Sacred

 

By Anna

 

EMAIL: Anna

 

McGee had gone straight from the director’s office to Abby’s lab.  He needed time to think, to process and that wasn’t something he could do at his desk with…the others.  He didn’t quite know what to call them at the moment.  Technically, they weren’t his teammates, Gibbs wasn’t his boss but…  He definitely needed the quirky logic of Abby’s lab.  Plus someone needed to tell Abby what was happening and he couldn’t see any of the others able to do it.

 

When the doors opened, he stepped out and stood between the elevator and the lab.  Like the highly sensitive person she was, Abby had taken news of Jenny Shepard’s death almost as hard as she’d taken Kate’s death.  Had the director been killed earlier in her stint the reaction would have been odd since Abby had not accepted the woman as the boss until recently.  Tim sighed and stepped towards the automatic doors.  There were far too many changes currently happening in their little world.  He was confused and upset by the reassignment but also a bit challenged.  The new director was far more tech-savvy then McGee had ever thought and he considered the reassignment to be an acknowledgement of his skills.  Two sides were at war within him – excitement over the new assignment and sadness at the loss of teammates who he also considered friends, and writing inspiration but he wouldn’t admit to that out loud.  Abby – she would see the new developments as nothing but a loss.  McGee knew he didn’t want to see her reaction but couldn’t put it off any longer. 

 

The lab was quiet – never a good sign.  Even after they lost Kate there had been music. Though ‘music’ wasn’t exactly what he’d call the sad near-funeral dirge that had played for days.  Then again there were days when McGee could barely handle Abby’s normal music.  So maybe silence was better in this case.  Not seeing the dark-haired forensic scientist was definitely not better though.

 

“Abby?”

 

“I’m right here, McGee.”

 

Tim turned in the direction of her too-subdued voice and stared.  Abby’s hair was still down and she had not changed from the subdued clothing she had worn to the memorial service.  She had not even bothered to don her customary, long, white lab coat.  He glanced quickly around at the many computer monitors.  Phew – at least she had turned them all on, although none seemed to be running any of the multiple searches and forensic programs that were usually running whenever he down here with her.  Neither was there a picture of the director all over each monitor the way there had been when Gibbs had resigned.  Although important, those facts didn’t change how hard it would be to tell Abby about the upcoming changes to the team.

 

****

 

Gibbs, Ziva and Tony headed back to the bullpen area of the office towards their own section.  Gibbs tossed the files he’d received from Vance onto his desk, sat down and stared, trying to look anywhere but at the flat screen that was, again, projecting ZNN’s story about the townhouse fire.  Ziva opened a drawer to her desk and withdrew a large bag to begin packing.  Tony stopped at his desk but didn’t sit down.  He wasn’t sure what to think or do.  Did he start packing?  Did he wait to see if Gibbs was going to stop their transfers? 

 

Gibbs… Tony couldn’t bring himself to turn and look at him.  They’d had scant time together since before the trip to California and no time alone at all since Jenny’s death.  One of the hardest things he’d ever done was to tell Gibbs about Jenny’s death.  When her phone had rung and he’d seen those five letters on the caller id, he’d wanted so badly to not answer it or hand it off to Ziva.  But he was Gibbs’ senior field agent; it was his job.  His duty really because of what they meant to each other.  Telling Gibbs Jenny was dead was arguably one of the hardest things he’d ever done.  It ranked right up there with knowing Gibbs was aware of Jeanne but still going to her each night. He pushed thoughts of the woman from his mind.  It had taken him months to accept Gibbs’ knowledge of his relationship with her.  After the whole debacle was over, it had been weeks before things had seemed to be returning to normal between the two men. 

 

Now he didn’t know what would happen.  He’d managed to look at Gibbs a couple of times in LA.  Gibbs had said little that wasn’t case-related but Tony shuddered at the grief he saw and continued to see etched on the older man’s face.  They needed time to talk but hadn’t yet found even a spare minute to be alone – even now days after the death.  Tony looked down at the papers on his desk, knowing without reading that they were his orders and travel arrangements to get him to the USS Ronald Reagan along with a minimal amount of information regarding the ship, crew and its current deployment. 

 

He fingered the papers seeing but not really comprehending the dates.  He knew he didn’t have much time to pack both his desk and apartment.  He didn’t want to go, didn’t want any of them to, but couldn’t see a way around it.  He glanced up as he heard a drawer shut.  Ziva was done already?  He stared at the Israeli who seemed always in control of herself as she approached the front of his desk. 

 

“Well Tony, it appears that this is goodbye.”

 

He shook his head.  “Something will change, Ziva.  The Boss isn’t going to let this be.”

 

“You may be right but at least, for now, I do not believe that he is in the position nor has the will to fight any of this.  He is…all mashed up inside.”

 

For once, Tony didn’t bother to correct her. 

 

“Anyway, I have much to do if I am to return to Tel Aviv and…” She moved over to the side of the desk and put out her hand.  “It has been…interesting, Tony.”

 

He took the hand in his, remembering how the smallness of it had surprised him when they met.  Now its strength was what got his attention.   He pulled her close into a familial hug.

 

“Ziva,” They pulled away.  “Whenever I watch Moses, I’ll think of you.”

 

“Ah, yes, and whenever I see a Bond movie…”

 

The elevator dinged and the doors opened.  McGee and Abby walking into the office area stopping the exchange between the two.  Abby looked around and realized that what McGee had said was happening.  She threw her arms around the other woman. 

