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Chapter Three - Changes

Monday December 1, 2008

Monday dawned dreary, the sky a dark miserably cold December day, which Tony strongly felt appropriate, all things considered. He had woken early, after an uncomfortable night on what was truly a wretched mattress - no wonder Steve was getting rid of it -- and with his mind racing on what today would bring. He forewent a shower, and instead began to quietly pack up Chris’ new world, wanting to get the chore done before he got too maudlin about it, and definitely before Christopher woke up and got worked up about it. It was kinda sad, though. He’d had a lot of fun with the little guy, and was honestly sorry to see him go.

Locating an old backpack stuffed into the back of his closet, Tony carefully rolled up the new clothes saving one outfit for the day, packed up the Duplo, stuffed in the few toy cars that they’d gotten, his rubber duck, shampoo and bubble-bath, the crayons and colouring books, as well as the handful of movies and books that they had acquired. Tigger and Eeyore went into the new “Cars” kiddy backpack that they had bought at Toys R Us on Saturday, small enough in scope and size for Christopher to carry himself. Pooh, Tony was absolutely certain, would be kept close at hand in Christopher’s arms throughout the day.

After that was done, he quickly washed his face and shaved, before dressing, and carefully selecting his armour. It was well known in the office, if he came in looking like he stepped off the pages of GQ, right down to a new bespoke suit, he was defensive. If he slummed in jeans, he was relaxed. It wasn’t bespoke today, but instead one of his favorite Brioni suits, a dark grey heather wool, a sharp white ribbon-stripe shirt, and a dark grey silk tie. Sharp, elegant, but not new, and would throw his detractors off their speculation. Going in without a suit just simply wasn’t on. There was a feeling of power in looking good, and since he was facing a Gibbs-shaped dragon after ignoring the man's calls all weekend, Tony needed all the feel-good vibes a good suit gave him. If it had to be done, he’d do it in style.

He studied his reflection in the mirror, scrutinizing it for impact. Somber. Solemn. Grave. Hell, he felt like he was going to his own funeral, truth be told. There wasn’t much to look forward to today, except coming home and getting back to his original plan for last Wednesday night and getting rip-roaringly drunk.

Christopher, when he finally tumbled with tired eyes from his bedroom into the kitchen, Pooh dragging on the ground, was clearly in a glum mood, perhaps not recognizing this was “Monday”, but sensing something was changing. The thumb has found his mouth, the exuberant energy of Saturday and Sunday was absent, instead very sad puppy eyes kept looking up at him. Tony savagely squashed the feeling of guilt, and pushed the munchkin on to breakfast.

At 0730, Patty arrived as promised. "How is everyone?" She asked cheerfully, sashaying into the apartment with great joy de vive. “Oh.” She dimmed immediately, finding a very sad little Christopher hugging Pooh, sitting too quietly on the couch in a picture of complete misery. “Didn’t we have a good weekend?” She asked Tony quietly.

“Yeah, we did, until this morning.” Tony rubbed a hand through his hair, turning organized chaos into complete disaster. “I made sure all his toys and clothes are packed, Pats. If it’s okay with you, let him carry his Pooh bear. Honestly, he’s just a bit unhappy that things are changing, I think. Um. He might need a mid-morning snack, I could only get him to eat half his breakfast.”

Patty gave his arm a soft squeeze of empathy, clucking her tongue. “This part is always hard.” She admitted.

And in all truth, other than this morning, and that brief moment on Thursday, the rest of their weekend together had been very good. For a man convinced kids hated him, he’d really connected with Christopher. And Christopher, far from that scared little boy huddled against the YMCA, had really come out of his shell for Tony. It seemed, however, this morning was washing away the previous two days.

Christopher had barely touched his scrambled eggs, and only half-heartedly eaten his toast, but given that he had devoured a big (by his small tummy standards) meal while visiting Steve and Sydney on Sunday night, Tony felt he probably wasn’t all that hungry.

Sydney had pulled out all the stops to impress Christopher, and done her darndest to make sure nothing she fed the child would give him an upset tummy. As it was, Sydney had raided her nephews toybox. But, Sunday had been a long day for the little guy. He’d had so much fun at Smithsonian in the morning, partnered with the fun he’d had at Steve’s house that by the time dinner was over, he was nearly asleep in his fruit salad dessert. Christopher had been sound asleep when Tony had carried him out to the car, and didn’t twitch at all when Tony had changed him into PJ’s for bed.

