Set the same evening as Faking it.
DiNozzo ponders on Mike Franks, words and remembers the time before Gibbs went away and before Gibbs came back. And he realizes that Gibbs is not really back.
An established relationship story.
Written: October 2006. Word count: 1,221.
Tony sat in his apartment swigging beer from a bottle. He wasn't feeling particularly sociable or happy; his head still throbbed from where Franks had coshed him, but it was his pride that hurt more.
"I've seen your hands, DiNozzo, they don't impress me." Franks had said those very words. And he'd meant them; that was clear from the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes. It wasn't just because he was pissed at the protection Gibbs was trying to arrange for him, that made him say them; he'd said them because that was what he thought. And Tony had done nothing to prove the man wrong; God, he couldn't even keep his eye of him when they were safely inside the NCIS building.
Tony hadn't said anything, and he'd tried to keep his face from giving anything away, but the words had stung him; they'd really hurt him. It was made even worse by the fact that not only had Franks had said them in front of Gibbs, McGee and Ziva, but that Gibbs, Tony's boss, hadn't said anything to defend Tony; hadn't even looked at Franks in an irritated way. Maybe he hadn't said or done anything because he agreed with Franks.
Tony had wanted to say, "Yeah? So what? I don't care. I don't need you to be impressed. The Director's the one who counts, and she's impressed with me. She offered me my own team." But he couldn't have said it for two reasons: one, because he'd been the one who'd suggested to Jenny that they keep the offer a secret between the two of them; and two, because everyone would want to know why he hadn't taken the job. And admitting that he'd turned it down mainly because he'd realized he wasn't ready to lead his own team, would only have confirmed the vicious words Franks had used.
He let his mind slip back to the time before Gibbs had returned, to the heady four months when he had been team leader; to when he'd been the one to call the shots, the one to tell McGee, Ziva and Agent Lee what to do. And he'd done it well; those four months had been good ones. He'd had respect and admiration.
Then he remembered the truth about the four months, and realized that once again his memory was playing bizarre tricks with him.
The four months hadn't been that good.
Oh, he'd done an adequate job, even a more than adequate one, quite a good one really, even if he did say it himself. In fact given Jenny's offer, it must have been a good job. But he hadn't been respected or admired, at least not by McGee or Ziva. Lee had told him what he wanted to hear, she'd ratted on the others, and he'd encouraged it - not the finest thing he'd ever done. And they'd, at least McGee and Ziva had, hated the 'camp fires', as he discovered when he thought he'd found out how Gibbs always knew what was going on.
No, all of them, himself included, had just been waiting for the day Gibbs came back; because they had all been certain that he would. And he had.
Or had he?
Tony let his memory slip further back. Back to before Gibbs had quit - retired - and gone to Mexico, back to the 'good old days'. He remembered with a kind of bizarre fondness the head slaps, the Gibbs glare, the sarcastic comments, the endless coffee - woe betide anyone who dared to 'mess' with it. He remembered when Gibbs was Gibbs. When his gut never let him down. When Tony knew where he stood.
Gibbs hadn't slapped him once since coming back; he was, as Tony and McGee had discussed more mellow, more human. And Tony hated it. Maybe it was weird to admit, but he missed the head slaps, the glares, and the sarcastic comments.
He wanted Gibbs back; he wanted the real Leroy Jethro Gibbs back. This one was too odd; too unpredictable, too . . . Bizarre - it seemed to be Tony's favorite word that evening.
And if Gibbs himself was bizarre, what was even more bizarre was Gibbs and Ducky and their current relationship, or rather lack of it. If it had been anyone other than Gibbs and Ducky, Tony would have thought 'lovers' tiff', but this seemed to be far more than a mere tiff. The second certainty in Anthony DiNozzo's somewhat uncertain world was Gibbs and Ducky's . . . He would have called it 'love affair' but it went way beyond that.
Again he remembered the 'good old days', before Gibbs had been blown up, lost his memory, quit and left for Mexico, and how things were between the two old friends.
He remembered how driven Gibbs had been over the Lt. Jane Doe case, all because Ducky was hurting and upset. In fact, apart from now, that was the only time Tony could remember the two older men even being slightly at odds with one another. The 'Dr. Mallard' and 'Agent Gibbs' had been chilling and totally out of character. But now when they bothered to use names at all, or rather when Gibbs did, Ducky somehow seemed to managed to communicate - if you could call it that - with Gibbs without using his name, it was always 'Dr. Mallard'.
Tony also remembered how worried Gibbs had been when Ducky had been kidnapped, and how hard he'd pushed the team in order to find Ducky; he also remembered the look on Gibbs's face when they did find him. And most of all he remembered the frantic, because that was what it was, and lengthy embrace that Gibbs had given Ducky.
But now they were so far apart, they might have been strangers or people who'd only just met. Except Tony knew that both of them were hurting, even if they weren't prepared to admit it. Very few people knew that Tony wasn't as shallow and lacking in insightfulness as he appeared to be.
He sighed. There was nothing he could do, nothing any of them could do, especially as they weren't meant to know about Gibbs and Ducky's 'more than just good friends relationship', to help Gibbs and Ducky and stop them from hurting - one another as well as themselves.
Nor was there anything Tony could do, because he'd tried, he'd really tried, to bring Gibbs back; because that's what they all wanted: Gibbs; not the memory of Gibbs. The only person who could possibly do that, was the one person who seemed not to care. The only person who didn't seem pleased that Gibbs was back. Ducky.
Tony sighed again; the bottle was empty, but there was another one in the icebox. He fetched it.
He was about to take a long swallow, when he paused and looked at his hands. So what if they didn't impress Franks. Who cared? Franks was back in Mexico; he didn't count. Gibbs did. And Gibbs was back.
Or was he?
Tony pushed that thought from his mind, pushed away the Gibbs who'd been haunting the NCIS office for the last few weeks, and from his memory pulled the real Gibbs. For now maybe the memory would suffice.
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