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t like you in the beginning, and that I was mean to you when Gibbs left and…”

 

Ziva extracted herself from the bear hug.  “It is all right, Abby.  I will miss you as well.”  Then she turned.  “Tim, good luck.”

 

“Ziva.”

 

“Leaving already, my dear?” 

 

The small group turned to see Ducky and a not too surprisingly silent Gibbs standing there. 

 

“I have much to do, Doctor.”  She walked over and gave the older gentleman a careful hug, which he returned.  “I will miss your stories, Ducky.”

 

“I will look forward to hearing yours on your return, Ziva.”

 

She moved her attention to the man who had been her boss for three years.  “Gibbs.”

 

Reaching over he took the bag from her shoulder and motioned her ahead of him.  Ziva moved past McGee’s still pale face, Tony’s closed off expression and Abby’s tears towards the elevator.  Neither person said a word as they stepped into the waiting car and watched the doors close.  Ziva watched as Gibbs’ fingers reached over and engaged the emergency stop switch. 

 

“Ziva…” He stopped as he realized he really didn’t know what to say to her.  A somewhat foreign experience as he was used to always being the one who they counted on.  Ziva was the one who had called him to protect her when he had been in Mexico, the one who had initially helped restore his memory after he woke from the coma.  Now he just didn’t know what to say to make everything all better for her.

 

“Gibbs, I do not know where I will be after Tel Aviv, but I know I will always remember you and I will never forget all you have taught me.”

 

She leaned forward hesitantly giving the normally stern man a brief hug before turning and flipping the elevator switch.  Just before the doors slid soundlessly open, she turned to him again.  “Shalom, Gibbs.”

 

As she turned to exit the car, she heard his whispered reply.  “Shalom, Ziva, for now.”

 

***

 

Tim, Tony and Ducky remained still and somewhat quiet once Gibbs and Ziva had left the area.  Neither of the two younger men had any desire to begin packing up their desks even though, logically, Tony knew that he should at least look at the paperwork he’d gotten to see when he needed to leave.  He knew he had at least one long flight ahead of him and probably more depending on the connections and exactly how far out the ship was.  The USS Reagan had sailed on the 19th for it’s newest task in the western waters.  Tony doubted that he would know exactly where he was headed until he was almost ready to reach the ship.  McGee was silently thankful that he would not have far to go for his new duties.  Although for some odd reason, he was no longer as excited about the prospect of spending the majority of his time developing and running computer searches and programs to trap the modern criminal. 

 

Abby was a myriad of emotions that came pouring out in one long, staccato outburst.  “Wait!  She’s just leaving…and you two are standing there like…like.”  She threw her hands in the air, pacing aimlessly as she spoke.  “Well, I don’t what like.  Mops, maybe? What?  Are you two going to pack too?  Just leave me…us?  Without a fight?  Without doing something to stop this?  We can’t just let this happen.  No!  We must mobilize and…and fight the establishment!  Yeah!  That’s it!  That’s what we need to do!”

 

So worked up was she that Abby never saw Gibbs return to the area until she whirled around in mid-tirade and nearly ran him over.  “Umpf!  Gibbs!  Good, you’re back!  Now we can get something done!  You’ll get us organized and come up with a plan and….”

 

Her voice trailed off as Gibbs quietly put two fingers to her lips, silencing the younger woman.  Gibbs looked over at the two younger men but didn’t speak to them and he didn’t meet either of their eyes.  Tony, he could hardly even look at.  At the moment it was just too much.  There had never been anything calm about DiNozzo – not from the moment Gibbs had met him in Baltimore.  It had seemed as if an odd sort of kinetic energy enveloped the man, movement – a twitch or something – personified his personality.  Except for now. He’d been too quiet since Jen had died, offering a few observations with almost none of his normal quirkiness.  Since being called up to the director’s office, his body had been virtually still. Gibbs thought he knew at least some of what was going on in that stubborn man but hadn’t had the time to figure it all out at first and now he found he did not have the emotional energy he needed to deal with the man who had started out as his agent, became a friend as well and then so much more. 

 

Tony, for his part, did not want to examine Gibbs’ expression too closely.  Since the older man’s arrival in California, he had felt convicted of not being able to save the director.  Even though Gibbs had never said the words and had in fact absolved him in Abby’s lab, Tony had felt it almost radiating from him.  Now as then there was a grief etched in the boss’ expression and eyes that made Tony’s insides just want to shut down. 

 

Gibbs turned again.  “Need to talk to you, Duck – downstairs.”

 

“Certainly, Jethro.”

 

Gibbs grabbed a small stack off his desk and headed off with the medical examiner.  McGee, sure of what he probably should be doing but not really wanting to do it, slowly moved over to his desk area.  He glanced down at top of his desk, mentally listing the items he thought he’d want to pack up to either take home or with him to his new work area.  Tony let out a sigh that seemed to deflate him.  The senior field agent had noticed what he was certain the other two had not.  The pile Gibbs had grabbed off his desk before heading after Ducky had been the files Director Vance had given him. The files containing information on his new team.  Tony wasn’t sure what hurt more: Gibbs’ silence, his apparent inability to talk to him or his seeming acceptance of the new assignments. 

