Disclaimer – If this was a part of the show I wouldn't have had to write it, now would I?
Souvenir – from the French for 'memory' an object whose value comes from the memories associated with it. Not long, slightly random, but the first thing that I hope actually sounds like Tony and Gibbs that I've written for a long while. Occurs between Season 5 and 6 as Tony prepares to ship out.
Tony hesitated as he went to close the zip around his holdall. The bag wasn't even all that full. All of his designer suits had been left behind. Numerous pairs of hand made shoes, expensive silk ties and crisp cotton dress shirts were still in his closet. Even his personal grooming kit had been pared down to its bare essentials. Contrary to what people might think Anthony DiNozzo knew how to pack light. And it wasn't as if an Agent Afloat could expect to date much. Leave would only happen when the ship was in port.
Still, it wasn't as if he had been dating much anyway. Not since Jeanne.
He looked wistfully at his bed. He would miss his king sized bed and its Egyptian cotton sheets with their high thread count which caressed his skin. He wandered out of his bedroom, down the hallway into his lounge and its adjacent kitchen. He had never been that attached to his apartment as such. But he would miss his entertainment centre and its cinema quality sound system. Looking through his DVD collection he picked a handful he didn't think he could live without. Moving into his kitchen he looked sadly at the range of take out menus pinned to the cork board.
He was really going to miss delivery Pizza.
Turning on his heel Tony stepped back into the lounge room, tipping his head on one side as his eyes lit on the small range of photos in simple silver frames on the bookshelf. Pressing his lips together he picked up a photo of him Abby, Ziva, McGee, Ducky and Gibbs at an NCIS charity baseball game. He remembered Palmer giving him the photo, not long after Gibbs had left for his hiatus in Mexico. The look of pride and affection in his Boss' eyes as he congratulated Tony on his game winning home run had sustained the younger man through several moments of self doubt during his time as Team Lead.
Making a decision he pulled the photo out of its frame and tucked it carefully in his billfold.
Taking a deep breath, he took a last look around before making his way back down the hallway. He tucked the DVDs into his holdall before zipping it firmly shut. A tearful Abby had faithfully promised to come round and check his place now and again, forward his mail and water his plants. He knew she would take care of his things as if they were her own, given the amount of notice Vance had given him to organise his affairs, (and Tony did his best to swallow his bitterest at that), he was more than grateful that she was prepared to help out until Gibbs could bring him home.
He didn't need to check his watch to know it was time to go.
Tony closed his eyes. He knew there were NCIS Agents who would kill their own grandmother for even a chance at an assignment as an Agent Afloat. On paper it was a prestigious assignment, a significant promotion and something of a feather in his cap. Tony could only see it a punishment, for him, for letting Jenny die, or maybe for Gibbs, tearing apart the former Marine's team just to prove that Vance was now the big man on campus. Either way, it was ripping him away from his home, his NCIS family and the only real security he had ever known.
The chime of his doorbell snapped his eyes open and quirked his mouth into a rueful smile even as he made his way to his front door.
"Boss," He greeted the former marine without surprise. "Shouldn't you be back at the Navy Yard head slapping your new team into shape?"
"Gonna take more than a few head slaps," Gibbs shook his head as he stepped inside. "Agent Lee is still green around the edges, Keaton doesn't have the instincts of a field Agent, and just because he's a few steps ahead of their game Langer thinks he's damned well invincible. If my hair wasn't already grey that would sure as hell do it, told 'em I'd be back in an hour and they damned well better have something for me. "
"You got them going through cases we already solved?" Tony realised.
"Vance gave us a couple of days off rotation to shake down," Gibbs acknowledged. "Need to see what they're made of. After lunch I'm going to take 'em out to the range, see how well they shoot."
The memory hit Tony like a physical pain. Gibbs' smirk as he nailed Kate's palm pilot and his beloved cap to the paper targets. Shooting a round through his cap, despite his skill at grouping, in order to make his partner feel better about destroying her most prized possession, plotting together burn their team lead's boat. The thought of Gibbs, training, teaching and taking care of his new team like that brought a hint of bile to his throat. And then he hated himself, because those people were responsible for watching Gibbs' six now, and they damned well better be able to shoot straight.
"You could add in a few rounds of knife throwing at the same time," He suggested, trying to be positive. "Like Ziva always says, knives never run out of bullets."
Gibbs snorted at the thought. He might trust DiNozzo and David to take out a threat with a well aimed blade but he hadn't forgotten that Agent Lee had almost impaled him, the last time Ziva had tried to teach her to throw a knife. God, he was going to miss having his people around him. Still, he didn't need DiNozzo to be worrying about his safety when the younger man would need to be at the top of his game to watch his own six as Agent Afloat, it wasn't like there was a whole lot of back up on the high seas.
"I'll keep that in mind."
"So," Tony picked up his holdall. "I was just about to call a cab."
Gibbs simply rolled his eyes at that, as he took the holdall from his former senior field Agent and led the way out. Tony didn't speak as he locked up his apartment or as he rode down in the elevator. But as they crossed the parking garage he hung back slightly.
"What?" Gibbs asked.
"Do you mind if we take my car?" Tony blurted.
DiNozzo tried to pull off one of his trademark winning smiles but his eyes were dark with pain and loss. Not for the first time Gibbs cursed Vance for uprooting the gregarious younger man from the people and things he loved to a world where there were no cars to drive, no movie theatres showing classic films, no take out at the end of the phone, where people would automatically view him with suspicion rather than friendship and where fraternising could end his career.
"Sure." Gibbs agreed easily.
They drove in companionable silence, although glancing across from the passenger seat for once Gibbs didn't quite know what to make of the total lack of expression on Tony's face as he put his foot on the gas as he made the most of the almost deserted roads to put the car through her paces. Like he was braced for something but not quite sure what it might be. Arriving at the quayside, Gibbs flashed his badge to get them waved through so that Tony could pull up only a few feet from the ship.
