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It had been three weeks since Gibbs quit. Three weeks since walked out on his team. Three weeks since he left everyone that called him family, everyone who loved him. It was hard to leave, one of the most difficult decisions he'd ever made, and during his military career he'd made a lot of them. Decisions that could get his men killed, that did get men killed. Decisions about life and death, living and dying.

But leaving his team had been difficult on a whole other level. It wasn't about dying, but about breaking. Breaking deep inside. Ever since Franks had quit, Gibbs had never understood why his friend and mentor could turn his back on the job, turn his back on all the nameless and faceless people who still needed their help, all the navy officers and their families who needed someone to watch their six.

But now he knew, now he understood. The job. The job could break you if you let it. It could tear apart pieces of your soul, leaving you crumbled and shaken, only an image of whom you once were and what you stood for.

The head strong marine he'd always been was broken, broken by the recurring memories of losing his family and the stubbornness of superiors who only wanted to safe face.

He was broken, but refused to crash. So he followed his mentor. He stepped back, before he was completely lost.


After explaining to Jenny he was leaving, Gibbs walked back in the bullpen to retrieve his badge and gun, but finding neither.

"Oh, I got them, Boss. I got them of the med ex when they took you." Tony speaks up and hands him the gun and badge.

"I appreciate it."

He should have known the younger man would think about something so small. Attention for detail. One of the many qualities that made Tony a damn fine Agent, his best Agent. For five years, the other man had his six, saved his ass on more than one occasion. Who knew that an interest into an immature Philly cop could turn out to be one of the best decisions he'd ever made. Gibbs felt proud that he was able to get the man to stay so long, when by all accounts and history the man should have left three years ago, but he'd stayed. He learned, learned to investigate, learned to see beyond what suspects and witnesses tell you, but more importantly, the man had learned to lead. Gibbs taught him how to lead a team, take control and make others focus on the job. He had heard from Jenny what Tony had done in his absence, how he worked with the Director, instructed the team and became the boss he'd deserved to be. Gibbs had never been more proud.

Tony deserved to be the boss. The man had more than enough seniority to qualify; he had the personality to lead and the skills to teach others.

It was never even a tough decision, so he did what he should have done a long time ago. He handed Tony the badge and gun of team leader, his badge and gun.

"You'll do. It's your team now."

Gibbs almost smiled at the shocked look on Tony's face. The only thing Gibbs regretted was not to be able to teach Tony to have more confidence in himself. But he'd learn. He only hoped to God that the job wouldn't break Tony as it did him. That he wouldn't forget to take things into perspective and not end up like his mentor, building a boat in the basement and losing what makes him the person he is now.

He turned to McGee and it suddenly struck him how much the young Agent had changed over the two years he'd been with NCIS. Gone were the insecurities and fear he once saw clearly in everything the Probie did, to be replaced by the skills and confidence a good Agent needed. He felt a surge of fatherly pride for getting McGee out of his shell and teaching him to be a damn fine Agent.

He'd always known the boy had it in him.

"Tim, you're a good Agent. Don't let him tell you otherwise." He hoped that with him gone, Tony would learn his limits when it came to bantering with McGee.

"I won't Boss." Spoken with so much confidence.

He chuckles. The boy would be fine. And if not, there was always Abby to keep the other man in check, team leader or not.

Out of the corner of his eyes he saw the shaking form of the girl and turned to the person he was going to miss the most.

And who would most recent him for leaving.


His heart nearly broke by the pleading, hurt sound of her voice. He didn't say anything, couldn't say anything, because his carefully hidden emotions were already threatening to break.

He put a finger against her lips, silencing her and as always kissed her on the cheek, hoping by that simple action she saw what he was feeling, what he desperately wanted her to understand.

God, he was going to miss her. Six years they'd know each other, and she'd crept into his heart from day one. That very first day he could already see that behind all the make-up and dark persona was a fragile girl, a girl he couldn't help but love.

A woman he held so dearly into his heart, it physically hurt him to walk away.

He wanted to take her in his arms, crash her into his body and say everything will be all right. But her couldn't, not then, not anymore. Because if he hugged her then, he wouldn't be able to let go.

