Jethro hit the speakerphone button on his cordless before slipping on his belt and jacket.
"Gibbs, it's Kate. Just thought I'd let you know Tony's called out sick again."
Jethro bent down beside his bed and unlocked the safe that housed his gun and ammo. He could hear the concern in his colleague's voice but couldn't quite fathom why she was calling him at home to tell him about DiNozzo. "Spit it out, Kate. What couldn't wait 'til I got to the office?"
"Sorry. Didn't mean to disturb you."
Slipping his weapon into its holster and clipping it to his belt, Jethro rose to his feet and let out a grunt of frustration when he found the coffee mug that he had brought to bed last night was empty. "It's a little late for an apology, Kate. Just tell me what's wrong." Kate's sigh of exasperation was clearly audible and Jethro chose to ignore it. "Kate!"
The woman's reply was quick, crisp and to the point, and Jethro could almost imagine her saluting as she gave it. "This is the fourth day he's called out, sir," she said.
Jethro stopped collecting the various mugs littering his bedroom and glared at the phone. "Four days? Are you sure about that? I thought it was only two."
"No, sir. Tony was also out the two days you and Director Morrow were up on the Hill."
Pausing long enough to enter the bathroom and dump all the mugs in the sink, Jethro reflected on the last time he had seen the ex-cop. It was the evening before he left to go to D.C., and as far as he could recall, DiNozzo had looked and acted just fine.
Too fine, in fact.
His new lover had distracted him in such a way that Jethro had barely had enough time to pack his briefcase and catch a couple of hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 0500. Not to mention, his well-fucked ass was none too happy about the bumpy ride into D.C. and the hard chair it was forced to occupy during the endless round of meetings.
"I'll be top dog next time, DiNozzo," Jethro whispered, a predatory smile appearing briefly on his face.
Despite his fierce adherence to Rule Twelve since joining NCIS, Jethro had finally succumbed to the hunger that had plagued him from the moment Anthony DiNozzo was assigned to his team. The young man with the boyish charm and quick wit had wormed his way into Jethro's heart, and after two years of total abstinence, Jethro's resolve crumbled during his team's latest all-nighter. Obviously willing to live life dangerously, Tony had taken matters into his own hands and flirted openly with the former Marine during an elevator ride to Abby's lab. One blistering kiss later and Jethro had declared Rule Twelve null and void and had taken Tony to bed the very second the case was solved.
That had been two weeks ago, and because their workload had increased tenfold in the past few days, not to mention his mandatory meetings with the Brass, Jethro had, unfortunately, very little time to spend with Tony.
Jethro gazed at his reflection and frowned. Why in the hell hadn't Tony contacted him personally about being sick? Was it because, he, himself, hadn't taken the time to check in with his new lover - and if he had shown some interest in the younger man's well-being, would it have been Tony's voice on the phone and not Kate's?
"Gibbs, are you there?"
Exiting the bathroom, the senior NCIS agent collected his wallet, badge and cellphone and slipped them into the pockets of his jacket and slacks. "What illness does DiNozzo claim to be suffering with?"
"That's just it. He hasn't said a word about what's wrong with him. Just calls out."
Jethro found his curiosity aroused by the tone of Kate's voice. "What aren't you telling me?"
"He sounds awful," Kate confessed. "And I don't mean awful as in deathly ill awful. He sounds like he's heartsick."
"Heartsick? What the hell does that mean?" Locating his new Palm Pilot, Jethro checked his schedule before asking his next question, "And you're telling me this because?" A feeling of unease settled down upon him, and he instantly knew he was not going to like Kate's answer.
"Gibbs, I'm a profiler. I've been trained to notice things."
Shit and double shit.
Running his hand through his graying hair, Jethro took a seat on the edge of his bed and stared blindly at the bare wall in front of him. "Will it be necessary for me to ask that you keep your observations on this particular matter private?"
It wasn't so much for himself that he insisted upon Kate's silence - he had put in his time with the military and could easily retire if need be so. Tony was his main concern, and Jethro would do whatever was necessary to guarantee his reputation remain unblemished.
"Kate, do I have your word that you'll . . ."
"What you do behind closed doors is your business," Kate interrupted him. "I called because I'm concerned about Tony, and thought, that since you're his supervisor, you might want to check up on him."
"Watch it, Agent Todd." Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jethro inhaled deeply before ending the conversation with a brusque, "I'll stop by his apartment on my way in to work. Thanks."
Leaning forward, Jethro snapped off the cordless and took a moment to again review the day's schedule. If he skipped his morning stop for coffee, he could run by DiNozzo's, spend a few minutes with him and still get to work on time. Glancing down at himself, Jethro was surprised to feel a certain heat building in his groin at the thought of seeing Tony.
