(A challenge story from nancy)
“If you answer that, it had better be related to the case or a job offer, DiNozzo.” Gibbs’ voice was a barked growl. “And if it is a job offer, tell them you won’t need to give your old boss two weeks’ notice because he’s ready to kick your ass out right now.”
Tony sighed and put his cell phone away. He’d already looked at the incoming number; there was no way this call was related to the case. Damn, but he wished it would be. Nothing good ever came out of that particular area code.
“No, Boss, no job offers,” Tony said, deliberately putting a false chipper tone in his voice. “What would you do without me?”
Gibbs had squatted next to the corpse and looked up just long enough to glare at Tony. DiNozzo grinned widely at the older man, not letting his smile falter until Gibbs looked down again.
The murder investigation was their first P.A. case, P.A. meaning “Post Ari,” and Gibbs was grumpy. Well, to be fair, Gibbs was almost always grumpy. This was different. Tony felt… watched. It seemed whenever he looked up, he found Gibbs’ eyes on him. DiNozzo hadn’t felt like he was under this much scrutiny since the first days he’d been with NCIS.
It didn’t help that he knew exactly why Gibbs was watching him. After that paddle lecture during their second run-in with Ari, Tony knew he was at the top of Gibbs’ shit list. Never mind that Ari turned out to be on their side. Sort of on their side, anyway. It didn’t change the fact that – to Gibbs’ thinking – Tony had acted like a Grade A, immature, irresponsible, sex-starved screw up.
The sad fact was, the only one of those adjectives that was true was ‘sex-starved,’ but not for some Swedish bimbo. No, Tony’s hunger had him craving something a little tougher and… saltier.
It was just his luck. For two years, Tony had been hoping for the amount of attention he currently was receiving from Jethro Gibbs. Except, silly him, Tony’d hoped for positive attention; that Gibbs would watch him because he liked what he saw, not because he was waiting for DiNozzo to screw up again.
Tony flinched as Gibbs barked his name. “Yeah, Boss?”
“Those sketches aren’t gonna draw themselves.”
“I’m on it,” Tony answered, barely stifling a sigh.
Kate spared him a sympathetic glance and patted his arm gently as she moved by, hurrying to get her own tasks done. Tony didn’t think that she knew his true feelings for their mutual boss, but Kate seemed to sense how very much DiNozzo craved the senior agent’s approval. Despite their bantering, this wasn’t the first time Kate had attempted to comfort him. Her intentions were good, but only made Tony feel more pathetic. Picking up his gear, Tony risked one more look at the boss before starting his crime scene sketches.
Gibbs was glaring at him.
Tony gave the other man a sloppy salute, not letting his face fall until Gibbs had turned away.
Damn, but it was going to be a long day.
It didn’t surprise Gibbs at all that Tony knew he was being watched – and by whom. DiNozzo had been a good cop and, later, an even better detective. Now, of course, Tony was a gifted NCIS special agent. There was nothing wrong with either his observation or survival skills.
Unfortunately, despite his outward bravado, sometimes it seemed that Tony himself wasn’t aware of how good he was at his job. Like now, for instance. DiNozzo was slouched as he went about the business of sketching the crime scene. This was no doubt because he thought Gibbs was truly mad at him, as opposed to the usual “second B is for bastard” grouchiness.
Gibbs blamed Ari, that arrogant, slick, ruthless undercover agent with a game show host grin. Gibbs hadn’t only shot him in retaliation for what had happened to Gerald. No, that shot had been for the whole team. For Ducky, who was trying to deal with deep-seated guilt over not being able to stop his assistant from being needlessly wounded. For Kate, haunted both by the fact that she hadn’t struck out at Ari the first time around and by her kidnapping during their second encounter. For Abby, who blamed herself for her irrational, if thankfully temporary, fear of the morgue. Jethro knew she would forever wonder how things would have turned out if she hadn’t sent Kate down with the evidence instead of going herself.
And for Tony, who’d born the brunt of Gibbs’ anger while Ari was getting the best of them. Who, by the slump of his shoulders, was still bearing it.
DiNozzo would be surprised to know the true cause of Gibbs’ close scrutiny and the reasoning that drove it. Of all people, it had been Abby who’d taken Gibbs to task for his behavior. She was probably the only one who could and hope to walk away unscathed. Not even Ducky could say the same.
“Okay, Mr. Crankypants,” she’d started in on him as soon as she cornered him in her lab that morning, “I’m part Goth and part cat, I’m supposed to play with my food. But for you… I gotta tell you, it’s seriously all wrong.”
Gibbs distinctly remembered being amused by her attempt to explain herself. Amused instead irritated because shooting Ari had left an afterglow that had yet to fade. “You wanna try saying that again?” He’d responded. “In English this time, Abs.”
“Tony,” she’d said, one hand on her hip. “My toy boys are used to being strung along. They enjoy it; it’s part of my charm. Tony’s not like that. You keep yanking his chain like you’ve been doing and he’ll just give up and leave.” One black-nailed finger had poked Gibbs sharply in the chest. “And then you’ll be sorry.”
Hours later, Jethro could still feel the spot right above his heart where Abby had used her finger to emphasize her point. It was, he hated to admit, a valid concern. DiNozzo had wandering feet when it came to employment. The younger agent had been at NCIS for going on three years. To the best of Gibbs’ knowledge, that was the longest time the younger man had spent at any job.
There was a good reason that Gibbs had a rule against dating a fellow agent and her name was Pamela, A.K.A. ex-wife #2. For years, that rule had been pure and unchallenged, but Tony…. Tony had a way of breaking the rules and getting away with it. Why would the rule protecting Gibbs’ heart be any different?
Jethro had assumed he had time to become comfortable with the idea, to choose his own pace for approaching DiNozzo about a relationship, He’d been hearing the ticking of the clock, however, ever since Abby had so vividly lectured him. So he watched Tony as they worked the crime scene together, keeping an eagle eye for any sign that DiNozzo’s wandering feet were starting to twitch.
Sometimes it sucked being right.
The day had been every bit as long as Tony had thought it would. The case itself was pretty cut and dried. A group of teenagers had gone for a joyride in a stolen car and ended up hitting an off-duty Navy officer, killing her instantly. They’d fled the scene of the accident, but one of the boys had been full of remorse. He’d not only confessed, but also identified the rest of the kids involved. The evidence didn’t dispute his story and, more importantly, Gibbs believed him. Case closed.
A relatively easy mystery to solve, compared to most of their others. Even so, it had been a long day. Every time Tony had turned around, Gibbs was there, watching him. Sometimes the older man was glaring. That made DiNozzo second guess his work, but as far as he could tell, he was doing everything correctly. Efficiently, even. Worse, though, were the times Tony noticed Gibbs watching him, a totally expressionless look on his face. DiNozzo hated that. Gibbs could be a hard person to read. Tony ought to know, he’d made a study of the man. He’d thought he’d gotten pretty good at it too, certainly better than Kate. When Gibbs used that blank expression, however, even Tony was at a loss for what was going on behind those icy blue eyes.
And, more than anything, Tony desperately wanted to know what was going on behind Gibbs’ eyes. Not only today, but every day.
With an effort, Tony shook off his melancholy and reached for his phone. The case was over and the three of them were on their way back to the office. Gibbs was driving, of course. Surely, even Gibbs couldn’t object to him checking his voice mail now.
DiNozzo frowned when he realized that he had not one, but four messages from that same, hated, phone number.
What’s the matter, Tony?” Kate asked from the front passenger seat. “Did your hot date tonight cancel? Maybe her parents grounded her for staying up past her curfew on your last date.”
Tony didn’t react to the jibe. He was too distracted by listening to the blessedly short messages. According to the numbers stored in the phone’s log of incoming calls, they’d come from his father’s house, but it was his cousin’s voice on the messages.
“Bill collectors?” Kate supplied helpfully. “Old flame calling to say her baby has eyes just like yours?”
“No,” Tony said, still look at the phone’s display. “It’s my cousin. He called four times.”