 

The silence hurt him personally because, since the morning after the night they ended up in bed together, after they agreed that both wanted something more permanent than just a one night stand, they had each promised the other that they would talk about what they were feeling or thinking.  It was something that was hard for them both at first then got easier but became difficult again after Gibbs returned from Mexico.  Now it was as if Gibbs had closed himself off from Tony and that was nothing more than further proof of his own guilt over Jenny’s death.  The silent acceptance puzzled Tony on more than the professional level since it was so unlike the man and the agent.  Gibbs had respected Tom Morrow but still had not hesitated to pursue a discussion with the former director if he thought Morrow did not have the team’s best interests in mind. 

 

Abby stood in the middle whirling back and forth to stare at the two men.  The Goth scientist wasn’t sure if she wanted to scream or cry.  Her world had been tilted on its axis on the verge of spinning wildly out of control and the three men who, in varying degrees, had always meant comfort, stability and even love to her, were all acting like pod people!

 

“I don’t believe this!  You guys aren’t going to fight this are you?”  Her strong irate tone had given way to an almost little girl type voice that Abby rarely used.  That it had surfaced now was further proof of her own pain over the recent events. 

 

Tony winced inwardly.  The one thing he could never stand was a hurt-sounding Abby.  To him, Abby was always the bouncy, slightly annoying but much loved baby sister.  The one he could pick on but heaven help anyone else who irritated, or worse, hurt her.  With his own emotional state so frazzled and on edge, he couldn’t deal with her words or emotions at the moment.  The surroundings seemingly closing in on him, he looked down at the sheaf of papers. He’d read them later but for now, he needed to know how much time he had.  Fortunately the travel dates were on the top summary sheet.  The date stood out in bold print but it took his brain several seconds to process the information.  Day after tomorrow he flew out of DC bound for San Diego.  He had a little over a day and a half to get everything in his life in order.

“Tony, you aren’t leaving, too!  I won’t let you leave!  I’ll…I’ll handcuff us together until Gibbs knows what to do!  Yep, that’s it – just until the bossman…” 

 

Abby quieted when Tony walked over to her and pressed his finger to her bottom lip.  She stared at him; her large, dark eyes nearly overflowing with unshed tears.  Tony moved his hand to cup Abby’s neck and drew her closer, pressing his lips to her forehead.  The two stayed like that for several seconds before he drew away.  Abby silently watched as Tony stepped behind his desk to pick up his back up before turning and heading for the elevators without another word.  She glanced over at his work area, relieved to see that all of his personal ‘stuff’ was still there. 

 

 

****

 

Bypassing the clinical area of autopsy, the two older men went into the small side office.  Gibbs dropped into a chair in front of the desk, letting the folders in his hand fall harmlessly to the floor.  Ducky busied himself with several items in his drawer that he found were too necessary at times to not keep on hand.  Surreptitiously he eyed his friend.  The last couple of days had been hard on all of them but few understood how hard they were on the senior agent.  Straightening up, he placed two glasses on top of the desk – each glass containing a small measure of dark amber liquid, too small in Ducky’s opinion but then they did need to be mindful of where they were and what was expected of them.  Sighing, he sat down heavily in his desk chair, feeling every bit his actual age. 

 

He picked up the glass and swirled the dark liquid, sniffing it as he remembered doing this exact same thing just a short few days ago.  He’d waited in the office for Gibbs, Tony and Ziva to return from California.  Telling Abby and McGee about Jenny’s death had been as rough as hearing Gibbs tell him over the phone.  He remembered leaning against the counter and staring at the body bag that had been delivered not long ago.  He’d poured himself two glasses and drunk them both before he’d been able to unzip the bag and view her remains.  As expected, Gibbs had found his way to autopsy shortly after arriving. Ducky knew he’d be forever thankful that he hadn’t started on the required autopsy so that Jennifer’s body was still encased in the bag when he’d arrived.  Ducky hadn’t allowed Gibbs to open the bag then and had repeated the gesture when he’d returned later, steering the senior agent into his office and insisting that they drink a toast to the late director.  Gibbs hadn’t talked then and Ducky had to wonder if the man really wanted to do so this time or had simply needed an escape from the turmoil in the bullpen.

 

Gibbs glanced at the glass, not too surprised to find the liquor.  “Again, Duck?”

 

“Drink it or not.  The choice is yours, Jethro.  Bear in mind though that you’ve been dealt another shock today by the new director.  It might just help ease you through this.”  Ducky took a sip from his glass before continuing.  “Can I ask what was in the folders you brought down here but don’t seem to be in a hurry to read?”

 

“Not going to read them.”  Gibbs stared into the glass, wanting to drink it but knowing that he needed to maintain a clear head for the time being.  Finally he quickly tossed the drink back, clearing his throat a little over the burn before speaking again.  “Didn’t want DiNozzo to worry about why I was headed down here.”

 

Gibbs winced internally as he realized what he’d said but avoided looking at the medical examiner not wanting to be more obvious than he’d already been.  Ducky glanced away, sensing the other man’s sudden hesitancy. 

 

“Yes, it would seem with what’s happening that the kids will be a bit more unsettled than they sometimes are.  So what exactly is in those files?”

 

Gibbs rolled his eyes, unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice.  “My new team.”

 

“Ahhhh.  I was under the impression that perhaps something would be done…”

 

“Yeah, I know.  They all expect me to fix everything for them.”

 

“Well, I do believe you seem to be a superhero. At least to Abigail, that is.”

 

“Yeah,  not exactly any phone booths near by now are there?” A brief, wry grin flitted across Gibbs’ face before it morphed into a grimace. “Not sure there’s much I can do about this, Duck.”

