Chapter 1: Chapter 1
This story is slightly AU---as is most of the series. Follows the show up to the episode Frame Up...and deviates after that.
Gibbs eyed his lover of seven months. Tony DiNozzo was taping his fingers against the table, keeping time with the drummer of the band on stage. His lips were curled upward in a tiny smile, eyes half closed as he enjoyed the soft blues music that managed to fill the bar without making it impossible to carry on a normal conversation. He appeared to be totally immersed in the moment---it was a good illusion, but Gibbs knew better.
“Ducky said he’d be here.”
“I know.” Tony nodded, sighing softly. He gave Gibbs a sheepish look. “That’s kind of the problem.”
“It is going to be okay.” Gibbs captured Tony’s restless fingers, discreetly trapping them with his own. “Just like it was with Abby and McGee. Nothing to worry about.”
He and Ducky had been friends for years. He was sure the older man would have no trouble accepting them….well, reasonably sure. Tony didn’t need to know he had any doubts, however minor. So Gibbs made eye contact and held it, making certain his voice held nothing but confidence. “I’m sure.”
Tony nodded again. He squeezed Gibbs’ hand. “Not really nervous…just, well, it’s not like we do this every day.”
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. “You think it would get easier if we did, Honey Buns?” He knew using Abby’s pet name for Tony paid off when the younger man grinned, relaxing back more into his seat.
“It might.” Tony’s green eyes were no longer pensive. “I mean, practice makes perfect and all that.”
“We could plan a daily regimen.” Gibbs offered, fighting back a smile of his own.
“Start small.” Tony chuckled. “One a week for a few months.”
“Work our way up to three a week.”
“One a day,” Tony offered.
Gibbs snickered. That sounded like a vitamin. “Maybe there’s a pill we could just take instead.”
Tony laughed, before his expression shifted to one of mock seriousness. “Nuh-hunh. Only way to truly get fit is diet and exercise. No magic pill. No miracle cure. No trendy diets. None of that stuff works.”
Gibbs rolled his eyes. “Should have known you watching infomercials with Abby would be a bad idea.”
“Not much else on at three in the morning.” Tony shrugged. “Well, other than B movies. And we’ve seen all of them before.”
More than once, Gibbs thought, with a mental snicker. How Tony could watch Godzilla take out Tokyo several times was a mystery. Gibbs got tired of the bad acting and poor animation in less than ten minutes. Although, he had to admit, listening to Tony and Abby create their own dialog had been pretty damn funny.
Gibbs took a sip from his bourbon. “Why in the hell did you have the TV on in her lab anyway?”
“Cause the mass spec will do its thing without anyone watching it.” Tony frowned. “Not that I know what it does exactly.” He made a meaningless hand gesture. “And staring at the computer while it runs through the zillion fingerprints on file is about as exciting as watching paint dry. So we had to find something to do while we waited.”
“You couldn’t find something more productive to do?” His tone was mild. They case had been nearly closed by that point. They were just seeking confirmation and double checking results; there wasn’t really anything else Tony had needed to be doing, or Gibbs would have made sure he’d done it then. As it was, the most useful thing for Tony to be doing at the time was keeping Abby company.
“I’d already beaten her at Midieval II.” Tony shook his head. “Course that was after she kicked my ass at Alien Vs. Predator.”
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. “No elf lords?”
Tony laughed. “No, we leave that to McGee.
Gibbs knew when Tony sobered and pulled his hand away that he’d spotted Ducky entering the bar. The younger man hadn’t really ever taken his eyes off the door for long since they’d taken their seats. It had been another indicator that Tony was anxious.
Ducky smiled warmly when he spotted them. He wove his way among the tables, excusing himself whenever he crossed between seated patrons and the stage where the band continued to play.
“Hello Jethro, Anthony.” Ducky greeted them both, shrugging out of his overcoat.
“Hi Ducky.” Tony replied with a smile. Gibbs just nodded, saluting Ducky with his glass.
“What’s your poison, Ducky?” Tony signaled for the waitress.
She was a pretty thing, Gibbs had noted earlier. She flirted with Tony when they’d first arrived, but when he failed to return her interest, she accepted it with good grace, backing off. Didn’t mean Gibbs wasn’t going to keep an eye on her. They might not advertise they were a couple, but no one was going to make a move on what Gibbs considered his.
“Hello there.” Ducky smiled at her, getting a warm smile in return. It was rare that people didn’t respond positively to the ME’s friendly manner and accent. “Macallan. Neat, if you please. Mineral water on the side. No ice.”
“Coming right up.” She looked at Gibbs and Tony, her eyes lingering a bit longer on Tony. “Refills?”
“I’ll have another beer,” Tony told her, smiling, but not making eye contact with her.
Gibbs shook his head, holding his hand over his glass. He wouldn’t mind another, but if Tony was having a second, Gibbs would be driving them home. And one was really more than enough.
Ducky glanced around the bar as the waitress walked away. “Lovely little pub,” he said.
Gibbs had to agree. He’d been surprised the first time he and Tony had come here. He wasn’t entirely sure what he’d been expecting but the simple elegance of the place had been immediately appealing. The dull sheen of polished maple hardwood floors was broken by red and black area rugs under each table. The tables themselves were simple, unadorned save for a single candle, and carefully arranged to ensure everyone had a good view of the stage. The stucco walls were painted red and decorated with black and white prints of Blues musicians like Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Louis Jordon, Nina Simone and Etta James. The acoustics of the place made it easy to enjoy the music without having it be overwhelming, and the customers ran the gamut of social strata; everything from businessmen in suits and ties to construction workers in jeans and t-shirts.
“Rather reminds me of a place I used to frequent when I lived in Bristol .” Ducky tipped his head toward the stage. “Minus the style of music, of course. Not much in the way of Blues to be had there.”
“Really?” Tony blinked. “I always thought Blues was universal.”
“The melancholy and angst that inspires it is universal, my dear boy.” Ducky chuckled. “But the style is uniquely American. Oh, we have something similar in Britain now, but personally, I feel it is still better done here.”
Gibbs let them talk music, enjoying listening to their conversation. Ducky was an aficionado on a number of subjects, and Tony was no slouch when it came to areas of personal interest to him. Music was one of those. Movies, cars and history were others where Tony showed a level of knowledge that easily equaled Ducky’s.
Gibbs smiled to himself, belatedly realizing how much his lover and his old friend had in common. They both drove classic cars. They both enjoyed people and telling stories…albeit Tony’s were usually shorter than Ducky’s and easier to follow. They were both rather forgiving of their friends’ faults and foibles. And they were both naturally charming, gaining trust with a ready smile and approachable demeanor.
If he were honest with himself, it was that character trait Gibbs envied at times. It was actually one of the reasons he’d hired Tony. The younger man put people at ease where Gibbs just made them nervous. Simple one on one with witnesses or victims was something Gibbs didn’t feel he excelled at to the same degree he did with interrogations. He preferred to let Tony or someone else on the team handle those. Ziva and McGee were getting better at it, but they still had a long way to go. Sometimes Gibbs helped them out when they floundered; he could only remember having to help Tony once.
After several minutes of discussing the evolution of Blues to Jazz and then to Rock and Roll, Ducky sipped his scotch before pinning both Gibbs and Tony with a sharp eyed look. “While I appreciate the invitation, gentlemen, and have enjoyed both the ambiance and the conversation, I got the distinct impression you’d asked me to this lovely pub for more than that.”
“We did.” Gibbs instinctively captured Tony’s hand, offering reassurance when he saw the younger man’s shoulders tense, and getting reassurance in return. “We have something we want to tell you.”
Ducky smiled, looking pointedly at their joined hands. “I am being welcomed into the fold then?”
Gibbs arched an eyebrow. “The fold?”
“The lucky few you have trusted enough to reveal your relationship to.”
“You knew?” Tony gaped at him.
“I’ve known Jethro for a very long time, Anthony. And I’ve come to know you almost as well.” Ducky’s smile was gentle, almost paternal. “I may not be a detective, but I am an astute student of human nature.”
He sighed, blue eyes glowing behind his glasses. “A blind man could see you two love each other.”
“Shit.” Tony cursed softly, looking suddenly uneasy. “What did we do wrong?”
“Wrong?” Ducky shook his head. “You did nothing wrong.” He leaned forward, expression earnest, tone soothing. “Anthony…Tony, please, I didn’t mean to imply either of you are careless or blatant in displaying your affection.”
Ducky clucked his tongue. “On the contrary, you’ve both been decidedly circumspect. As is fitting, given your professions. Not to mention your being supervisor and subordinate on the same team. You are to be commended for taking such care.”
Tony frowned. “But you said—“
“To those who know you, yes it is obvious.” Ducky assured him. “And I know what to look for. I have seen Jethro involved in other relationships.” Ducky pointed a finger at Gibbs. “I do think, however, that what you have with Tony is far better than anything else I’ve had the opportunity to witness. He is definitely good for you.”
Gibbs grinned. “I think so to.”
Tony ducked his head, a bit of color rising in his cheeks. Ducky reached out to pat Tony’s forearm. “And you, my dear boy, seem far more settled. More comfortable in your own skin than when you and I first met.”
Tony smiled shyly. “Thanks, Duck.”
“Familiarity and keen observation aside, I am trained you know.” Ducky’s smile broadened. “I’ve been doing quite well with my course work.”
“Didn’t think forensic psychology applied to the living,” Gibbs said dryly.
“Studying what the dead were like when they were alive is useful on many levels, Jethro. It can be applied to more than just what I am paid to do, as you are fully aware.” Ducky shot him a dark look. “Much the same way your being sneaky has worked well in more arenas than just as a sniper.”
Gibbs dipped his head, accepting the chastisement. He hadn’t meant to belittle Ducky’s continuing education. He just didn’t see it as necessary. Ducky was already one of the most capable, intelligent men Gibbs had ever met. Going after another degree seemed a bit like ‘hauling coals to New Castle ’, as Ducky might say. Although, Gibbs was willing to concede the classes Ducky was taking had paid off on at least two occasions.
Ducky’s expression brightened again. “So, am I in good company?”
“Hunh?” Tony blinked.
“Who else knows?” Ducky asked, waving a hand in an encouraging gesture.
“Just Abby and McGee.”
“No one else?” Ducky seemed surprised. “I thought for certain you’d have said something to the Director.”
Gibbs shook his head. “Not sure that’s a good idea, Duck.”
“Ah, yes.” The older man nodded sagely. “Past history there would affect things, I suppose.”
“You knew about that too?” Gibbs stared at his old friend. He shouldn’t be surprised. Abby had pointed out that his history with Shepard was something of an open secret, and that bothered him more than he cared to admit.
“Subtle you are not, my friend,” Ducky told him. “However, it was not anything you said or did that made the past you share with the Director so clearly identifiable. No, I’m afraid it was she who let the cat out of the bag with how she has acted around you.”
Tony grimaced. “Pushy broad.”
“I’d say you’d insulted a lady, but unfortunately you may well be right.” Ducky chuckled, lightly touching his glass of scotch to Tony’s beer. “Being pushy no doubt got her where she is today. No mean feat for a woman to be head of a federal agency.”
Ducky sipped his drink. “What about Ziva?”
“Don’t know yet if I trust her that much,” Tony said, shrugging one shoulder, looking apologetic. “I like her…just—“
“Say no more. I understand.” Ducky pursed his lips. “It should not matter who one loves, provided both are consenting adults, but it is an issue that tends to be divisive among people in general. Strange that it should be, but then there is much about human nature I continue to struggle to fully comprehend.”
“You seem okay with us.” Tony’s statement was more of a question. He had obviously expected a reaction more akin to what they’d gotten from both Abby and McGee—a little shock and a lot of curiosity. Gibbs was expecting something similar. He suspected Ducky might know, but he still thought the older man would have more questions.
“When you’ve lived as long as I have, you start to realize what is important and what is trivial.” Ducky chuckled. “Believe me when I say your happiness is far more important than any bias I might consider indulging.”
He cocked his head to one side. “Besides, you are my family. How could I not accept your choice when it so clearly is good for both of you?”
Tony’s smile went a little stiff at the mention of family and Ducky’s correlation to it and easy acceptance, but he relaxed a moment later making Gibbs think for a second he’d imagined it. Given what he knew of Tony’s parents, Gibbs knew better. And other than his Aunt Sully, family was likely not something Tony saw as a positive thing. Maybe it was time to work on his definition of family, Gibbs mused. Abby was like a little sister, McGee a geeky cousin, Ducky a kindly grandfather. They didn’t make for any more dysfunctional a group than any other family.
“And it isn’t as if your being together comes as a total surprise to me.” Ducky smiled. “I could see the attraction between you years ago.”
“Really?” Both Gibbs’ eyebrows rose.
“Yes, really.” Ducky laughed softly. “I told you before…you are not subtle.”
Tony chuckled. “Busted.”
Ducky saluted him with his glass before finishing his scotch. “I am, deeply grateful that you trust me enough to share something so precious. For that, I thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank us, Ducky.” Tony ducked his head. “We should have said something sooner.”
“Better late than never.” Ducky laughed, giving Tony a wink. “I am well known for my patience. Unlike either of you.”
Tony grinned. “Thanks, Duck.”
“You are most welcome.” Ducky patted his arm again. “And how long have you two been together?”
“I rather expected it was longer. A year at least.” Ducky blinked. “Perhaps you have more patience than I gave you credit for.”
It wasn’t patience, Gibbs thought with a mental grimace. It was lack of nerve. He resolutely told himself he was not going to dwell on how long it took him to finally make a move, or on the time that was lost.
Tony opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by his cell phone. “Excuse me,” he murmured, pulling it out to check the caller id. He frowned.
“Problem?” Gibbs asked when Tony didn’t answer the call.
“Area code is familiar, but I don’t recognize the number.” Tony shrugged, tucking his phone back into his belt. “It’s not work related. Probably a wrong number.”
“You have don’t have a Volkswagon for sale, do you?”
Tony laughed. “Hell no.”
Gibbs struggled to keep a straight face. “Not your kind of car?”
“Jethro, please.” Ducky rolled his eyes. “Those have absolutely no style. Nothing like the beautiful mustang Tony currently possesses.”
“Or your Bentley.” Tony raised his beer to Ducky.
“Indeed.” The older man smiled. “She is an amazing lady.”
Gibbs shook his head as he listened to them debate the merits of different cars. He should have known better than to get them started. God help him if Ernie Yost ever got to talk to both of them at the same time about cars. He’d definitely need more than one drink.
Ducky finished off his water, glancing at his watch before giving them both an apologetic look. “While I’d like to continue our fine evening, I’m afraid Mother gets worried if I’m not home at a decent hour.”
“No problem, Ducky.” Tony stood with him. “About time we got headed home too.”
“We’ll have to come here again.”
“Sure.” Tony grinned. “We’ll bring Abby and McGee.”
“Wouldn’t think this was Abby’s sort of place,” Gibbs said. It seemed a bit too tame for her.
Tony lightly punched his arm. “She’s into more than leather bars and screaming guitars.”
“She is rather eclectic in her tastes.” Ducky agreed as he shrugged into his overcoat.
“True.” Gibbs had never met anyone with as wide ranging interests as Abby seemed to possess.
He followed Ducky and Tony as they headed for the door. He placed his hand on the small of Tony’s back, the gesture almost unmistakably possessive. The waitress smiled resignedly when she passed by, tipping her head to him, letting Gibbs know she’d gotten the message.
“Glad you’re not a dog or my dry cleaning bill would be huge,” Tony said with a laugh after wishing Ducky a good night.
“She started it,” Gibbs replied as he got into the driver’s seat.
“What are you…five?” Tony snickered, settling into the front passenger seat. He leaned in close to give Gibbs a quick peck on the cheek. “You don’t need to worry. She’s not my type.”
“No?” Gibbs gave him a slant eyed, teasing look. “And what is your type, DiNozzo?”
“I got this thing for a bad-ass Marine with silver hair and blue eyes.” Tony’s voice dropped, husky and warm. “Take me home…and I’ll show you.”
Gibbs shivered, gripping the steering wheel hard. He swallowed hard. “Put your seat belt on.”
“Good.” Gibbs floored it. From here, on a good day, they could be home in twenty minutes. Gibbs intended to get there in less than fifteen.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Tony yawned widely, rubbing sleep from his eyes. He stretched, groaning softly as stiff muscles protested the movement. He smiled thinking about how he’d gotten so sore in the first place. It might be worth it to get Gibbs a little territorial again. No….Tony’s smile grew to a grin, it would definitely be worth it. Absolutely and positively worth it.
He rolled on to his back, turning easily in Gibbs’ loose hold. Green eyes met blue. “Good morning, Jethro.”
Gibbs smiled. “Morning, Tony.”
“You sleep okay?”
Gibbs nuzzled his cheek. “Very.”
Tony sighed. He snuggled in closer, enjoying the feel of Gibbs’ sleep warmed skin. He was glad they had the day off. There was no rush to get up and get moving, no need to cut their time together short.
“We should do this more often.”
“Not going to argue,” Gibbs placed a kiss on Tony’s shoulder. “Getting the rest of the world to agree to let us could be tricky.”
Tony laughed softly. “Just a trifling detail.”
“Trifling?” Gibbs lifted his head. “You have been spending too much time with Ducky.”
“He makes damn good scones.” Whenever he could get away, Tony liked wandering down to Ducky’s domain around three in the afternoon. He didn’t really care for tea, but the food and pleasant company was always a draw.
“Tea and biscuits in a morgue.” Gibbs rolled his eyes, looking exasperated but sounding amused. “Is there a reason no one I work with is normal?”
“Dunno.” Tony’s eyes twinkled. “Maybe because you’re not normal either?”
Gibbs growled, pinning him down. His nimble fingers found the spot along Tony’s ribs that left him laughing helplessly. Tony struggled, squirming in an effort to escape. He gasped for breath, pushing ineffectually at Gibbs’ hands. Gibbs grinned, continuing to tickle him.
“Stop…Gibbs…c’mon.” Tony panted, skin flushed, giggles making speech difficult. A noticeable hitch in his breathing caused him to hiccup. “P..p..please.”
Gibbs halted his assault, pulling Tony closer to him. He lightly stroked up and down Tony’s back, the gesture meant to calm and sooth.
When Gibbs had discovered where Tony was ticklish the first time, he’d been delighted with how freely he could make Tony laugh. Unfortunately, not long after that, Gibbs got a bit carried away and Tony had laughed so hard he’d stopped breathing. It was only for a minute, hardly anything to be worried about, but Tony knew that brief bout of apnea had scared the older man.
Tony had to work hard to reassure Gibbs that it was okay. He enjoyed having a chance to laugh uncontrollably; it made him feel good, relaxed and happy. Not that he wanted to be completely at the mercy of Gibbs’ agile fingers on a daily basis, but Tony made sure his lover knew that being tickled once in a while wasn’t going to hurt him. Since then Gibbs was decidedly careful, paying attention to all physical cues signaling Tony had enough before he got to the no longer breathing stage.
Tony’s breathing was ragged for several minutes, stray chuckles escaping intermittently. “Bastard.” The word lacked any real heat.
Gibbs kissed his forehead. “Never said otherwise.”
“Nothing like an honest man.” Tony snickered. He hiccupped again, wincing when the muscles of his abdomen protested.
Gibbs pulled back, blue eyes assessing him closely. Tony smiled, raising his hands to cup Gibbs’ face. “I’m fine.”
“Hard to be sure,” Tony gave him a sly look. “Might need to have you shower with me to be completely certain.”
Gibbs grinned, before his expression shifted into mock seriousness. “A shower?”
“A shower,” Tony agreed, nodding sagely. “Hot water therapy.”
Gibbs arched an eyebrow. “Good for what ails you.”
Tony slipped out of Gibbs’ hold, standing up and then offering a hand to his lover. Gibbs took his hand with a smile, rising easily. Together they headed into the master bath.
Tony was glad Gibbs had made some upgrades to the room, making it more than simply utilitarian. The heated towel rack with oversized, fluffy towels and the very soft, fuzzy bath mat that felt so good under bare feet were nice additions. The new, larger mirrored cabinet above the sink with room for both their personal care items was definitely a nice upgrade. But the improvement Tony most appreciated was the oversized, massaging shower head that replaced the older, serviceable, low pressure head that Gibbs had used for years. The newer water heater in the basement capable of providing huge amounts of hot water was another plus.
Showering together was an opportunity to indulge in the need to physically express their affection for one another. It wasn’t about sex. Sex was great between them and always an enjoyable experience, but Tony never got tired of having the chance to simply touch and be touched.
There weren’t many times in his life when he could remember indulging in a luxury most people seemed to take for granted. His family had never been physically demonstrative. Only his Aunt Sully ever seemed inclined to hug Tony, ruffle his hair, kiss his cheek or pat him on the back. Everyone else treated him like a pariah, staying at arm's length. His mother and father….Tony forcibly shut of that line of thought, preferring to focus on the feel of Gibbs’ soap slick hands massaging his neck and shoulders.
Tony groaned when Gibbs worked loose several knots. “God…that feels good.”
Tony sighed as Gibbs continued working down his arms. He never realized how far the tension he routinely carried around with him could spread. He often felt the tightness in his shoulders, noticed the headache building when it got bad, but until getting a massage from Gibbs, Tony had no idea how much of the day to day stress showed up in his lower back, arms, legs, hands and feet.
Ducky had explained the benefits of therapeutic massage once in a long winded dissertation on stress and fight or flight induced reactions. But that was in relation to a spa trip Kate and Abby had planned, and Tony hadn’t really paid very much attention. He’d been more interested in teasing Kate about getting naked in front of total strangers. Tony mentally conjured an image of her laughing, brown eyes bright and lively, dark hair blowing gently in the warm air---the way he’d seen her just moments before she died. He still missed her, often catching himself looking for her to be at the desk Ziva now used. She’d been so vibrant when alive it was hard to think of her in the past tense.
“Something wrong?” Gibbs asked softly, hands stilling.
“No.” Tony turned around to face him, forcing himself to smile. “Why do you ask?”
Gibbs stared pointedly at him, clearly not buying the illusion Tony was trying to create. He said Tony’s name quietly, but firmly, insisting on an honest answer.
Tony’s smile slipped away. “Was just thinking about Kate.”
Gibbs took a breath and nodded slowly. “Hard to believe it’s been a year.”
Tony closed his eyes, leaning into Gibbs. “Still miss her, Jethro.”
Gibbs wrapped his arms around Tony, pulling him closer. “Me too.”
They like that for several minutes, offering and receiving comfort in equal measure. With a soft sigh, Gibbs stepped back. He cupped Tony’s face, kissing him sweetly. “Know you don’t think so but there is a limit on what that new hot water heater can do.”
Tony chuckled, before kissing Gibbs back. “Okay, so lets finish up in here and you can make breakfast while I do the laundry.” No matter whose place they spent their days off household chores were usually a part of the routine.
“I could do the laundry.”
Tony snorted. “No.”
Gibbs rolled his eyes. “I can’t believe you are still pissed about that Armani shirt.”
“That one was my favorite.” Tony scowled. “And you’ve ruined more than one.”
Gibbs was an above average cook, but the man seemed incapable of doing laundry without shrinking, staining or destroying something. Usually the ‘something’ belonged to Tony since most of Gibbs’ clothing was selected more for durability and convenience than fashion. He didn’t seem to grasp the idea that not everything was meant to be washed in hot water or dried at the highest possible setting. And he never read labels, not understanding why some things needed to be dry cleaned and others didn’t.
“You really don’t want me in the kitchen anyway,” Tony told him.”
“I don’t mind having you in the kitchen.”
“As long as I don’t touch anything while you are cooking.” Tony laughed, giving Gibbs a quick kiss. “C’mon, the water is getting cold.”
Gibbs turned off the water. Tony handed him a towel before grabbing one for himself. He sighed as the warmed fabric touched his skin. It often sparked memories of good times with Sully. When he was a child, she would pull his PJ’s fresh from the dryer for him to snuggle into before they’d stay up late and watch movies together.
Gibbs handed Tony his towel. “Breakfast will be ready in twenty.”
“Okay.” Tony nodded, bundling up his towel with Gibbs. After he got dressed, he started a load of whites.
Once the machine was doing its thing, he began gathering up their colors for another load. He walked down the hall, picking up clothing scattered from last night’s activities. Tony grinned. It hadn’t taken much to get Gibbs to forget ingrained basic training about neatness.
Tony grimaced when he spotted his cell phone still clipped to his belt. He really should have picked that up before now. If they’d gotten a case….he’d have never heard it ring from the bedroom. He shook his head. He made a note not to be so careless in the future, regardless of how distracting Gibbs was.
Out of habit he checked for missed calls. He frowned as he saw two listed. It was the same number that had shown up on his caller ID at the blues bar. The area code…he stared at it as he finally placed it. It had seemed familiar last night. Tony grimaced when he realized why. Long Island . The only people he knew there were his relatives.
Tony bit his lower lip. The only reason anyone from there would call…it wouldn’t be good. He ignored the way his hand shook as he dialed the code to check his messages.
He swallowed hard as he listened to a voice he hadn’t heard in years but instantly recognized. His uncle Gabriel, his father’s older brother, was a big man, beefy and square, but his voice was a light tenor, nearly feminine in its quality. That incongruity made an indelible mark on Tony’s memory.
“Anthony, this is your uncle Gabriel.” There was the sound of a throat clearing and a soft sigh. “It is important that you call me as soon as you get this message.” He annunciated a phone number with far more care than most people typically used, pausing between each number. That more than anything else told Tony whatever Gabriel had to say it was definitely important.
The second message was from his father’s assistant, Andrea. According to the time stamp, she’d called half an hour after Gabriel, and she sounded…nervous, uneasy, distraught…Tony wasn’t sure. He’d never heard her sound this way.
“Tony, it’s Andrea. Gabriel DiNozzo asked me for your number. I gave it to him.” There was a clear apology in her tone. “He said…he said he wanted to be the one to tell you. He is family…and I know that this is supposed to be the sort of thing family does, but well, I know your relationship with your father is…was…well, not exactly ‘Father Knows Best’ material.” Tony could almost hear her wince. “If Gabriel hasn’t called you when you get this, call me, please.”
Tony leaned against the wall, feeling weak in the knees. He stared at his phone uncertain of what to do. Andrea mentioned his father…Tony closed his eyes. He hung his head, praying silently. Please, God, please, don’t let him have killed a family while driving drunk.
Tony shook his head. He was being stupid. If it had been his father killing innocent bystanders, he’d never have even heard about it…unless it made the papers. Gabriel wouldn’t have bothered to call him---the family attorney, yes, and a team of investigators to make it look like someone else was at fault, definitely, but not Tony. Besides, his father normally had a driver. Tony could count on one hand the number of times he knew his father had been behind the wheel since the accident that killed his mother.
He bit his lip nervously. For Gabriel to call, it had to be bad. Maybe all that drinking finally caught up with his father and the miserable son of a bitch needed a liver transplant. What he knew of his aunts and uncles, they wouldn’t offer to be a donor. Not without one hell of a lot of compensation. Or it could be cancer. There was a history of it in the family.
Tony stared at his phone. Putting off finding out for sure wasn’t going to make it any easier. With a resigned sigh, Tony dialed Andrea’s number. If this, whatever it was, had to do with his father, he’d rather hear about it from her than his uncle. He hung up without leaving a message when her voicemail picked up.
Tony took a deep breath, swallowing hard. It would have to be Gabriel then. The last time he’d spoken to his uncle was after his mother’s funeral. They’d barely said ten words to one another. He couldn’t honestly say he even knew his uncle that well then, and he sure as hell didn’t really know him now.
Tony struggled to remember the number Gabriel had rattled off in his message, forgetting it was still available on the ID display. Trying to hold the phone steady his fingers clutched the phone so hard his knuckles bleached white. He couldn’t even pin down what he was feeling that was making this so much harder than it should have been. He wasn’t afraid, or even worried. At least he didn’t think so. Tony jerked back blindly when he felt a hand on his shoulder, ducking to avoid a blow that never fell.
“Easy, Tony.” Gibbs soothed, concerned blue eyes searched Tony’s face. “What is it?”
Tony stifled the urge to laugh hysterically. He shook his head, unable to answer Gibbs’ question. He didn’t know. He hadn’t made the damn call yet to find out.
“Tony? You’re as white as a sheet.” Gibbs stepped closer, one hand rising to rest on Tony’s shoulder. “Why are you shivering?”
Tony suddenly realized he was cold. He shuddered, leaning in to Gibbs, instinctively seeking the warmth and safety the older man represented. His family didn’t matter. They hadn’t mattered in years. They shouldn’t matter now. He had had Gibbs… friends…a job he loved. It was more than he’d ever hoped for or expected to have. It was more than he thought he deserved, but was all he ever wanted.
“Tony? Talk to me.” Gibbs gently forced Tony’s head up. “You’re scaring me here.”
“Sorry.” Tony mumbled. “Phone.” It was all he could say by way of an explanation, handing his cell phone to Gibbs.
Gibbs took the phone with a frown. He replayed both messages, listening intently. His eyes watched Tony the entire time.
While Gibbs listened to the messages, Tony took a deep breath and let it out slowly, and then took another. He mentally listed the fifty states in alphabetical order as he focused on breathing. It was a calming technique his frat brother, Joe, had taught him years ago. If the states weren’t enough, he’d move on to reciting the alphabet backwards and then counting down from one hundred in Italian, then Spanish.
“Has to be bad news,” Tony told Gibbs when the older man closed the phone. He was pleased by how steady his voice was.
“How do you know?” Gibbs asked quietly.
“You heard them. Did that sound good to you?”
