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A Friend of Mine

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All art in this fic is by RPD, red_pink_dots

 

CHAPTER 1 – Different

As Long as You Love Me

Although loneliness has always been a friend of mine
I'm leavin' my life in your hands
People say I'm crazy and that I am blind
Risking it all in a glance
And how you got me blind is still a mystery
I can't get you out of my head
I don't care what is written in your history
As long as you're here with me

Lyrics by Martin Carl Sandberg

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

Tony cautiously entered Gibbs’ house and was glad to see he hadn’t left for California yet. On the drive over, he had planned exactly what he was going to say, but now he was in Gibbs’ presence, he was tongue-tied, like a kid on his first date. All he managed to get out was, “Hey.”

 

Gibbs didn’t look up from folding a suit jacket on the dining room table, but he responded with a “Hey” of his own.

 

Tony had discovered through a little snooping that his boss’s destination was Oceanside, California, and that the trip had something to do with DEA agent Luis Mitchell. Apparently Luis’ father was the NIS agent who had lost his life trying to protect Gibbs’ wife and child over twenty years ago. Luis was a nice enough guy, but when Tony had discovered his connection to Gibbs, and saw how protective Gibbs was of his new protégé, he’d felt a stab of jealousy.

 

When Tony stepped a bit closer, Gibbs’ eyes lit on the garment bag he was carrying. “Going somewhere?”

 

“Oh, no.” Tony raised the bag a little higher. “Well, I heard you're headed to California.”

 

“I'm taking a personal day. You're not coming with me,” Gibbs said firmly.

 

Ouch, so that put him in his place. Tony stifled a sigh, seeing that having a conversation with Gibbs was going to be even more difficult than he’d anticipated. “I know. Um, yeah, this. So, this is called a garment bag,” he said, indicating the bag, like Vanna White waving her hand over a desirable piece of merchandise. “And, uh, in light of all the nice new clothes you have, theoretically, what this does when you travel is, it keeps them wrinkle-free. And I had an extra one lying around.”

Gibbs was eying him, waiting for him to get to the point. Of course, he’d known right away that the bag was just an excuse for Tony to come over.

 

There had been a time when Tony didn’t need an excuse to come over any time, day or night. He’d turn up with beer and pizza and they’d watch a game on TV together, or he would hang out in the basement while Gibbs worked on his latest project, or they’d play one-on-one basketball using the old hoop attached the garage out back. Sadly, it hadn’t been that way for a while now.

 

Diving right into what he’d really come over for, Tony tried for casual, but his words spilled out in an ungainly mess. “Iraq... I mean... It was pretty screwed up, right? We ever gonna... talk about it?”

 

So far, Gibbs had rejected every overture Tony had made to discuss what had gone down in Iraq four months ago, about the kid who’d shot him, and about how Tony had executed Budd in a back-alley in Hong Kong, and yes, it might have been sanctioned but it was as sure as hell an act of revenge. And now, with Gibbs blocking him at every turn, and leaving him behind whenever he went out in the field, Tony was concerned he was about to lose his job – and the life he’d built in DC. He wasn’t sure which one mattered more to him, they were so intertwined.

 

Gibbs glowered at him. “No, it's not about Iraq. Where are you, DiNozzo?”

 

“What do you mean? I'm right here, where I always am,” Tony replied, unsure what Gibbs was getting at.

 

Gibbs challenged, “Well, then let me ask you something. Is that what you want?”

 

Tony didn’t even have to think before he answered. “Do I want to be here? Yeah. I wouldn't be if it wasn't what I wanted.” He meant every word, but even so, he had a feeling that Gibbs didn’t believe him.

 

“Years ago, you had a shot at your own team. You turned it down.”

 

Oh, yeah…that. It figured that Gibbs knew about Rota, even though Tony had never told anyone. Jenny, she must have let Gibbs know, probably let him think his second-in-command couldn’t wait to get out of there, would be happy to see the back of him. But that was years ago and Jenny was dead and buried. Now, with Gibbs looking at him as if he thought he’d been stupid to reject the promotion, Tony raised his chin and said, “Yeah, and I stand by my decision.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

He still believed he’d done the right thing, even though it had been eight years since Gibbs had reluctantly returned from Mexico, enticed back by Ziva acting like a damsel in distress. The job offer, and all that was entailed in transferring to Spain, had come at a bad time; Gibbs was barely able to lead his team, and Tony was not only keeping an eye on him, he was stuck in the middle of an undercover op to catch la Grenouille. Jenny had been well aware of all this, and yet she had offered him that lead position in Rota. It was as if she wanted to leave Gibbs hanging in the wind, and expected the man who had once been the best agent NCIS ever had to falter and fail.

