Sitting on his terrace looking out at the sea, Tony had hoped to find the peace he was looking for after the call from Vance. He certainly wasn’t prepared for the news that he was needed to work with Gibbs, especially since he had defected to the CIA and was living in Naples.
It had been close to three years since he left NCIS taking the position in Italy, and he was thankful for that every day. It wasn’t a decision he took lightly when Joanna offered him the opportunity; he was leery of the CIA mostly due to his interactions with Trent Kort. Convincing him that the CIA was a great move took some doing understandably as his dealings with them had been less than stellar. She had humorously pointed out that at least they hadn’t accused him of murder.
There were a few other mitigating factors; lack of respect, trust issues, his father and the list could go on. But Gibbs was first and foremost the reason he opted to take the opportunity Joanna had offered him. Things had been changing for a while; things being slipped under the rug, laws being bent or broken for old friendships, too many secrets and a general lack of trust. Tony accepted some of the blame as in some cases he had turned a blind eye by simply ignoring what he believed happened or even after discovering after the fact he had done nothing.
As the years passed the more he changed to the point where he simply didn’t recognize himself in the mirror. He felt that he had no one to turn to. How could he when Vance himself had closed his own eyes when Ziva took revenge on Bodnar; apparently both he and Ziva deciding to take a page out of Gibbs’ personal playbook.
It had taken 13 years to finally break him, and then seemingly divine intervention when the OP with Joanna had come about. The Team had no idea that he and Dornie had become close friends, they didn’t ask and he didn’t share. Frankly he hadn’t felt the whole ‘family’ vibe as Abby called them in a long time. How could he feel comfortable sharing personal things with anyone when no one had bothered to get to know him in the first place?
Working with Joanna allowed them both to grieve and be able to reconcile the events that had happened. Surprising himself, he opened up to her and finally let go of everything that had been weighing him down. In the end he took the offer and headed up a new department being formed to combat terrorism and any form of organized crime. Italy was chosen as their base of operation being fairly centrally located for most known hot spots. It was a chance for him to use the skills he had mastered over the years, start fresh and not play the joker any longer.
But now he was being dragged in to help NCIS, Gibbs in particular, only because he was located in Naples where their perp was apparently hiding. Frankly he also believed it was in part because Gibbs’ reputation preceded him and working with him was not high on anyone’s list.
Tony finished his wine wondering how he was going to get through this.
Vance pulled the bottle of Scotch out pouring a liberal draught; he needed it after the conversation he had with DiNozzo. The last thing he wanted to do was have to beg the man to help NCIS, but that was exactly what he had to do. The man had no desire to work with Gibbs and frankly he could understand his reasoning.
They had done the man no favors. He had been used and abused by this agency, and there was no way he could deny that as he had his own hand in that. Unfortunately he also was forced to admit that he had underestimated and misjudged the man, and that was a bitter pill to swallow.
The MCRT wasn’t failing by any means, but they were no longer wrapping cases in record time and their solve rate had dropped. It was fairly clear that DiNozzo’s departure was a factor in that and now it was coming full circle as they needed his skills to help NCIS catch their perp.
Now, time for a conversation with Gibbs. Tossing the last of the Scotch in his glass he looked at the bottle still on his desk tempted to pour another. Shaking his head before he put the bottle away certain that one more drink was not going to ease the pain he knew was coming when he talked with Gibbs.
Tony sighed as he sat up in bed. He really wasn’t enjoying this forced walk down memory lane and that was all he seemed to be doing since Vance’s call. All he could think about was everything that he was trying to forget. Every word that was said, promises made, and every touch that had one time meant everything.
There were other things that filtered in his mind; hash words, deceitful actions, and betrayal by those he had trusted and thought of as family. But everything with Gibbs was overshadowing those thoughts and memories, making it hard to breathe and he had no idea how he was supposed to work with the man.
Before he finally reached the end of his sanity, he tried to hang on to only the good things; the memories that had given him the feelings of home and love. But after a time, that was not enough and the memories were fading with every passing day. It was increasingly difficult to hang on to the good when every time he turned around there was another barb hitting its mark.
But right now he was flooded with everything, the memory of loving touches and words that were ripped away, forgotten and then finally remembered and without a thought cast aside.
