Rules One and Twelve

This is set in the summer between seasons 6 and 7, within the few days after the team finds out about Ziva's death on the Damocles. (For those of you who've read my story Worth Dying Over in the last few days, this is the conversation Tony refers to in the last chapter).

"Come on, almost there," Gibbs said for the hundredth time as he eased Tony over the threshold and into the house.

Tony pulled away from him and stumbled over to the couch, flopping down onto it.

Gibbs switched on the lights and pulled a chair over to the couch, sighing as he looked down at his senior agent. "They said you were yelling the bar," he said with irritation. "What's going on?" He flinched as he heard the question come out of his mouth. Of course he knew what was going on.

Tony twisted enough to glare at him.

"I know you miss her, Tony," Gibbs said gruffly. "I do too."

Tony was suddenly sitting up, fists clenched. "It's your fault! She wouldn't be dead if you just hadn't left her there!"

Gibbs' eyes hardened as he jerked back at Tony's sudden aggression. At once he returned it in kind. "You know what she said to me? That she couldn't work with you anymore, that I'd have to transfer one of you." He regretted the words instantly as Tony's face fell and he crumpled on his side, curling up on the couch, his jaw trembling. Gibbs could smell the alcohol on his breath from where he sat.

"Is that true Boss?" Tony whimpered.

Gibbs slid off the chair and squatted where he could see the other man's face. "She was hurting, Tony. She wasn't ready to be with us again."

"With me. Because of what I did." Tony's voice was plaintive, child-like.

"No, Tony." Gibbs sighed. "If it's easier to blame me, blame me. But you did not do this."

Tony pressed his face into the couch cushion. His words were muffled when he spoke. "Never screw over your partner. Rule number one."

"You were trying to do right by her." Gibbs rested his hand on Tony's back.

"If I hadn't gone there--" Tony began to insist.

"She might have died in the explosion."

Tony turned back toward him, his face streaked with tears. "But she's dead now."

Gibbs closed his eyes briefly to control his own pain. "It's too late now. The rules don't matter anymore."

"Gibbs." Tony pulled away from his hand, sitting up again as his expression went from grief to rage. "How can you say that? If not for the rules--" His eyes flooded again, but he rose, walking as he ranted. "I loved her, Gibbs. I loved her so much, and you and Jenny couldn't make it work, but I loved Ziva!" He mumbled the words over and over, waving his arms for emphasis, until love lost all meaning.

Gibbs watched Tony's face, his heart breaking for a second time that week. He remembered making the rule, after Jenny, remembered the pain. Tony's was worse.

Tony finally stopped, standing trembling over Gibbs. "I should have got to love her," Tony insisted, less adamantly now that he'd met no resistance. "It was a bad rule, Boss."

Gibbs sighed. "You're right."

Tony dropped down onto the couch again, tears sliding occasionally down his cheeks. "What am I gonna do?" he asked, the alcohol starting wear off.

Leaning forward from his chair, Gibbs put his arms around Tony, held him as the tears fell harder. Tony had been right, this was all his fault. His fault for keeping them apart, his fault for encouraging Tony to go after Rivkin, his fault for not bringing Ziva home. But there was nothing to gain by confession or apology.

"It'll get better," he said into Tony's ear, rubbing his back while he cried. But he wasn't sure he believed it himself.

After a few minutes, Tony pulled away and curled up drunkenly on the couch, falling asleep. As Gibbs tugged a blanket over him, he glanced at the wall, at the single photo he allowed himself of Kelly and Shannon, a team photo with Kate, another with Ziva. His gaze dropped sadly to Tony. You forgot the pain, minute to minute, he thought. But it was never gone. Gibbs headed for the basement stairs. Now he needed a drink.