The car swerved, causing Tony to be pitched abruptly to the side. When he righted himself, he looked up to meet Gibbs’ gaze in the rearview mirror. The senior agent was looking intently at him and DiNozzo began to get a really bad feeling about the whole situation.
“Your cousin?” Kate asked. “The button collector?”
“Yeah, Pete.” Tony responded by rote as he contemplated reasons his cousin would be trying to contact him. There was a time when they’d been close, but that was years ago. Pete’s messages, brief as they were, had raised all sorts of red flags.
DiNozzo was grateful that Kate lapsed into silence. This was going to be difficult enough without her offering suggestions. Fingers on automatic as he dialed, Tony tried to calm his frantic nerves.
“This is Anthony DiNozzo, returning Peter DiNozzo’s phone calls,” he said when the other line was answered. “Yes, I’ll wait.”
Kate wrinkled her nose at the formality Tony was using. He shrugged, embarrassed. To his surprise, Gibbs growled at Kate, causing the female agent to turn around. It wasn’t true privacy, but it helped, especially when Tony heard his cousin come on the line.
“Hello, Pete,” Tony said quickly. Funny, how he suddenly felt at least twenty years younger and in need of an excuse. Calling his father’s house, even if he wasn’t actually talking to his dad, had a tendency to do that to him. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you back before, but we were at a crime scene - ….”
Tony stopped speaking abruptly as his cousin interrupted him. As the import of his words hit home, DiNozzo took the phone away from his ear and stared at it as though it was a piece of alien technology. Then, gingerly, he put it back in place and said, “What?”
Tony was vaguely aware of Kate turning around again to look at him in concern, but the bulk of his attention was given to his conversation.
“Yeah, Pete, I heard you,” he said in response to a short retort. “It’s just… how did it happen?”
DiNozzo swallowed a couple of times as he heard the details, closing his eyes for a long moment before gathering himself to respond.
“Was he in much pain?” Tony asked, but quickly went on before his cousin could answer. “Look, I know the family hasn’t been too happy with me for a long time, but I want to be there now. I’ll be on the next flight out. I can stay in a hotel, but you shouldn’t have to deal with the… the arrangements…”
Kate was still looking at him, her face awash with sympathy. As his cousin’s words came from a distance that seemed to be increasing by the minute, Tony turned towards the window. He couldn’t stand sympathy. Not now.
“But, Pete, why?” He asked, not caring how hurt his voice sounded. As he got an answer, however, the hurt drained away, to be replaced by an unfamiliar anger.
“I see,” Tony said coldly. “Then why the hell are you bothering to call me now?” DiNozzo nodded his head, even though the man he was conversing with couldn’t see. “I should have known. Tomorrow, then. 4 pm. I’ll be there.”
Tony briskly shut his cell phone off and stowed it in his jacket pocket. Mentally he began making a list of tasks that needed to be done, but it got harder to think as his body began to feel numb.
“Tony, you okay?”
Gibbs’ soft question grounded Tony and he was able to respond in a gratifyingly normal tone of voice.
“My father died,” he answered, his eyes meeting Gibbs’ again briefly in the rearview mirror before looking down.
“Oh, God, Tony,” Kate exclaimed. “I’m so sorry.”
DiNozzo just nodded, not quite knowing what to say. He couldn’t help but feel that her sympathy should be saved for someone else. Someone who deserved it, maybe.
“Boss, I’m going to need tomorrow off,” Tony said apologetically. “I’m sorry for the late notice.”
Kate made a small mew of dismay, but Tony ignored her. As much as he liked Kate, Gibbs’ reaction was more important.
“You get three days of bereavement leave, Tony. Five, if you have to travel,” Gibbs said in an odd tone that took DiNozzo a moment to identify as gentleness. “And you can take personal leave on top of that – as much as you need.”
Tony was shaking his head even before Gibbs was done speaking.
“No thanks, Boss,” he said calmly. “I’ll just need the one day.”
It was Kate who voiced a protest, although it looked like Gibbs was gathering himself for another try.
“You’ll need more than that, Tony,” she said. “There’s the wake and then the funeral - ….”
“Both of which have already taken place,” DiNozzo interrupted. Seeing her confusion, he laughed bitterly. “My dad died last week, Kate. My presence was neither necessary or desired.”
Tony swallowed. There was a sour taste at the back of his throat. It was almost as though over a decade’s worth of pent up pain was going to come spilling out.
“Stop the car,” Tony gasped. When Gibbs didn’t respond quick enough to suit him, DiNozzo pounded on the seat. “Stop the fucking car!”
He didn’t remember the sedan pulling over. Didn’t remember yanking his seat belt off and stumbling to the side of the road. The next thing that Tony was aware of, he was on his knees vomiting violently onto the grass.
There was a solid presence at his side and a warmth on his back. Gradually, Tony became aware that someone was kneeling next to him, offering silent support. He knew even before looking that it was Gibbs; the hand rubbing soothing circles up and down his spine was too big to be Kate.
“Sorry, Boss,” Tony said after spitting one last time. He was too embarrassed to look at Gibbs. He’d seen disgust in Gibbs’ eyes over his behavior during the last Ari encounter; Tony couldn’t bear to see it there again.
“You’ve got nothing to apologize for,” the other man reassured him. “Now, if you’d barfed in the car, that might be a different story.”
Surprised at the humor attempt, DiNozzo managed a glance at Gibbs. The older man’s expression was solemn and suitably sympathetic, but there was a muted twinkle in Gibbs’ eyes. It was enough to reassure Tony. Gibbs wasn’t treating him like he was fragile and that was a good thing.
Kate dropped to her knees on Tony’s other side.
“Men,” she muttered. “Why is it that they think that humor is the answer in every situation?”
Gibbs snorted and Tony exchanged a glance of male understanding with him. It was a small gesture, really, but it helped bring DiNozzo back another step from the abyss that had made him lose control of his stomach in the first place.
“Here, Tony, have some water,” Kate offered DiNozzo a plastic bottle. “It’ll get the bad taste out of your mouth.”
Tony didn’t think that likely, at least in a figurative sense, but he took the water anyway. “I’m sorry I lost it, guys.”
Gibbs ignored the apology. “I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but it’ll be okay, Tony.”
Tony let himself be assisted up and guided towards the car. Okay? He’d worked for Leroy Jethro Gibbs for three years and it was the first time he didn’t have 100% faith that his boss was right.
Kate hated to be wrong, especially when it came to her specialty, profiling. The rest of the ride back to NCIS headquarters was silent and awkward, with the unfortunate result of giving her plenty of time to think. How could she have been so wrong in her profile of DiNozzo?
She didn’t mean to profile her colleagues; Kate just couldn’t stop herself. The same thing happened with her friends and potential dates, which explained why there were precious few of the latter. By his interactions with authority figures, especially Gibbs, Kate had long pegged Tony as having a bad relationship with his own father. That it was apparently bad enough that the man had been dead a full week before Tony was notified… that she never would have guessed.
The depth of Tony’s grief was another revelation. “Depth” was not a concept she was used to applying to DiNozzo’s personality, but Tony had again surprised her. She couldn’t help but remember, back when she was still with the Secret Service, how Gibbs had been deliberately blunt in telling her about her ex-lover’s death. Gibbs had explained then how certain physical reactions, such as turning pale, couldn’t be faked. Even if she hadn’t believed him then, Kate would now. Seeing Tony lose control to the point of losing his lunch had been eye-opening. Kate doubted she’d ever consider DiNozzo shallow again.
Kate glanced in the passenger side mirror. Tony was sitting silently, staring out the window. It bothered her, this quietly tragic Tony. She didn’t know how to reach out to him; to help him.
And, judging by his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, it bothered Gibbs too.
Fortunately, the ride couldn’t last forever, even if it felt like it. Kate half-expected Tony to bolt as soon as he got out of the car. She never found out if she was right with that prediction, however. Gibbs, perhaps having similar thoughts, made a preemptive strike.
“Kate, you go with DiNozzo to personnel,” the senior agent instructed as he took Tony’s arm and gently propelled the younger man towards the building. “Help him with the paperwork for that bereavement leave.”
“Boss, I don’t need - ….” Tony protested, even as he followed inside.
