It took Tony almost two months to be able to pass all the evaluations and get a clean bill of health to get back to full field duty.
During the past two months, he'd tried to avoid his team as much as possible. His boss had been adamant that the younger man stayed at his place, but Tony had refused point blank, leaving Gibbs no other choice but to drop that subject, even though 'giving up' wasn't acceptable in the lead agent's book.
Tony's eyes had been cold and emotionless when he refused Gibbs' offer, saying that he didn't need anyone's sympathy and that he knew how to take care of himself since he'd been doing that almost his entire life. That had enraged Gibbs; he'd almost yelled at Tony, demanding to know why in the hell Tony would think he was offering his place out of pity. He really couldn't get it, he was Gibbs, he didn't do pity and Tony had been with him for almost 13 years, he knew it better than anyone else; it was ridiculous to even suggest that Gibbs didn't mean it when he asked his agent to stay with him.
But he hadn't yelled at the end; he wouldn't do that because something had changed in Tony; Gibbs couldn't tell what it exactly was for the life of him, but he knew that the look in Tony's eyes had changed and although he knew why that look was there, he didn't know how to chase it away either.
Yes, he knew that they had been the reason behind that change and he'd been trying his damnedest to fix his mistake, but it seemed like Tony'd closed a gate and no matter how hard they tried, he wouldn't let them in anymore.
So, since he hadn't been able to get his younger friend to stay with him, he made sure that he'd visit Tony at his place every night and somehow Ducky and Palmer would always show up to see if he needed help, too, which was great, because Tony seemed more relaxed around them and even though the ex-cop wasn't hostile or even cold around him, he wouldn't smile all that often and he wouldn't initiate a conversation when they were alone and like that wasn't bad enough, somehow he never idled any hours away either, so even if Gibbs wanted to address their current issue he wouldn't find the chance.
Things didn't end there; Abby, McGee and Ziva didn't get a better treatment. Abby called and turned up on Tony's doorstep pretty often, as well, but Tony had managed to keep his distance. He was always polite and even friendly enough, but he didn't seem as close as he was before; he seemed to be all business these days and Gibbs had never thought he'd hate it so much.
Abby had asked Tony to go out with them for a dinner together or at least to have a drink or something, but he'd always excused himself.
And for some reasons, everyone had decided not to press that issue until Tony was back on field duty.
McGee, visited Tony while he was still in the hospital, he'd tried to apologize for leaving him alone in the hospital. All Tony had said in return was that they all should learn from their mistakes. That simple sentence had disturbed McGee more than he could imagine, he'd absently thought that it'd probably feel better if Tony had just told him off; Tony's icy response had shocked him so much that he'd left his hospital room and never went back; he simply didn't find the courage in himself to do so.
Ziva gave Tony some space, but merely because she didn't know how to act around this new Tony. Once he was back to work, which was for desk duty at first, she'd tried to corner him and make him talk, but except silence and an indifferent look she hadn't gotten anything from him which was driving both her and Tim crazy.
They thought that once Tony was back to field duty, he would be better, maybe he'd even start helping them out again when Gibbs was angry at them. It was no secret that Tony wasn't made to sit behind a desk all day; the way his mind worked and the way he sometimes needed to check things for himself, showed how torturous it was for him to be restricted to desk duty. But by the third day back to full duty, Tony was still the same extremely polite and strange man he'd been the past couple of months; it'd made everything even worse for McGee since Gibbs would ignore him as much as possible, like he wasn't there at all and when the lead agent was forced to listen to him and say something back, he'd only growl; it was almost like he was blaming Tim for the changes in Tony's behavior and deep down, McGee knew his boss was partially right.
All in all, it'd been two months and McGee was still living in hell and Ziva wasn't far behind; two month and Abby was still trying to amend the situation; two months and Gibbs still hadn't seen a glimpse of old Tony; two months and Tony was still cold and distant.
"Hey, Tony." Abby called loudly as she strode into the bullpen and stood in front of Tony's desk. "Get your stuff, get your stuff. We're going out. All of us. We're throwing a welcome back party for you." She was practically bouncing up and down in her place, her fists up in front of her chest. After how Tony had ignored her the past two months, she knew that she was walking on thin ice there, but she wanted things back to normal, so she'd act as normal as possible in order to get what she wanted.
Tony looked amused at her excitement, but he leaned back in his chair and pulled the case file he was reading to his lap. "Thanks, but I can't. I've got work to do, Abs. You have fun, though."
