A/N: Why am I incapable of writing a simple father/son fic? Ah well, there's always next time.. Anyway, until then here's a tiny look inside Tony's mind after Short Fuse. Probably a two or three shot, but not just about Tony. Warnings/Disclaimers: Couple minor swear words, spoilers for 8.3 Short Fuse, and I don't own NCIS or any brands mentioned within. Enjoy and review, dear readers!

Tony unlocks his door and steps into his apartment, eyes immediately wandering to the smudge of makeup on the sleeve of his only suit that hasn't been dry cleaned to immaculate purity. He's not at all bitter at today's events, not at all surprised, because he knows how this world works.

He knows how ten-year-olds lie to their teachers (anyone that glanced, really), awardless and unthanked, about scars and bruises and trees that were slick with sap. He told his team, once, that he loved climbing trees as a child. His teachers would say he was mostly good at falling out.

He knows the pain an eight-year-old can feel, broken and bloody but tormented by fire on the inside. The loneliness that comes from having your only friend – who happens to be your mother – snatched away to be replaced by three fingers of McCallen eighteen.

(And karma is the one bitch he's never managed to sleep with, so pardon him if his thoughts are a little moody tonight.)

It's not like he had the appreciation he's never managed to get in nine years held under his nose, the scent wafting up and just barely tickling the edges of his nostrils, held so close to him he could practically feel it sliding down his esophagus, only to be snatched away and handed to an already satiated colleague.

He's always known, though, that his best is never good enough. No matter that he exhausts himself looking for a lead, if Gibbs so much as lifts up the case file, he gets the credit.

Tony could have had that in Rota. He could have had that as agent afloat. Hell, he could have had that right here in Washington.

The fact that he isn't the one taking the credit and passing off the blame (he thought, once, that that wasn't how teams worked) has more to do with himself than with Gibbs, or Ziva, or even Abby.

They're no longer enough to make him stay, after all. He'd die for them, he'd kill for them, but those days that he lived for them can no longer be described with present tense.

Fond memories of happier times occasionally come and caress his brain, teasing him to the point of insanity. Memories of the perfect two man team, of the third wheel that was added and taken away too hastily. He thinks it's sad that they all end in him with his partner's blood on his face.

They're not what makes him stay (nothing is, really) but they are what make him not leave.

Because Tony's sense of duty is a mile wide at it's narrowest point, and he doesn't think Vance has ever crossed it. He won't ever have the option of a sojourn to Mexico, or even a two day vacation, whether he stays at NCIS for nine years or ninety. Gibbs can "semper fi" them all he wants but in the end, it's Tony who'll stay with them, Tony who'll hold the team together when they're out of superglue.

When Gibbs abandons them he gets compassion and understanding. When Tony is there for them he gets cut down until there's nothing left to cut. "C'est la vie," as his not quite father-in-law once said.

Didn't he show leadership? The closure rate didn't dip and no one died. If that's not success, at least it isn't failure. And he doesn't need a photoshoot or a medal to tell him he did a good job.

That's not to say it doesn't hurt. His methods may be unorthodox, but to say he doesn't show integrity is to suffocate him with a stuffed unicorn. Maybe even worse.

He likes his boss, though. No matter how demanding and bitchy Gibbs is, he's always been a mentor and friend to his senior field agent.

And Tony, for the record, isn't saying Gibbs doesn't deserve an award, because he obviously does, if only for putting up with his own antics where two drunk parents and three PD's didn't.

It's just that Gibbs isn't the only one who hand shaped the junior agents, but he sure is the only one who gets the credit. And that would be okay, he doesn't need credit (if he ever did, he sure doesn't now) if it didn't interfere with their somewhat dysfunctional but usually fun office life.

In the end, all Tony wants is to do his damned job. If McGee has balks at the last second, refuses to back down from an armed terrorist because it was DiNozzo who told him and not his precious Gibbs, then yeah, they've got a problem.

And Tony can say it probably won't become an issue, that they'll deal with if it does, but that's no way to live. (It is, however, a good way to die.) He's almost completely certain that McGee doesn't respect him, mostly because of the expression that usually sits on the smug oval Tim calls a face.

Like he's the cat that got the whole damn aviary and creamery.

Tony wonders, briefly, if it's his fault. If sweet, innocent little Timmy turned into a vicious monster because he broke him. But then he realizes (remembers, really) that cops don't like pretty boys who grew up with money. Neither that nor this was ever his fault.

And he knows he never did to McGee what they did to him, taunting him and beating him and interpreting his pleas of "No, I'm never going to be rich" as "No, you're never going to be as rich as me."

(If nothing else, he should get an award for breaking the vicious cycle of abuse. Twice bitten, always shy.)

Tonight, though, he isn't drinking hot cocoa with gummy worms (alcohol's never really been his thing – and is that surprising?) because he needs comfort from the big, bad world. He got over that his first night at military school.

Tonight he's drinking to directors who call him dishonest (and late directors who ask him to be dishonest), to a team who barely tolerates him and a boss who's mood had seen better days, probably before it was blown up and then soaked in salty beach water.

Mostly, though, he's just drinking because it's cold.

A/N: Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Next chapter we get dialogue (I know, don't die from the shock of it)