Broken and Unbroken

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Not betaed. Also, I'm not at all sure that I've written enough emotion into this scene to make it work, but I feel like I need to get this posted, so here we go anyway.

Tony sat on his couch and stared at the bottle of scotch on his coffee table. It glowed a deep amber color in the light of the single lamp that he'd left on. Pretty, really. Even inviting. But despite the fact that Tony had bought the bottle for the express purpose of getting himself drunk tonight, he hadn't broken the seal.

Drinking had seemed appropriate. He'd been suspended pending a formal internal NCIS investigation. Knowing what the result of that investigation was going to be, he knew he was going to lose his job. Hell, he'd probably never work in law enforcement again, with this on his record. Drowning his sorrows was the next logical step.

Problem was, he didn't have any sorrows to drown.

Oh, sure, it was going to hurt to leave NCIS. It was going to be hard to say goodbye to the team, to have to figure out a whole new career. It'd probably be best if he switched cities again. But despite all of that, Tony just couldn't work up the kind of self-pity and resentment that he'd need a bottle of scotch to dull. He'd known exactly what he was doing when he'd looked the Director right in the eye and told her, in front of three witnesses, that he'd planted a duplicate of the murder weapon in their suspect's home.

It didn't matter that the real knife had been there, before the guy caught wind of the investigation and disposed of it a little more securely. It didn't matter that the guy was as guilty as sin and they all knew it. It didn't even matter that the only reason the substitution had been discovered was because the slime bag had taken a plea bargain and describing the crime had been a condition of the deal.

The bottom line was, evidence had been tampered with and someone had to go down for it. But despite everything, Tony had no regrets about what he'd done. He'd gone into the Director's office with his eyes open.

Sighing, Tony stood and picked up the scotch. It was good stuff. Might as well save it for later.

The brisk knock on his apartment door was a surprise. Tony stood there, the scotch dangling from his fingers, and stared at the door for so long that the knock came again.

"Are you going to make me use my key, DiNozzo?" Gibbs called through the door.

Actually, that sounded like a good idea. Let Gibbs come to him for once. Tony turned away from the door and headed for the kitchen instead. He was sliding the scotch into a cupboard when he heard the key in the lock and the door opening. When he turned around Gibbs was standing by his kitchen table, watching Tony over the breakfast bar.

"You shouldn't be here, Gibbs," Tony said calmly. "Wouldn't want the taint to rub off on you. The team is already going to be walking on eggshells because of me."

"I want to know why you lied to the Director," Gibbs said flatly.

Tony slid his hands into his pockets and shrugged. "I didn't lie. The knife was planted."

"But not by you," Gibbs said harshly.

"No, you took care of that." Tony waved at his coffee machine. "You want a cup? It'll take a minute to get it going, but--"

"No, I do not want a cup of fucking coffee!" Gibbs barked. "I want to know why you're taking the fall for something you didn't do."

"Someone had to come clean, and it was pretty obvious it wasn't going to be you." Tony folded his arms across his chest. "Why are you even here, Gibbs? You're in the clear. It's all taken care of. Don't you have better things to do?" Tony's lips twisted into something that wasn't quite a smile. "You can't expect me to believe that you're concerned about me lying to the Director."

Gibbs clenched his jaw so hard that Tony could see the muscle jumping. "You don't owe me this, Tony."

Tony's eyes went wide. "You think that's why I'm doing this?" he demanded incredulously. "You're damn right that I don't owe you anything! It's your job to teach younger agents, not some fucking favor you do them. Of course I don't owe you anything! If there was a debt to be paid, I accounted for it when I held the team together for four months while you got shit faced in Mexico before you decided that gee, maybe you weren't ready to retire yet, and stepped right back in where you left off. Trust me, owing you has nothing to do with this."

"Then why do it?" Gibbs demanded.

Tony braced his hands on the kitchen counter and leaned over the breakfast bar, getting right into Gibbs's face. "Because Abby and Ziva and even Ducky, as pissed at you as he is, need you more than they need me," he said with quiet intensity. "Because you're a better agent than I am. Because you're the standard that dozens of other agents measure themselves by, and I'm not going to see that standard broken, even if you don't live up to it yourself. Because maybe seeing someone else pay for your arrogance is the wake up call you need."

Gibbs was silent for a long time. "My arrogance?" he asked at last.

Tony pushed himself back away from the counter and sighed. "I'm not stupid, Gibbs. This is the first time you got caught, but I'd bet money that it's not the first time you broke the rules. I don't know what it was--tampering with evidence, threatening a witness, covering for someone--but I'm sure this is old hat by now." Tony paused, examining the look on Gibbs's face, the tightness around his eyes. "Yeah, definitely old hat. At some point you decided that you were better than the system. That you understood more, than it was okay to break the rules when you thought it was right. If that's not arrogance, I don't know what is."

"You shouldn't go down for this, Tony," Gibbs said at last. At least he had enough respect for Tony not to deny it. "You've got a hell of a career ahead of you."

"Not anymore." Tony shrugged. "I'm young. I can start over."

"I'm old," Gibbs said dryly. "I can retire."

"You tried that," Tony said. "It didn't work. Abby needs you, Gibbs. So does Ducky, or he wouldn't have been so pissed when you left. Given that it was Ziva that brought you back, I don't think I need to elaborate there."

"Retiring doesn't have to mean going back to Mexico."

Tony frowned. "Why are you even arguing with me about this, Gibbs? It's taken care of. You don't have to give anything up."

"Because I don't want you to ruin your career over something you didn't do!" Gibbs said impatiently. "What is so hard to understand here?"

"Why don't we start with why you care and go from there?" Tony snapped. "Your conscience hasn't bothered you too much before now."

Gibbs stiffened. "Maybe not," he grated. "But maybe this is the wake up call I needed."

Tony snorted, pulled his phone out of his pocket, and handed it to Gibbs. "Prove it. The Director is speed dial number six."

Gibbs took the phone from Tony's hand, their eyes locked together as he very deliberately speed dialed number six. Tony's mouth went dry. He could hear, faintly, when someone picked up on the other end. "It's me," Gibbs said. "I need to talk to you about Tony's case."

"Wait," Tony blurted.

"Hang on a second," Gibbs said into the phone. He lowered it from his ear and pressed it against his chest to muffle the sound. "What is it, Tony?"

"You've had your wake up call," Tony said. "They still need you more than they need me."

Gibbs seemed to consider that for a long time. "No," he said at last, quietly. "They need someone they can trust. Someone worth trusting. It's a slippery slope, but at least I haven't taken any innocents down with me yet. I'm not going to start with you."

He lifted the phone to his ear, and Tony let him talk.