Like many others, I was disappointed in how Tony was treated by the others during and after Gibbs' 'retirement', or as it was put, his Tequila Safari. This is what I wished had happened after the events of Bounce, and contains spoilers for several episodes, including Hiatus, Shalom among others.

I don't own NCIS, wish I did, cuz Tony wouldn't be such a clown if I had anything to say about it. But I'm grateful to the creators, writers and actors who bring these characters to life.

Not a fan of Ziva and despise any mention of TIVA, so you won't find any of that here. Some Zivaa and McGee bashing here… Don't like, don't read. I make no apologies for that.


Tony DiNozzo was tired. Yes, it had been a long week. Yes, they had three dead bodies this week. But that wasn't the reason he was tired.

He was tired of his teammates. He was tired of his job. He was tired of...hell, he was just tired. Ever since their not so former boss, Jethro Gibbs, had un-retired, Tony had had nothing but grief from him, Tim McGee and Ziva David. Even their resident Lab Tech, Abby Scuito, had been harping at him.

When Gibbs first left, with no more than a 'you'll do' as an oh-so-wonderful endorsement of his skills, the team had been biting and critical of everything he did. He'd tried to do things the same as Gibbs had, hoping if he kept things familiar, the transition would be easier. What a disaster that had been. If he'd heard "you aren't Gibbs" once more time, he likely would have shot the lot of them.

So, then he tried to do things his way, but all he got was "Gibbs wouldn't have done it like that." Well, no shit, Sherlock. And when he tried to blend the two styles, they mocked him at every step. Damned when he did...damned when he didn't.

Then, Gibbs comes back...for Ziva. Did Ziva call Tony first, as her Team Leader? Of course not! God forbid she should actually call and let him know what the hell was going on! No, she calls Gibbs...in Mexico...retired. Geez, what a vote of confidence that was for DiNozzo. And then he finds out that Abby gave her Gibbs' number! So Tony calls it...and gets Ziva...who then puts Gibbs on the line! Gibbs, who 'retired' to Mexico… promptly left Mexico, left retirement, at the first call from Ziva David. He wondered, more than once, if Gibbs would have done the same for him. Somehow he doubted it. He would more than likely have received a 'deal with it, DiNozzo' instead.

And after they got Ziva out of the mess she'd gotten herself into, Gibbs had planned to leave again, once more not bothering to even say goodbye. But then, Tobias Fornell, the FBI version of Tony's worst enemy, approaches Gibbs with a small problem of an escaped convict threatening his little girl. And claiming he was innocent of all charges that put him in jail.

Now, Tony didn't begrudge his ex-boss helping out. There was a child involved and Gibbs never turned down a...what was Tobias to Gibbs anyway, friend, colleague...who the hell knew. Plus, the escapee was someone that Gibbs had put away, so it wasn't so far fetched that he'd want to see the guy back behind bars. Supposedly, Gibbs got reinstated temporarily to handle that case. But he must have decided he like being on the job again. One morning Tony came in to find all of his stuff back on his old desk and himself demoted back to Senior Field Agent. And if that wasn't bad enough, Gibbs acted like he'd never gone away. Well, except for that stupid mustache.

So, the team that had been giving Tony nothing but lip for four months, got worse. Ziva bitching at him for every little thing. Abby so excited about Gibbs being back, he was surprised she hadn't thrown a party! McGee ragging on him about not having his own team. He had so wanted to put that probie in his place and tell him about the offer for his own team in Rota. But he kept his tongue. And he still wasn't sure why. Instead he just turned on his heel and walked away. He heard McGee calling after him, but he didn't bother accepting any half-assed, insincere apology that might spout from the geek's thin little lips.

He glanced up the steps that led to MTAC and the Director's office. He was so tempted to climb those steps and see if Rota was still available. Or anywhere else for that matter. At this point, he was almost tempted to accept Siberia! He'd heard all the whispers, that he wasn't good enough to lead a team and therefore the Director had begged Gibbs to return. That he'd screwed up a case, which forced Gibbs to come back. He'd even heard a rumor that he was fixing to get fired! Some days, he even wished that one was true.

The latest clusterfuck had been one of the first cases he'd handle as team leader. He'd thought they had the right man, they all had thought that Rennie was guilty. Except for that pissant little shit who really was guilty. Gibbs had given him the lead on the case-guess the Boss didn't want his hands dirtied by this screw-up.

Then McGee started ragging on him, yet again, about putting an innocent man away. Not one mention of McGee's own culpability, since he was the one going over the financials in the case. Yes, in the end, it was Tony's responsibility as Team Leader. But it irked him that his own team hung him out to dry like that. So much for team loyalty.

