A/N: This is the last chapter for my story, thank you so much to all of you who took the time to review, many of you several times throughout the story, and to those who favorited and followed. It was a difficult story for me to finish, as I tried to stick to canon as much as possible, and those episodes/seasons really sucked in my opinion. So many of the team went off the rails with that story arc; Abby most especially surprised me with her rude and thoughtless behavior, but no one ever explained or apologized. And to say that everyone lived happily ever after at the end of my story is a pipe dream. Tony still gets crapped on and made to look like a goof, ('Domino'arc) McGee and Ziva are still insubordinate, (can we say "Dead Air" anyone?) and Abby still has Gibbs wrapped around her little finger!
To say that Abby had been shocked by what had happened in Gibbs' living room was more than an understatement. She had expected a little less damnation from Tony and a little more support from her Silver Fox, and got neither. That her tears seemed to not affect either one of them was just as startling – she rarely cried in front of them, but when she had in the past, there was usually no shortage of comfort and sympathy from them. So-o-o...maybe something was hinky with her thinking, maybe it wasn't Tony who hadn't seen the bigger picture more clearly. Complete shock and confusion had been the order of the day for all of them when Gibbs had left them, except, she remembered, not for Gibbs' second in command. He had been strong and focused, and driven, determined to keep his team, his family, from falling apart at the seams, and she had never taken the time to wonder where he'd summoned that inner tenacity to come to work day after day and put his all into being something he had never asked to be. None of them had. It had just been easier to lay the blame at his feet instead of the actual person who had caused their pain, no matter how unintentionally.
Now she looked down at him sagged back into the couch, eyes closed and looking like round bruises against his pale complexion. She was pretty sure he had fallen asleep, voluntarily or not, she couldn't tell. Even Gibbs wasn't sure, but he wasn't going to find out by asking him and probably waking him up.
"Whataya see, Abs?" Gibbs asked her gently, still annoyed with her, but also sympathetic to her present plight. He really wanted to help her, but not to the detriment of Tony. She needed to understand the consequences of what she'd done, just like he had had to, or she would never be able to get back on an even keel with her supposed best friend.
"I... I see a man who looks really exhausted, and who hasn't had a lot of people backing him up lately. He's right, Gibbs, he never quit on us, never gave up on keeping us from falling into a million little pieces, even when we were giving him every reason not to. I was so hurt, and angry, and he took it, he let me use him for a punching bag, just like he let you. He was easier to blame than you, I didn't want to believe that you could ever do anything like that to us. He tried to make me understand why you did it, and I guess I always did anyways, I just...you weren't here to take it out on and he was."
She sniffed back a sob and rubbed her eyes with her hands, and Gibbs lead her to the dining room
and handed her a paper napkin off the table to wipe her face.
"Thanks... after...after you came back, I was afraid you wouldn't stay if he caused a fuss, so I tore him down, tried to make him think he couldn't do the job, when he'd already been doing it for years. I chose you over him, not because I didn't love him but because I couldn't stand you leaving again. And then things got out of hand, and you were treating him bad, and Tim and Ziva were treating him bad, and it just seemed...there was no fighting it, and he didn't come around much anyways, it was usually you or Tim that came down here and then he was gone, on that stupid undercover assignment and I was mad at him all over again for going and doing something so stupid and scaring us half to death by not knowing where he was or if he was even breathing anymore, and you were unbearable to all of us cause all of a sudden you were starting to put things together and you realized what you had done and that you loved him and that you might never have a chance to tell him that and to apologize to him, and I was mad at him for doing that to you..."
"He didn't do anything to me, Abs, " Gibbs told her quietly, settling her in a chair and kissing the top of her head. "And you know that; I did it all to him, we all did, and we didn't give him any choice but to take that op. Like he said, we'd turned into a pack of wolves to him, and he decided to trust total strangers with his life rather than trust us to keep him safe anymore. I backed him into a hard corner the day he was asked about doing that op, and he took it knowing full well the jerks setting it up didn't know their asses from holes in the ground. I was driving him away on purpose, I knew I was, he knew I was, I just didn't know why, didn't even care, just got so I hated him so much I wanted him gone.