Gibbs shook his head as he savagely pressed the elevator button. “We’re a team, DiNozzo, and we watch each other’s backs – and not just in the field, either. You will allow Kate to accompany you and Kate will assist you.”
The last was said with a significant look in Kate’s direction. She nodded her understanding as the elevator arrived. Gibbs got on and had his phone out. Tony had turned away already, so he didn’t see Gibbs mouth the words ‘take care of him’ to her. Kate nodded, but Gibbs had directed his attention to his phone. She could hear him barking at Abby as the elevator doors closed, blocking him from view.
With her shorter legs, Kate had to jog a few steps to catch up to Tony. “He means well,” she tried to reassure the other agent, a bit breathless from her hurry.
Tony shrugged as he walked. “I’m not feeble, I thought he knew that. I can handle simple paperwork by myself.”
Personally, Kate thought that if there were two words in the human language that did not belong together, they were ‘simple’ and ‘paperwork.’ Instead of making that statement, however, she tried to placate her partner. “Sure you can. But let me come along anyway, okay? Otherwise, I’ll get in trouble with Gibbs.”
Tony muttered, but let her go with him. Once at the personnel office, Kate hung back, ready to be supportive if needed, but letting Tony handle things as much as possible. It was odd, watching Tony interact with the pretty young clerk without so much as a hint of his usual charming-on-the-verge-of-predatory behavior.
Unfortunately, the attractive young woman helping DiNozzo was being flirtatious enough for the two of them. In fact, the curvy clerk was slinging her chest around so much that Kate was surprised that her… attributes… didn’t fly free and give the woman a couple of black eyes. Tony, uncharacteristically, didn’t seem to notice.
Kate did, though. Finally, she’d had enough.
“Excuse me, Bethani.” Kate interjected. She had barely suppressed an eye roll a few moments earlier when she read the spelling of the woman’s name on her desk placard. “Special Agent DiNozzo just lost his father. Please, he needs your help to get the bereavement leave paperwork done.”
The other woman sniffed in disdain, but under Kate’s watchful eye, stayed more on task and got the job done. Tony dully signed everything put in front of him, noticing neither the flirtation nor its cessation. At least, that’s what Kate thought.
“Thanks, Kate,” Tony murmured quietly as they rode the elevator together afterwards. “I appreciate you running interference for me.”
“Not a problem, Tony,” Kate responded warmly. Then, to alleviate the awkwardness, she tried to make a joke. “Usually I’m trying to protect women from you, not the other way around. Don’t get too used to it.”
Tony flinched and Kate put her hand on his arm. “I’m so sorry. Look, Tony, it’s going to be okay.”
DiNozzo looked at her and smiled tightly, the pain in his eyes leaching any humor from his expression. “Funny, that’s what Gibbs said. I didn’t believe him either.”
The elevator doors opened and Tony strode out. Kate followed in his wake at a slightly slower pace. DiNozzo made a beeline for Gibbs, the documents approving his leave held tightly in his hand. Kate could see Gibbs glance at her and she nodded. Then she shrugged, trying to convey that she’d done what Gibbs had asked, but was at a loss on what else she could do to help.
“I got my paperwork done, Boss.” Tony said, speaking quickly and shoving the papers at Gibbs. “I’ll just type up my case report and I’m out of here.”
Gibbs was shaking his head. “The report can wait, DiNozzo. Come on, I’ll give you a ride home.”
Tony, for once, was speechless, but that didn’t last long. “I keep telling you that this is no big deal,” he stated in a cold voice. “I can write my report and I can certainly drive myself home.”
“You’ll find driving home difficult without a car, DiNozzo,” Gibbs retorted, completely ignoring Tony’s claim about the report.
“It’s been towed to an undisclosed location,” the older agent calmly answered. “You may think you’re fine, DiNozzo, but you’re not. You just got some very bad news and we owe it to the people of Virginia to keep you off the roads. Now, come on. Give your sketch pad to Kate and let’s get moving.”
Kate thought for a moment that Tony would protest further, but he seemed to think better of it. DiNozzo was glowering as he dug through his bag for the notebook he used for sketching crime scenes. It was as he passed it to her that Kate realized what Gibbs was doing. He was making Tony angry on purpose. She would have thought it cruel, but Tony had more spark in him than he’d had just a few minutes before.
An angry Tony, she thought, was an improvement over a shattered Tony.
The two men walked towards the elevator and the rest of the office tried not to watch the spectacle. As Gibbs passed by her, Kate touched his arm. “Take care of him,” she whispered.
Gibbs looked ahead at Tony, then back at her. “You can count on it.”
And, unlike Tony, Kate didn’t have trouble believing Jethro Gibbs. No trouble at all.
The drive to DiNozzo’s apartment was tense, but Gibbs didn’t mind. He had a feeling DiNozzo wasn’t truly angry at him. Jethro didn’t normally like acting as someone’s emotional punching bag, but if he could serve as an outlet for the grieving man, then it was all for the good. Not that DiNozzo had chewed on him verbally since leaving the office, not since Gibbs had informed him that Abby had booked DiNozzo a seat on a flight for Providence first thing in the morning. Despite the frequent glares shot his way, Tony didn’t speak until they pulled in front of his apartment building.
“I could have driven myself home,” Tony claimed, words ground out around a tightly clenched jaw.
“Maybe,” Gibbs said calmly. “But maybe not.”
Tony got out of the sedan and shut the door with more force than was strictly necessary. When Gibbs turned the car off and got out too, clearly intending on following DiNozzo, Tony stopped in his tracks.
“You’re not coming in with me.” The snarled statement wasn’t a question.
Jethro was glad to see the anger. It was at least an emotion and that was preferable to the closed-off way Tony had been acting since getting the news.
“Being alone right now isn’t such a good idea, DiNozzo,” he suggested.
Tony scowled. “Look, I’m okay. No tears, no hysterics.”
Gibbs cocked his head to the side as he looked at the other agent. “You say that like it’s a good thing.”
He kept his eyes steady as DiNozzo glared at him, absorbing the younger man’s anger without reflecting any of it back. Tony blinked first. Whirling, he turned and stalked to his apartment building.
“Fine,” Tony grumbled over his shoulder, “but don’t count on me being a gracious host.”
“Never expected you to,” Jethro murmured under his breath.
Gibbs followed Tony into the building and to his apartment, noticing absently that it was a lot cleaner than the last time he’d been there. DiNozzo carelessly tossed his jacket over the back of an overstuffed leather chair. The younger man went straight to the kitchen and opened the cabinet next to the sink.
Moving with quiet precision, Tony pulled out a couple of bottles. Gibbs could see the labels from where he stood and he could tell from the brand names that clothing wasn’t the only thing that Tony was willing to spend top dollar for.
Once he had what he wanted out of the cabinets, Tony turned to the refrigerator. Within a few moments, most of a six-pack of beer, an imported brand, joined the bottles of hard liquor.
“Thirsty?” Gibbs asked, leaning against the doorframe as he watched DiNozzo’s actions.
“Not particularly,” Tony replied absently. “There’s some sarsaparilla in the fridge if you want some.”
Pleased to learn that Tony had taken his advice on that particular issue, Gibbs watched as DiNozzo opened the first bottle and upended it into the sink. The amber-colored liquid made an inelegant glub-glub-glub sound as it poured out. The rich scent of brandy filled the kitchen, but DiNozzo didn’t stop to enjoy it. He just reached for another bottle.
Gibbs waited until Tony started emptying the second one to fully enter the kitchen.
“Just because your father was an alcoholic, Tony,” Jethro stated from directly behind the other man, “it doesn’t automatically follow that you will be too.”
Tony just looked back at him and shook out the last of the liquor. “Cirrhosis of the liver. Not a chance that I’m willing to take.”
Gibbs pulled out an envelope out of his inner jacket pocket. “Abby retrieved a copy of the obituary from an online newspaper.”
“Good, I enjoy a stimulating read,” Tony retorted. He popped the top of the first beer can. “I’m sure it’s speculative fiction at its best.”
