- Explicit Sex
Tony was sitting on the beach reading in the spring sun before it dipped to low to provide any real warmth. The slight chill the wind carried in from the sea was refreshing but got a bite as soon as the sun was gone.
He sighed as his phone rang in the basket he used to bring down a thermos of tea and some self-baked cookies. He hadn’t gone undisturbed for the week and a half he’d been here, as the various parties investigating the Big NCIS Mess™ had had questions for him. And he hadn’t expected any differently. It surprised him to see not a random DC office number but one of his saved ones displayed on the screen.
“Hi, Gibbs. Who managed to drag your stubborn ass home?”
“DiNozzo.” The greeting was followed by a silence that Tony decided to wait out. Gibbs had called so he must have something to say and Tony was done talking for the man. “SecNav insisted I come back. What the heck went wrong here?”
Tony sighed. He’d been puzzling on and off about how he’d explain all this to his former boss.
“I played the clown for so many reasons, you didn’t exactly support my authority as SFA, and I let you, we spoiled the kids, then you dumped the team lead on me with a less than raving vote of confidence, and your former lover has an axe to grind and figured I’d make an expendable stone. At least that’s the Cliff’s Notes version.” He could almost hear Gibbs percolating on the other end.
“At first, I thought you must have fucked things up, and I was mad. But I couldn’t reach you, so I had time to stew over the files SecNav gave me. I don’t have the whole picture, but I saw enough. Shit of this proportion doesn’t brew that quickly. This can’t be your fault.”
“Thanks, that really means a lot coming from you. You had no problem reaching me now,” Tony prodded.
“I was staring at your entry in my contacts, at the numbers I couldn’t reach you through. Then I noticed that there was a second cell number. Figured I’d give it a try.”
“So your memory is still spotty.”
A grunt was unsurprisingly all the answer he got.
“What are you going to do now?”
“Don’t know. But staying here for a while at least. Some questions SecNav had I could help with, others are too sketchy still. I’m not sure I want to face it all.”
“Are you sure you’re really ready for retirement? You know Shepherd never processed your paperwork.”
“Yeah, Davenport told me. Can’t say I’m surprised or mad about that. He gave me until whenever this whole situation is sorted.”
“It wouldn’t be fair to let a new director start with that kind of uncertainty. DC needs an MCRT, and there’s currently not a lot of it left.”
“Yeah. Balboa’s team is acting MCRT, and if I don’t come back, that’ll become permanent.”
“It’s a good solution. They are a very solid and competent team.” Tony fell silent, not wanting to prod Gibbs any further on his plans but also not sure where else to take the conversation next.
“You’re sure about not coming back? Davenport seemed certain, it’s just…”
“Yes, I’m sure. It wouldn’t be good for my mental health to come back, at least not for a good long while. Few years down the road… who knows?” He didn’t think he’d ever want to go back to NCIS, but Gibbs sounded unusually vulnerable, by Gibbs’ standard that was. Tony figured it wouldn’t hurt to throw him a glimmer of hope.
“I don’t think I wanna do the job without you on my six anymore.”
“I don’t want to guilt you into anything, Tony. You do what’s right for you. Just saying it as it is.”
Tony had to swallow heavily at the soft and heartfelt tone of Gibbs’ voice.
“Thank you, boss. It’ll be odd when I go back into the field one day and don’t have you watching my six either.” He cleared his throat uncomfortable with the degree of emotionalism they had reached. Even with all the soul searching he’d done during his vacation, heart to hearts with Gibbs were a whole different level.
“There are lots of things you could do within NCIS that don’t require you going out in the field.”
“You can imagine me behind a desk all the time, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked sarcastically.
“Nope, that surpasses imagination and goes right into hallucinatory territory, and I am decidedly too sober for that,” Tony snarked back to lighten the mood. This they were familiar with. “But I can see you running ops from MTAC and training agents. Maybe not the totally fresh probies, but those that have already grown a spine and shown some aptitude.”
“Can I ask you for one thing, no matter what you want to do with your future?”
“Asking has never hurt anyone.”
“Go see someone about your amnesia and do the work to get it all sorted.” He could hear Gibbs gear up to shut him down, so he charged forwards, not leaving any room for protest. “I know how much you hate this kind of thing, I’m not the biggest fan either. But if you go back to work, a spotty memory that comes back at random can be a serious danger. And even if you decided to switch to woodworking full time, there are enemies from the past that you need to remember to keep yourself safe. So please find someone you can work with and get help.”
The answer was a long time coming, but Tony counted it as a win that Gibbs was neither yelling nor hanging up.
“I’ll think about it.” Gibbs cleared his throat and changed the topic. “When are you coming back?”
“I’ve got another week and a half left in my little paradise here unless I’m needed for the investigation for something that can’t be done over the phone or email.”
“Are you doing alright?”
“Not a hundred per cent yet, but getting there. Taking a timeout was the best idea for now.”
“Good. Take care of yourself.”