Having finally come to terms with that loss he sure as hell wasn’t prepared to work with the man and have to be in such close contact anymore. There was so much he wanted to say to Gibbs, things he never had a chance to say, and if he were given an opportunity to speak them, he would. Now whether the older man was ready to hear it all was something else entirely.
Tony certainly didn’t hold it against him when Gibbs had amnesia, but the way that he was treated when Gibbs finally regained his memories is another thing. Looking back through the years, it was hard to find any balance between the good and bad as the bad seemed to carry far more weight
Looking at his half empty bottle of bourbon clutched in his hand, Gibbs had serious doubts that it was going to be enough. There was no way he could have anticipated the conversation he had had with Vance, and right now he didn’t know what to think about the fact that he would once again be facing Tony.
Things hadn’t ended well between the two of them, and that was on him, but he still wasn’t sure he would do things differently. When they had had one of their last blow outs, Tony had stated some harsh truths and unfortunately he wasn’t able to argue against them.
For personal reasons and out of misguided justice, he had strayed away from the laws he swore to uphold, he couldn’t refute that. He had indeed made some piss poor decisions as well as closing his eyes to more than he would like to admit. Simple fact is that it is easy to continue down that path of self-destruction once you’ve taken that first step.
Question was, could he change? And the next question, did he want to? When he first turned his back on Tony he had clung to his self-righteousness like a well worn cloak, but after the man was truly no longer there and he nothing to fuel that he realized that there was an emptiness inside. Self-reflection however was never his strong suit and he simply ignored it and went on as status quo.
Now in a few days he was going to be face to face with the man and he had a decision to make: either man up or continue to be the bastard that he has always been.
Tony looked out the window bracing for the meeting he was about to have. He opted to meet with Gibbs in his office to set the boundaries. He was not a subordinate any longer, and he was not going to be treated as Gibbs normally treated other LEOs.
After many sleepless nights he had decided to keep this as strictly professional and not bring anything personal into it. If he could do that, the operation would be finished ASAP, and once again he would have the peace for himself that had been hard won.
He could make an attempt at closure for himself and put every bit of that part of the past behind him. If nothing else, he could and would use this as the impetus to move forward. Hearing the knock on his door, Tony squared his shoulders and readied for Gibbs' re-entry into his life, and he was going to make damn sure that it was brief as possible; he deserved that.
Standing and waiting to be ushered into Tony’s office, Gibbs unobtrusively looked around, trying to get a feel for what to expect when he was before the man but there was nothing he was expecting in the office. Though he hadn’t had any contact with the man for years, this was not what he knew or rather what he thought he knew.
The furniture was what he would call sturdy without being over the top, no movie posters on the wall but instead there photos adorning the walls containing sunsets over the water and some night shots of a full moon. There was a welcoming feel, almost a calming vibe to the office.
He had expected more outlandish pieces of furniture and some sort of modern art crap to go with the frenetic Tony he knew.
Tony's assistant was an older woman named Mary, not a young sexy thing like he figured Tony would have to set the scene. Despite their turbulent relationship, he had known the man for years. He had studied him, played him, and in the end had forgotten him for the better part of a year.
Did he ever really know the man? Or more to the point, did he open himself up to experience everything? Gibbs already knew the answer to that. Hell, there too many secrets of his own to bother digging anyone else's. All you had to do was talk to his ex-wives.
Gibbs knew he could be a bastard. He admitted as much, and proudly claimed the title as his own, but there was a part of him that he rarely allowed access to that realized he was likely missing out on a great deal because of his attitude and unwillingness to change.
There were many things that he regretted regarding Tony, and he also knew that the younger man also believed he was guilty of more than just being a closed off bastard, but there was no way he was going to bring any of that up in conversation.
He was just going to hope to hell that this whole situation didn’t go totally FUBAR.
“You can go in now Agent Gibbs, Director DiNozzo is ready for you.”
Mary stood and guided Gibbs to the door. She had been watching him very carefully as he scrutinized the surroundings while he waited. She had only heard bits and pieces from Tony so she had mostly relied on her experienced albeit slightly rusty people reading skills and filled in the blanks.