“It’s okay, Champ.” Tony bent down to the little guy, gently running a hand over his head and ruffling hair. “Remember? Today Patty is going to introduce you to an awesome new Foster Mommy and Foster Daddy… you’ll have other kids to play with, it’ll be a lot of fun for you.”

“No.” Christopher whispered, tears welling up. “Boy wanta stay hewe.”

“Oh, Buddy.” Tony swept him up into a hug, and pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead. “You can’t, Christopher. I have to work, and you’d have to go to daycare if you lived with me. And that’s not what the nice people at Children’s Aid want for you. They want you to have a home environment, where someone is with you all the time until you’re old enough to go to school.”

The sob was more of a deep suck of hair and a heave of the chest. Christopher clearly wasn’t sold on the bright future Tony was painting. Little arms wrapped around Tony’s neck, the cast a heavy solid weight at the back of his neck, and he burrowed into Tony’s shoulder, a second sob following, leading to tears.

Patty, sadly shook her head, she picked up Christopher’s two bags, and with a soft smile, urged Tony to carry the little guy downstairs. “He’s going to be upset, no matter what,” She said softly. “Let’s just get him in the car, and I’ll let him cry it out.” Finding Tony’s keys in the basket by the door, she ushered Tony out into the hall, and carefully locked the apartment behind her.

Tony carefully carried the sobbing child down the stairs, gently rubbing the back that heaved so against him. “It’s okay, Buddy. Trust me.” He whispered. “Everything will be alright. This is a good thing, Chris, honest.”

The shudders never eased up, and in fact, as Tony placed Chris in the car seat, they increased into full on wails. It was a miserable way to say goodbye, the crying little boy, and the lump in Tony’s throat made it hard. Patty knew this, and made it easier by ensuring the moment didn’t linger. “I’ll call you with an update, Tony.” She assured him. “Don’t worry about the other car seat. I’ll fetch it later this week.”

He nodded, watching Patty get in her sedan, and start the engine. Tears pricked at his own eyes as he waved goodbye, but ruthlessly, he willed them away. This was best for Chris, and THAT was what mattered most. What hurt was that they hadn’t been able to say goodbye on a happy note.

Tony took a few minutes to pull himself together, then, patting himself down in the usual check for keys, id, firearm and wallet -- he made for his car, sighing at the sight of the car seat, but forcing himself to ignore it.

Poor kid.

By the time he made it to Navy Yard, and through security, he had pushed Christopher to the back of his mind, and geared his mind for the workday, though his stomach was still in unhappy knots, but his game face ready. He was all of twelve minutes late… and Gibbs could just choke on it.

With no fanfare, he swept into the bullpen, grateful to see Gibbs wasn’t at his desk, though the monitor was on, and his jacket was thrown on the back of his chair. Tony sat down at his desk, ignoring Ziva’s caustic comments about his tardiness, and McGee’s rejoinder suggesting Tony had spent the weekend anywhere but at home.

He marvelled at their venomous statements. After all, his suit wasn’t something you pulled out of a go-bag. And, he hadn’t spoken of any amorous relationships in months. But, the profile he’d built in their eyes four years ago was still strong in their minds. In many ways, he was disappointed. As investigators, what was on the surface was not the truth, and they were training to look below. That didn’t stop with perps. It meant with life.

But, fixing their perspective wasn’t going to be his job much longer. Instead, Tony didn’t even glance at them, he focused entirely on his job. The catty comments were background noise of no interest, as he pulled up the requisition forms, checked his inventory report, and ensured they were good for supplies in the truck for the next two weeks. Printing off the inventory, he initialled it and put it into the file he maintained. This was just as much so he could ensure he’d not dropped the ball, and that no theft of supplies happened.

Setting that aside, he opened his spreadsheet on active cases and cold cases, and checking his status on all of them. All of his paperwork on active was up to date and filed before the holiday weekend, this was good. And the cold cases could remain cold, if need be. They would be working on cold-cases until a new call came in, anyway.

Hurricane Gibbs breezed in just as he started in Ziva’s quarterly performance evaluation. Coffee in hand, fury in eye, Gibbs was raring for a fight. “DiNozzo. My office. Now.” He growled.

“No.” Tony replied calmly, serenely hitting save for the supervisor comment sections. He switched to Tim’s, and reviewed his last statement. Sadly, no improvements had been made, so there was nothing to change. The quarterly evals weren’t due for another month, but if he left the team, it was best to complete them while he remembered the details.