"Well he got gone, almost permanently, and I almost lost myself all over again. I guarantee he'll up and walk if we can't get our acts together, Fornell's already offered him a spot on his team, Homeland Security's asked the Director if he's looking to move on...he has no reason to stay if we can't figure out how to change how we treat him, and that means changing our perspectives on what happened the last few months. We were wrong, Abs, you were wrong. Nothing he could have said or did would have made me turn around and come back, and he knew it, I was done with my life here, I barely remembered any of you, or my job, I had no reason to stay.
"I'd probably still be down there if Ziva hadn't gotten in hot water with Mossad, and Tony would have taken only just so much more from you guys and high-tailed it over to Fornell's team. Tim would have been sent down to Cyber Crimes and Ziva would have had to go back to Israel. Blaming Tony for my mistakes and for him cleaning up the mess I left him has got to stop, and now. He did good by you, by all of us, and he did it cause he loved us, and cause it was what needed to be done, and all he got in return for it was a kick in the balls. The kicking stops here, Abs. We either give him a united front, or we're gonna be seein' his back, those are the choices."
Abby collected herself with a sigh and a blowing of her nose into the napkin, then tried to clean off the eyeliner and mascara from her cheeks, without much success.
"I guess we really put the 'funk' in dysfunctional family, don't we, Gibbs?"
"Yeah, yer not kiddin'. Don't think I've talked so much in my entire life what I've said these past few days. Needed to be said, whether I wanted to or not. Would never have had to if I hadn't been such an ass."
"Would you tell him..we're not done, that I want to apologize to him, I mean, really apologize this time, not just show up and tell him to forgive me?"
"Yeah, I'll tell 'im that, Abs. He'll be goin' back to his own place tomorrow morning, Duck and I will take turns stopping by and checking on him. I'll tell him you'll be stopping by sometime. But he has standing orders from me not to let you try to bully him into anything."
"Gibb, I never bully, I -" She stopped short at the reproving look on his face. "Well, I never saw it as bullying, anymore than you did! I've always seen it as just being very persuasive and determined!"
" Tony would give you anything you wanted without a second thought if he thought it was in everyone's best interest, Abs. Don't hold it against him for having the good judgment to know when to tell you 'no', or that you're being wrong-headed. He got it from me all the time, and knew I was looking out for his six, even if I wasn't always right about it."
"I know, Gibbs, I just – I lost my way after you left, everything was wrong after that."
"Then let's start making it right, and start with Tony."
She nodded and wiped her nose on another napkin, leaving a pile in the middle of the table, then stood up and headed for the door.
"Make sure he gets the cookies, I wasn't trying to bribe him with them, honest, it's just been so long since I've seen him eat any I thought it might cheer him up."
"Okay, Abs, I will." Gibbs assured her, ushering her out the door. "I know this is hard, Abs, but I know you can look at this from where he was coming from and see it in a whole new way. Follow the evidence, not the assumptions and you'll get there."
He gave her a gentle hug and a chaste kiss on the cheek, and she hugged him back around the neck.
"Thanks, Gibbs. And thanks for watching his six again, even if you did have to kick mine."
" ' Welcome, Abs. Talk to you later."
He watched her get in her car and drive off before closing the door, then turned his attention to the young man lightly snoring on his couch. Tony still looked restless, and his face was pinched even in sleep. Gibbs grabbed the old quilt off the back of the sofa and arranged it carefully over him, then gathered up the bags Abby had let slide to the floor when she'd arrived. Progress had been made, he was sure of it, but how much was questionable at that point. He sighed, but knew he had done all he could for Tony for the time being, and went back to sorting his mail.
It was the middle of the next week before McGee and Ziva started to get suspicious, then downright worried over the fact that Tony still was not back at work. Even coming off his medical leave, he would have normally been at his desk, working whatever case they were on from the bullpen, or just working cold cases. Gibbs had been running them ragged, taking them through the paces of a supposedly 'experimental' Probie program handed down by the Director for Gibbs to 'try out' and decide what he liked and didn't like about it. It was tantamount to being in FLETC all over again, with street cop and police detective tossed in for flavoring. It consisted of taking and evaluating written tests, including lengthy essays that they both detested and griped about, saying they had no bearing whatsoever on being trained as an NCIS agent. All of it was done on hard copy, long hand, with pens, and McGee thought he might scribble right through the paper trying to write something that made sense in the allotted time. Ziva was better at the non-linear thinking part of it, but got impatient and frustrated, cursing the test makers and wasting her time fussing over why things were done this way in America.
The essays weren't exactly equations, nor were they right or wrong, black and white sort of problems.
