Title: Veritatem Dies Aperit (Time Discovers Truth)
Summary, Disclaimer & Spoilers: See Chapter One
A/N: Please thank my awesome beta, ncismom, for these epilogues since she is the one who encouraged (coughbulliedcough) me to write them.
I apologize for the delay. Real life and the decision to wait and post both epilogues at the same time were factors. Thanks much for your patience! I hope you enjoy them.
Please read… The two epilogues that I've written are AUs of each other and contain two different possible endings to the story. The flipping of a coin determined which version would be posted first; their order in no way reflects my preference for how the story should/would end.
Chapter Twenty-One: Moment of Truth – Epilogue, Version Two
Gibbs let himself into his house, and immediately he could feel how empty it was. Though it was a relief to know that his home was secure, it also punctuated the fact that, for the last day or so, he had really been missing DiNozzo. As he set the bag of Chinese food he'd picked up on the way home down on his dinner table, he quickly reminded himself that he'd just spoken to the kid only three days ago, but that detail did not help one iota. They'd resolutely avoided the topic, but they both knew that DiNozzo's two month leave was quickly running out, and a final decision would have to be made very soon. Even though they had regular contact over the phone, he still hadn't laid eyes on his friend in three weeks.
Their long weekend in California had been good for them. Away from the pressures of work and the physical reminders surrounding their fall-out, they could finally spend time getting to know one another again. They shared things with each other that they'd never spoken about before, and worked through other conflicts related to the job that had arisen between them, both past and present. Not normally so verbose, he made the effort not only to help rebuild the trust between them, but simply because Tony was worth it.
Meeting up with Callen had been a nice distraction from the intense atmosphere that sometimes seemed to heavily weigh upon them. Gibbs had been happy to observe the two younger men getting along rather well – something he wouldn't have expected given their vast differences in experience and upbringing. They made arrangements to get together again the following night provided G's team wasn't working a case. He and Tony had expanded the invitation to Callen's whole team, including Hetty, and luckily their case load hadn't prevented them from getting together. It had been a long time since he'd laughed so much in one night, and he'd felt that DiNozzo had made at the very least some good connections, if not friends, amongst the team. Time would tell on that regard.
He headed upstairs to change his clothes, but his thoughts remained on the recent past. The days had gone by quickly and Gibbs finally had to return home. On the way to the airport, Tony informed him that he would only check in every few days as he was planning on staying in California for a while longer. He understood that the younger man needed to have time to himself to figure out what he wanted to do next with his life. DiNozzo didn't need the pressure of having to constantly keep in touch with those who reminded him of how everything had gone wrong. This was the most time off Tony had taken in years, and he should be able to enjoy it without having to feel like a teenager checking in with his parents. He understood, but it didn't mean that he had to like it. Instead of arguing, renegotiating, or forcing the issue, he decided to let it go because he wanted to show DiNozzo that he trusted the younger man to keep his word.
He finished changing clothes and headed back downstairs thinking that the time since Tony's last call had seemed much longer than the three days that had passed on the calendar. If things went according to schedule, then Tony would be calling in on this night. He had just reached in to grab a beer from the refrigerator to go with his dinner when his cell phone started to ring.
Closing the refrigerator, he used his free hand to grab his cell. Without looking at the caller ID, he answered, "Yeah, Gibbs."
"Hey, Boss," the caller replied.
"Tony. It's been a few days," he answered, relieved to hear Tony's voice even though it sounded a little off somehow.
He hoped his tone didn't sound accusatory, because he'd had the feeling that Tony had been testing the new boundaries of their friendship; testing to see if he could trust Gibbs not check up on him in between calls. Usually his friend called every other day, but when the time between calls had stretched out to the maximum time previously agreed upon, it had been difficult – sometimes very difficult – not to worry or to wonder. The last time they'd spoken, Tony's voice had this tone to it that had set his gut on edge, but he'd respected the man's privacy and 'patiently' waited for the next call.
It seemed like forever until there was an answer, but in reality he supposed it was only a moment or two – thirty seconds at the most. When the answer came though, it made his gut flip.
"I know," Tony acknowledged, but then trailed off and he didn't continue speaking.
Gibbs felt it was important that he remain silent right now and let his friend set the pace of this conversation. With that thought though, an unsettling feeling came over him. He pulled out a chair from his dinner table and sat down. The silence stretched out to encompass another minute, and though he wanted to break it, he didn't.
Finally, Gibbs heard over the line a car door open and shut, and Tony said, "I've made my decision."
"You have?" he stated and it took all he had within him to keep his voice neutral even though he was howling on the inside. He stood and paced back and forth a couple of times. "And what have you decided?" he added even though he was certain he already knew.
