This is my second NCIS fic - it's In Search of Blue Skies, only told from Gibbs' point of view. Again, my apologies if characterization or events aren't quite right. Any and all comments still gratefully received, and thank you all for such a wonderful warm welcome into the world of NCIS fic!
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.
'Go home, people. I want reports on my desk tomorrow morning.' Gibbs stood, picked up his jacket and checked his gun and badge were secure. 'Well? What're you waiting for?' His team scrambled to their feet and a minute later, he was the last one in the office.
The next morning, large coffee in hand, Gibbs was at his desk by a very respectable seven am. He didn't look at the papers stacked neatly on the desktop; he'd bet a month's pay on it being DiNozzo's report. For a man with such an apparently hectic social life, he spent most of his free time at work. Gibbs dropped his jacket neatly over the back of his chair, unholstered his gun and opened his desk drawer to lock it away. He paused, frowning. The lock-box he secured his gun in had been moved, and on top lay a badge.
With a sinking feeling in his gut, Gibbs lifted out the badge and opened the box. It didn't matter that he had the only key; a lock wasn't enough to stop his senior field agent. Inside was Tony's gun. Gibbs closed his eyes against a wave of pain that swept through him, took a deep breath, then another, before he had himself back under control. He put his gun into the lock-box on top of Tony's and closed the lid, then slid the drawer shut. He sat down carefully and turned his attention to the pile of paper. Tony's report from the case they'd closed yesterday, just as he'd expected, but on top was a letter and he hadn't expected that at all.
'I thought you were over those itchy feet,' Gibbs murmured as he picked up the letter and skimmed it. It didn't hurt any less for being read quickly. 'Damn.' He picked up the phone and dialed a number, waiting impatiently until it went to voicemail. With a terse, 'Call me,' Gibbs hung up and dialed again, leaving the same message on Tony's cell voicemail. He slammed the phone into its cradle and did his best to ignore the tight feeling in his gut that told him it was too late, Tony was already gone.
By the time Tim and Ziva arrived, exiting the elevator together, Gibbs had read through Tony's report and finished his coffee. 'McGee, check Tony's computer records for the past month. When Abby gets in, have her check his phone records. Ziva, put out a BOLO on Tony's car.'
Tim and Ziva stared at him. For once, Tim recovered first. 'What happened? Where's Tony?'
Gibbs glared. 'If I knew that, I wouldn't need you to check.' He pushed himself away from his desk and stood, clutching Tony's letter of resignation in his hand. 'Today, McGee!' Scowling, he strode off, taking the stairs to MTAC and the director's office two at a time. Behind him, he heard his team hurrying to do his bidding.
It seemed as though the morning was one long round of, 'Did you know?' 'No, no idea.' After a frustrating meeting with the director, Gibbs broke the news of Tony's resignation to Abby and Ducky. Abby cried and Ducky gave him a long, hard look that made Gibbs feel obscurely guilty, as if he'd failed Tony big-time. Maybe he had, Gibbs concluded sourly, hugging Abby. He didn't know what more he could have done, though, and the unaccustomed helplessness made him snap even more fiercely at everyone around him until, with a snarl, he grabbed his gun and his jacket, ignoring the fresh jolt of pain that the sight of Tony's weapon brought, and all but ran from the office.
He drove with his usual reckless abandon, but he still made it to Tony's apartment intact. A van was parked outside the complex; inside, a team of three men was busy boxing up Tony's life. A flash of his badge brought confirmation that this was a rush job, booked and paid for online. Storage for a year, no forwarding address.
Gibbs let his despair carry him back to his car, where he sat for an hour and watched box after box loaded into the van, each one a piece of Tony being carried away. When they brought out his television, Gibbs couldn't bear to watch any longer; it was too much like Tony being gone forever and that thought made him want to break things. The world would be a start.
Coffee once more in hand, Gibbs took the stairs up to the office. He paused around the corner from his team's desks. Abby was talking.
'I don't get it! Why would he take off without talking to anyone? Why wouldn't he call?'
'I don't know, Abs.' McGee sounded almost as miserable as Abby. 'His letter says he needed something more than he was getting here.'
'But what?' That was Ziva, frustration pushing her tone towards impatience. 'He never had any shortage of women, and it's clear he loved the job.'
'That isn't all there is to life,' Abby sniffed. 'There weren't half as many women as he made out. Have you looked at the security logs?'
'What do you mean?'
'He puts in as much overtime as Gibbs,' Tim said quietly.
'But the job is Gibbs' life,' Ziva protested.
