Chapter 12

Abby's tears started slow. She was trying her best to hold back the rip tide at all costs. She didn't want to lose it, but she couldn't help it. Tony was her best friend. Tony couldn't have quit. He just wouldn't, not her lovable, adorable, and loyal Tony Bear. He would have sent something, an email or a text, warning her about something like this. He would have told her himself.

"Gibbs," Her voice trembled, "He's coming back. This is a joke...right?"

"No, Miss Scuito," Director Vance assured, "Agent DiNozzo handed me his resignation this morning."

Abby turned and buried her face in Ducky's checkered shirt. Ducky patted her back, his eyes locked on Gibbs.

"Oh, Jethro. Did you try talking to Anthony?"

Agent Keller stepped in, "You told him to be at your place last night."

"You make a habit out of eavesdropping, Agent Keller?"

"Yes, Agent Gibbs. It helps me to do my job."

"Yes, DiNozzo was at my house. I tried to talk him out of it. I told him that we needed him here. I told him that he had friends here. He insisted that there was no better solution. He said he would miss you all, but he didn't want to be a burden to anyone anymore."

"He was never a burden! Tony was the best. He was...he was..."

"Abby, you must calm down." Ducky soothed.

Gibbs continued, "He told me to tell you all that he's sorry. He couldn't stay knowing his presence was ruining our team dynamic."

"Surely you told him that wasn't true, Jethro."

"I tried, Duck. His mind is made up."

Abby whipped around to glare at McGee and Ziva. Then, without warning, she stood and ran out of the room, her gothic boots clomping on the carpeted floor of the hallway.

"Miss Scuito!"

"Agent Keller, let her go." Director Vance interjected.

Palmer, who had remained quiet the entire time with his fists clenched on the table, finally snapped. He rose out of his chair. It clattered into the bookshelf behind him. He came around the table and slugged McGee, who fell off his chair.

"That was for Tony!" He looked over at Ziva, whose mouth was open in shock. No one had ever seen Palmer exert so much anger. Even Gibbs looked pretty stunned. "You're lucky you're a woman or I'd deck you too...ow, man that really hurts." Palmer yelled, shaking his hand out, his knuckles throbbing.

Palmer turned to leave, passing Gibbs on the way. He looked at the older man and smiled when he saw the look of pride on Gibbs face. He wasn't in trouble like he thought he would be. He left the conference room mumbling something about icing his hand.

"Oh, dear. Jethro..." Ducky started.

"Go, Duck. Palmer probably broke his hand."

Ducky nodded, apologized and followed his assistant out of the room. Vance watched his two agents carefully. They were clearly expecting retribution for Palmer's actions. Thought Vance felt that the boy went a little overboard, he decided to keep his opinions to himself on this one. Gibbs was in a foul mood and stomping all over this would only make matters worse. If Gibbs didn't feel Palmer deserved some sort of punishment, then neither did he. Jimmy probably did break his hand, thus punishment served. He couldn't believe he just agreed with Gibbs decisions.

"You're not going to do anything, Boss?" McGee asked, wiping the blood off his cracked lip. His jaw was aching. He would have a huge bruise by morning.

"What would you like me to do, McGee? According to Agent Keller, we can't discipline him for anything. No repercussions, remember?"

"You punished us," Ziva added coldly.

"I gave you work, nothing more. Granted it was more than usual, but that is beside the point. Besides, my team is different. Jimmy isn't an agent."

"Horse reins and hand grenades, Gibbs."

Rubbing his jaw, "Horseshoes, Ziva."

"Yes, those too."

Silence filled the room. Agent Keller was upset. She had never failed like this before. She was supposed to fix the team. She never expected Agent DiNozzo to quit.

"This was not what I expected."

"None of us expected DiNozzo to quit, Agent Keller. Agent Afloat didn't keep him away. I'm sorry to lose such a fine agent."

"You've had a change of heart, Director Vance?"

"I'll admit, he was a good agent. I can't say the same for his personality."

"Now what, Boss?" McGee asked. He was going to feel sore in the morning.

"You two will have to share the responsibilities until I can find a replacement."

"Who gets to be Senior Field Agent?" Tim and Ziva asked in unison.

"Don't get excited just yet. Like I said, for now you'll have your regular duties plus Tony's SFA duties to perform. Neither of you can do both alone, so you'll have to share the responsibility."

Gibbs looked tired and drained. McGee had never seen his boss look quite so...so...alone and vulnerable.

"Get back to the squad room. I'll be down in a minute."