To says that she was not impressed was an understatement. In fact, she held little respect for Gibbs after all she had learned about him. The Team didn’t fair much better either, the way they had treated Tony was reprehensible. Add to that the fact that their ‘Boss’ encouraged such treatment and deliberately set them against one another. Every bit of information from her sources told a story and as with all stories there was both good and bad.
She had even managed to pull a few stories from Tony when he had let his walls down over a late dinner in the office. It wasn’t easy mind you, more like pulling teeth, but as she had managed to earn his trust Tony began to open up. She was no fool and knew that there was a great deal he wasn’t sharing, but she would take what she got and never push for more than he was willing to give.
Putting it all together with what Joanna had shared with her painted quite the story. How he managed to not go off the deep end was a true statement to his character. However she had no such boundaries with Gibbs nor his old Team and if they chose to step one foot out of line she would definitely make sure they never did it again.
She wasn’t any more pleased with what she delved up regarding Tony’s parents, especially his father. How Tony turned out like he had was nothing short of a miracle. As far as she was concerned, Tony DiNozzo, Sr. should be drawn and quartered. Mary could clearly see that Tony's lack of real relationships, family, or any stability had allowed Gibbs and company to treat him the way that they did.
She may not have known Tony very long, but she had quickly grown attached to the young man and watched as he came out of his shell and stopped being undercover. She felt lucky to witness the change in Tony and meet the man he was underneath all the layers.
Joanna had heard about the turmoil Tony experienced for so many years through her son, and when she was finally able to see it first hand she stopped at nothing to get him out of the toxic environment. For all intents and purposes, she took on what Ned had been trying to do for Tony and she was there for him, even helping him set up his new home. At that point Mary wasn't certain just who was helping who, but in the end they both received what they needed.
“Agent Gibbs please have a seat.” Tony’s tone icy as he stood and gestured to the chairs in front of his desk.
Gibbs raised his eyebrow while taking in the younger man’s stance. Dropping down in one of the chairs, he said, “Cut the crap DiNozzo. Known each other too long to act like this.”
Choosing to ignore the remark Tony sat down in his chair.
“Not crap Agent Gibbs, this is simply us meeting on a different playing field and I see no need to disregard Inter-Agency protocol and respect.”
“That what you’re callin’ this, DiNozzo? You know I don’t play well with others, didn’t see the need to bring in another agent let alone agency.”
“You may not have, but your Director did. You will follow the rules here, Agent Gibbs, and there will be no Lone Ranger Attitude.”
Tony help up his hand when Gibbs started to interrupt.
“Don’t forget; I do know you well and I won’t put up with your usual MO of believing that rules don’t apply to you. We will be working together and will be following three of your own rules. I figure if we use your rules you might actually be able to follow them.”
Tony’s eyes never wavered from Gibbs, determined to get his point across and make sure that he was understood.
“If we’re using my rules, am I allowed to know which ones?”
Gibbs tone clearly showing that he was pissed. His whole body showing the tension he was feeling and looked ready to jump across the desk and throttle Tony.
“Absolutely! Rule number one is to be followed to the letter. Never screw over your partner.”
Tony waited a second to allow that to sink in.
“Rule number nine goes without saying. It's clearly one rule you always follow, so that one shouldn’t be too hard.”
Silence filled the room until Gibbs, gritting his teeth, opened his mouth.
“No need to be a smart ass, DiNozzo. But that is only two rules. Am I supposed to guess the third, or are you going to share that one?”
“The last rule is one I stand firm on and want to make sure you understand completely.”
Tony’s green eyes hard and firm as they met blue. “Rule number eleven - when the job is done walk away.”
“Director Vance sent over the case and I would like a chance to look it over before we meet again. I want to get a look at it with my own eyes before you share your thoughts. Besides, I want you fresh and not overloaded with caffeine.”
Gibbs, totally thrown for a loop by Tony's distance, the use of his rules, and the fact that he was barely acknowledging him at the moment could only agree.
“Call me when you’re ready to go over the case.”
He stood and walked out of the office.
Tony watched the door close more than a little surprised at the uncharacteristic silence. He knew it wouldn’t last, but for now he would take it. This was harder than he imagined being in front of the man that had caused him both happiness and great pain. But at the same time it was a bit cathartic to be able to stand up and state that he wasn’t going to be played.