Jethro placed the envelope on the counter, far enough away from the sink that it wasn’t at risk of getting splattered. “Ducky’s got a friend in the ME office in Providence.”
“Of course,” Tony murmured, watching the beer foam dissipate down the drain.
Gibbs ignored him. “If it helps, your father received excellent medical care. His suffering was minimized as much as possible.”
Jethro saw Tony close his eyes briefly before carefully placing the now-empty beer can on the counter. Methodically, Tony emptied the rest, one by one. When the last of the alcohol disappeared, Tony ran the hot water for several minutes until even the smell of it was gone.
“You can’t wash your father away that easily, Tony.” Gibbs stated quietly.
DiNozzo had been leaning forward over the sink, one hand to either side of it. When Jethro spoke, Tony had spared a brief glance at him before turning and washing his hands. Like with the liquor, DiNozzo moved systematically. It was only when he was drying his hands that he deigned to respond.
“I can’t figure you out, Boss,” Tony eventually said. “Where did all of this touchy feely stuff come from?”
Gibbs acknowledged the comment with a brief smile. “Touchy feely’s not exactly one of my strengths.”
“I’m a soldier more than anything else, Tony,” Gibbs explained. Words, normally the bane of all of his relationships, flowed out of him. “And I do know something about coping with death. It sort of comes with the territory.”
Jethro could see DiNozzo’s jaw clench.
“I was a cop, Gibbs,” the younger man reminded him. “And I’ve been a special agent for three years. I’m hardly new to it myself.”
Gibbs shook his head. “This is different; it’s personal.” He held up a hand to stave off Tony’s next protest. “I know you went through your mother’s death already, but you were a child then. Experiencing the death of a parent as an adult; it’s not the same.”
Tony was apparently not in the mood to be placated. “Since you’ve acknowledged that I’m an adult, however indirectly, I think you can go now. I don’t need a babysitter; I can take care of myself,”
DiNozzo walked stiffly back towards the door, obviously expecting Gibbs to follow. Instead of allowing the other agent to escort him out the door, however, Jethro only went as far as the living room before making a statement he was sure would get Tony’s attention.
“It’s especially hard to cope with the death of the father that disowned you,” he declared. “The man who tossed you out on your ear when you told him you were gay is dead and you’ve lost your last chance to prove to him how utterly wrong he was.”
Tony had come to a dead stop right in front of the door and Gibbs slowly walked up to him and put a hand on his back. “Because he was, Tony. Completely wrong.”
Gibbs could feel DiNozzo quivering under his hand, but before he could move to comfort the other man, Tony had broken free of his grip and moved a few feet away.
“Why are you doing this?” Tony begged. “You’ve been watching me all day like you were just waiting for me to screw up, so you could give me the boot, and now this… you go all Oprah on me about my dad and then just calmly reveal that you know I’m gay?”
Jethro was shaking his head even before DiNozzo was done speaking. “You’re right, I was watching you all day. Not because I expected you to screw up, but because - ….” Gibbs scratched at the back of his neck, suddenly embarrassed. “Because I was afraid you were getting ready to leave NCIS.”
“What?” Tony’s face was awash with confusion.
“Your job history, Tony. The way you leave after a couple of years.” Gibbs explained. “With what went on with Ari, I was afraid I’d pushed you into going. I was also afraid I’d waited too long. Then you got the news about your father and I knew I couldn’t wait any more, even if my timing sucked.”
As Jethro had been talking, he’d been moving very slowly, almost stalking Tony. The other man was so intent on his words that he didn’t notice and Gibbs found soon found himself again standing right next to his quarry.
“Like I said, Tony, I’m a soldier and I know something about death,” Jethro stated quietly. “And, sometimes, when you’re faced with the passing of someone important to you, the best way to deal with it is to remind yourself that you’re alive.”
Gibbs moved those last couple of inches until he’d completely invaded Tony’s personal space. DiNozzo backed up against the door and Jethro followed, pinning the younger man there with hand on each hip. Leaning up, Gibbs brushed his lips against Tony’s, silently asking for permission. He could feel the lean, athletic body pressed against his quiver, but he didn’t know if it was with confusion or need. Then Tony’s lips opened and Jethro had all the answer he needed.
The kiss started out slow and gentle. Gibbs’d had every intention of keeping it that way, but the heat of Tony’s mouth drew him in. His tongue slipped between Tony’s lips and slid against its mate, even as one hand wrapped around the back of DiNozzo’s head to pull him closer. He could feel Tony start to writhe against him and with a last nip to DiNozzo’s kiss-swollen bottom lip, Jethro finally withdrew.
It was Tony’s turn to bring a hand up and wrap around the older man’s neck, keeping him close.
“You’re right,” DiNozzo panted.
“What?” Gibbs asked, bumping his forehead against Tony’s.
“Your timing sucks.”
Jethro grinned. “I did warn you.”
Tony looked up, his eyes unshuttered and vulnerable for the first time since learning his father had died. “And this isn’t a pity thing?”
Gibbs growled. “Do I seem like the type of man who does the pity ‘thing’?”
DiNozzo looked at him for several heartbeats. “No.” He took a deep, shaky breath. “Jethro, remind me that I’m alive. Please?”
“It would be my pleasure.”
Jethro took Tony by the hand and led him down the hallway. Luckily, it was a small apartment and the bedroom was easy enough to find. Once there, he did his best to use his body to say all the things that Tony so desperately needed to hear. Namely, that he was alive and very much loved.
He knew he’d succeeded at the moment of penetration. Tony had insisted on being face to face and, after an eternity of preparation, Gibbs finally slid inside the man he’d been yearning after for years. Tony’s body welcomed him in and, as they became one, Jethro used every thrust to claim Tony, for himself and for life.
After they both reached completion, Gibbs rolled onto his back, bringing Tony with him. He settled the younger agent on top of him, murmuring nonsense words as he petted the other man’s shaking form. It didn’t take long. Within a few minutes, Tony had buried his face in Jethro’s neck, body shuddering as he finally allowed himself to grieve.
Another man might have been offended that his love making technique caused such a reaction. Gibbs wasn’t. He was honored that Tony felt secure enough with him to finally let loose his pent-up feelings. Jethro did his best to soothe his lover, only ceasing his stroking as he felt Tony drift off into an exhausted sleep.
Sighing, Gibbs kissed the top of Tony’s head and let himself drift off to his own rest. Maybe, Jethro thought to himself before dreams claimed him, maybe his timing hadn’t sucked so much after all.
Tony liked the way Jethro looked against the dark blue of his bed sheets. The color made the older man’s grey hair gleam like finest silver. The first blush of dawn was coming through the window, adding a ruddy glow to the room. Tony closed his eyes for a moment, simply so he could have the pleasure of opening them and experiencing all over again the joy of waking up to having Leroy Jethro Gibbs in his bed.
As he thought about the revelations of the night before, Tony blushed. Not because of what they’d done and not even because of the realization that Gibbs had known Tony was gay. No, DiNozzo was embarrassed that it hadn’t occurred to him that Gibbs knew he was gay. Of course Gibbs knew. He was Gibbs. It was all so clear now – it didn’t matter if Jethro had found out while doing a pre-hire background check on Tony or if he’d figured it out from observing him. Tony had only been fooling himself by thinking it was a secret from his boss.
Gibbs kissing him had been an epiphany. His brain had made all sorts of connections while their lips met, so by the time he had breath enough to talk, the only unanswered issue was to make sure that Jethro wasn’t approaching him simply because he felt sorry for him. Once that had been clarified, DiNozzo had no trouble accepting the situation. Gibbs was right, his timing sucked, but everything else had been damn near perfect.
Which was why leaving him was going to be so hard to do.
With the ease of practice, Tony slid out of the bed. Once standing, he took another long, lingering look at Gibbs’ sleeping form. He yearned to lean down for a quick kiss, but didn’t dare. In their NCIS work, he’d seen the former Marine sleep through all sorts of unlikely situations, but then again, he’d seen Gibbs wake up quick as a cat if the situation called for it. He simply couldn’t take a chance.
