Gibbs made short work of picking up the clothing they’d left scattered about Tony’s apartment while Tony checked to see what would qualify as edible in his kitchen. Gibbs bundled up the clothing and tossed it in the hamper somewhat relieved that at least this time Tony’s shirt hadn’t lost any buttons.
It had happened before, when things got a little intense, and Gibbs was a bit too ravenous to wait. Time apart could do that to him---like on a hot case that kept them working for days with no real down time. The younger man never objected to those bouts of rough and ready love making where they often didn’t make it any further than the front hallway. But he always made Gibbs pay for his tailor to repair his shirts. Gibbs grinned to himself, it could get expensive, but he couldn’t really say he regretted anything.
Glancing at Tony’s closet, Gibbs was surprised to realize how much of his own clothing was now in residence. Hanging there, it wasn’t readily obvious that his dress shirts cost less than half of what Tony typically spent on his. But touching them, it was readily apparent that Tony’s were of better quality material and better made. Most were tailored to fit rather than just off the rack like Gibbs’ were.
Given Tony’s height, tailoring made sense. Finding something to fit well was probably not easy to do. And like Abby, Gibbs readily appreciated how good Tony looked in his designer threads.
Gibbs fingered the sleeve on one of Tony’s silk shirts. He never seriously considered getting something so expensive for himself. But since getting involved with Tony there were times when he was tempted. Not that he’d ever said so aloud. No way in hell was he going to admit to envying Tony’s wardrobe.
Gibbs headed for the kitchen. He could hear the microwave humming. He tried to remember when they last ordered something in, wondering if whatever Tony was heating was actually safe to eat.
“Soup’s on,” Tony said when he saw him. “Literally.”
Tony held up a can. Gibbs’ squinted to read the label. Healthy Choice Vegetable Beef. He couldn’t remember if he’d eaten that before, but it was definitely a better choice than leftover take out of dubious age.
“Not as good as home made, but it is hot and not pizza, so I think that covers my promise to Aggie.” Tony shrugged. “And nuking it is faster than using the stove.”
Gibbs was going to ask why the rush when Tony’s stomach rumbled loudly. Lunch had been a long time ago, and there hadn’t been time for even a snack since. His own stomach rumbled in sympathetic response, reminding him that he needed more than coffee to run on too.
Tony pointed to the table where a plate sat in the center. Crackers, cheese and apple slices were laid out in a neat circle. Gibbs helped himself to a piece of cheese knowing Tony favored varieties he hadn’t even known existed before meeting the younger man. This one was something sharp and tangy. Tony would probably know what wine went well with it.
“You want a beer?”
Gibbs nodded. He preferred beer to wine…if he wasn’t going to have bourbon. Given the few comments Tony had made regarding his father’s drinking habits, Gibbs knew it would be a cold day in hell before the younger man stocked any of the hard stuff in his apartment. He didn’t object to Gibbs having it in his home; Gibbs suspected it was a byproduct of that ingrained politeness than any true acceptance on Tony’s part. It wasn’t a huge concession for Gibbs to have only one shot or to simply go without when Tony stayed at his place. He really didn’t mind doing whatever it took to make sure Tony was comfortable in his home.
“Sit.” Tony handed him a beer. He turned back to the microwave when it beeped, carefully withdrawing two steaming bowls of soup. He set one in front of Gibbs before taking a seat across the table from him.
Tony picked up an apple slice, crunching it between his teeth, while idly stirring his soup. Gibbs stirred his own, helping it cool enough to eat. He tossed in a few crackers while he was at it, before snagging another piece of cheese.
“I’ve been thinking.”
Tony raised an eyebrow, clearly not expecting that sudden conversational gambit. “About?”
“Our sleeping arrangements.”
Tony’s wary expression made Gibbs realize that his bald statement could be taken the wrong way. He reached out to capture one of Tony’s hands, entwining their fingers, offering physical reassurance while he tried to work out what to say. He hadn’t meant to just blurt things out like that, but since he’d already started, Gibbs decided there was no way to back peddle, better to just continue.