“No.” Gibbs grimaced. “But it—“
“I haven’t spoken to my uncle Gabriel since I was fifteen.” Tony’s lips curled in a bitter smile. “Only reason for him to call now is because someone died. Given what Andrea said, I’m guessing it was my father.”
It was oddly calming to say it out loud. Labeling it lessened his anxiety, made it easier to handle. He’d dealt with death before—on the job---and personally---his mother, Aunt Sully, Kate. He wasn’t a novice at this.
Tony blinked, realizing with sudden insight that his father’s death wouldn’t, couldn’t, have the impact of the loss of Sully or Kate had. His father hadn’t played a significant roll in Tony’s life in years. In all honesty, Tony wasn’t sure his father had even played a meaningful roll in his life. He thought he’d gotten over being angry about that, had moved on from disappointed to resigned, but now Tony wasn’t so sure.
Gibbs jaw tightened, muscles flexing in his cheek. Tony was surprised he didn’t hear the other man’s teeth grinding.
Tony held out his hand, mutely asking for his phone back. “I need to call Gabriel.”
Gibbs’ eyes narrowed. “I could call for you.”
Tony smiled, warmed by the offer. He leaned in to lay his cheek against Gibbs’. “I appreciate that, but I doubt he’d tell you anything. And I really do need to do this for myself.”
“Okay.” Gibbs turned his head to place a kiss on Tony’s temple. He handed Tony his phone, keeping his other arm around Tony’s waist. “How about you sit down to do this?”
Tony knew that wasn’t really a suggestion. Given that his knees were still a bit shaky, it wasn’t an idea he really saw any need to argue with. He headed for the living room, grateful for Gibbs continued support even when he no longer needed it.
He sat on the couch, resisting the urge to curl in on himself. It smacked too much of being weak. He wasn’t a child afraid of the boogey man.
Gibbs sat next to him, placing an arm around his shoulder, encouraging Tony to lean into him. Tony smiled.
“You don’t have to—“
“I want to.” Gibbs lightly tapped him on the back of the head. “Make your call.”
Tony took a breath. Realizing Gabriel’s number was still on his caller ID, he dialed. Tony leaned more into Gibbs as he waited for his uncle to answer.
“This is Gabriel DiNozzo.”
“It’s Tony, Gabriel.” Tony used his uncle’s first name, shrugging to himself. He wasn’t sure of how he should actually address the man; Mr. DiNozzo seemed a bit too formal, and Uncle Gabriel was too familiar for a man he hadn’t seen in almost twenty years. Using his first name seemed like the best choice. Tony forced himself to keep his tone neutral, his voice unhurried. “I got your message.”
There was a brief pause. Tony waited. He didn’t know his uncle well enough to be able to read anything into the moment of silence.
“Tony…thank you for calling back so quickly.”
Tony held in a snort at Gabriel’s overly polite response. And it wasn’t quick. The message had been on his phone for a good twelve hours, but he wasn’t going to quibble.
“I’m not entirely sure how to--.”
“Best option is usually just to say it,” Tony interjected quietly. “There really is no good way to give bad news.” As a cop, he’d made similar speeches often enough to know. Some ways were better than others, but none were truly good.
“Quite.” Gabriel cleared his throat. “Two days ago, your father, suffered a minor heart attack.”
Tony nodded, forgetting for a moment that Gabriel couldn’t see him. He waited for the rest. There had to be more. He wanted confirmation without having to ask for it.
“While at the hospital last night, he had another. This one was massive…and fatal.”
Tony blinked. He had no idea what to say. Tony hadn’t seen to his father since that fateful day when he told him he was accepting the sports scholarship to Ohio State . And other than the decidedly inappropriate, obligatory birthday presents that came every year, they hadn’t been in contact. Was he supposed to say he was sorry? Should he offer his uncle condolences even though he always thought the two men despised each other?
“I’m here.” He’d evidently been quiet too long. “I’m just—“
“I’m sure this is a shock to you.”
Tony rolled his eyes at the understatement. Given that he’d always expected to find out about his father’s death via an obit in the newspaper, and that he thought the man would go as a result of liver failure, this was definitely a surprise.
“Do you need me to do anything?” Tony asked, thinking that question seemed safe enough.
“No. Arrangements have already been made. The funeral will be held on Wednesday.”
Tony nodded again. “At Immaculate Conception?” The church had been the DiNozzos’ traditional parish for several generations. The last Tony had been in it was for Sully’s funeral.
“Yes.” Gabriel seemed as uncertain as Tony about how to proceed. “I can arrange for the corporate jet to be available for you, or Andrea can get you first class tickets if you’d rather fly commercially.”
Tony blinked. “Fly?”
“I thought it might be easier than driving from D.C.” Gabriel clarified.
It would be easier to fly than drive, but Tony didn’t want anyone else making travel arrangements for him. He could do that himself…assuming he was even going to attend. “Thank you, but I prefer to handle those arrangements myself.”
“Very well.” Gabriel paused and then added, “The reading of the will has been scheduled for Thursday morning.”
Tony frowned, his free hand seeking and finding Gibbs’, holding it tightly. “Do I need to be there for that?” From the time he was twelve, his father had essentially cut Tony financially, and had sworn he wasn’t going to leave him a dime.
“Anthony made a regular habit of changing his will.” A thread of annoyance was clear in Gabriel’s voice. “I have no idea what it contains, but his attorney has made a list of people requested to appear and your name is on it.”
Tony bit back a curse. He’d have to call his own lawyer and make sure he had legal representation for the reading. When Sully’s will was read, it had felt more like skinny dipping with hungry sharks than a simple legal formality. Many of the family in attendance had been expecting her to leave them something and were prepared to fight tooth and nail to get it. He wasn’t going to make the mistake of thinking the reading of his father’s will would be any better. It was best to go in prepared for the worst.
“Let me know when you will be arriving and I’ll make sure the staff has a room ready for you at the house.”
Tony didn’t even hesitate to refuse that offer. He wasn’t sleeping in that house. Not just no, hell no. There were way too many bad memories and negative associations there.
“I appreciate the offer, but I think I’d be more comfortable staying at The Towers.” The Towers was a high end resort the family often used when they wanted to impress corporate clients.
“As you wish.” Tony couldn’t see Gabriel dipping his head, but he had no trouble picturing an abbreviated bow, signaling acceptance of his decision. “A number of rooms have already been booked for people coming in from out of town. I’ll have one reserved for you.”
“Thank you, Gabriel.” Tony waited for a moment to see if there was anything else. He was more than ready to terminate the call when Gabriel spoke again.
“I am sorry for your loss, Tony.”
Tony raised both eyebrows. Whatever he’d lost had been lost a long time ago. It was hardly something for Gabriel to express sorrow over now. He managed to keep the surprise and bitterness out of his voice when he responded, but a bit of honest sarcasm leaked in despite his best efforts.
“A greater loss for you than me, I think.”
There was another brief pause as though Gabriel wasn’t quite sure what to say. “Contact Andrea with your travel information. She’ll make sure you have transportation from the airport to the hotel.”
“I will.” Tony had already planned to call Andrea. She’d know who was coming, when, and how long they’d be staying. She probably even knew the contents of his father’s will. “Good-bye, Gabriel.” Tony hung up without giving Gabriel a chance to respond.
Tony sighed. He shook his head before resting it against Gibbs’ shoulder.
“Was it your father?” Gibbs asked.
“Yeah.” Tony closed his eyes. “Heart attack. Last night.”
A soft chuckle escaped. “I really don’t know.” Tony bit his lower lip. “I just…I haven’t seen or spoken to him in years. Not really sure how I should feel right now.”
“You feel what you feel…not what you should feel or what other people expect you to feel.” Gibbs placed a kiss in his hair. “It isn’t something you have to explain or apologize for.”
Tony snuggled in closer. “Thanks.”
Tony opened his eyes and titled his head so he could look at Gibbs. “Funeral is Wednesday.”
“Plenty of time to ask for leave.” Gibbs raised a hand and gently forced Tony’s head back on to his shoulder. “You are entitled to the whole week if you need it.”
“I know.” Bereavement leave gave everyone five days. Tony’s jaw tightened. He’d only taken one for Kate, and she meant a hell of a lot more to him than his father had. Working had helped then. It was good therapy. And Kate would have understood; she knew what they did was important. His father---his father never thought Tony’s profession was worth anything at all. He saw being a cop and even a government agent as ‘a demeaning civil servant job’.
“Not sure I want more than Wednesday and Thursday.”
“Okay.” Gibbs ran a hand up and down Tony’s back. “That’s what we’ll put in for then.”
Tony blinked, and then raised his head to look at Gibbs. “We?”
“I’ve got plenty of vacation time on the books.” Gibbs regarded him steadily. “I’ll be coming with you.”
Tony looked away. As much as he appreciated and needed Gibbs’ support, he didn’t want his lover subjected to his family. Wasn’t sure he wanted Gibbs to know what they were like.
“You don’t have—“
“I want to.” Gibbs kissed him. “You are one of mine. I take care of my own. Understand?”
His earlier epiphany about his family not mattering came back to him. All that mattered was the man before him. Tony smiled. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Gibbs’ blue eyes held Tony’s green. “Forever and always.”
Tony blushed, looking away. He patted Gibbs’ chest, above his heart, trying to express a similar sentiment without having to actually say the words. He knew he got it right when Gibbs wrapped both arms around him in a warm embrace, cradling him securely.
Safely held in Gibbs’ arms Tony believed it would be okay. Somehow. Eventually. Everything would be all right.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
After speaking with his uncle, Tony seemed okay. And he was okay, if Gibbs was willing to overlook how the usual weekend chores morphed into a belated, nearly monumental exercise in spring cleaning. Everything that could be vacuumed, dusted, and washed was. Nothing was left untouched. The entire house practically sparkled and the air was lightly scented with lemon.
Gibbs understood how the need to stay busy, to just not think beyond the moment could become an almost obsessive compulsion. That same need was how he ended up building a boat in his basement before it occurred to him there was no obvious means of getting it out when finished. So he didn’t comment on Tony’s actions, didn’t question his motives or reasoning, didn’t really think it all that odd for Tony to suddenly want rust stains and soap scum he’d ignored for months to be gone. Gibbs just helped move furniture when asked, threw away whatever they’d agreed had out lived its usefulness, got more bleach when they ran out, and tried not to look overly concerned.
He’d harbored a faint hope that all this frenzied activity would keep Tony from having a restless night. Gibbs suspected Tony hoped the same. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a peaceful night for either of them.
Tony’s nightmares weren’t something he ever talked about. And Gibbs never pushed him to explain them, mostly because the former Marine wasn’t sure what to say. Words had never been his strong suit. He was better with actions. It worked most of the time; all Tony seemed to want or need was for him to be there, to have Gibbs ground him, reassure him he wasn’t lost in whatever night terror or memory had risen up to haunt him, that he was safe; Gibbs could do all that without ever saying a word.
And if Gibbs did push Tony to talk, forced him to tell him about what made him whimper in his sleep, struggle to breathe, shiver, cry out in pain, curl into a defensive ball….Gibbs worried that he might end up admitting he knew a lot more about Tony’s childhood than his lover had seen fit to share. He didn’t want to irreparably damage the trust Tony so obviously had in him by admitting he had secretly dug into his lover’s past. He didn’t want to fracture Tony’s faith in him by letting it slip that a PI friend had provided Gibbs with a detailed medical history from the time Tony was born until he graduated from high school. He knew about Tony’s mother being physically abusive while daddy dearest was either too drunk to care or simply never gave a damn to begin with. Gibbs was betting on the later. The miserable fucker had abandoned Tony in a hotel room for two days never even realizing his son was missing until he got a room service bill.
Gibbs had even called in some favors and researched Tony’s other family members, assessing them as possible targets if and when the time for retribution arose. First rule of combat was to know as much about the enemy as possible. He hadn’t expected to have to use the knowledge quite so soon, but he wasn’t going to face off against the DiNozzo clan unprepared. He was determined to take no prisoners to protect Tony from these people.
Gibbs found himself praying that the Catholic Nuns who’d told him all about the torments of Hell in an effort to coerce good behavior hadn’t gotten it wrong. He wanted Elizabeth and Anthony DiNozzo Sr. to be writhing in agony. It wouldn’t bother him one bit if the rest of the family ended up there too. Pricks.
Sunday, Gibbs thought maybe Tony was doing better. His normally lively green eyes were dulled, showing the effects of too little sleep, but he seemed calmer, more settled. He ate breakfast, albeit not as much as he usually did. It worried Gibbs, but that was a normal reaction. Tony’s appetite always suffered when he was stressed. Gibbs wasn’t going to give Tony any grief over it until he failed to eat anything at all. As long as he was making the effort, Gibbs wasn’t going to force the issue.
Tony waited until nearly noon to call Andrea. He got the details on the time of the funeral, reading of the will, who would be there, and what to expect. Gibbs had stayed close, shamelessly eavesdropping. It earned him a look of fond amusement and a wry smile from Tony. The younger man has just tilted the phone so it would be easier for him to hear her for himself.
Tony gave Andrea their flight information. They’d fly out Tuesday night, first class, and back Thursday night. Gibbs got Tony to agree to ask for Friday off as well. The younger man might not think so, but Gibbs was pretty sure he’d need the long weekend to recoup. If he needed a distraction, they could always clean the house again.
Andrea didn’t seem at all surprised to hear Tony wasn’t coming alone. Gibbs didn’t think she new they were lovers or that Gibbs was his boss. His assumption was confirmed later when Tony explained later that most of his family, as very wealthy individuals, routinely traveled with a small entourage. Personal assistants, nannies, lawyers, bodyguards---they all had someone in tow. Gibbs grinned wolfishly, realizing most would assume he was Tony’s bodyguard. They would have little idea that he was much, much more than that, or just how vigilant and dangerous it would make him. Tony was his, and he took care of his own. Always.
Tony called his lawyer after speaking with Andrea, making sure his legal representative could be there for the reading of the will. Overhearing only part of that conversation, Gibbs realized Tony was probably good friends with his lawyer. Tony’s voice was far warmer than it would be if he were speaking to someone he had an exclusively professional relationship with. And no attorney Gibbs had ever used accepted a work related call on a Sunday---but then he only had experience with divorce and criminal attorneys. Maybe those that did this sort of civil stuff were a different breed.
Gibbs thought Tony was handling things well enough….until he went running. Tony going running wasn’t unusual. It was part of his typical routine. But Gibbs couldn’t shake the feeling that his lover might use the exercise the same way he had the simple chores the day before.
Forty five minutes after Tony left, Gibbs found himself looking from his watch to the door, impatiently waiting for the younger man to appear. After an hour, he was pacing the living room. Tony’s usual run was took an hour or less…assuming he went for his usual five miles. Gibbs knew his lover added miles when upset. When Tony had been gone an hour and a half, he had his coat on, and keys in hand.
He cursed with quiet vehemence as he drove. Tony had several routes he ran whenever he stayed at Gibbs’ place. Assuming his lover would pick the hardest one, Gibbs headed up the street toward an area of steep hills. He knew when Tony ran this way he would always do a lap or two around the small park at the cul de sac at the end of the street. If Tony wasn’t there, Gibbs hoped the elevation would give him a good vantage point to see where he was.
The suspension of his car protested when Gibbs crested the hill faster than was wise. He turned into the small parking area, blue eyes scanned the green space in front of him anxiously. He slammed the car into park when he spotted Tony sitting on a bench looking out over the pond in the center of the park.
Gibbs growled, torn between being pissed and relieved. He turned off the car and got out, striding purposefully toward the younger man. He stopped several feet away, taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly. It wouldn’t help if he blew up at Tony, especially when his fear and worry would only sound like anger.
“When I was a kid,” Tony spoke softly without turning around, “all I ever wanted was for him to notice me. Wanted to have that kind of father son stuff with him I saw on TV. Just wanted him to give a damn about what I thought…what I wanted…how I felt.”
Gibbs frowned. He shouldn’t have been surprised Tony knew he was there, but he was. He stepped closer, sitting down next to Tony. Gibbs watched Tony warily, unsure of what to make of the carefully controlled tone, and painfully blank expression. He waited patiently for more, understanding instinctively that Tony only wanted him to listen.
“I don’t remember a single time he ever asked. Not once.”
“Asked what?” Gibbs questioned softly after Tony remained silent for several minutes.
“How I managed to split my lip and get a black eye.” Tony sighed. “He never asked….Never wanted to know how I managed to break my arm or fall down a flight of stairs.”
Gibbs’ hands curled into tight fists. He struggled to contain his rage. Tony didn’t need that right now. He was finally talking, and he needed Gibbs to listen…not to pass judgment or interrupt.
Tony shook his head. “I think I was twelve when I finally figured out I wasn’t ever going to be what my father wanted for a son. I wasn’t good enough…was never going to be important to him. It’s why he found it so easy to ignore me. Forgetting I was even around if I didn’t force him to see me.”
Gibbs’ eyes narrowed. “How did you—“
Tony laughed gently, a sound of genuine amusement. “I learned to play the drums.”
Gibbs found his own lips curling in a wry smile. “Atta boy.”
“Was Aunt Sully who recommended percussion instruments.” Tony shifted, resting his shoulder against Gibbs.
“Think I’d have liked her.”
“You would have.” Tony sighed deeply. “She helped me understand that it wouldn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, I was never going to make my parents happy. She told me it was best if I focused on making myself happy.”
“Good advice,” Gibbs murmured quietly.
“Wasn’t until I met Joe and we talked…a lot…that I really started to believe it wasn’t about me.” Tony grimaced. “Least I thought I started to believe. And then…shit…then suddenly I’m back where I started. Like some sort of dog chasing my own tail.”
Gibbs wrapped an arm around Tony, pulling him closer. He knew Joe was one of Tony’s frat brothers, and was still one of Tony’s best friends. It was gratifying to know his lover had someone to talk to----even if it wasn’t him.
“Weird how having the son of a bitch die made me realize how little I’d actually come to terms with.” Tony rubbed a hand over his face. “It’s like there is all this unfinished crap between us that now will never be finished.”
Gibbs wished Ducky was here. He’d know what to say. Something profound and meaningful that would reassure Tony his feelings for normal. That death often made people feel at loose ends. Tony was certainly not unique in his feelings.
“Thing is…most of the crap is his…or was. None of it is really mine. At least that’s what Joe tells me.”
Gibbs definitely wanted to meet Joe. He sounded like a smart man.
“Sully told me that my father had the chance to leave the family business. Could have struck out on his own. Been his own man instead of what my grandfather had in mind.”
Gibbs blinked, unsure how that fit. “And?”
“He didn’t have the balls to stand up to my grandfather. He was too chicken shit to take the risk.” Tony snorted, shaking his head. “My father opted for the easy way and picked the gilded cage. Married the woman my grandfather selected, took the job at the company grandfather made for him. He started drinking and never really stopped.”
Understanding how Tony’s father became the man he was didn’t make Gibbs feel any less hostility toward him. Anthony DiNozzo Sr. had made his choice. He had no right to make his son suffer for his own self-induced unhappiness. He could have made the best of the situation, found something redeeming in his choice that made it worthwhile. Instead, he punished everyone around him for his inability to be man enough to stand up to Michael DiNozzo and make a life for himself he wanted. It was ironic he should raise a son who managed to do what he couldn’t.
“I keep thinking I should be sorry he’s dead. I should feel some sense of loss.”
Gibbs nearly growled. “Why?”
“Cause he was my father.” Tony shrugged one shoulder. “Seems like I should care he’s dead. But honestly, I care more about people I’ve never met. Like the homicide cases we work on. They mean more to me than he ever has or will. Not sure what that says about me.”
“Never met your father, but I hate his guts,” Gibbs said conversationally, keeping his hostility inside where it belonged for now. “And I know what it says about me.”
Tony looked at him, a small smile forming. “What?”
“That I love you, Tony DiNozzo.” Gibbs smiled warmly back. “Your father was a fucking moron not to see that there is nothing more important than you. Nothing.” He made eye contact and held it. “You are a damn good man. How you feel or don’t feel about your father doesn’t change that.”
Tony ducked his head. “Thanks.”
Gibbs felt Tony shiver and noticed for the first time how damp his sweatshirt was. It was warm enough for a fall day, which meant it was too cool to be sitting around in wet clothing. It wouldn’t take much for Tony to catch a cold.
He cocked his head to one side. “How far did you run?”
“Don’t know.” Tony frowned thoughtfully, forehead wrinkling. Gibbs knew that meant Tony had probably been moving on autopilot. He’d done that himself enough to know what it was like.
Tony shrugged. “I was on my way back when I got a stitch in my side. I walked around the park to work it out. Just got to thinking and…well, lost track of time.”
Gibbs nodded. He was betting Tony had pushed himself harder than he usually did and likely went farther than his normal five miles. But given his willingness to talk, Gibbs thought it was probably just what the younger man had needed. Certainly had worked better than cleaning the house had.
“C’mon, let’s get you home.” Gibbs ruffled Tony’s hair. “Thinking you need a little more hot water therapy.”
Tony grinned. He stood up, a soft moan escaping. He rubbed absently at his quads. “Thinking a bath.”
“My tub isn’t as nice as yours.” There was no denying the wistful envy in Gibbs’ voice.
Tony laughed softly. Gibbs was pleased to green eyes sparkle with familiar good humor and mischief. “Maybe not as nice, but it is clean.”
Gibbs chuckled, wrapping an arm around Tony’s shoulders, leading him toward the car. “It is at that.”
Gibbs figured with the run and a hot bath, he wouldn’t have any trouble convincing Tony to lay down for a nap. They could both do with a little more rest. Monday morning was going to come with another set of challenges to be faced. Those would be best met with a clear head.
“Thanks for coming to get me.” The look he gave Gibbs made it clear Tony was grateful for more than the ride.
Gibbs nodded, accepting the gratitude even though he didn’t think it really necessary. Unlike the DiNozzo family, Gibbs knew the value of the treasure he’d been given. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for Tony…and he hoped some day his lover would realize that. He fought bad guys, bullets, bombs and the plague for him, Gibbs sure as hell wasn’t going to back down in face of Tony’s fucked up family.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Tony eyed the flight board before looking at his watch again wondering why the time wasn’t passing as slowly as it usually did. He wasn’t eager to get on the plane. In fact, he was seriously considering not going at all.
“You already paid for the tickets.”
“It’s only money.” Tony grimaced, giving Gibbs a dirty look. “Not even yours.”
“True,” Gibbs agreed, looking up from the book he’d brought with him. He appeared to be his usually calm, unruffled self. It made Tony want to hit him, except that he counted on the other man’s unflappability. He relied on it shamelessly for the past two days to balance his own wildly fluctuating emotions. It was hard to be pissed at someone who consistently provided just what he needed when he needed it.
“You could call Andrea and tell her you’ve changed your mind.”
“Yeah, I know.” Tony sighed, laying his hand on Gibbs’ arm in a brief, wordless apology. “It’s just—“
“I know.” Gibbs’ lips curled in a small, understanding smile.
“You’d think after all the shit I’ve seen and done as a cop and an agent this kind of thing wouldn’t make me--” Tony hesitated, not sure how to describe what he was feeling. A little nervous, uneasy, angry, disappointed, even scared. No one word seemed to describe it adequately. And scared wasn’t one he even wanted to admit to even if it fit the best.
“Ducky says going to see his family gives him the willies.”
Tony chuckled, remembering some of the older man’s anecdotes about his family members. Like most of his stories they were a bit long winded and round about, but most were amusing. And Tony found it comforting just to listen to Ducky talk.
The ME had been amazingly supportive when he found out Tony was requesting time off for his father’s funeral. Ducky hadn’t offered any meaningless platitudes or useless reassurances. He’d nicely refrained from saying he was sorry for Tony’s loss, seeming to understand Tony’s mixed emotions about what if anything he’d lost with his father’s death. Instead, Ducky simply asked if there was anything he could do to help.
“You already did it, Duck,” Tony had assured him.
Abby didn’t say a word when he told her he’d be taking some time off and why. She just wrapped her arms around him in a breath stealing hug. Tony had hugged her back, hanging on for a long time, soaking up the comfort and warmth being so freely given. How anyone could ever think her exuberant affection qualified as sexual harassment he couldn’t begin to guess.
McGee knew Tony’s relationship with his father was anything but stellar. He didn’t know the particulars, and if Tony had his way McGee never would. The younger agent had started to say he was sorry, but something in Tony’s expression stopped him before he could to more than open his mouth. Ultimately, like Ducky, McGee simply asked if he there was anything he could do. And like Ducky, his just making the offer had been enough.
Tony debated with himself for several minutes before opting to tell Ziva as well. Not that he really wanted to, or felt the same degree of connection with her that he shared with his other teammates, but she was a teammate and deserved to know why he was taking time off. Besides, not telling her would have made it seem like a bigger deal than it really was.
She had stared at him with dark eyes that seemed to look through him. He had no idea what she was looking for but whatever it was seemed to satisfy her. She didn’t offer to hug him, which he would have found more disturbing than comforting, nor did she offer condolences. She just nodded once, relaying a wealth of understanding without saying a word.
It made Tony wonder what her relationship with her own father was like. Given that Daddy David raised his son, Ari, to be a double agent, using him as a tool…Tony could see where the man might have a lot in common with Anthony DiNozzo Sr. If that was the case, then Ziva’s relationship with her father probably wasn’t much different than Tony’s was with his.
The Director had offered the usual polite condolences when Tony submitted his request for bereavement leave. And for that, Tony was almost grateful. It kept her firmly in the realm of bystander in his life. She didn’t know he wasn’t sorry his father was dead, didn’t know he had no real reason to be. And that was fine with him.
She suggested he take the entire week, but Tony declined. Three days was already more than he’d originally planned. But Gibbs was right. After dealing with his family, a long weekend might well be necessary. It could take that long to get his head screwed on straight and he didn’t want it affecting his work.
Gibbs had put in his request for three days leave not long after Tony submitted his. As usual, the man didn’t explain himself. But Abby, Ducky and McGee knew why, and each had offered their own subtle approval of his going with Tony.
Ziva would be the only teammate not in the know. Tony had a bet with McGee and Abby over how long it would take her ask one of them Wednesday. He really hoped Ziva had the self-restraint he thought she had. He’d make a hundred bucks if she held out until ten. McGee had the nine am slot. Abby went with eight. Both could equally and honestly claim Gibbs hadn’t said anything to them about why he was taking the time off or where he was going.
Gibbs didn’t offer any explanation to the Director either. With all the time he had on the books, a reason wasn’t necessary, but Tony would bet a month’s salary Shepard asked anyway. He knew Gibbs had a ready excuse if he saw the need to offer one. Tony was fairly certain Gibbs didn’t give it though.
The man could be decidedly tight lipped about things he didn’t consider anyone else’s business. If Shepard had forgotten that from when they’d worked together before, Tony figured this was a refresher. She might be in command of the agency, but that didn’t mean she was in charge of Gibbs. Tony didn’t think anyone could really lay claim to that.
Tony sighed when the gate attendant called for first class passengers to board. He debated ignoring the call. Gibbs stood up and looked at him, clearly letting him know the choice was his. Tony grimaced, then nodded. He wasn’t a child any longer. He could do this.
“You want the window or the aisle?”
Tony laughed. “Figured.”
He offered Gibbs the carryon while he took the suit bag. For two days, neither of them felt a need to bring much. And Tony refused to check any luggage. Too much stuff had been lost too often for him to trust that his bags would arrive at his final destination if let out of his sight. So, if it couldn’t go on the plane with him, it didn’t go.
The stewardess smiled warmly at him, giving him an appreciative once over. Under other circumstances, he might have flirted with her, but having not slept well since hearing of his father’s death, Tony really couldn’t summon the energy to feign interest. He gave her a polite, distant smile, not making eye contact.
Gibbs waited for him to take the window seat. There was a bit less leg room than Tony would have liked, but still more available than there would have been in coach. And he really didn’t mind having Gibbs between him and everyone else. It was one more way the older man looked out for him, and Tony was grateful.
Tony watched the other passengers board. He amused himself by guessing what their reason for traveling might be. There were a lot of vacation homes in the Hamptons and it was a safe bet half the people boarding were going to either close up the house for the season or using up the last of their vacation time. Some were obviously business travelers. Suits and ties were a dead give away.
Tony smiled at the little girl who was babbling excitedly to a woman who had to be her mother about the cookies grandma had promised to let her help make when they arrived. He wondered for a moment what that might be like. He couldn’t remember either of his grandmothers ever baking cookies, much less letting him help with the process.
Gibbs gave him a look, and Tony shrugged. He wasn’t sure how to explain feeling nostalgic about a childhood experience he never had. And he really didn’t want to try to explain being jealous of a child.
Gibbs smiled. “I know how to bake cookies.”
Tony arched an eyebrow. “Do you?”
Gibbs nodded. “When we get home, I’ll even let you help.”
Tony grinned. He really loved this man. Not having any privacy to give Gibbs a kiss, Tony settled for briefly caressing the back of the other man’s hand.
Gibbs smiled. He pulled one of the dog-eared airline magazines from the pouch in the seat in front of him. “Find the crossword.”
Tony nodded. The flight was only going to be a little over an hour. They could easily finish the puzzle in that time. And it gave them a great excuse to sit closer together, to brush against one another, to ignore everything else around them.
When the beverage service was offered, Tony opted for water. He would have preferred a stiff drink, but he decided against it. He wasn’t like his father. Tony enjoyed a good drink, but he didn’t have to have one.
Gibbs got his usual coffee. He made a face when he sipped it. There was no way what they offered could be as good as Manny’s Mud. And even if it was, they likely didn’t make it as strong as Gibbs preferred.
“Should have brought some from home,” Gibbs muttered.