The line went dead, and Tony snorted. Some things would never change, and the thought was quite comforting. As he dropped the phone back into the basket, he relaxed as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The question of how Gibbs would react to recent events had been a worry he had mostly pushed aside because there was nothing to do about it and he didn’t even have a solid foundation for an educated guess with Gibbs having been blown out of sorts. That the older man wasn’t blaming Tony was a huge relief.
It was time to load up his car again and head back home. Technically, Tony had rented his little cottage by the sea until the next day, but Jimmy had called earlier in the week, and Tony had promised him a night of pizza, beer and movies. It wasn’t that he wasn’t looking forward to it, quite the opposite. But the easy-going coastal town his temporary home belonged to had grown on him more than he expected.
Sure, the lack of wild parties, colourful drinks and barely legal women to flirt with would shock most everyone at work, but that was just another symptom of what had gone wrong.
Tony had needed a place where he could simply reconnect with himself and find his baseline again. And this simple but cosy house with just a hard drive full of movies and a large stack of books for company had been perfect. He’d ventured into the town for some shopping, a coffee or a beer almost every day and with the tourist season still ahead of them, the townsfolk had been friendly and easy to chat with. Tony had almost forgotten what it was like to talk to people who had no expectations and who he could be just as he was with.
Whatever he did in the future, he would make sure this was his new normal and not the exception.
Everything stowed in the car and keys dropped off with the owners, Tony took the scenic road home. It was only a few hours up to DC and still early in the day, so why put himself through the stress on the highway.
He found his apartment freshly cleaned and aired as his cleaner had promised. She’d even left him a batch of her homemade cookies as a welcome home goodie, which he had to hide away at least some of to save for later. Jimmy might look skinny, but he could inhale chocolate chip cookies faster than you could watch.
He put on a load of laundry, sorted through the mail that had accumulated in his absence and then checked his pantry. He’d cleared out the fridge, so that would need complete restocking. Grocery shopping on a Friday afternoon wasn’t his prefered pastime but needs must, and Mrs Dupont had demanded he cook her dinner and play the piano for her as payment for her looking after goldfish Kate. The old lady had a dry wit and sharp mind, so Tony didn’t consider entertaining her for an evening any kind of hardship. He’d called her a few days before to see if the next evening was convenient and had put together a meal one afternoon at the beach. Now, he just needed all the ingredients.
The stores weren’t too bad, but he was more than happy once he’d carried all his shopping upstairs. Tony didn’t like to get the often flimsy bags the shops used for bagging, preferring to bring his own reusable ones or on large trips like today, sturdy boxes. He also never understood the satisfaction other men got from carrying everything inside in one go, threatening their circulation along the way. His building had a lift for a reason. Three trips for a full restock shopping was perfectly acceptable in his opinion.
After everything was put away, he had just enough time left to prep a few veggies with a dip for Jimmy and him to snack on until the pizza arrived and some less healthy snacks for the rest of the evening.
The expected knock on his door came punctual as ever, and he opened it with a smile.
“You won’t believe what happened today!” Jimmy breathed into the apartment and flopped down onto the couch.
“So nice to see you, Mr Palmer. Please, make yourself at home,” Tony couldn’t help but mock the younger man, though the unusual behaviour had him curious. Jimmy just waved him off, so Tony joined him on the couch. “Fill me in then.”
“Director Shepherd got fired by SecNav in the bullpen after she had some major screaming fit.” The gleeful smile on Jimmy’s face told Tony that he had much more to tell than this short summary.
“Don’t make me tickle the details out of you, autopsy gremlin. Spill!”
“Okay, okay! So it had gotten around that there was some major investigation going on within NCIS even though it was all kept very hush-hush. As nobody knew anything for sure, the rumours were flying wild. From what little you’ve told me about your resignation, I’m pretty sure you’ve known more about it since the beginning, but I understand that you couldn’t say anything. Anyway, the leading theories all included Shepherd being in some major troubles, but nobody had a clue why. Still don’t for that matter.
“So the surprise was minimal and the anticipation unbearable when today, SecNav, Admiral Chegwidden and someone from the Inspector General’s office walked in like they owned the place and headed up to the director’s office. You wouldn’t believe how many people suddenly had stuff to do around the bullpen. I was already there delivering some results, but I called Dr Mallard upstairs as well. He’s felt left out too much in recent months.”
Tony cringed a little at that remark. Jimmy had told him during one of their phone calls that after Gibbs’ secrets being revealed in the aftermath of the bombing, Ducky hadn’t taken it well that Tony had felt forced to quit NCIS and vanished without ever mentioning anything to the ME or even saying goodbye.
“I’ll take him out to dinner soon and explain it all to him as much as I can. You know this was never about either of you guys, it just all happened so fast in the end. If the investigation is mostly out of the box now, that should make that explanation a bit easier.”
“I know you had more urgent matters to handle than keeping us in the loop and I’m sure Dr Mallard will understand that too. I’m just saying it how it is.”
Tony nodded. “Okay, what happened next?”