“I don’t like sleeping alone,” he confessed with a quiet sigh. Truth was he hated it. And he resented starting his day without a morning kiss or a chance to cuddle even if only for a few minutes before getting up to face the day.
“Don’t much like sleeping alone myself.” Tony smiled softly.
Gibbs took a deep breath. It wasn’t exactly forbidden territory, but he still felt compelled to tread lightly. He didn’t want to scare Tony by pushing too hard. And Tony had good reason to be cautious.
“I know…we’d agreed to spend a few nights a week a part to keep up appearances. And to make sure we didn’t get complacent at work. But…” Gibbs’ thumb caressed Tony’s knuckles, “I think we’re capable of keeping our private lives private, even if we spend every night together.”
Tony smirked playfully. “You think?”
“Yeah, I do.” Gibbs returned seriously. He wanted Tony to genuinely consider what he was saying. “We’ve been a couple for months and no one has noticed anything.” He frowned, remembering the conversation he overheard between Stoddard and Vizoric, and comments made by Ziva and McGee. “At least nothing concrete anyway.”
Tony cocked his head. “Meaning?”
“Half the building thinks you’ve got someone special.”
“I knew that.” Tony’s eyes sparkled. “And I do have someone special.”
Gibbs fought down the blush he could feel rising. He cleared his throat, telling himself to stay focused. “But they don’t have any idea who…and it is decidedly unlikely any of them are going to jump to the right conclusion. At least, not without us doing something blatant.”
“By blatant, you mean…”Tony arched an eyebrow. “Like me going down on you in the elevator? Or maybe in the car? Or if I planted a big old sloppy kiss on you in the--”
“Yeah, like that.” Gibbs tightened his grip on Tony’s hand, halting the flow of words and images they engendered. “If they haven’t figure it out by now…our spending every night together shouldn’t be a problem.”
Tony’s brows pulled together, expression sobering. He worried his lower lip. “I don’t—“
“This isn’t Peoria, Tony.” It was a calculated risk to even hint at what had happened to Tony’s lover, Caleb, so many years ago.
Tony winced and looked away, but didn’t try to pull his hand from Gibbs’. He took a shaky breath, nodding slowly. Green eyes measured Gibbs. “You can take care of yourself.”
It wasn’t a question, but Gibbs felt compelled to answer just the same. “Yes, I can.” He could take care of Tony too, if need be. No one was going to come after either of them in a dark alley with a baseball bat. Not if Gibbs hand anything to say about it.
He could feel the uncertainty radiating off Tony in waves. Gibbs squeezed the hand he held and waited.
“We don’t have to say anything, right?”
“Not talking about coming out of the closet here, Tony,” Gibbs reminded him gently, not surprised Tony would seek reassurance on that point. He understood all to well the sort of scars and uncertainty losing a loved one to violence could leave. So while he wanted to publicly declare his love for Tony, he was prepared to wait until the younger man was ready.
He could wait until Tony was sure all his teammates could be trusted to support them as a couple. Abby would not be a problem---she already knew Tony wasn’t as straight as he pretended and was decidedly open minded. But Ziva and McGee were unknowns. And if they told one, they would have to tell them all. Gibbs always thought Franklin was right when he said, “the only way three people can keep a secret is if two are already dead.”
It wasn’t a hardship to wait until Tony believed the agents at NCIS weren’t like the homophobic cops that had only managed to solve Caleb’s murder because of the gross ineptitude of the perpetrators. The majority weren’t like the service men and women that the team occasionally dealt with who saw gays as abnormal, in need of punishment for being different. They weren’t like Caleb’s father either---disowning his son for being gay and likely the principle cause of his death.
Tony bit his lower lip. “So…just no more spending nights apart?”
“No more nights apart.” Gibbs nodded, confirming that he wasn’t pushing for more.