 

 

“Maybe you should be more concerned with fixing other things now rather than keeping the standard quo.”

 

Gibbs looked up, unsure of where the doctor was headed with the statement.  He knew he could think of at least a couple of different directions depending on the person. Did Ducky know of something that Gibbs had worked hard to keep from everyone?

 

“Abigail is taking this whole reassignment very hard and you know as well as I, that this is only the beginning of her reaction. I half expect to hear that dark dirge music playing, much the way she did with poor Caitlyn.  McGee needs to know that this is not the result of anything he did, the poor lad.  Ziva –I trust you have taken care of that already when the two of you were in the elevator together.  And Anthony needs to understand that this really is a promotion. I mean if you look at the agency roster and organizational charts, one can plainly see that…”

 

“Duck!  I know.”

 

 

He didn’t know or at least wasn’t willing to admit to Gibbs that he knew.  Jethro knew it could be either.  Dr. Mallard played at being an aging medical examiner who was prone to babbling stories of his past adventures whenever he was asked for details but Gibbs had known for years that the man was no one’s fool and that there was more to him than most anyone thought. Gibbs had thought a lot over the last year about telling Ducky of the exact nature of his relationship with his senior field agent.  He knew Ducky wouldn’t condemn them and would understand.  There was just this seeming need that Tony had to keep everything as quiet as possible and make sure no one could suspect anything.  Gibbs honored that need without argument because he understood it in general even though he didn’t agree with it where close friends like Abby and Ducky were concerned. 

 

“Yes, of course, you do, Jethro.  But sometimes it still needs to be pointed out verbally and you and I both know how lacking you are in that department.” 

 

Gibbs glared but didn’t reply and got a small, rather smug grin from the unrepentant coroner. 

  

****

 

Upstairs in the office area, Abby turned slowly in place, looking carefully at each desk space.  She’d been relieved to see that none of Tony’s personal effects were gone and had not even glanced at the large, mounted flat screen.  Pivoting on her ridiculously high heels, she glanced around McGee’s area and subconsciously noted but refused to acknowledge the boxes behind his desk.  Continuing her circle, she gave a relieved sigh at the sameness of Gibbs’ area before sighing again over the now empty space at the end. 

 

It’s just not fair! Abby thought to herself.  I didn’t like it when Stan left, but it was impossible to not like Tony.  I mean, bossman liked him, even though he’d never admit it.  But besides there’s so much to love about Tony it’s hard to remember when I wasn’t sure of him.  Oh but man was I ever glad when Vivian left!  She would have gotten one of my boys killed sooner rather than later.  And Kate.  She’d been so…

 

“Abby?”

 

She shoved thoughts of Kate away for the moment.  There was too much other turmoil going on around her.  The last thing she needed was to think about her at the moment.  Later in the evening when she was alone, she promised herself she would do what she hadn’t done in a while and remember her friend. 

 

“Abby?” 

 

This time the voice was nearly in her ear and much more strident.  She turned, knowing that McGee was close by, and threw her arms around his neck.  “Oh Timmy, I don’t want anything to change! But so much has already!”

 

McGee glanced around quickly before awkwardly encircling his arms around Abby.  He wouldn’t have been wary of doing it if not for where they were.  Not so much where though since she’d hugged them all before both in her lab and the bullpen.  But now, because of who was in that upper office, too much was different and he wasn’t sure how the action would go over with any who might see them. 

 

Abby doesn’t deserve this.  Not on top of everything else that’s happened lately. None of us do. McGee’s mind conjured up images of Tony laughing at him or shaking a finger at him.  And then he remembered the barking attack dog screen saver the senior field agent had gifted him.  Well maybe Tony does for the way he treats me.  No, he doesn’t.  He didn’t do anything wrong here!  Neither did Ziva!

 

He tightened his arms a bit around Abby, giving her a small hug.  “Abby, we need to…”

 

Abby shook her head and pulled back.  “No, McGee, do not tell me that I need to go back to the lab or that I need to work.  I can’t do that – not with what’s happened to the team.”

 

He shook his head and quickly pressed a finger to Abby’s lips, hushing her before she got worked up even more and her voice got louder.  “Wasn’t going to say that, Abs. I was going to suggest that maybe we should leave here and go check on Ziva.”

 

The dark-haired woman stepped back and out of the embrace, fiercely nodding her head.  “Ok, let’s go, McGee.”  She turned on her boot heel, more than ready to leave.

 

“Abby, here.” 

 

When Abby turned back around, she saw that McGee was holding out his handkerchief.  “You’re smudging and it’s going to run.”  He said as she took the material and raised it to her cheeks.  “Wouldn’t want to scare Ziva now, would you?”

 

She punched his arm in retaliation before looping her arm through it and starting off for the elevator.  “Doubt there’s anything that can scare Ziva, Timmy.”

 

McGee resisted the urge to rub at the muscle and smiled inwardly at the shift in Abby’s mood. 

 

***

 

 Tony pushed the door to his apartment open with exaggerated care, gently drawing the key out of the lock before dropping the keychain onto the side table by the door and allowing his backpack to slide off his arm onto the floor next to the table. 

Stepping into the living room, he glanced around, somewhat surprised that the room looked the same as when he’d left for the funeral this morning.  He knew he felt like a completely different person. 