'What have you got for me?' Gibbs rounded the corner and set his coffee down on his desk, ignoring Abby's squeak of surprise. 'Well?'
Ziva frowned. 'No hits on Tony's car so far.'
'Tony's phone records show nothing unusual, incoming or outgoing, Gibbs. He hasn't been in touch with anyone about another job or about leaving here as far as I can tell. In fact there aren't a whole lot of calls on there that aren't to or from here. Most of them are you.'
'What about all of his hot dates?' Ziva asked.
'I guess maybe they aren't the type to call, or maybe he's just been too busy here,' Abby scowled.
'Uh... His computer records back that up, right up until last night, boss. According to security, he came back around seven thirty and spent a couple of hours finishing up his report.' As he spoke, Tim pulled up the footage and put it on the plasma screen. Gibbs watched without comment, only the twitch of a muscle in his jaw betraying his emotions. 'The security footage shows him at his desk, then printing out reports and leaving them for you and Cynthia. He goes back to his desk and sits there for around ten minutes before writing that... that letter... And then he prints that off and he packs up and leaves.'
Abby let out a sob, but this time McGee provided the hug.
Gibbs stared at the screen, watching Tony walk out of his job, walk out of his life, and fought down the anger and hurt that threatened to swamp him. When he could breathe again, he cleared his throat. 'Put it on my computer. Keep checking. I want him found.'
He watched the footage from the security cameras over and over again, trying to work out what had gone through Tony's mind in the ten minutes he'd leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Just as he sat up and turned to his computer, the camera caught Tony's face, and the expression was one Gibbs recognised, even with the poor resolution of the camera in the dim light of the night-time office. Hopelessness. Despair. But then it was gone, and Tony's face was curiously blank as he typed, as he packed, as he picked up his box and walked away.
It took Gibbs another hour to notice what Tony had packed; then the surge of hope was almost too much to take.
'McGee, get me the address of the storage company DiNozzo used. I want to know where his things are being held.'
'On it, boss.' Seconds later, the information was in front of him. In under an hour, he was at the storage place.
'Normally we'd insist on a warrant.' The owner didn't look too happy at the sight of Gibbs' badge.
'I can get one,' Gibbs scowled. 'I just need to ask your guys if they remember packing up something.'
The owner sighed. 'Come on back.'
The three men Gibbs had seen earlier were obviously only just on a break, mugs of coffee and half-eaten burgers cluttered the small formica table.
'Any of you remember seeing this?' Gibbs handed over a printout from the security camera feed. It showed the cardboard box that Tony had carried his things home in, and on the top was a lock-box. Inside it were all the Agent of the Year medals that Gibbs had been awarded and failed to accept; Tony had kept each and every one, going so far as to claim the ones from the years before he'd joined NCIS. He knew Tony brought them out every once in a while and polished them. Goodness only knew why, but it meant a lot to Tony to hold onto them for him. By now, it had become a ritual for Tony to accept the award on his behalf, with more and more outrageous speeches that never got past the first few lines before he was cut off by the director. It was something private between Gibbs and DiNozzo, something neither of them had ever tried to put into words.
It was a connection.
One by one, then men looked over the photo and shook their heads.
'What is it?' the owner asked as he led Gibbs back out of the building.
'It's mine,' Gibbs said.
'This guy steal it?'
'Nope. Just keeping it safe.' Gibbs pushed his way out into the parking lot and allowed the tiny worm of hope to settle into his heart. Tony might be gone from Gibbs' life, but he'd taken a little of Gibbs with him. That had to count for something.
A couple of days later, Tony's car turned up at a dealership in Chicago. Gibbs flew out and looked it over. Faced with his ire, the dealer, unable to help with where Tony had gone after leaving the dealership - there were another dozen dealerships within ten blocks and he hadn't bought a car at this one - handed over the cell phone that had been left in the glove compartment. It was Tony's. Gibbs fought the urge to hurl the useless phone at the wall and bought back Tony's car at cost. He had it shipped home. One more piece of Tony accounted for. On the plane back, Gibbs couldn't decide whether or not he was pleased to have something to hold onto, or worried that there were so few pieces of Tony's life left to find. But as long as Tony had that lock-box, Tony was holding onto Gibbs, and he had to trust that would be enough to bring him home in the end.
The next month was hell. Abby was in mourning. Every time Gibbs went down to her lab, she looked at him with wounded eyes, so obviously hoping for good news that he felt as though he was breaking her heart anew. Without Tony's presence on the team, Tim and Ziva suddenly found out just how much Tony did in those unnoticed hours of overtime. Without his jokes and goofing around, without his teasing and his insight, cases took longer to solve and the brunt of Gibbs' considerable temper fell squarely on the two junior members of the team. Ducky made an effort to get Gibbs to talk to him, to get him to ease up before McGee and Ziva left too, but Gibbs glared at him and stalked off.
