Gibbs caught Tony by the arm, just above the elbow. "Care to tell me what the Hell that was all about?" he demanded in a hard tone. Tony looked up at him, eyes full of anger, mouth arranged in a sulky pout.
"No, boss, I don't."
Gibbs tightened his grip. The sulk was interrupted by a wince. "Did that sound like a request, DiNozzo?"
Tony pulled against his grip.
"You're just going to hurt yourself." Gibbs walked his second towards the stairs. Agents scattered before them. They'd never seen Gibbs this angry with Tony before. Hell, he'd never been this angry with him before. The boy was acting like a spoiled brat. Gibbs was sick of it. Tony's jaw was set. It looked like the young man was building a good steam of anger himself. They exited onto the roof. Gibbs spun Tony to face him, pressing his back to the housing for the stairs. "Answer me, DiNozzo."
"Just tell me when I'm going to be leaving."
"You aren't going anywhere."
"Right." Tony snorted. "I'm not blind, boss. If you're going to get me off your team, just do it and stop pussy-footing around it."
Gibbs' eyes narrowed. "What idiot put it into your head that you're leaving my team?"
"Whatever. I'll be working on those minutes."
"No, DiNozzo, you will explain yourself."
"Christ, boss, you keep sending me to meetings that your too savvy to be sucked into. You keep lending me to side projects. If I'm supposed to be interviewing new bosses, you should have told me."
"You aren't making any sense."
"Then let me paint you a picture, okay? First, you hire Kate. Not an issue. She's a good agent. Heads and tails above Viv. We've almost always had three people on the team. She lasted longer than any of the probies we've had. Next, you hire McGee. Brilliant kid, two very useful degrees, and the potential to be excellent now that he's grown some backbone. Next, you start sending me to meetings and loaning me out. Something you haven't done since the first year I worked for you. So, seems to me you've gotten your prefect little team. Time to get rid of the Baltimore burn-out."
"I've been whoring you out so that you could meet the other teams. And I haven't been sending you to meetings because most of the time you *were* the entire team. You're my second in command, Tony. You're well on your way to getting your own command. You just need to meet the people who'll be making that decision."
"I don't want my own command, Gibbs! I'm not looking for some posting, even if it's Pearl. I don't want to work for anyone else! But if you're pushing me out, just do it. Don't torture me with your golden children - top of the class, geniuses who can read and write, and use all the perfect buzzwords. Every time you hire a new one for me to train, it starts. I'm tired of being second."
Gibbs cuffed him gently upside the head. "You're being an idiot, Tony. You deserve to be promoted to lead."
"That's what you want for me. It's not what I want. Damn it, Gibbs, once you retire, I'm out of NCIS."
"Why? You love this job."
Tony looked down and away. "I'm a burnout, Gibbs. You know that. If I stay too long, I'll end up eating a bullet. I nearly did in Baltimore."
"I remember," Gibbs said softly. "I remember taking the gun out of your hand and giving you coffee and a case-file instead. You solved my three-year-old cold case in three hours. And that, right there, is why I know you're a good lead. You see things that the rest of the world doesn't, Tony. You see into people better than any profiler."
"Then why doesn't it work on you? You never open up. You never let me in."
That topic was dangerously close to his heart, so Gibbs diverted the questions. "Do you really believe that I hired McGee to replace you?"
"Yes. He's perfect. Obedient, intelligent, computer-savvy, and Abby likes him."
"So do you."
"Yeah. That's why it hurts. If you were replacing me with someone who wasn't one of your wunderkinds, I'd be pissed."
"You aren't a thing I can replace."
"You're stupid not to, boss. You've got a Secret Service Agent who graduated top of her class in college. You've got a boy genius geek who's starting to develop the instincts. And you've got me, a B student, burn-out cop. I'm a dime a dozen."
Gibbs scowled. "The team has always been meant to be four people. This is just the first time I've managed to find three keepers. And you're selling yourself short again. You speak three languages fluently. You're a born negotiator. You're an undercover genius. And you have a knack for finding answers. You'd break your own heart to bring justice to one of our victims. And you are not a burn out. Oh, the potential is there. I can see it in your eyes sometimes when a case gets bad, or you get tired, but you are not a burnout. If I hear it come out of your mouth again, I'll... I'll take you over my knee."
Tony opened his mouth to snap something, but Gibbs could see the words registering on his brain. "Really?"
"You hide your kinks really well, boss. Abs will be impressed." The young man looked up at Gibbs, unshed tears making his eyes glitter. "The only reason I'm not is because of you. And I won't make it without you there. I need you, boss."
Gibbs frowned. "Why? Make me understand it."
"I don't want to be lead. I don't want to have to deal with the politics or the paperwork. I don't want to have to make all the decisions. It's what was killing me in Baltimore. They had me on every high-profile task force. I was the media liaison. It drove me crazy. The night you barged into my private gripe session with my gun wasn't the first time. It was comforting just to have the option. Then you sailed in and turned my world upside down. And it wasn't the job, Gibbs. It was you. You're the only person I've ever trusted to have my back, the only one I can't lie to, the only one who cares enough to smack me down when I act up. God, Gibbs, you're better to me than my own parents. At least you'd care if I died! But you're pushing me away and it hurts. I need you, boss." Tony's voice dropped until Gibbs could barely hear him. "You make me feel safe."
Gibbs dropped his chin and closed his eyes for a moment. Then, he pulled the young man into a one-armed hug. "You're too smart to be stuck with an old, stubborn gunny for the rest of your career. And if you think I'm going to let you sabotage yourself just so that you can stay on my team, you're an idiot. I'm not sending you away, Tony. I just wanted you to have the opportunity. The only person who's ever put up with me longer is Stan and he had an ulcer by the end of it."
"Yeah, well, he's high-strung. McGee might develop one if he's not careful." Tony's laughter was strained. "You're still mad at me, aren't you?"
Gibbs snorted. "You push my buttons like a pro. The only other person who can piss me off like you do is my second wife."
"Was that an offer?" Tony pulled away, grinning.
Gibbs smirked. "Figure it out. That's what I pay you for."
"Figuring you out? Nah. I'd do that for free."
"Come on. You've got to apologize to McGee."
"Because I said so."
Tony rolled his eyes. "But he expects me to rag on him."
"You went over the line. And if you don't apologize, we'll have an appointment in the gym." The young man winced. "Clear?"
"And you aren't going anywhere unless you ask me specifically."
"Got it, boss." Tony's smile was easier now. Gibbs nodded towards the door.
"Get on with it."
The young man paused at the door. "Boss?"
"Love you too." He winked, then disappeared down the stairs. Gibbs chuckled and followed.