 

Wandering around the room, Tony glanced at the various items he’d acquired through the years.  This had, undoubtedly, been the longest he’d been in one place since college and the amount of ‘stuff’ he’d managed to acquire proved it.  Now he had a big job ahead of him in sorting and packing. Worse – he didn’t really know how long he had to accomplish the task and be ready to meet up with the ship.  He sighed, knowing that he should have stopped long enough to read the travel orders that had been on his desk.  But at the time, he’d only wanted to get away and be by himself for a bit. Too much was changing and, although he’d never admit it out loud, he was scared of what he saw in Gibbs’ expression at the office today, actually for the last few days.    

 

Moving towards the kitchen, Tony knew that he needed to eat something but couldn't bring himself to feel interested in food - in either the leftover containers in his fridge or the thought of ordering something new from the many carry-out/delivery menus in one of his drawers.  Over the last several months, dinner had come to mean more to him than just grabbing a quick bite at work or before collapsing into bed at night.  It had been months since he'd eaten the meal alone and now it meant more than necessary food.  The meal had become the harbinger of his evening, his downtime at home with food, drink and, also, mostly with Gibbs.  A cold feeling in his gut told him that today would be the start of many dinners eaten alone again.  Since he just wasn't ready to face the depressing thought, he blindly grabbed a bottle of beer from his fridge and, intent on ignoring everything else around him, walked back into the living room and collapsed bonelessly onto his sofa. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ziva looked around at the apartment that had been her home for the past several years. She’d done this task far too often during her time with Mossaad.  Knowing that she needed to be ready to travel if not flat out move with little to no notice over the years had made her too aware of the pitfalls of having too many personal possessions.  It had been different this time though.  After her ‘adjustment period’, she’d felt accepted, even wanted and had set out to create a home for herself here for the first time in longer than she could remember. Tonight she would now ‘pay the price’ of all her shopping and decorating, as she had to pack it all before her flight to Tel Aviv.

 

She’d already gotten out the collapsed boxes she’d used when she’d moved in. Looking at the small pile, Ziva knew she’d have to buy more and wondered again about how different she was now.

 

Should just dispose of most of this or donate it somewhere rather than pack it all.  Would make more sense.

 

But Ziva wasn’t the same girl who had moved into the functional but oh so dull apartment three years ago.  And while the logical part of her knew what she should do, the woman she had evolved into was steadfastly refusing to part with the items that had made this space her home.  She moved to another closet to bring out the duffel bags she could take with her on the plane.  The items that went with her were few but had the most sentimental value for her.  This time she would add a couple as well. She never knew when most of her possessions would catch up with her and knew that she wanted a couple of small mementos of her time in D.C. along with the people who had come to mean so much to her to be with her immediately.  Thinking out loud, she realized she didn’t know of a secure, possibly long-term storage facility where she could have her belongings delivered after she left. 

 

‘Should just call Tony,’ she muttered. ‘He’s probably already got one lined up since he’s doing the same thing tonight that I am.’

 

A knock on her door interrupted her as she had stepped towards the phone. She headed instead to the door, not sure who it was.  Yanking it open, she was barely able to keep her surprise from showing on her face.

 

“McGee, Abby, what are the two of you doing here?”  She’d already told them goodbye at the office and wasn’t sure why they were standing there.

 

“Uuummmmmm….” Maybe he’d been wrong about needing to come here.  Ziva appeared to be as composed as ever.  They should have gone somewhere else – his place, her place, even Tony’s place might have been better. 

 

“Ziva,”  Abby launched herself towards the smaller woman.  “You didn’t really think we’d just let you walk out of the building like that.  We’re family and family sticks together.”  She pulled away and turned back to McGee to grab previously unnoticed bags. “Look!  We even brought dinner!”

 

“I see.” Ziva turned towards the kitchen, knowing they would follow.  “Too bad it wasn’t boxes,” she murmured.

 

“Boxes?  You need boxes?  Never fear, Ziva, after we eat Timmy can run out and get what you need, can’t you, Timmy?”

 

Warily glancing back and forth between the two women, McGee quickly decided that it was best to simply agree with whatever Abby wanted for the moment.  “Ummmm, sure, no problem.  I can do that, Abby.  Just need to know how many and what kind you need, Ziva.”

 

“AFTER we eat, Tim.”  Abby was definitely doing a credible impersonation of her usual, upbeat and perky self.  But then without warning she abruptly hugged Ziva a little too tightly for the Israeli’s comfort as she whispered.  “It’ll all work out, Ziva. You’ll see. Gibbs won’t let us down.”

 

***

 

When the elevator dinged and the door slid open, Gibbs strode from the car as if nothing had changed in his life.  Rounding the cubicle wall into the bullpen, he stopped and stared at the unoccupied area.  He walked over to look at the boxes behind McGee’s desk, sighing as he noted their emptiness.  Bypassing his own area, he paused at the stripped bare area that had been occupied by both Kate and Ziva.

 

Kate….the former secret service agent had been so full of piss and vinegar the day they’d met on Air Force One.  He’d worried once she’d joined them, worried that she’d been out to mold herself into a too-perfect agent and ones like those only ended up getting themselves and those around them killed.  But Kate had never stopped wearing her heart on her sleeve no matter how much she’d deny it.  And she’d been a good partner for Tony during investigations and as part of their too frequent sparring wars.  Gibbs would never allow himself to admit how much he still missed her.

 

Ziva, so lethal and yet so…innocent.  He grinned to himself at the thought knowing exactly what the Mossad officer’s reaction would have been if he’d ever described her in that sense.  She’d been not much more than a spy, an assassin, when the director had thrust her onto his team shortly after Ari had been shot dead in his basement.  Now, as she left them, she was more than just Mossad.  She’d become an investigator who examined everything around her and not just a crime scene.  Gibbs knew he’d miss her almost as much as he’d miss Abby if the Goth scientist ever left.

 

Turning his head, Gibbs eyed the office space that belonged to his Senior Field Agent.  Unlike McGee’s area, there were no boxes around DiNozzo’s and the desk area was still cluttered with files and personal effects.  Gibbs wasn’t sure what to make of that detail.  Had Tony’s prevalent procrastinating nature taken over again?  Or did the younger main believe that Gibbs would ‘fix’ the current situation much the way Abby did? 

 

He doubted that DiNozzo felt that way though.  Tony was close enough that whatever hero-worship tendencies he may have had at one point were now long gone.  He regularly saw Gibbs at his best and at his worst after hours and seemed to accept Gibbs for what he was.  Gibbs sighed, knowing how much he’d come to depend on the easy camaraderie he and Tony had shared for so long.  The younger man’s presence in both Gibbs¢ public and private life steadied Gibbs, gave him an outlet to vent his frustrations. The jokes and silliness relieved tension that Gibbs looked forward to even though he never acted as if he did.

He walked behind the desk, unsurprised at the feeling of comfort that virtually enveloped him.   DiNozzo had more toys and posters around him than most kids had in their bedrooms growing up.  Gibbs shook his head at all the stuff that surrounded him as he remembered how surprised he’d been the first time he’d spent more than a few minutes in Tony’s apartment.  He’d expected two distinct possibilities:  that the apartment would be the typical bachelor pad geared towards getting DiNozzo’s numerous girlfriends in bed as fast as possible or that it would be cluttered with the type of toys he saw in the man’s workspace.  There was an outside chance that he thought Tony’s home would be somewhat tasteful though he didn’t really count that as a definite possibility.  He’d walked in and eyed the classically comfortable décor with what must have been noticeable surprise since Tony had commented on his reaction.  He’d been even more shocked a couple of years later when watching the college basketball tournament had led to their first kiss.  Now, the last thing Gibbs wanted was to lose the comfortable relationship they had built.

 

Looking down at the desk area, Gibbs spied a stapled batch of papers that hadn’t been there earlier.  Travel papers – the information in the packet spelled out when DiNozzo would leave and where he would travel to in order to catch up with and board the Reagan, which had sailed into the Pacific a few days prior.  God, he wanted so badly to just take the packet of papers and shred it, to pretend that this wasn’t happening to his team, to charge up the stairs and convince Vance that he needed to leave Gibbs’ team alone.  But doing any of it wouldn’t help the situation and ultimately he knew he couldn’t stop what was actually a promotion for Tony. 

Gibbs could objectively say that out of all the agents he’d worked with, both past and present, Tony was the one who most deserved either his own team or, at the very least, an Agent Afloat position.  But it had taken them years to act on the chemistry that had grown between them from the first day.  Their relationship wasn’t perfect, especially over the last year and a half, but it was something that Gibbs depended on to keep him grounded and to keep him together, both mind and soul.  He knew that Tony felt the same.  Plus after sacrificing for the government for most of his adult life, Gibbs didn’t want to lose Tony to a transfer or for any other reason. 

 

With a mental smack to the back of his own head, Gibbs silently growled and reached for the pad of paper Tony kept near his phone. Years of military and government service made it easy for him to concisely scan the sheath of paperwork to locate necessary details.  In quick, nearly indecipherably script, he jotted down the pertinent information on the travel orders.  Glancing at the desk calendar, he noted the swift departure dates, sighing as he realized they really didn’t have much time left.  There was so much he needed to say to the other man.  Explanations for his actions the past several days, promises that he wanted to make but wasn’t sure that he should and apologies for actions and words that couldn’t be taken back.  He needed to tear down the walls that his Mexican hiatus and Jeanne had slowly built between them.  He wanted to break through them and hold Tony again the way he used to when it had just been the two of them. 

 

He thought again about how, in trying to punish Gibbs, Vance had ultimately promoted most of his team.  McGee would still be close by – near enough for Gibbs to check on even if he likely would not be able to utilize the young man’s phenomenal computer skills. Career-wise, Gibbs would still be able to keep an eye on him.  But Dinozzo…His senior field agent would be a country and an ocean away at the least.  Far out of the reach of Gibbs’ palm and protection.   The irrational side wanted to demand that Tony quit until he figured out a way to bring them all back.  DiNozzo could move in and between them, with Gibbs still working, they would have enough to pay the bills.  A smile quirked around his lips as he thought of the jokes they could share over Tony being a ‘kept man’ before he sobered.  It wouldn’t work – the former cop wouldn’t be able to handle the extended down time.  As much as DiNozzo liked to play, he enjoyed the challenges their jobs and the cases too much to simply lie around day in and day out.  Plus Gibbs knew how it would look to the suits upstairs in the long run and above all, at this point, he had to do what was best for Tony.  Even if it ultimately meant that he’d hurt both himself and his lover for the time being.  Swallowing back the bitter taste of bile over the mere thought of what he had to do, Gibbs resolutely snatched the small pad he’d been writing on from the desk, shoving it in his pocket as he stalked towards the elevators. 

