Disclaimer: I'm not Bellesario or CBS, so I don't claim to own them.
Setting: Episode Tag to 06x16 Bounce
Characters: DiNozzo; Gibbs
Word Count: 1,000
Note: Companion Piece to Bouncing Ideas
Crossposted: ncisfanfic; ncis_fic; ncis_haven; tonydinozzo; gibbsbasement
Summary: Gibbs knew they had a lot of crap to clear the air about...
Gibbs finally risked a glance towards the steps. It had been an hour since Tony had made his way down to the bottom steps and not a word had been said. The only sound was the rhythmic rasp of his sandpaper over a piece of wood that didn't need sanding and the hum of the small television that was set to a muted news program. This was the longest he'd ever seen Tony go without breaking the silence of the basement. Just the thought of what might be going on within the younger man's mind was enough to put an uneasy feeling in Gibbs' gut.
"You remember the night that Kate taught me to use chopsticks?"
The soft voice almost caused Gibbs to lose his composure. He wasn't sure what to expect out of Tony tonight, but talking about Kate hadn't even crossed his mind. Gibbs knew they had a lot of crap to clear the air about, so he put down his sandpaper and gave the conversation his full attention. Leaning back against a workbench, Gibbs did his best to answer.
"Think so. She forgot to order forks, I wouldn't give you my soup and then you managed to fling a piece of shrimp onto Kate's white shirt."
Tony gave a small laugh at the memory. "Yeah, she made me pay her dry cleaning bill on that one. Did you know that's where I got the idea from?"
"What idea's that, DiNozzo?" Gibbs had always found it difficult to follow Tony's logic at times, but he had learned to just go with the flow and it would lead to something he could work with.
"Campfires. Remember how after Viv and before Kate we'd sit down in Abby's lab or autopsy with takeout and look at the case from every angle. When Kate came along, we mainly stayed at the desks, but we still did it. It wasn't until we got the Probie that you started getting reports from us one-to-one or with us all at our own desks. After Kate... When you left for Mexico, everyone was messed up. Abby wasn't talking and it was like a funeral and memorial service all rolled into one black package in her lab. McGee wouldn't listen to me and Ziva just wasn't here if you get what I mean. They -we- were falling apart and, to top it off, I had Jenny breathing down my neck."
Gibbs held his breath, willing himself not to interrupt. This was a long time coming and Tony needed to get it all out before Gibbs could work on fixing things between them.
"I thought about leaving a few times. Especially a month in, when Jenny started outlining the damned undercover operation. The way that went, everyone would have been better off if I had packed my backs. Did you know that Renny's case started the day after you left?"
"Saw the dates on the jacket," Gibbs risked answering. Tony was getting close to the crux of the reason he had shown up in the basement and Gibbs wanted to make sure they resolved it.
"Nothing was right that week. But I guess I can't lay the blame on anyone else. I should have sucked it up and did my job right. Instead, an innocent man lost three years of his life and more."
Gibbs decided it was time to move and in a few quick strides he was in front of Tony's slumped position on the steps. He placed his hands on Tony's shoulders and encouraged him to look up. The hurt that Gibbs could see swimming within Tony's eyes cut him to the bone.
"You were doing your job, Agent DiNozzo," Gibbs said with full authority. "The boss' job doesn't end with making the calls on the case. It also includes looking out for your people. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice one for the good of the other. You made a call, even if you weren't aware of making it at the time, and you took care of your people."
"But-" and before Tony could mount an argument, Gibbs cut him off.
"Renny Grant got a bum deal. So did you. I knew you were ready to be the boss, just like you still are, but I failed in preparing the others to accept you as boss. That's on my shoulders, not yours. You managed to make it work and did a damn fine job too. I read through all your case reports when I came back, Tony, even Renny's."
Tony's eyes opened wide, but he kept his mouth shut.
"Agreed with every decision you made, but you didn't need me to tell you that. You wouldn't have closed them if you weren't satisfied. Plus," Gibbs paused, "I needed a way to get my head screwed on the rest of the way. I remembered a lot in Mexico, but it wasn't all there when I came back."
"It's why I didn't leave when Jenny gave me an out," Tony admitted quietly. "You weren't a hundred percent and I couldn't leave my team behind knowing that. No matter what they thought about me. She offered me Rota you know?" Tony gave a wry glance at Gibbs and Gibbs couldn't help but smile back at the hint of his Tony shining through.
"Jen told me after I chewed her out for giving a spot like that to Cassie Yates without asking you first," Gibbs said as he tugged Tony to his feet. "Got some beers in the fridge."
Tony gave a nod and followed him up the stairs. While Gibbs gathered the drinks, Tony reheated the pizza he had brought.
Nothing was spoken as they drank and enjoyed the food in companionable silence. However, when the dishes were clean and the trash cleared away, Gibbs wanted to get one final word in with Tony.
"I'm glad you stayed. Would have been a hell of a commute when I needed my senior field agent to solve a case."