So with great difficulty he turned and walked over to Ziva. The woman he had only known for a year, but who had already made such an impression on him. Still a probie with so much to learn. He wasn't not worried though. Despite their banter and her arguments, Gibbs knew Ziva did look up to Tony, at least when it came to the job. She would listen to his instructions and follow his lead. And he trusted Tony to make sure she learned everything Gibbs taught him.

"I owe you."

He did. Not just for giving him back his memory, or shooting her brother to safe Gibbs' life, but for filling part of the hole left by Kate's death. The hurt and guilt that he let her get killed would always be there, but Ziva managed to sooth a bit of the pain.

"I will collect."

Promising him he would see her again. He felt a painful stab in his heart. Would she see him again? Would they ever see him again?

So here he was, three weeks after their last encounter. Three weeks in Mexico, doing nothing but sit, talk, reading and getting his memories back. He'd almost regained everything. A few bits and pieces were still missing, but on the whole he had it all back, including his feelings for the people he left behind. Feelings he never thought he'd experience, at least not for people he worked with.

He hadn't contacted anyone, hadn't called to check in, hadn't left a message to let them know where he was. He'd tried. He picked up his phone for about a dozen times, intent on letting them know how he was, but every time he hung up before the first ring. Every time, he chickened out, because if he called and they answered, he'd have to talk to them, explain why he left, and they'd make him want to come back. He didn't want to go back; he couldn't want to go back. Going back meant facing everyone and he couldn't face them, not yet, if ever.

He couldn't face her.

"Three weeks" Abby mumbled to herself. "Three weeks."

She still couldn't believe Gibbs left, closed off everything and just left.


That night they last saw Gibbs, Abby and Tony went to his house, intent on convincing him to stay. But upon arrival they noticed all doors were locked, the furniture covered in sheets and everything cleaned out. Downstairs the boat was also covered, all the tools put in the boxes they normally belonged, keeping the rust out.

Abby just stood there, frozen and staring at the covered boat. Trembling as reality was sinking in.

"He left."

Tony's heart broke. Never in the five years he'd known Abby, had he ever heard her sound so fragile, so broken and a sudden flash of anger rushed through him. Anger at Gibbs for being the cause of it and anger at himself for not being able to do a damn thing about it.

"Come on, let's get out of here."

"Tony, he left." He sees every inch of her body shaking, falling apart before his very eyes.

"I know." He's having great difficulty keeping himself calm, his voice under control. He can't fall apart, not now, not in front of Abby.

He gently pushed her back up the stairs, determined to get her out of there, before she collapsed.

Like every night, Abby sat in Gibbs basement, staring at his boat. She'd always come here after work, revelling in the fading smell of coffee and sawdust, the smell of Gibbs. It had become a fix she needed as much as Caf-Pow, something to get her through the night. She knew it was ridiculous, what she was doing was beyond ridiculous, after three weeks Gibbs' scent was gone, but she'd still come here, finding peace and comfort in it's surroundings.

Every night, when she was standing on the front porch, key in hand, she asked herself what she was doing there. He was her boss, her friend. One missed a friend, one thought about a friend in passing moments, but one didn't come to a friends house every night, take in the last remnants of an essence long gone. One didn't fall asleep in a friend's bed, hoping that maybe she would wake up with him next to her.

No one did that for just a friend.

It had to stop. And there was only one way to make it stop.

"Abby, are you sure we should so this?" McGee' fingers were working the key-board as he anxiously looked in her direction. "I mean we have no idea he even wants to be found."

"I don't care McGee."

She desperately ignored the nagging voice in her head that was saying the exact same thing. What if he didn't want to be found? But there was only one decisive way to know for sure: ask him.

That's what kept her up and going, they'd find Gibbs and ask him. If he didn't want to be found, he'd tell her.

"He can tell us himself. Now focus."

"Focus on what? He hasn't used any of his credit cards, I can't locate his phone and no one knows where he's gone to."

They'd been searching for three hours, trying to guess where Gibbs could have gone to. They checked the cemetery to see if he'd been there. They checked the marina, hoping that maybe Gibbs had rented a boat. Every hint, clue, trace had a dead end. Three hours of searching, hacking and surfing by the two best computer geeks in the business and nothing, not a trace.

"Wait, what about that guy Francks? Francks… something. Gibbs' old boss."

McGee was already checking NCIS records for a name. "Yes, there was a Francks, head of NIS, who retired fifteen years ago."

"And he was followed by L.J. Gibbs. See if he has properties, boats."