He had finally been able to say a small portion of what had been building up inside him for years. He had a feeling that at some point he would be able to lay it all out and now … now he knew that he could do it, and that felt incredible.
Gibbs stared at the ceiling hoping that he could make sense of what had happened. He really hadn’t known what to expect meeting Tony face to face again, but today had not played out in any scenario he would have imagined.
Basically Tony had made it quite clear the was business only and any hint of more was going to be shut down. Not that he had had any preconceived idea of starting up with the younger man, but to be so forcibly evicted from even the idea was not what he had expected.
Gibbs knew he still had a few holes in his memory even all these years later. They weren’t huge holes but there were still some blank spaces every now and then, but the memories of what he had shared with Tony seemed to always be at the forefront when he allowed himself to think about them.
He also knew that he had made some huge mistakes where Tony was concerned, both personally and as his boss. Since Vance informed him that he would be working with Tony, every thought that he had seemed to be consumed with the younger man and it wasn’t just the good things but everything.
It was one thing knowing he was a bastard, but to constantly be bombarded with the proof of it was another He had spent years perfecting that persona and being damn proud of it, but for what? He pushed everyone away at some point. Very few people could get past his defenses and put up with his bullshit.
Then you have to examine some of the people that he held close to him like Jenny, Ziva, and Mike. All of them fed into his bastard way and sometimes exploited it for their own needs. They knew what buttons to push and pushed them.
Mike had led him to Pedro Hernandez and put that moment of self-serving revenge into his hands, it was still a choice he made but he did wonder occasionally would he have gone down that path if the information was not set in front of him. Then look at how reciprocated and allowed Mike the same moment of revenge and neither was right.
Ziva…so many mistakes with Ziva. From the start he should have known better. Tony had tried to point it out to him, but all he could see was a young woman that needed a father. He had been played and that was his own damn fault.
When again it was shoved right in front of his face with the Rivkin incident he turned away, again ignoring what Tony was showing him.
He knew that both Vance and Ziva were headed down the same revenge path that he himself had traveled, yet he did nothing to stop them. He had, in fact, allowed Ziva to use McGee to track Bodnar and encouraged it. History just kept on repeating itself, and that certainly it was not a history that should be passed on.
Jen…he should have known that working under her would have major ramifications. She had to prove herself and show that she was able to handle the position. However, her decision making should have sent up red flags a lot sooner than it did. He had missed signs, huge glaring ones that all was not right but again he ignored them. What did that say about him?
Gibbs took a deep breath knowing that sleep would elude him tonight. For a man who hated introspection, he had no choice but to be stuck in it at this point, and one fact was blatantly clear - Tony was right to get the hell out.
Coming home and taking the time to cook had relieved a great deal of the stress. It allowed him to process everything that was pulled to the forefront after seeing Gibbs again. The simple acts of gathering the ingredients from his well-stocked pantry and selecting which pots and pans to use allowed each moment of stress to leave his body.
In his kitchen, the comfort of cooking and the smells of the sea air wafting in through the windows were helping him more than anything else could. He could feel the tension melting away as he stood there slicing veggies and looking out his kitchen window.
This move here had done far more for him than he could have ever imagined. His lungs were in better shape since they didn’t contend with the DC winters, which made Brad happy and relieved. His stress level had returned to normal since he was not constantly on guard waiting for the other shoe to drop, with regard to the team or his father.
Not having to always play a role had removed a weight from his shoulder he hadn't been aware he was carrying. He was in a much better place in his life now than he had ever been. His frat brothers and Joanna had encouraged him to open up and really talk to someone, and not play the usual games he did when he spoke to shrinks.
It wasn’t easy and it did take a few tries to find someone he felt comfortable with opening up to. In fact, Steve had found him a therapist through his connections. Until he started opening up, he had really had no idea how much he had been holding back and holding in. Now he was grateful that everyone had ridden his ass and made him do it. It had certainly prepared him to some degree for this encounter with Gibbs, and truthfully he felt he needed it in order to confront the man.
Tony made quick work of cleaning the kitchen while the pasta primavera finished cooking and readied the coffee pot for when he might want it. He was already feeling so much better than he had when he had left the office after his meeting with Gibbs, and after Mary had insured he was no worse for wear. She knew him well and had already made sure his day was clear so he could regroup and look over the file, and as always he was eternally grateful.