It wasn't a good month.
Gibbs heard Abby talking with McGee, Ducky with Ziva, each of them searching for the reason why Tony had left so abruptly. He spent a good proportion of his free time going back over cases they'd worked, searching his faulty memory for every interaction with the man, but there was nothing he could come up with, no point at which Tony had said, 'Enough!' All he had was a dwindling fund of headslaps and far too few words of praise for a job invariably well done and the result lay in that security camera image, a picture of despair burned onto the back of Gibbs' eyelids, there whenever he closed his eyes.
Gibbs didn't sleep well.
Then one otherwise-unremarkable Thursday afternoon brought a phone call from a sheriff in Hawaii. Gibbs took the call with his customary bark. 'Gibbs... Yes, I know him. He's my senior field agent... No, extended leave of absence... What happened?... He has scarred lungs... No, I'll be there as soon as I can get a flight.' When he put the phone down, he took a moment to breathe, in and out again, before facing the questioning stares from his team.
'Tony's in hospital, in Hawaii. Some kind of respiratory infection. McGee, get me on the next flight out there.'
'On it, boss.'
Ziva snorted in disgust, opened her mouth to make a comment about Tony and beaches and women in bikinis, but Gibbs raised an eyebrow and she backed down. He knew she'd spend the next day complaining loudly about Tony's thoughtlessness, his immaturity, just as he knew she'd only half-believe the words she was saying. Her way of blowing off steam, the relief of knowing Tony was still alive. Didn't mean he wanted to hear it, though, not when his own relief damn near brought him to his knees.
'David, let Abs and Ducky know.'
He jogged up the stairs to the director's office and went straight in. 'DiNozzo's in hospital. I'm taking a few days.' At the director's frown, he added, 'I'm listed as his next of kin and I know his medical records inside out.'
'You couldn't just get Ducky to fax the records through?' Director Sheppard asked ascerbically.
'I'll put it down as personal leave, then.'
'Whatever you have to.' Gibbs turned on his heel and left. As quickly as he could without giving in to the urge to run, Gibbs gathered his jacket and his gun and drove out to the airport. When he arrived, he called at the sales counter to pick up his ticket.
'Its a second, one-way open-ended ticket from Hawaii to here. Was that a mistake?'
'No, no mistake.' Gibbs pocketed the tickets and made his way through security and into the seemingly endless hours of limbo in one seat after another until at last he was spat out of the terminal into a muggy Hawaii morning. A cab ride later, he was at the hospital, where he procured coffee and a doctor and finally, finally set eyes on Tony. His senior field agent was flushed with fever, his breath rough in his chest. Absently, he answered the doctor's questions, filling him in on a recent history of bombs, gunshot wounds, knives, the plague, but then Tony's eyes flickered open, focusing on him before glancing away to the bedside table where the lock-box remained.
'Kept 'em safe, boss.'
Tony sounded awful. Something twisted, deep inside Gibbs; something broke. He thrust his coffee at the startled doctor, then kicked off his shoes. 'Move over, DiNozzo,' Gibbs said, his own voice almost as rough. He helped Tony shift, helped him roll a little, until there was just enough space on the bed for him to slide on. He wrapped an arm carefully around Tony's waist, noting in passing how thin he was.
'You still don't have my permission to die, you hear?'
Tony nodded weakly, then slid back into sleep. Gibbs closed his eyes, feeling the heat rolling off Tony, feeling the solidity of muscle and bone, the rattle of congestion. With each breath, Gibbs drew in the scent of sweat and sickness, but underlying it was pure Tony. He hadn't been aware, he hadn't noticed before, but he knew that scent. He hadn't known how much he depended on it until he was here, lying on a hospital bed with Tony in his arms, and the hard, tight knot that had sat in the pit of his stomach for the last six weeks finally eased off.
It was three days before he got recalled to deal with three dead marines in a park in DC, but by then Tony was off oxygen and his fever had broken and the shadows under his eyes were starting to fade. Gibbs couldn't remember sleeping so deeply or so long as he had there, perched on the edge of that uncomfortable hospital bed. Three failed marriages, and none of those red-heads had fit against him like the missing half of a jigsaw puzzle. He allowed himself to stroke Tony's hair, longer than he'd ever seen it and needing a wash, but still soft under his callused palm. Tony sighed, but didn't wake, so Gibbs left more quietly than he'd arrived. At the door, he looked back at the man asleep in the bed. He hoped it wasn't the last time he'd see Tony.
