Looking Back

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Many thanks to lillian13, who gave me this bunny. I suspect this isn't quite what you were thinking of, but I hope you like it anyway. :-)

Abby hadn't explained why, but she'd strongly suggested that Gibbs drop by the bar where Tony worked a little after closing time. Gibbs had argued the point; it was St. Patrick's Day and while Gibbs himself didn't generally mark the occasion, it was hard to miss the fact that damn near everyone else did, whether or not they had any Irish blood in them. He knew that the bar would have been insanely busy, which meant that Tony was going to be dead on his feet. He'd probably just want to drag himself home and collapse for the night.

But when Abby got the bit in her teeth it was impossible to rein her in without really upsetting her, so Gibbs had agreed to swing by and wait for Tony to get off. Privately, he reasoned that if Tony wanted to crash for the night, all he had to do was say so. He and Gibbs hadn't known each other long, but it'd been long enough for Tony to understand that he could be blunt with Gibbs.

So Gibbs wove his way through the clusters of drunk partiers recently evicted from the bars and clubs. He found the alley behind the bar with ease and was relieved that it was clear of anyone puking in the corners. Leaning against the brick wall just across the alley from the back door of the bar, Gibbs set himself up to wait, his hands shoved deep into his jacket pockets against the cold night air. Whether because Abby knew Tony's schedule or because he was just lucky, the back door to the bar swung open after only ten minutes or so and Tony stepped into the alley. He tensed, his hand moving toward the small of his back in a familiar motion before he focused on Gibbs.

"Gibbs?" Tony said, relaxing. "What're you doing here?"

"Abby suggested I stop by," Gibbs said, pushing off of the brick wall and running a critical eye over Tony. He was definitely tired, but he also looked somehow worn down in a way that serving liquor for hours didn't seem to account for.

Tony snorted and closed the door to the bar behind himself. "Abby 'suggested' rather insistently, I bet," he said tiredly. "It's almost two in the morning, Gibbs. Go home and sleep."

Gibbs was beginning to understand why Abby had wanted him to stop by. He shrugged. "I'm awake now. And it's not like I have to be up early tomorrow," he added wryly. Three months after his enforced retirement he was finally learning to sleep past five a.m.

"Yeah. Me neither," Tony said bitterly, walking ahead of Gibbs out of the alley.

Between the date, Tony's history, and that comment, Gibbs had a pretty good idea of what the problem was. "I didn't think this was much of a cop hangout."

Tony shot Gibbs a surprised glance and then smiled wryly and shook his head, maybe at Gibbs's deduction, maybe just at the implied question. "It's not, usually. But my old partner always manages to put together a dozen or so detectives and crash the place on Saint Paddy's day."

"And never takes the hint when you try to make him stop," Gibbs said quietly.

"Yeah." Tony shoved his hands into his pockets and shrugged a little. "Maybe some ex-cops want to hang around with the guys on active duty and stay connected and feel a part of the life in whatever way they can, but I...can't." He grimaced. "If I wanted that, I'd have taken the desk job."

"You mind if I ask how you got shot?" Gibbs asked.

Tony started to answer, then cut himself off and looked at Gibbs searchingly for a long moment. "No, I don't mind," he said quietly. "But that's a story that needs a drink." He stopped walking as they reached his car, parked a couple of blocks from the bar. "You bring your car?"

Gibbs had, but he wasn't sure Tony would keep talking if they rode to his apartment separately. "Nope," he said.

Tony unlocked the passenger side door. "Jump in."

They were quiet during the short drive, but it wasn't entirely uncomfortable. Tony parked in a numbered spot in an underground garage and they took the elevator up to his apartment. He tossed his keys on the kitchen table and headed for a low cabinet at the side of the room without even taking his jacket off. "I don't have any bourbon," he said apologetically, crouching down and looking up at Gibbs as he opened the cabinet.