He carried his dinner and the case file out to his terrace to eat and look over the facts. Vance had given him only the basics over the phone and he really needed to get a handle on what the facts were and what was known about the case before the meeting with Gibbs again. As he started on his dinner, he opened the file and began to read.
An hour in, his dinner finished and a few pages of notes he had made, he stood up a rolled his neck. He needed a break and he needed some coffee desperately. Taking his dishes to the kitchen he turned on the coffee. There was quite a bit about the case notes that made no sense.
It was as if the field agents' notes were incomplete, so either there were missing notes or the agents didn’t bother. Either way there was an issue that caused a great many facts to go by the wayside. No wonder they were having trouble with this one. But still, Tony was under the impression that Gibbs and the team had been investigating as well and there was nothing here to show it.
He was brought out of his thoughts by the beep of his finished coffee. Shaking is head to clear his thoughts, as he poured a cup of coffee then poured the remaining into a warming carafe and headed back out to the terrace, turning on the light as he stepped outside. Thankfully it was a beautiful night and he would be able to continue under the starry sky with the sound of the ocean in the background.
Sitting back down with his coffee he turned his attention back to the case. It seemed like they overlooked a few key points; two of the witness statements were too identical to be anything but rehearsed, that those same two witnesses lived in the same building, and that the timeline of events really didn’t add up.
These were some things that definitely warranted looking into prior to entering into any OP as Vance had expressed. Honestly he wasn’t sure how everyone had missed these things he felt sure should have been caught by a second pair of eyes looking into the file. So to say he was surprised that it had been missed surprised him.
That was something that he was sure was going to cause conflict when he brought that up with Gibbs, but there was really no choice since he was involved in the case now. Looking at his watch, Tony saw it was already after midnight and he needed to wrap this up to be ready for tomorrow.
Mary brought in the coffee and food as Tony organized his notes.
“This going to be enough coffee? From what you have told me about the man I am not sure all of Italy has enough caffeine to keep the man in his right mind.”
Grinning Tony replied, “It will do, just as long as his is strong enough to take paint off a wall we’ll be good. Just please keep mine away from his as I would like my tastebuds to survive this meeting.
“You got it Tony.” Mary’s face became concerned. “You ready for this? It’s not going to go over well when you share all the issues that you found.”
“It’s not going to be pretty, but there is nothing to be done about it. It is what it is and even he can’t change the fact that there were some major screw ups. He will have to accept that and deal with it.”
“Will he try and pin it on you?”
Tony sighed. “I would love to say no, that he wouldn’t even try considering that I only just became involved. But he will be pissed at himself and the fact that he missed it as well, so there is every chance that he will try to lay it at my feet.”
“And?” Mary quirked her head at Tony. “I know there is more, so spill.”
Giving Mary a sad grin he nodded.
“Unfortunately I have learned my lessons very well and I have already been on the phone with Director Vance to fill him in on what I found. You will be faxing a copy of my notes.”
Tony raised an eyebrow at her expression of incredulity.
“Don’t give me that look, I typed them up and organized them just for that reason. He knows what I am telling Gibbs today and is prepared for any backlash that may come because of this. If Gibbs decides to play the blame game he will be stopped in his tracks and it won’t go any further.”
Meeting Tony’s green eyes Mary nodded.
“Are you prepared for how that might feel?”
“It will suck, no doubt about it. But after the initial sucking I will be ok, because I am not “DiNozzo” any more and I will not take it. Distance, as you well know, has given me great clarity about myself, that relationship as well as the working relationship with NCIS. I am no longer the whipping boy and if needed, as Vance found out this morning, I come out fighting and I go for the kill.”
Pulling Tony in her arms Mary squeezed him tight.
“That’s my boy.”
“You’re mine now Tony and I will always have your back.”
If looks could kill Tony would definitely be dead.
“You are wrong.”
“How many times do I need to spell it out for you Agent Gibbs? There were screw ups, period. Nobody picked up on it, nobody noticed the coincidence, and nobody questioned the similarities.”
Gibbs stood and moved right into Tony’s face.
“NO! This is you being a dick prancing around acting like you weren’t one of us. You made a mistake here not my team.
