This is my first NCIS fic; my apologies if characterization or events aren't quite right - plotbunnies hijacked my brain and made me write this. Any and all comments gratefully received; I don't bite. Even if you ask me nicely.

This fic contains an implied male/male relationship. If you don't like that sort of thing, if you're underage or if it's illegal where you are, don't read this. Life's too short to be upset by things you read on the internet.

These aren't my characters, this isn't my sandbox. Thanks to the writers and actors and all involved for making these characters and their world so real that plotbunnies hijacked my brain and made me write them.


There was nothing special about the day Tony quit NCIS. Another case solved, no drama, no real excitement. He'd meant to go home when Gibbs dismissed the team, but found himself driving aimlessly down suburban streets until he ended up back at the building as darkness fell. Inside, at his desk, he finished up the last of his paperwork, keystrokes loud in the deserted office. He emailed soft copies of his report to Gibbs and the director, printed off hard copies and left one on Gibbs' desk, the other on Cynthia's so that the secretary could pass it along or file it according to the director's wishes.

Back at his desk again, Tony sat in silence, leaning back in his chair. He couldn't hear the sound of his breathing over the low hum of the air conditioning and the whirr of his PC's fan. Apart from that, everything was quiet; he was alone. Tomorrow would bring another case, another day of searching out answers, aiming for justice, never quite being enough for the team, for the job, for Gibbs. And he'd end up back here, at his desk, alone and empty.

Tony found himself sitting up, turning to his computer and typing. His fingers found the right keys without his conscious help, then with a few clicks of his mouse button, the letter was emailed and printed. Then his hands and feet took him to the printer, to the director's secretary's desk, to Gibbs' desk, leaving the letter on top of his report. On top of the letter on Gibbs' desk, he left his badge and his gun. It was hard to take them off and put them down, but when he stepped away, he felt light enough that he could bounce clean up to the ceiling. He resisted the urge to try.

It took five minutes to clear out his desk. He meant to put the small lock-box on Gibbs' desk. Eight medals lay inside it, each a testament to Gibbs' prowess and skill. Agent of the year, each hard-won and unregarded by the man himself. But somehow the box ended up in his cardboard box along with his Mighty Mouse stapler and favourite letter opener, and that box made it to the passenger seat of his car as he finally, carefully, drove home.

#

By morning, Tony was five hundred miles away, with a duffle filled with clothes, his wash kit, his toiletries, and buried at the bottom, the box containing Gibbs' medals. His cell phone lay switched off in the glove compartment and he felt as though, for the first time in years, he could breathe.

He'd mailed a check to his landlord to cover the remaining rent for his notice period and, thankful of McGee's lectures on computing, found a firm online, who would pack up his apartment and put his things into storage. At some point he was aware he'd settle again, find a place to stay and a job, but for now Tony was content to drift across America like a leaf tumbling in the wind.

In Chicago he traded in his car, walked four blocks to a different used car lot, then bought an ugly dark tan sedan and drove on, sometimes finding motels in which to spend a night, other times, dozing fitfully on the back seat of the car. As the year turned, getting colder, he drove south, but after dreaming of how Gibbs had walked out and gone to Mexico, out of NCIS, out of Tony's life, how he'd come back, but not for Tony, never for Tony, he pointed the car west instead until he found the Pacific.

Two days of driving down through Oregon and California left the surf pounding in his blood, pulling him further, until he traded the car in for a few hundred bucks, enough for a one-way ticket to Hawaii.

He rented a couple of rooms in a run-down boarding house not far from the ocean, then spent a week sitting on the sand from dawn until the moon rose, watching the waves hiss and slam in a never-ending cycle. He only noticed how long his hair was getting when the warm, fat afternoon rain pounded down in a hurry to meet the ocean and his unruly locks were beaten down by the heavy drops and fell into his eyes and made him blink. With a shaky hand, he pushed his hair back and ignored it.

At the end of his second week, his landlord came by for rent, only Tony couldn't stop coughing long enough to answer the door. The next day he came back and Tony tried to get up, he really did, but somehow the floor shifted under him, tilting until he could only hang on and hope it didn't buck him off. He had the vague idea that once he started falling upwards, he'd never stop.

The next time he woke up, he was in hospital.

#

There was an IV in his arm and a cannula under his nose, the lights were too bright and his chest ached as though he'd been kicked by a horse, or shot. Again. But at least the lights weren't blue and he wasn't in an isolation tent and the nurse gave him water eventually. His duffle slumped awkwardly against the small bedside cabinet, and when Tony couldn't croak more than 'plague' at the doctor in answer to questions about his medical history before sliding back into a troubled sleep, the doctor took a quick look through the bag, needing to know about his lungs and about the scars from knives and guns. No papers, nothing listing next of kin, nothing to say who he should call, but having walked that far over the line, the lock-box was barely a step further, so he opened it.