The only thing that kept him there after all the crap he took from his teammates during that case, was the shocking incidence of Gibbs telling Tony that he was proud of him. Of course, the man had to first agree with Tony that he'd screwed up. And judging by everything else that had happened since, he couldn't help but wonder if Gibbs wasn't just telling him what he thought he wanted to hear to keep him motivated. Little white lies weren't beyond Gibbs if it meant getting the job done. Hell, big honking lies weren't beyond the man if it got him what he wanted.

Gibbs was never one for handing out praise-at least not to one Anthony DiNozzo. He shoveled it at Abby, even McGee at times, since all that computer geeky stuff certainly got whatever information Gibbs wanted quicker than the old way of doing things. And Gibbs did hate to wait. He had the patience of a...hell, Tony couldn't even think of any creature that had less patience than Leroy Jethro Gibbs. How pathetic was that?

So, now it was five-thirty in the morning and he was trying to get some work done. He'd gone home at six the night before, like the rest of the team, but had only been able to sleep for about four hours. He'd gone for a run but that hadn't helped to clear his head, like it usually did. So he'd showered and come in early. He put the finishing touches on his last report, printed it and emailed a copy to Gibbs. He signed the paper copy and put that in Gibbs' in-box. After grabbing a container of orange juice from the vending machine, he sat back down at his computer. Clicking a half dozen times, another form came up on the monitor.

"Request for Transfer" in large black letters across the top stared back at him. It was already filled out, except for the date. He'd spent the last couple of nights after work, going over the various openings in NCIS, seeing if there might be one that interested him. There were a couple, one in Italy and one in San Diego. Even the one in Jacksonville, Florida might be better than staying in D.C.

Only problem was, Tony loved D.C. And he mostly loved his job. He wasn't sure anymore if he loved his team. Hell, he wasn't even sure he *liked* his team! But if he requested a move from Gibbs' team to another in D.C., it would be like being demoted again and he wasn't sure if he was ready to go that route once more. He'd been taking enough lip from the other Senior Field Agents, degrading him for just accepting the demotion when Gibbs came back.

But if he took a transfer in house, he wasn't sure he could work here and see his team...yes, his team...go on calls without him. Cripes, he was stuck between that rock and the hard place yet again. He pulled out a piece of paper and drew a line down the center of the page. One side he labeled "PRO", the other "CON" under a heading of 'why I should stay'.

Under the PRO column, he jotted down several items.






Love DC

Love my apartment

Familiar with how this office works

Know and get along with most everyone here

Familiar with good/bad of my teammates

Close to some great historic sights/monuments

Like being at the hub on the government

Fantastic restaurants/bars

Under the CON columns he put down a few more ideas.





My team doesn't respect me/hates me?/thinks I'm stupid, inefficient

Traffic congestion

Too much politics

Nowhere to go unless I change teams

Have to get used to new team and new town

Frat brothers still all mostly on the east coast

Still have 9 months on my lease

Would have to move...again

Hmm, about an equal amount of items on either side. And some of them weren't really CONS, just mundane work he didn't want to deal with. He shook his head and tossed his pen onto his desk. Closing his eyes, he leaned back in his chair. I wonder if I could get the Director to change my work hours. Maybe work the graveyard shift alone, then I could stay in D.C. and not have to deal with all this other garbage.

He chuckled to himself. He used to run, change jobs when it got this bad. But he was getting older and just didn't feel like moving again. And if he was honest with himself, he didn't want another team either. Guess that meant he'd have to suck it up and just deal with it. Opening his eyes and leaning forward again, he reached for the pad of paper, only to have a hand grab it from him. Startled, he looked up.


"DiNozzo," the former Marine replied as he glanced at Tony's list. Frowning, he tossed the pad back onto the desk and walked over to his desk. DiNozzo wasn't sure what to make of that response, expecting a tirade of some kind. But then again, after the way the team had been treating him, maybe Gibbs just didn't care anymore.

His thoughts were interrupted again when Gibbs grabbed his chair and wheeled it over to DiNozzo's desk, placing it right next to his Senior Agent's. He glanced at the transfer request form still visible on the younger man's computer monitor.

"Something you want to tell me, DiNozzo?"


"You planning on running again?"

"Not running."

"Sure seems like that's what you have in mind," Gibbs remarked gesturing toward the pad and the monitor screen. "I thought we'd cured you of that bad habit."

"Maybe I just need a change," Tony said, not able to look Gibbs in the eye, instead folding his arms and laying his head down on top of them. It was a full minute before either man spoke again and surprisingly it was Gibbs who broke the silence.

"Talk to me, Tony," he said quietly. "What's going on in that head of yours?"

"I'm tired, Gibbs. I'm just so tired." His voice was muffled by his folded arms.

"It was a bad week..."

Tony lifted up, eyes on fire. "It wasn't just this week and you know it! It's been everything since you came back! Hell, it's been bad since you left!" He stood up and walked around his desk, pacing back and forth. Gibbs stayed seated, watching the other man stalk across the carpet. The place was still empty except for the two of them, so he just let his Senior Agent vent.

"We're supposed to be a team. But you left with barely a goodbye." He held up his hand to stop Gibbs from interrupting. "I know why you left and I don't blame you. I can only imagine what you were going through then, reliving the death of your family and having the higher ups ignore you, leading to the deaths of all those men. Still barely remembering parts of your life. I probably would have gone off the deep end. But then you came back. All it took was one phone call from Ziva...Ziva, who couldn't trust *me* to help her. She had to call you."

Tony shook his head, then continued. "Then Fornell comes to you with his problem and again, I understand why you helped, with his kid involved and all. But why didn't you... why did you...oh hell!"

"Why did I what?"

Tony spun around and started his sentence two or three times before finally just blurting out, "Why did you just toss me aside like so much garbage? Do you understand how that made me feel? McGee and Ziva already didn't respect me, were undermining my lead at every turn. And then you come back and just take over again." He took a couple of deep breaths. "You just pack up my stuff and throw it back on my old desk. You ...you could have at least warned me. Instead, you just threw me away," he said the last so softly that Gibbs almost missed it.

Gibbs was shocked at the pain in Tony's voice. And even more shocked at the defeat in the slumped shoulders. But before he could speak up, DiNozzo continued. "And you've been riding my case ever since. And because you have, McGee and Ziva have gotten worse. I guess they figure since you think I'm a fuck up, they can treat me that way too."

"I don't think you're a fuck up, Tony."

"Then why are you treating me like you do?!"

Gibbs closed his eyes and leaned forward, elbows on his knees as he rubbed his hands across this face. He sat up straight and for several long seconds, he and DiNozzo just stared at each other. Then he reached for his phone.

"Jen, I need a favor. I need to settle some things with DiNozzo. Can you pass along any new cases today to another team?...Yes, it's important...It is if you want to keep your best team intact...thanks...I will." He closed his phone and slid it back into his pocket. "Put everything away. This may take awhile."

Tony frowned in confusion, but did as he was told, while Gibbs wrote out a note and left it on McGee's desk. "Grab your gear, just in case we get a call."

Tony picked up his backpack and followed Gibbs to the elevator. Neither man spoke as they rode down to the garage. Tony had no idea where they were going, but he hoped whatever was going to happen would help him make a decision, one way or the other.


Not long after DiNozzo and Gibbs left, the elevator opened, spitting out half a dozen agents, including Tim McGee and Ziva David. Both were surprised to see that their two teammates weren't in the office.

"I can't believe we beat them both to work," Ziva remarked, she said, surprised. "Well, actually I can believe that Tony would be late, but not Gibbs," she said with a smirk.

"Ah, we didn't," Tim replied, reading the note Gibbs had left for them, reading it out loud. "McGee, you and David finish up your reports, then pull the Paxton file out of the Cold Case drawer and see what you can dig up. Tony and I will be out until further notice. Call if you find anything useful but otherwise, save it until we get back."

"I wonder where they went," Ziva said.

"Who knows. Tony probably needed his hand held at a dentist appointment or something," he replied, laughing.

Ziva joined him, adding, "He sure has been having enough of them lately. I'm surprised he has any teeth left."

"Well, let's see what this Paxton case is all about. You think it's another case of Tony sending an innocent man to jail."

"More likely letting a guilty man go free!" They exchanged smiles as Tim found the files. He flipped it open and read through the brief synopsis on the front, then turned to the photos in the back.

And nearly lost his breakfast.

"Oh my God, how could anyone do this to another person?"

"I have seen worse in Mossad."

"Of course you have," Tim commented, trying to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. Sometimes he just wished Ziva would shut up about Mossad. He wondered if she did it just to prove she was better than everyone else, or that she'd had such a bad life, or what. He didn't agree with Tony on much, but that was one thing they had in common. Shaking off the thought of actually agreeing with DiNozzo about anything, he flipped back to the front of the file and began reading, passing on the pages to Ziva as he finished them.