"Whiskey is fine," Gibbs said, hanging his jacket on the back of one of the kitchen chairs. The apartment wasn't large, but what Gibbs could see was relatively nice. A well-cushioned couch stood across from the TV on the right hand side of the room. The entertainment center that housed the TV also held a cable box, VCR, DVD player, and a couple of black boxes Gibbs didn't even recognize. There was another array of electronics along the wall behind the couch. Sound system, Gibbs thought. He recognized a CD player and an almost featureless box that was probably a hard drive, but also a couple of tape decks and even a record player. The array of speakers was impressive.

The kitchen and dining side of the room was visibly less well taken care of. Papers, open envelopes, and other miscellaneous crap littered the kitchen table. Gibbs couldn't see the kitchen counters or sink over the breakfast bar that separated the the kitchen from the small dining area, but he was pretty sure he could smell dishes in the sink. Nothing really awful, but not spic and span, either.

Tony straightened up with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses in hand. He nodded toward the couch and led the way. They sat and Gibbs waited while Tony poured and handed Gibbs a glass. He took a long sip of his own before he started speaking. "About ten years ago I did some undercover work with the mob," he began. "It went really well. I mean, really well. No major headlines, but we gathered a lot of intel, broke a few smaller cases and set up a couple really big ones that the Feds took over later. The job ended when one of the brass decided that risking losing me as an asset inside was worth one of the cases we'd been working. We broke the case, but we also broke my cover. I got out clean, though. Like I said, it went really well." Tony fell silent, staring into the distance, his drink apparently forgotten.

Gibbs waited, sipping his whiskey. Tony had only been on disability from the force for a little over three years.

"Seven years later, they decide they want me to go under again."

Frowning, Gibbs reluctantly interrupted. "But your cover was trashed. The mob has a long memory."

"Tell that to the brass." Tony sighed. "It'd been seven years. I was only under for five months. And they wanted me to go under with a different family the second time. I complained--officially--my partner complained, but no one was listening. It was go under or quit. So I went under."

"How long did it take them to make you?" Gibbs asked quietly.

Tony laughed darkly. "Thirty-six hours. Less, even. The second meet I showed up to, I knew ten minutes in that if things went according to their plan, I wouldn't be walking out of there. I didn't wait for a sign and I didn't clear it with my lieutenant, I just got the hell out." Tony remembered he was holding his drink and drained it all at once. "If they hadn't put a bullet in my back while I was running for my life, I'd probably have been in deep shit. But it worked out very neatly for all the higher-ups. They didn't even have to go looking for a reason to ditch me."

Gibbs leaned over to snag the bottle Tony had brought with him to the couch and refilled both of their glasses. "You regret it?" he asked when they were fortified again.

"What, getting out of dodge?" Tony asked. Gibbs nodded. "No. Maybe if I'd thought that I could have done some good before they killed me...but the operation was hardly started. Me dying wasn't going to do anyone any good."

"That doesn't mean you don't regret it," Gibbs said quietly.

"Going out in a blaze of not-quite-glory appeals to my dramatic side," Tony said, smiling, "but the hedonist in me enjoys life too much." He gave Gibbs a careful look. "What about you?"

"I'm going to eat my gun," Gibbs said, snorting. "But I admit to regretting that my death isn't going to serve any useful purpose."

Tony smirked. "If you want your death to serve a purpose, donate your body to science."

"And let a ham handed bunch of medical students practice autopsies on me?" Gibbs shot back. "I don't think so."

Tony snickered and leaned back into the couch, cradling his drink in one hand. The worn look that had hung on him as he'd left the bar seemed to be fading. "Well, if you're the noble type, you can always," he paused and deepened his voice dramatically, "help the innocent under cover of night! I'm sure a villain will oblige you eventually."

Gibbs laughed. "Nah. I haven't got the body for the spandex."

Tony shook his head in mock sadness. "You're out of date, Gibbs. It's not spandex these days. It's leather. Don't you watch movies?"

"The pieces of crap you're referring to don't count as movies," Gibbs returned.

"Oh, God, an elitist." Tony rolled his eyes.

Gibbs smiled and relaxed into the corner of the couch as Tony launched into a pop culture rant that was, apparently, pretty well used. He hoped Tony didn't mind if he slept on the couch. Somehow he didn't think he'd be getting home before morning.