“Don’t think security would have let you bring it.” Given how tight things had become of late, anything liquid was a big no-no. And coffee beans would likely have set off alarms somewhere because they were off used to disguise the smell of drugs from security dogs.
Gibbs eyes narrowed. “I have my gun.”
Tony chuckled. He had no trouble picturing Gibbs facing off with a security guard over whether or not his cup of coffee or bag of beans could be allowed on the plane. His loyalty said Gibbs would win that showdown, but his better sense knew Gibbs would be outnumbered in no time.
“Don’t think the Director would be pleased to know you’d started an incident in the Dulles International Airport.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“No.” Tony agreed with a smirk. “Kind of my point, Boss.”
Gibbs moved his hand. Instead of the light head smack Tony was expecting, Gibbs ruffled his hair, before massaging his neck lightly. Tony sighed, soaking up the comfort that relaxing touch engendered.
Together they focused on the crossword puzzle. For most of the flight Tony lost himself in the familiar activity, pretending they were at his kitchen table working the Sunday puzzle. Or that they were sitting on the basement steps together, Gibbs taking a break from working his boat to look over his shoulder.
Tony winced when the Captain’s voice crackled over the intercom announcing they were ten miles out and requesting they fasten their seatbelts. He hated the loud static that always punctuated any comments from the cockpit. It reminded him of trying order through the archaic drive thru things.
Tony stuffed the magazine back into the seat pocket. Next person would have to ask for another if they wanted to do the crossword.
He tried hard to maintain a calm façade. He took a deep breath and released it slowly. He wasn’t even sure why he was nervous. It wasn’t like his aunts, uncles, or cousins could do anything to him. He’d been living without any active family support since Sully died. If his father chose not to leave him anything in the will, Tony was no worse off. And if one of his relatives was foolish enough to try and hit him, Tony was confident he could handle it. And if for some reason he couldn’t, Gibbs would probably take whoever’s hand off at the elbow.
Tony tried to smile before letting the effort die still born. “I’m okay.”
Gibbs hand was on his shoulder, squeezing once. “I got your six, Tony.”
“I know.” He suddenly found it a lot easier to smile, stepping confidently into the aisle, ready to leave.
Another thing Tony liked about first class was being the first to deplane. He always despised the impatient jostling that was a usual occurrence in coach. It was definitely nicer to be able to just stroll off the plane.
Gibbs kept pace easily, walking beside him as they made their way though the airport. Tony almost regretted not having any bags to claim, knowing that process would slow them down. He mentally slapped himself for seeking ways to delay the inevitable. Putting it off wouldn’t make it any easier. And more often than not, it just made things worse.
Heading for the exit, Tony scanned the area. He wasn’t sure who he should be looking for. Andrea had only told him a car would be waiting. That could mean anything---a limo, a cab, a chartered shuttle, or even a company car and driver. He assumed someone would be holding a placard with his surname on it.
Gibbs nodded toward a young man in a dark suit who Tony had spotted at almost the same time. “Our ride,” Gibbs murmured.
“Sure looks like it.”
The younger man smiled broadly when they approached. Tony thought he didn’t look old enough to shave, much less drive. He wondered if Gibbs thought the same thing.
The kid held out his hand. “Anthony DiNozzo?”
“Tony,” he corrected as he shook hands. The only person Tony didn’t mind calling him ‘Anthony’ was Ducky.
The driver man nodded. He looked askance at Gibbs. “And you, Sir?”
Blue eyes narrowed as he assessed the younger man. Tony gave the kid points for not backing up under the weight of that intense stare. “Gibbs.”
The kid nodded again. “I’m Daniel DiNozzo. You can call me Danny.”
Tony frowned trying to place the name. It clicked a second later. “Gabriel’s youngest?”
“Yep.” Danny grinned broadly. “Didn’t think you’d remember me.”
Tony wasn’t going to admit that he didn’t. Not really. He just smiled and shrugged one shoulder. “You look like your father.”
With his broad shoulders, dark hair and hazel eyes, Danny was a younger version of Tony’s uncle. The expressive face and manner was clearly Danny’s. Tony couldn’t remember his uncle ever grinning, or appearing quite so approachable. Danny had been five or six the last time Tony had seen him. It gave Tony a new sense of just how much time had passed since he’d encountered any of his relatives.
“Yeah,” Danny sighed, “People tell me I look like my father a lot.”
It didn’t sound like he was particularly happy with the comparison. But Tony chose not to read too much into it. There weren’t a lot of kids Danny’s age who wanted to be thought of as a miniature version of their fathers…even if they liked and respected them.
“If you’ll come with me…The car is this way.” Danny led them to where he had parked. Anywhere else, the Lincoln Towncar would probably have towed for being left in the drop off and immediate pick up zone, but the DiNozzo family had a lot of influence. More than enough allow parking where others couldn’t.
Danny popped the trunk. He offered to take their bags, but Gibbs shook his head. Danny frowned but didn’t protest when Gibbs put the carryon and garment bag in the trunk himself. He opened the door for Tony. Tony got in. He was amused when Gibbs chose to open the other door for himself, sliding in on Tony’s left. Leave it to his lover to make a point without saying a word.
He saw Danny roll his eyes. That alone told Tony Danny wasn’t used to playing chauffer. If he was…he’d have either controlled the impulse, or he’d have made sure Tony couldn’t see him do it. Tony wondered if the kid had pulled the short straw to get stuck with picking him and Gibbs up. Or maybe it was punishment of some kind.
As Danny pulled away from the curb, he cast a glance over his shoulder at Tony. “The Towers?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Danny nodded. His eyes met Tony’s in the review mirror. “My father said you’re a federal agent.”
It wasn’t exactly a question, but Tony could hear one in the statement. He didn’t see any harm in indulging Danny’s curiosity. “I am.”
“Which agency?” Danny asked eagerly.
Danny frowned. He’d likely been expecting something more famous, with more panache like FBI, CIA or NSA. Tony waited to see if Danny would ask the question he’d gotten used to answering ever since he’d taken the job. The younger man didn’t disappoint.
“What does that stand for?”
“Naval Criminal Investigation Service. We handle crimes involving Naval and Marine personnel.”
“So you’re a navy cop?” Danny flashed a grin.
“Something like that.”
“Do you like it?”
“I do.” He more than liked it, he loved it. He wouldn’t have stayed so long if he hadn’t.
“Must be exciting.”
“It has its moments.” He and Gibbs traded amused looks at his understatement. Their cases were far more interesting and complicated than Tony expected when he took the job. But then even his movie plots couldn’t compare to some of the cases they’d handled.
“I wanted to be a cop for awhile.” Danny sounded a bit wistful.
Knowing Gabriel, he had probably mapped out his youngest son’s life for him, much the same way Tony’s father had. Being a cop hadn’t exactly been high on Anthony DiNozzo Sr.’s list of career choices any more than attending Ohio State had been considered an acceptable university. Gibbs shifted slightly so he was closer to Tony, mutely offering support of his decision to defy his father. Tony bumped Gibbs’ knee with his own.
“Pay isn’t great and the hours are lousy,” Tony told Danny, unsure if consolation needed to be offered or not, but wanting to offer it to the younger man just the same.
“Oh, I know.” Danny laughed softly. “Was kind of the reason I gave up the idea when I was sixteen. But getting to carry a gun, be one of the good guys…it still looks like fun.”
“It can be.” Tony wasn’t going to deny that. He enjoyed his job. And he was proud of being one of the good guys.
“Hours aren’t much better as a doctor, but the pay is.”
“You’re a doctor?” Gibbs asked, sounding as surprised as Tony felt.
“Not yet,” Danny shrugged. “I’m a lowly med student at the moment.”
Tony wondered if that career had been Danny’s choice, or something his father thought would have sufficient panache to be worth letting Danny do. It seemed a bit too personal a question to ask, so Tony opted instead for satisfying another detail that had piqued his curiosity earlier.
“How did you end up playing chauffer?” The real question was why a family member and not someone hired but it seemed rude to put it hat way.
“I volunteered,” Danny said with refreshing candor. “Lot of relatives coming in from out of town for the funeral. Most of whom I’ve never even laid eyes on. I thought this would be a good way to meet them.”
“Could do that at the funeral.”
Danny snorted. “You ever try to talk to people at a funeral?”
Tony had to admit he had a point. Other than speaking to his friends at Kate's funeral, he hadn’t said much to anyone. Dealing with is own grief was hard enough, he didn't want to try and handle that of others. And with his family---he was fairly certain most of them would use the moment to size up competition or look for a weakness they could exploit. He didn’t plan to speak to them any more than absolutely necessary. Had he met Danny there first he likely wouldn’t have given the younger man more than a passing glance.
“So you live in D.C.?”
“Just outside actually.”
“Have you been to see all the monuments?”
“Several times.” Tony smiled, trading another look with Gibbs. They’d recently done a tour of them. It had been one of his most memorable visits. “The best way to see them is at night.”
“I am hoping to get to see them sometime.”
“You’ve never gone?” Tony could feel both brows rising. DC wasn’t that far away. Most grade school students within a days drive went at some point.
“Mother is a bit…” Danny waved a hand helplessly as though not sure what would to chose.
He knew first hand how his aunt could be. She never wanted him anywhere near her children. He remembered her firmly declaring…”With all the bruises and cuts on that boy he’s a walking disaster area. I won’t have him hurting my children with his clumsy antics.”
Shaking his head, dismissing the memory, Tony offered what he thought would be an acceptable adjective. “Marissa is a bit…overprotective.”
“Like a rabid pit bull.”
Tony smiled at the dry statement. It was hard not to like Danny. He seemed like an okay kid.
“But she’s my mother, so I try not complain too much.”
Gibbs snorted quietly. Tony knew what his lover was thinking. To the former Marine, no matter what Danny’s age, he was definitely not an adult if his mother was still dictating his actions. Danny definitely lost points in Gibbs’ evaluation.
“So are you staying in town for long?”
“No.” Tony couldn’t help how curt he sounded. If it hadn’t been for Gabriel’s reference to the will and Andrea’s assurances that he needed to be there, Tony wasn’t entirely certain he’d be here now. There hadn’t been anything for him here when he was eighteen, and he doubted there was anything for him here now.
Danny bit his lower lip, clearly aware he’d touched a sore spot. He nodded his head once. Tony gave him points for not apologizing. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but if Gabriel had mentioned Tony’s profession, it was a safe bet why Tony hadn’t been back in almost twenty years had probably come up as well.
“Your old man know you volunteered for this gig?” Gibbs asked. Only long hours observing Gibbs during interrogations made Tony aware of the edge of suspicion in the older man’s voice.
“No.” Danny shook his head. “My parents don’t approve of family members performing menial tasks.”
That sounded almost like something Danny had memorized by rote. Hazel eyes met green. “You won’t say anything to my mother or father about this, will you?”
Tony’s jaw tightened for a moment remembering past punishments for disobedience. Gibbs placed a hand on Tony’s thigh, squeezing his once, reminding him he wasn’t at his family’s mercy any more, that he had made a life for himself he could be proud of. He tipped his head in agreement of the request to keep Danny’s small rebellion a secret. He barely knew the younger man, but he didn’t want him to suffer for his minor defiance.
“If anyone asks, all I know is there was a car and driver to pick me up. We had no reason to speak to one another.”
Tony smirked. “Don’t mention it.”
Danny chuckled. “Mum’s the word.”
Tony was almost sorry to see the hotel. On one hand he’d have liked to talk more with Danny, and on the other he desperately wanted to get away from him. There was probably a lot Danny didn’t know, which could engender more questions Tony didn’t want to answer. And Tony really didn’t want to know just how much the younger man might know. There was still so much he hadn’t been able to tell Gibbs yet; Tony sure as hell didn’t want to be talking about it in front of him with a kid who was still basically a stranger, blood relative or not.
Danny pulled into the half round drive, parking under the stately portico. It was oddly comforting to see the hotel looking so much like he remembered it. Tony knew a lot had to have changed over the years; it was good to know some things were constant.
The uniformed doorman approached and opened the door, standing almost at attention. “Welcome to The Towers.”
“Thank you.” Tony slid out, waiting for Gibbs to join him. When Danny popped the trunk, Gibbs got the bags, shooing the doorman a ‘back off’ look. The doorman didn’t bat an eye, simply allowed Gibbs to do as he so obviously wanted.
Tony wasn’t quite sure why Gibbs needed to take responsibility for their things. It could be a hold over from the job. No one else but one of the team handled their gear. It could be just his being independent and used to doing it for himself. But Tony suspected it had more to do with Gibbs being territorial. He didn’t want anyone else handling what he considered his or what might be his by extension, ie. Tony’s bags.
Danny got out of the car, approaching him. Tony expected a hand shake and a ‘nice to have met you’ good-bye. Instead Danny gave him a look he couldn’t quite read. “I didn’t think federal agents got bodyguards.” He spoke quietly, making it clear he didn’t want to be overheard.
“They don’t.” Tony grinned, not surprised by the younger man’s initial assumption. Everything about Gibbs actions and manner suggested he looking out for Tony…it just didn’t reveal why.
Danny frowned, looking at Gibbs. “He’s not your lawyer.” There was no doubt in the younger man’s voice.
“No.” Tony’s smile widened. “In Gibbs’ line of work, cutthroat is still a verb.”
Danny raised both eyebrows, obviously not sure what to make of that statement, and clearly at a loss as to exactly what role Gibbs played. Tony didn’t feel any need to enlighten him. The kid would either have to ask outright, or settle for not knowing.
Tony held out his hand. “It was nice to see you again.”
“You too.” Danny shook his hand. “A limo will pick you up tomorrow.”
“I expected as much.”
Danny seemed reluctant to leave. Tony could sympathize with his desire to know more about a cousin he might never get one on one time with again, and he knew the younger man still had a lot of questions. But he was tired, and no longer in the mood to indulge Danny. D.C. wasn’t that far away. If the kid ever grew balls big enough to seriously defy his parents, he was welcome to visit Tony on his own turf. Danny had gotten their flight information and arrival time from Andrea, he could just as easily get Tony’s phone number. If Danny really wanted answers, he should be willing to work for them.
“Good night, Danny.” It was a clear dismissal.
Gibbs gave him a questioning look as Danny drove away. Tony waved it off with an ‘I’ll explain later’ gesture. Right now all he wanted to do was check in and get away from anyone else who, like Danny, might be looking to grab a moment of his time or sneak a peak at Anthony DiNozzo Sr.’s only son.
The luxury room that was waiting for them was being paid for on someone else’s tab. They might as well make the most of it. Tony would have a bottle of something very expensive sent up, and with a stiff drink in hand, he’d answer whatever questions Gibbs wanted to ask.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
“You don’t care for bourbon.” Gibbs waited to make that comment until they were alone in the elevator heading up to their room. Tony had ordered a bottle of what Gibbs knew had to be very, very expensive bourbon sent up to their room when they’d checked in.
“I know.” Tony sighed. “But you like it.”
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. He hadn’t asked for a stiff drink, but Tony thinking he might need one didn’t bode well. “So the scotch is for you?”
Gibbs nodded. Definitely didn’t bode well. All he’d really intended to ask Tony about was what he and Danny had been talking about so quietly when they’d arrived at the hotel, but Tony clearly was expecting him to ask harder questions. And he was obviously prepared to answer them…with a little fortification.
“You don’t have to.” He wasn’t going to force Tony to confess anything.
“I know.” Tony’s lips curled upward at the corners creating the barest hint of a smile. “I’ve already told you enough you can probably fill in the blanks on your own. But I think maybe it was time I told you just how big a cluster fuck you volunteered to get into the middle of.” Tony sighed. “Probably should have told you long before now.”
Gibbs winced at the blend of guilt and fear he could hear in that statement. He moved to stand in front of Tony, leaning into his personal space, speaking quietly but forcefully. “You. Do. Not. Have. To. Tell. Me. Anything.”
He raised a hand and cupped the back of Tony’s neck, squeezing once. “Nothing you say will make me love you less, you got me?”
Tony leaned in to rest his forehead against Gibbs’, green eyes drifting closed. “Promise?”
Gibbs didn’t hesitate, even though that whispered question hit him in the gut hard. He knew the doubt and insecurity wasn’t about him, but it still hurt. “I promise, Tony.”
“I love you, Leroy Jethro Gibbs. So much it makes me crazy some days.” Tony gave him a light kiss, green eyes earnest when they opened to meet blue. “Know I don’t say it enough. I mean to. Just hard for—“
“I never had any doubts about how you feel.” Gibbs smiled. “Never.”
Tony’s eyes took on that glow Gibbs didn’t see often enough. It only appeared when the younger man was decidedly pleased by something Gibbs had said or done. The former Marine often found himself looking for ways to make that glow show up more often.
Tony stepped back when the elevator dinged and announced their arrival on the 15th floor. “Let’s finish this conversation in our room.”
Tony stepped off the elevator, moving unhesitatingly down the hall to the right. Gibbs followed. The plush carpet muffled their footfalls. The walls were painted a neutral tone. Brightly polished brass door handles and number plates gleamed in the muted hall lighting. They passed several pieces of original artwork which added spots of color, highlighting the understated opulence of the hotel.
Tony slipped the key card in the slot, opening the door on the first try. Gibbs knew there had to be a trick to that. He couldn’t get the damn door to open with less than three tries. What the hell was wrong with the old metal key system? It worked for years.
Gibbs whistled soundlessly as looked around the suite. It was large enough to qualify as a small apartment complete with a living room, two bedrooms and baths. The furniture was tasteful and obviously good quality. He would bet good money the cherry wood armoire and end tables were solid, not veneer. The plasma screen hanging on one wall likely cost more than he made in three months.
Walking into the master bedroom to set down their bags, Gibbs eyed the California king sized sleigh bed. He hoped the damn thing had a mattress as nice as the one Tony had. Not that it mattered. If Tony had as restless a night as he’d had the last few, Gibbs wouldn’t be getting much sleep anyway.
He flicked on the light in the attached bath. The darkness of black marble double sink vanity was offset by glossy silver fixtures and pristine fluffy white towels. The tub could easily qualify as a small swimming pool.
“Nice place,” Gibbs commented as he walked back out to the living room where Tony still stood.
Tony looked around, before giving Gibbs a wry smile. “Nothing but the best.”
Gibbs cocked his head to one side, studying his lover. “You ever stay here before?”
Tony shrugged one shoulder. “The block of rooms the family has is usually reserved for out of town guests and business clients.”
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. He was far too used to picking apart what people said and didn’t say to let that statement pass unchallenged. Tony had talked around his question, he hadn’t answered it. There was a strange emphasis on ‘usually’, which meant there were occasionally ‘unusual’ circumstances. And Tony was far too familiar with the layout of the hotel for it to have been just a rare or casual visitor.
“But you did stay here, didn’t you?”
Tony nodded. “Yeah.”
Gibbs knew Tony grew up in this town. Why would he need to stay at The Towers? The only way to know was to ask. Gibbs squared his shoulders, hoping he wasn’t about to bring up any painful memories when he asked gently, “Why did you stay here?”
“When I was ten, my parents went on a cruise.” Tony licked his lips nervously as he gestured meaninglessly with one hand. “It was during the school year and I wasn’t doing well with math, so taking time off wasn’t really a good idea. And it wasn’t like they wanted me to go along anyway. So I got left behind.”
Gibbs fought not to clench his hands into fists. “They left you alone?”
“Well…the housekeeper was there. Or at least she was for part of the time.” Tony looked away, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Would have been okay… I mean I was old enough to take care of myself…most of the time that is.” Tony sighed. “I got the flu. It was…bad.”
Gibbs struggled to keep his tone neutral. “How bad?”
“I spent a couple of days in the hospital.” Tony looked at him, green eyes shuttered.
Gibbs jaw tightened. He knew about Tony’s stay in the hospital for dehydration. It was in the report his PI friend, Sam, had given him. If the housekeeper hadn’t found him, Tony might have died. Gibbs quelled the urge to hit something. He didn’t want to scare Tony with his anger. Instead, he waited, giving Tony time to decide if he wanted to expound or not.
“After that…if they went anywhere I stayed here.” Tony cleared his throat, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “And there were times when going home, well, let’s just say, it was better to be here than there. The doorman…not the guy we met, but another guy…older…Carl…he knew the family was paying for the rooms anyway, and if they were empty when I asked, he’d get me a key and let me stay.”
Gibbs wondered where Carl was now. He had this urge to thank the man for giving Tony access to a safe place to stay. It was heartening to know Tony had at least one refuge when he was growing up. The fact that he needed one at all made Gibbs’ desire to throttle Tony’s parents that much more intense.
A soft knock at the door had Gibbs reaching for his gun. The reaction was ingrained, nearly instinctive. Tony gave him a faintly amused look.
Gibbs grimaced, glaring at Tony without any real heat. “You just were adjusting your belt, right, DiNozzo?”
He’d seen the younger man reach for his gun too, coming far closer than Gibbs to actually drawing it. If they were both that twitchy a drink might not be a bad idea.
Tony held up both hands, palms out. “Guilty.” He pointed toward the door with his thumb. “You okay if I get that?”
“I’ll get it.” It should just be room service, but Gibbs wasn’t trusting that it would be. He wasn’t letting his guard down just yet.
A kid in a bell hop uniform was on the other side of the door, hand poised to knock again when Gibbs opened the door. The kid was holding a tray with two bottles, two fine cut crystal glasses and a silver ice bucket. He smiled brightly at Gibbs.
“I have the drinks you requested, Sir.”
Gibbs looked past the kid, making sure he was alone before opening the door wide enough to grant him entry. The kid set the tray on the coffee table. Tony handed him a twenty, getting a quick grin and ‘thank you, sir’.
The kid looked like he might want to make some sort of polite small talk. Gibbs would rather he left now. The look he gave the bellhop told him so in no uncertain terms.
Tony chuckled as Gibbs shut the door on the rapidly retreating young man. “You’re already scaring the locals.”
“Wouldn’t want to lose my touch.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “A kid barely old enough to be legal is hardly a challenge for you.”
Gibbs shrugged. He wasn’t sorry, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to apologize. He was willing to compromise. “I won’t do it again.” At least, not tonight anyway.
The look Tony gave him made it clear he heard what wasn’t said. “Fair enough.”
Tony took off his shoes, leaving them next to the couch. He shrugged out of his coat, carelessly draping it over the back of one of the wingback chairs. He opened the bourbon, pouring a shot into one glass. He put two ice cubes into another class before he opened the scotch and poured enough to cover the ice. Tony offered the bourbon to Gibbs before taking a seat on the couch.
“So, what else would you like to know?”
Gibbs took the drink. He wanted to relax on the couch the way they did at home…with Tony nestled between his legs, resting against him. But the tension he could see in Tony’s face and shoulders Gibbs knew that wasn’t going to happen, at least not yet. He elected to sit at the opposite end of the couch so they could look at one another.
“What were you and Danny talking about downstairs?”
Tony smirked. “He asked me how a government agent warranted a bodyguard.”
“Well, it was either that or you’re my attorney.”
Gibbs snorted. “Are those my only two choices?”
“I considered tell him you were my sex slave, but I didn’t think you’d care for that option either.”
Gibbs gave him a lecherous look. “Oh, I don’t know…it’s not far from the truth.”
Tony laughed, relaxing back into the couch. He sipped his scotch, sighing quietly. Gibbs was betting it was every bit as good as the price tag would indicate it should be.
“I don’t really want to tell them anything at all about you.” Tony made eye contact. “Not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed. I just…hell, the last time I saw Danny he was five or six years old. Most of these people are basically strangers to me. Feels weird letting them know anything at all about me. Especially the best thing in my life.”
Gibbs could feel his face warm. It always made him feel such a rush of warmth whenever Tony mentioned how much Gibbs meant to him. He never thought for a second Tony was ashamed or embarrassed. Being a decidedly private person himself, Gibbs could readily understand not wanting to share intimate details with strangers. Hell, they’d only just told Ducky about their relationship, and they’d both known him for years, trusting him implicitly.
Gibbs frowned, refocusing on what Tony had said. “You haven’t seen any of them…not one of them…in years?”
“Nope.” Tony shook his head. “I was something of a…pariah before turning my back on them. Going to Ohio State and becoming a cop essentially sealed the deal.”
“You heard Danny. The DiNozzos do not approve of family members doing menial labor.”
“Not that.” Gibbs waved a hand in dismissal. “Why were you a pariah even before you left for college?”
“When I was a kid…I thought it was because…well, there was something wrong with me. That I wasn’t good enough.” Tony swallowed hard and looked away.
Gibbs wanted to reach out and touch him, but hesitated, unsure if he should. If he offered the comfort Tony so clearly needed, it might stop the flow of words. This was obviously something the younger man so clearly wanted to share, Gibbs thought it would be better to let him and be ready to pick up the pieces when the time came.
Tony took a breath. “Joe told me it was more likely they felt guilty about knowing what was going on and not doing anything about it. They were so busy actively ignoring or hiding their own issues that dealing with mine just wasn’t an option. So if they didn’t have to look at me, or talk to me, or acknowledge just how many times I said I’d run into a door…then they could go on about their lives without having to do anything.”
“Bastards,” Gibbs cursed, unable to stop himself.
“Yeah.” Tony toyed with his glass, the ice clinking against the sides. “Wasn’t just me though. The whole family is…god, dysfunctional doesn’t even begin to cover it. They lived most of their lives overlooking a lot.”
“My father’s alcoholism. My uncle Gabriel was addicted to painkillers. My aunt Anna was bulimic, might still be for all I know. My aunt Maria has some serious OCD going on.” Tony bit his lower lip. “But most of those things you can hide.”
“Hide?” Gibbs inched closer, narrowing the gap between them. He put his still untouched glass on the coffee table.
“No one ever saw my father blind stinking drunk. He didn’t slur his words, didn’t puke or pass out. Made it easy to just pass off his always having a drink in his hand as something social.” Tony grimaced, looking at the drink in his own hand before putting it on the coffee table next to Gibbs’.
“Same for Gabriel. If you didn’t know how often he got that prescription refilled you wouldn’t know he had a problem. Wasn’t like anyone saw him popping pills a dozen times a day. Not sure how he got clean, or if he even did. Not like he was going to check into the Betty Ford Clinic. Would disgrace the family name.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “If you didn’t hear Anna in the bathroom puking, you’d never know she had a problem…just avoid the hallway for a bit, give her some space. And Maria…she’s a CFO. Smart and detail oriented. No one is going to get too upset if all her pencils have to be sharpened to point or carries a back up for her back up blackberry.”
Tony shook his head. “Splints and casts and black eyes aren’t so easy to hide or overlook.”
“Shouldn’t be overlooked,” Gibbs growled. He didn’t care that these people had problems Everyone had problems, but nothing should ever super-secede the needs of a child. That they were too weak to deal with their own issues was not an excuse Gibbs would accept.
“Yeah, I know that now.” Tony sighed. “Just…I didn’t then.”
“Joe helped you understand?”
“He’s trying.” Tony chuckled dryly. “Can’t say I made it easy for him, but he is trying.”
“Have you considered seeing a professional?” Gibbs winced, unable to believe he was crass enough to ask that.
Tony just laughed, reaching out to take Gibbs’ hand. “Joe is a professional, Jethro. He’s got a thriving psychiatric practice in Baltimore.”
“Oh.” Gibbs could feel his face warm.
“Don’t sweat it.” Tony raised their joined hands and kissed Gibbs’ knuckles. “It’s not like I mentioned it before. Probably should have.” Tony shook his head. “And it’s not like I’ve really seen him in a professional capacity. More like well educated, good friend helping out kind of thing.”
It was obvious everything Tony discussed with Joe was done solely because he trusted his friend. He wouldn’t spill his guts to just anyone any more than Gibbs would. Even just helping out as a concerned friend, Joe had clearly made it possible for Tony to put the childhood abuse he’d experienced into some perspective. It had obviously made a difference, helping him become the man Gibbs had fallen in love with. But it hadn’t been just Joe who’d helped out, Gibbs recalled. Tony only met Joe in college. Sully had been around when Tony was a child. She seemed like she had her life together enough to intervene.
“Why didn’t Sully—“
“Do more?” Tony asked, arching an eyebrow. “Like calling the cops or social services?”
Gibbs nodded. He wasn’t surprised to have Tony follow his thoughts so closely. He’d actually come to rely on the younger man’s ability to do just that.
“Sully knew how to pick her battles.” Tony shrugged.
“Calling the authorities wouldn’t go anywhere.” Tony’s lips curled into a bitter smile. “Not in this town and not if your name was DiNozzo. Different rules apply.”
Gibbs knew that from his research as well. It made him want to beat the shit out of someone. He couldn’t accept that someone Tony thought so highly of would have done nothing. It didn’t make sense.
Tony squeezed Gibbs’ hand. “Just because she didn’t call in the cavalry doesn’t mean she didn’t do anything, Jethro.”
Gibbs searched Tony’s face. “What did she do?”
“Every summer from the time I met her when I was seven until I graduated from high school, I spent with her.” Tony smiled fondly. Those times were clearly good ones for him. “It was about as close to ‘normal’ as I’ve ever come.”
Tony’s smile faded and he bit his lower lip. “She never said so outright, but she hinted that she’d asked to keep me for longer. My father wouldn’t go for it.” He grimaced. “He might not have wanted me, but he didn’t want Sully to have me either.”
Gibbs ground his teeth together. He was sorry Anthony DiNozzo Sr. died from a heart attack. The man should have died by inches, as slowly and painfully as possible.
Tony tugged on Gibbs’ hand drawing him from his thoughts. “It’s okay, Jethro.”
“No, it’s not.”