Screw being on time. He was definitely going to need some java.
Savoring the last sip of his coffee, Jethro stepped closer to DiNozzo's front door and closely examined the brass door knocker. From the way it was hanging by only one screw, it was obvious that someone had seriously tried to yank it off the door. Dangling from the handle itself was a torn piece of faded ribbon and Jethro had trouble deciphering its original color.
"Wonder what idiot did this?" Jethro questioned the closed door as he banged hard on its surface. Minutes passed and suddenly he grew overly concerned. The visible vandalism, along with the prolonged length of time it was taking DiNozzo to answer the door threw his senses into high alert and Jethro, without thinking, reached for his gun. He was easing it free of its holster when the door swung open and Tony staggered out.
"Boss? Something wrong?"
"I do believe that's a question I should be asking you."
Jethro frowned as he took in DiNozzo's disheveled appearance - the uncombed hair, the stubble-covered cheeks, the bloodshot eyes, not to mention the distinctive odor of alcohol that clung to the tall man's sloppily-clad physique. Anger surpassed his concern and Jethro took a step forward, crowding Tony slightly while demanding, "What the hell is going on, DiNozzo? Kate reported you called out sick again. Doesn't look like you're sick to me. More like you're nursing a hangover."
Removing the crushed coffee cup from Gibbs' hand, Tony mimicked the older man and invaded his personal space, appearing more than ready to dispute his accusations but something caused him to rethink his decision. With a dismissive wave of his hand, he turned away and walked back inside his apartment.
More than slightly aggravated, Jethro was seriously contemplating leaving and putting his insolent lover on report but the reflection of pain in Tony's eyes pulled him up short. He had seen that look before. Hell, he had worn that look himself in the past on far too many occasions and knew exactly what it meant.
Tony was in mourning and Jethro's heart insisted he discover the reason why.
Cautiously entering the poorly lit apartment, Jethro masked his surprise when he found Tony sprawled on the couch with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and a framed photograph clutched in the other. Littering the floor in front of him were not only his discarded coffee cup but also several pizza boxes and at least two empty whiskey bottles. To put it mildly, the room was a mess - except for the glass and chrome metal coffee table sitting in front of the couch. Centered perfectly on its clear surface was a newspaper and the remnants of a faded bow. One look at the bow and Jethro knew exactly why the door knocker was in the shape it was.
Tony for the moment, he hunkered down and concentrated his attention on the
newspaper, quickly scanning the headlines. The lead article and accompanying
photo was about a local fireman that had been killed in action in the war in
Tony solved the mystery with five simple words.
"Jeff and I were lovers."
Instantly solidifying in Jethro's mind was the image of Tony and Jeff sitting together holding hands. They had been in the audience of people watching a movie his last wife had dragged him to before their divorce. Jethro remembered it hadn't been too long after that fortuitous meeting that Tony, while riding shotgun with him during a long road trip, had, without prompting, confessed his sexuality. Tony had also felt compelled, for some reason, to inform Jethro that he and Jeff had ended their relationship; and even though Jethro wasn't quite sure why the two men had parted ways, he did remember feeling a tad bit relieved that Tony was free and clear of any emotional attachments.
As if reading his thoughts, Tony filled in the blanks. "Jeff was Army Reserve and just couldn't deal with being military and being gay." Taking a long draw on the whiskey bottle, he kept his gaze pinned to the photograph in his hand. "We stayed good friends despite everything and when his unit got called up, I was there for him, seeing him off and all."
ex-cop gave a brittle laugh and tipped his bottle in Gibbs' direction.
"Wanna hear something ironic?" Tony waited a second and when his boss
didn't reply or accept his offer of libation, he took another swallow and
continued on somewhat bemusedly, "Jeff met someone while over in
Even though he couldn't see the tears, Jethro could definitely hear them in Tony's voice, and he quickly moved to the couch, taking a seat beside his young lover and gently gripping his knee. "When was the last time you communicated with Jeff?"
Tony laid his head on the back of the couch and stared up at the ceiling. "That's just it . . . ." Dropping the photograph on the cushion beside him, Tony tucked the whiskey bottle between his legs and turned his tortured gaze on Gibbs. "That's just it. I haven't talked to him. Got all wrapped up in you, in us and . . . ." Tony sought shelter in the older man's arms. "Dear God forgive me but . . . I forgot him, Jethro. I forgot all about him being over there."