"Well," Tony killed the ignition. "I guess this is it."
"Let's grab your gear." Gibbs took refuge in action.
Tony obediently popped the trunk and the two men exited the car making their way around to the rear, where Gibbs pulled the holdall out and placed it at his former senior field Agent's feet, before straightening up.
"I don't give a damn what Vance's orders say," He spoke gruffly, his eyes fixed on the towering grey ship which was going to bear the younger man away. "This assignment is only temporary. You do your job and watch your six and I'll get you back where you belong. You have my word."
"And if you get yourself fired over this, I'll get Abby to put hazelnut creamer in your coffees." Tony warned.
It wasn't that he doubted the former Marine. He knew Gibbs meant every word. But he also knew that it wasn't going to be that easy. Vance was flexing his new muscles as Director and Tony was damned if he was going to be the reason for any of the people he cared about being caught in the cross fire.
"And people call me a bastard?" Gibbs raised an amused brow at the threat.
"I learned from the best." Tony smiled slightly.
"Good," Gibbs returned. "Cos, I have a new rule for you, rule number 50. Don't go looking for answers at the bottom of a bottle. All you'll get is one hell of a hangover. Believe me, I know."
"That's rule 50?" Tony blinked. He had always thought that Gibbs' final rule would be some kind of Holy Grail. The reality was quite different he realised. "You stopped making them after Shannon was murdered."
"Still holds true," Gibbs didn't break eye contact as he reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a simple silver flask. "Not to mention getting wasted on board ship will get your ass in a sling. I've put too much time and effort head slapping you into shape to let you ruin your career like that. You feel like you can't get through the day without a drink, you take a quick swig from this and then you focus on what's really important and get on with your day. Are we clear?"
"Boss," Tony looked at the hip flask that Gibbs was holding out to him, its inscription from his dead wife and daughter clearly visible. "I can't take that with me."
"You hear me asking for your opinion, DiNozzo?"
"No, but Boss," Tony swallowed hard, looking away for a moment as he tried to gather his thoughts. The enormity of what Gibbs was offering him was almost overwhelming. It was a gesture of sympathy and understanding for his present guilt and self pity that Tony wasn't at all sure he deserved. That Gibbs would go to such lengths to ensure that he kept his head on straight even when he was out in the Atlantic meant more than words could say. It was also a tangible reminder that however far apart they were each would be constantly in the others thoughts. Closing his fingers around the soft metal he swallowed hard over a lump in his throat as he accepted the flask as the symbol of faith and family feeling that it represented and he knew he could only dignify the gesture with the sincere gratitude it deserved. "Thank you, Boss."
"Expect it back when this is all over." Gibbs pointed out.
"Yes sir," Tony straightened slightly, determined to live up to Gibbs' expectations for as long as it took to straighten this whole mess out get back home where he belonged. "I'll take good care of it."
"Take care of yourself too." Gibbs offered his hand.
"Um," Tony dug into his pocket and held out his car keys. "I know you drive like a maniac but at least you recognise a stick shift when you see one. And I know you'd take good care of her and take her out and open her up once in a while the way she likes to be driven and I know it isn't anything like what you just gave me but she is the most important thing I own. I mean, I love that car, I really do, and I can't bear the thought of her just sitting there getting all rusted and .."
"Tony, quit rambling," Gibbs cut him off, his warm hand closing over the pro-offered keys for a moment longer than strictly necessary. "I'll treat her right."
"Good, that's .. good Boss."
Tony looked away, his eyes bright. Now that the moment of departure was finally here it was almost too much for him to bear. He was used to moving on, making a fresh start, forging new friendships. But that was before he'd spent so many years in the same place. And for the first time ever he didn't want to go. He was brought sharply back to the present by a sharp tap on the back of his head. He smiled at the familiar and oddly comforting gesture.
"Thank you, Boss." He rallied.
In reply Gibbs merely gave him a warm smile and a dip of his head before he tapped him gently under the chin with two fingers, and turned on his heel, climbing into Tony's beloved car and driving away. Tony watched until he was out of sight and then he looked down at the flask in his hand, rubbing his thumb almost reverently over the inscription. If Gibbs could survive the loss of his first wife and daughter, he sure as hell could make it through a temporary posting as Agent Afloat.
Turning on his heel, he put the flask carefully in his pocket, picked up his holdall, pasted a halfway decent smile on his face and moved towards the gangway to report for duty. As he walked he reflected that in his time as an NCIS Agent he had been kidnapped, drugged, shot, stabbed, whipped, taken hostage, lost in a freezing cold river, blown up, (more than once), chained to a serial killer and inflected with the plague, and God knows what else and Gibbs had never failed to bring him safely home. This wouldn't be any different.
In the meantime, Tony was determined to make him proud, no matter what.
He stopped short as his cell rang, fishing it out of his pocket he raised both brows at the caller ID, before accepting the call.
"You forget something, Boss?"
"Nope," Just the sound of Gibbs' voice was already enough to cause Tony's gut to clench in a stab of homesickness. "Just checking you still remember rule 3."
"Is that the one about the cheerleaders and the naked mud wrestling?" Tony broke into a bright grin.
"DiNozzo." Gibbs warned.
"Never be unreachable," Tony confirmed, still grinning. "Got it, Boss."
He wasn't surprised when the only response he got was static as Gibbs hung up on him. Closing his own phone, he continued on, the genuine smile still lighting up his features as he fingered the flask in his packet and prepared to face what was to come with a lighter step and a renewed determination as he greeted the officer checking off new arrivals at the foot of the gangplank.
"Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS Agent Afloat reporting for duty."