 

Tony could have accepted the promotion and left DC, but instead he’d chosen to stick around. Even though Gibbs had been back physically, it was obvious he wasn’t exactly running on all cylinders, mentally. The boss had needed someone to keep an eye on him – that was what Tony had told the director. The real reason he had stayed was because he couldn't bear the thought of leaving Gibbs. It was that simple. They had strong ties – a bond, was how Tony saw it – and the very thought of leaving had made him sick to his stomach.

 

Things hadn’t changed much since then. Today, he still watched Gibbs’ six as resolutely as he had on his first day at NCIS. And, once again, they were in a similar position. This time Gibbs was back at work after nearly four months of leave after being shot while chasing down a terrorist threat in Iraq. Shot by a kid he’d trusted, and liked, and wanted to help. And while Gibbs had lain in a hospital bed, it had fallen upon Tony to hunt down Budd. Which he had. Shot him down, gladly meting out justice and a good dose of revenge, and never losing any sleep over it.

 

Gibbs seemed different these days, and it wasn’t just the fact he was thinner than Tony had ever seen him, and was wearing his hair longer, and was sporting some pretty sharp suits. No way had Gibbs gone out and bought those new clothes himself, although the identity of his personal shopper was still a mystery.

 

Ever since Gibbs had returned from his enforced leave, a couple of weeks early, he had seemed a little off. He was as demanding as ever, and short-tempered, and whenever he spoke, it was brief and to the point. Only… it was all more than usual, more annoyed and curt and cold to everyone around him, especially towards the agents on his team, the ones who had kept everything going smoothly and efficiently as they waited for his return.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

“I’m more scared of him now than I was when I first joined NCIS,” McGee had admitted one evening, when the team members (sans Gibbs) were sitting around a corner table at a local pub.

 

“He’s like Gibbs on steroids,” Abby had said. “I want my Gibbs back!”

 

“Overcompensating. That’s what he’s doing.” Bishop had tilted her head to one side. “I think he’s having trouble getting back to normal.”

 

“C’mon, Bish, normal left the building the minute that kid shot him,” Tony had said dryly. “By the way, which one of you helped create the new stylish Gibbs?” He looked around but the reactions from his teammates told him none of them had been involved.

 

They then theorized a lady friend might have taken him in hand, or maybe Dr. Taft, who seemed to be Gibbs’ best bud these days. McGee put it forward that Gibbs could have walked into Brooks Brothers and bought his own clothes. “They have a service, a personal shopper,” he reasoned.

 

After Tony had finished laughing, he put on a deep voice, and said, “Me Gibbs. You choose me suits.” He shook his head. “Nah, not possible.”

 

“Fornell?” suggested Bishop.

 

Abby had immediately shot her down. “I like Fornell, I do, but the man owns four suits, one for funerals, and the other three are exactly the same make and cut. Plus they’re ten years old. No, the man’s a dinosaur. A veritable stegosaurus, a–”

 

Tony asked something that had been bothering him, “What makes any of you think he has any lady friends? None of the women he’s seen have ever lasted more than a few weeks, not long enough to earn the right to give him a makeover.”

 

McGee pointed at Tony and nodded. “Colonel Mann did turn up again.”

 

“That was last year,” Bishop said, frowning. “Am I missing something?”

 

Abby filled her in. “She was here four years ago, and wove her sticky web around Gibbs, and we thought she’d captured him, but all of a sudden…”

 

“She must have pushed him, asked too many questions or the wrong questions,” Tony explained. “One day she was hanging out in Gibbs’ basement, and next thing we know she was glaring at Gibbs. She retired and married a heart surgeon in Hawaii. She returned briefly a few months back.”

 

“How’d you know who she married?” McGee had asked.

 

“I read it in Stars and Stripes,” Tony said defensively.

 

Abby shook her head and said, “Besides, anybody who knows anything about Gibbs knows you don’t ask him personal questions. Mann-hands was doomed the moment she opened her mouth.”

 

“Mann-hands?” Bish had asked, apparently thinking that nickname was rude.

 

Abby had shrugged. “If the glove fits…”

 

McGee had said as if he was certain, “The boss will never get remarried.”

 

Tony only wished that were true, because if Gibbs got married again, it would ruin everything. If Gibbs was smitten enough, he’d make changes to keep his spouse happy, and leave work at a reasonable time, focus all his energy on her – whoever she was – and the team would be pushed to the sidelines. “One thing’s for sure,” Tony said. “Right now, nobody in their right mind would find the boss date-worthy, with that bad attitude he’s carrying around.”