She was squinting at something on one of the pages. "What does this say?" she asked, pointing to a spot on the page.

"Looks like a suspect description. Whoever the agent was who wrote these notes has got to have the smallest handwriting I've ever seen. Tony has a magnifying glass in his drawer."

Ziva wheeled her chair over and pulled open the drawer. She pulled out a yellow legal pad, searching under it for the magnifier. It was only as she was placing it back in the drawer that she noticed what was written on it.


Forty-five minutes later, Team Leader and Senior Field Agent were sitting on a bench in a park on the other side of the large base, deserted at that hour of the morning. Both were sipping coffee and watching the cloud cover burn away. The usually talkative DiNozzo waited patiently for his boss to talk, hopeful yet anxious about what he had to say.

"I let you down big time, Tony," Gibbs began to the surprise of his agent. "When I left, I was still in such a bad place. My memories were still pretty piecemeal. And after that ship blew up...I wasn't ready to make nice with anyone. It was all I could do to leave like I did. I know that what I said when I left wasn't nearly enough to tell you that you earned your spot as team leader and that I had every confidence that you would do well."

He took another deep dose of his morning caffeine, glancing over at DiNozzo, who was staring at his feet. Gibbs hated to talk about his feelings and even more about his personal and private life. But the man next to him deserved an explanation and deserved to hear it all from him. If that meant talking non-stop for the next eight hours, he would muddle through it somehow.

"I had an obligation to you, and to the team, to let all of you know that I knew you could handle being Team Leader. I failed and you've born the brunt of that failure."

"Boss..." Gibbs shook his head to stop him from protesting.

"No, Tony. As much as I hate to admit to mistakes, I respect you enough to admit this one to you. I don't know if I'll be able to say this again, but I need you to know how I feel."

Tony nodded and kept silent. Gibbs took a deep breath. He had a lot to say and wanted to make sure he said it all today. He didn't want to lose this man from his team, or his life, and was determined to find the words to make Tony's decision to stay an easy one. "As far as the 'tossing you aside like trash'...I never...I am sorry I made you feel that way. It certainly wasn't my intention. I was feeling very out-of-sorts and just needed to take control back. When I came back here to help Ziva, I never intended to stay. Even when we worked that case with Fornell, I planned to return to Mexico. But..."

"But, it got back into your blood again, didn't it?" Tony asked with a small smile on his face.

Gibbs chuckled. "I guess you could say that." He leaned forward, holding his cup with both hands between his knees. "I am sorry that I didn't speak to you first. I should have allowed you to keep the team and took over another one."

He stopped when DiNozzo began to shake his head emphatically. "Would never have worked."

"Why not?"

"I wouldn't have had a team left. Neither McGee nor Ziva thought I was Team Leader material. Both of them would have requested a transfer to your team. I would have been on my own."

"What happened there, Tony?"

Tony laughed. "You happened, Boss. I couldn't live up to the high standards you set."


"I tried. I really did. At first, when I tried to do it your way, all I heard was 'you're not Gibbs, Tony,'...Like I needed that reminder. Then when that didn't work, I tried to do things my own way, and all I heard was 'that's not how Gibbs would have done it'. I tried to blend both our styles and came up with a few things that I thought worked. They acted like I shot their puppies, outraged that I would change the way you did anything. I couldn't win for losing."

"And here I thought I trained them better than that."

"You trained them to follow Gibbs, and only Gibbs. And as they reminded me often...I was not Gibbs!"

"Damn it! You are a fine agent!" Gibbs stood up and started pacing back and forth. "And you were ready to lead your own team. Who the hell do they think they are to pass judgment on you!?"

Tony leaned back, astounded by the outburst. And proud that Gibbs thought that of him.

Gibbs angrily tossed his now empty cup in a nearby trash can. That action seemed to calm him down some. "Aw, hell, Tony," he said, dropping heavily back onto the bench. "I've screwed the pooch so bad in the last year, I can't believe I haven't been fired."

"Boss, can I ask you a question?"


"Ziva. Why didn't you fight that more? Why did you allow her to take Kate's place? You seemed to just trust her implicitly. That's not like you."

"Actually, trust wasn't immediate. But I do have a certain amount of trust with Jenny Shepard and she brought Ziva in. I was leery of having a foreign national on the team and with access to so much classified material. That surprised me, when Jen allowed that. In fact, I couldn't believe SecNav allowed it. But what you don't know...and Tony, this is something I swore not to tell anyone..."

Tony held up a hand. "Boss, you don't need to break a promise for me."

"In this, I do. It's important that you know. I don't want her position on the team to undermine your position."