He had to hope.
Leaving hurt, deep in his gut, like a gallon of bad coffee eating away at him. He wanted nothing more than to bundle Tony on the next flight back with him, handcuffed to a gurney so he couldn't run again, but just as it had been Tony's choice to go, it had to be Tony's choice to come back, or none of this would mean a damn. But he wasn't leaving Tony on his own: the lock-box containing the medals Gibbs had never wanted was right there, on the bedside table, and on top was a plane ticket. If Tony couldn't work out that meant come home, nothing Gibbs could say or do would be enough to tell him.
Abby was still going to be pissed.
Gibbs fell off the plane at the other end and into a case that was wrapped up quickly enough. It didn't stop Abby from quizzing him about Tony and telling him off for not bringing him home, nor Ducky from tutting over Tony's health. He tried not to notice that McGee checked every hour to see if the plane ticket had been used, but when the frown on McGee's forehead threatened to rival his own, he made a point of stopping by his desk.
'They're keeping him in hospital for at least another five days, McGee. Go home. Get some sleep.'
It was advice he had a hard time following himself. He tried not to miss the feel of Tony's body against his when he lay down, but when he woke after fitful dozes, he was invariably clutching a pillow and breathing deeply, trying to catch traces of the indescribable scent that meant Tony to every part of his being.
Tony was alive, he was getting better. Gibbs called the hospital every morning and evening, just to make sure. And then came the news, one evening, that Tony had been released earlier that day, and all Gibbs could do was wait and hope. He didn't sleep at all that night.
The next day, mid-afternoon, McGee confirmed the plane ticket had been used. Tony hadn't cashed it in or changed it for another destination. Gibbs didn't asked what flight Tony had caught, didn't want to know what time it landed. Tony had the lock-box and Gibbs forced himself not to look beyond that.
He went to bed at eleven thirty. A sleepless hour later, he heard the front door open. Quiet movements sounded up the stairs, until the door to the bedroom swung carefully open. Gibbs lay still, waiting until the figure moved to the side of the bed and put something down on the bedside table before he lifted the corner of the comforter in invitation. After a long pause, the figure shucked his trousers and slid under the covers, turning onto his side and facing away from Gibbs.
Gibbs slid an arm around the man's middle, noting in passing that those ribs were still too sharp, the waist still too narrow, but the scent, even after a day spent travelling, was just right. He tugged Tony towards him until they fitted together, Tony's back to his front, and held him until he felt the last vestiges of tension drain from them both and sleep pulled them both down into its dark domain.
The next morning, Gibbs woke later than usual, but still early. He watched Tony's chest rise and fall with each slow breath, took in the fluttering of sinfully long eyelashes as his eyes moved underneath closed lids. Until now, he hadn't realised that this was what Tony had needed, what he hadn't been getting from his job, from anyone. Until now, Gibbs hadn't realised that he needed it too. But now that Tony was here, in his life, in his bed, here by choice, Gibbs wouldn't let him go.
Those eyelashes fluttered again and Tony slowly opened sleepy green eyes.
Gibbs fought the urge to smile. 'About time you came back.'
Tony's lips curved into a lazy smile of their own. 'I didn't come back, boss.'
Gibbs felt his eyebrow twitch in surprise. 'Could've fooled me.'
Tony grinned. 'I came home.'
Gibbs laughed. Warmth spread through him, easing the hurt that had burrowed inside him and become a part of him so long ago. He reached out and cupped the back of Tony's head, feeling the soft hair brush against his palm; another piece of Tony returned to him. 'Home. I like that.'
They lay together for a while, warm, at peace, with only the sound of breath and heartbeat hanging in the air between them, until the bathroom became a necessity. While Tony showered, Gibbs called in.
'Tony's home. I'll be in on Monday... No, I don't know if Tony will be coming in with me. Tell Abby not to come round. She can see him next week... Yeah, I think he'll be okay.' Not bothering with a goodbye, he snapped the phone shut and went to make breakfast.
The three-day weekend was long and lazy. Tony got very quiet when Gibbs tossed him the keys to his car, but a growled, 'I'm not your chauffeur, Tony. Going to have to get around somehow,' brought a smile to his face. Gibbs did drive, though, out to the storage place so Tony could pick up a few things. Those turned out to be his giant TV, his dvd player and four boxes of dvds, in addition to two wardrobe boxes of suits and a couple of cartons of books.