 

***

 

Taking the scissors and snipping the end of the packing tape off the roll, DiNozzo smoothed down the tape over the box top, ensuring that it was securely shut.  It shouldn’t have surprised him – how many total boxes he had just used to pack up his DVD collection – but it did.  He rose to his feet, grimacing slightly over joints that creaked and protested their use.  College sports and his career choice gave him a better than average chance of feeling older long before he really was but at the moment Tony didn’t really care or bother to acknowledge it.  The setting sun indicating the evening’s start spoke of the hours going by faster than he realized or needed.  He still had too much to do at the apartment and the office before whenever he was scheduled to fly out. 

 

Tony grimaced, knowing that he should have taken the time to go over the travel papers before he walked out. Vance had said it was tomorrow when he delivered the verbal orders but Tony had learned long ago to check the paperwork before he believed what he was told.  He’d just been unable to take the swirling of confusion and emotion around him.  The team had been split up because of his inaction.  Ziva sent back to Israel and McGee returning to Geekland all because of him.  

 

He wondered how Ziva was coming with her own arrangements, snorting silently as he guessed that it was probably better than him.  He couldn’t see her as having accumulated as much ‘stuff’ as him.  Even after several years of working together, he knew that either he hadn’t learned anything of substance about the Israeli agent or that Ziva was really the type to be able to pull off a continental move with ease and efficiency.  But then for all he knew, she would simply call the Israeli embassy and have her apartment taken care of that way.   It was after all the way it had happened when she’d first been assigned to the team.

 

A sharp rap on his door drew Tony’s attention and he exhaled loudly as he headed over to the door, knowing who was on the other side and not really wanting to have the conversation he expected.  He moved to pull the door open with even more reluctance than he expected.  Coming face to face with exactly who he thought it was, he managed to keep his face blank and not show any surprise over seeing Gibbs on the other side. 

 

“Gibbs.”  Tony let his head fall against the door jam, resignation seeping through his tone. 

 

“Gonna let me in, DiNozzo?”

 

“Place is kind of a mess right now.  Not really up to your usual standards, Gibbs.”

 

Wincing inawardly at the words and tone, Gibbs locked his gaze with the clear green eyes.  “Tony –“

 

“Come on in if you really want.”

 

Gibbs knew he should have expected the mood.  Tony had been teetering on an emotional explosion of some sort since before they’d left California. Looking back, Gibbs knew that then Tony had been perilously close to an emotional collapse.  Gibbs knew that worming his way around conflicting orders from both Gibbs and Vance had added to Tony’s turmoil.  He should have seen and at least acknowledged it when he’d finally arrived at the scene of the shootout.  He’d been too self-absorbed to acknowledge anything but his own tumult and Tony had, as always, taken his lead from what he thought he saw in Gibbs – emotionally shutting himself off to deal with the logistics of their very special case.  Returning to DC and manipulating any potential fallout to control the damage had given DiNozzo the opportunity to shove his emotions behind any one of the masks the younger man routinely used.  The earlier announcement by their new director had thrown Tony for another upheaval and now, without having had time to deal with his building emotions, the younger man was ready to snap at the slightest provocation, falling back on Gibbs’ tendency to express emotions via anger.  Gibbs had used the method many times and Ducky, for one, regularly called him on his habit of taking things out on those he felt closest to. Gibbs’ palm itched to make a response.  Any other time he would have delivered a stinging head slap, but he knew that such an action would have worked against him at the moment.  Instead he pushed past the younger man, pausing to stare into his eyes.  He intentionally let his voice drop a little to reply.

 

“Yeah, Tony, I want…”

   

***

 

It had taken some convincing, more than Gibbs had expected, but eventually Tony had let Gibbs help with the boxing of his stuff.  Gibbs had already noted the presence of a set of luggage close to the door and his stomach cart wheeled over the thought that Tony would probably have left without a word.  He thought that what they’d built meant more than that.

 

Midway through the packing, Tony’s cell phone had rung.  The conversation was brief and mostly monosyllabic on Tony’s part and he soon flipped his phone shut before depositing back on the belt clip.  Gibbs stared, suddenly and uncharacteristically not sure if he had the right to ask what the call was about, as Tony turned to resume his task.  When he finally glanced up, Gibbs only arched an eyebrow in his direction.

 

“Looks like my flight’s been moved up.”  Tony glanced around the box-laden room.  “Not a good thing with everything I still have to do.”

 

“Why not just leave it, Tony?  That way you’ll have some place to come back to when this mess is over.”

 

“No guarantee that I’m coming back, Gibbs.  Not after that fiasco.”

 

”California went as well as can be expected, Tony.  And everything that happened here after was necessary to control the possible fallout.  It was the best possible outcome.”  Gibbs was careful to keep his voice neutral and his statements based on the facts alone.  He couldn’t afford to get involved in the emotions that were still too raw on the surface.

 

 “You can’t admit it, can you?  Even to yourself.”

 

“Tony, what are you talking about?”  He couldn’t help but get irritated by the seemingly out of left field question. 

 

You can’t stand to even look at me much less be around me any more.  I know you blame me, think I should have done something to prevent it.  Hell, Jethro, I blame me!”

 

<snap> Just like that, Gibbs got it and bit back a sigh of frustration.  “Tony, I told you when we got back from California that I don’t blame you.”