Tony chuckled bitterly. "She already thinks she's better than me...and admittedly, in some things, she is."

"In some things," Gibbs replied with a smile, "but not the things she needs to serve on an NCIS team. I'm still not sure what Jen was thinking there. Ziva would have been better off being liaison with the CIA or NSA. There's something else going on there, but I have yet to figure it out. But, getting back to your question. Ziva is the one who killed Ari."

Silence met that statement and it caused Gibbs to glance over at his agent. He was surprised to see confusion on Tony's face. "What is it?"

"Do you...do you think she was ordered to kill him because he went rogue?"

"I think she was. I can't prove it, but yes, I think that's why she was sent here. I think Mossad lost contact with him and knew we were still chasing him. And I think she was allowed into NCIS to be sure that if we found him, she would be right there to either contain him… or to take him out."

"So, she did that. Why did she stay?"

"Because I never pushed it. Maybe I should have, I don't know. But we needed another agent on the team."

"Why? We did okay, just the two of us, didn't we, before Kate? And later with McGee?"

"We did," Gibbs smiled. "We made a great team, DiNozzo. But, we needed the help, if for nothing else than the research. And yes, I know, she wasn't very good at that either when she first joined the team. But I think she's settled in, don't you?"

Tony shrugged. "I suppose. I sure miss Kate though. She and I, when we bantered back and forth, it was mostly friendly little jabs, ya know. With Ziva, especially lately, she's just vicious most of the time."

"I haven't seen that, Tony..."

"That's because she's at least smart enough to wait until you leave the room. Unfortunately, McGee is usually there, so he feels like it's open season on me. You know me, I don't mind the teasing and such, and usually give back as good as I get. Hell, most of the time, I start it. But she can get ugly. I'm not sure sometimes if she'd protect my back or shoot me in the back."

Gibbs cocked is head, surprised, yet not, at that statement. "You really feel that way?"

Tony sighed. "Sometimes yeah. I get so tired of hearing "in the Mossad we did it this way"...if she really likes the Mossad way of doing things better, I wish she's just go back to Mossad!"

Gibbs chuckled. "I know she's been here for a couple of years already, Tony, but believe it or not, she is still learning."

"Not to hear her talk. You'd think she knows it all by now, and doesn't want anyone telling her different."

"Can I ask why you never brought this up before?"

"Truthfully, because I didn't want to sound like a jealous, whiny two year old," he replied.

"Tony, contrary to popular belief, you never whine about the important stuff."

"Could you put that in a department memo?" A full laugh escaped Jethro and Tony joined him a moment later.

"We are a pair, aren't we, DiNozzo?"

"Yeah, but a pair what, Boss?" Gibbs leaned back and spread both arms across the back of the bench. The day was warming up and he wanted nothing more than to just sit here all day. Of course, he'd have to find some more coffee first. "Hey, Boss."

"Yeah, DiNozzo."

"Thanks." Gibbs looked over in confusion. "For doing this. I know you don't like opening up to people and I appreciate you being willing to do it for me."

Jethro moved his arm and placed his hand on the back of Tony's neck, grasping it. DiNozzo looked over at him. "Tony, my reasons are completely selfish. I don't want you to leave. I want you...no...I need you as my Senior Field Agent. I depend on you to help me solve these cases. As much as I depend on McGee for his computer skills, and Abby for her forensics, Ducky for the medical stuff and Ziva for her kick ass ways, it's your street smarts and your investigative skills that I depend on most. I am sorry if I never made that clear to you. You are an essential part of this team. And I dread the day that you are offered your own team."

Tony turned away, guiltily. "Tony?" Gibbs let his hand fall back onto the bench back.

"Actually, I was already offered my own team," he confessed quietly.

"What? When? Where?"

"A month or so ago, not too long after you came back. Rota."

"You turned down Rota?! Why?" When Tony didn't answer right away, Gibbs leaned forward, trying to catch his eye. "Talk to me, Tony. Rota is a prime assignment, right up your alley. The beach, the babes in bikinis, why would you turn it down?"

"If I'd been offered it before you left, I might not have. But, I had the chance to lead a team here, and it was disaster."

"That's not what I heard. Jen was very impressed."

"She told you that?" Tony asked, incredulous.

"Why do you sound so surprised?"

DiNozzo shook his head. He and Jenny Shepard had been working closely together on this Frog thing, but he didn't think she was that enamored with his leadership of the team. He wondered if she was just pulling Gibbs' chain. And now that he thought about the undercover gig he was doing, he felt guilty. She had ordered him not to say anything, and she was everyone's boss at NCIS. But he hated not being able to tell Gibbs about it.