The local sheriff called by to ask about the medals. Ex-navy, he knew all about NCIS. Tony coughed feverishly, watering eyes sliding over the uniform and coming to rest on the box. He didn't stop trying to climb out of bed to reach the box and keep it safe, keep its contents for the day Gibbs wanted them, until his lips were tinged with blue and the exasperated nurse had taken the box from the startled sheriff and thrust it into Tony's arms.

The sheriff went back to his office and placed a few calls. Fourteen hours later, Gibbs stood with the doctor at the foot of Tony's bed and watched him sleep.

'He's a federal agent. Had pneumonic plague a while back.'

The soft rasp of Gibbs' voice pulled Tony out of his exhaustion for a little while, long enough to half-lift an eyelid and croak, 'Kept 'em safe, boss.'

Gibbs made him move over, roll onto his side, then slid onto the bed, his front pressed to Tony's back.

'You still don't have my permission to die, you hear?' Gibbs whispered fiercely into Tony's ear, his arm curved possessively round the younger man, the jut of ribs telling in their sharpness. Holding him close, keeping him safe until Tony's breathing eased and his fever broke, until Tony woke and Gibbs was gone, but on top of the lock-box was a plane ticket home.

#

Tony spent another week in hospital, spent it staring at the television, the lock-box, or out of the window. One of the nurses brought him a selection of dog-eared thrillers to read and he found his investigative instincts alternately stirred and offended. He went from the hospital room to the beach, spending the afternoon watching the surf and the sky.

By the time night fell, he realised that none of Hawaii's colors could ever be the blue he was searching for, the blue that saturated his mind and his heart so completely that nothing else could ever take its place. He belonged to that blue, had from the first moment of seeing it. Sitting on the beach, one hand on his duffle, Tony breathed with the slow rhythm of the waves, alone, but not empty.

After a while, the moon rose and Tony made his way back to the road, carrying his duffle. A cab took him to a motel; another the next morning delivered him to the airport.

#

Tony let himself into the quiet house and dropped his duffle just inside the living room door. He loosened the top and reached in, pulling out the lock-box. He toed off his shoes and padded up the stairs and into the master bedroom. Light filtered in around the edges of the curtains from the street lamp further down the road, just enough for Tony to make out the black bulk of the bedside table. Very carefully, he placed the lock-box on top, feeling cautiously with outstretched fingers for the casual detritus of bedtime routine.

The comforter lifted, an arm holding up the corner. Tony paused, then stepped back and unbuttoned his jeans, pushed them down over his hips and off. He slid into welcoming heat, rich with the trapped scent of Gibbs. An arm folded around him, tugged him back until he came up against the hard wall of leg and chest, held him close until the last grains of emptiness trickled away and sleep claimed him.

#

Tony opened his eyes to sunlight and blue eyes watching him. A smile spread across his face for the first time in months.

'Hey.'

'About time you came back,' Gibbs said drily.

Tony knew they'd have to talk, about the job, about him leaving, about them. But that was for later, for a time outside of the comfort of lying in bed with those blue eyes warming his soul.

'I didn't come back, boss.'

Gibbs' eyebrow twitched. 'Could've fooled me.'

Tony grinned. 'I came home.'

Surprised into a bark of laughter, Gibbs brought up a hand to cuff the back of Tony's head, changing the tap to a ruffle of that soft, too-long hair, a caress. 'Home. I like that.'

#

Three days later, hair cut and styled, dressed in a suit that did little to hide how much weight he'd lost, Tony stepped out of the elevator. The hand at his back prompted him towards the stairs up to MTAC and the director's office. By lunchtime, he'd escaped with a fistful of paperwork to complete.

'With me, DiNozzo,' Gibbs said, ushering him straight back into the elevator. Tony stood close as the doors shut, relaxing into the hand that automatically fell into place at the small of his back. Gibbs dropped a kiss on Tony's forehead, his nose, his lips. When the doors opened, Tony let Gibbs steer him out and down the corridor. It was only the hiss of the doors opening that brought his attention back to where they were going.

Abby's lab was crowded; Ducky, Palmer, McGee, Ziva and Abby herself. Photos of Tony were stuck to every wall, even to the side of Major Mass-Spec, and above them, a banner.

'Welcome home!'

Tony stopped in the doorway, facing the barrage of greetings, seeing love and relief plain on everyone's faces. Gibbs dropped one more kiss, on his temple, and Tony let himself fall back into place in his NCIS family and smiled.

'It's good to be home.'