"What?" Her face fell and it seemed like all the energy left her body at once. 'Tony was supposed to accept the invitation, even if reluctantly, and then they were supposed to take him to a restaurant and apologize to him for everything they had done and then Tony was supposed to smile and forgive them and give her a hug and-'
Ziva's voice interrupted Abby's train of thought. "Oh, come on, Tony. The meal is on us, since when you decline a free meal?" she quipped from across the bullpen.
"Since I can pay for my own meal. Thank you very much, agent David." Tony didn't even bother looking her way.
Both Abby and McGee send glares Ziva's way; they really needed her to stop putting her foot in it.
"But, Tony," Abby whined, "we all have been planning this party for weeks. You have to come. Tell him, Gibbs."
"Gibbs can't order me when it comes to my personal life, you know that, right?" Tony said coldly before Gibbs could even open his mouth.
Everyone's eyes widened at that. It wasn't like Tony to talk that way about Gibbs, especially not in public. It was clear as day to everyone that he looked up to Gibbs and would do anything that the older man said; so, hearing him say that he no longer cared what his mentor said was a huge shock.
Gibbs winced inwardly and wished Abby hadn't brought him in. He'd long since realized that Tony was so disappointed in him that he no longer cared what the older man thought, and all it had taken was a stupid remark which probably had been the last straw. Of course, Gibbs was trying hard to gain Tony's absolute trust back, but so far it'd been to no avail. The last thing he wanted was for everyone to know how much Tony had detached himself from him and thanks to Abby it seemed like the cat was out of the bag.
"Tony, please." Abby looked around to see if anyone would help her there, but McGee and Ziva were both too gobsmacked to do anything.
"I'm really not interested in partying or going out, Abby." Tony stood and grabbed his backpack, he suddenly was too drained to get any more work done. "I'll see you in the morning." he said and before walking out of the bullpen, he patted her shoulder, but it lacked the usual warmth and amity.
In a sudden motion, McGee jumped out of his chair and ran after Tony and stepped into the elevator just as the doors were about to close; it was like he'd found the courage to talk to Tony out of the blue and he knew that if he didn't do it then, he would never be able to do it later.
Tony sighed and leaned against the back wall, resigned to have the unpleasant discussion that he'd been trying to avoid for a while.
McGee flipped the emergency switch and brought the elevator to a halt.
"Is this all about that stupid party, Tony?" McGee asked indignantly. "Because I didn't mean anything by not inviting you. It wasn't even that much fun. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?"
"It's not about a simple party, Tim and if you think that low of me which I'm sure you do, then I have nothing to say. Because if after so many years I still have to explain myself to you and can receive absolutely no respect, then nothing I do now, would matter." he reached out to release the switch when McGee put his hand on his forearm to stop him.
Glaring at the hand on his arm and then at McGee, he watched as the younger man pulled his hand away and looked down. "Look, I'm sorry, alright? It was petty of me, of us. It wasn't nice what we did and I-... Well, OK, I just wanted to-... I don't know, Tony, I really don't know what to say." he shook his head in defeat.
"Then don't say anything." Tony said nonchalantly. "Nobody asked you for an explanation. I told you before and it seems like I have to repeat myself; you have every right to invite anyone you like to your party. This isn't about a party, or another party that I've been excluded from. This is about a friendship that I thought was there and counted on and finally realized that it was merely wishful thinking on my part."
"You were right, McGee. I don't have many friends; in fact, I don't have any real friends, anymore, due to a job that consumes all my time. But it doesn't matter as long as I can do my job and make a difference where I am. I'm used to this life and I've finally learned that I can't force my way into people's life. Better late than never, huh?" he smiled bitterly. "It's long past time I stopped acting like a five year old, as Gibbs would say. This way, I might not have friends and I might have to stop pretending to be so happy go lucky, but at least, I might finally get some deserved respect from my teammates and subordinates." he deliberately emphasized on the last word to show that he didn't think of the junior agents as his equals anymore. They weren't friends, there was no need to pretend. "I respect you guys and I expect the same courtesy or there will be consequences, McGee. Make sure David knows that too. Consider this your last warning."
With that he flipped the switch and stayed quiet the rest of the elevator ride.
Throwing a 'good night, Tim' over his shoulder, he left the shell-shocked junior agent in the elevator car as he walked away.
Anthony DiNozzo was a man who knew how to adapt to any situation; he'd learned it at a very young age and nobody could deny that. He was going to show the world a glimpse of the real Anthony DiNozzo and he knew that at least, he was going to enjoy it.
... The END ...
A/N: Let me know what you think.
Thanks for sticking with me and thanks a lot for your kind words. Hope you've enjoyed this last chapter, too. :)
A special thanks to my BR, XX-Samantha-XX. :)
I'm open to new ideas, if you have anything special on your mind, let me know and I'll see if I can write anything about it! ;)
All mistakes are mine.