DiNozzo moved quietly into the main part of the apartment, grabbing his sweats from a pile of clean laundry waiting to be put away. Like the other members of his team, he’d learned to keep a bag packed and, luckily, kept his in the front coat closet. A quick grab for his cell phone and wallet, an equally quick note to Gibbs, and Tony was out the door and heading for the basement. His apartment building had a workout room down there, complete with bathrooms. Tony called for a cab and quickly made short work of using the facilities to shave and get dressed.
Tony was ready and waiting for the cab when it arrived. As the cabbie took care of his bag, DiNozzo looked up at window of his apartment bedroom, still thankfully dark.
“I’m sorry, Jethro,” he whispered. “I care about you too much to make you endure my family.”
“You say somethin’, Mister?” The cabby asked.
“No, nothing,” Tony shook his head. “I need to go to the airport.”
“No problem, Mister.” The cabby responded. “The airport, I been there once or twice. In fact, I’m the airport champion. I’ll have you there in no time.”
And that was the last thing that went right in Tony’s morning. Despite the cabby’s claims, there was nothing but problems. The cab got pulled over, not once, but twice by local police. Never in the city’s history had the cops been so faithful about citing a broken taillight and never had they been so slow in writing out a ticket. That delayed them just enough that the cabby’s guaranteed ‘short cut’ to the airport was backed up, waiting for a freight train to pass. Not only that, but Tony had been selected as a passenger to get a full patting down by airport security. If he hadn’t already been running late, DiNozzo would have filed a complaint. Not that he’d been picked, but that the security guard had been enjoying herself just a little too much.
As a result, Tony reached the gate right as the last call was announced. Thankfully, it was early enough in the morning that the flight wasn’t nearly full. Flustered and frustrated, it didn’t occur to DiNozzo to wonder why, on a half-filled plane, Abby had booked him in the very back. He was also too busy stowing his bag to realize that, not only had she booked him in the back of the plane, but that there was also someone in his row, despite there being nothing but empty seats all around him.
“Great,” Tony muttered when he finally had his items situated and was ready to sit down. The other person was reading a newspaper and taking up a bit more than his or her fair share of the space, but DiNozzo just shrugged it off. Once the plane got in the air, he would move to a different seat, one where he could spread out.
“Are you gonna sit down, DiNozzo?”
Tony would know that voice anywhere. “Boss?”
The newspaper came down and Gibbs’ face was revealed. The older man looked decidedly smug.
“But how -…” Tony stammered. “You were asleep when I left.”
“Was I?” Gibbs folded the paper up and stuck it in the seat pocket. “Sit down before you fall down.”
Tony complied, mind whirling as he thought over the implications of Jethro not only being there, but beating him to the airport. “You…. arranged all of this.”
Those damn blue eyes were twinkling at him. “Abby booked the flight.”
“You know what I mean,” Tony stated grimly. “Like I said last night, I do not need a babysitter.”
“I’ll keep that in mind if I get the urge to sprinkle talcum powder on your ass.” Gibbs’ expression grew thoughtful. “Although, given the quality of the ass in question, that might not be a bad idea.”
”Gibbs!” Tony hissed.
“Are you gentlemen okay back here?” The perky flight attendant asked. Final boarding preparations had been made and the staff were getting the plane ready to depart.
“Just fine, ma’am, thank you,” Gibbs responded with a smile.
Tony waited until she made her way back up the aisle before rounding on his lover. “I don’t know how, but you arranged those two traffic tickets. I wouldn’t put it past you to have arranged for the damn freight train. You almost made me late.”
“I might have called in a couple of favors with the local law enforcement,” Jethro admitted. “I’ll make sure the cabbie doesn’t have to pay the citations. I just had to be positive that you wouldn’t get on this flight without me.”
There was just enough give in the seat belt for Gibbs to swivel and grab Tony by the back of the neck. After checking to see that the flight attendants were involved with giving their emergency demonstration, Jethro pulled DiNozzo close and spoke to him intently. “And I told you last night. We’re a team. We watch each other’s backs – and not just in the field. I think the two of us started something more than simple teamwork last night. There was no way in hell that I was going to allow you to do this on your own.”
Tony swallowed. He’d always known that Gibbs was a man of deep emotions and even deeper loyalty. Tony had just never seen either applied to himself before.
“It’s going to be ugly, Boss,” he admitted. “They’re my family; I didn’t want to put you through that, especially since we haven’t been… you know… that long.”
Gibbs sat back in his seat, but reached down and took Tony by the hand. The relative privacy of the back of the plane was allowing him more freedom than he would have had otherwise. “They’re my family now too, DiNozzo. And if they try to mess with you, then I promise you that they haven’t learned the meaning of the word ugly yet.”
A knot in DiNozzo’s stomach started to unclench and in it’s place, a toasty warmth was starting to grow. “They aren’t going to know what to make of you.”
“What do you mean?”
Tony grinned. The situation of having Jethro at his side during the coming confrontation was starting to appeal to him, on more than one level. “Let’s just say that if the DiNozzo clan ever thought I’d bring a boyfriend home with me, that you are not the type of guy they would be expecting.”
Jethro rubbed the side of his nose as he considered Tony’s statement. “I could always wear a silk shirt and lisp. Would that make them feel better?”
“You don’t own a silk shirt.” Tony scoffed, settling back into his seat.
“No, but we could get me one,” Gibbs offered. “Blue, to set off my eyes.”
DiNozzo chuckled at the thought of Jethro becoming a clothes hound. Gibbs was right, though. That would be exactly the type of guy the family would expect. In fact, his father had always warned him against bringing any simpering queer around….
Thinking of his father, Tony’s good mood was shot to hell.
“What’s wrong?” Gibbs asked, his had squeezing Tony’s, still clasped with his own.
DiNozzo shrugged. “My dad. He’s dead.”
Jethro didn’t seem to think the simple statements silly or that the sudden change in moods was strange. “I know,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry.”
Tony thumped his head back against his seat. “Do you know what sucks? It’s not that I’m that sad that my father is dead, only that we didn’t have the type of relationship that fathers and sons are supposed to have. Is that selfish?”
Gibbs shook his head. “No. That’s only human.”
DiNozzo sighed and closed his eyes. He wished he wasn’t on this airplane, even if they had the back to themselves. He wished the two of them were still at his apartment, where they could make love until the rest of the world just faded away.
“Come here,” Jethro ordered.
He lifted the armrest between them up and Tony scooted over as much as the seatbelt would allow. Gibbs encouraged Tony to lay his head on his shoulder and, once he did, Jethro started carding his fingers through Tony’s hair.
“The flight attendant will see,” DiNozzo protested. His heart wasn’t in it, though. What Jethro was doing felt too good.
“So?” Gibbs challenged. “Try to get some sleep. You didn’t get much rest last night and something tells me you’ll need to be sharp today.”
Tony yawned and then grinned sheepishly. “When did you get to be such a mother hen? At work, it’s sink or swim.”
“We’re not at work right now,” Jethro pointed out. “When we are, you’ll be expected to stay on your toes – just like always.”
“I’ll be on my toes so much, you’ll think I’m a ballerina,” DiNozzo promised.
Gibbs lightly smacked the back of Tony’s head, but there was no heat in it. “Take a nap, Tony. We have to change planes at Dulles, rent a car when we get to Providence and then find the lawyer’s office….”
Tony drifted off as Jethro’s voice droned on. After first learning of his father’s death, he’d been insistent that he didn’t need any help. Part of that attitude had come from being on his own for a long time and part of it had been his pride; that he show Gibbs how strong he was. Then, once Jethro had made his startling revelation and they’d become lovers, Tony had still wanted to handle this chore on his own. The last thing he wanted was to expose anyone he loved, let alone the man he loved, to his family. But the fact of the matter was, the man he loved was Gibbs and Jethro had his own ideas about what was proper and necessary. No doubt there’d be times when Gibbs leaned on him for support, but for the moment, it was wonderful to be on the receiving end.
Peter DiNozzo tried very hard not to feel guilty. He kept telling himself that he was simply following Uncle Roberto’s final wishes. Surely a dying man’s last request was more important than the hurt in his cousin’s voice?