Gibbs stormed up to his desk, bending low and voice dropping ominously. “I can air the dirty laundry right here, just as good as there, DiNozzo.”

Tony’s green eyes glittered dangerously. “Sure. Go for it, Gibbs.” He bit back. “But, you do that, and you open yourself to my rendition of dirty laundry too. You sure you want to go there? Look, I’ve put in for transfer. I’ll be out of your hair for good, soon. And then all the laundry can just be burned.”

“You don’t get off my team unless I say so.” Gibbs growled.

Tony’s jaw rolled and locked. They hadn’t had a big rip-roaring fight in the bullpen in seven years. Okay. He was raring to go. Gibbs wanted to play that role of bastard that he did so well? Tony would show him his version.

“Go on then. Say so.” Tony retorted. “This team,” He sneered, his cold green eyes sweeping over a clearly shocked Ziva and Tim, before returning to Gibbs, “Has made it abundantly clear over and over again that I don’t make the grade. And you clearly support that -- so why keep me?”

“Bullshit.” Gibbs snarled.

“Really?” Tony barked a laugh. “That’s your rejoinder? Tim gets lead more than me, now. It isn’t a training exercise, because you aren’t there to correct his mistakes -- and he won’t listen to me when I try to correct him. And you know what? That tells me plenty. It says YOU don’t trust me to do my job, and they don’t respect me to do my job. Any untrained idiot can see that.”

“If McGee ain’t listening to you, that’s on you DiNozzo, not me.” Gibbs sneered.

Tony laughed. “No, Gibbs. That’s on you. That’s on your lack of support of the chain of command. As far as they are concerned, I’m only SFA because I’ve been here the longest. You were a fucking goddam Gunnery Sergeant, Gibbs. Tell me, Marine, if the chain of command is failing, whose fault is it? I’ve only got two years military school under my belt, and I know full well that it only falls because the commander does not respect it.”

Gibbs sucked a breath, fury bleaching colour from his face.

“Funny, isn't it?” Tony continued, the tone one his father would be proud off. Haughty, dismissive, cutting. “Tim grew up at an Admiral’s feet, Ziva served in Israel’s army, and Mossad, and you’re a marine. Me? A lowly cop, and I understand chain of command better than the lot of you.” He rose to his feet, letting his height tower over Gibbs. “And after what you said to me, Saturday, Gibbs. I don’t respect you anymore. So, go ahead. Kick me off your team.”

Gibbs was breathing hard, nose flaring with each breath. He stared at Tony for a long moment, turning sharply and marching to the elevator. He disappeared behind the doors without another.

“One, nuthing, DiNozzo.” Tony closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Opening them, he gave a glare to Ziva, who was rising to her feet, and McGee who seemed shell-shocked. “Your comments and commentary are neither wanted nor needed. Cold cases. Now.” He grabbed a stack of cold-case files off the top of the filing cabinet beside his desk, and divided them in two, thumping them down on each of the junior agent and officer’s desks.

A third stack was already on his. Cases he’d intended to work on that weekend, had Christopher not stepped into his life.

The thought of the little boy made his shoulder’s slump, and misery well up. Remembering that small face crumpled in distress and sobbing, hands reaching for him. Poor kid.

He took his seat, pulled a file towards him, and banished the thoughts of Christopher to the back of his mind. He couldn’t call Patty for an update now. It was too soon. He’d wait until this evening -- no, tomorrow. Maybe wait and see how Christopher made it through his first night at his foster home. Or, should he wait until midweek? Give him a few days to settle down?

He was unhappy thinking about it. He’d call Patty tomorrow. She could tell him everything he needed to know without upsetting Chris.

Deliberately, he turned the file folder open, and focused on a case of armament that had vanished off the USS Arizona.

----

Surprisingly, Gibbs was gone for two hours. When the Senior Agent finally surfaced, slinking back into the bullpen, the breath of all those individuals working on the floor came to a stillness -- and they watched the older man quietly take his desk without a glance at DiNozzo.

It set the gossip mill raging.

All in all, the quiet of the MCRT was frightening. It made McGee nervous, he was practically twitching at his desk. Ziva was moving glacially slow through her stack of cold cases, preferring to frequently scan her teammates, Tony and Gibbs in particular, much like a nervous animal sensing that it was surrounded by apex predators.