 

Abby had cast soulful eyes on Tony. “Can’t you talk to him, see what’s going on with him?”

 

“Why me? I’m the last person he’ll talk to,” Tony had protested.

 

She’d slapped him lightly on the arm. “You and Ducky are the only people he’ll talk to.”

 

“Then get Ducky to do it.”

 

Abby had scrunched up her face. “No…. I think it has to be you.”

 

Tony sighed. “It won’t do any good.”

 

“Are you scared of him?” Bishop asked, looking at Tony with interest.

 

“Nooo…. Well…. Okay, maybe a little.” Tony had looked around and took in his friends’ expectant faces. “Fine. Next time there’s an opening, I’ll talk to him. Okay? Satisfied?”

 

“And ask him who chose his suits,” McGee had said.

 

“And why he’s wearing his hair so long,” said Bishop.

 

“You know he won’t tell me,” said Tony, all of a sudden feeling depressed about the whole conversation.

 

Abby had hugged his arm and smiled with satisfaction. “I think he may surprise you, Tony.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The boss had seemed sharp enough during the recent investigation, and yet… Tony had a strong feeling that Gibbs was hiding something, that his determined expression was a front. It wouldn’t be surprising if he was finding it difficult to get through the day, after all he’d been through, and was just being stoic.

 

Most likely it was physical. Gibbs had been favoring the knee that had taken a bullet, and on a couple of occasions Tony had seen him rub his chest with his knuckles and swallow hard, like he had heartburn. Only his expression had sort of frozen up, as if he was riding out a wave of pain. Both times, after a few moments it was business as usual, so Tony had pretended he hadn’t seen anything amiss.

 

Concerned that something serious was going on, Tony was determined to figure out what it was. Problem was, he wasn’t exactly on good terms with Gibbs right now – for reasons unknown to him – and he didn’t want to get his head bitten off, or to come back from lunch and find his stuff dumped on the ground and a stranger sitting at his desk. So a talk with Ducky was in order.

 

Tony wasn’t the only one who had a sense that Gibbs was giving everyone the cold shoulder as a way of making them leave him alone. Ducky had noticed it, too. “Jethro refuses to engage in anything but the briefest of conversations, and those are always about the investigation at hand,” the ME had complained.

 

Agreeing, Tony had replied, “He’s working hard to keep me at arm’s length, Ducky.”

“Although I have not examined Jethro, I believe he may be suffering from PTSD,” the ME had said, his tone cautious. “He won’t talk to me about whatever is bothering him, but I understand that Dr. Taft is keeping a close eye on him, so that should ease your mind a bit.”

 

Hearing that Gibbs’ surgeon was concerned about his patient didn’t console Tony at all. In fact, it suggested there was something to be worried about. “Maybe he isn’t ready to come back. You think he jumped the gun? What am I saying? Of course he did: he’s Gibbs!”

 

“Yes, well, I have known you to do exactly the same thing,” Ducky had retorted.

 

“Okay, I’m guilty of coming back early, but I don’t think I ever came back with a sucky disposition.” Out of habit, Tony had checked behind him to make sure Gibbs hadn’t snuck in and was standing behind him. He was almost disappointed that his boss was nowhere to be seen. Still, he had leaned closer to Ducky and said in a hushed voice, “I heard Dr. Taft has arranged for him to see a therapist.” Ducky had raised an eyebrow at that, and Tony nodded. “Taft set it up, so he’ll have to be the one to drag Gibbs to his appointments.”

 

Gibbs had already been signed off by the NCIS shrink, Dr. Whitten. Tony was used to running rings around the man, who he’d categorize as sincere, yet inadequately prepared to deal with most NCIS agents. He could only imagine what Gibbs’ responses would be to the inkblot test: ‘Looks like blood splatter. (‘And this one?’) Blood splatter. (‘And what about this one?’) Same. Ya done with me yet, Doc?’

 

“There was nothing unusual in the report I received about their sessions,” Ducky related. “Of course there weren’t any details of the specifics behind Dr. Whitten’s evaluation, just the conclusions, and the fact that he had deemed Agent Gibbs equipped to return to the field. I doubt Dr. Taft will be able to coerce Jethro into seeking additional help. When I tried to discuss it with Jethro, he told me he refused to ‘waste any more time on that crap.’”

 

“At least that sounds like the old Gibbs,” Tony had said with a small smile.

 

“Don’t fret, my boy, he just needs time. It will all work out in the end,” Ducky had said with a confident nod.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ •