Put Out to Pasture

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: This was supposed to be pre-slash and it refused to cooperate. I have no idea how the story turned out, given that the entire original point of it evaporated into thin air. *sighs* I almost don't want to post it, but what the hell, I need to answer the challenge and I wanted to get this in before the New Year.

Not betaed.

Gibbs didn't have a retirement party. Everyone in the building knew he was being forced out of the field because of regulations, not because he wanted to go, and not because he was physically unfit. The damned rules said fifty-seven was the mandatory field retirement age and so out of the field he went. Well, it hadn't been quite that simple, but three months after he turned fifty-eight he finally ran out of stalling tactics. Under those circumstances, there wasn't a man or woman in the building who would take their life into their hands by throwing him a retirement party. Not even the director.

Abby would probably have tried, except that she knew how unhappy he was about leaving the field and she knew he wasn't the type to try and ease the transition by going through the motions. But that didn't mean that she didn't want to mark the occasion, which was how Gibbs ended up letting her haul him into a tasteful little bar. It was a nice place, Gibbs conceded. Everything, from the bar to the stools to the half dozen tables, was polished hardwood. There was a pair of pools tables and a dart board, but no TV. The murmur of conversation was noticeable, but not too loud, and not morosely quiet either. That spoke well of the regulars who set the tone.

"Sit," Abby said, pushing him towards a stool at the bar. "I need to go to the ladies room."

Gibbs hitched himself up onto the stool and folded his arms on the bar. He didn't make any attempt to draw the bartender's attention, but the man stepped over to him almost immediately anyway. He wasn't what Gibbs would have expected in a place like this. He was young, for one thing. Well, mid-forties, which Gibbs guessed didn't make him precisely young, even if anyone under the age of fifty was beginning to look like a kid. But even aside from his age, he was attractive. Light brown hair spiked up a little with gel--something else that didn't fit this sort of watering hole--sparkling green eyes, classic good looks and an easy smile. From what Gibbs could see, he took care of his body, too. A man like that could make better money in a club or a gay bar than he would here.

But it wasn't any of Gibbs's business, and he was off duty anyway. Off duty permanently. So when the guy asked, "What's your poison?" Gibbs raised an eyebrow at the overused line but only answered, "Bourbon. Neat."

The bartender nodded, reached under the bar, placed a glass sharply on the top of the bar, and poured the bourbon. Gibbs lifted the drink and took a sip, eyebrows rising as the liquor slid over his tongue. Most places watered their booze to make it go farther, but this was full strength. When Gibbs looked from the drink back to the bartender, the guy was grinning. "I love watching people's faces when they get their first taste of our booze," he said, chuckling. "That expression never gets old."

"Expensive, though," Gibbs commented.

"It cuts into the profit margin," the bartender said cheerfully, "but the owners insist and hey, it makes my job a little nicer. No one complains about watered drinks here. I'm Tony, by the way."

Gibbs nodded in greeting. "Gibbs," he introduced himself. "You give all your first-timers the personal touch?"

"Not all of them," Tony said. "But Abby parked you at the bar, which means she wanted us to chat. She's usually a table kind of girl."

Gibbs snorted. Figured this wouldn't just be about having a drink. "What could we possibly chat about?" he asked acerbically.

Tony shrugged. "How am I supposed to know? Why'd she take you out for a drink?"

"Why do you care?" Gibbs asked, taking a long sip of his bourbon.

"I'm a bartender. It's in my job description," Tony quipped. He sighed and shook his head when Gibbs just looked at him. "A sense of humor is essential to life, Gibbs. And to answer your question, Abby's a good friend of mine. If I can do a favor for her, I generally do."

Gibbs couldn't help but smile a little at that. "She has that effect on people."

"So?" Tony prompted. He leaned forward on the bar and flicked one finger towards the bourbon Gibbs was holding. "What's the occasion?"

"My retirement," Gibbs said sourly.

Tony frowned. "You don't look old enough to retire."

Gibbs snorted a laugh at that. "Most people think I'm older than I am," he said dryly, "but normally, you'd be right."

"Normally, huh?" Tony's gaze took on a sharp, speculative edge. "Most places have ditched mandatory retirement, with the major exception being police and military forces. And they also require earlier retirement than is standard in whatver other places do still have it, which fits. With that haircut, I'm gonna have to go with military."

"Close," Gibbs smirked. "But no cigar. Naval Criminal Investigative Service."

"Oh, come on!" Tony said, aggrieved. "That's military and a cop! I only get 'close' for that?"

"NCIS is a civilian service," Gibbs countered.

"If you're a civilian I'll eat that glass," Tony said as Gibbs finished his drink.

Gibbs chuckled. "Fair enough. U.S. Marine Corps." Tony nodded with a very familiar kind of satisfaction. Gibbs set his glass down on the bar and pushed it towards Tony. "I'm guessing bartender wasn't your first career choice."