They seemed to be obscure, wandering things, and as McGee commented half-way through his test, written by someone on hallucinogenic drugs, but were actually designed for the test taker to figure out how to get from point A to point B without aid of computer or weapon. Neither finished any of them, they'd become so freaked-out and agitated over them, and they would have been doubly so to find out that Gibbs himself had come up with the questions himself after consulting with DiNozzo.
The rest of the 'test' consisted of training exercises, most notably a hostage-situation where they were not allowed to have their usual weapons on their persons, and were required to 'discuss' things with the hostage-taker rather than rely on any sort of physical aid other than a cell phone. This was failed quite miserably, too, and at the end of the day, Gibbs walked away from them completely disgusted.
Day three found them interrogating belligerent 'suspects' and uncooperative 'witnesses', all in the presence of their 'lawyers', and both of them losing their professional tempers with all of them, Tim having to leave the room and take off his tie, and Ziva threatening bodily harm to a 'public defender'.
By Thursday morning, no one was talking to each other, and Tony's desk remained ominously empty.
No amount of whining or trickery could get their boss to tell them where their SFA was, or when he would be back. Mid – morning, Gibbs threw folders in front of them onto their desktops, and sat on the edge of his SFA's workspace slugging down a coffee.
"Those are your test results. If you were trying to graduate a police academy, or become a detective, they would have laughed you out of the building, the both of you. If this place had tested you with these now, Tim would be back in the Norfolk field office, but not as an agent, just a computer fixer guy. Ziva would be back on a military transport to Israel, with the Director's blessing."
"Those tests weren't fair, Gibbs," McGee spat out his protest. "The written tests made no sense at all, the hostage tests would never have happened that way, and no real public defender would ever come up with that sort of ridiculous
"McGee is right, if those are the tests that will be used to judge new agents from now on, there will be no more new agents to work for NCIS!"
"You're sure of that, are you?"
"McGee, you had so much ink on your essay papers, I couldn't tell what was writing and what was garbage. Come to think of it, it was all garbage. Ziva, you spent so much time being pissed off about why you were doing the test, you never finished any of them. Your concentration was shot to hell, you practically bit through the pen, and I could barely read what you did write through all the wrinkles where you'd balled up the paper in a hissy fit and had to unball it again."
"I did not have a hissy fit, I do not even know what that is, and why is Tony not here to have to take these tests with us, he could not have done any better than we did on them! Gibbs, is he coming back to work with us or has he...decided he has had enough?"
"Enough of what, Agent David?"
"Enough of not...enough of – enough of law enforcement. Ducky said Tony was contemplating leaving the country, is he going to join his father in his business or -"
"Not real sure what country DiNozzo's in right now, but I seriously doubt he'd join leagues with his old man no matter what he paid him. None of which has to do with the test results in front of you."
"Boss, I thought you wanted him back!" McGee squeaked, shocked at Gibbs' lack of concern.
"I do, McGee. Question is, do you guys want him back. I can't answer that, won't answer that. Can tell ya that you don't deserve him back, none of us do, except Ducky and Palmer. But if and when he comes back, it's not gonna be the old status quo. I can't make you like DiNozzo, I can't even make you
appreciate DiNozzo, but I can sure as hell make your lives a living nightmare if you can't start showing him some respect and follow his lead. Read 'computer fixer person' and 'military transport'.
And yeah, it was my fault for not making both of you do that from the get-go, and I made it ten times worse the way I treated him when I got back from Mexico, and he and I have talked about it, and it's between him and me.
" But this is now, and we're going to pretend we're starting from scratch on this team. And by the way, those tests in front of you? They were designed to try to make you understand non-linear thinking, and how to think outside your tiny little box, be it computer or brain. And they were all actual things that happened to DiNozzo either as a cop, a detective, or a Special Agent before you guys showed up on the scene. And guess what, he 'passed' all of them, and many more, and if you don't believe me, go ask the Director to let you read his personal files from his PD stints and when he first got here. On your own time, of course. Then go back and re-read your test answers and results, and you'll see why he's my Senior Field Agent, and you're not."
Gibbs took the time to smirk behind his coffee cup as he reveled in the shocked faces of his agents, then strode casually to the elevator.
"Now that you know all that, re-read what you wrote and did, and see if it makes any more sense to ya now. I'm goin' for more coffee. Have fun."
