The creak of the floorboard at the top of the stairs formally announced his arrival, though his presence had no doubt been noted long before. Tony paused briefly and looked down at his boss, illuminated by the warm glow of the lamps as he remained transfixed on the whittling before him.
A pensive exhale, reminiscent of a sigh, escaped Tony as he began the descent. His footsteps landed heavily and lingered upon each step as he rehearsed the conversation he was about to initiate for the umpteenth time in his head.
He made his way over to the table, the gentle, rhythmic ‘shhk shhk’ of the rasp against the wood providing a soundtrack as he stood contemplating where to start. It had been almost three weeks since he had seen or spoken to the man in front of him and Tony was already anticipating a scolding of sorts for his obvious avoidance. He could feel himself beginning to fidget as he brought his hands together and cleared his throat.
'You just going to stand there Dinozzo?’ came the familiar voice, Gibbs lifting his head to look at his most senior agent.
'Ah, hi Boss’, Tony replied, 'I guess you’re probably wondering what’s been going on the past few weeks?’
Tony knew better than to wait for a response, his boss cocking his head and raising an eyebrow ever-so-slightly, indicating that an explanation was indeed necessary.
'Ziva’s back’, he announced matter-of-factly, deciding that there was no easy way to broach the topic, 'and I know, I should probably have told you or got her to call you but…well…’
Nerves suddenly took a firm hold and Tony paused and swallowed hard, averting his eyes as he considered how to proceed. He could feel Gibbs’ unwavering gaze and he knew that he would wait for as long as necessary for Tony to continue.
'I guess it’s probably easiest to say that things between Ziva and me…I mean since the last time…I guess it’s complicated. Or it was’, Tony tried to explain, becoming increasingly frustrated at himself for feeling like a teenager trying to justify his behaviour. And so, in an attempt to start over he added, almost bemused, 'what am I doing?’, before dropping his hands and pulling a stool to the table and taking a seat next to his mentor.
'Boss, you told me once, right here in this very room, not to be like you. At the time, I don’t think I fully understood what you meant. But these past 12 months, personally, they have been tough. And I know they’ve been tough on all of us, but I also know that not much gets past Leroy Jethro Gibbs so I’m fairly sure that you know how I feel about Ziva. These last three weeks, I needed that time with her to figure out what this all means- her, me, her and me together. I didn’t tell you because to be honest, I wasn’t sure if there was anything to tell’.
'So?’ Gibbs responded, 'is there something to tell me now, Tony?’, bringing the old jar to his lips and taking a swig of the amber liquid.
'I’m putting in for an extended leave of absence from NCIS’, Tony explained, though he realised the news did not appear to take his boss by surprise. 'I really want to make this work Gibbs, and I think that the best way to do that is for Ziva and I to be somewhere where we can just 'be’ for a while. I’ll stick around until we find someone to take my place but I…need to do this’, he finished.
Gibbs stared into his empty drink, mulling over the words, 'how is she?’
Slightly thrown by the question, Tony answered, 'Ziva? Good, she’s doing well, Boss. She is going to come and see you…’
’…in her own time’, Gibbs finished knowingly with a small half-smile, before lifting his eyes to meet Tony’s and rising to his feet.
Tony mirrored the action and looked down to see Gibbs’ outstretched arm.
“It’s been a pleasure. You’ll be missed’, Gibbs said sincerely as the two men shook hands, before adding, 'I’m proud of you, Anthony’.