They left together. When they entered their area, they noticed something was different. Tony's desk was devoid of anything DiNozzo. The Mighty Mouse stapler was gone. The Magnum P.I. screen saver was no longer flashing across his screen. His lucky mug was no longer sitting on the corner of his desk. Even Gibb's awards that usually called DiNozzo's bottom desk drawer home were piled on Gibb's desk. Tony's desk was cleared of all the normal paperwork. Tim and Ziva had never seen his desk look so clean. Tony really was gone.

McGee felt a pang of guilt, but it was overwhelmed by relief. He never wanted Tony to actually quit. He could admit to himself, as Director Vance had, that Tony was a fine agent. He was annoying and over confident, but he was good at his job. Even though he could swear Tony somehow got around the rules to get his work done, he did have his moments. Tim also wanted his chance to advance and prove to Gibbs he was worth a chance. He knew that if given the right opportunity, he could do Tony's job better than he could. Gibbs was right, he was so worried about showing up DiNozzo, he didn't ask what his duties were. He would make sure to correct that immediately.

Ziva stared at Tony's empty seat. It should make her sad that her partner was gone, but she wasn't. She had suffered through Tony's obnoxious, inappropriate, unprofessional and unmilitary behavior for far too long. She needed serious structure. She needed rules and regulations. She needed a mature environnment. She needed to be sure that no one would screw around and possibly put everyone in danger when on a mission. As far as she was concerned, she was glad Tony had been the bigger man and quit of his own accord. It was all for the best in the end.

They noticed one other thing on Gibb's desk that caught their attention. Gibbs came around the corner and sat in his chair. Ziva and Tim were still hovering in front. Gibbs stared at the items on his desk. It hurt to see them. This wasn't where they belonged.

Tim and Ziva watched as Gibbs picked up Tony's badge, ID and sidearm and added them to his top desk drawer. He then slid all his awards into another drawer with one sweep of his arm.

It was obvious that Gibbs was going to have trouble letting Tony go. He pulled up his email, "Find something to do before I find it for you."

Ziva and McGee scrambled back to their corners. Tim started tapping away on his keyboard and Ziva shuffled through her filing cabinets. Gibbs knew they were both pretending to look busy.

"Either of you finish those requisition forms yet?"

Tim picked a paper up and held it in the air with a very lame smile on his face. Over confident already. Gibbs growled. Tim was getting full of himself just because he found a piece of paper. He cringed just thinking about the what would happen when Tim found a key piece of evidence in the field.

"It's blank, McGee."

"Uh, yes, Boss. I didn't know where to find it. I had to ask around. I only got it this morning before the therapy session. I'll get right on it, Boss."

"Which requisition form is it, McGee?"

Tim looked the document over.

"It's the MCRT vehicle unit requisition."

"Okay, that form will replenish supplies on the truck. You intend to do the others?"

"Others? What others, Boss?"

"Office supply requisition, firearms and ammo requisition and the forensic kit replenishment forms. You think your ammo, sig cleaning kits and forensic kits just refill automatically. There isn't an app for that, McGee."

"Boss, I'm impressed you knew..." The Gibbs glare stopped him, "Right, no, Boss. I'll find them."

Gibbs shook his head, "Check DiNozzo's...check his desk. He probably had copies on hand." Gibbs faltered.

"Yes, Boss."

"Gibbs. Will you be alright?" Ziva asked, concerned for her leader.

"No. Tony belongs here. He belongs with us, his family. He is an NCIS Senior Field Agent. This is wrong. This is all wrong."

Gibbs walked out to get coffee and make a phone call. He faced the front of the elevator, seeing both their faces before it closed. They didn't know what to think. That was good. They were about to learn a very hard lesson about loyalty. They thought this job was a piece of cake. Tony and him used to be the only two members of his team for two years. Tony did a lot of the work, much more than either of them thought he did.

The phone rang only once before it was picked up.

"DiNozzo...feel like getting lunch with me? I'll meet you at Sammy's. See you in twenty."

They hung up. Gibbs sipped the coffee he bought and grinned. Yeah, they were in for quite a surprise.

Sammy's Deli:

Gibbs entered the small deli and looked around for his Senior Field Agent. Yes, HIS SFA. He would forever be his Senior Field Agent, no matter what anybody said. Tony was sitting in a booth by the back window.

"Hey, Boss."

As Gibbs sat down, he noticed the dark circles around Tony's eyes. He wasn't getting much sleep. After the experiment was put into play, he insisted that Tony spend time with him. Tony was staying with him for now. He tried to keep Tony's attention and work him or train him or occupy him all night so that he was too tired to fight sleep. It seemed his plan wasn't working.

"You been pretending to sleep, DiNozzo?"

"What do you mean, Boss?" Tony asked, feigning ignorance.