"Hey, Boss, you and the Director, you're real close, right?"

"Not as close as we have been in the past. It's different now, with her being the Director."


"Something is going on between you and Jenny," Gibbs said, more statement than question.

"I can neither confirm nor deny..."

"She ordered you not to say anything. I understand. Is she at least giving you decent backup?"

Rather than answer the question, Tony asked one of his own. "Was she a good agent? Do you think she still has good instincts?"

Gibbs turned his body, to face his Senior Agent, his brow furrowed. "Tony, is she your only backup?"

When DiNozzo didn't answer, which was answer enough, Gibbs jumped up and stalked off down the sidewalk, muttering "...of all the stupid, idiotic, dangerous ...stupid ...arrogant..."

"Boss! Boss, wait. You can't confront her...she ordered me not to say anything...Gibbs!" Tony chased after his Team Leader, nearly running into him as he stopped abruptly.

"Is that what the two cellphones and all the visits to the hospital are all about?" Gibbs snarled.

"I can't..."

"Save it!" Growling, he started off again.

Tony didn't follow him. "Gibbs...don't you think I can handle it?"

That brought Gibbs up short again. He spun around and stalked back toward his agent. "DiNozzo, it's not about whether you can handle it or not. I know you can handle it. You're one of the best undercover agents I've ever worked with. One of the best agents I've ever worked with. The problem is with your lack of backup. What would happen if something was going down and you couldn't get hold of Jenny because she's in ass-kissing mode on the Hill. She turns her phone off when she's in those meetings. You'd be left hanging in the wind with no one else to rely on."

"I never thought of that."

"You are one of my mine, Tony," he said fiercely. "I will not let her put you in danger. I am going to talk to her about this."

"Boss, she could have my ass. She ordered me not to tell anyone."

As much as Gibbs wanted to just tell DiNozzo to suck it up and deal, after their conversation that morning, he needed to make the younger man aware that he was taking his feelings into account and that he wouldn't do anything to jeopardize his position.

"She doesn't need to know you said anything. I've been around long enough to see what's going on. I've seen you taking secret calls, leaving at odd times. I know something is up. I'll approach her that way. But, it's my job to look out for people, my team. I'll remind her of some cases we handled together that went sideways and would have been fatal for both of us if we hadn't had proper backup. Don't worry. You'll be fine. I can tell her that I tried to weasel the info out of you and you refused. Just act surprised when she calls you into her office and lets you know that I figured it out."

Tony laughed, imagining the scene in his head. He sobered up when Gibbs grabbed his face, a hand on each cheek. He leaned in, wanting to be sure to get his point across.

"I won't let her risk your life," Gibbs continued. "If nothing else, she can at least read me in, so you have a second person to watch your six. She knows better than to rely on just one contact. It's NCIS policy! And I trained her better!" At that moment, Tony's cellphone began ringing. It was his undercover cellphone, which served to add emphasis to Gibbs' argument. "Go on. I'll wait," Gibbs said, dropping his hands.

After a short conversation, DiNozzo rejoined him and the men walked back to Gibbs' car. Gibbs put the key in the ignition, but didn't turn it. He looked over at his Senior Field Agent, who was staring back, wondering why they hadn't started moving yet.

"Just to be straight here, Tony. You are a good agent, one of the best I've ever worked with. I know your strengths and your weaknesses, just like you know mine. I'm sorry if I've made you feel differently and even more sorry if my lack of support caused McGee or Ziva to show you any lack of respect for the job that you do. For the record, I will try to do better. I can't guarantee I won't harass you or yell at you, but I will try not to take you to task in front of the others if it can be avoided. My head has been in a bad place recently and I'm just starting to get everything together, so I only ask that you show some patience with me."

Tony smiled. "Thanks, Boss. I appreciate that, more than you can know."

"I also expect you to call me on it, if I step over the line in the future. You've proven more than once that you are capable of leading your own team. And, although I would like to keep you around as long as possible, I will understand when the time comes for you to fly the coop. I won't like it, but I'll be there to support you every step of the way. And know that no matter what, even after I retire for good, you are more than welcome to bend my ear if you get a tough case or just need someone to work out a problem with. Or even if you just want to come perch on my basement steps and chew the fat. I'd like to think you're a good friend, not just my Senior Field Agent."

"You've shown me more support than anyone in my life, Boss. We've worked together a long time and I still have a lot to learn from you. I don't plan to leave anytime soon."