The tension seemed to drain away from Tony. Gibbs understood then that Tony had wanted this as much as he did, but had been too skittish to bring it up or ask outright. They were both still feeling their way through this relationship a little at a time. Both of them were sometimes shy of asking for too much, pushing too hard, of doing irreparable damage to what was the best thing in their lives. And deep, meaningful emotional conversations weren’t exactly either’s forte.
Tony smiled. ”I think I can handle spending every night together.”
Gibbs rolled his eyes. “Ya think?”
Tony gave him an amused look. “Shaddup.”
“Doesn’t work for you either.”
“True.” Tony chuckled. He grabbed another apple slice. “You want to alternate nights between your place and mine?”
Gibbs decided against bringing up the idea of moving in together the second Tony asked that question. It was a clear indicator that Tony wasn’t ready for that step yet. And to be honest, Gibbs wasn’t quite sure he was ready for that it either. It was the first long term relationship for Tony, and the first serious one Gibbs had ever had with a man---they both still needed that sense of independence having their own places implied…at least for now. The more time they spent together, Gibbs knew that need would diminish until ‘living together’ didn’t seem like such a monumental step.
Gibbs just smiled and shrugged a shoulder. “As long as we end up together, the where doesn’t matter much.”
“You sure about this?”
Gibbs made eye contact and held it. “I’m sure.”
Tony’s smile brightened. “Okay.”
Gibbs raised an eyebrow, his innate skepticism rising. He had expected more… resistance…discussion…something. It was anti-climatic to have it be this easy.
Tony fluttered his eye lashes, countenance one of exaggerated innocence. “You want me to make you work harder for it?”
Gibbs grimaced. No, he really didn’t want to have to fight Tony on this…even in a lighthearted way. “No.”
“Then just accept the easy answer.”
There were times when he really despised how quickly Tony could shift emotional gears. When he detested how easily Tony could make complex things simple and simple things complex. It was maddening at times.
“I hate you.”
“No, you don’t.”
“No, I don’t.” Gibbs agreed. Maddening, yet so damn endearing. And Gibbs didn’t really want him any other way.
Tony laughed softly before ducking his head to place a quick kiss on the back of Gibbs’ hand. “Eat your dinner before it gets cold.”
At they ate conversation drifted to safer topics. They touched on their upcoming trip to see Gabe and what to send Mike for Heather that would convince him to send Gibbs brownies. They briefly rehashed the case, and compared notes on how their theories about what the evidence indicated compared with just how pathetic Warren actually was. The man would likely have never spent a day in jail if he had the good sense to leave his brother’s body in an alley. Now, he was looking at a minimum of fifteen years for embezzlement and obstruction. By the time Gibbs started asking for details on Stoddard and Vizoric’s case, Tony was yawning repeatedly.
“Think it’s past your bed time.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “It’s not even nine.”
Gibbs cocked his head, waiting out another yawn from Tony before asking, “Your point?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Tony rubbed his face tiredly, pushing his chair back from the table. “Let me just—“
“I’ll clean up here.” Gibbs smiled, taking both bowls and piling them on the now empty plate. “You cooked…well…sort of.”
“Hey!” Tony protested with quicksilver grin. “I slaved over that microwave for a good three minutes.”
Gibbs snickered. “Oh yeah, absolute agony.”
“Worked my fingers to the bone.” Tony declared with a put upon expression. “No appreciation. None.”
Gibbs gave him a look, letting his eyes run over Tony suggestively. “I’ll show you my appreciation.”
Tony shivered and then made a soft growling noise deep in his throat. “Promise?”
“Promise.” Gibbs waved a hand toward the bedroom. “Go warm up the bed.”
Tony leaned in. His lips barely touched Gibbs’. It was a brief kiss, so quick as to be almost not existent, and yet promising so much more. “Don’t make me wait too long.”
Gibbs struggled to breathe normally. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Good man.” Tony said before sauntering out of the kitchen.
Gibbs watched Tony’s ass sway. The man was such a tease. So tempting, so alluring. Maybe…yeah…he decided. The dishes could wait until tomorrow.