“Do you even hear what you’re saying? Your Director contacted me, I look over all the case notes and presented what I found. You arrogant son of a bitch, you need to accept that you are not omnipotent and get it wrong occasionally. YOUR team missed this shit.”
“I am not saying it doesn’t happen, because it happens to everyone. NO ONE IS PERFECT. You need to take your head out of your ass and see that. Then you need to accept it and move on. For once in your life own up to a mistake and damn well apologize.”
“Your rules be damned. Apologies don't make you weak, the fact that you can’t apologize does. You have been running on empty since Shannon and Kelly died. You closed yourself off from everyone and put up a front that made it look like you were living.”
Tony paced the floor his fists clenched at his side as he pointed out his findings. Things needed to be said and he was damn well going to do it. Gibbs’ jaw was so tightly clenched as every word hit their mark.
“YOU don’t get to talk about Shannon and Kelly. They have no part in this conversation. You have no idea what you are talking about. You will not lay this at our feet because you’re pissed at me, because you feel that you were left out or the fact that I ended our relationship.”
“You are seriously delusional.”
Moving closer into Gibbs' space, the heat rolling off of Tony as he was ready to let loose everything that he had held in.
“I know exactly what I am talking about Jethro. You have pushed everyone away that even came close to being able to penetrate those damn walls of yours. You held on to all your righteous anger over the death of your girls and prayed that into the ability to break whatever laws and your own damn rules whenever the need fit. Add to that you allow whomever you deem worthy to do the same damn thing. What kind of man or what kind of agent does that make you? For years I bent myself any which way to make sure that I had your back. I tried to reign you in when you went off the rails and did more than anyone to protect you ass.”
Tony wanted to shake the man, to make him see where things went wrong, whether to get Gibbs to admit it or to simply prevent history from repeating itself he wasn’t sure. But once the words started flowing there was no stopping them. Tony kept his hands rigid at his sides determined to keep himself from touching the older man.
“You were ready to crucify me for not telling you that I was undercover during the Frog fiasco even though that was need to know, but yet you ran off like a bat out of hell when you were helping Maddie Tyler. And mind you that almost got you both killed. You let every member of the team use me as the clown and yes, I let you, because I was trying to help the team come together. Kate needed to feel that she had some superior knowledge, Tim was afraid of his own damn shadow and you would have eaten him for breakfast and let’s not even get started on Ziva because that whole mess could take hours to get that through your skull.”
“But again she was part of our sacred circle that could do no wrong. In regards to us, you pushed and pulled until I had no idea which way was up. But I kept on bending and twisting to make you happy just like I had done for you as your second until finally I broke. There was no more bend left and then I shut down. I was at the point where I had lost everything that I got into law enforcement for…to help people, to solve cases and give them closure, and to uphold the laws. I couldn’t do that anymore. You kept pushing me away and finally I stopped pushing back. I gave up.” Tony sighed his voice softening as his eyes clearly showing the sadness he felt.
“You need to step back and take a look at your life Jethro, before you push everyone else away. I want you to go back to DC; there isn’t any need for you to stay here. There is no need for a Joint Op or for me to help more than I have done. You have my notes and the direction you need to go in.“
Gibbs stood searching the green eyes before him for something, anything that would help him find his footing. For the first time he really felt the loss. The loss of everything and he wanted to stop it but had no clue how to do that.
“You want me to go back to DC? Can’t I do anything? Can we…I don’t know, Tony…I just feel this isn’t how it’s supposed to end.”
“Maybe it wasn’t Jethro, but this is how it’s going to end. This is how I need it to end, you back in DC with the distance between us. You started the beginning of the end so long ago and dragged it out, all I am doing is ending it for the last time. Go home, straighten this out and take some time for yourself.”
“Goodbye Jethro. Semper Fi.”
Sitting there watching the man he had given so much of himself to was one of the hardest things he had ever done. A part of him wanted to jump up and take it back, to start again and see if they could get it right, but he knew better. They had been down that road and all it caused was pain.
It was better for them both this way and maybe Gibbs would take in what he had said and salvage what he could back home. But for him, it was time to move forward and open up his life to possibilities. He had done that when Joanna had dragged his ass out here and that had been one of the best moves of his life. It was time, he had finally closed the distance and made peace, now it was time to live.