 

“Yeah that’s what you said but I saw it in your eyes at the diner. The questions, needing to understand; to blame someone for what you couldn’t fix.  Hell, if I’d only done what Ziva kept pestering me to do…”

 

“She was DYING!  Don’t you get that yet?  Sheppard was slowly dying and there was no way she was going to let that happen.”  Gibbs paused, inhaling deeply.  The last thing he  wanted was for his emotional turmoil to communicate itself so easily to DiNozzo.  It was the reason he’d used Jen’s last name, a way to disassociate himself from the reality of what had gone down. 

 

Green eyes met blue, shock morphing to surprise as the younger man struggled to mask his thoughts and feelings.  The difficulty with which the masks slid into place told Gibbs more about how the younger man was feeling than any words ever could.  Gibbs moved close enough to nearly invade his personal space, relieved when Tony didn’t attempt to move away.  The last three years had been so difficult for the team as a whole but even more so on the two of them and what had oh so slowly developed between them.  In the evenings when he let his agent persona drop, and allowed himself to just be Jethro Gibbs, he was amazed that they had survived relatively intact.  Any one of the major events could have easily torn them apart. But nothing had and although they’d come out of them bruised, sometimes physically as well as emotionally, he had always been confident that they could survive.  He winced inwardly at his oh so cavalier use of the word ‘they’.  He had long ago silently acknowledged that he understood his use of ‘they’ was mostly to protect himself.  Tony had wormed his way beyond the older man’s defense mechanisms soon after they had met in Baltimore.  Their personal relationship, begun shortly after DiNozzo’s battle with the plague of all insane things, occasionally left Jethro feeling too vulnerable.  Deep down inside, he knew that he meant the two of them when he used ‘they’ both silently and verbally.  But he needed the scant amount of protection it offered. 

 

“Gibbs.”

 

The softer tone drew him out of his reflections, forcing Gibbs to focus on Tony.

 

“I talked to Ducky.  Don’t know what she had, he wouldn’t go into details with me.  But it was terminal and you know Jen.  No way she wouldn’t have wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.”  Gibbs’ voice grew thick as he spoke but he refused to give in to the emotions swirling thru him.  His control crumbled when Tony stepped closer to him.

 

“I never told you how sorry I am.  Sorry that I couldn’t protect you from losing her, Jethro.”

 

Gibbs pulled Tony towards him, feeling a minute resistance that quickly crumbled.  In the strength of their embrace, Jethro felt enveloped by the security and affection he’d always experienced when he was near the younger man.  This time he wanted nothing more than to convey that and so much more back.  The embrace would need to last them until he could fix the mess that was created by the last week and the new director.  And there was no doubt in his mind that he would fix it and restore his team.  He had to; he could no long survive without having the man in his arms close by.  

 

Tony’s turbulent emotions latched onto the safety and comfort he felt in the hug and he held on much the way a drowning person gripped a life preserver.  He wanted nothing more than to believe that this man could restore the crumbling pieces of his life.  But hope had been such a foreign concept to him for so long that even though he had complete trust in Jethro, Tony was afraid of setting them both up to fail this time.  It would be so much easier and definitely more prudent to act as if there was nothing to prevent this current change from becoming his permanent new life.  Reluctantly, Tony began to pull back only to find himself grasped even tighter. 

 

“No, don’t let go.”

 

“I have to,” he whispered back.  “Outta time here.  I’ve gotta go, Jethro.”

 

Simultaneously both men tightened their arms , neither wanting to let go or pull apart.  Finally, slowly, Tony inhaled deeply and exhaled shakily before forcibly pulling away. 

 

“Look, um, I hate to ask but…” He glanced around the still mostly unpacked apartment.

 

“I’ll take care of it.”  Jethro’s eyes were locked on the younger man, as if he was trying to memorize him.  “Tony…”   He reached out, running a knuckle along his chin.

 

“Don’t, Gibbs, please.” 

 

The fervent whisper was filled with so much and Gibbs knew what Tony was asking for.  He nodded before slowly taking a small step back. 

 

Backing up and slowly moving towards the door, Tony never took his eyes off of Gibbs.  If he’d been even somewhat logical at this point, he would have noticed that Gibbs’ own eyes were locked on him as well.  The emotions swirled between them.  Too much and yet not enough had been said already but there wasn’t time to say more, to say what really mattered.  Unwillingly, Tony finally broke the gaze, leaning over to pick up his carry-on and laptop bag, placing them both on one shoulder before lifting his backup to rest on the other. 

 

In a voice laden with unspoken feelings, he whispered, “watch your six, Boss.”

 

Gibbs couldn’t reply, pressing his lips together and swallowing in an effort to remain in control.  Tony turned, opening the door before grabbing the handle of his wheeled duffel bag.  His spine straightened and his head was held high as he took the step out his door and then turned to move down the hall, urging the door to close with his foot.  He knew Gibbs would lock the place up for him and moving to head down the hall enabled him to keep a rein on his rampant emotions.  Looking back would have destroyed him so he opted not to.

 

***

 

The snick of the door closing into the lock reverberated louder than a gunshot inside Gibbs’ head.   Tony was gone.  He stood stock still for several minutes, unable to move, unable to think and not wanting to feel.  Then he slowly turned around, looking over what remained, listening to the silence in a dwelling that was rarely quiet.

 

For a while, he wandered aimlessly from room to room, entering and leaving almost immediately without really seeing what was around him.  His subconscious had to know though, since he never entered the bedroom or focused on any of the furniture or yet to be packed belongings. 

  

He could still hear the closing of the door in his mind – so firm and so…final.