After that it didn't take them long to figure out that Francks had moved to a cottage in Mexico. A cottage in the middle of nowhere, no cell service, only one phone in a two mile radius.

"The only way to know for sure if Gibbs is staying there is to get down there and see for yourself."

"I'm going."

"And how are you explaining that to the Director?"

"I'll think of something."

It turned out that ‘something' was calling Sheppard before boarding a plane to Mexico City. The conversation had been anything but pleasant, Abby not wanting to explain why she couldn't come to work in the morning, or the week for that matter, and Sheppard demanding she elucidate her absence. More than once during the conversation Abby wanted to hang up, but she figured if she still wanted a job the next week such a course of action was very ill-advised.

Abby knew the Director meant well, even if she did sometimes forget some people working for her had more experience with what was going on at NCIS. The woman showed she made an effort, wanted to be part of them, their family.

So at the end of the conversation, Abby gave in.

"Director, I'm going to Mexico to talk to Gibbs."

There was a long silence at the other end of the phone.

"Has he called?"

"No. I'm going to try and bring him back."

"Miss Scuito…"

"I have to understand why he left. And I'm going, leave or not."

Again there was a long silence.

"You have until the end of the week. On Monday I want to see you in my office."

"Thank you."

"Thank me after you've brought him back."

That was easier than expected. No bitching, no arguing, well not much arguing. The Director did mean well. She wanted Gibbs back as much as everyone.

Abby had never been as appreciative about her forced Spanish lesson as she'd been now. Road signs were a mess, people pointing at different directions, telling her everything and nothing. Eventually she found a woman who brought food and supplies to a cabin at the far end of town, to a gringo and his friend.

She drove the two miles to the cabin, her mind set on only one thing. She vaguely realised that for a girl who claimed to despise the sun and limited her outdoor activities during the day, she'd spend two days a lot outside, in one of the warmest countries of America, with as much sun as a desert. What a girl didn't do for those she loved.

Those she loved?

Did she love him? More importantly, did she want him to know she loved him?

As she arrived at the cabin, her heart began racing. She hoped to whoever was out there that she was right about Gibbs staying here, that he wasn't on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic or driving through Southern Europe.

What if he didn't want to see her? What if McGee was right and Gibbs wanted nothing more than to be left alone? Wanted to shred from his old life, have nothing to do with the people he left behind?

What was she doing here?

She noticed a figure sitting in a chair on the terrace, watching her standing in the middle of the road, deciding if this was a good idea or not.

"Well, no guts no glory." She mumbled to herself.

The man in the chair looked familiar. Abby tried to remember the picture she saw of Francks posted with his NCIS service record. He was older now, more gruffy looking. Well, fifteen years in the middle of nowhere would do that to you.

But he was definitely the man she was looking for.

"Well hello doll face, what can I do you for?"

"Are you Francks?"

"That depends."

"I'm looking for Gibbs"

"And who wants to know?"

Abby suddenly felt a familiar presence standing behind her.

"Hello Abby."

She spun around with a speed that would normally knock people to the floor and her heart stopped. Besides his gruff exterior of living in an isolated cabin, Gibbs hadn't lost any of his old self-confidence; he still held the air of command.

She almost smiled. You could take the man out of the navy, but you could never take the navy out of the man.

The burns on his face had healed, leaving nothing to believe he had been in an explosion just a month before. The three-week tan contrasted even more with the silver hair and sky-blue eyes. Abby couldn't help but drink in the sight before her, revelling in the aura of comfort and security that always seemed to surround her boss.

Former boss.

It took her a second to remind herself why she was there and why she was angry and all of a sudden she was filled with the urge to both hug and punch the man before her.

She did neither. Hours, weeks of contemplating what she would say if she ever saw him again. What she would ask, no demand from him. An explanation, a reason, an answer. She knew about the navy ship and the PTB's refusal to safe the lives of the men on it. She realised that was probably why he quit, but she couldn't understand why he had to leave, leave them, leave her. And now to be standing in front of him, in a close enough proximity that she could touch him with just a few steps, she didn't want to know.

What if the answer was something she wasn't ready for?

So she did the only thing she could, walk past him and headed back to her car.

As she passed him, she couldn't help start to shake. She wanted nothing more than to fly into his arms, crush her body into his and take in that what was Gibbs. But her body was stronger than her mind and she walked past him. She couldn't however stop the tears that were about to escape her eyes.


