"I know," he said softly.
"But you're not planning on pushing for a promotion, are you?" Gibbs confirmed the unspoken thoughts running through the younger man's head.
"No," Tony affirmed. "This…this is my family, Gibbs. This is my team."
"Glad to hear it." Gibbs smiled and rested his hand on Tony's shoulder for a moment before wordlessly drifting to his own desk.
Tony, McGee, and Gibbs sat contentedly in the squadroom as the rest of the world went about their daily tasks. The same thought was running through all three heads, though they didn't know it:
For better or for worse, everyone was finally back where they belonged.