As the appointed hour for the reading of the will approached, it became harder and harder to convince himself of that. Peter paced the lobby area of the lawyer’s office, barely acknowledging the other relatives and colleagues that had gathered. He was haunted by Tony’s plaintive “Why?” Tony had clearly been expecting better treatment from his favorite cousin and, if he were being honest with himself, Peter would admit that Tony had every right to do so.
It seemed like only yesterday that Tony was trailing after Peter like a lost puppy. As a lonely only child, Tony had been desperate for a sibling to look up to. Sometimes the hero worship of a cousin who was five years younger was hard for Pete to take, but since he only had sisters, it was mostly fun. So Pete had taken Tony under his wing when they were kids and didn’t really find it a chore. It was Pete who taught Tony how to slide into home plate and how to shoot milk out of his nose. They’d worked on Tony’s jump shot together, even though basketball wasn’t really Pete’s game. It was also Pete who gave Tony his first girly magazine and taught him how to keep it hidden. He’d wondered at the time why Tony hadn’t been more fascinated by his first taste of porn, but figured the kid was just too young to appreciate it.
Years later, Pete had realized that he and Tony shared something besides blood. They both had a passion of their own gender, although Pete was also attracted to women. That they’d found out about one another was a fluke, but once they got over their initial shock, they’d bonded anew over a shared secret. Being gay or bisexual was rarely easy, but discovering something so life-altering about yourself while being a member of a conservative, devoutly Catholic, influential and rich Italian family was borderline dangerous. Having someone who understood that had been both a comfort and a miracle.
That’s when Tony taught Pete something. It was an involuntary lesson, but was the most important one of his life… because Tony taught Pete what would happen to him if his family ever found out that he had sex with other men.
Tony had been young and impetuous. Looking back, Peter supposed his cousin’s outing had been inevitable. At the time, it had been the kind of event that nightmares were made out of. From the sidelines, Peter had watched while the DiNozzo family, headed up by Tony’s own father, Roberto, had systematically disgraced and disowned the younger man. Peter kept waiting for Tony to drag him into the mess, to reveal that there was more than one ‘perverted’ DiNozzo in the family and thus dilute the scorn being heaped on him. It was what Peter would have done, had he been in Tony’s place. Misery, after all, loves company.
But Tony never did betray him.
His younger cousin had kept his mouth shut about Peter’s own sexual orientation, even that last, terrible Christmas. The whole extended family had been gathered at Uncle Roberto’s house, but when Tony had shown up; his father wouldn’t let him in and had even called the police on him. Peter would never forget the lost look in Tony’s eyes as he was turned away… or the way his gaze seemed to linger accusingly on Peter.
Peter had found himself a wife as soon as he could after that, one more interested in the size of his checkbook than his enthusiasm in bed. After the first child was born, the rest of the family stopped looking at Peter suspiciously, as though he’d been tainted by his previous closeness to Tony. After the second child, Uncle Roberto had created a job for him in the company he owned and, by the time the fifth one was born, he was Uncle Berto’s second in command.
If he occasionally lost sleep, plagued by thoughts of what he’d given up and the cousin whose place he’d usurped, at least tossing and turning on the most expensive mattress money could buy was some comfort.
“The old bastard better have left you controlling interest in the company. You were like a son to him.”
Peter looked over at his wife. Sometimes he wondered what she’d say if he told her that every boyfriend he’d ever had sex with had been better at giving blow jobs than she was. He mentally shook himself. His memories of Tony had brought up all sorts of long-repressed feelings. It would be in his best interest to beat them back down… and fast.
“I’m sure Uncle Berto did all right by me,” he assured Michelle. Seeing her frown, he was quick to add, “And you and the kids.”
“You never know,” she responded. “When someone’s dying and knows it, sometimes they get sentimental. His son was on the list of beneficiaries, doesn’t that worry you?”
Peter remembered the ruthlessness his uncle had used when cutting Tony out of the family. “No. Besides, even if he did, there’s plenty to go around.”
Michelle sniffed and continued to complain. Peter tuned her out, not so much out of habit, but because of who had just walked in. It’d been a long time since he’d seen his cousin and Peter’s first reaction was that of primal male appreciation. Although having long denied his attraction to other men, he couldn’t help but noticing how handsome the newcomer was. Tall, athletic and classic good looks… it took a double-take before he realized that it was his cousin. Little Tony had finally filled in and stopped looking so gawky. In fact, Tony looked good. Damn good.
Before Peter could move a step towards Tony, however, another man came in. Whereas Tony was so attractive that his presence made Peter pause to drink in the sight of him, this second man literally arrested his attention. Powerful body, piercing blue eyes… and a very possessive hand placed at the small of Tony’s back.
“My god,” Michelle breathed. “I cannot believe he brought one of his… his boyfriends with him. How disrespectful.”
As if her own referring to the deceased as a ‘bastard’ was any better. Peter ignored his wife’s hypocrisy as he watched one of the paralegals approach Tony. It was just as well. Uncle Berto’s death didn’t mean that Peter’s position was any safer than it had been before and feeling guilty about abandoning Tony when his cousin had needed him most didn’t make the gulf between them any easier to breach.
Gianni Luca, Uncle Roberto’s lawyer, stepped to the front of the room. “All of the parties are here now, so if you would accompany me to the office, we can get started.”
Along with the three dozen or so others who had gathered, Peter obediently filed into the inner office. It was more of a conference room, really, and to his discomfiture, he found himself going through the door at the same time as his cousin.
“Hey, Pete,” Tony greeted him quietly. “Long time no see.”
He nodded at the younger man. “Tony.”
He’d taken Michelle’s arm as they’d moved to be seated. With relatives all around and his wife stiff with fury, Peter didn’t dare say any more. Tony’d had a faintly hopeful look on his face when he’d spoken, but with Peter’s terse response, his expression had fallen. The man with him moved closer, seemingly oblivious to barely muffled gasps from the rest of the DiNozzo clan.
“As you know, we are here to read the last will and testament of Roberto Dominic DiNozzo.” The lawyer began. “Since Roberto wasn’t a sentimental man, he would no doubt want us to get right down to business.”
He would never admit it to Michelle, but there were no surprises in Uncle Berto’s will for Peter. He was his uncle’s second-in-command, he’d helped draft the damn thing. As a result, Peter spent the next few minutes surreptitiously studying his cousin, who was sitting on the other side of the table from him. The younger DiNozzo looked a little pale and like he hadn’t slept much the night before, but mostly he appeared calm and composed. Gone was the barely-adult young man who’d been so shattered by his family’s reaction to his sexual orientation. In his place was a mature man, one who seemed very comfortable with himself.
As he studied Tony, Peter’s eyes slid over to his cousin’s companion – and found a pair of blue eyes drilling in on him. Peter jumped a little and the silver-haired man’s lips twisted up in a slight grin. But those eyes… there was no humor in those eyes.
Suppressing a gulp, Peter turned his attention back to what the lawyer was saying. He hadn’t missed much. The first portion of the will was pretty mundane, mostly bestowing sums of money on Roberto’s surviving siblings, like Peter’s father. It was the next portion that might get a little more interesting.
“And now we come to a point in divvying up the estate where Mr. DiNozzo was a little less traditional,” Luca was saying. “As many of you know, Mr. DiNozzo’s nephew, Peter, had been a great comfort to him during his declining years and was always very faithful in his work for the family business.”
Peter felt his wife start to quiver with excitement.
Luca continued. “However, Roberto was also mindful of the fact that he would be leaving behind a son.”
All eyes turned towards Tony and Peter admired how composed his cousin looked.
“Mr. DiNozzo,” Luca nodded at Tony, making it clear that, in a room full of DiNozzos, he was speaking directly to him. “I’m going to read right from the document itself at this point instead of summarizing. Your father wanted to make sure that this next part was exceedingly clear.”
“I’m sure he did,” Peter heard his cousin murmur.