In the background, he could hear Tony's footsteps as his friend answered, "I'm sorry, Boss, but I can't do this anymore. I can't be part of a federal agency that uses its agents as pawns in their little games to acquire more power; that doesn't care what happens to its agents or that their lives are ruined or ended. It's happened too many times now. I might not survive the next time, and I don't want to tempt fate."
Gibbs had stopped his pacing the moment he'd heard the words 'I'm sorry' and had walked to his living room window and stared out into the night. He didn't know what to say. He always knew that this outcome could happen; knew it was highly likely, but he had hoped their partnership wouldn't have to end this way. He didn't want to lose Tony as his teammate, senior field agent, and partner, but he completely understood the reasons behind the decision; he had thought about making the same decision himself numerous times in the last year.
He was still debating what to say when a neighbor's car passed by his window.
A small smile erupted on his face, "Tony, why don't you come inside and have some dinner with me?"
"How did you—?" Tony started to ask before pausing. "The car, right?"
From the sound of the car going passed his house being echoed in the phone's receiver, Gibbs had surmised that his friend had been outside the entire time. Once he realized that, the thought that Tony was staying out of sight in case his decision to leave NCIS would cause Gibbs to reject him again followed milliseconds later. Even though the team leader had never truly rejected Tony in his heart, his friend must understandably still be a little leery of Gibbs' reaction.
"Yep. Now get your butt in here. As far as I'm concerned, no matter what, you will always be welcome in this house. You got me?"
His front door opened as Tony said, "Yeah, I got you," and hung up his cell.
Gibbs flipped his phone shut and tossed it onto the couch while moving to meet his friend at the door. He stretched out a hand towards Tony, who tentatively grabbed it, and they shook hands. Lifting a hand up to pat Tony's shoulder, he noticed his friend cringed a little as if he expected to be head slapped. Completing his original motion, he gripped the shoulder and squeezed it.
"Hey. It's your decision, but no matter how much I will miss working with you, I respect it." Letting his hand slip off his friend's shoulder he turned to lead them further into the living room. He made the quick decision to share something he'd only previously discussed with Ducky. "Heck, I totally understand it, and sometimes wonder why I still work for those bastards after all they've done to us."
"Boss?" Tony questioned as they moved towards the dinner table where Gibbs had left the cartons of Chinese food. He left the younger man at the table, and continued on into the kitchen to get the beer that he'd been going for when his phone had rung.
Beers for them both along with utensils for Tony in hand, Gibbs explained, "Forced retirement from fieldwork is coming up. I thought I'd retire from NCIS when they try to put me out to pasture behind a desk."
The look of shock on DiNozzo's face as he set the utensils on the table and handed Tony one of the beers was almost comical.
"Retire? You?" Tony huffed a laugh as if he didn't believe what he'd just heard. Then, as if he were testing out the taste of a new dish, he said, "Leroy Jethro Gibbs, retired team leader of the MCRT." He face adopted a far-away look for a moment; then he smiled and shook his head. "Wow. I never thought… What would you do?"
Gibbs shrugged his shoulders, "Don't know. I'm not retired yet. How about you? You decided yet what you're going to do?"
Tony looked down then lifted his beer and took a healthy swallow. "I was thinking I'd move to the West Coast and start over. Too much has happened out here and I think it's time for me to move on. Besides, I kind of like it out there in California."
As his friend had finished speaking, they'd locked eyes, and Gibbs could see that the decision to move away to the other side of the country had been a difficult one. He understood and had accepted why DiNozzo didn't want to keep working for NCIS and perhaps any government agency, but he wasn't ready to give up or let go of the friendship they'd been slowly rebuilding.
Gibbs grabbed a box of food from the bag plus a set of chopsticks and headed towards his couch; Tony followed his lead, but instead of the couch, his now former agent headed towards 'his' chair. Normally they sat side-by-side to eat, but he figured DiNozzo wasn't quite certain what to make of his former team leader's reaction or revelation. Either that, or Tony had missed sitting in the more comfortable chair. He found he was okay with either reason. He opened his carton and took a large bite of food. As he chewed, an idea came to him.
"I was thinking of starting to build another boat."
At first, Tony was confused by the seeming non sequitur, but then realization dawned in his eyes and a smile took over.
"I've always wanted to learn how to sail."
The end – version two.
A/N: Since several readers have asked, I thought I would let you know that I have no plans to write a sequel.
Thank you, ncismom, for all your help and support as my beta!
And many thanks to all those who stuck around and read this story to the end despite the delays! Also, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who sent PMs, reviewed, alerted, and favorited… I don't think I can adequately describe what all your kind words have meant to me. Thank You! :D