By noon, the tension was so high, Ziva and McGee literally cut and ran out the building to get lunch. Tony stayed focussed on his work, at the time the clock struck noon, he was arranging for a call in MTAC withe the Chief Warrant Officer whose inventory report highlighted the missing shipment.

Gibbs stood up, and moved to the space between their desks, hovering for a moment. His shoulders slumped and he moved away, ostentatiously to get his own lunch.

Tony’s stomach was still so upset from the morning, both the scenes with Christopher and Gibbs respectively, he had no interest in eating. Instead, he made his crib notes in the margin of the case file, maintained his follow-up calls, requested some evidence boxes be pulled from storage -- he just did his job, almost mechanically.

At 1400, he escaped the silence for the MTAC. And he was fortunate enough, with enough notes and questions, that he was there until well after 1600. When he finally returned to the bullpen, Gibbs computer was shut down, and the man was gone.

As confrontations went, it was the most unusual. Their blowouts in the past had lasted full days -- shouting going from start of shift well until the next shift’s end. Hell -- there were times they’d even stormed into one another’s homes and carried out the fight.

“McGee is with Abby.” Ziva said, her voice subdued.

Tony nodded his understanding as he returned to his desk. The box from evidence had manifested and was sitting on the floor beside his in-box. His pen knife was pulled from pocket, and he quickly cut the security seal, before initialling on the evidence control tag to show he had opened the box. Setting the box on his desk, he rifled through his drawer for a set of gloves. Then, comparing the evidence log to the contents, went through everything piece by piece.

“You… believe we do not respect you.” Ziva said out of the blue.

Tony spared her a brief glance. “Yep.” He gave her a half-hearted response, because really, he was more interested in the fact the video surveillance tape wasn’t IN THE DAMN BOX! Tony growled under his breath, going through the control list again for who signed off on the contents.

“You are wrong.” She said firmly, rising from her desk to stand beside his, out of arm's reach, but close enough that she could speak quietly and not be overheard. “We do respect your skills and knowledge.” She insisted. “We do not like… your behavior.”

“I am who I am.” Tony retorted. “And your lack of respect is abundantly clear in the way you REFUSE TO DO AS TOLD. You question my orders, Ziva. Endlessly. Always. And you goad and push until Gibbs steps in and gives different orders which you then do obey instantly. How is that NOT a demonstration of a complete lack of respect?”

She took a step back when he looked at her, and he completely understood why. There was a reason he kept the goofy mask up. A good reason why he didn’t let the real Anthony D. DiNozzo show through. The real Anthony had grown up hard; it wasn’t easy moving from boarding school to boarding school, always being low man on the totem pole. He’d spent six years being continually and brutally hazed. You didn’t get tossed into the crucible, survive the fire, and not come out stronger for the experience.

A marine recruiter had taken one look at Tony, seen Tony’s academic file, and gently told his younger self not to enlist. “Son, those eyes of yours have seen battle enough. You need to take some time to find out why life’s worth fighting for.” He’d said.

His eyes, when not hidden by the mask of laughter and frat-boy nonsense, scared the shit out of anyone. They were hard emeralds, filled with shadows so dark, set in classic features that could be so remote and cold. He had, one perp had said, the look of a killer.

“I…”

“Don’t bother Ziva. Most times actions speak far louder than words, but you two jokers even found the words to convey your opinions.” He carefully repacked the box, ensuring nothing else was missing. “And, you’ve won. I’m putting in for transfer tomorrow. I’ve an appointment with the director. McGee will probably be promoted to Senior Field Agent for the team. Hope you have his back the way you didn’t have mine.”

She sucked a breath in, clearly not expecting that outcome. “You are truly leaving?”

“That’s the plan.” Tony slammed the lid on the box, set it on the floor and took his desk. He opened up a report form, designed for these situations. The tape, even if found now, might be inadmissible as evidence, having been out of chain of custody.

“I…”

“You have work to do, Officer David. Please go do it.” He looked up at her, pinning her with his gaze. “I said it earlier, your commentary is neither wanted nor required. Seriously. Get to work.”

Her cheeks flushed, and lips pressed in a thin line. But even she, assassin extraordinaire from MOSSAD, knew when she’d pushed the envelope too far. She turned, and stiffly marched back to her desk.

Not for a moment did Tony think this discussion was over.