“To quote,” Luca read from the will, “To my son, Anthony James DiNozzo, I leave 51% controlling interest in DiNozzo Industries International, my home and all of its contents, and the lump sum of $20 million dollars… if he agrees to leave behind his perverted ways.” The lawyer had the grace to sound embarrassed by what he was reading. “Furthermore, to insure that he has, in fact, given up the unnatural practice of copulating with other men, a stipulation is that he must marry within one year and produce at least one child within five.’” Luca looked at Peter. “The remaining 49% interest in DiNozzo Industries is to be given to Peter Lorenzo DiNozzo, along with a lump sum of $6 million dollars.”
Michelle DiNozzo’s curse was loud enough that it echoed in the large room.
“Honey,” he put a hand on her arm, trying to keep her from making more of a scene.
“Don’t ‘honey’ me, you idiot,” she hissed. “We helped take care of that drunk old man, named one of our kids after him. Hell, you’ve slaved at his side for ten years. For what? So he could give most of his money to a disgrace he hasn’t even seen in years?”
From the murmuring in the room, the rest of the relatives were as shocked as Michelle was. All of that quieted when Tony calmly stood up.
“I guess we’re done here,” his cousin said. “Come on, Gibbs. Let’s go.”
The steely-eyed stranger had risen when Tony did and as Tony strode purposefully towards the door, he was right at his side, hand once again at the small of Tony’s back.
To his surprise, it was Peter who got up and hurried after them.
“Tony, wait a minute,” he said, putting a hand on his cousin’s arm and pulling him to a stop. Peter held his ground, even though he could have sworn that Tony’s companion growled at him.
“Think about it, Tony,” he pleaded. “That’s a lot of money. You could have your family back.”
Tony’s eyes narrowed and he glanced briefly over Peter’s shoulder. He shook his head and when Tony met Peter’s eyes, his cousin’s looked almost sympathetic. “No thanks, Pete.” He reached down and took the stranger’s hand. “I have all the family I need.”
His cousin just shook his head again. “The price is too high, Pete.”
Without looking back, Tony turned towards the door and left, his companion right by his side, never having uttered a word. Peter watched them go, a dull ache in his stomach. He’d lost his cousin all over again.
Peter sighed and went back to the rest of the relatives. They looked downright scandalized and his wife looked like she was about to explode. Peter couldn’t help but compare his relationship with her to the silent support that had vibrated off of the man who’d accompanied Tony. That led to thoughts of what he’d given up over the years and what he would have to give up in the years to come.
Tony was right. The price was too high.
The ride back to the hotel was as silent as the trip to Tony’s apartment had been the day before. There were, however, two important differences. First, the feel of the silence was contemplative, not tense. Second, the two men held hands the entire time.
They were more discreet when they arrived at the hotel. Tony, in particular, simply was not up to any sort of confrontation, not even with any ignorant homophobe they might chance to encounter. Gibbs was not inclined for public displays anyway and, being in full protective mode, was even more careful.
When they’d safely made it into their room, Tony took off his jacket and tossed it on the chair, then flopped down on the bed.
“Oh, God, I’m glad that’s over,” he groaned, rubbing his face with his hands. He toed off his expensive shoes, letting them fall where they would.
Jethro watched him for a little bit before carefully speaking. “$20 million, that’s a hell of a lot of money.”
Tony opened one eye to contemplate his lover. “Like I told Pete, the price was too high.”
Gibbs nodded his head. “I know that, but I also know how you miss the finer things that were around when you were growing up. I’m impressed that you weren’t even tempted.”
DiNozzo sighed. “Did you take a good look at my cousin, Pete?”
“Yeah,” Jethro toed off his own shoes, for once not taking time to untie them, and crawled onto the bed with Tony. “He did not look like a happy man.”
Tony rolled until he was on his side and propped himself up with one arm. “Pete took the path that my father wanted me to take. Denied what he was, what he felt. Got married like a good Italian boy and started breeding babies… and he looks fifteen or twenty years older than me.”
Gibbs mirrored the younger man’s position. “I know what it’s like to marry a woman because you think you should. It’s not the smartest thing in the world to do.”
DiNozzo smiled faintly. “Then I’m glad you learned your lesson, but three wives, Boss? I thought you were a faster learner than that.”
Jethro ignored that comment, instead, asking, “Any regrets?”
“No,” Tony answered quickly, but then abruptly changed his mind. “I take that back. I guess I do have a regret.”
“That I missed my one opportunity to have you as my kept man,” Tony’s voice turned sorrowful. “$20 million dollars would have bought a lot of silk shirts, not to mention exotic wood for your boat.”
Gibbs shook his head fondly. “On the bright side, at least now I know how much I mean to you. $20 million, to be exact.” He leaned forward and kissed the younger man.
Tony frowned. “You mean more to me than that.”
“Yeah?” Jethro looked pleased. He wiggled until he was propped against the headboard and then pulled DiNozzo into his arms. “In case I didn’t mention it, I was proud of you today. It took a lot of guts facing your family like that and then turning down the inheritance the way you did, that took integrity. I know you could have handled everything today without me, but damn, I was glad I was there to see it.”
Tony was quiet for a few moments, then sighed as he settled down into Jethro’s arms. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Gibbs,” Tony ducked his head, afraid to look Jethro in the eyes, “But… you weren’t the only reason I turned the money down. I know I’ve spent the last decade or so hiding being gay, but living an absolute lie, there’s no way I could have lived the rest of my life pretending to be something I’m not.”
Gibbs put a hand under Tony’s chin and forced his lover to look at him. “I know that, DiNozzo. Being closeted is a survival instinct, but marrying and having children with someone you don’t love just to fulfill a glorified job requirement, that’s something else.”
“I just don’t ever want you to feel guilty,” Tony explained. “If there comes a time when you want to leave, don’t feel you have to stay with me just because I gave up the money.”
“Not gonna happen,” Gibbs said firmly. “I’m not going anywhere.
Jethro capitulated. “But in the unlikely event that I did,” he conceded, “I would realize that you turned down the inheritance because it had strings attached that were morally repugnant to you and that you were a strong enough man to walk away from it rather than compromise your principles.” He bent so close that their noses practically touched. “I promise you, Anthony James DiNozzo, that I’m with you because that’s exactly where I want to be. Guilt has nothing to do with it – and never will. Not that I would go anywhere, because I’m not.”
He kissed Tony again and DiNozzo sighed, curling up into Jethro’s warmth. After the stress of the day, Gibbs halfway expected his lover to fall asleep, but instead, Tony surprised him with another question.
“Jethro, do you think we’re moving too fast?”
Gibbs thought about the last three years, wanting Tony almost every day. Of having a part of him die every time the younger man bragged about being out on a date, knowing that an attractive, intelligent, and charming man like Tony could have any partner he wanted. Of the sheer number of hours he’d spent in Tony’s presence and not being able to touch him the way he burned to. Of having him in his bed last night and finally getting his fill of touch. Of looking forward to sharing his bed with Tony every night for the rest of their lives.
“Hell, no,” he responded fervently.
Tony laughed at his response and kissed him deeply. “Good. Me neither.” He rested his head on Gibbs’ chest. “What’s the worst thing that could happen if people found out? I don’t want to end up like Pete, so frightened of being caught that I deny almost everything I am. I don’t mean I want to march at the head of the Gay Pride parade, but I don’t want to hide so much anymore either.”
Jethro thought about it before answering. “NCIS is a government employer. They couldn’t fire either of us, but Director Morrow would have to split us up. Agents that are romantically involved can’t be on the same team.”
“Different teams,” Tony repeated. “I don’t think I’d like that.”
“Me either,” Gibbs agreed. “Which is why we won’t screw up. As long as we don’t make it too obvious, then Morrow won’t officially have to notice or do anything about it.”
Reassured, Tony relaxed, grinning suddenly as something occurred to him. “I bet my father is rolling over in his grave right about now.”
Jethro didn’t smile back. “Do you want to visit the cemetery?”
Tony didn’t even have to think about it. “No. He wasn’t satisfied with throwing me out of the family; he tried to hurt me even after he was dead. I’m through with him.” His expression grew pensive. “I might like to go to my mom’s graveside sometime, but not this trip.”
“Whatever you need, Tony.”
DiNozzo looked at him appraisingly. “Whatever I need, huh?”
