This is a response to Easier Than Eating Two Pies' challenge, which she posted ages ago and I finally got around to finishing:

Tony leaves NCIS Washington DC for another place, without much warning. He could be going on a mission, getting a new job, taking a promotion, or anything else you can think up. Why did he leave and where did he go? What are everyone's reactions? A while later (from a few months to several years), he returns. What has changed? How does everyone react? Tell us how he makes amends and what the future holds for him.

My answer to the challenge, or at least the leaving part of it, takes place a few weeks after Singled Out and may contain minor spoilers for that episode as well as Hiatus and Faking It. This is AU (even beyond the whole "Tony leaves" part) in the fact that I'm ignoring the whole "obsessed Jenny/undercover Tony" arc and the Rota offer she made to him in Singled Out.

A huge shoutout has to go to scousemuz1k for this – she acted as a sounding board and came up with the title when I was stumped.

Legal bits: Y'all already know I don't own them, much as I'd like to.

Monday morning…

Tony DiNozzo sat in the airport lounge, watching the people come and go. He'd always loved flying, loved the anticipation of seeing new places and meeting new people, but today his excitement was tempered by an unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach. As his flight was called he wondered, once again, if he was doing the right thing.

The previous Friday evening…

Tony stared at the amber liquid in the glass of scotch that his Director had just poured for him and sighed deeply.

"I just don't think I can do it any more, Jenny," he said softly, not looking at her. "I've tried; I've tried so damn hard! I've tried being happy that he's back, tried to go back to my old role, tried to ignore the sniggers and whispered comments not only from other agents in this office, but from my own team. God, I've bitten my tongue so much the last few weeks I'm surprised I can still speak clearly."

Jenny sat down on the couch beside Tony. "I told him he should tell you that you did a good job. That you excelled while he was… away," she said, taking his hand and squeezing it softly. Normally she tried to maintain a strictly professional relationship between herself and her agents but, in Tony's case, he had managed to slip past those barriers. He had known she needed someone to lean on when Gibbs left, and had refused to let her wallow and second-guess herself.

Tony laughed, a bitter laugh without humour. "Bet that went over well," he said. "It doesn't matter anyway. Even if I thought he had one ounce of respect for me, and after the whole Mike Franks thing I don't, Ziva and McGee don't. They may have before this, I don't know, but they sure don't now. And with the way he came back, just dumping my stuff on McGee's desk – my desk again, I guess – he made sure that no one else around here would respect me much either."

"I respect you, Tony. Never doubt that," Jenny said, her eyes blazing as she took in Tony's defeated posture. "So do Ducky and Jimmy Palmer." She knew that they had stood by Tony before and after Gibbs' return and had proved invaluable to the agent as both a source of moral support and a sounding board for ideas and theories that his team wouldn't even listen to, and she had made a point of speaking to each of them individually to thank them. She hadn't bothered telling Gibbs about their support since she knew that he wouldn't care or, worse, he would use it against Tony.

Tony smiled, a pale imitation of his normal smiles, but a smile nonetheless. "I know that, Jenny, and I wish it could be enough," he said, squeezing her hand back. Not for the first time, he thanked his lucky stars for his friendship with Jennifer Sheppard. At least one good thing had come out of Gibbs' abrupt departure to Mexico several months earlier, he thought. If not for that, he doubted that he and Jenny would have forged the friendship that they currently shared.

"Tony, I'm sorry," Jenny said remorsefully. "I never would have brought him back if I'd known…"

"Not your fault, Jenny." Tony interrupted quickly, hating the guilt he saw on her face. "And you were right to bring him back. He's a damn good investigator, and the team needs him, needs to go back to the way things used to be. I just wish I could too, but it's not enough anymore."

"So what will you do?" Jenny asked. She could tell it would do no good to try and talk Tony out of leaving and, truth be told, she wasn't sure she would want to even if she thought she could. Jethro and his team had treated Tony badly even before Gibbs had left and while she would miss the young man terribly, she was pleased that he was thinking of what was best for himself for once and not what was best for everyone else.

The question got a real smile out of Tony. "One of my OSU sorority sisters is a staffer at the White House. A bunch of us DC-based alumni get together every few months for dinner and we got to talking. I guess I wasn't as good at hiding my feelings as I thought I was, 'cause apparently she mentioned that I might be less than happy where I am now to a friend at Homeland Security and they gave me a call. Offered me a position on the Domestic Terrorism Task Force team out of Seattle."

Jenny's eyes widened in surprise. She knew that the Seattle task force was considered to be a plum posting, what with the city being so close to the Canadian border. While border security between the two countries was generally very good there was always the chance of something – or someone – getting across and the Seattle office was a key player in making sure that didn't happen, working closely with their Canadian counterparts. It was a team that required a good mix of investigative ability, street smarts and public relations savvy – a mix she knew Tony could provide.

"Seattle – that's quite a ways away," she said, resigning herself to losing one of her best agents. She hoped she wouldn't also lose the good friend that Tony had become. "I'll miss you, so you'd better keep in touch, mister. When were you planning on leaving?"

Tony suddenly looked embarrassed. "Well, since I've got so much vacation time on the books, I thought I'd leave now. You know, make a clean break of it. I don't start in Seattle for two weeks, but I have to find an apartment out there, get everything packed up here, you know the drill. And…" his voice trailed off as he looked away from Jenny.

"And you don't really want to deal with Gibbs and the rest of them," Jenny finished for him. "I can understand that."

"I'm going to leave them letters, to try and explain why I have to go. Except for Ducky and Jimmy – I'm going to go talk to them tomorrow morning, to say goodbye properly. I owe them that much; they were always there for me while Gibbs was gone, and they've become good friends. I need to pack up my desk too. I figured I'd come in tomorrow evening. Since it's Saturday not many people should be around. Will you hold off on cutting my access until then?" Tony's tone was quiet but firm. He'd made his decision, and nothing anyone could say would change his mind.

"I tell you what, Tony," Jenny said, struggling to keep tears at bay. She wasn't sure if they were tears of sadness for Tony's leaving or tears of anger at Jethro and his team for driving her agent – her friend – away. "I'll help you pack up your desk tomorrow, and then I'll take you out for a farewell dinner. In fact, make sure you invite Ducky and Jimmy as well and we'll send you off in style."

"You don't have to do that, Jenny," Tony said, putting his glass on the table and rising from the couch. He looked somehow less tired than when he'd entered Jenny's office, as if getting things off his chest had lightened the burden he carried.

"I know, Tony. I want to, though. You've been a good friend and while I'm sorry you feel you have to leave I'm also excited for you, for the new adventure you're undertaking and I want to help you celebrate," Jenny said. "Besides, I'm hoping that this will make you feel beholden to me so you'll want to come back one day, even if it's just to visit," she said, winking at him and trying to lighten the mood in the room.

Tony laughed, as she's hoped he would and then he sighed softly has he pulled Jenny into a loose hug. "In case I forget to say it tomorrow, Jenny, I'm going to miss you too."

Next on NCIS: Tony talks to Jimmy.