“All right, it’s not okay.” Tony sighed. “But it is done. You can’t undo it now.”
Gibbs bit back his instinctive response. He was ‘fixer’ damn it. He made things right for other people all the time. He should be able to do this for the one person in the world who mattered the most.
“Being with you helps,” Tony told him. “You know that, right?”
“It doesn’t feel like it’s enough.”
Tony smiled gently. “You are used to being on the field…so watching is a bit foreign to you, I know. But what happens on the sidelines can still win or lose the game.”
Gibbs snorted. “I hate sports analogies.”
Tony grinned. “I know.”
Gibbs leaned in and kissed him, wanting to taste that grin. Under the strong essence of scotch lay that unique flavor that was all Tony. He enjoyed the way Tony opened up, let him in, let him take control of the kiss.
He pulled back when the need to breathe was too much to ignore. “You’ll let me know when I can get in the game, yeah?”
“You’re here.” Tony smiled, eyes glowing. “You’re already in the game.”
“Was thinking more as an active participant.”
Tony shook his head. “You can’t kill anyone.”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t maim anyone.” Tony chuckled. “And you can scare anyone you like…no matter what age.”
Gibbs grinned savagely. “I can live with that.”
“Thought you might.” Tony’s smile was swallowed up by a yawn. He shook his head, expression chagrined. “Sorry. Long day.”
“More like a short night.” Four hours of sleep was far from enough; for either of them.
“C’mon.” Gibbs stood up, pulling Tony to his feet. “Bed time.”
“Will you read to me?”
The question was hesitant, just like always. Gibbs lived for the day when Tony would ask him something of him and not expect to be denied.
Gibbs placed a kiss on Tony’s temple. “Of course, I’ll read to you.”
It was an activity that helped relax both of them. Something they both needed. And with any luck it would work tonight better than it had last night. They’d need to be sharp tomorrow.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Given what he’d be facing today, and everything he and Gibbs had talked about last night, Tony had expected to sleep badly, if he slept at all. To his surprise, he’d found himself waking at his usual time, feeling decidedly well rested having slept a solid six hours. Maybe Joe had been right all along, talking about it did help.
Although it was probably having someone he trusted to talk to that made the biggest difference. It was certainly easier than he’d expected to share bits and pieces of his past with Gibbs. Neither of them had needed the drinks he ordered. But Tony wasn’t sorry he gotten them. After the funeral, he might well need some fortification.
Out of habit more so than need Tony checked his appearance in the full length mirror to make sure everything was exactly as it should be. The simple white shirt he wore was starched just enough to keep it crisp despite being packed in the garment bag for hours. Its pristine color was a stark contrast to the solid black of his pants and jacket. The silver threads in his vest matched the small silver diamond decorations on his otherwise black silk tie. Freshly polished black Italian leather shoes completed the ensemble.
Tony wondered if he’d be keeping the suit or burning it later. He decided he’d wait to see how the funeral went before deciding.
Tony glanced to where Gibbs waited. Like Tony, the older man had on a black suit with a white shirt. Gibbs had forgone a vest but his tie had a pattern similar to the one Tony wore. Instead of silver diamonds it had light blue which was nearly identical to the color of Gibbs’ eyes. That was the reason Tony had bought it in the first place. He loaned it to Gibbs one day and after deciding it looked better on the older man than it did on him, he never bothered to ask for it back.
Tony sighed. “I hate funerals.”
“No one likes funerals.”
“True.” Tony looked at his reflection one final time. He was glad he’d gotten his hair cut a week ago. Keeping it shorter had been a good idea.
Tony squared his shoulders, unconsciously shifting so he could feel the weight of his gun securely holstered on his hip. His jacket had been specifically tailored to hide the weapon so there was no revealing bulge or tell-tale sign he had it. Tony didn’t expect to need it; he just couldn’t bring himself to leave it behind. He had gotten so used to the weight and feel of it, without it he felt exposed, under dressed no matter what he was wearing. Like his badge, it just went everywhere with him.
“Tony?” Gibbs put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing once.
“I’m ready.” Or as ready as I’ll ever be, Tony amended silently.
Gibbs nodded. He squeezed Tony’s shoulder again before letting go.
They left the room together taking elevator to the first floor. There were a number of people in the lobby, all dressed in shades of gray or black. More mourners for the funeral no doubt, Tony thought with a silent, derisive snort. Some he knew had to be business associates and a few were definitely out of town family. And he doubted any of them were truly sorry Anthony DiNozzo Sr. was dead.
Tony shook his head. When his time came, he really hoped his own funeral was attended by people who gave a damn when he was alive or no one at all showed up. Either was preferable to this grand, meaningless display. It would only get bigger when the got to the church, of that Tony was certain.
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. Tony shrugged one shoulder, eyes flicking around the room to encompass all the people milling about. Icy blue eyes measured them all with a glance and clearly dismissed them as unimportant. It made Tony smile a little at how rapidly his lover came to the same conclusion he had.
As they headed for the front door, Tony let Gibbs take the lead, slipping into his usual place a half step or so behind the older man. He kept an eye out for anyone he might recognize while trying not to look like he was scoping them out. He didn’t want to attract attention, and he sure as hell didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Several people looked their way, but no one seemed to really notice either of them. No reason they should. And Tony wanted to keep it that way.
He wasn’t involved with the family business nor did he have access to the family fortune. There was no real point in anyone who was seeking favor or attention on those fronts to bother with him. Tony hoped his father’s will hadn’t left him any interest in the company; getting rid of it would be a major pain in the ass. But keeping it wasn’t an option Tony would entertain. Pain in the ass or not, anything his father had left him wouldn’t be in Tony’s possession for long. Money at least could be readily disposed of. Tony already had a number of charities he regularly donated to. Whatever his father might have left him would make for a bigger than usual contribution.
The limo was waiting for them outside. The driver stood by the passenger side door. He tipped his head to them, clearly having been briefed on who his passengers were to be today.
“Good morning.” The driver greeted them politely, a hint of a southern accent coloring his voice. Tony just nodded to the man, accepting his greeting but not returning it. Gibbs did the same.
The driver opened the door for them. Tony eyed the dark interior warily. He distrusted vehicles with tinted windows. They’d held too many surprises in the past.
He slid in, relieved to find no one else would be sharing the limo with them. Tony wouldn’t have put it past any of his relatives to use the ride to the church as a way to get a look at the possible heir to his father’s fortune. Danny wasn’t the only one who likely harbored curiosity about the only son no one had seen in years.
And while Danny hadn’t had any ulterior motives, Tony was sure other family members wouldn’t be so neutral. Most of them had no doubt forged alliances and plans of action for how to challenge the will if it didn’t give them all they felt they were owed, or how to jockey for a coveted position with the new power broker. It made him tired just thinking about it.
Gibbs sat next to him, waiting until the door was closed to take Tony’s hand. He wove their fingers together.
They didn’t speak on the way to the church. Tony knew his silence worried Gibbs. He’d been far quieter than normal ever since he’d gotten up, but he just didn’t have much to say. His lack of appetite worried Gibbs too, Tony knew. He had picked at his breakfast, unable to do more than eat half a piece of toast and finish a small glass of orange juice.
Tony looked out the window. He felt like he should know the area, but after so many years, it didn’t look familiar. So much had changed in the time he’d been gone. Oddly, that observation didn’t bother him. He may have grown up here, but it wasn’t home anymore. No…home was really with Gibbs. And the people who mattered were McGee, Abby and Ducky.
Tony squeezed Gibbs’ hand. He resisted the urge to lay his head on Gibbs’ shoulder. He wasn’t worried about being seen---the smoked glass between them and the rest of the world and even the driver was enough to ensure privacy. He was afraid if he leaned on Gibbs now, he wouldn’t be able to stop.
“It’s going to be a typical Catholic funeral,” Tony said quietly. He couldn’t remember if he’d told Gibbs that or not. But it was something the man should probably know. Catholic funerals could be long, drawn out affairs.
Gibbs grunted. “Mass and all?”
“Yeah.” Tony sighed.
A full Mass wasn’t required for every funeral and many people opted out of it, finding the full regalia unnecessary and exhausting. The hypocrisy of his father wanting all the pomp and circumstance the Church could provide when he rarely attended Mass wasn’t lost on Tony. At least Kate had been a true believer. She’d deserved to have whatever she thought essential to see her soul to heaven.
“Won’t matter what kind of funeral he has.” Gibbs whispered. “He’s still going to burn in hell.”
Tony was pretty sure the older man hadn’t meant for him to hear that so he ignored it. It wasn’t like he hadn’t thought similar things himself. He wasn’t sure when he’d realized Anthony DiNozzo Sr. wasn’t a good man or even a good father.
For much of his early life, Tony had been rather shy, wary of people in general. He wasn’t nearly as outgoing then as he was now, so he didn’t get invited to spend time in his classmates’ homes which gave him little opportunity to compare his family to anyone else’s. All he’d known was that his family wasn’t anything like what he saw on TV and in the movies. At some point Tony adopted characters like Thomas Magnum as his role model, deciding he liked him better than he did his father. Magnum certainly embodied more of what Tony came to think of as defining a ‘good man’.
The limo slowed. Tony took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Gibbs leaned over and placed a kiss on his temple.
“It’ll be okay.”
“Just stay close.”
Tony could feel some of the tension in his gut drain away. It wasn’t like he hadn’t known Gibbs would be right next to him. It was just reassuring to keep hearing him say it.
When the limo came to a stop in front of the Immaculate Conception, Gibbs released Tony’s hand and opened the door, not giving anyone else a chance to do it. Tony hid a smile. It was so like his lover to take as much control of the situation as humanly possible.
Gibbs waited for Tony to get out and closed the door behind him. Tony was glad most people arriving had the good sense to just enter the church and save any gawking for later. The cynic in him was quick to point out it would be easier to see everyone arriving from inside than out anyway.
Tony walked up the steps, doing is best to look like he wasn’t dragging his feet. He knew there would be a place reserved for him in the front. As the only son, there was no way they could relegate him to the back. He wondered how many of the hangers on among the family were fuming about that right now. He’d gladly change places with any one of them.
Tony entered the church, feeling a moment of awe that the building never failed to inspire. The arched ceiling of traditional gothic architecture drew his eyes upward while the stained glass windows sent shafts of colored light bouncing off the inlaid marble floor and crisp white walls. The scent of beeswax filled the air, mingling nicely with that of flowers placed in each window recess and at regular intervals in the nave.
Tony dipped the first two fingers of his right hand in the holy water font and blessed himself with the sign of the cross. Gibbs did the same. Together they made their way down the center aisle to the front pew. Tony ignored the feeling of being watched, and simply kept his focus straight ahead. He ignored the not quite silent whispers as well. He reminded himself that nothing being said mattered.
His uncle Gabriel, along with his wife and three children, was already seated in the first pew. Tony kept his expression neutral with an effort, genuflecting out of habit. Gibbs genuflected as well, before neatly positioned himself so that he sat between Tony and his uncle, making sure to leave plenty of space. What the other man might have made of that Tony didn’t care. He was just glad Gibbs was between them. With all of them seated this way, no one else could fit into the pew leaving Tony’s right sit open to the aisle and him feeling less claustrophobic.
His aunt Anna, her husband, and their three children were in the pew across the aisle. Tony couldn’t remember where in Italy they lived, or if they even still lived overseas. His aunt Maria sat next to Anna. As far as Tony knew she’d never had any sort of lasting relationship, too focused on her job to really consider getting involved with anyone. Next to Maria was his step-mother, Monique. Monique was still strikingly beautiful, but Tony was quick to note she had the unnatural look to her skin and expression that were hallmarks of plastic surgery and botox treatments.
Tony wondered where in the congregation Andrea had found a seat. He was sure she’d attend the funeral. He hoped he’d get a chance to speak to her today. He wanted to make sure she was okay. Her position as personal assistant wasn’t one that would guarantee continued employment with the company, but she had enough time in, Andrea would probably retire. Assuming she could afford to do so.
Tony eyed the casket sitting in front of the altar. He was glad it was closed. Tony didn’t feel any real pressing need to view the body of his father, although some morbid curiosity lingered as to whether or not he’d even recognize him. If is his uncle Gabriel was anything to go by Tony decided he probably would recognize his father. Gabriel didn’t look much different. At little more gray in his dark hair, a few more lines on his face, a bit more weight around his waist, but essentially unchanged.
Tony went through the motions of the Mass; standing, kneeling, sitting when appropriate, saying the words by rote. He wasn’t entirely surprised to realize he didn’t recognize the man giving the eulogy. Not that it mattered. He wouldn’t have known it was his father the man was talking about—honest, forthright, considerate, generous were not terms Tony would ever have used in the same sentence with his father’s name. Guess his hypocrisy really knew no bounds, Tony thought with a mental snort. He wouldn’t have put it past his father to have written his own eulogy, not trusting anyone else to do it right.
He felt Gibbs’ shoulder brush his own. Tony sighed, leaning in just a little. The incense was starting to give him a headache. Tony was relieved to hear the final strains of the closing hymn.
He didn’t know the pallbearers. They’d probably been picked out based on business connections. Tony didn’t actually give a damn who carried his father. He was just thankful it wasn’t him. It wasn’t an ‘honor’ he really felt any desire to have.
He stepped out of the pew, following the procession with slow, measured steps. He ignored his step-mother moving at the same pace across the aisle from him. He was glad it was Gibbs behind him; Tony didn’t feel hemmed in with at least one person he could trust at his back.
Tony took a deep breath when he stepped outside. The crisp, fresh air was just want he needed to stave off his burgeoning headache. He glanced skyward. Clouds had rolled in while the service was going on. It seemed appropriate that it might rain. Sunshine wasn’t something he ever associated with his father.
Tony headed for the limo that was parked just behind the hearse. He hoped the graveside portion would be short. He was beginning to wish he’d eaten more for breakfast.
“Yeah, Boss?” Tony stopped, raising an eyebrow.
Gibbs handed him a miniature chocolate bar. Tony smiled slightly. His lover knew him well and prepared accordingly. And he was grateful for that. Tony took the candy as he got in the car, unwrapping it and popping it into his mouth. The smooth milk chocolate melted on his tongue. It wasn’t much but it would be enough to hold him until he could get something more substantial.
Gibbs slid in next to him. He was about to close the door when Tony’s uncle leaned in, blocking the opening. Tony grabbed Gibbs’ arm, stopping his instinctive reach for his gun.
Gabriel’s dark eyes cast a wary glance toward Gibbs before focusing on Tony. “May I ride with you to the graveside service?”
Tony’s eyes narrowed, but he nodded. If there was something Gabriel had to say, Tony would rather it be done in private. And the cemetery was less than two miles away. Whatever Gabriel wanted to talk about he’d have to be fast.
“Don’t mention it.” Tony smiled wryly. Wasn’t that long ago he’d said the same thing to Danny.
Gabriel cleared his throat. “It is good to see you again.”
Tony just tipped his head, acknowledging the statement. He couldn’t really return the sentiment or actually believe his uncle meant what he said, so Tony opted for silence, waiting patiently for Gabriel to get to the point. He could feel Gibbs measuring the man, assessing him the same way he would a suspect in an interrogation room.
Gabriel’s eyes flickered toward Gibbs. Tony could see him trying to work out just who Gibbs was and why he was with Tony. He was equally certain that his uncle wouldn’t ask outright. And if he didn’t ask, he clearly didn’t need to know too badly.
“Was there something you wanted?” Tony asked, trying to urge Gabriel along.
“I wanted to extend an invitation to you…and your guest…for a family gathering after the funeral.”
Tony’s stomach clenched. The last thing he wanted was to spend more time with these people. “I appreciate the invitation, but I’m going to decline.” He raised a hand to rub at his temple, partly for affect and partly because the headache he thought gone was back. “It’s been a rather long day already.”
“Family is important, especially at a time like this.” Dark eyes measured Tony. “You should make the effort to—“
“As I recall, family wasn’t that important to you when your own father died.” Tony’s tone was clipped and cold. His father’s hypocrisy he couldn’t do anything about, but that didn’t mean he had to tolerate Gabriel’s.
Gabriel looked away, color rising in his cheeks. “That was—“
“Uncalled for.” Tony glared at his uncle. “Being all but ordered not to attend my grandfather’s funeral, in writing no less, was an unnecessary, and no doubt, calculated insult.”
Gibbs’ gaze sharpened. If looks could kill Gabriel might well be ash.
“Your grandfather would not have wanted you there.”
“So you took it upon yourself to ensure I wasn’t.” Tony sneered. “You could have asked and saved your secretary the effort. I hadn’t planned on attending.”
His green eyes were glacial as they bored into his uncle. “I buried the only DiNozzo I gave a damn about when I was eighteen.”
Gabriel licked his lips. “Suzanne.”
“Sully.” Tony corrected. He cocked his head, studying his uncle. “Was there something you really wanted? We’ll be at the cemetery soon, so you might as well get to it and stop wasting time carrying out this farce of family bonding.”
Gabriel’s eyes narrowed. “Watch your mouth.”
“Or you’ll do what?” Tony snorted. “I’m not ten any more, Gabriel.”
Gabriel actually raised a hand, but Gibbs caught it before he even came close to doing more than threaten. Gibbs executed a neat joint lock; it was a torque of the hand at the wrist turning it back in on itself straining muscle, tendon and bone. The move took little effort and was capable of inflicting a great deal of pain.
“That was not wise,” Gibbs told him, his voice soft. Gabriel flinched, and tried to pull his hand away, but Gibbs’ hold was firm, unyielding. He continued to apply pressure, making the other man gasp.
Tony touched Gibbs’ bicep. “Let go.”
“You sure you want me to?”
Tony nodded. “I’m sure.” Breaking Gabriel’s wrist might be satisfying but it wouldn’t be helpful.
Gibbs let go. Gabriel sat back, rubbing his wrist. Gibbs have him a nasty smile.
“You can abuse your own children all you like, but you will not hit Tony.” Gibbs told him, voice broking no argument.
“I have never struck any of my children,” Gabriel declared hotly.
Gibbs gaze narrowed. “You seem awfully quick for someone who’s never done it before.”
Gabriel flushed. “My children know their place.”
“Safely under your thumb, no doubt.”
Tony smirked at Gibbs’ comment. If Danny was anything to go by, that was a fair assessment. The kid probably hadn’t ever though to do anything his parents didn’t approve of. Given his uncle’s temper, that was probably the only thing that saved them from a childhood similar to Tony’s. That temper was one thing Tony’s father didn’t share with his brother. He had let his wife do the hitting. It was, in hindsight, probably because he preferred to have her hit Tony rather than him.
Gabriel shot Tony a dark look. “Leave it to you to employ someone so insolent.”
Tony laughed. He couldn’t help it. “I believe it was you who told me like called to like.”
The car slowed. Tony glanced out the window. They were nearly at the cemetery. “Was there anything else?”
“The will is being read tomorrow.”
“I am aware of that.” Tony arched an eyebrow. “Your point?”
“I want to know if you plan to contest it.”
“You could have asked that without ever getting in the car,” Tony pointed out calmly. “Or bothering to invite me to a family gathering.”
“One attracts more flies with honey.”
“Yeah, and if I ever want to attract flies I’ll keep that in mind.” Tony smiled coldly. “For future reference, you’d do better to just be direct.”
Gabriel’s eyes narrowed. “Are you going to contest the will?”
Tony leaned forward. “And had you asked before insulting both of us by pretending to actually give a damn about me, I might have answered you. As it is, I think you can wait until I know exactly what is in the will that I might have grounds to object to.”
Gabriel’s jaw tightened. “The company needs—“
“I don’t really care.” Tony fought down the urge to roll his eyes.
“We employ thousands.”
“If I thought you were asking out of concern for them, I’d be inclined to tell you what I know you want to hear.” Tony shrugged one shoulder. “Unfortunately, you haven’t changed in the last twenty years.”
“Neither have you.” Gabriel glared at him.
“Good of you to notice.” Tony smiled as the limo stopped. “I believe this is where you get off.”
Gibbs opened the door. Gabriel eyed him warily before stepping out. Tony couldn’t help finding their non-verbal exchange amusing.
Once Gabriel was out of the car, Gibbs looked at Tony. “He hit you before, didn’t he?”
“He didn’t make a habit of it, but yeah, he hit me.” Tony reluctantly admitted. It had only happened twice, both times were because Tony had mouthed back to him. Gabriel didn’t tolerate dissention well.
“You should have let me break his wrist,” Gibbs growled.
“Trust me…hurting his pride worked better than breaking his wrist would have.” Tony smirked. “Will have a more lasting impact too.”
“Not so sure about that.”
Tony snickered. “Yeah, well, knowing him, you my get another chance.”
“If he even thinks of hitting you, I’ll break more than his wrist,” Gibbs growled.
Tony didn’t bother trying to reason with Gibbs. His heart really wasn’t in trying to dissuade his lover. “C’mon. Let’s finish this.”
An irreverent thought about how his father wasn’t getting any deader flittered through Tony’s mind making him fight hard to suppress an inappropriate grin as he followed Gibbs out of the limo. He was glad there were not chairs by the grave site. Standing meant he wouldn’t have to be any closer to anyone than he felt comfortable with. And once again, Gibbs acted as a buffer, putting himself between Tony and the rest of the family.
Tony discreetly scanned the crowded. There were fewer people than had been present at the church. He suspected it was more the threat of rain than any respect for the family that was the cause for the reduced numbers.
He spotted Andrea with her husband in the back. While Tony had stayed in touch with her over the years, sending flowers and gifts for birthdays and anniversaries, he hadn’t actually seen her in some time. He was startled to see how much she’d aged. Her hair was as gray as Gibbs’ and she was wearing glasses now.
His attention refocused on the priest as he went through the final act of the funeral. Tony waited for the coffin to be lowered before throwing in the obligatory handful of dirt. He had lingered at Kate’s funeral, wanting to have one final moment with her, but after doing his duty for his father, Tony simply walked away. He didn’t have anything to say to his father. The gulf that stretched between them when his father was alive was still there and no last minute words were going to fill it.
Tony ignored his family, stepping over to greet Andrea. She smiled at him, warm and open, brown eyes looking him over.
“Tony…It is so good to see you again.”
Tony smiled. Unlike his uncle, she genuinely meant that. He bent down and kissed her cheek. “Good to see you too, Andrea.”
He nodded to Andrea’s husband, Mark, holding out a hand. Mark took it, his grip strong without being over powering. It was hard to believe the man was a car salesman. He just looked too honest for that profession.
“Mark.” Tony grinned. “You enjoy the races?”
“Have I ever not enjoyed the races?” Mark grinned back at him. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Tony reached out and motioned Gibbs closer. The older man had hung back a respectful distance, once he’d seen how Tony had greeted Andrea. She was obviously no threat to Tony.
“I’d like you to meet a very good friend of mine. Andrea, Mark, this is Jethro Gibbs. Jethro, this is Andrea and Mark.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Andrea said, giving Gibbs another warm smile.
Gibbs smiled at her. “Pleasure is all mine.”
Andrea nodded, giving Tony a concerned glance. “I had so hoped Tony wouldn’t have to come to this alone.”
Mark made a face, giving the slowly departing family members a suspicious look. “Especially with this lot.”
“Mark,” Andrea chastised him gently. “That isn’t polite.”
“Not any less true,” he muttered.
Gibbs smiled, shaking Mark’s hand. “I am fully aware of the caliber the DiNozzo family.”
Mark gave Gibbs an approving nod. Tony wasn’t really surprised that they would bond over mutual dislike of his family.
“They aren’t all bad.” Andrea stated with a tone that made it clear she and her husband had discussed the topic many times. She took one of Tony’s hands in both of hers. “Although, there is no denying that this young man is certainly the best of the lot.”
Tony blushed. “You are just saying that because I sent you flowers.”
“Not just for the flowers.” Andrea winked at him. “There was the opera and the ballet.”
Tony laughed softly when Mark groaned. “Sorry man.”
“No you’re not.” Mark smirked good-naturedly.
Tony opened his mouth to respond when the sky opened up. He ducked reflexively when the cold drops hit his head and neck, flinching from the sudden onslaught.
“Would you like to join us for lunch?” Tony asked instead, instinctively glancing skyward trying to gauge the intensity and possible duration of the storm.
“You’re staying at the Towers, yes?” Andrea asked as she started for the parking lot, Mark moved with her, an arm around her waist.
Tony nodded, moving to follow, Gibbs on his left. “Preferred that to the house.”
Andrea gave him an understanding glance through her rain spotted glasses. “We’ll meet you at the hotel, if that’s all right?”
Tony looked askance at Gibbs, getting a small nod. “Perfect.”
Andrea and Mark got into a Dodge Charger. Tony smiled when he saw the car. He should have known a man with such an avid interest in racing would drive a muscle car.
Tony shivered when he got into the limo. It hadn’t been raining hard enough to do more than dampen his hair and shoulders, but the temperature dropped enough for Tony to notice. Temperature always affected him more when he was less than one hundred percent. Several days of little sleep and not eating well certainly qualified. Gibbs turned up the heat.
“You got any more of that candy?”
Gibbs handed him several pieces before wrapping an arm around his shoulders. Tony leaned in with a sigh.
“No comment on ruining my appetite or spoiling my lunch?”
Gibbs smiled, and kissed his temple. “I’ll let Ducky do that when we get home.”
“Let?” Tony snickered, popping a piece of chocolate in his mouth. “Don’t think he needs permission, Boss.”
“Okay…then I won’t stop him.” Gibbs arched an eyebrow. “Happy?”
“With you…yeah.” Tony smiled shyly.
That earned him a gentle kiss. “Good.”
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Tony's attorney shows up.
Gibbs ran his fingers through Tony’s hair, smiling gently at his dozing lover. The couch in their suite was long enough for the younger man to stretch out like he did at home, his head in Gibbs’ lap. The TV was on; the volume low enough to provide comfortable background noise.
Gibbs sighed softly, fingers playing with Tony’s hair again. His lover had nodded off not long after Andrea and Mark had left. They’d opted to have room service rather than dine in the hotel restaurant. It was certainly more private in their room, and without having to worry about distant relatives or business contacts that were also staying in the hotel it was definitely more comfortable.
Gibbs couldn’t help but like Andrea and Mark. They were genuine and friendly. It certainly didn’t hurt that they were obviously fond of Tony. Tony was equally fond of them, chatting about their hobbies, their twin daughters, the grandson they were expecting next month, and vacation plans. He even touched briefly on Andrea’s retirement plans, clearly relieved that she wasn’t going to experience any financial problems if unable to continue working for the company.
Gibbs was delighted to see the return of a lively, animated Tony. Having his lover so somber and quiet was unsettling. It was good to see Tony do more than pick at his food too. The younger man hadn’t really eaten well since finding out his father was dead.
After Andrea and Mark left, they’d put the room service cart outside the door and settled in on the couch. Gibbs wasn’t surprised Tony dozed off. He’d sort of hoped that would happen. One good night’s sleep wasn’t enough to offset several nights of too little. And given the stress of the funeral, a nap certainly wouldn’t hurt.
The shadows under Tony’s eyes weren’t as deep as Gibbs had seen them in the past, but it was still worrisome. While Tony probably hadn’t actually lost much weight, Gibbs thought he was starting to look a little gaunt. Hopefully when all this was over the younger man’s usual healthy outlook and appearance would return.
Tony shifted, eyes moving under his lids and he mumbled something indistinct. Gibbs ran his fingers over the younger man’s forehead, soothing away the faint lines that appeared. He had hoped Tony’s nap would be as restful as last night had been, but hadn’t honestly expected it to be. They may have been able to put the encounter with Gabriel behind them while Andrea and Mark were there, but Gibbs knew better than to think it would be out of mind for good.
Tony’s hands curled into fists. His breathing hitched, losing the steady rhythm of just a few moments ago. Gibbs cursed quietly. He shook Tony’s shoulder. Better to wake him than leave him trapped in a nightmare.
“Tony.” Gibbs spoke quietly, shaking Tony’s shoulder again. “Tony…time to wake up.”
Tony curled in on himself, pulling away from Gibbs’ touch. One arm moved in an instinctively defensive gesture, covering his head. Gibbs knew better than to touch him again. If he did, Tony would most likely try to scramble away from him, and the couch wasn’t big enough for him to go very far without falling off. That wasn’t how he wanted Tony to wake up.
“Tony.” He raised his voice a bit, adding a stern note of command. It was how he talked to Tony at the office. “Up and at ‘em. I don’t pay you to sleep.”
Tony sat up abruptly, green eyes wide and blinking. “I’m up, Boss. I’m up.”
Gibbs caught Tony’s shoulder before he toppled off the couch, halting his automatic movement to get to his feet. He waited a beat, letting Tony get his bearings.
“You with me now?” He asked softly.
Tony took a deep breath before nodding. He rubbed a hand over his face. “Didn’t mean to fall asleep.”
Gibbs hated the way Tony made it sound like he was apologizing. Napping wasn’t something he should be sorry for doing. They weren’t on the clock, and it was obvious Tony needed the rest. Gibbs laid a hand on the back of Tony’s neck and shook him gently.
“I don’t care that you fell asleep.”
Tony frowned, cocking his head to look at him. “Then why did you sound—“
“You were snoring,” Gibbs told him. He hoped that if he didn’t mention the nightmare outright, that having caught it soon enough, Tony might not remember it at all. No reason to call it to mind if he didn’t have to.
“I don’t snore.” Tony’s eyes narrowed, suspicion readily apparent in his gaze. He no doubt suspected this was a ploy, and even if he didn’t know the reason for it, he was obviously willing to go along.
“How would you know? You’re asleep.” Gibbs rolled his eyes, hiding his relief, grateful for the trust Tony placed in him.