Without fanfare or recriminations, Gibbs moved Tony into his house and Tony let him. While Tony filled the wardrobe with his suits, then filled up the closet in the guest bedroom, Gibbs changed the bed linen for Tony's high-count Egyptian cotton and swapped the towels for the incredibly soft, thick ones that Tony loved. It was only when they were done and sitting down to chinese out of the carton and a movie on dvd that Gibbs tackled the elephant in the room.
'Did you find what you needed?'
Tony looked at Gibbs for a long moment, then nodded. 'I have now.'
'Don't do it again.'
'Leave? Not planning on it, Jethro. Going to take more than a crowbar to get me out of here.'
Gibbs smiled. 'Good job I seem to have mislaid mine.'
On Saturday, Tony got a haircut and some new jeans and Gibbs made sure he ate properly. Sunday, Tony watched Gibbs work on his boat and even did a bit of sanding. Between and around everything else, they touched; a brush of arms in passing, Gibbs' hand at the small of Tony's back, a press of thighs sat side by side on the couch. Touches to reconnect, to prove to themselves that they were here, together, and every touch was welcome home, I missed you, I needed you.
By the time Monday rolled around, bringing with it an early alarm, quick showers and the armor of office clothing, Gibbs was almost over the urge to handcuff Tony to the bed to make sure he could never leave again, and hadn't quite got as far as the urge to hancuff Tony to the bed for something else altogether.
They rode into the office together. Gibbs waited while Tony signed in at security and stood as close as he could in the elevator, soaking up the warmth and the scent, the presence that had been gone for too long. He let his hand linger at the small of Tony's back, subtle pressure guiding him out of the elevator and towards the stairs.
'Didn't get around to replacing me, huh, boss?' Tony queried with a grin that was at odds with a lingering uncertainty that darkened his eyes.
'Didn't want to replace you, Tony. The job's yours.' Gibbs watched as Tony's grin became genuine and the younger man climbed the stairs with a bounce in his stride, before finally going to see the rest of his team.
'McGee, Ziva, with me.'
'Did we get a case?'
They rode down to Abby's lab in silence. Gibbs could feel Ziva and Tim exchanging glances behind his back, and allowed himself a fleeting grin of his own. He made them wait - Abby hopped from one foot to the other in frustration - while Ducky and Palmer came up from Autopsy.
'Tony's in with Director Sheppard now,' Gibbs said, and had to wait for the hubbub to die down before he could continue. 'He's back.'
'How is he really, Jethro?' the medical examiner asked anxiously. 'Respiratory illnesses are more serious for a man with his scarred lungs.'
'He could stand to put on a few pounds,' Gibbs admitted. 'But it looks like the hospital managed to hang onto him for long enough this time around. Breathing sounds fine to me, but if you want to check him over this afternoon, be my guest.'
'Did he say why he left?' McGee asked.
'So how do we know he won't simply up poles and leave again?'
'It's 'up sticks', Ziva. And he won't be leaving because this time he's not on his own,' Gibbs said drily.
'I don't understand,' Ziva frowned.
'He's staying with me.'
'I think there's an apartment going in my complex,' Tim said. 'I can ask around tonight if you like.'
Gibbs glared at him. 'McGee! Tony's staying with me.'
'But- Ow! What was that for?' Tim turned indignantly to Abby, who had stood on his foot.
'I'll bring him down here when he's done with the director,' Gibbs said and left them to it. As the door hissed shut behind him, he could hear Abby berating Tim.
'They finally get together and you want Tony to move out? What were you thinking?'
'But- Ow! Stop that!'
'I think what young Abigail is trying to say is...'
Gibbs chuckled as the elevator doors closed, cutting off the row. He was pretty sure that McGee and Ziva would figure it out. If not, Abby would certainly set them straight.
A little while later, he met Tony at the bottom of the stairs, after a quick heads-up from Cynthia. 'With me, DiNozzo.' Gibbs ushered him into the elevator with a hand that automatically fell into place at the small of his back. As the elevator went down, Gibbs dropped a kiss on Tony's forehead, his nose, his lips, distracting him. When the doors opened, Tony kept his attention on Gibbs as he steered them out and down the corridor.
The doors to Abby's lab hissed open and Gibbs maneuvered Tony inside, standing behind him so he couldn't leave. As Tony looked around in bewilderment, taking in the photos of him that Abby had covered the walls in, Gibbs spotted the banner opposite that said Welcome Home Tony! in large, multi-colored letters. He dropped a kiss on Tony's temple and as the rest of the team chorused their welcome, he whispered in Tony's ear.
Tony beamed. 'It's good to be home.'