“Whatever they had to talk about didn’t take as long as I would have expected. After maybe 20 minutes, Shepherd came storming out of her office, and though they tried to get her to calm down, she just kept carrying on. It wasn’t all that coherent, so it didn’t make much sense to me. She kept yelling about how justice needed to be served and that nobody but her truly cared. There was also a lot about her having worked hard for her chance and that she deserved a go at it and she didn’t care what kind of games the CIA was trying to play. And why NCIS even bothered employing agents who didn’t have the fortitude to do what was needed and lots of other things that really didn’t make much sense without the missing context.”
Tony knew his eyes were pretty huge at this point, but he could barely prevent his mouth from hanging open. That Shepherd had such a public meltdown was surprising even to him, and he wondered if Davenport would offer him the details behind it at some point. Not that Tony had any legitimate reason to know, but he was as curious as the proverbial cat, he just gave his best not to get killed along the way.
Jimmy continued on with his story seemingly satisfied by Tony’s expression.
“Everybody was totally stunned and just looking back and forth between her and SevNav and waiting for something to happen. And suddenly Gibbs was there, out of nowhere like he always is. I didn’t even know he was back from Mexico. Anyway, he just hollered over her screeching that it was enough. She must have been so surprised to see him as well, that she actually shut up. And then SecNav, calm as you please, says ‘Thank you, Gibbs. Now, Director Shepherd, if you do not appreciate my offer of early retirement and instead choose to disgrace the agency with this farce, you may consider yourself fired instead.’ And he made this little gesture and some people who must have come with him or from the Inspector General or something peeled away from the crowd and arrested her.
“I have no idea what they are charging her with, and the speculations are even wilder now that she’s been proven to be in trouble. I heard some people mention that it was suspicious that you had left such a short while before and everyone was wondering about Gibbs suddenly showing up again, but he just vanished into the director’s office with SecNav, after bellowing if nobody had anything to do at NCIS anymore.”
“I do miss all the good stuff. Couldn’t you have asked Abby for the security footage?”
“Better not. She’s got some trouble of her own because people complained about her Gibbs shrine and I think it opened up a damn and they mentioned other things like her loud music. That Granger guy had her lab audited and sent her to some group therapy thing about a healthy balance between workplace and personal feelings. She’s been complaining about it a lot, but she’s also worried about losing her job and not being there when Gibbs returns, so she’s kinda toeing the line for now.”
“That her biggest worry is not being there for Gibbs is probably a sign that she really needs that therapy,” Tony commented and silently congratulated Granger on this deviously fitting punishment. “Anything else I missed?”
“Hmm, I already told you that Ziva seems to have gotten more and more paranoid since you left and the investigation rumours started. Oh! McGee has been acting weird the last few days as well. Sort of a mixture between somebody took his favourite toy away and a guilty conscience. Though at first, he seemed more angry and then it changed. I have no idea what that is about.”
Tony figured it had most likely something to do with the book that the JAG investigator had told him would not get published any time soon or without a shit-ton of alterations. Seemed there was at least hoping that McPoet had eventually seen whatever the issues had been. Why else would he look guilty.
Jimmy’s stomach growled, and he smiled sheepishly.
“I might have forgotten lunch over all the excitement at work today.”
Tony pushed the plate with the veggies his way and reached for his phone.
They relaxed into the evening watching the Back To The Future trilogy, that Tony still couldn’t believe Jimmy hadn’t seen before, laughing about the ridiculousness of the pseudo-science and eating more food than was strictly necessary. Tony occasionally found his thoughts straying towards the latest developments at NCIS but told himself that they weren’t any of his concern anymore.
“This was fun!” Jimmy declared when the credits of the last movie were running over the screen. “I’m not entirely sure about the last third one, though.”
Tony shrugged. “As far as trilogies go, others did much worse.”
“That is true.” Jimmy nibbled on the last chocolate chip cookie Tony had set out. “Talking about the future… what are your plans for yours?”
Tony felt like fidgeting at that question. So far, he hadn’t told anyone close to him about what he intended. Feeling very grown up about it, he started stacking empty bowls instead.
“Oh, you know, just this and that. Catching up on normal life, reconnecting with old friends. I have an appointment at GWU to change my enrollment to full time…”
“Tony! That’s awesome! I’m so happy that you’re pursuing your degree in earnest now instead of squeezing it in where you can. I’m sure you’ll do really well. And we can even meet up on campus sometimes and maybe stay friends.” Jimmy’s initial enthusiasm had tapered out into insecurity at the end, and Tony didn’t like that.
“Of course, we’ll stay friends, at least I’d hoped so. You’re basically what kept me sane through this mess, and as much as I teased you in the beginning, I always knew that you’re a great and loyal guy. I’d truly miss our conversations, and now that my life is no longer a madhouse, we could have more evenings like this.”
“And I’ll make sure you have a seat for lunch for when the cool kids’ table starts to bore you.”
“I’m too old for the cool kids’ table, Jimmy,” Tony groaned. “Suddenly this sounds like a not so brilliant idea.”
“I think it’ll turn out to be one of the best ideas of your life!”
Tony was just going to borrow some of that confidence until he felt it himself. Fake it till you make it – right?