“I do not snore,” Tony insisted. “T would have mentioned it.”
Gibbs frowned before placing the reference. Thomas Thompson the third, ‘T’ to friends and family, was Tony’s roommate and frat brother in college. Like Joe, T was another friend Gibbs knew about but had yet to meet.
“And if he hadn’t said something, Vinnie sure as hell would have.” Tony snickered. “That man was the lightest sleeper on the planet.”
Tony’s cellphone started ringing. It wasn’t the usual Looney Tunes ring tone Gibbs had become familiar with. This one was some sort of Irish jig.
“Speak of the devil,” Tony muttered with a grin, reaching for his phone. Gibbs knew Tony had specific ring tones for different friends, but had the same tone for anyone work related. He offered to do the same thing for Gibbs’ phone, but the former Marine was leery of having his phone be that damn complicated.
“Vinnie, you better not be calling to cancel.” Tony had mentioned expecting his attorney to put in appearance so they could be prepared for the reading of the will tomorrow. Gibbs had only found out last night that Vinnie was also a frat brother and lived in New York City.
“Little late for me to cancel since I’m already in the lobby of this swank hotel you’re staying in.”
Gibbs could just barely overhear Vinnie speaking, and shifted closer to Tony. He could pick out the trace of a New England accent in the light tenor. Tony gave him an exasperated look before tilting the phone further from his ear so Gibbs could hear more easily.
“They won’t let me go upstairs to your room.” Vinnie sounded annoyed. “Apparently I look more like a paparazzo than an attorney. Definitely going to have to work on upgrading my wardrobe.”
“Don’t think it’s the wardrobe.” Tony chuckled. “You are packing a camera, aren’t you?”
“Well, yeah.” Vinnie sounded amused. “You know I never leave home without it.”
After getting together with his frat brothers in Baltimore a few months ago, Tony had shown Gibbs a photo album of trips he and his frat brothers had gone on together. He’d mentioned Vinnie having taken most of the photos. He was their official camera man whenever they got together simply because he never forgot to pack his camera. In fact, of the photos Gibbs had seen, he couldn’t recall seeing Vinnie in any of them.
Tony sighed. He raised a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “Think you could have left that at home this time. I don’t think this is going to be a scrapbook sort of occasion.”
“No, probably not.” Vinnie’s tone sobered. “Was just habit.” There was a note of apology in his voice.
“Don’t worry about it, man.” Tony smiled slightly. “I get it.”
Vinnie cleared his throat. “I need you to call down to the front desk and tell the lovely young lady running it that it’s okay for me to come up.”
Part of the hotel security required a room key to operate the elevator. Gibbs thought the whole thing a bit overkill, but until Tony started staying at his place he hadn’t bothered to lock his own door.
Tony frowned. “Just hand her your phone.”
Vinnie made a rude noise. “Given that I made this call, I rather doubt she’s going to trust it’s you I’m actually talking to.”
“Point.” Tony grimaced, shaking his head. “I’ll call the front desk.”
He snapped his phone closed, ending the call. He reached for the room phone, dialing zero. “Yes…this is Tony DiNozzo. Standing in front of you should be my attorney, Vincenzo Shaunassey. He’ll have ID if you really feel the need to ask for it. I’d appreciate it if you’d give him my room number and a key to access the elevator. Thank you.”
“Vincenzo Shaunassey?” Gibbs asked when Tony hung up. The two names didn’t seem to go together.
“His mom’s Italian. Dad’s Irish.” Tony shrugged. “He was named after her grandfather.”
Gibbs nodded. Well that certainly explained it. A soft knock at the door announced Vinnie’s arrival.
Tony opened the door, leaning casually against it. He laughed quietly. “Okay…so maybe it was the wardrobe.”
Vinnie flipped him off, but he was grinning as he did it. Dressed in black jeans, a t-shirt that sported the statement ‘if I got smart with you, how would you know?’ and a brown leather bomber jacket with a small digital camera slung around his neck, Gibbs could understand why the front desk might have been suspicious. Vinnie definitely didn’t look the part of a high priced attorney.
Gibbs frowned. Vinnie was probably Tony’s age but could easily pass for a good five years younger. He looked like he should still be studying to take the bar, not practicing law.
The former Marine was immediately skeptical that this…kid…would be able to hold his own in a room full of sharks---until he took a closer look. The jeans were some designer label and the jacket probably was as well. Short dark hair was roughly styled in a way that no doubt cost a small fortune. Clearly Vinnie had a bankroll, one he’d probably earned.
And golden brown eyes that reminded Gibbs of those he’d seen in the lions caged at the National Zoo didn’t miss a thing. They assessed Tony, Gibbs and the hotel room in only a few seconds. There was no doubt about it, Vinnie was smart, sharp, and probably ate other sharks for lunch. Gibbs shook his head. He should have trusted Tony’s judgment.
“Man, you look like hell.” Vinnie leaned in to rest his forehead against Tony’s, one hand cupping the back of Tony’s neck. “You holding up okay?”
“Un-hunh.” Vinnie rolled his eyes, shaking his head. “You are still a lousy liar.”
Tony scowled, pulling back. “I’m getting better.”
“That isn’t the sort of thing you should be proud of.” Vinnie pointed a finger at Tony, expression stern. “It’s the kind of thing guys like me are supposed to be proud of.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “You can’t lie worth shit either.”
“I know.” Vinnie grimaced. “I blame my mother. Woman always knew. Sort of made it pointless to even bother.” He grinned, eyes sparkling. “But it has made me a better lawyer. So it’s a fair trade off.”
“Fair?” Tony snorted. “You just like the challenge of playing by the rules.”
“That I do.” Vinnie laughed. His eyes flicked toward Gibbs and then back to Tony in an obvious request of an introduction.
“Oh...right. Sorry.” Tony blushed. “Vincenzo, this is a good friend of mine Leroy Jethro Gibbs. He prefers Jethro.” Tony stepped closer to Gibbs, a hand on his shoulder. “Jethro, this is another good friend of mine, Vincenzo Shaunassey. He prefers Vinnie.”
Gibbs held out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Golden eyes sized him up for the second time, but Vinnie didn’t hesitate to shake his hand. Gibbs wasn’t sure if that meant he passed muster or not.
Vinnie had a firm grip. He did more than push papers around, but whatever it was didn’t leave calluses. Given how fit Vinnie looked Gibbs figured that meant time in the gym. He probably played some sort of sport too. Most of Tony’s stories certainly implied that his frat brothers were athletic, even if they didn’t posses the same talent Tony had in college.
“Always a pleasure to meet another friend of Tony’s. Glad he didn’t go through this solo.”
“Not something anyone should have to do alone.”
“Agreed.” Vinnie turned to look at Tony again. “You get the old man planted this morning?”
Tony frowned. “Your mother would not approve of you being so disrespectful.”
“The man was a rat bastard.” Vinnie gave Tony a hard look. Gibbs was beginning to think he might like Vinnie. The man was obviously not a bad judge of character.
“He never came to a single game. He never called. Not once.” Vinnie’s lips curled derisively. “He couldn’t be bothered to come to your graduation. Never visited when you got shot or stabbed or nearly pulled off a damn building. Christ, you nearly died from a disease out of the middle ages and he doesn’t even send flowers. My mother would have eviscerated him and worn his guts for garters.”
Gibbs thought he might like Vinnie’s mother too. She’d still have to get in line though. If anyone could deliver serious pain, it was Gibbs. He’d really wished he had the chance to hurt Anthony DiNozzo Sr.
“I know.” Tony waved a hand in a helpless gesture. “But—“
“He was your father.” Vinnie sighed, expression softening. “I know. And for your sake I will not speak ill of the dead.”
“I appreciate that.”
Vinnie smiled gently. “Figurati.”
“Since you mentioned her…how is your mom?” Tony asked. It was not the smoothest change of subject, but Vinnie was clearly willing to allow it. That earned him a few points in Gibbs estimation.
Vinnie’s smile grew into a grin. “She is trying to marry me off in the hopes of getting more grandkids, but otherwise good as gold.”
Tony snickered. “The woman already has half a dozen.”
“That means nothing to her and you know that.” Vinnie shook his head. “She firmly believed there is always room for one more.”
“You want anything to eat or drink?” Tony asked. “We just finished lunch a little while ago, but room service could deliver anything you want.”
Vinnie shook his head. “I’m good, thanks.”
“Make yourself at home.” Tony motioned for Vinnie to take a seat. “Take of your coat and stay awhile.”
Vinnie shrugged out of his coat, folding it over the arm of the loveseat and sat down. He leaned back, glancing around the suite. “Nice digs.”
Tony shrugged, letting the comment pass as he sat down on the couch, facing Vinnie. Gibbs sat next to him. If Tony had wanted to talk to Vinnie in private, he’d have asked Gibbs to leave. Since he didn’t, Gibbs fully intended to stay close.
“You got a place to stay here in town?” Tony asked. “Plenty of room here if you—“
“No worries.” Vinnie held up hand. “I got it covered.”
Tony arched an eyebrow. “What’s her name?”
“Doesn’t sound like a good Italian girl.”
Vinnie gave Tony a pointed look. “I don’t want a good girl.”
Tony smirked. “And you wonder why your mother wants to marry you off.”
“Hey, just because you found your someone special…who you have yet to provide me with a picture of or even introduce me to, I might add, does not mean the rest of have stopped looking.”
Tony bit his lower lip, a blush beginning to color his cheeks. He reached out and took Gibbs’ hand with deliberate care, intertwining their fingers. “Vinnie…I just introduced you to my some one special. And you got your own damn camera so you can take a picture yourself if you need to.”
Gibbs was sure who was more surprised by that admission, him or Vinnie. He hadn’t been expecting Tony to just take the bull by the horns and come right out and say it. Particularly in light of how uncertain he’d been about telling Abby and Ducky. But then, Tony obviously knew Vinnie for far longer and clearly trusted him not to be upset about his being with another man.
And judging from Vinnie’s expression he wasn’t at all surprised to find out Tony’s love interest was a man. No…he obviously knew his friend wasn’t completely hetero. It looked more like he was surprised to have Tony just baldly state it.
Vinnie’s eyes danced as he sat forward, grinning. “Wait until I tell Joe I got to meet your SigO before he did.”
Tony shot him a dirty look. “You really are five, aren’t you?”
Vinnie laughed. “Hey, growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “I never should have said anything.”
“Too late.” Vinnie almost sang that.
He cocked his head, studying Gibbs. Gibbs met his gaze, unflinchingly, waiting to hear what the younger man would say. His being a man might not have been a surprise, but his being older than Tony probably was. Gibbs wondered if Vinnie knew he was also Tony’s boss.
Vinnie looked back to Tony. “He a Thousandth Man?”
Gibbs frowned, unsure of the reference. Was that a compliment or an insult? Tony was obviously not confused by it. He just nodded. “He is and then some.”
“Excellent.” He held out his fist and Tony bumped it with his knuckles. “About damn time you got a keeper.”
Tony snorted. “Hello, Pot.”
“Shaddup, Kettle.” Vinnie sat back. “Your family know?”
“They don’t even know I swing that way.” Tony shook his head. “Wasn’t that long ago, counting you and everyone else, I wouldn’t have needed all the fingers on one hand to total up the people I’d shared that detail with.”
Worry lines made an appearance as Tony frowned, eyes darkening with shadows Gibbs hated to see. “I don’t want my family to know any more about Gibbs than absolutely necessary.”
“With your family…totally understandable.” Vinnie pursed his lips. “You want him in the room tomorrow?”
“Yes.” Both Gibbs and Tony answered.
“Definitely a Thousandth Man,” Vinnie murmured quietly, giving Gibbs an approving look. Gibbs made a mental note to find out what the hell that meant.
Vinnie took a deep breath, frowning thoughtfully. “How have you explained him being here so far?”
Vinnie raised both eyebrows. “Come again?”
“So far the only one to even come close to asking outright was my cousin Danny. And he assumed Gibbs was my bodyguard.” Tony shrugged. “My uncle made the same assumption. Don’t really know what other the rest think since none of them have deigned to speak to me.”
“Okay.” Vinnie bit his lower lip. “We’ll just keep going with that. But if they ask,” he made eye contact with Gibbs, “the story is you’re one of my associates.”
“Because that entitles you to be in the room when the will is being read.” Vinnie gave him a feral grin that assured Gibbs his assessment of the younger man’s ability to eat other sharks wasn’t wrong. “We can play it as you being a senior partner…keeping an eye on me, the young pup, to make sure I do right by our client. No one will expect you to say anything. Just do that whole silent confident thing you got going on so well and glower now and again.”
Gibbs nodded. He wasn’t sure about pretending to be a lawyer, but he would do whatever it took to make sure Tony wasn’t left to face his family without back up. What Vinnie asked him to do wasn’t out of the ordinary for him anyway. And it didn’t preclude him from maiming people if the opportunity presented itself.
“I got a list of who the executor invited to this thing.” Vinnie pulled a slip of paper from his pocket and offered it to Tony. “Let’s run down that so I got a better idea of who these people are.”
“You already did a background check on all of them, didn’t you?”
“I did.” Vinnie admitted with an easy candor that Gibbs was coming to appreciate. “But little insight couldn’t hurt. And you need to know who is going to be there so you can be prepared for any surprises they might spring.”
Tony took the list. He held it were Gibbs could see it as well. There were seven names on it. Tony read of each one, describing their relationship to his father, and what he remembered of them personally. He also referenced for Gibbs where they’d been in the church. Gibbs already knew who they were from his own research, but didn’t interrupt.
Tony frowned, reading the last name. “I don’t know who Sandra DuPre is.” He looked at Vinnie. “But if I had to guess I’d say she was my father’s latest mistress.”
“Seems that way.” Vinnie gave Tony an apologetic look.
“I knew from the time I was six he wasn’t exactly what anyone would call faithful.”
Vinnie winced. “I’m beginning to regret promising not to speak ill of the dead.”
Gibbs was damn glad he hadn’t made a similar promise. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from saying anything. Ranting about what a fucking worthless prick Anthony DiNozzo Sr. had been wasn’t going to be helpful at the moment. When they got home, Gibbs promised himself time on the shooting range with the man’s picture on the target.
“Did you find out why I’m even in his will?” Tony rubbed a hand over his face. “I thought I was permanently disinherited.”
Vinnie shook his head. “Couldn’t get anything out Litiz….that’s your old man’s attorney, by the way, Joseph Litiz.” Vinnie made a meaningless gesture with one hand. “He’s not with the firm your father’s corporation normally uses, but his reputation is solid.”
“Is that unusual?” Gibbs asked. “To go outside the normal firm, I mean.” If there was something significant about that, Gibbs wanted to know what.
“Yes and no.” Vinnie sat forward again, resting his elbows on his knees. “Having personal legal representation that is separate from business is not a bad choice if confidentiality issues were a concern. And if ever in need, it is better to have a lawyer who works for you directly than for the company first and you second. But most people want an attorney they trust to handle all aspects of their affairs whenever possible. That tends to simplify things a bit. So while not unusual to have more than one attorney, it is not exactly the norm either.”
Vinnie made a helpless gesture with one hand. “Having Litiz is contrary to how the rest of the family handles their personal legal affairs. They all have attorneys working at the company firm.”
Gibbs nodded. Gabriel had mentioned his brother changing his will frequently. So maybe the man had picked another lawyer to simply hide the details of his will more effectively. It could also have been something of a power play to differentiate himself from his siblings.
Vinnie pursed his lips. “I wasn’t able to officially access his medical records, but what little I could find, I’d say your father knew his heart was dodgy. He had been scheduled for cardiac related tests before his first heart attack. I’m guessing he redid his will to hedge his bets in case he couldn’t do it later if the tests confirmed he might actually be dying. Litiz alluded to your father mentioning you in the will was probably just another way to make it difficult for you to contest it.”
“Why the hell would I—“
“Not saying you would.” Vinnie held up a hand. “But as his only son, and presumed logical heir, you not being mentioned at all, would definitely provide legitimate grounds for you to contest it. Especially if you wanted to claim he wasn’t of sound mind when he wrote it.”
“Just covering his own ass,” Gibbs growled.
“Not like anything in his life was ever about me,” Tony whispered bitterly. And it was then Gibbs realized his lover had held out some small hope that his father might have mentioned him in the will as a statement that he had genuinely cared about his son, as a gesture of affection or request for forgiveness of past hurts.
Gibbs freed his hand from the hold Tony still had on it, wrapping an arm around his shoulders, and pulling him close. He didn’t care if Vinnie saw or not. Tony needed this.
Tony buried his face against Gibbs’ neck, hiding for several moments. Vinnie looked away, obviously trying to give them some privacy, and clearly understanding that his getting up to leave would only embarrass Tony. Gibbs good see the same anger and concern flashing in Vinnie’s eyes that likely resided in his own.
When Tony raised his head, green eyes were overly bright but no tears had been shed. He squared his shoulders, and pulled away from Gibbs’ hold.
“I am not going to contest his will.” He made eye contact with Vinnie. “I don’t want his money. Never did.”
“If that’s what you want.” Vinnie agreed easily. “And if someone else gets pissy?”
“Let them fight it out.” One of Tony’s hands curled into a tight fist. “I want no part of some long, drawn out legal battle for shit I never wanted in the first place.”
“You sure?” Vinnie asked. “I could make their lives hell for you.”
Tony snorted. “I can’t afford you.”
“Pro Bono.” Vinnie countered. “You are my friend…For that alone, I would find a way to strip them of everything they consider valuable.” There was no mistaking his readiness to do it. Gibbs decided; he definitely liked Vinnie.
“That you are willing is enough.” Tony smiled. It was a little shaky but it was there.
“You are no fun at all.”
Tony chuckled. “Some day we are going to talk about your definition of fun.”
“Preferably over a good meal and a fine bottle of wine.”
“I can do that.”
“Good.” Vinnie hesitate for a moment. “You still want to give away whatever he did leave you?”
“All right.” Vinnie nodded. “Anything else you think I should know before we leap into the lion’s den tomorrow?”
Tony rubbed a hand over his face. Gibbs bit back a curse. Tony looked more tired than he had before taking a nap.
“Can he call you…if he thinks of anything?” Gibbs asked.
Vinnie nodded, a look of understanding passing between him and Gibbs. It was nice to know he had a formidable ally here when it came to looking out for Tony. Andrea and Mark were good people, but Vinnie was likely better prepared to take on the DiNozzo family and win.
Tony stood up when Vinnie did. He stepped closer and pulled Vinnie into a hard hug. “Thank you.”
“In my book, I still owe you.” Vinne slapped Tony lightly on the back. “So you don’t have to thank me.”
When Tony released him, Vinnie smiled at Gibbs. “You take care of him, okay?”
“Good man.” Vinnie gave him a tight smile that was a clear endorsement of Tony’s choice. “I’ll be here tomorrow at ten am sharp.”
“We’ll be ready,” Tony told him.
Gibbs really hoped they would be. No matter how tomorrow went, he had no doubts it wouldn’t be a walk in the park. Normal families got stupid when it came to inheritance. The DiNozzos would probably set a new standard for selfish, greedy behavior
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Checking his reflection in the mirror, Tony grimaced at the feeling of déjà vu. He promised himself when he got home he wasn’t wearing a suit for at least a week. Casual would be the order of the day.
He straightened his cuffs. The emerald green of his silk shirt was a striking contrast to the dove gray Armani suit coat and pants. Tony had packed the outfit on Abby’s recommendation.
“It’s a power suit for you, Tony,” she’d told him with authority. She’d even picked out the matching gray tie with green stripes.
He could feel Gibbs watching him. Tony turned and offered the older man a smile. “I’m okay.”
Gibbs nodded even though he didn’t look like he actually believed Tony. The fact that he hadn’t slept well and refused breakfast weren’t helping his case, Tony was sure. But the thought of eating now just made his stomach clench. Better to go without than puke at an inopportune moment.
Tony’s eye darted toward the door when he heard a soft knock. He glanced at his watch. “That’s probably Vinnie.”
“I’ll get it.” Gibbs made a stay motion with one hand.
Tony shot a look of fond exasperation at Gibbs’ back. It wasn’t like he couldn’t take care of himself. He had been doing it for years. Still…Tony couldn’t deny the warm rush it gave him every time Gibbs made it obvious he was looking out for him.
Gibbs checked the peep hole and then opened the door, keeping it between him and whoever was outside. Tony knew Gibbs stance was not a real indication of danger on the other side of the door. It was habit; just like their carrying their guns at all times.
Vinnie nodded to Gibbs as he walked in. Tony whistled as he looked over his long time friend. “Nice.”
Vinnie grinned and did a little pirouette, showing off his deep blue suit. The color complimented his dark hair and light olive complexion his mother’s Italian heritage had given to him. And it had obviously been tailored to fit.
“If you’d worn that yesterday, they wouldn’t have thought you were scum,” Tony pointed out with a small laugh.
Vinnie frowned. “Common courtesy should not be dependant on what one is wearing.”
“Your mother told you that.”
“She did.” Vinnie smiled brightly before pointing a finger at Tony. “Doesn’t make it any less true.”
True or not, Tony knew appearances mattered. It was the reason he was wearing the Armani today. It was likely the main reason Vinnie was in Saint Laurent when any other suit would have worked. Even Gibbs had opted for the Pierre Cardin suit Tony had talked him into buying. The basic black was too good a look for Gibbs for Tony to let him pass on it. It had been worth listening to him bitch for an hour about the cost just to see him in it.
“You ready?” Vinnie asked quietly, golden brown eyes studying him closely.
“Not really.” Tony shook his head. “But it’s not like I have a choice.”
“Sure you do.” Vinnie countered, expression serious. “I am your official representative. I could legally do this without you.”
Tony was tempted by the offer but shook his head. “Wouldn’t send you into the lion’s den alone.”
Vinnie pulled him into a quick hug. “And you aren’t going alone either.”
“Thanks.” Tony whispered. It wasn’t like he had ever thought he was alone, but it was nice to have confirmation just the same.
“Hey…I’ve been waiting for years to get a glimpse of your messed up family.” Vinne stepped back, grinning. “They should make mine look positively ordinary.”
Tony laughed. “I don’t think that’s possible.”
“You only say that because you’ve met my family.” Vinnie looked at Gibbs who had moved to stand next to Tony. “You ready for this, Jethro?”
Gibbs nodded. “I am.”
“Good.” Vinnie raised a hand. “Couple of ground rules before we go.” He gave both of them a pointed look. “Once we are in that room, I do all the talking. If there is something that needs said, I’ll be the one to say it. You keep your mouths shut until I tell you otherwise. Capisci?”
Tony felt Gibbs stiffen, and he didn’t even have to look at the older man to know what his expression would be. Gibbs was far more used to giving orders than taking them, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t let someone else be in charge when necessary. The former Marine nodded, accepting Vinnie’s restriction.
“This is going to be like playing poker.” Vinnie reached out and straightened Tony’s already perfectly straight tie. “They only need to know what we want them to know, when we want them to know it, and not one second before.”
Vinnie patted Tony’s jacket, smoothing out non-existent wrinkles. Tony stifled the urge to giggle when Vinnie neatly stepped in front of Gibbs, adjusting his tie and smoothing his jacket as well. That Gibbs allowed it was something else Tony found both surprising and amusing. He never thought he’d see that in a million years. But then Vinnie’s ability to face down practically anyone and act as if getting his way was a foregone conclusion was one of the reasons he made such a damn good attorney in the first place.
“No losing your temper and going off half cocked…either of you.” Vinnie looked at Tony before once more making eye contact with Gibbs. “I know it will be tempting… believe me, I know, but I need you to let do my job. Killing anyone will make that harder to do. Not impossible mind you, but definitely harder. And I’d rather do this the easy way.”
“Not impossible?” Gibbs asked, raising an eyebrow, a smile lurking in his eyes.
“Definition of justifiable homicide is a little looser these days.” Vinnie winked at him. “But I’d still rather not have to defend you in court. In my line of work, I prefer the bloodshed to be metaphorical, not something I actually need a mop and bucket to clean up.”
“What if I just maim?” Gibbs’ grin was feral. “And don’t spill any blood?”
“Maiming…bloodless…” Vinnie made a show of thinking about it, eyes sparkling. “Definitely easier to work out. Just try and save that for when there are fewer witnesses.”
“Do not encourage him.” Tony smiled in spite of himself feeling more relaxed than he had before Vinnie’s arrival.
Vinnie grinned. “We ready then?”
Gibbs nodded firmly. “Let’s do this.”
Tony could feel his expression morphing into his game face. It felt odd to wear it outside of work. And he would have felt self-conscious if he hadn’t seen Vinnie and Gibbs doing the same thing. In Vinnie’s case that meant he looked friendly enough but not someone who would be easily swayed. Gibbs just looked like pissing him off would be a really bad idea—it was the face he usually had on when going into an interrogation.
The valet must have been keeping an eye out for Vinnie because they didn’t have to wait long for a midnight blue BMW to be brought around. Of his frat brothers, Vinnie was the only one who placed the same emphasis on having a car with style that Tony did. Vinnie had been just as heartbroken as Tony was when his classic car was totaled.
Tony elected to sit in the back. There was less leg room, but he wasn’t going to fight Gibbs for the front seat. And he wanted a little space to himself. While he appreciated Gibbs’ being nearby, he wasn’t used to the near constant attention he’d been getting for the past few days.
Tony leaned back and closed his eyes. He tried to imagine inhaling the silence, absorbing it and letting it settle into his bones. He pictured exhaling his insecurities, worries and fears so all that was left behind was quiet confidence. He used to do this sort of meditation before joining NCIS, back when he went undercover for more than a few days at a time or he wasn’t sure he could rely on his back up if a situation got hairy.
Tony didn’t open his eyes until Vinnie parked the car. Vinnie probably thought he was sleeping, but Gibbs always seemed to know when he meditating. Tony wasn’t sure he wanted to know how Gibbs knew.
Tony glanced around. He didn’t recognize the location, but he hadn’t really expected to. Until Vinnie mentioned Joseph Litiz yesterday, Tony had never heard of the man.
Vinnie’s BMW looked right at home with the Lincolns and Cadillacs filling the lot. The custom color was the only thing that made the Beamer stand out, which was likely one reason Vinnie had selected it.
Tony got out of the car. He kept pace with Gibbs as they went up the stairs to the front door, letting Vinnie lead. It was a huge relief to know he didn’t actually have to do anything. This was Vinnie’s show.
Tony suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at the opulence of the front entry. Everything from the furniture to the lighting had obviously been done with the intent to impress Litiz’s clients with his success. It was a not so subtle way of saying he was worth the small fortune he was charging for his services.
They stopped in front of the receptionist. She appeared to be closer to Gibbs’ age than Tony’s and smiled at them.
“May I help you?”
“We’re here for the DiNozzo will reading,” Vinnie told her.
She nodded, flipping through a small sheaf of papers in front of her. “And you are?”
“Attorney Shaunassey and my associate Gibbs.” Vinnie waved a hand toward Tony. “We are representing Anthony DiNozzo Jr.”
She looked up from where she was scanning a short list. Reading upside down, Tony saw it was the same list Vinnie had with him yesterday. At least there shouldn’t be any surprises.
She frowned. “I wasn’t aware Mr. DiNozzo would have more than one legal representative.”
“I wasn’t aware there would be a restriction on my client having all the representation he felt necessary,” Vinnie told her with a smile.
Tony knew Vinnie had purposefully phrased his statement to make it sound as though she were trying to deny him a right to counsel. His friend had always been good at subtle implications…and not so subtle when the situation called for it.
Vinnie looked pointedly at his watch while the receptionist struggled to figure out how to respond to him. “The reading is scheduled to begin soon.” He smiled politely at her again. “We really don’t want to be the ones to delay the proceedings. Everyone else is present, yes?”
“Yes.” She cleared her throat, standing. “If you’ll follow me.”
“Certainly.” Vinnie’s smile warmed considerably, and she blushed in response.
Gibbs rolled his eyes. Personally, Tony thought his boss could learn a thing or two about taking a soft approach to getting what he wanted. But then the hard line way Gibbs did things got results too…he just usually left more pissed off people in his wake than Vinnie did.
The receptionist led them to what Tony assumed was a boardroom. The heavy, solid core doors with brass knobs looked too pompous to be anything else. That and if every one on the list brought at least one attorney, a boardroom would be the only place big enough to house them all.
She knocked once before opening the door. “Anthony DiNozzo Jr., Sir and his representatives.”
“Send them in, Carol.”
She opened the door wider in an obvious invitation. Vinnie dipped his head, thanking her. Tony did likewise, giving her a small smile. Gibbs just strode into the room.
A man who looked to be a little younger than Ducky approached them. He ignored Gibbs and Vinnie both, holding out a hand to Tony. “I’m Joseph Litiz, your father’s attorney.”
Tony shook his hand as a matter of form. “Tony DiNozzo.” He gestured toward Vinnie and Gibbs. “And my representatives. Gibbs and Shaunassey.”
“Call me Vinnie, please.” Vinnie smiled, holding out his hand. Litiz shook it, eyeing the younger man as though trying to place him.
“You’re with the Carterson firm?”
Litiz nodded, looking impressed. And well he should, Tony thought. The Carterson firm had made a name for itself in New York City.
Litiz raised an eyebrow, adjusting his nez pierce glasses. “I wasn’t aware they handled civil matters.”
“On occasion we do….for the right client.” Vinnie smiled, not quite baring his teeth but there was definitely an edge to his expression.
Carterson was better known for its criminal work and represented several big name clients often working closely with the district attorney’s office. Tony knew this sort of civil thing wasn’t Vinnie’s specialty. But he wanted someone he trusted to navigate his minefield of a family, and knew his friend wouldn’t leave him wanting.