----

‘How can everything change in just four days?’ Tony wondered, pulling into his apartment parking spot, and feeling something was missing. He knew what it was. Christopher wasn’t happily chatting with his bear from the back-seat, He wasn’t getting out of the car to go around to the passenger side, fold back the seat and pull Christopher out of the car-seat. He wasn’t teasing the little boy, goading a laugh out of him, or offering his hand to be held while they walked to the apartment and up the stairs.

He felt empty. ‘It was only three days, DiNozzo. Give a few more, things will be back to normal.’ Only, that was a lie. In three days, he’d have a new position somewhere else at NCIS, or be job-hunting. Normal wouldn’t be found for months, yet.

Trudging up the stairs, a pizza box in hand, he made his way to his third floor apartment. The day had been an utter nightmare. He expected his night to be worse. It was just a matter of figuring out who would show up first.

The answer to that question was abundantly clear when he opened his apartment door and found Gibbs sitting on his sofa. “Get out.” He growled, tossing his backpack onto the floor by the door, and his keys in the basket.

“DiNozzo.” Gibbs voice held a pleading note, but there was no hiding the surprise in the other man’s eyes as he spotted the child his Senior Field Agent was carrying. “Look let me just say my piece. Yer pissed. I know. I was way outta line. I know it. I ain’t got an excuse for it. Not something I shoulda done. I know I was in a foul mood, and I had no business taking it out on you.”

Tony’s eyes narrowed. “Is that some sort of apology, Gibbs? It’s supposed to make things better? Wipe the slate?” He sneered. “I’ve got news for you Gibbs. I was verbally punched by the best growing up with my Dad. The point is, Gibbs -- I refuse to be the paper you wipe your shit on anymore.”

Gibbs closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. “I ain’t good at this.” He admitted, sighing. “Look. We need to talk. Please.”

Tony’s eyes narrowed. “Why bother? I’m putting in for transfer, Gibbs. Already spoke to Vance. There’s no need to talk about anything.”

Blue eyes went wide, “No!” Gibbs protested. He turned abruptly, and stalked towards the window,clearly frustrated. “Aww, hell.”

Tony closed his eyes and breathed in slowly. He breathed out, counting to ten.

Gibbs rubbed his head. “I… I… Patty called me today. Told me what a great job you did. To take it easy on your today, ‘cause you’d grown really attached to the kid, and letting him go had been hard on ya both.” He admitted.

Tony’s gaze was level, and uninviting. “I don’t want to talk about Christopher.”

The Lead Agent blinked, his jaw opened, and then shut with a sharp snap. Clearly, what his gut wanted to say had been heavily filtered. Edited right down to a strangled, “Oh.”

Tony shut the door, and fished his wallet out of his pocket to toss in the basket he kept on a shelf behind the door. He kept keys, wallet and loose change there. Not the most secure thing, but really, it was more important he knew where it was when he was racing out at 4am for a crime scene. His guns, while Christopher had been living here had been locked up in his safe every night. The gun-box on his dresser wasn’t secure enough with a kid running around. Now that the kid was gone, it’d go there..

“I meant what I said, Gibbs. I’m done. You appointed me your SFA four years ago, but not once have you upheld the Chain of Command. And I’m tired of being treated like crap on the heels of everyone’s shoes. Ziva openly questions my orders in the field, hell, she’s so quick to pull out her lock-pick set, it’s ridiculous. Do you know how many times I’ve practically had to sit on her? Or did you want our cases thrown out of court? And, McGee gets off telling me how much an idiot I am. How useless I am. That I’ll never be a team lead, because I’m not smart enough. That my Phys Ed degree isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” He shook his head, unhappiness heavy in his chest. “And you, how many times have my tangents netted us a clue or a direction? But you take such great pleasure in swatting me upside the head and announcing to all and sundry that I’m a waste of space.”

He leaned back, his weight firmly on the door. Ankles crossed, he was visually the relaxed picture of indolence. His eyes, however, burned. “I took all of that on the chin, and let it slide…. But, to suggest that I can’t be responsible for another person. That I would be a harmful irresponsible influence on a child…”

“I should never have said any of that shit, DiNozzo.” Gibbs protested. “I know that. Hell, my Dad and I were having a rough patch, and I was real angry -- and then I got yer message. I snapped, and yeah, it was wrong, I know… but I just wasn’t thinking straight.”

“That was this weekend. It was nothing more than a straw, Gibbs.” Tony retorted.

Gibbs looked away, ashamed, almost. “Why didn’t ya tell me things were getting rough?”