Jethro tangled his fingers in Tony's hair and protectively cradled his head, tucking it beneath his chin. He could feel the man's anguish as if it were his own, and he desperately wished he knew the right words to say that would ease Tony's emotional torment. Words, the kind of words that would heal a wounded heart, were not his forte, and Jethro wisely kept his mouth shut. Instead, he comforted Tony with his touch - holding him close, pressing soft kisses to his forehead and rubbing his hand up and down his back in what he hoped was a soothing manner.
"I didn't mean to forget," Tony confessed in a hushed voice heavy with self-condemnation. "I was just so happy about you finally succumbing to my charms and admitting you loved me that time just slipped away. And now, now it's too late."
Tony's fingers bit into his biceps, and Jethro grunted slightly, knowing without a doubt that he would be sporting a recognizable set of bruises by late afternoon. "Ease up on that grip, DiNozzo."
Without hesitation, Tony did as he was instructed but went one step further and pulled completely away from Gibbs. He returned to his corner of the couch and sought a different type of comfort, a Southern type of comfort by the name of Jack Daniels. Wiping his mouth clean after taking a hearty gulp, he mumbled, "Sorry, Boss. Didn't mean to dump all that shit on ya. I'll go get cleaned up and be into work in a jiffy."
Jethro watched Tony stumble into the bathroom, and he cursed every step that took his lover away from him. No wonder his three wives had left him - he was such an asshole when it came to dealing with people's emotions. Tony was hurting, torn up with grief and all that Jethro could do was complain about being held too tight.
Hauling his butt off the couch, Jethro followed after Tony, stopping just short of the bathroom door and listening to the quiet sobbing going on inside. The sound was nearly his undoing, and without a second thought to the consequences, he stripped off his clothes, opened the door and stepped inside the shower.
Jethro pulled Tony into his arms and held the weeping man in a gentle embrace, once again, taking the coward's way out and allowing his touch to speak the words his vocabulary could not supply. He kept a hold on Tony until the water began to turn lukewarm, and with a soft kiss to his lips, hurriedly bathed his limp body. Cutting off the water, Jethro then carefully guided his silent companion out of the shower and efficiently dried the two of them off.
"Let's get you to bed," he said huskily.
Tony's grief stricken gaze was beginning to take its toll and Jethro felt compelled to stay with his lover, offering whatever solace he could, no matter how long it took. Tony was his priority now - not the job.
After tucking Tony under the covers, Jethro detoured back into the hallway and grabbed his pants, retrieving his cellphone. He left a brief message with Kate's voice mail, informing her that both he and Tony would be out until further notice.
"Let her profile that," he said with a roguish smile as he tossed his cell on the pile of clothes on the floor. Hurrying back into the bedroom, Jethro slid in beside Tony and spent the next few minutes kissing and caressing the exhausted man's chilled torso. A quiet lassitude was about to overtake him when he heard Tony speak.
"Boss, would you . . . I mean . . . do you think it'd be . . . ." Tony clamped his mouth shut and hid his face in the crook of Gibbs' neck and shoulder. "Forget it," he mumbled.
Jethro hated the way Tony called him 'Boss' when they were alone but now was not the time to correct him. Sliding his fingers into Tony's damp hair, he exerted just enough pressure to make him to look up. "Talk to me, DiNozzo. I'm not going anywhere."
Intertwining their hands together, Tony pressed a kiss to Gibbs' chest and nervously asked, "Would you mind . . . would you mind if I told you about Jeff? He was really a great guy, and I think even you would've liked him."
"Is that so?"
Jethro gripped Tony's hand and tugged until he was lying partially on top of him. A feeling of utter peace took hold of his heart when Tony settled his weight down upon him, and Jethro couldn't help but share a satisfied grin with the lazily spinning ceiling fan above his head. This was where he belonged, here with Tony, learning everything he could about this intriguing young man he had come to love.
"Go ahead, Tony, I've got all day. Tell me about Jeff."
as close as possible, Tony let out a contented sigh and said quietly,
"Jeff loved pickles. Now, I know you're asking yourself what's so
interesting about that. Have you ever tried eating one slathered with
strawberry jam? Let me tell you something, it's . . . ."
I hope you recognized the true
moral of this story.
PLEASE, PLEASE do not forget our men and women serving overseas.
Replace those faded yellow ribbons, folks. Remember why you bought them and why you're still flying that flag you hung from your front porch. No matter what your politics are, take a moment today to remember those who have made the pledge to serve and protect our country, wherever they may be stationed.
This story was inspired by one of my co-workers whose son served in the war in Iraq. Jeff was injured in the fall of 2004 and after he recovered from his wound, insisted on returning to his unit. Three months later he was killed attempting to rescue a fallen comrade.
We shall never forget his sacrifice.