The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them…Thomas Merton
Gibbs sighed softly, stretching the kinks out of his back. He’d been working on the boat for the past few hours, determined to have it seaworthy in time to set sail by the end of June. Gibbs eyed the completed framework and half finished hull; there was still a lot to be done before he could seriously consider putting her in the water. But it would get done, and on time. He’d made a promise; he’d never broken one and he didn’t plan to start now.
Gibbs smiled, shaking his head. Tony had tried to play it cool, but there was no denying the excitement in his voice when Gibbs told him two months ago of his plan to take the boat on her maiden voyage in the Gulf of Mexico. Tony had suggested he do so before leaving DC for Houston the second and final time, making it an open invitation to visit, and Gibbs was determined to take him up on it. The former Marine could admit to himself, if no one else, he was just excited by the prospect of seeing Tony. He’d missed the younger man.
Although nothing had felt quite right with Tony gone, it had still taken Gibbs almost three weeks to call him after he’d left. He’d stubbornly wanted Tony to make the first overture, unwilling to risk rejection and unsure of what to say if he were the one to call first. It wasn’t until Ducky pointed out that Tony had already executed the opening gambit by inviting Gibbs to come to Houston that the former Marine relented and called. That initial phone call had gone far better than Gibbs expected and they now made a regular habit of talking once a week.
Those conversations, as regular and as good as they’d become, were no substitute for actually being face to face. That point had become even more painfully obvious when Abby had set up a video conference a month ago. She’d been so delighted with having her ‘whole family in one room’ since Tony had return to Houston. The rest of the team had been equally delighted. Gibbs patted the boat fondly before heading up stairs, still smiling as he thought about how happy everyone was during that too brief meeting.
Although, Gibbs mused as he grabbed a mug to pour his favorite beverage into, it wasn’t as if they hadn’t stayed in touch. He knew Tony did something with Abby nearly every day now that she’d called IM’ing. Gibbs wasn’t entirely sure what that entailed, initially thinking it sounded vaguely kinky before understanding it involved some form of communication via the computer.
He’d overheard McGee telling Ziva he and Tony played some online game together a few times a month. They’d evidently started doing shortly before the video conference Abby set up. From the sound of it, Tony had managed to impress McGee with his prowess. Gibbs had been sorely tempted to tease Tony about it, wondering if he was also some sort of ‘elf lord’ as well, but he’d refrained. If he embarrassed Tony, he might stop playing, and it didn’t seem right to deny McGee his connection to Tony no matter how silly it seemed to Gibbs.
Roughly twice a month, Tony actually wrote genuine letters to Ziva…or more accurately he sent her cards with brief notes inside. The cards were often stunning pictures of famous vistas of national parks. Until then, Gibbs had never realized Ziva had any interest in such things. Clearly, Tony knew and Ziva obviously appreciated the gesture, displaying each one on her desk until the next would arrive. Gibbs knew she wrote to Tony as well, having seen her drop envelopes in the outgoing office mail with his name and address. He bit his tongue to keep from asking what she wrote to him about. It wasn’t any of his business, any more than it was his business to know what Tony would write to her that would make her smile and sometimes even laugh outright. He stifled his curiosity, refusing to ask, although he kept hoping to overhear McGee be brave enough or foolish enough to ask her. So far he hadn’t had any luck.
Ducky, like Gibbs, got regular phone calls. Gibbs hadn’t asked, but he assumed they’d arranged a time to talk because Tony typically called the office fifteen minutes before the start of Ducky’s normal work day. Ordinarily, Gibbs would have frowned on a personal call at the office, but he knew calling Ducky at home likely wasn’t an option given his mother’s mental and physical health. And he wasn’t so much of a bastard as to deny them a chance to talk if it wasn’t truly interrupting the job. The calls were usually brief, no more than a few minutes, but they were long enough for the ME to stay abreast of what was going on in Tony’s life. Gibbs felt a certain amount of almost juvenile satisfaction and pride over the fact that Tony’s calls to him sometimes lasted more than an hour.