MEANWHILE, ON A BEACH IN THE CAYMANS...
As soon as Tony had gotten off the plane and onto the tarmac, he could have kicked himself for not doing this sooner. Like, years sooner. Everything was blue, and fresh, and green and fresh, and damn, warm and fresh! He had watched the beaches approaching with the marvel of a little kid, and realized he had been a little kid the last time he'd been anywhere this exotic, and in the struggle to get through his bizarre and neglectful childhood, had forgotten how wonderful these kinds of places were, and what a balm to the soul they could be. He didn't even bother unpacking his bags before he was out the ocean-front hotel door to the beach, and galloping through the sand to the rolling surf. Every muscle seemed to relax at once, and he felt like a rag doll, or a marionette whose strings had just been cut.
He was glad there was no one around, because at the same time his body let go its obsessive need to be in control, so did his brain, and he let go a half-laugh, half-sob as he dropped himself into the warm, blue waves.
This he could do, and suddenly two weeks didn't seem like a long enough time to spend there. But it would do, and he would shave or not shave, eat and drink when and what he wanted, stay awake or sleep in as late as he wanted, read every single book he had brought along with him, and bake himself like a loaf of Italian bread on the beach every day. He'd brought his phone, but Gibbs had promised to not call him save for any emergency, and he planned to call Gibbs once a day, at the end of his day, to share with him what he had done, or more likely, not done, and let his boss know that he hadn't drowned or run off with a rich widow and gotten married.
A few days into his beach-bumming, he bought some postcards at the hotel store and started to write and send one every day, indicating neither way whether he intended to come home or stay a beach comber. There were times when he honestly wasn't sure after all, but he knew in his heart the pull of his job would send him back to the States, and that now that he had re-connected with his inner Gilligan, he could always put aside some funds and come back here every year. Maybe some year he and Gibbs would be back on their old wavelength, where words were said by looks and thoughts were traded by body-language, and he could convince the man to come with him and hang out, if only for a week. Be Skipper to his Gilligan, and maybe even find a Ginger to flirt with.
For now, he was laid out on the beach in a high-end chaise lounge, reading Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and he could almost make himself believe that none of the last four months had happened, and that he wasn't still nursing a fractured arm and bullet wound in his side. He had explained some of what had happened to the small resort's staff, just enough so they wouldn't wonder and fuss, which made them fuss over him even more, which was actually quite wonderful. It was like having Ducky as his valet the entire time he was at the resort. He wondered a bit what was happening back in the bullpen, but most of him really didn't want to know, or even really think about the place for a while.
Gibbs was mostly back to his old self and would have things under control now; perhaps by the time he got back, his team would be ready to be a real team again, and Abby wouldn't act like she had to walk on eggshells around him anymore. She had apologized profusely and genuinely the next day after their big blow-out at Gibbs' house, and he had accepted, genuinely, but with reservation in his heart about ever relying on anyone that much again to have his six when the going got rough. She had broken another part of him that he doubted could ever be properly repaired – glued and stuck together, but never really the way it was before it had broken.
Somehow he had always believed she would never be capable of breaking his heart, and he kicked and growled at himself for being so foolish. He was expecting perfection of her, of his team and Gibbs, or at least more than they were able to give him, and he had to readjust his expectations of them if he wanted to survive working with them. It had been a while since his world had tilted from someone letting him down – his old partner Danny Price, to be exact – and he had softened up in the meantime. It occurred to him that he should have his own set of rules to live by, just like Gibbs, except they would be private, for his eyes and soul only, nothing for anyone else to peruse and judge. He scrounged around in his beach bag and found pad and pen, and while McGee and Ziva were hopelessly scribbling non-answers to their essay questions, he was very thoughtfully making a list - he decided to call it his '007' list, for his eyes only'. It became the most important project of his vacation, next to eating, sleeping and enjoying the water, and he wouldn't go home without completing it. Half-way through it, he realized it was yet another thing he should have done sooner, it would have saved him a lot of grief, but then again, he probably would never have taken time off and come down to this beautiful beach. He closed his eyes and settled down into the lounge chair. In half and hour they would bring him his lunch. After that he didn't know, and didn't try to think that far ahead. Yeah, he could so do this for an entire two weeks. Life was good, after all.
A/N: Thanks for joining me on this fic. I found myself oh-so wishing just now that I was on that beautiful beach with Tony. Dream away, girls!