Mr. Litiz nodded, stepping back. He offered his hand to Gibbs. Gibbs ignored him, blue eyes scanning the room and people already seated at the table.
Gibbs stepped forward to one of the open chairs and pulled it out. He looked at Tony. Tony bit the inside of his cheek to keep from saying the first thing that came to mind. Teasing Gibbs now wasn’t a good idea, certainly not in front of this audience.
Instead, he simply sat down. Gibbs sat at his left, Vinnie took a seat on his right. They pulled their chairs back up to the table in unison.
Tony hadn’t overlooked that Gibbs’ seat put him directly across the table from Gabriel. He was sure that was deliberate. The narrowed eyed gaze that Gibbs locked on Gabriel signaled the former Marine’s willingness to continue yesterday’s confrontation. Tony was amused to see his uncle shift uneasily under the weight of Gibbs’ stare.
The man on Gabriel’s left looked vaguely familiar to Tony. He couldn’t place him, but figured it was safe to assume he was Gabriel’s attorney. He was probably someone Tony had encountered as some family gathering he’d been forced to attend as a child.
Next to him sat Gabriel’s oldest son, Carmen. Like his younger brother, Danny, Carmen looked a lot like his father. Carmen was only two years older than Tony, but if he hadn’t known that Tony would have put him closer to ten years older. The premature gray at his temples and lines of stress aged him considerably. Seeing him made Tony very glad he he’d never wanted to be involved with the family business.
One seat away from Carmen sat another cousin. This one was from his mother’s side and Tony really knew him only by name, Andrew Parducci. According to Andrea, Tony’s father had been grooming Andrew to take his place within the company. The man gave Tony a smug, dismissive glance. Tony returned the look with a smirk of his own, green eyes hard and calculating as they measured the younger man. If Andrew thought he’d taken something away from Tony he was sadly mistaken.
The seat Gibbs selected put him between Tony and the other members of his family sitting on the same side of the table, and ensured an open seat between them as well. His Aunt Anna and Maria sat next to one another. Tony assumed the unfamiliar severe looking woman in a sharp looking pinstripe navy blue suit on their far right was their attorney. Probably from the usual firm the family used.
Across the table from Vinnie sat Tony’s step mother, Monique. Her attorney was a young man that would have looked right at home on the cover of GQ. Assuming his step mother was still acting true to form, she’d picked him more for his appearance than skill or knowledge. That didn’t preclude him from being capable, but Tony was fairly confident the guy was more interested in sleeping with Monique than anything else.
At the far end of the table sat a lovely young woman Tony assumed was Sandra DuPre. She was the only one who looked obviously uncomfortable, her fingers playing with the bracelet on her right wrist. Long artificial nails were painted a blood red that clashed slightly with her tight burgundy blouse.
She certainly fit his father’s type when it came to mistresses: barely legal age, blonde, and beautiful. It wouldn’t have surprised Tony at all if she mentioned working in a strip club at one point. Those had been trolling grounds for his father for years.
She sent an anxious glance toward Gabriel. Tony wondered if his uncle had said something to scare her. Knowing him, it was certainly possible.
Litiz sat down at the head of the table. He tapped a sheaf of papers against the polished wood, unnecessarily evening out the already ordered stack. “Since everyone is present, if there are no objections, I’d like to begin.”
Tony wasn’t surprised no one objected. He was fairly confident the others didn’t want to be here any more than he did…not really. They wanted their piece of the pie but didn’t care to linger over the formality. In some ways Tony was honestly surprised they hadn’t tried to schedule reading the will before the funeral. But then appearances and form counted. And Litiz looked to be old school enough to not permit the reading to take place before his client had been properly buried.
Tony wasn’t surprised that the will addressed business matters first. The company was a dominating force in his father’s life. It was of primary concern to at least Gabriel, Maria, Carmen and Andrew. Tony doubted Anna, Sandra or Monique actually cared any more than he did, except for what money it might give them.
“With regard to my shares in DiNozzo Enterprises, to my brother, Gabriel, I bequeath—“
Tony tuned out the number of shares and what not related to the company. He couldn’t care less. Watching Gabriel’s face he knew his uncle was pleased with what he was getting….at least until he heard what Maria was being given.
When Michael DiNozzo had stepped down as company president he’d essentially given three of his four children equal shares in the company. They each held 22%, with various board members holding the remaining interest. What Tony’s father had given Maria essentially gave her controlling interest, by only 2%, but it would still be enough for her to call the shots from here on out---assuming she had allies on the board, and Tony knew she had those already well in hand. The remaining shares were divided among Carmen and Andrew, enough to make them full fledged members of the board, but not enough to really give them the sort of clout either one had obviously been expecting.
Tony could see Gibbs watching Gabriel and Maria, Carmen and Andrew. He could probably tell which one of them was about to lose control. If it were just him and Vinnie in the room, Tony might have offered odds and taken a bet on it.
Tony’s money would be on Andrew. The younger man had the least experience, and looked the most shocked by the news. Tony sighed silently disappointed for having called it wrong when it was Carmen spoke first.
“That can’t be right.” Carmen hissed, his expression outraged.
“I assure you, Mr. DiNozzo, this is was my client clearly stipulated—“
“Carmen.” The sharp reprimand came not from Gabriel but Anna. She took him down several pegs with just a measuring look from her hazel eyes. A formidable woman in her own right, Tony thought, feeling more respect for her than he had in years. She had to have had some serious strength of character to have defied her father’s wishes and run off to live in Italy. “Before you begin your protests it would be best to allow Mr. Litiz to finish reading the rest of the will.”
Anna had no interested in the company, but Tony’s father had substantial personal assets. She was only keeping Carmen from doing anything until she knew what she might stand to lose.
Litiz cleared his throat. “If I may continue then?”
“You may.” Anna tipped her head in a regal fashion.
Tony stifled the urge to roll his eyes, but traded an amused look with Vinnie. They’d both encountered people with an overblown sense of self importance before, but his family certainly was in a class all of their own.
To Tony’s surprise, his father hadn’t left Anna anything. Instead sizeable trust funds had been established for each of her children. She seemed pleased with that. Or at least, not unhappy.
More money was bequeathed in the form of trusts to Gabriel’s other children. Tony wondered if Danny would be pleased to know his college education wouldn’t cost him anything. Not that it was likely costing him anything now. Maybe he’d use the money to escape the clutches of his family, but Tony doubted that. He decided not to think about it.
Monique got the house on Long Island. She also got the vacation home in Hilton Head. And more than enough money to live on even if she didn’t manage wisely, which she likely wouldn’t.
She looked pleased, smiling like a cat that ate the canary, until Litiz got to what was being left to Sandra. It probably didn’t help matters that his father had chosen to identify Sandra as his lover. No one ever said his father was ever tactful when it came to family.
Anthony DiNozzo Sr. left Sandra a million dollars. It was a pittance in comparison to what he’d given his siblings’ children, but it was a not so subtle insult to his wife….and possibly to Sandra if her expression was anything to go by. She probably expected a much better pay off. Her fingers clenched into fists, but to her credit she kept her mouth shut.
“And finally to my children…”
Both Tony’s eyebrows climbed upward. He could feel Vinnie and Gibbs both tense beside him. Children? As in plural? He wouldn’t have put it passed his old man to have a bastard or two out there. The man slept with a lot of woman over the years, and Tony doubted it occurred to the arrogant son of a bitch to ever consider wearing a condom. For him to acknowledge another child now was…interesting.
It got even more interesting when reference was made the fact that Tony’s brother or sister hadn’t been born yet and the need for a paternity test to confirm the father. Monique wasn’t pregnant. Tony was sure of that, which meant it had to be Sandra.
Virtually everyone reached the same conclusion at the same time, and they all turned to look at her. She lifted her chin, smirking at Monique and then giving Gabriel a sly, spiteful look. Tony was willing to bet she’d slept with him too based on that expression alone. She probably had before sleeping with Anthony, and mostly likely because Gabriel dumped her in his usual abrupt fashion. Why she would see that as getting even was anyone’s guess. But her timing was impeccable. It had, after all, gotten her a seat at the table.
“Yeah, that’s right.” The sneer she sported made Tony wonder why he’d thought her attractive at all. “I’m pregnant with the old man’s bastard.”
“It does not appear my brother was confident your claim is entirely valid,” Maria spoke quietly, arching one eyebrow. “The will bears a stipulation for proof.”
“Oh it’s his alright.”
“No funds will be dispersed for the child’s care to maturity or education until paternity is proven,” Litiz said calmly. The amount mentioned to be given to this child was double what had been left to various nieces and nephews.
And was a damn sight more than Tony’s father saw fit to leave him. $250,000 had obviously been intended as an insult. And it would have been in light of what everyone else had received…if Tony actually gave a damn about any of it.
Sandra’s gaze narrowed as she looked at Litiz. “I will not endanger my child’s life with any tests until after it’s born.”
“Yes, the child’s health being your primary concern…and not the added clause that allows you to live in the Manhattan apartment receiving the best medical care until a test confirms the father.” Monique’s voice was dry and mocking, malice underlying every word.
The bickering escalated from there. For the most part Tony simply watched it all, letting them hurtle insults at one another, amazed on some level by how spiteful they were capable of being. It was…educational to say the least.
He had expected some hostility, but thought it would be expressed in a more restrained way than this. Something led by the attorneys filled with legal threats and lawsuits. It was starting to make Tony feel decidedly uneasy. And judging by the way Vinnie was watching everyone, he was equally unnerved by the growing chaos.
Carmen snarled something at Andrew, and if looks could kill Andrew would have been a pile of ash. Andrew for his part was glaring daggers back at his cousin, hissing something equally hostile. Monique seemed ready to sharpen her nails on Sandra, referring to her as little more than a gold digging whore who wouldn’t see a dime of DiNozzo money. Sandra for her part seemed equally willing to take her on telling her she was no better, spreading her legs for anything that moved. Anna watched it all with distain, probably wishing she’d stayed in Italy. Gabriel told Maria that she would never have control of the company. Maria shot back she’d been in control for years while her brothers indulged themselves with drugs, booze and women.
Gabriel stood up and Tony instinctively pushed his chair back, recognizing the rage he saw in his uncle’s eyes and the danger it presented. It was then that Gibbs stood up and slammed both hands on the table, effectively silencing the entire room and drawing everyone’s gaze to him as icy blue eyes pinned them in place.
“That is ENOUGH!”
“My colleague is right.” Vinnie stood as well, laying a restraining hand on Gibbs’ arm. “This legal proceeding degenerating into a circus and not something we, or our client, care to continue participating in.”
Tony stood, moving to step behind Gibbs. He wasn’t using Gibbs as a shield as much as he was taking his usual position, backing his boss’ play. He kept a wary eye on everyone, hand not quite on his weapon but close to it.
“I’ll leave my contact information with your secretary, Mr. Lititz. When you’ve managed to resolve this…this…” Vinnie looked around the room, disappointment and dismay dominating his expression, which Tony knew wasn’t entirely for show. “This cluster fuck into something resembling an organized dissolution of property, just let me know.”
They stepped back in obvious preparation to leave when Maria halted him with a simple request to wait.
“Ma’am?” Tony kept his tone polite, more than ready to just walk away.
Her gaze rested on Tony. “Anthony—“
“Tony,” he corrected her sharply.
“Tony,” she conceded with a nod. “You have voiced no objection to the will.”
Tony arched an eyebrow. “Would you have heard me if I had?”
He shook his head, damn glad he’d walked away from these people years ago. “I don’t have a dog in this fight. And honestly,” he looked at each one, measuring them and dismissing each in turn, “I don’t want one. If I never see any of you again, it’ll be too damn soon.” He looked at Litiz. “Mr. Shaunassey has full authority to speak on my behalf. Contact him if you need anything from me.”
Maria started to ask another question but Gibbs neatly cut her off. “Direct contact from any of you with Tony DiNozzo will be considered a hostile action.” Blue eyes snapped fire as they raked everyone in the room once more. “You can expect an appropriate response in that event.”
“Is that a threat?” Gabriel asked defiantly.
“More like a promise.”
Tony was impressed by how much malevolence Gibbs could inject into that simple statement. He managed not to smirk when he saw Gabriel discreetly rub his wrist. Checkmate.
He walked out of the room, and didn’t look back. Gibbs and Vinnie flanked him. He paused only long enough for Vinnie to leave business card with the secretary.
Gibbs got in the back seat with him when they got to Vinnie’s car. He offered Tony a piece of candy but his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t open it.
“I’m okay.” Tony handed the candy back to him. “Just—“
“I know.” Gibbs nodded and opened the candy for him. Tony was grateful he didn’t have to explain. Not eating breakfast, being so worried about this confrontation and then having it end in such an anticlimactic fashion left him reeling a bit in the aftermath.
“You want me to stop somewhere to get something to eat?” Vinnie asked, concerned eyes meeting his in the review mirror. He knew as well as Gibbs how Tony could get when he didn’t eat.
“Would rather just have room service at the hotel.” Tony preferred the privacy it afforded, especially after meeting with his family. They had use of the room until their flight out tonight. Not having to check out at noon was a concession the hotel had made in deference to the DiNozzo name. There was really no reason not to make the most of it. And they could debrief in private there.
“Hotel it is.”
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Gibbs settled into the couch, pleased to have Tony lean into him. After that ‘clusterfuck’ of a will reading as Vinnie called it, he wanted the younger man to stay close. The shakes Tony had in the car had passed, but Gibbs knew a few pieces of candy weren’t anywhere near enough to keep them from reappearing. Room service had been ordered and once it was delivered Gibbs planned on making Tony eat a full meal.
“So what happens now?” Tony asked, looking at Vinnie.
It was a good question; one that Gibbs wouldn’t mind hearing the answer to. Nothing had been resolved at the will reading that he could see…with the possible exception of ensuring any one in that room would think twice before trying to contact Tony directly. And God help them if they were stupid enough to ignore his warning. Gibbs was in no mood to be lenient with any of them.
“If they have any sense…and from what I’ve seen they don’t…” Vinnie grimaced shaking his head. “Man. I have never seen a family self-destruct so fast or so spectacularly before.” He gave Tony a commiserating look. “Your family makes mine look normal, and I never, ever, thought I’d say that.”
Tony snorted. “I warned you.”
“Yeah, you did.” Vinnie took a long swallow from the scotch Tony had poured when they got back to the hotel. Gibbs hadn’t objected. A stiff drink seemed to be in order. Although, Tony had yet to touch his drink and Gibbs hadn’t done more than sip from his.
“Like I was saying, if they have any sense, they’ll give you the $250,000 your father left you, and ask that you sign a no contest agreement. With the amount of money being talked about, the two fifty is a pittance and something the estate could easily part with without really affecting anyone else’s share significantly. They could still fight over the rest at their leisure. Paying you off would simply eliminate one more person from the fray.”
Tony frowned. “I was never in it.”
“True.” Vinnie shrugged. “But they didn’t know that until today. Which is I suspect at least one reason why your Aunt Maria asked if you had any objections.”
“Another reason being her compulsive need to know where every player stands before letting them out of her sight.” Tony rolled his eyes.
“It is a trait that probably works well at the office.” Vinnie sipped his drink again. “I mean, she is the chief financial officer of a successful company. And based on the crap she was saying to your uncle, not to mention what’s been reported in some of the trade magazines about her, I’m guessing she does a damn sight more than just her job at the company.”
“She does.” Gibbs heard Tony’s near silent sigh and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. He got a small smile in return as Tony settled more heavily against him.
“You think she deserves to run the company?” Tony asked.
“Not my call.” Vinnie shrugged noncommittally. “But it looks like your father might have thought so.” He pursed his lips. “Or given how messed up everyone is…he did it to set them at one another and hoped to see some fur fly as a result.”
Tony held up his hands as though balancing something. “Want to lay odds on the latter?”
“No.” Vinnie grimaced. “Hell, no.” His lips turned upward in a rueful smile. “Kind of glad we didn’t bet on who would break first either. I’d have lost.”
“S’okay. I would have too.” Tony chuckled dryly. “Who’d you pick?”
“Thought it would be Gabriel. He sure looked ready to explode when Litiz got to the part about what Maria was getting.” Vinnie sighed. “I was not expecting it to be the next generation that blew first.”
Gibbs arched an eyebrow. He’d expected any outburst to come from the younger two men. Carmen and Andrew clearly didn’t have the same level of experience when it came to controlling themselves as their elders. But then, Gibbs thought to himself, the rest of the family doesn’t seem to know a lot about self-control either. Or if they did, they didn’t see the need to practice it.
Vinnie sipped his drink. “I thought your cousins would be more like you, Tony.”
Tony frowned, cocking his head to one side as he studied his friend. “Why?”
“I assumed that because you are roughly the same age, they’d act more like you than they would the rest.” Vinnie shook his head, holding up a hand. “Stupid thing to assume, I know. Won’t happen again.”
Vinie’s expression was sober as golden eyes met green. “If no one has mentioned it to you before, my friend, allow me to be the first. You are leaps and bounds ahead of your family in all the things that really matter.”
Gibbs was delighted to hear Vinnie give Tony that matter of fact compliment. He’d thought the same thing himself but wasn’t sure how to say it…or whether or not Tony would believe him if he did.
He watched the blush rise in Tony’s cheeks in response to Vinnie’s compliment. Tony ducked his head. “Thanks, man.”
“You’re welcome.” Vinnie finished his drink, setting the glass on the coffee table with a sigh.
“Do you want more?”
“No.” Vinnie waved off the offer. “I have to drive later.”
“You still okay with dropping us at the airport?” Tony asked. “It is a bit out of your way.”
Vinnie have a hand in a dismissive gesture. “I’ll just add it to the bill.”
Tony snorted delicately. “You’re doing this pro bono, you schmuck.”
Vinnie grinned. “I do have a charity or two that I could add to the list if you really feel the need balance the scale.”
“Sure. Why not?” Tony shrugged. “Might as well share the wealth.”
Gibbs wondered just how many charities were on the list now. Tony hadn’t actually mentioned any to him directly. But then, Gibbs hadn’t come right out and asked either.
“I could hold out for more than the two fifty if you like.”
Tony’s brow furrowed. “You think they’d pony up more?”
“Won’t know until they offer.” Vinnie shrugged. “If they offer that is.”
“You said it was the sensible thing to do,” Gibbs interjected quietly, not sure he would see anyone who’d been in that room doing the sensible thing, “what would be the stupid thing to do?”
“They could try to cut Tony out entirely.”
“Why would that be stupid?” Tony frowned. “I don’t even want anything.”
“They may not believe you really meant what you said today. So they might try to force the issue.”
Gibbs wouldn’t be surprised if that was in fact the case. The two hundred and fifty thousand was nothing when there were millions on the table, but that likely wouldn’t register with Tony’s family. They’d probably fought over less, and were greedy enough to lose sight of the big picture.
“But I represent you now. All those people heard you say so yourself.” Vinnie’s smile was all teeth, wild and feral. “So when it comes down to just us legal types, arguing over fine points of law and not a boardroom masquerading as a circus, I will see to it that you get a piece of the pie.” His eyes hardened. “I’m not going to let these people try to fuck you over, Tony. Certainly not without making them pay for it.”
Tony sat forward, pulling free of Gibbs’ loose embrace. “Vinnie, you don’t have to—“
“No, I don’t have to. I want to. Besides, I’m not being entirely altruistic.” Vinnie’s smiled warmly at Tony. “I’ve got my own reputation to protect after all. I couldn’t let them just get away with something like that. It wouldn’t look good for me.”
Gibbs grinned. Oh yes, clearly, Vinnie was worried only about his reputation. It was good that Tony’s friends didn’t lie any better than he did.
“Like I’m going to believe that.” Tony laughed softly. “Just promise me one thing.”
It spoke volumes about their friendship that Vinnie didn’t hesitate, nor did he ask what Tony wanted him to promise before agreeing to it.
“Don’t do anything that will get you arrested or fired.”
Vinnie snickered. “You’d bail me out.”
Tony gave Vinnie a hard look. “Not the point, Vinnie.”
“And Joe has room so I could stay with him.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Again, not the point.”
“Love you too, Tony.” Vinnie grinned.
Tony glared at him, but Gibbs could tell the look lacked any real heat. “Just promise.”
Vinnie held up his right hand in the traditional boy scout salute. “I promise not to do anything that will get me arrested or fired.”
“Thank you.” Tony reached out with a fist and Vinnie bumped it lightly with his knuckles. The gesture obviously sealed the deal between them.
“Were you a boy scout?” Gibbs asked, wondering if the salute wasn’t any more valid for Vinnie than it was for Tony.
“My younger brother and I both made it all the way to Eagle.” Vinnie told him proudly. “And my little sister is a den mother now. It is just about the only thing we still have in common, truth be told.”
A knock at the door announced the arrival of room service. Vinnie got up, waving at Tony and Gibbs to just stay seated. Gibbs kept a sharp eye on the door, just in case.
Vinnie pulled a wheeled cart into the room, politely telling the bell boy additional assistance was not needed. Gibbs saw him tip the kid, but couldn’t tell how much Vinnie gave him. If the kid’s smile was any indication, it was at least a twenty. Vinnie nudged the door shut with one foot before he brought the cart over to where Gibbs and Tony were still seated. He set the food out on the coffee table, offering both of them utensils wrapped in linen napkins before sitting down again.
Gibbs cut up his steak, pleased it was cooked just the way he liked it. The mashed potatoes were not as good as he could make for himself, but he wasn’t going to complain. He took a sip from the cup of coffee that had been included with his meal, watching Tony. The younger man was spending more time moving things around on his plate than eating. Gibbs reached out to lay his hand on Tony’s forearm halting the latest round of shuffling bits and pieces of his meal.
“Something wrong with your food?”
Tony gave him a startled glance before he shook his head. “It’s fine.”
“And you can tell that just by looking at it?” Gibbs arched an eyebrow. “Usually you have to taste it to make that call.”
Tony took a few bites, clearly intended to appease Gibbs. Gibbs sighed. He thought their conversation would have helped settle Tony’s nerves enough that eating wouldn’t be hard for him to do. He thought Tony had started to relax. Obviously, he missed something.
Gibbs mentally reviewed everything said and done since they’d gotten back to the room. Tony’s mood had steadily improved until Vinnie mentioned his brother and sister. Something about that reference had caused a subtle shift in his lover’s expression and body language, one Gibbs had overlooked when they’d been interrupted by the arrival of lunch.
“Talk to me, Tony.” Gibbs spoke softly, but made it clear he wasn’t asking.
Tony sighed. “Kind of just hit me.”
“I may be an older brother in a few months.”
Gibbs shared a look with Vinnie. In the chaos of people arguing over who deserved to get what, they’d both forgotten why Sandra DuPre had been there. And what that might mean for Tony. Damn.
“It could be you’ll just be getting another cousin.” Vinnie said quietly.
Tony gave him a rueful smile. “Caught that, did you?”
Vinnie shrugged one shoulder. “Was hard to miss.”
Gibbs grimaced. He’d seen the look Sandra had given Gabriel as well. There was definitely a history between them. One that likely wasn’t too dissimilar than the one she’d shared with Tony’s father.
Vinnie wiped his mouth with his napkin. “And given her past occupation….you really can’t write off the idea the child might not be related at all.”
“Past occupation?” Gibbs’ eyes narrowed. He suspected what Vinnie was hinting at, but it was always better to be sure.
“Looked into her background the same way I did everyone else.” Vinnie gave Tony an apologetic glance and got a forgiving look in return. It wasn’t like Vinnie hadn’t already mentioned having done research. Judging by his expression, Tony suspected the same thing Gibbs did.
“What did you find?” Tony asked, sounding resigned.
“She spent a few years working as an exotic dancer before going to work for a high end escort service. Last year she was busted twice for prostitution.
Tony raised a hand to rub at his temple. “Drugs?”
Gibbs thought that was a fair question. Drugs and prostitution didn’t necessarily go hand and hand, but they were often found together. Some girls needed a little hit to be able to turn their first trick, and before they realized it they were hooking to make money for another hit.
Vinnie shook his head. “No mention of drugs in her records.”
“Thank God for small favors,” Tony whispered. It wasn’t conclusive proof she wasn’t a user but it certainly implied she might not be. If Sandra was clean, at least the child, DiNozzo or not, wouldn’t be born with an addiction.
“Let’s not borrow trouble just yet, Tony.” Vinnie leaned forward, expression earnest as he made eye contact with Tony. “You can decide how you feel about becoming a brother for the first time at age thirty-six once you know for sure the child is actually your sibling.”
Tony worried his lower lip, gaze shifting from Vinnie to Gibbs. “Boss?”
“Vinnie’s right.” Gibbs reached out to caress Tony’s cheekbone with the knuckles of his hand. “There’s no reason to worry about it until you know if you need to be.”
“I just…I don’t---” Tony closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I don’t want my little brother or sister to have a childhood like mine.”
Gibbs winced. That was a sentiment he could understand. Hell, it was one he shared. No child should grow up like Tony had.
“If the child is your brother or sister, we’ll make sure he or she is taken care of,” Gibbs promised.
While Gibbs had every intention of following through on that promise he had no idea how to make it happen. He gave Vinnie a look, silently asking for his support and assistance. Vinnie tilted his head in agreement. Gibbs might not know how to fulfill that promise now, but with Vinnie’s help, he was sure they could figure it out.
“I’ll get in touch with some experts on child custody and welfare law.” Vinnie said. “When we know for sure the child is your sibling, we’ll be ready to do what it takes to make sure the kid gets a fair shake.”
Tony nodded. “Thank you…both of you.”
“You’re welcome.” Vinnie replied, smiling warmly. Gibbs echoed the sentiment.
He moved his hand to cup the back of Tony’s neck and squeezed gently in silent support. “Anything else you need to talk about?”
Tony’s lips curled upward in a small smile. “I think that covers it.”
“Good.” Gibbs lightly cuffed the back of his head. “Eat your lunch.”
“I’m not really—“
“Eat it or I’ll tell Ducky and Abby you were skipping meals.” Gibbs was not above calling in reinforcements when necessary.
Tony stared at him. “That’s not fair.”
“I know.” Gibbs pointed to Tony’s plate. “Eat.”
Tony muttered something about pushy bastards, but the set of his shoulders was relaxed again. He didn’t eat with any real enthusiasm, but Tony ate without any difficulty or obvious reluctance. Gibbs mentally put a check mark in the win column.
As he finished is own meal, Gibbs considered the situation, reviewing options and possibilities. It pained him to admit it, but all that was left for them to do was wait. Until Sandra’s child was born there was no way to say for sure if it was Tony’s sibling, cousin or unrelated. And the rest of the family might want to wait on confirmation of that detail before they made an offer to Tony. Although, Gibbs couldn’t see anyone involved in the company being willing to have control of the business put on hold for six months. He was damn glad they could let Vinnie handle negotiations with the family for the most part.
Gibbs was relieved they weren’t spending another night. Distance from those people was definitely a must. He wanted to be firmly on his own turf if they were foolish enough to try and contact Tony. Or were stupid enough to threaten him in any way.
Getting back to the familiar surroundings and usual work routine would give them both something else to focus on. And it would go along way toward making Tony feel comfortable in his own skin again. Gibbs hated how tense and uneasy his lover had been since they’d gotten on the plane to come to Long Island.
Gibbs made a note to call Abby, McGee and Ducky when they got back. If anyone could help Tony stay on an even keel until everything with his family was completely settled it was those three. And they would need to be filled in just in case back up was needed.
“You okay, Jethro?” Vinnie asked.
Gibbs blinked. “Yeah, why?”
“You got awfully quiet.”
Tony grinned. “Planning world domination again, are you?”
Gibbs grinned back. “Just my little corner of it.”
“Business as usual then, Boss?”
Gibbs nodded, giving Tony a wink. Looking out for his own was definitely business as usual.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Some resolution on the family front...but not really good news.
Even though he’d promised not to go more than five miles, Tony knew his going running would worry Gibbs. Until getting the plague, how far he went hadn’t ever been a serious issue. And it wasn’t much of an issue now…most of the time.
Tony shook his head. It wasn’t like he meant to lose track of how far he’d gone or deliberately pushed himself too hard. Most of the time, when he over did it, he hadn’t made a conscious decision to do so. He got into a rhythm and simply shut his brain off, moving on autopilot. Or he would be so focused on what had him running in the first place Tony forgot everything else, concentrating on the problem not on how far or how fast he ran.
Tony turned off the street and on to his usual path through the park, stride still relaxed and easy as he jogged. His breath fogged in front of him. The chilly air burned slightly with each inhale.
It felt good to be back on his home turf. Geographically it wasn’t that far from New York , but for all intents and purposes, D.C. might as well be on the other side of the world as far as his family was concerned. They’d seemed content to ignore him for years, so Tony didn’t think even with the dissolution of his father’s estate still unsettled any of them would be willing put for the effort to get in touch with him. Especially not in light of Gibbs’ promise to treat any attempt to contact him as a hostile action and respond accordingly. Tony was confident no one in that room had any doubts about Gibbs’ ability to make good on his promise.
Memories of that moment still gave Tony a heady sense of security and confidence.
To have someone like Gibbs in his corner had been decidedly reassuring. It was better than knowing he was armed.
And he was grateful Vinnie knew how to handle the rest. He trusted Vinnie to know what to do with his family’s attorneys. At least they hadn’t acted like toddlers throwing temper tantrums over having to share their toys. He wondered if the other attorneys been as surprised as he was by how quickly the DiNozzo family’s behavior had degenerated in Litiz’s office. Given how quiet they’d all been, it was possible.