Green eyes narrowed. “Because then I’m whining. Then I’m just being a baby. Then, I can’t handle my job so I should just quit. Do you remember any of those words, Gibbs?”

Hands flexed into fists and loosened. “I never said that.” Gibbs retorted quietly. “I fought to bring you back from Agent Afloat, DiNozzo. Don’t that tell you that you’re wanted on the team?”

“No. Not when you’ve heard Ziva and McGee say the crap they do when I tried to rein them in.” Tony was past anger, all he had left was weariness for the matter. Somehow, working to help Christopher accept a sense of self-worth had brought awareness to himself that the crap that his team dished out on him wasn’t worth enduring. He deserved better. “And you didn’t have my back. Worse, you don’t trust me to have yours.”

Gibbs shoulder slumped. “Whattaya want me to say, DiNozzo? I can see yer point -- but… I have always had your back in the field. And you wouldn’t be called my loyal St. Bernard if you didn’t have mine.”

“Domino.” Tony retorted shortly. “You haven’t. And you haven’t for a long time. It’s been four years since I felt like you have, Gibbs. it stopped when Ari killed Kate.” He bit his tongue, having harsher words he wanted to say. No. This couldn’t devolve. He needed to get his perspective back.

Tony pushed off the door, and made for his bedroom, stripping off his gun and holster as he went. Walking past Gibbs, he made it to his closet, and the safe. It was biometric, and took little more than his thumb to open. In short order, his gun was stored, the clip separate. HIs backup piece immediately followed, as did the knife on the other leg, and his penknife from his belt sheath.

Honestly, he thought coming back from the Seahawk would be a fresh new start for himself and the team. How wrong he had been.

Taking a deep breath, Tony returned to the living room. “Look. I can probably get past how Domino happened. Hell, you played the Director too.. And, truthfully, I’m used to you using me as your scapegoat. I didn’t like it. I don’t like being kept in the dark and hung out to dry, but as you know from the Grenouile op, I get need-to-know, and I take it seriously.” Tony said quietly, grimly. “But, it hit me on Wednesday night while I was surrounded by a ton of kids -- that I absolutely needed those nights surrounded by kids just to stay sane now. I actively look forward to them, crave that time. It’s literally the highlight of my week, and possibly the only reason I’m able to roll out of bed each morning. And why? Because I need to be surrounded by people who trust me, who believe in me, who believe I am a responsible fun person, and that I matter -- I need that just so I don’t wake up some morning and decide to eat a gun. That’s what this team has done to ME. That’s where you’ve driven me. Honestly, could get past what you said to me, if that was the only time.... But, it wasn’t, and it never will be. “ He shook his head. He didn’t have words.

The fact Gibbs hadn’t trusted him, and set him and Ziva up to fail hurt terribly. “Bottom line, I can’t trust you. Not anymore. You pushed me over when I was already teetering on the edge of a cliff, Gibbs. Ziva thinks I’m a joke. She’s never gonna see me for who I really am. McGee? He doesn’t think I have the intelligence or skills of a preschooler much less his superior. And, I’m so tired of trying to find ground with them. I’m tired of doing alone, and I am doing it alone -- every time they refuse my orders, you come along and confirm that veto. Bottom line: None of you respect me to do the job, Gibbs. And if I don’t have respect, then how will I know if they have my back when I need them to?” Tony ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it up into peaks. “I want more from my life than ending up dead because watching my back, or obeying an order was an inconvenience to my team.”

Gibbs closed his eyes, nearly swaying. “God… no. DiNozzo. They… I… I always have your back. I swear it. And I’d never let them… I need you. I need YOU on the team, DiNozzo. They’re good, they’re learning, but at the soul they ain’t investigators. They don’t think like you do. They don’t see the whole picture. They will never have your instincts. And, none of us ‘cept you is any good with people…”

“They don’t respect me.” Tony reiterated. “YOU don’t respect me. And you don’t have my back. When I tell McGee to do photos, and Ziva to bag and tag, and they disagree -- you don’t tell them to get to work, you change the jobs -- and they jump to it passively. So, hypothetically -- we’re doing our jobs. And we’re being shot at suddenly. I tell McGee to cover me, but he thinks he should save the evidence, and Ziva should cover… and I’m dead. That’s okay? Because that’s what they’ve learned from YOU -- that it’s OKAY to question MY orders.”

“No! Damn...” Gibbs threw his hands up. “That’s not okay. And they wouldn’t do that. They’d have your back, and follow instruction in those situations… you gotta believe that, DiNozzo.”