"You guess correctly," Tony said, his eyes on Gibbs's glass as he refilled it. "Baltimore PD."

"You don't look old enough to retire," Gibbs said dryly, taking his glass back.

"Depends on what does the retiring," Tony returned. "Bullets don't discriminate. Took one in the chest, lost most of a lung and my fitness certification with it."

"They offer you a desk?"

"They offer you one?" Tony shot back. Gibbs raised his glass to concede the point and took a long sip as Tony went on. "I took the disability, but while you can live off of it, it sure isn't comfortable. Hence the second career."

"So why pick this?" Gibbs asked.

Tony shrugged. "I like people. What about you? What'll you do now?"

Gibbs honestly hadn't thought about it. "Between my Marine Corps pension and my NCIS pension, I'm covered financially. I've got a boat I've never had a chance to sail. Maybe do a little carpentry." Tony snorted with such skepticism that Gibbs found himself glaring at him. "What?"

"You'd go batshit crazy trying to live a life that quiet," Tony said.

Despite a sneaking suspicion that the man was right, Gibbs glared. "You've known me all of ten minutes."

"And ten minutes is all I need to know that you'd go batshit crazy trying to live a life that quiet," Tony repeated. "Come on, Gibbs. I've been there. Maybe you could settle down to the quiet life if you'd chosen it, but you're not ready yet and they're snatching it away from you." Tony retrieved a shot glass from under the bar, set it down with a sharp click, filled it with whiskey, and knocked it back. He looked down at the glass for a moment before shaking his head and looking back up at Gibbs, meeting his eyes firmly. "You've got to find something else to do, if only to keep your mind off of what you lost."

Gibbs held his gaze. "It hasn't been that long since you took that bullet, has it?" he asked quietly.

Tony smiled, wryly this time. "Three years."

But it obviously still hurt. "You have someone to give you this chat?" Gibbs asked, waving a finger between the two of them and sipping at his bourbon.

"My partner tried. He was wearing his gun and badge at the time."

Gibbs winced.

"Yeah," Tony said. He sighed. "Most of the time I'm good with it. It just hits me every now and then."

"Didn't mean to stir up painful memories," Gibbs said.

Tony shook his head. "You didn't do the stirring." Then he grinned a little. "You're just the stick."

Gibbs snorted but let it go. "Abby wouldn't have brought me here if she knew it was going to hurt you."

"Sure she would have." Tony's grin softened, became a little more relaxed. "She doesn't think I'm dealing too well. This is her version of two birds with one stone."

"Subtle is not her strong suit," Gibbs said, a small smile curving his own lips.

"As demonstrated by the twenty minute bathroom break," Tony chuckled. Gibbs's smile broadened in response.

They were still grinning at each other when Abby slid onto the bar stool next to Gibbs. "Looks like you two hit it off," she said cheerfully.

Tony mixed her a rum and coke without waiting to be asked and pushed it across the bar with his fingertips. "Does anyone ever fail to fall into line with your master plan?" he asked, arching an eyebrow before his expression collapsed back into a grin.

"Never!" Abby announced with mock haughtiness. "I'm going to rule the world some day." Glee replaced haughtiness and her eyes sparkled. "Tony can be my right hand man and Gibbs can be my general."

"Sure," Tony said agreeably, spotting a new arrival at the bar, "right after I serve the next customer." He gave Abby a little bow before strolling to the other end of the bar to take a couple's drink orders.

The moment he was gone Abby turned to Gibbs, eyes narrowing intently. "So? What do you think?"

Gibbs blinked. "Of Tony? He's a nice guy, Abs."

She rolled her eyes. "He needs a friend who understands where his head is," she said. Gibbs turned and took a long look at where Tony stood chatting with the new arrivals while he mixed their drinks. Both the man and the woman were tense, alternately leaning towards each other and jerking back into their own personal space. Obviously a first drink situation. "And so do you," Abby added softly, recapturing his attention.

"Abs..." Gibbs sighed.

"Don't 'Abs' me," she said, scowling. "You do. I've been watching Tony hurt for three years. I'm not going to do it again with you. At least give it a shot."

Gibbs took in the determined expression on Abby's face and looked back down the bar at Tony. The couple was laughing at something Tony had said, their shoulders brushing as they leaned towards him. They glanced at each other and Gibbs could see the moment that sparkling eyes and relaxed smiles overshadowed whatever it was that had prompted the laughter. Tony stepped away, leaving them to it, smiling to himself a little.

Looking back at Abby, Gibbs realized that while he'd been quietly studying Tony her expression had slid from scowling determination into outright pleading. "I can do that," Gibbs said quietly.

Abby's face transformed with happiness. "You won't regret this," she promised. "Thanks, Gibbs."

Gibbs sipped his bourbon and smiled to himself. He suspected he'd be the one owing her thanks.