It was also possible they were afraid to get into the ring while their clients were still going at one another. Tony couldn’t really blame them. It was rather like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion. Tony didn’t think anyone other than Gibbs could have brought a halt the growing chaos; everyone else was either involved in the fray or dumbfounded by it. Tony idly wondered what happened after they left. Part of him really didn’t care one way or the other. He’d washed his hands of them and he had no regrets.
Vinnie had promised to keep in touch when he dropped them off at the airport. There hadn’t been any news the first week. It made Tony think that maybe his family had decided to wait to find out if Sandra’s fetus was a DiNozzo before they did anything, or maybe they were still squabbling with one another and hadn’t gotten around to considering what to do with Tony.
The second week, Vinnie had called to let him know the family had begun negotiating more seriously, but no firm offer was made. He also sent an article in the Wall Street Journal which mentioned Anthony DiNozzo Sr.’s death. It quoted a company spokesman who stated that control of the company was still firmly held by various family members with a long history in the business. It was the typical sort of non-information Tony expected to see in print. It reassured the stock market and stock holders that it was business as usual no matter who was at the helm.
He picked up his pace, legs stretching out to reach further and faster. The team had worked three new cases during those two weeks and had helped another team close a fourth. Staying busy made it easy to forget the passage of time. One day morphed so smoothly into another he could ignore the lack of news and pretend nothing had really changed.
Tony smirked to himself, veering off to the left when the path forked. It had taken three weeks to convince Abby hacking into his family’s financial records and ruining their credit or draining their bank accounts was not a good idea. McGee had joined Abby’s side. He had argued rather effectively for the idea. Although the techno babble McGee used to showcase not only how it could be done and that they wouldn’t get caught lost Tony after a few seconds. Ducky had even joined in, startling Tony with his uncharacteristic hostility. It wasn’t like the older man to harbor so much antipathy toward people he’d never met…unless they’d done something that resulted in putting a body in Ducky’s morgue.
In hindsight, Tony realized he shouldn’t have been so surprised by their reaction to hearing about how his family had behaved during the will reading. Gibbs had invited Ducky, McGee and Abby over the day after they returned from New York and had given them a rundown of events. Their outrage on his behalf was heartening…and not a little frightening when he let himself think about what they could and would do for him.
He was glad Gibbs had sufficient discretion not to share anything Tony had told him about his childhood even though he hadn’t directly asked the former Marine to stay silent on the subject. Tony knew the others understood his childhood was far from ideal, but he still wasn’t comfortable with them knowing the specifics. He didn’t want any pity, or for them to treat him differently because of it. And Tony wasn’t sure he could have talked Abby out of doing something really drastic, especially if Gibbs gave her anything that even hinted at permission.
The one who’d truly astonished him was Ziva. He wasn’t sure how exactly she knew she hadn’t been invited to the gathering Gibbs had called, but she definitely knew about it. While she hadn’t said anything to him directly, it was obvious she’d been hurt by the exclusion. The way she’d looked at him made him feel like a heel. He might not completely trust her when it came to the true nature of his relationship with Gibbs, but Tony couldn’t help feeling like he owed her more. She was a teammate…someone he liked, almost a friend. She’d offered silent understanding and support when he’d requested the time off for the funeral. The least he could do was let her know how it went.
So he’d invited her along on a coffee and Caf-Pow run during one of their slower mornings, and took the opportunity to fill her in on what happened in New York. It was oddly therapeutic to do so. Gibbs had done most of the talking when it came to bringing the others up to speed, and while grateful at the time, Tony found having a chance to talk about it with Ziva allowed him to more fully express how it all made him feel.
The others thought his father was an ass and deserved to rot in hell. And for the most part they were right. The man’s death didn’t represent any great loss, but he was still Tony’s father. Ziva’s mixed emotions toward her own father gave her a more personal understanding of his ambiguous feelings about Anthony DiNozzo Sr. She didn’t think it odd that he felt vaguely guilty for not caring more that his father was dead. Nor did she wonder why Tony had regrets about not making peace before his father died even though he didn’t have a clue what he’d have said to the man if given the chance to actually speak to him. She got that he didn’t hate his father, any more than he loved him. And she could empathize with how bizarre it felt to be more concerned with the welfare of strangers than he was about his blood relatives.
When Ziva heard about Abby and McGee’s idea to sabotage his family’s finances she thought it an excellent suggestion. Although, her proposed modifications to the plan were a bit more direct…and bloody. Tony was glad she hadn’t voiced those when the others were around. It was far too likely they might agree.
Tony remembered Ziva’s angry look when his mouth gaped in blatant surprise at her being so hostile on his behalf. She’d glared at him. “What? You don’t think I could do it?”
“Didn’t think you would,” he had told her without thinking. That she was capable of lethal action was never in doubt.
“Why not?” Her anger faded, leaving her looking hurt. “You were not surprised by Abby or McGee willing to go to club for you.”
“Bat,” Tony had corrected her automatically. “Go to bat for me.” He’d shaken his head, amused by her continuing struggle with colloquialisms. He shrugged one shoulder when she demanded an answer to her question. “They actually like me.”
She’d sat back, eyes wide. “You think I don’t like you?”
“Not well enough to kill for,” Tony had told her honestly. It wasn’t like she shared secrets with him or they had common interests. She’d never said so directly, but Tony was sure she’d dismissed him as a lightweight, a jock getting by on good looks and luck alone. Her surprise at how well he handled himself while they were undercover as married assassins was proof of that.
Her expression had gone painfully neutral. Her eyes had dropped when she disclosed she was sometimes at a loss for how to really fit in with the team. She wasn’t used to working with people for longer than a few weeks at a time. Being the daughter of a high ranking Mossad officer made her unwelcome for long because other people feared receiving greater scrutiny from above. And they often assumed she was there to spy on them for her father. It had made establishing any sort of real rapport with her coworkers decidedly difficult to do.
Tony was stunned when she apologized for not telling him before that she enjoyed working with him. She told him she liked how he made her laugh, something she hadn’t done much of before joining NCIS. Ziva even went so far as to tell him she respected his ability as an agent. It had been literally a new beginning for them. And Tony considered it one of the better things that came out of his father’s death.
Tony pushed himself to maintain the same pace as he headed uphill. He was breathing hard but still moving easily. He wished he was as close to settling things in his mind as he was to reaching the maximum distance Gibbs had imposed on his run.
After a month, he’d put the will and his father out of his mind…mostly. Conversation with Vinnie focused more on their usual topics of sports, work, and friends. He trusted Vinnie to tell him anything he needed to know when he needed to know it, which was what had him running now. There was a message on the machine. It wasn’t long, and didn’t say anything specific, but the tone in Vinnie’s voice made it obvious whatever he wanted to talk about was important.
Tony needed a clear head before the talked to Vinnie. He needed to be ready whatever Vinnie had to tell him.
Tony added a burst of speed as he crested the hill and the ground flattened out. Being totally cut out of the will wouldn’t be the worst. Vinnie would fight hard against it, but Tony didn’t really want that. It wasn’t like he’d expected to get anything at all. Nothing much in his life would change if he didn’t get any money. And nothing much would change if he did get any.
Anything he received was already earmarked for charity. St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, The Cancer Research Foundation, American Museum of Natural History, Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation would all benefit. It was just a question of how much each one would receive.
The money wasn’t what worried him. No. What really worried Tony was Sandra DuPre’s unborn child. Vinnie said she was in her second trimester. It would still be months before Tony knew if her child was his sibling, cousin or unrelated. That left things hanging…because the outcome would affect what they could do for the child.
Having to fight his family to make sure his sibling didn’t grow up the way he had would be tough. He couldn’t see them actually giving a damn about the child; they would only want control of the money and real estate the child inherited. Tony knew Sandra would fight tooth and nail to maintain control of that largesse too. The child was clearly nothing to everyone else but a payoff, which made the possibility of Tony getting custody decidedly unlikely.
He didn’t think Sandra would object to visitation though. A small child would no doubt cramp the lifestyle she wanted to become accustomed to. He was hoping he could be there for the child the way Aunt Sully had been there for him. Child welfare laws had more teeth now than they did when Tony was a child. If he saw or heard anything that wasn’t kosher, he could do more to ensure the safety of this child than just summers away from home.
He found himself looking forward to showing the kid all the neat places Sully had shown him every summer; national parks, museums, monuments, Disney World. He might even get a chance to spend holidays and birthdays with him or her. Tony hadn’t said anything to Gibbs. He’d stayed silent about it not because he didn’t think Gibbs would help out or want to spend time with a little kid. His lover was great with children. It was more that he was afraid of getting his own hopes up. And saying anything out loud might jinx everything.
If the child proved to be his cousin, things would be harder. There was no guarantee Gabriel would claim the child. If he didn’t, what Tony could or couldn’t do depended heavily on Sandra. Tony was pretty sure he could still look out for the child, arrange some sort of visitation…with financial compensation. She was too much of a gold digger to turn down money when it wouldn’t cost her much of anything.
If Gabriel did claim the child as his, Tony wasn’t sure he’d have the money or standing to argue with him. Or if he should. He’d washed his hands of the rest of his family, barely knew any of his cousins. He wasn’t sure it was wise to get involved over this one. But he’d been a child himself when his other cousins had been growing up. There wasn’t much he could have done to help them. He was an adult now. He couldn’t see himself voluntarily allowing this child to suffer when he could do something about it.
Even if the child wasn’t related to Tony, he felt like he owed it something. Sandra had probably planned to get pregnant to extort money from Anthony DiNozzo Sr. The child would never have been conceived if she hadn’t been hoping to use it as the key to the kingdom. He didn’t want another innocent to suffer for his father’s actions. But if unrelated, Tony knew he’d have no standing for visitation and no claim for custody.
Vinnie had been working on options. He might be able to convince her to relinquish any parental rights to the child, essentially allowing Tony to foster the child…for the right price. No matter what Tony was able to get from his father’s estate, short of nothing at all, his payoff would be more than Sandra would get if the child wasn’t a DiNozzo. Basically buying the baby would be less valid than adoption, but had a better chance of success. Unmarried with a career in law enforcement with no real experience with children didn’t exactly make Tony a promising candidate for adoption. Gibbs had plenty of experience with children, his own home and including both their incomes they would qualify financially to adopt as a couple, except for them being gay. As a gay couple, their chances of adopting were even worse than Tony’s chances alone.
There was so much unknown. Tony wasn’t sure what he was really hoping for. He thought running would help him figure it out, but so far he felt more like he was just covering the same issues over and over again.
Tony considered running longer, but he’d promised Gibbs. He looped back through the park, hurdling one of the benches with ease. Running hadn’t helped him settling anything but at least he felt calmer, a little more ready to face whatever it was Vinnie had to tell him.
Tony slowed to a walk as he neared Gibbs’ house. He did a few stretches before heading inside. He was somewhat surprised not to see Gibbs pacing the floor. Tony cocked his head, listening. He could hear sounds coming from the basement.
Unable to decide if that was good or bad, Tony hesitated at the top of the stairs. The former Marine had been every bit as edgy as Tony since hearing Vinnie’s message. Discretion was the better part of valor, Tony told himself with a wry smile, choosing to take a shower rather than head into the basement. The pipes made enough noise Gibbs would know he was home.
Tony would have preferred to linger in the shower, but he knew that would be just putting off the inevitable rather than actually enjoying himself. So he kept it short, staying in only long enough to ensure he was clean before getting out. He toweled off before heading into the master bedroom to get dressed. He picked out a pair of heavy, fleece lined sweatpants and a USMC sweatshirt that had belonged to Gibbs before Tony claimed it as his own. He pulled on a pair of thick wool socks and then headed out to the living room. He wasn’t surprised to see Gibbs already there, coffee mug in hand.
“You have a good run?”
“Was all right.” Tony sighed. He would have liked to have gone longer, and still felt an urge to just…move…but he’d promised.
Gibbs put his coffee down on the end table and pulled Tony into a hug. “It’ll be okay.”
“I know.” Tony hugged him back. As long as he had Gibbs, friends, his job, he could handle everything else…eventually. “At least…maybe…now it will be settled and done with.” Not that he really believed that but he hoped for it just the dame.
“You want me to call, Vinnie?”
“I’ll do it.” Tony kissed Gibbs’ cheek before pulling away.
He’d gotten Gibbs a newer phone not long after he started spending more time at his house. The old rotary thing his lover had was an antique. Gibbs had agreed to a cordless with a caller ID display but wanted no other ‘stupid gizmos’. Tony had gotten the simplest one to be found, and he was grateful it had a speaker option. It would save having to repeat what Vinnie told him.
Tony sat on the couch. He was relieved when Gibbs sat next to him. He had wanted to ask, but he didn’t want to appear too needy.
Vinnie answered on the second ring. “This is Vinnie.”
“Vinnie, it’s Tony. Hope you don’t mind, but I have you on speaker.” The speaker often gave everything an odd echo sort of quality that some people hated, and Tony thought it only fair to warn his friend.
“Speaker is fine.” Vinnie hesitated for a moment. “Gibbs with you?”
Tony winced. That didn’t sound positive. For Vinnie to think Gibbs needed to be present meant it was definitely bad news. Might as well get it over with, Tony thought. “Tell me the bad news.”
Vinnie sighed. “I’m not sure what constitutes bad in this case.”
Gibbs frowned heavily. Tony leaned heavily into him when Gibbs wrapped an arm around him. “Explain that,” Gibbs ordered.
Tony didn’t have to see Vinnie to know he was biting his lower lip. He was obviously looking for a way to word what he wanted to say. “Vinnie…just start at the beginning.”
“I got a call today around one. Sandra DuPre had been admitted Mount Sinai Hospital. She was bleeding heavily.”
Tony froze. If it was a cut from a broken glass or something equally minor Vinnie wouldn’t have called. This had to be more serious. Had she been in an accident? Mugged? Attacked by one of his family? He opened his mouth to ask, but no words came out. It was Gibbs who asked what he needed to know.
“She had a miscarriage.”
Tony took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He knew, intellectually, those happened. During a case a few years ago that focused on an ensign who’d killed herself because she’d lost her baby Ducky rambled at length on the statistics which showed an average of one in five pregnancies ended with a miscarriage. It was estimated that nearly 800,000 each year happened in the United States alone. Tony shook his head. It didn’t seem possible. In all his thinking about this child, it never occurred to him it would be anything but whole and healthy.
“Is Sandra okay?” Tony asked, his voice sounded tight in his own ears.
“She’ll be fine. Believe me.” There was something in Vinnie’s tone that prompted Tony’s next question.
“You went to see her?”
“Yeah.” Vinnie cleared his throat. “She was more pissed at a golden opportunity lost than upset over the death of her child. She was insisting on a DNA test. She wanted proof the child was still an heir. And how much she was still entitled to.”
Tony’s jaw tightened. “Was it…”
“He,” Vinnie inserted clearly aware of what Tony wanted to know. “The baby was a boy. And no, he was not your brother or you cousin.”
Tony shook his head. It was hard to adjust his mental picture. In his head, the child had been a little sister with little blonde pig tails and bright green eyes, always happy to see him. Or maybe a little girl with dark hair in a braid, blue eyes lighting up when she saw her favorite uncle. He swallowed hard.
“DNA takes longer to confirm than just a few hours,” Gibbs stated. If anyone knew how long it took it was Gibbs. The man hounded Abby constantly for quicker results.
“DNA , does, yes. But blood type, no. The child was B Negative. Sandra is O Positive.”
“Same as my father and my uncle.” Tony whispered. There was no way the baby could be either of theirs. It would have been O Positive as well.
Vinnie sounded like he was grimacing when he spoke again. “Doctors think that mismatch in RH factor was what caused her to miscarry. If she’d gotten it checked they could have given her something to help her carry the child full term.”
Tony frowned, recalling more details Ducky had been spouting off. It really was astonishing how much of what the ME went on about stuck with him. “But for that cause a miscarriage that would mean she—“
“Had a child before,” Vinnie finished for him. “She did. Gave it up for adoption six months after giving birth. Probably did that one a favor. I’m sure it was better off being raised by someone else.”
Tony couldn’t help but agree. Sandra was probably more like Tony’s mother than not.
He closed his eyes. Tony raised a hand to absently rub at the dull ache that formed in his chest. The loss of his fantasy about being a big brother or a favorite uncle hurt worse than losing his father. It wasn’t until now he realized just how much he’d been looking forward to that.
It was probably better this way, he told himself. While he thought he could be as good as Aunt Sully, but there was no way to know for sure. Little kids hated him. He was okay with teenagers…in small doses, but he didn’t know anything about small children. At least nothing worthwhile. He could make sure there were good memories of Halloween, maybe give advice on clothes and cars, but he didn’t know anything about the important stuff. No…Tony took a deep breath…it was definitely better this way. It had to be the right thing to hurt this much.
He shivered, curling in closer to Gibbs. He was vaguely aware that Gibbs and Vinnie were still talking, but Tony had no idea what was being said. All he really understood was Gibbs telling Vinnie he’d call him back, and Vinnie saying something about taking care of him.
Tony wanted to say he was fine. He just shook his head, burying his face in Gibbs’ chest. His eyes watered, and he struggled to hold in his grief the way he had so many times before. He kept waiting for Gibbs to say something, to tell him to suck it up and quit being such a baby. The loss of a child he never knew shouldn’t have this level of impact.
Gibbs just held him, rocking back and forth in a soothing rhythm, one hand patting his back. “I know, Tony. I know.”
That gentle compassion undid him. Tony’s control evaporated, silent tears streamed down his face to soak Gibbs’ t-shirt. He cried for the dream he’d lost. He shed tears he’d never felt he could for Sully and for Kate. For every time his mother hurt him and no one seemed to care. For having never said good-bye to his father. For the overwhelming terror of nearly dying several times and being unable to give into it because he needed to be strong. Tears for nearly losing Abby to her stalker ex-boyfriend, and Paula being taken by a serial killer joined the mix.
For the first time in his life, Tony cried himself out, safe in the warm embrace of someone who understood.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Gibbs shifted carefully. He didn’t want to wake Tony, but his arm had fallen asleep and the numbness was beginning to border on painful. He grimaced at the pins and needles feeling that made his fingertips tingle. He shook out his hand carefully, breathing a sigh of relief as the tingling faded.
He automatically ran fingers through Tony’s hair when the younger man’s eyelids fluttered and he began to mutter something indistinct. Gibbs relaxed as Tony settled in again with a sigh. He lightly stroked Tony’s cheeks with his thumbs, wiping away the tracks left by his tears.
Gibbs had never known any one who could cry so hard and never make a sound. That silence had been more unnerving than the tears. It was how Gibbs knew this cathartic release wasn’t solely about Sandra DuPre’s miscarriage. To cry like that, the heartbreak and overwhelming sense of loss spoken so eloquently without saying a word, had to be the product of more than the death of a child Tony had never gotten the chance to meet.
And he knew his lover had more than his share of things to weep for. Far too long a list as far as Gibbs was concerned. He sighed softly, fingers moving through Tony’s hair again, wishing there was more he could do.
Gibbs studied Tony’s face. Other than the lingering signs he’d been crying, Tony looked peaceful now. That had to count for something. At least Gibbs hoped so.
He considered calling Ducky but dismissed the idea. There wasn’t anything the ME could do for Tony right now that Gibbs wasn’t already doing. And Tony would be embarrassed enough by his breakdown, the last thing he’d want would be more people knowing about it.
Gibbs’ gaze shifted to the phone. He should have called Vinnie when Tony went running. Although he was pragmatic enough to realize knowing what the lawyer had to say before Tony wouldn’t have made it any easier to deal with. He hated knowing it wasn’t a blow he could have softened or shielded Tony from.
Tony had never said anything to him directly about his dreams for a relationship with Sandra’s child, but Gibbs knew his lover had been thinking about it a lot. And Gibbs had spoken with Vinnie several times. He knew the lawyer had walked a fine line between maintaining the confidentiality of his client and doing his best to keep his friend’s lover in the loop as much as possible.
Gibbs wasn’t sure he was ready to be a father again, but he’d promised Tony the child wouldn’t grow up like he had. If that meant pushing for custody or even adoption, Gibbs wouldn’t have hesitated, no matter what his own misgivings might have been. He would not let an innocent suffer simply because he was afraid of getting hurt again. Kelly was never far from his thoughts, and it had taken years before thinking about her didn’t make his gut clench in pain. No one had ever taken her place in his heart…but he knew that if he had room enough for Tony, there would have been room for another.
Tony shifted in his sleep, his brows furrowing. Gibbs smoothed away the lines, crooning softly. Tony’s breathing hitched and then resumed the familiar, steady rhythm Gibbs had come to know intimately.
At some point he’d have to wake Tony, see to it he ate something, but Gibbs thought letting him sleep was the best thing for him. Crying was exhausting. And Gibbs had a feeling tonight wouldn’t be restful. Although he hoped that having let out all that sorrow Tony might actually get a reprieve, that tonight might be free of nightmares. It would be the first night since they gotten back from New York if it was.
Gibbs eyed the phone again. He’d have to call Vinnie back at some point. He had promised to let Vinnie know how Tony was doing. And Gibbs wanted to know if there was any news from the rest of the family. He was betting with Sandra no longer in the picture the rest of the others would be focusing their attention to removing any other obstacle…namely Tony. Gibbs wondered who would get what was supposed to go to Sandra and her child before he decided he didn’t actually give a damn.
Gibbs wanted to ask Abby and McGee if fucking with their credit was still an option. He wanted to hurt those people, and the only way he could think of doing real damage was to nail them where they would feel it the most…their wallets. Gibbs grimaced. While he had not problem with them breaking the law in pursuit of justice, he couldn’t condone them doing it for revenge. No matter how good it might feel.
He’d heard the best revenge was living well. And to some extent he believed that. Tony had certainly made a life for himself away from his blood relatives. It was a life Gibbs thought his lover should be proud of. It was definitely a life Gibbs was proud to be a part of.
Gibbs smiled fondly at his sleeping lover. Tony would never be worth more to him dead than he was alive. Given the way Anthony DiNozzo Sr.’s family had behaved during the reading of the will, that wasn’t something he could lay claim to. No one at the funeral or the will reading seemed to be genuinely sorry the son of a bitch was dead. And it was a continuing sad commentary on the family that the only one who likely shed any tears for Sandra’s child was Tony. He was definitely better off away from those people.
Gibbs squinted to read the clock on the wall. Damn numbers seemed to be getting smaller all the time. Tony had been sleeping for over an hour. Not nearly long enough, but too much longer and Tony would baulk at eating anything so close to going to bed. While on a case, or at the office, Tony didn’t seem to care what he ate or when, but once at home, the younger man’s appetite seemed to vanish the closer it got to his usual bed time.
He ran his fingers through Tony’s hair. “Tony,” Gibbs whispered, not wanting to startle him.
Tony frowned, eyebrows pulling together. Gibbs waited. He whispered Tony’s name again, moving his hand to cup his cheek.
“Boss?” Tony mumbled, eyelids fluttering.
“You with me?” Gibbs asked as blue eyes met green.
“Yeah.” Tony sighed. He leaned into Gibbs hand nuzzling his palm.
“You up for dinner?”
Tony grimaced. “I have to?”
“Then why bother asking me?”
Gibbs chuckled, giving Tony a quick kiss on the forehead. “Just trying to be polite.”
Tony snickered. “Experimenting with something new, are you?”
Gibbs rolled his eyes. “I can do polite.”
“Not that I’ve seen.” Tony laughed softly. “You’re better at being dictatorial and delegating.”
“Up and at ‘em then.” Gibbs cuffed him lightly, making the gesture more of a caress than a reprimand.
Tony sat up, moving slowly with far less grace than he usually did. Gibbs knew the stiffness was likely the by product of Tony being curled up so tightly for so long while he cried. Even when he’d fallen asleep, Tony hadn’t relaxed much.
Tony winced as he stretched his arms overhead, vertebrae in his back popped softly. Gibbs shook his head. Even though Tony said it didn’t hurt, it still bothered Gibbs to hear that sound.
Tony offered him a hand. Gibbs took it out of habit more than any real need. As he got to his feet, he wasn’t surprised when Tony pulled him into a hug, holding him tightly.
“Thank you,” Tony said softly, voice barely louder than a whisper.
He was tempted to tell Tony thanks wasn’t necessary, but he didn’t want to seem dismissive of the obvious gratitude so apparent in his lover’s voice. Gibbs opted for a simple, ‘you’re welcome’ instead. He knew that would be all that would be said about Tony’s minor meltdown. It wasn’t in either of their natures to talk about stuff like that in detail…at least not with each other.
Gibbs suspected Tony would be more inclined to talk to Joe than him. And while part of him was jealous, another part was grateful. Words were not Gibbs specialty, and the last thing he wanted was to hurt Tony by saying something wrong or stupid. He’d gotten a nine iron to his head for making that mistake once before with an ex-wife. Once was enough for him to learn his lesson.
He kissed Tony’s cheek before pulling away from him. “C’mon. Dinner awaits.”
“And what are we having?” Tony arched an eyebrow. “I didn’t smell anything cooking when I got back from my run.”
Gibbs shrugged. “I still have stuff Louisa made.”
“Oh…forgot about that.”
At some point Tony’s neighbor realized Gibbs was a regular visitor and started adding to the already copious amounts of food she routinely left in Tony’s fridge. To make sure it got eaten, Tony started bringing containers to the office and from there to Gibbs’ house. Not only did Tony often forget what he brought, he usually forgot to return the empties. Gibbs routinely gathered up various Tupperware containers and made sure they made their way back to Louisa.
Gibbs pointed to a chair as a silent order for Tony to sit. Tony rolled his eyes, but didn’t argue. Gibbs handed him a bottle of water from the fridge knowing the younger man had to be thirsty, and not just from crying. He hadn’t seen any signs that Tony had anything to drink after he got back from his run. Given the way Tony downed half the bottle in one long swallow it was a safe bet he was feeling more than a little dehydrated.
Gibbs checked one of the containers Tony had placed in the fridge two days ago. Meatloaf would be good. The scalloped potatoes in another container would go well with it. Nothing green or leafy but Gibbs figured one meal without shouldn’t upset Ducky any more than usual.
Gibbs portioned out the food and loaded the microwave. He was glad he’d gotten one of those little trays Tony had suggested that made it easy to put two plates in at one time. While their dinner heated, Gibbs handed silverware to Tony. He got out ketchup for Tony knowing the younger man wouldn’t eat his meatloaf without it.
Tony smiled at him. “Thanks.”
“De nada.” Gibbs sat across from Tony. He waited until Tony actually started eating before he dug into his own meal.
Tony didn’t eat with any real enthusiasm but at long as he ate, Gibbs wasn’t going to make an issue of it. He expected the younger man’s appetite to be off. He’d have to make sure the crew responsible for the candy machine at the office had it fully stocked for the next few days. Tony would no doubt be looking for something sweet for awhile to make up for what he wasn’t eating in regular meals. A candy bar wasn’t exactly the good nutrition Ducky insisted on, but it was better than nothing. And snacking during the day would ensure Tony didn’t loose much weight. Some day Tony’s metabolism would slow down, but Gibbs doubted that would happen any time soon.
The DiNozzo family was foremost in Gibbs’ mind, but it wasn’t a topic he really wanted to discuss. He suspected Tony felt the same way. So they ate in silence. It wasn’t exactly normal for them to not speak, but it wasn’t uncomfortable either.
Tony finished his bottle of water and got up for another. Gibbs knew that also meant the younger man was probably done eating as well. He bit his tongue to keep from saying anything about how much Tony left on his plate. Tony had eaten less than half of what Gibbs had given him.
Tony gave him a look as he sat down again. “You’re going to hurt yourself one of these days.”
Gibbs arched an eyebrow. “Come again?”
“Not like you’re a big talker to begin with, Jethro.” Tony smiled, twisting the top off his bottle of water. “Holding in what you want to say when you finally find the words has got to be painful.”
Gibbs snorted, amused in spite of himself. He pointed to Tony’s plate. “You should eat more.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Food is not a panacea.”
“Eating well will keep you healthy,” Gibbs argued, trying to ignore the irony of saying what Ducky had said to him when arguing with Gibbs over eating more vegetables and less meat.
“Yeah, yeah. Apple a day and all that.” Tony smirked, pointing a finger at Gibbs. “And that might actually work if it wasn’t pot giving the speech to kettle.”
Gibbs chuckled. “Just because I don’t—“
“I know.” Tony grinned. “Just because you don’t practice what you preach doesn’t make it any less true.”
He reached across the table and captured Gibbs’ hand. Green eyes held blue. “I’m not going to waste away. I’m fine.”
“I’ve got plenty of meat on my bones.” Tony smirked. “So, yeah, I’m sure I won’t waste away.”
Gibbs glared at him. “Tony.”
Tony sighed and squeezed his hand. “I’ll eat more tomorrow, I promise.”
Gibbs nodded, accepting the compromise. Tony was good about keeping his promises. Gibbs made a mental note to make the younger man promise not to run more than five miles tomorrow. He knew Tony chafed under that restraint, but the chilly air could do real damage to his lungs. Dr. Pitt had said they had no way of knowing what sort of long term impact the plague might have had to Tony’s lungs, so Gibbs thought it was better to be safe than sorry.
Tony took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “There is a silver lining.”
Gibbs arched an eyebrow. He knew Tony was talking about his family, but asked for clarification. “Silver lining?”
“Yeah.” Tony grimaced. “No child means this whole crappy situation with my family should resolve itself a lot faster.”
“You think so?”
“Hope so.” Tony picked at the label on his water bottle. “And with any luck, I’ll never hear from any of them ever again.”
“That’s more a gold lining.”
Tony winced, looking away. “True.”