She turned and Gibbs visibly winced as he noticed the tears falling down. He knew he broke her heart when he left, he knew she depended on him. He knew that she would never forgive him for leaving the way he did: a small goodbye at the office and then he was gone.

He'd wanted so much to see her before he left, tell her everything would be fine, but then he'd be lying. He'd never lied to her before and wasn't starting now. If he went to see her, she would ask him a reason, a reason why he had to leave. As much as he loved her, he wasn't ready to admit the job was getting to him. His bastard self refused to even utter his fears and uncertainties to her.

But now he'd been here three weeks. Three weeks of thinking. Thinking about the job, why he'd let it get to him, what he'd accomplished by leaving. He had an answer for everything but the last question. What had he accomplished by leaving? Yes, the job had gotten to him, but it didn't make him love it any less. Three weeks of isolation and the only thing he wanted now, was to go back. Back to the office, back to his desk, back to the people he left behind, back to her.

That lead him back to the reason he hadn't returned sooner. Was he ready to admit, to her, what he was afraid of? Did he want to lay himself open like that? He'd done it once with his first ex-wife, told her that he was afraid, afraid of what he'd become, what Shannon and Kelly's death had done to him. She couldn't take the pressure, didn't want to handle it, so she left, making Gibbs promise himself he'd never let his fears shown like that anymore. His second and third ex-wives wanted him to open, but by then he'd already built a solid brick wall around himself and shut them out. So they left.

He didn't want to shut Abby out, not anymore. He didn't want to lose her, couldn't lose her.

So her making the first step and come seek him out, made his heart beat faster, his breathing more shallow and his hands twitch. It had been a long time since he'd been this nervous.

Her crying and trying to keep it together really didn't help matters much.

"You left."

There was nothing of the old, playful, always up-beat Abby. Before him stood the woman he always knew there was deep inside, but carefully hidden. No pigtails, no collar, no black make-up. Just jeans, a sweater and an expression on her face he once promised her would never show again.

"I couldn't stay."

"Yes, you could."

Her expression told him everything he needed to know. This was his last chance. If he didn't open up, she would walk away and everything he'd always wanted would be lost.

"I needed time."

"For what? Us going crazy, until one of us would come crawling to you? Well, here I am! You want me to get on my knees?"

Both were shocked by the venom dripping from her outburst, but she didn't take it back. She wouldn't.

"Abby…" Thinking about letting your heart pour out was still a lot easier than actually doing it.

"The office it doing fine. I needed time to come to my senses."

"I know you're angry about the navy ship and the bosses, but why'd you leave?" Tears were again welling up. "Why did you leave Gibbs?"

"Because I was afraid." He couldn't say it louder than a whisper, but she heard it.

"Afraid? Gibbs, you don't get…"

"That's exactly why I had to leave. I didn't want… I couldn't let everyone see. See that I couldn't deal anymore, that the job was breaking me."

"So that's why you…"

"Yes, that's why I quit, that's why I left, that's why I didn't say goodbye the way I should have."

"We went to your house the night after you quit. We wanted to know… and everything was packed away and covered." Her voice was trembling with every word she said.

"I left as soon as I could. I knew that you'd come looking for me. That you'd make me explain, but I couldn't. I couldn't explain then. You'd want me to stay, you'd make me stay, but that's exactly what I couldn't do."

"So you left because of me?"

"No! No, Abby. I left everyone. I couldn't face anyone."

"And now?"

He paused for a long moment; making the decision he knew was coming. "Now I go home."

"And then?"

"Then we'll see what happens."

"You'll come back?"

"Tony's doing fine. You don't need me at the office."

"We do Gibbs! It's not the same with you gone."

"We'll see what happens, Abby."

Then Abby did the one thing she'd dreamt of doing ever since she'd promised herself to find him. She hugged him with everything she had, moulding her body to his, feeling once more safe…and with him.

She didn't know if he'd come back to work. She doubted even he knew for sure. It didn't matter all that much. She was holding him, feeling everything there was about him and she promised herself she would never again let that go.


She pulled back just enough to be able to see him clearly."

"There are some things I need to tell you, things I want you to know."

"Me too."

"Well, it's a long way to Washington. We have time." They did have time, all the time in the world.