“I CAN’T!” Tony roared. “I am all out of blind faith, Gibbs!”

“Goddamnit.. find some. Give us a chance. Give me another chance. I NEED you on my team. More than them. YOU. God, DiNozzo… you’re the best damn agent I’ve ever worked with. An’ there ain’t no one else I’ve trusted as much as you. That there? If I didn’t respect you, I wouldn’t think that. I wouldn’t need you, I wouldn’t trust my back to you the way I do.”

Tony snorted dismissively. “Really? Can I remind you, again… Domino. I’ll beat this horse dead if I have to, Gibbs. You can’t say it was need to know. It was an agency effort to out a mole, and you knew that I wasn’t that mole. You knew that Ziva wasn’t -- and you used us in an op without giving us a fucking clue as to what was really going on. I’m your second, and more importantly an undercover specialist -- and you hung me out to drive to prove a fucking point. But, hey, it taught me a lot. You wanted that power play over me, you got it but what I learned is that you didn’t give a shit if I got killed in the process of your proving you could be God.”

“No. If you hadn’t….”

“The point is, Gibbs… in any operation, there is a big wide IF. You can’t predict the other players. You don’t know what the players are going to think, or hell, what your unsuspecting people are going to think. You can speculate, you can guess. But you don’t know. And since I didn’t know the truth, I had to go with my own instincts. If Ziva hadn’t... “ Tony shook his head. “That was… you know what... it doesn’t matter. Bottom line, you DON’T trust me. Your actions proved it.”

“Fer crying out loud… I DO trust you.” Gibbs threw his hands up.

“Then you have a piss poor way of showing trust.” Tony turned away. “You say the words, but you sure don’t practice them. Look, I’ll give you two weeks notice now, and then I’m done with your team, Gibbs.”

“Tony…”

“Really, this situation is more than just about you, but you are definitely part of the reason it’s snowballed. Learn from this, if nothing else, because when you treat your partner like shit, it comes back to hit you in the face.” Tony moved to the door, opening it. “Go.”

“Please…” Gibbs pleaded.

Tony shook his head. “No. Actions really do speak more than words, Gibbs.” He shrugged. “And like you said, you aren’t good with words. Think about it. Hell, pull the case files, and really look at things. Maybe then you’ll see what I’m saying.” Tony rubbed his suddenly aching temples. “Look, I’ll help you find my replacement, if you need. But, don’t bother if you’re gonna let the team rip that replacement to pieces. You worked fine as a three man team when I was Agent Afloat… this...”

“We were a mess. The solve rate dropped ten percent. The case time increased twenty-three percent. Why’da ya think Vance agreed to move you back without more of a fight?” Gibbs pleaded. “Look, fine. You don’t want to hear it...give me those two weeks. We’ll change your mind, please. Just… let me try.”

Tony shook his head. “You have the two weeks, regardless. But, honestly, I’ve got to have more to my life than being at your beck and call at all hours. I can’t be working eighteen hour days. I can’t take calls at three in the morning. I can’t live like this anymore, giving up all of my life to get so little back.”

“You have plenty…”

Tony snarled, coming up within an inch of Gibbs face. “Don’t you dare say that I have plenty compensation, Gibbs. The last three vacation requests I put in -- you shot down. The last time I booked a dental appointment, I had to change it four times before you’d okay the time. Don’t you DARE say that the pay is worth it. Because all the money in the world doesn’t make up for the fact I don’t see my friends, can’t make a family, can’t sit on a fucking beach and just roast my bones.”

Gibbs took a step back. “No, that’s not... “ He closed his eyes and breathed deep. “Okay...I’ll tell dispatch to put all case calls through to me first, and I’ll talk to Vance. I’ll change how I do things, Tony. I swear.”

“Whatever. It doesn’t change my mind.” Tony didn’t believe that was all Gibbs meant to say. Not for an instant did he believe it. Gibbs always put the job first, their personal lives second. And he expected his team to do the same. Up until now, Tony had no reason not too. Now, though, it wasn’t enough.

“Gimme a chance, DiNozzo.” Gibbs pleaded. “Just… try. It’s all I ask, and I know you don’t think I got a right to ask fer anything, but please… you and me put a lot of work into this team -- gimme a chance to make it right.”

Tony nodded shortly. It didn’t matter whether it was a fair shake or not. Gibbs had two weeks. And then, whatever options Vance had for him would come into play.
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