"Good. Now enough of this mushy stuff. Let's go find some coffee," he said, turning the key before glancing at his watch, "and some lunch. Damn, how'd it get so late? And then you can get back to work and kick your teammates back into shape."

"I like the sound of that, Boss. I'll even buy, if you want to hit Venegoni's."

"That the new Italian place on the waterfront?"

"Yeah. Best lasagna since my Grandma passed away."

"You got a deal. Call the office, see where McGee and Ziva are with their research."

"Research? On what case?"

"Cold case. Thought it would do them some good to sift through the Paxton case."

"Whoa, haven't looked at that one in months."

"Fresh eyes and McGee's geek skills, maybe we'll turn something up this time."

"We just might. He sure knows his way around a keyboard."

They spent the rest of the ride discussing their teammates, their strengths and weaknesses and how to make them better agents.


Two hours later, the two men entered the bullpen, laughing about something Tony had said in the elevator. Tony was carrying two containers of take-out food from the restaurant they'd had lunch in, already having dropped off similar plates to Abby, Ducky and Jimmy Palmer.

"Probie, Ziva, we come bearing lunch," Tony announced as he balanced the plates in one hand while dropping his backpack behind his desk, before moving over to McGee's desk, where the junior team members were still sitting together going over the cold case file.

As he approached, Ziva dug her elbow into McGee's side and pulled the yellow tablet from underneath the file they'd been going over. A smirk came over both faces as Ziva leaned back in her chair. Gibbs saw the look that passed between McGee and Ziva as Tony got closer and stopped to see what they had planned, because it was obvious that something was going on. DiNozzo set the plates on the edge of McGee's desk with a flourish.

"Gourmet fare from Venegoni's," he said with a smile. "Some of the best Italian on either side of the Potomac.

An uneasiness came over Gibbs as he watched McGee snort and nod to Ziva, who stood up, still holding the yellow legal pad.

"Tony," she said, drawing out his name like she always did when she was getting ready to say something degrading. "We took the opportunity to assist you with your list," she said with a chuckle, handing the pad over to the Senior Field Agent.

Confused, DiNozzo took the pad. Glancing down, his face paled. Gibbs moved closer and looked over DiNozzo's shoulder. Tony's Pro and Con list had several additions. Gibbs grabbed the pad out of his agent's hand, his face going hard as he saw what the others had added.

The PRO column now looked like this:


McGee?-yes he is a pro, as in professional, more so than DiNozzo

Ziva?-not even a close contest, far superior in fact



Love DC-but does DC love you!?

Love my apartment -McGee could easily find another apartment for you elsewhere

Familiar with how this office works-but don't work very hard at showing it

Know and get along with most everyone here-probably not as many as you think

Familiar with good/bad of my teammates-well the good for sure...not much bad to be familiar with

Close to some great historic sights/monuments

Like being at the hub on the government

Fantastic restaurants/bars

And the CON column had similar additions.

Gibbs -could use a real SFA

McGee-proved he can be a real SFA

Ziva-not even an agent and would be a better SFA

Abby?-she's just a bit delusional anyway, right?

My team doesn't respect me/hates me?/thinks I'm stupid, inefficient-oh, so true!

Traffic congestion -a remote office would have no congestion at all

Too much politics -probably a good thing to get away from here then, you're so bad at politics

Nowhere to go unless I change teams- we'll put a good word in for you, as long as you leave

Have to get used to new team and new town-you've done that before, many times

Frat brothers still all mostly on the east coast-plane tickets aren't that expensive

Still have 9 months on my lease -we'll pay the fee to break the lease, as your going away gift

Would have to move...again-we'll help you pack

Gibbs was seething. He looked up to see McGee and Ziva reaching for the food that Tony had put down on the desk, laughing. "Don't touch that!" he snarled. They both jumped back. "Do you really think you deserve that?!"

"Gibbs?" "Boss?"

"Your Senior Field Agent was kind enough to buy you lunch and this is how you re-pay him?" He threw the pad at the two agents, hitting McGee in the chest as Ziva ducked away. Then he snatched up the food containers and angrily threw them into the garbage can by McGee's desk.

"Gibbs, it's not important," Tony said softly.

Gibbs whirled on his senior agent. "It is important, Tony! You are important! You, Tony DiNozzo, are the best agent I have ever worked with. You're smart, you're fast, you're tough, you're strong. You have the best instincts of anyone I know. And that includes me!" he growled, shoving a fist into his own chest. "And I won't have these two," he gestured disgustedly, "making judgments not only against you, but against me. I chose you for my team for a reason. That reason hasn't changed. How dare they act like that toward you! How dare they malign both of us!"