"Don't do that. Why do you do that? You don't have to lie to me. You act as if everything is okay so I don't worry about you. Let me tell you something. I worry about you all the time. I worry about you at work when I can't be there every second to watch your back and I worry about you when you leave the office for the night, to go home to the crappy apartment you refuse to leave. I'm going to worry about you no matter what you do, so don't do that. I know everything's not okay. I was there too, DiNozzo. I know this hurts. You don't have to pretend that you're fine when you're clearly not."

"Boss, you really don't have to..."

"Tony...you're not fine. I want you to talk to me. Don't pretend like this is okay. This is far from okay. This is wrong. You and I both know it. You were my Senior Field Agent from the very beginning before either of them joined the team. You will always be my Senior Field Agent. Nothing changes how I feel about you on the job or off."

Tony was speechless. This was the most Gibbs had spoken in a while, not counting his forced talking in therapy. He so easily forgot the father-son feelings Gibbs had about them. His own father was a bastard. It was difficult now, even after all the years he spent with Gibbs, to get used to their growing father-son relationship.

"Thanks, Boss."

Gibbs watched his surrogate son carefully. It bothered him that Tony was dwelling on this so hard. He expected some pain and resentment. He expected a nights unrest. He didn't expect it to consume him. Dr. Mallard had been right about the affect this would have on Tony. Even with all the extra time Gibbs had been spending with him over the course of the week, he still got blind-sided.

Tony looked up at him, "You're right, Boss. This isn't right. I hate this."

"I know. I hate it too. They're about to figure out real fast that they made the biggest mistake of their lives."

"I don't understand. I didn't think that anything I did was that horrible. Why do they hate me so bad?"

"They don't hate you. They're jealous. They wish they were you. You heard Ziva. She wants our relationship, because her father's a bastard. She wants to be SFA, because she feels she's better equipped simply, because she was trained like an assassin. You make the job look like a joke to her, because it comes so easy to you. McGee...he feels the need to prove himself. The director did a great job of motivating him, but he didn't teach him a damn thing."

"So, why take it out on me?"

"I'm not sure. They can't do your job. You're my Senior Field Agent for a reason. They're about to find out why for themselves."

Tony grinned, "Is Probie walking around with his head held high and smug?"

"It's nauseating. He had the biggest grin on his face when he found the requisition form for the truck. Looked like he cracked a case."

Tony laughed. Gibbs was glad he found something to smile about. He didn't think he could stand the melancholy Tony anymore.

"Ziva isn't much better. It hasn't been twenty-four hours and she's walking around with a new chip on her shoulder. She will get even more defiant than usual I bet. She sneered several times at your desk when she thought I wasn't looking."
"Wow, she really resents me. I must have really pissed her off. Of course, she could still be angry about Rivkin."

Tony started to play with his food. He still held guilt about Ziva's spy boyfriend, Micheal Rivkin. He had gone there to look out for her and defended himself against Rivkin. He protected his partner and saved the day, yet he still felt guilty. It was possible that Ziva still held a grudge against him for that...but it was unfounded. She had every opportunity to quit and she still came back. It couldn't be hurting her that much.

"Look, I gotta get back. I don't have any active cases unless we catch one before quitting time. I'll see you at home?" Gibbs asked.

For the first time in days, Tony smiled a genuine smile. "Yeah, Gibbs. I'll be at home. You want me to make dinner?"

"You cook? All this time we've been eating out and you can cook?"

"Haha, yeah. I can cook a lot of things. I just feel like cooking tonight. You feeling adventurous?"

"Why not? I'll bring the beer."

"Okay. See you later, Gibbs."

Bullpen:

Gibbs returned to NCIS and found McGee and Ziva at their desks, both engrossed in work. He moved to his desk to check his emails.

"Sit rep."

"Cold cases. There is nothing active at this time." Ziva responded promptly.

"Leave it. Go home." Gibbs ordered.

They looked at each other then back at Gibbs.

"Boss, it's not even two. We can get more done..."

"Go home, now. I don't want to see either of you back here until 0700 tomorrow morning."

"Look, Boss, we're sorry about Tony, but..." Tim started.

Gibbs looked up at McGee, his eyes blazing with anger. Tim recoiled. He knew Gibbs could see right through his attempt at sympathy. It was true that Tim hadn't wanted Tony to quit, but he wasn't going to cry over it either. With Tony gone, his true talent would emerge and show Gibbs how much better an agent he was.

"Right, Boss. Going home. See in you in the A.M."

Ziva was about to protest, but McGee shook his head and nodded toward the elevator. They would talk, she knew. They both grabbed their things and said their goodbyes. He watched them go and then started to clean up his desk. He had a few things to settle in MTAC before he headed home. He hoped Tony was already waiting for him. They had a lot of things to discuss.