Jethro didn’t trust the innocent expression his lover was wearing. “That’s what I said.”
Tony squirmed out of Jethro’s arms and crawled over his lover until he was straddling him. “What if I said that what I needed was help feeling alive again?” He grinned wolfishly. “Our flight back home isn’t until morning. You could make me feel alive at least a couple of times by then.”
Gibbs grinned back. “Well, then, I better get started.”
Tony put a finger over Gibbs’ mouth. “I also need a promise. That you’ll never again mention my father while we’re in bed.”
“I can live with that,” Jethro stated quietly, kissing the finger that still covered his lips before bending down to devour Tony’s mouth.
And, through all the years of their lives together, it was a vow that both men found very easy to keep.
Kate released a sigh of relief when she walked off the elevator and realized she was the first one in the office. It was Tony and Gibbs’ first day back and she wanted to get the flowers on Tony’s desk before he got in.
She’d missed Tony’s chatter and teasing more than she would ever admit. In fact, she’d had an overwhelming urge to call one of her brothers each night while he’d been gone, making her realize just how much like a sibling the other agent had come to seem to her. Flowers might not be a normal thing to get a guy, but she couldn’t let the passing of Tony’s father go unobserved and, given Kate’s upbringing, that meant flowers.
At first, it had seemed decidedly strange that Gibbs was gone during the same time Tony’d been out on bereavement leave, particularly since DiNozzo had been granted the full five days because he had to travel. She’d been relieved when the older agent had accompanied Tony that first day home, but to have Gibbs out of the office for five whole days, when the man hadn’t taken a single sick or personal day in the time she’d worked for him, was incomprehensible. Until, that was, Abby had set her down and explained some things. After that, she was glad both men would be gone for a full work week. She needed at least that long to get her head around the idea that they might be a couple.
“Are they here yet?”
Kate looked up to see a very harried-looking McGee. The junior agent was carry a bakery box and was looking around as though Tony and Gibbs might be hiding behind a desk. Given the number of times that Tony had teased him and that Gibbs had snuck up on him, that wasn’t an entirely unreasonable habit for McGee to be in.
“No, not yet.” She assured him. “What’s that?”
“Oh, I thought, since this is Gibbs and Tony’s first day back, I’d bring something in to, you know, celebrate,” Tim explained.
He set the box tentatively on Tony’s desk. Kate looked inside it and smiled.
“Coffee cake,” she said. “How appropriate.”
“I thought so, given how the boss likes his coffee,” McGee explained. “Do you think that was a good choice? Because the bakery’s not too far from here, I could always get something else.”
“No, McGee,” Kate promised him, “I’m sure this is just fine - …”
“Are they here yet?”
Both Kate and McGee turned at the new voice. It was Abby, coming up from the lab.
“No, not yet.” Kate’s response was a little terse. It was the second she’d had to answer that question in as many minutes. She took a good look at what the other woman was carrying. “Abby, is that a chocolate cake?”
Abby nodded so hard that her pigtails bounced. “Yup. It’s for Tony. Granny always said that when someone died, you brought food.”
“But chocolate cake?” Kate asked. “It’s eight o’clock in the morning, Abby.”
“So?” Abby retorted. She set the cake down on Tony’s desk, next to the bakery box. “It’s Tony’s favorite.”
McGee tried to mediate. “We can always save the cake for later in the day.”
“What do you mean by ‘we,’ Sunshine?” Abby asked, slapping Tim’s hand away from the frosting. “The cake’s for Tony.”
“Are they here yet?”
Kate, McGee, and Abby all responded without even looking up. “NO!”
“Good, good,” Ducky didn’t seem at all surprised to see that the other team members had already gathered or that they’d also brought offerings. “I brought scones.” He set two bags, one brown and one white, down on Tony’s desk.
“Scones are so cool,” Abby declared, her pique at McGee forgotten. “They’re like muffins with class.”
“Well, I’d stay away from that first bag, if I were you,” Ducky warned them. “Mother insisted on baking and I’m not sure they’re edible. The other set’s from a coffee shop around the corner. I wouldn’t want to give Anthony or Jethro a tummy ache on their first day back, after all.”
Kate looked at Tony’s laden desk in dismay. “That might be a futile exercise, Ducky. If they eat all this sugar in one sitting, a stomach ache’s inevitable.”
“Not DiNozzo,” Tim disagreed. “I think he lives on sugar.”
“That explains a few things,” Kate said dryly.
Kate answered the familiar voice without even thinking. “Like why you’re always bouncing off the walls.” Then she realized why the voice sounded so familiar. “Tony!”
She whirled to find Tony standing there, a very pleased expression on his face. Seeing him look so smug, Kate almost forgot that she’d missed him. “How’d you get up here without us seeing?”
“The stairs,” Tony pointed to the door he’d used to sneak up on them. “Sometimes I use them instead of the elevator. I have to work off all that sugar I eat somehow, you know.”
“Come here you big goof,” Abby shouldered her way through the small group to get to Tony. Once she reached him, she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a big hug. “We’re so sorry and we’re so glad you’re back.”
“Yeah,” McGee slapped DiNozzo on the shoulder and then, realizing he’d touched the other agent, turned red in the face. “What she said.”
“Yes, my dear boy,” Ducky added. “The loss of one’s parent is a most difficult time. You have our deepest condolences.”
Tony stiffened at the medical examiner’s words and Abby reluctantly stepped away. “Here, I brought you cake,” she went to the desk and lifted the cake so that Tony could see.
“Ooooh… chocolate. My favorite,” Tony immediately swiped a finger through the icing and stuck his finger in his mouth.
“You too?” Kate threw up her hands. “Chocolate cake for breakfast – what is wrong with you people?”
Tony was on his second finger full of icing. “I believe it was Bill Crosby who pointed out that chocolate cake is made with milk and eggs, common breakfast ingredients.”
“Indeed Caitlyn,” Ducky interjected. “Baked goods of a sweet nature are not at all unusual when it comes to first meal of the day. Americans are fond of muffins for breakfast and they are simply small cakes and I believe that the pastry that Timothy brought is commonly known as coffee cake. Then there is more civilized fare such as scones…”
“Besides,” Abby pointed out, “compared to Captain Crunch cereal, chocolate cake is practically sugar free.”
“You have a point,” Kate reluctantly admitted. “Anybody bring a knife? We might as well cut it.”
“The only thing anyone will be cutting around here is an unemployment check.”
All five of them flinched. Gibbs was back and back with a vengeance.
“What is this, a party?” Gibbs barked.
“No, Boss,” Tony tried to explain. “It’s just breakfast.”
Gibbs was unimpressed. “Well, get it to go. We’ve got a case, people. DiNozzo, get the truck.”
Far from being annoyed at the senior agent’s manner, it felt good to have the boss back. Even as she scrambled to get her things together, though, Kate got the feeling that something was different about Gibbs. Something was not usual about him, she just couldn’t put her finger on what.
Well, that sounded perfectly normal. Even if Abby was right about them being lovers, Gibbs obviously wasn’t going to treat Tony any differently. Not that, deep down inside, Kate ever thought he would. Even as she watched, Tony took another finger full of frosting… and got a whap on the back of the head for his trouble.
It was when Gibbs turned towards the elevator and moved to walk past her that Kate realized what was different. It wasn’t in the older man’s attitude, it was – of all things – something about his clothes.
She couldn’t help herself. Kate just had to ask.
“Gibbs, is that a silk shirt you’re wearing?”
The challenge elements nancy gave me were:
1. Tony’s father dies and Tony has to deal with the guilt of not being at peace with the man. They’d been estranged for years because of Tony being gay.
2. Ton ys not sure of his place at NCIS, due to events in “Reveille” and due to unrequited feelings for Gibbs.
3. Gibbs wants to help Tony, but doesn’t want to “poach” him while he’s vulnerable. Also, he doesn’t want Tony to take off, as per his MO of two years per job.
4. The challenge was to get them together so that Gibbs accompanies Tony to the funeral/wake, giving Gibbs only the time between Tony finding out about his father until the funeral to woo him.
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