Gibbs tugged on Tony’s hand, drawing his eyes back to him. “I am sorry about—“
“I know.” Tony gave him an understanding look.
“But I’m not sorry about kissing your fucked up family good-bye for good.”
Tony laughed. He brought their joined hands up, bent his head, and kissed Gibbs’ knuckles. “Neither am I, Jethro, neither am I.”
Gibbs sobered, making eye contact and held it. “I love you, Tony DiNozzo.” After everything that happened, it seemed like the sort of thing he should tell the younger man as often as possible.
Tony’s eyes took on the pleased glow Gibbs had come to treasure. It didn’t happen nearly often enough in his opinion. Some day he would find a way to make Tony look that happy all the time. Tony brought Gibbs’ hand to his cheek. The action spoke loudly of his mutual affection, saying more than words could.
Tony smiled warmly. “You done eating, Boss?”
Gibbs nodded. If he wasn’t before, the blatant invitation in Tony’s question sealed the deal. “I’m finished.”
“Good.” Tony tugged on their still joined hands. “Let’s go to bed.”
Gibbs grinned. “Little early.” He knew Tony wasn’t talking about going to bed to sleep, but he couldn’t resist playing a little, especially given how upbeat his lover’s mood was now. He might not be used to how quickly Tony could change gears but he had yet to be disappointed by it.
“Early?” Tony arched an eyebrow, eyes still glowing, fingers caressing Gibbs’ knuckles. “You sure you don’t want to?”
Gibbs made a show of thinking about it. “Depends.”
“What you plan on doing when we get there.”
Tony got up and leaned in close to whisper in Gibbs’ ear. “I’m going to show you how much I love you.”
“Think that should be my line,” Gibbs said as he got up from the table, moving to follow Tony.
“Not yours. Not mine either really.” Tony shrugged, looking over his shoulder. “More like ours.”
“I can live with that.”
“Sure as hell hope so.” Tony laughed. He spun around and with one neat move pinned Gibbs against the wall. Gibbs shivered, stifling the instinctive urge to fight back, enjoying the feel of Tony’s solid weight gently holding him captive.
Tony tipped his head and captured Gibbs’ mouth in a deep, passionate kiss. It wasn’t often the younger man was aggressive, but Gibbs enjoyed it when Tony was. He moaned softly, letting Tony ravage his mouth, his tongue dueling with Tony’s but not really trying to win.
Gibbs worked his hands under Tony’s shirt, trying to push it up and out of the way. He wanted skin…warm, smooth, silky skin against his own. He growled in frustration when he realized he needed more room to get rid of the offending clothing. He pushed against Tony, trying to get the space he needed. Tony leaned in harder, holding him still.
Tony chuckled, low and raspy as he released Gibbs’ mouth. He nibbled along Gibbs’ jaw line, stopping when he got to the older man’s ear. “Problem, Jethro?”
“Too many clothes.” Gibbs hissed. “Need room to get rid of them.”
Tony responded by rocking his hips against Gibbs, their groins brushing against one another, clothing adding friction that made Gibbs gasp. “Ask me nice,” Tony whispered in Gibbs’ ear.
Gibbs jaw tightened. He was tempted to do just that…but doing so would mean Tony might stop playing. And he wasn’t quite ready for that. Not yet.
“No?” Tony chuckled again. He sucked on Gibbs’ earlobe, applying his teeth delicately as he moved his hips again. Gibbs whimpered, hands clutching at Tony’s back. “You sure you really mean no?”
Gibbs swallowed hard. He loved that passion roughened voice. He tilted his head when Tony started working his way down Gibbs’ neck, licking, biting and sucking. Gibbs shuddered.
“How about now?” Tony’s warm breath raised goosebumps along Gibbs’ skin. He had worked his way under Gibbs’ shirt, and into the waistband of his pants, thumbs moving in slow, maddening circles in the hollow just above the older man’s hip bones.
Gibbs bit his lip, trapping a whimper. No one had ever gotten him as hot and bothered as fast was Tony did. No one. He was finding it hard to focus on anything but how good everything felt.
Tony shifted his weight, moving side to side. The action rubbed the soft cotton of his t-shirt against Gibbs’ hardened nipples making him arch his back, mutely asking for more. The soft moan Tony made and the way he pressed closer was a clear indication that he enjoyed the action too.
Unable to stand any more, Gibbs took advantage of Tony’s shift in weight to push off from the wall. He spun them, trapping Tony the same way Gibbs had been held only a second earlier. His hands moved to hold Tony’s head, taking his mouth in a kiss that was nearly brutal in its intensity. It was only the need to breathe that forced him to release that tantalizing, amazing mouth.
“Please,” Gibbs whispered against Tony’s kiss bruised lips.
Tony grinned, eyes sparkling. “Think…that should…be my line.”
Gibbs laughed softly. Given the way he’d reversed their positions, Tony was probably right. “Ours,” he said instead.
“Ours.” Tony agreed, leaning in for another kiss.
This one was gentler, but no less passionate. It was the sort of kiss Gibbs remembered getting and giving when kissing was the only objective. Making out had been fun then, and it was no less enjoyable now…except that he knew even better stuff came next.
Gibbs started to encourage Tony to move toward the bedroom. Sex against the wall had been great when he was younger. But he wasn’t interested in hearing his back complain for days, or having their love making be quick and dirty. He’d rather they were comfortable and took their time.
Gibbs wasn’t sure exactly how they finally made it to the bedroom. There were more than a few stumbles as they struggled to make headway, trying to strip out of clothing without letting go of each other or stopping their slow forward progress. A couple of breathless curses were made when contact with the walls and door frame was harder than expected. Soft laughter was interspersed with moans and sighs as busy hands and lips explored newly exposed skin.
When they bumped into the bed, Gibbs pushed Tony backward. The younger man let himself fall, clearly trusting Gibbs not to allow him come to harm. That display of trust made Gibbs’ throat tighten. He never wanted to lose that.
Tony looked up at him through his lashes. His long, lean frame was gloriously naked. Gibbs stared at him, memorizing the moment. He was one lucky bastard.
Tony held out a hand and moved his fingers in a ‘come here’ gesture. Gibbs trailed his fingertips up one leg, enjoying the little shiver his touch caused. As he bent down to kiss Tony, Gibbs braced his weight on his hands and feet, slowly lowering himself to cover the younger man with his body completely. Not for the first time was Gibbs glad to be sharing his bed with someone strong enough to welcome his weight rather than have to worry about crushing his partner.
Gibbs shifted to straddle Tony. He sat up, smiling down at his lover. His hands combed through the light covering of hair on Tony’s chest. Gibbs fisted his hands, catching a bit of hair and tugging gently, rhythmically. Tony tipped his head back in response, baring his throat. Unable to resist marking him, Gibbs used his tongue and teeth to worry the delicate skin at the base of Tony’s throat.
Gibbs released Tony’s throat to move further south. He sucked one hard, pert point into his mouth before applying his teeth. Tony murmured something in Italian. Gibbs didn’t understand the words but the meaning was clear enough. He kept Tony’s nipple trapped between his teeth, flicking his tongue back and forth making Tony squirm, his breath coming in harsh pants.
“Per favore….” Tony whimpered when Gibbs gave his other nipple the same attention while pinching and rolling the one he’d left with his fingers.
Tony’s hands kneaded Gibbs’ ass. Gibbs sighed, unable to not move in response to that touch. Their hips worked against each other rubbing and caressing sensitive areas against each other over and over.
Gibbs reached for the nightstand drawer. He fumbled to grab the lube there, cursing his suddenly clumsy fingers. He popped the top and quickly coated his fingers. Tony watched him with hungry eyes as Gibbs used the lube on himself instead of his lover.
“Planning to go for a ride, cowboy?”
Tony’s deeper than normal, hoarse voice ghosted over his skin, making Gibbs shiver. He bit his lip, nodding once, forcing himself not to lose control. He liked being taken from below even if it was hell on his quads.
Gibbs sighed at the pleasant sensation his slick fingers created as he moved them in and out a few times. He didn’t bother with much preparation, not really wanting or needing it. Too much, he’d go off too soon and he enjoyed a little burn that came with tight penetration. He stroked Tony’s cock, lightly coating it and making Tony moan in response.
Tony moved, wiggling sinuously to make it easier for Gibbs to position himself. Gibbs rose up on his knees, bracing himself on Tony’s chest before sinking down on Tony’s hard cock, taking the full length in one smooth motion. Their mingled cries of pleasure filled the room.
Gibbs’ breath escaped in a hiss as he settled himself. He rocked a little, shuddering as Tony’s cock brushed his prostate. Tony’s hands moved up and down Gibbs’ thighs, massaging the tight muscles.
“Golden.” Gibbs leaned forward to kiss Tony, raising himself up and sinking down again slowly.
Tony moaned into his mouth, hips moving in counter point to Gibbs. Gibbs could control the speed, but Tony’s answering thrusts made for deeper penetration, adding to Gibbs’ pleasure.
Gibbs gasped when Tony started stroking his leaking cock in time with their movements. The younger man knew just how to tight to make his grip to push Gibbs to the edge. He knew how to add a little twist and run the pad of his thumb over the swollen head to tighten the rising spiral of ecstasy. Wanting to return the favor, Gibbs pinched and twisted Tony’s sensitive nipples, being rewarded with small sighs and gasping Italian words for his trouble.
Gibbs unconsciously moved faster, instinctive need pushing him toward completion. Tony kept pace, sweat building on his skin. Gibbs could smell the wonderful, unique fragrance of the younger man. He could feel each thrust meeting him with greater force, letting it take him closer to the edge. He heard whispered endearments and encouragement in a language he didn’t really understand. He opened his eyes to watch Tony’s expression of dreamy contentment shift to one of pleasure so intense it bordered on pain.
Gibbs shuddered. “So…close…god…Tony…please.” He wasn’t sure what he was asking for, but he trusted Tony to know and to be able to provide it.
He had no real idea what Tony did. But whatever it was, it was exactly what he’d asked for, exactly what he needed. Gibbs’ orgasm rolled over him like a wave, stealing his breath, sparking white light behind his eyes.
Gibbs collapsed against Tony, shuddering though the aftershocks and breathing hard. He was aware of Tony doing the same and smiled, pleased that Tony had climaxed with him. He’d be sore tomorrow, but right now, his whole body was singing with satisfaction.
“Was…that…worth…going to…bed early for?”
Gibbs lifted his head, laughing softly. “Definitely.” He kissed Tony, stealing the breath the younger man had worked so hard to reclaim.
Tony sighed. Gibbs could feel him relaxing a near boneless state of post-coital bliss. “Don’t go to sleep yet.”
“Hmmm?” Tony opened his eyes. “Why?”
“Need to clean up a bit. And get under the covers.”
Tony blinked at him, sleepy green eyes reminding Gibbs of a content cat. “Okay.”
Gibbs reached for the small hand towel and baby wipes they’d taken to keeping in the night stand. He cleaned Tony’s stomach, removing evidence of his release. He cleaned himself as well.
Tony wiggled, pushing and pulling to get the comforter out from under them. It would be easier to just get up, but Gibbs didn’t think either of them had the coordination or energy necessary to stand upright. Once the comforter was free, Gibbs pulled Tony to him, snuggling under the blanket. He ran his fingers through Tony’s hair, enjoying the way the younger man cuddled in closer in response.
“Love you, Tony.”
Tony placed a kiss on Gibbs’ chest, just above his heart. “Love you, Jethro.”
Gibbs sighed, relaxing. There was still a lot they’d have to deal with. But he was content to let it all wait. Tomorrow would be soon enough.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Tony glanced around the small blues bar. The place never seemed to change, and yet there was always something new. It was one of the reasons he liked the place so well. Coming here had been a good idea.
Two days ago, Vinnie had informed Tony he’d bargained a payout of three quarters of a million dollars. It was more than double what the will had originally given Tony. All he needed Tony to do was sign on the dotted line if he agreed. Accepting it meant he was relinquishing his right to any more. Given that he hadn’t wanted anything at all, Tony had no problem with that.
The only thing Tony asked for in return was if Vinnie could add a clause that would prevent further direct contact with his family. In the future, he wanted any communication to come through legal counsel, even if it was only a Christmas card.
Vinnie’s answer was sort and sweet. “Already done.”
Tony hadn’t hesitated to sign. After nearly a month of having the monkey of his family on his back, it was a relief to be done with it. It was liberating, and he wanted to celebrate. A night out with good music and friends had seemed like the perfect option.
Tony smiled watching Abby and Ducky dance. She hadn’t been able to get McGee to dance with her but Ducky had volunteered, more than happy to indulge her. They’d made an odd couple; mismatched in height and attire, yet graceful and fluid in their movements, leading and following each other as though they’d practiced a routine for years.
“You’re going to regret not dancing with her, Probie.”
“I can’t dance.” McGee sighed heavily, toying with this drink. “Not like that anyway.”
“Could take lessons,” Gibbs pointed out.
McGee gulped. “Please don’t suggest that to Abby.”
“Because she’ll make me go.” McGee groaned. “And you know she won’t be happy without me being dressed in the right shoes and a stupid costume.”
Tony snickered. He was right. Abby wouldn’t go half way with something like that. And she’d love competition ballroom. Still…if McGee wanted to dance with her, it wouldn’t be a bad way to go and do it up right. He said as much.
McGee glared at him. “Like you would ever--”
“Already have.” Tony grinned, sipping his beer. “Even own a pair of real dance shoes.”
“You do not!”
“Do.” Tony countered. Sully had convinced him dancing would be fun, signing him up for classes one summer. And she’d been right. He’d enjoyed it; so much so he kept taking classes after she’d died. Every semester in college, Tony had signed up for a class: ballet, jazz, ballroom, swing, Latin, square dancing, clogging…he’d taken them all. Dancing was a nice in with the ladies. Every woman appreciated a man who was not only willing to dance, but also knew how. And it had taught him how to be comfortable in his body and move gracefully, something that came in handy when he was involved in sports.
McGee shook his head, pointing a finger at Tony, doubt still apparent in his expression. “Then why didn’t you dance with Abby?”
“Because she’s not the one I want to dance with.” Tony gave Gibbs a warm smile and was pleased to see the older man’s cheeks darken. The lighting was dim enough that he doubted McGee could see it.
“And she didn’t ask me.”
“Who didn’t ask you what?” Ziva asked, returning from the ladies room. She still didn’t know about Tony and Gibbs being a couple, but her status as a teammate and her support over the last few weeks made it easy to invite her to join in the celebration. The only one missing was Palmer. He had a date with Lee, and Tony could understand the junior Medical Examiner bowing out to spend a little alone time with his sweetheart.
“Abby didn’t ask me to dance.”
Ziva smirked, dark eyes sparkling as she took her seat. “Are you disappointed?”
“Naturally.” Tony affected a pout.
Ziva held out a hand, smiling brightly. “Dance with me?”
“You know how?”
“Of course, I know how.” She rolled her eyes.
Tony hesitated. Gibbs was the one he really wanted to dance with, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen. Not in public at any rate. They’d never danced in private either for that matter. Tony had never broached the subject, and neither had Gibbs.
“Are you too much of a turkey to dance with me?”
“It’s chicken, Ziva, not turkey.” Tony laughed softly. “And no I’m not too chicken to dance with you.”
“Perhaps you are afraid you can not keep up?” Her chin went up in a clear challenge. “Maybe your skill is lacking?”
McGee smirked. He obviously wanted to see Tony prove his claim.
Tony wasn’t one to back down. Still he hesitated. He looked toward Gibbs, not quite asking permission but unwilling to proceed without it. Gibbs grinned at him. He slapped Tony on the shoulder.
“Go show her how it’s done.”
Tony grinned. He took Ziva’s hand. As they stepped onto the dance floor, Tony told her, “Follow my lead.”
Tony was glad they band was playing something with a faster tempo than usual. He didn’t want to dance anything too intimate. Something like the Rumba was too sensual for him to really do well with anyone but someone he genuinely wanted to sleep with. That dance had been best described to Tony as the vertical expression of a horizontal desire, and he agreed wholeheartedly.
The Cha-cha-cha was a definitely more acceptable. It was faster, and allowed for more space between partners, without a lot of serious hip action. It was a relatively easy dance to do, if he didn’t add any tricks. And since he didn’t know how good Ziva was, he opted to play it straight.
She followed his lead well enough, although Tony could feel her hesitate from time to time. She wasn’t quite as good as he was, and if she trusted him completely, that wouldn’t have mattered. As it was, she still made a better than average partner, and Tony enjoyed dancing with her.
He wasn’t totally surprised to find Abby waiting when the song was done. He knew she wanted to dance with him even though she hadn’t asked earlier. She was just respecting the fact that he was here with Gibbs. Dancing with Ziva clearly indicated neither Tony nor Gibbs would mind.
Tony made a sweeping bow. “Would you like to cut in, Miss?”
“Yes, yes I would.” She grinned, pig tails waving as she bounced on her toes. “I even asked the band to play us a song.”
Tony laughed. That meant they’d be dancing Jive. Abby loved it, but it wasn’t a dance that Ducky would be able to do. It was far too energetic and demanding for a man his age, especially if Abby wanted to do any lifts or flips. And she always wanted to.
When Tony had told Gibbs he and Abby went clubbing he hadn’t meant that was all they did. Dancing, really dancing, was something they both enjoyed. Although, since contracting the plague, and Abby finding out Tony and Gibbs were a couple, they’d gone a lot less often.
The familiar strains of “Jump, Jive and Wail” started. Tony held out his hand to Abby. They’d done several routines in the past, each one decidedly fun and challenging. Tony picked the one with the most tricks since it was the one they’d spent the most time on and the one Abby liked the best.
Tony didn’t really notice that the rest of the dancers had cleared the floor, ceding it them without hesitation. He also didn’t pay much attention to the fact everyone was watching them. He just gave himself over to the dance, focusing more on Abby and matching her than anything else. That she could pull off the complicated steps in her platform boots never ceased to amaze him. Her unconditional faith in him with each lift or throw was heady. No one, not even Gibbs, had ever shown such absolute trust in him that way. But then, he’d never tried to toss Gibbs into the air or assist him in a back walk over.
Abby was grinning from ear to ear. She practically glowed. Tony had forgotten how much he liked seeing her so brilliantly happy. He was totally unaware that he looked much the same way.
They finished the dance, ending with a lift and a full body drop that had Tony catching Abby only inches from the floor. Both were breathing hard and sweating, but Tony felt wonderful. He’d missed this.
Tony blinked in surprise at the applause. Most of the time when he danced with Abby they weren’t the only ones on the floor or the only skilled dancers in the room. For just a moment, he’d forgotten where they were, and that their dance routine would attract attention.
Tony neatly brought Abby to her feet. They shared a look before bowing to their audience. The way McGee's and Ziva's mouths gaped open in awe and Ducky was smiling like a proud grandfather made Tony laugh. But what really made Tony’s heart beat faster was the open appreciation and admiration on Gibbs' face. It wasn’t often he did something to warrant that look…at least not in public.
Waving off demands for an encore, Tony escorted Abby back to their table. He pulled her chair out. She kissed his cheek before sitting down.
“You really should rethink taking dance lessons, Probie,” Tony stated as he sat down next to Gibbs, discreetly taking his hand under the table. “I think you’d have a blast.”
“Tim!” Abby squealed, punching him in the arm with enough force to make McGee wince. Although whether it was the pitch of her voice or the actual hit that made him wince, Tony wasn’t sure.
“You never said you were thinking of taking dance lessons.” Abby bounced in her seat excitedly. “This is the kind of thing you should tell me.”
“I’m—That is—“ McGee shot her a wide-eyed look that reminded Tony of a deer caught in the headlights.
“I know the perfect place. Not that Tony doesn’t know of some good studios. He’s obviously a great dancer, and could give you some pointers.” She shot Tony a quick warm smile. “I just meant that if you were looking for a partner to go with you, I’d be happy to. And it’s not like I don’t know how. So I could coach you a bit too.”
Tony ducked his head to hide his smile at McGee’s inability to get a word in as Abby continued speaking in her usual rapid fire, animated way. Gibbs bumped his shoulder with his own. Blue eyes meeting green in a sly look.
“That was mean,” Gibbs whispered.
“Not mean.” Tony whispered back. “He will have a good time.”
“Looked like you certainly enjoyed it.”
“I did.” Tony readily admitted, taking a long drink from his beer. There was no point in denying it.
“When did you learn to do that?” Ziva asked Tony, giving Abby’s ongoing monologue on merits of different dance styles to McGee a wary eye as though afraid to attract her attention too.
“Took lessons when I was a kid and just sort of stuck with it.” Tony shrugged. That was essentially the truth, if a little watered down.
“Very commendable, Anthony.” Ducky raised his glass in a silent toast.
“Why didn’t you dance with me that way?” Ziva asked.
Tony looked at her in surprise. She sounded…envious. “I didn’t know you could do Jive.” It seemed a safer response than to say he doubted she’d have enough faith in him to trust he’d catch her.
“I’ve never really gotten to try it. My father considered dance a frivolous waste of time. But if I was going to insist on taking lessons, he was adamant I focus on more traditional dances. He would have preferred I stick to just ballet, only reluctantly permitting me to try others.” She frowned, dark eyes drifting to focus on the dance floor. Her expression turned wistful. “It looked like fun.”
“Maybe you and McGee could go together, my dear. Never too late to learn something new.” Ducky smiled brightly, patting her hand. “We all could. I wouldn’t mind brushing up a bit. Although, I am not sure I could match the display Anthony and Abigail gave us.”
“Duckman, that would be awesome.” Abby grinned, her attention turning away from McGee. The younger man looked decidedly relieved to no longer be her sole focus.
“That would be a great team building exercise.” She didn’t quite clap her hands in delight but Tony could tell it was a near thing.
“Would be better than sexual harassment training,” Gibbs offered dryly. If it weren’t for the sparkle in his blue eyes, and the way he’d squeezed Tony’s hand, Tony would have thought Gibbs was putting down the idea.
“Do you dance, Gibbs?” Ziva asked, sipping her wine.
“Not as well as Tony.”
Tony felt his cheeks warm at the praise he could hear in Gibbs’ simple statement. He hoped he was still flushed enough from dancing that no one would notice.
“All it takes is a little practice,” Tony said, modestly down playing a skill that had literally taken years to acquire.
“More than a little, my dear boy,” Ducky smiled at him. “But to learn the basics is not so hard. Not really. Anyone can.”
“When did you learn, Ducky?” McGee asked. Tony figured he had to be desperate to keep Abby’s attention diverted from him to be asking Ducky for a story. It took a lot of willpower to stifle the snicker as the expression ‘any port in a storm’ came to mind.
It was actually pleasant to let Ducky ramble about how as a lad he’d been desperate to impress a young woman he’d fancied. “I was a rather shy lad, a little awkward and not terribly good at sports. And Eloise was well…she was the raving beauty of the day. Positively enchanting.” Ducky smiled fondly in memory. “She was very popular with everyone. Especially the captain of the soccer team.”
At the time, dancing was still part of the school curriculum and Ducky thought it was a golden opportunity to attract her attention, to lure her away from the brawny sort she seemed to favor. And it might have been a good plan, if he hadn’t been so nervous during his first opportunity to dance with Eloise in class that he’d tripped over his own two feet, breaking his wrist and tearing her new dress in the processes.
Ziva covered her smile with her hand. “Oh Ducky.”
“Oh yes, my dear, it was quite a spectacle.” Ducky chuckled. “So while Eloise now knew I was alive, I’m afraid I garnered more distain and disappointment than affection or admiration.”
“She wasn’t worthy of you, Ducky,” Abby said, throwing an arm over his shoulder.
“Thank you, Abigail.” Ducky kissed her cheek. “But the story doesn’t end there.”
“Of course not,” Tony murmured to himself. Ducky’s stories never ended in a predictable fashion. It was what made them interesting at times.
“Another lovely young woman named Deidre took pity on me. She was a bit of an outcast herself…far too focused on her studies to be thought of as fun. And regarded as a little too smart to be considered beautiful.”
Abby huffed. “That’s just stupid.”
“Agreed.” Ducky nodded his head. “But you know what young men are like. Many find intelligent women intimidating.”
Ziva rolled her eyes and gave Tony a pointed look, implying he likely fallen into that category. He just stuck is tongue out at her. Sully had taught him early that smart women could be a lot of fun. But when he’d learned how homophobic his chosen profession could be, he’d adopted a cover as a playboy interested in only one thing. She still didn’t know how much of an act that was. Tony wondered what her reaction would be if she found out. He decided to table that thought of some other time.
“Deidre was kind enough to work with me for hours after class.” Ducky’s blue eyes sparkled behind his glasses. “We were the hit of the spring formal, and were named king and queen as a result.”
“Way to go, Duck.” Gibbs raised his glass in salute. Tony lightly tapped it with his beer. McGee, Abby and Ziva did the same with their drinks.
Conversation drifted, as others around the table reminisced about moments of triumph. Tony wasn’t entirely surprised to find out McGee scored a game winning home run once. He might not possess Tony’s own experience with sports, but there was no way he could get through childhood without getting roped into at least one game or two. And everyone got lucky once in awhile. Nor was he entirely surprised to find out Ziva had managed to win a music competition with her piano playing when she’d been playing for less than half the time as the other students. Or that Abby would consider her greatest triumph from her youth to be convincing the entire cheerleading squad to get tattoos.
As he relaxed more, enjoying the music, the stories and good company, Tony could feel himself getting sleepy. He yawned. It wasn’t early by his standards, but it had been a long day, and a longer month.
“Getting old, Tony?” Ziva teased, smirking at him.
He flipped her off. She just laughed.
“Think it’s time to call it a night,” Gibbs said, blue eyes assessing Tony. Tony tried to wordlessly relay he was fine but knew yawning again ruined it. Gibbs knew exactly how little sleep he’d gotten lately.
“But we having heard a story from you or Tony yet,” Abby protested.
“You’ve heard plenty of DiNozzo’s stories, Abbs.” Gibbs snorted.
“Haven’t heard any of yours, Boss,” McGee countered.
McGee winced and pushed back a little from the table when Gibbs glared at him. “And you aren’t going to, McGee.”
“Right, Boss. Forget I said anything.”
Tony was tempted to laugh, but knew better. It wasn’t like he hadn’t gotten similar chastisements from Gibbs in the past. And he likely would again.
“It is late. Mother will be wondering what’s become of me.” Ducky stood. He offered a hand to Abby. “Do you need a ride, my dear?”
“Hearse in the shop again, Abby?” Tony asked as he stood up. Having come with Gibbs, Tony hadn’t given much thought to how everyone else was getting to the bar or how they were going home.
She nodded glumly. “I think she might be on her last legs.”
“If we don’t get a case this weekend, I’ll go car shopping with you.”
She gave him a breath stealing hug. “Thanks, Tony. You’re the best.”
Tony hugged her back, placing a kiss on top of her head. “Any time, Abby.”
“Not sure that’s such a good idea, Abby,” Ziva said, shaking her head. “Tony’s Mustang is in the garage too. Perhaps he’s not the best person to advise you on a reliable automobile.”
“She’s not in the shop,” Tony corrected her. “I’m having her detailed. There is a difference.”
“Something more fuel efficient—“
“Not everyone wants to drive wind up toy.” Tony shook his head.
“Simply because a car is not a gas chugger.--.”
“Gas guzzler.” Tony grinned. “It’s gas guzzler.”
“Whatever.” She waved a hand. “Something efficient should at least be a consideration.”
“Think the way you drive, body armor should be a consideration.”
“I do not drive that badly.”
McGee muttered something under his breath that Tony couldn’t quite catch. He was willing to bet it hadn’t been an agreement to Ziva’s claim. It sounded more like something about the number of tickets she’d gotten in the last year.
They continued to debate the merits of various vehicles as they headed for the door. Ducky, Abby and Tony declared personal style and quality to be the most important factor. Ziva favored fuel economy and durability. McGee thought safety features and consumer report ratings should be considered. Gibbs stayed mute on the subject, giving Tony a look that said he found the whole discussion decidedly amusing.
As they passed the bar, the waitress from their last visit gave them a speculative glance. She was obviously confused by Tony and Abby walking hand in hand, with Gibbs only a step behind looking relaxed and easy. Tony gave her a wink and a smile, adding to her confusion just because he could.
Although, they hadn’t planned it, having Abby go with Ducky, and Ziva riding with McGee rather than take a cab or the metro, made Tony leaving with Gibbs seem unremarkable. It was in hindsight something they should have planned since Ziva didn’t know they were a couple. But Tony figured he and Gibbs could have easily come up with something if asked so it didn’t really matter.
Tony sat back, settling in with a sigh. He smiled when Gibbs found has hand and held it.
“So you really think dance lessons would really be a good team building exercise?”
Gibbs chucked, raising their joined hands to his lips to place a kiss on Tony’s knuckles. “Wouldn’t mind seeing you dance again.”
“What about dancing with me?” Tony asked without thinking.
Gibbs glanced his way, a slow, warm smile appearing. “Thought you’d never ask.”
“The Rumba.” Tony growled softly, voice readily conveying his desire. “When we get home.”
Gibbs shivered. “You going to lead?”
“You want me too?”
“For tonight.” Gibbs nodded. “I’ll lead tomorrow.”
“Deal.” Tony grinned.
He was getting used to this easy give and take, to their settled, steady relationship. But Tony really hoped he was never so foolish as to just take it for granted just because it was familiar. The last thing he wanted to do was to forget how precious having someone like Gibbs in his life was. There weren’t many like him.
“I love you Tony DiNozzo,” Gibbs said softly. “Always and forever.”
“Love you too, Jethro Gibbs.” Tony squeezed the hand holding his. “Forever and always.”