"Gibbs..." Ziva began, only to go quiet at her boss's "Shut up!"

Gibbs stalked a few steps away, taking several deep breaths. Then he turned back, calmer than he had been, although all three could see that Gibbs was seething. Only Tony had ever seen him this angry before and thankfully it hadn't been him Gibbs had been angry with at the time.

He turned his intense glare at McGee and Ziva. "Tony DiNozzo is the Senior Field Agent of this team. He could very well still be leading this team, but he graciously stepped aside when I decided to come back. He didn't have to do that. He could have insisted on keeping the team and it would have been well within his rights. Or he could have taken the Director up on her offer of his own team in Rota..."

"Rota?" McGee interrupted, astonished.

"Yes, Rota!" Gibbs snarled. "He gave up one of the prime positions in the agency, because he wanted to stay with this team. With me, and with the two of you!"


"No, Tony, they need to understand what you sacrificed for them. For me." He turned again to face DiNozzo and stepped over to stand next to him. "I know that one of the reasons you declined Rota was because you knew that I was still not one hundred percent, that I still have some memory loss, some spots that are still blank. I know that, Tony. You saw that. You know me that well, that you saw what everyone else missed. What I didn't want to admit, even to myself."

Tony looked down at the floor, startled when a hand grasped the back of his neck.

"I trust you. I depend on you. I expect a lot from you, Tony, and you have never...never... disappointed me or let me down. People give me a lot of credit for the agent you've become... but you were already a good cop when I found you. Do you know how many times I've had to scare off other Team Leaders from trying to steal you away from me? Not to mention the FBI. How many times has Fornell tried to get you to jump ship? How many, DiNozzo?"

Tony shrugged. "Half dozen or so," he replied quietly.

"More like a dozen or more, I'd say," Gibbs said with a smile. "And I know that Homeland Security has sent out feelers, as has ATFE." The shocked look on the faces of both McGee and Ziva at that little tidbit only caused Gibbs to be even more disgusted by his two junior team members. He shook his head. He moved his hand, gripping Tony's shoulder.

"Let me tell the two of you something. And listen good. If I had a choice between the two of you and DiNozzo, Tony and I would once again be a two-man team. I can't tell you how disappointed I am in both of you. But, having said that, I will take all the blame on myself. I should have nipped it in the bud long ago, and I didn't. Because I thought that we were becoming a team. I know that both Tony and I have a great deal of respect for the jobs that you do, in the expertise that you each bring to the team. It's just too bad you don't have the same type of respect in return."

"Boss, we do respect you!" McGee blurted out, Ziva nodding her head in agreement.

"No you don't, not if you don't respect my decisions and my choices. Do you really think either of you would have lasted on this team without DiNozzo running interference? Neither of you have a clue how many times I was prepared to chuck you off this team. But your Senior Field Agent convinced me that the team would benefit from your presence. I was beginning to see that he was right. Now...now I'm not so sure. And it's one of the few times that I've ever doubted him.

"Hell, maybe I should have stayed in Mexico. My judgment is just not what it used to be. I'm sorry, Tony. The way I left and the way I came back didn't do you any favors, did it?"

"I still would have turned down Rota, Boss. I like it here, for better or worse."

"Yeah, I hear ya. And I can't tell you how grateful I am that you do." He patted DiNozzo's shoulder, then turned around, folding his arms across his chest, glaring at the others. "I think we need to start from scratch." He laughed when both Ziva and McGee started stuttering their apologies and pleading with him, thinking he meant to kick them off the team. "Maybe some remedial training? Send them back to FLETC for some courses on teamwork."

Tony nodded, echoing Gibbs' stance. "Well, boss, Ziva never actually attended FLETC. But maybe we could get her in. I know she could use some classes on the paperwork and how to write a cohesive report."

"Are you still correcting them for her?" Gibbs asked, ignoring the looks on faces of McGee and David, turning around and heading for the elevator. "I need coffee. Come on, DiNozzo. I'm buying."

Tony followed, continuing their conversation. "I have to correct them, Boss," he insisted. "I can only send them back so many times before you start yelling at me to finish up and get it to you. If I waited for her to get it right, you would be waiting weeks for a single report!"

"Hmmm. I think we need to make some changes..." Any further conversation was cut off when the elevator doors closed.

McGee and Ziva stared after them, neither able to think of a thing to say. But both looked up quickly as they heard laughter coming from the other side of the partition behind Gibbs' desk. It was only then that they realized that nearly every agent on the floor had watched them get put in their place by Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

And nearly all of them thought it was about damn time!