Picking Up the Pieces - Chapter 2

Tony DiNozzo emerged from his bathroom hung-over, his hair still damp from the recent—hot this time—shower, yet feeling better than he had in months. His stomach was performing cartwheels, his head hurt, and his knees couldn’t stop shaking, but he felt better.

Not good. He’d never feel good again. But definitely better. And he had the man who currently sat behind his kitchen island, seeping coffee from a mug, and reading a newspaper to thank for that.

But first, he had to apologize to him.

Gibbs lifted his head, his eyes running over DiNozzo. “Feeling better?” he asked.

Tony opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Not surprising. He cleared his throat. “Yeah. Thanks, boss.”

A corner of Gibbs’ mouth turned up, and he returned to reading the paper.

Tony winced again at the memory of what had happened the previous night. He’d come to as Gibbs was throwing him into the backseat of his car, but promptly fell back to sleep. He’d roused again somewhere in Virginia before oblivion took him again. The last time he’d come out of the drunken stupor had been when Gibbs had muscled him up the stairs, into his apartment, and directly under an ice-cold shower. Clothes and all.

“I’m sorry, boss,” he whispered.

“Don’t mention it.”

Tony wouldn’t be deterred. “I’m really sorry, boss. For what I put everybody through in the past months—”

“You should be telling that to the others as well.”

Tony swallowed. “I will. After I apologize to you.”

Gibbs pinned him with a glare. “You don’t have to, DiNozzo.”

“Yeah, I do. I do. For the way I behaved last night. For punching you—”

“You missed.”

“For what I said.” Tony winced again. He’d lashed out last night. “I was out of line. You’re not to blame—”

“You’re not either.” When Tony shook his head, Gibbs continued, “You’re not to blame, Tony. I know it, everyone knows it. You know it, too. Deep down, you know it’s true. It’ll sink in eventually.”

“Has it sunk with you?”

Gibbs smiled wryly. “Not yet.” Before Tony could speak again, he nodded toward the carafe of coffee on the counter. “Get some.”

When Gibbs offered coffee, it meant they were good. Still, Tony suppressed a shudder. When Gibbs made coffee, on the other hand, meant it was dark, thick, and bitter and to drink it one had to have an ironclad stomach. Since he hasn’t yet mastered the skill of drinking Gibbs-made coffee without any trimmings, he poured himself only half a cup and filled the other half with sugar and cream to take the sting out. He didn’t miss Gibbs’ glare at the desecration, but as he grinned at his former boss, he was rewarded with a chuckle and shrug.

Yeah, they were good.

“So, does that mean I get my badge back?”

Where did that one come from? He’d quit a couple of days after the news of...He shook his head. He hadn’t been planning on going back to D.C., of going back to work. Did he still want to work for NCIS? In the same office? Looking across the bullpen at some stranger occupying that desk?

Jesus.

“I never received your resignation, DiNozzo.”

Tony looked at Gibbs. He’d left the envelope with the badge on his desk.

“Your badge is in your gun-drawer,” Gibbs said. “And I burned the paper it was wrapped in.”

Tony swallowed, blinking back tears. Before, he’d laugh them off, embarrassed at his boss seeing him emotional, but this time it was different. Gibbs understood. He’d been there.

Gibbs nodded. “Even with the three months you’d been away, you still have some personal time left. You can come back when you’re ready.” He stood, rinsed his cup, and put a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “We’ll take it one day at a time.”

“Thanks, boss.”

Gibbs was in his face in a heartbeat. “But don’t you ever do something as stupid as disappearing again, DiNozzo.” He slapped him on the back of the head, and left him standing in his kitchen smiling through tears.

~~~

“Tony!” Abby squeaked when he walked into her lab the next week. “Tony!” She threw her arms around him, squeezing with all of her might. And promptly burst into tears.

“Abby,” he whispered, hugging her back. “Don’t. Please.”

She quickly released him, sniffed, wiped her eyes, and looked at him. Really looked at him. And her heart broke. She cupped his cheeks with her hands, and fought back tears. He looked terrible. Pale and gaunt, his skin sallow looking, with dark circles under eyes that have lost their spark.

“Oh, Tony,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

He attempted a smile. “It’s all right, Abby.”

If she hadn’t known before he’d loved Ziva, she had her proof now. No man looked like that when a co-worker died. Not even if that co-worker was a best friend. He looked like a man whose world has come tumbling down around him, like a man whose heart was utterly and irrevocably broken. Gone was the Tony DiNozzo they all loved—the funny, debonair guy that took everything in life as a joke. Instead of him they got Anthony DiNozzo, a man forged in pain and heartbreak, a man who knew full well what it meant to have loved and lost, and still, if ever, unable and unwilling to accept that loss.

He’d looked like that when he’d come back from Israel without Ziva, when he’d told them she wasn’t coming back. And she’d known then something had happened between them, something poignant, yet she’d never gathered the courage to ask. She hadn’t wanted to pry.

But after a while, he’d reverted back to the old Tony. Maybe not full-on old Tony, there had always been a sliver of sadness in his eyes even then, but after learning of Ziva’s death and having disappeared for more than three months...He’d changed. They’d all changed, but he’d been impacted the most, and she feared—no, she knew, he’d never recover. Not fully.

“So,” she said as cheerfully as she could, “where have you been?”

“Like you don’t know, Abbs.”

She didn’t. Not really. She’d helped Gibbs track him at first, she and McGee, but then he’d fallen off the grid, and Gibbs flew solo from then on. Lucky for them Gibbs knew how to find people who didn’t want to be found.

“Tell me anyway. Did you see the sights?”

A corner of his mouth turned up slightly. A very Gibbs-like gesture, she thought. But the two men were more alike now than ever. “If you count the interior of every bar from here and Fuckville, North Carolina sights, then yes.”

She winced as much for the every-bar comment as the made-up city name. He’s never used such language before. It was disconcerting, and somewhat frightening, seeing such drastic changes in him, beside the obvious exterior ones.

“I see,” was all she could muster. “Well, you’re back now, so...”

“So…”

They stood there in rather uncomfortable silence and she had no idea as what to say to fill that void. It was as if she shared her lab with a stranger. A stranger with a familiar face, but a stranger nonetheless.

The silence was so heavy and so utterly uncomfortable, she almost kissed McGee when he came to ask them whether they wanted to grab something to eat.

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