Tony called Gibbs on Saturday, usually late in the evening, or early Sunday morning. Both times were when he was most likely to be home. The conversations weren’t one-sided the way they’d so often been when Tony was on Gibbs’ team. His desire to ensure that first phone call wasn’t the only one he’d have pushed Gibbs to actually do more than listen. He strove to hold up his end, determined to make it worth Tony’s while to call as regularly as he did. They talked about movies Tony suggested Gibbs watch, books Gibbs recommended Tony read, Tony’s ongoing quest for a decent place of his own to live, Gibbs progress with the boat, they even discussed open cases and how to deal with the lingering issue of Shepard and her culpability in the death of Rene Benoit.
Gibbs sipped his coffee, unconsciously tilting his head, listening for the trill of his cell phone. He didn’t really expect Tony to call tonight. Friday wasn’t when he normally did, but Gibbs was hoping for it just the same. Last Saturday, Tony had mentioned his team would be working with vice on a drug case and that he’d be out of touch for awhile. It wasn’t the first time Tony had talked about an ongoing case…but it was the first time he said he would be too busy to call. It had made Gibbs uneasy.
It didn’t help when Tony mentioned there was federal involvement in the case. Gibbs hadn’t worked much with agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, so he had no idea how competent they were. That just added to his general feeling of unease.
Gibbs had cautioned Tony to be careful, knowing he sounded like an over anxious father but unable to stop himself. Tony hadn’t exactly brushed off Gibbs concern, but he had told him his role would be mostly that of additional eyes and ears as they staked out several warehouses for possible shipments. Tony didn’t think the assignment would be terribly dangerous or exciting, but it needed to be done, and his team had agreed to act as back up.
“It’ll be mostly boredom and bad coffee,” Tony had assured Gibbs. “The Feds are taking the lead. We’re just support, Gibbs.”
“All the more reason to stay sharp.”
“I’ll be careful, Gibbs.”
There was a weight of promise in Tony’s statement. Gibbs had nodded in approval even though he knew Tony couldn’t see him do it. “Good.”
“I’ll call as soon as I’m free.”
“See that you do,” Gibbs had ordered gruffly.
Gibbs shook his head, trying to dispel his restless feelings. He went back downstairs, taking his mug with him. He picked up his cell phone, checking for a missed call…just in case. He sighed when the display remained blank. A week wasn’t that long to work a case like Tony had described, especially not one with another agency involved. It was unrealistic to expect a resolution so soon.
Gibbs clipped the phone to his belt and moved to study the boat again. He lightly rubbed the wood, enjoying the smooth feel of it beneath his fingers. He sighed heavily, turning to rest his back against the boat, unable to concentrate on it any longer.
Ducky hadn’t gotten his usual call, but hadn’t seemed worried. Gibbs figured Tony had also told him about the case. From Abby’s demeanor all week, it was obvious she hadn’t gotten any messages from Tony either. She was disappointed, clearly missing their usual interaction, but she wasn’t overly upset. Gibbs knew she understood the demands of the job as well as anyone. McGee had mumbled something to Ziva about not gaming until Tony was free to play with him. Evidently there was a score of some kind to be settled and the rematch had been postponed. The only one of them to hear from Tony all week was Ziva. She’d gotten a card, but the time lag that occurred with mail made it likely Tony had sent it not long after telling Gibbs he’d be out of touch for awhile.
This was the longest the team had gone without some sort of communication with Tony since he’d first left NCIS for Houston. And Gibbs hated it. He couldn’t shake the apprehensive feeling the lack of contact engendered.
He knew it was irrational. Hell, Tony had been in Houston for nearly four months with none of them even knowing where he was or what he was doing, and he hadn’t gotten so much as a hangnail. Gibbs kept reminding himself that Tony was an adult, experienced in law enforcement and capable of looking out for himself. He had a team to watch his back---a team Gibbs had to admit he considered capable, competent and trustworthy.
Of course, that was all true when he was at NCIS too. That hadn’t prevented Tony from getting several concussions, shot at, stabbed, drugged, kidnapped, and the damn plague for god’s sake. The man could find trouble anywhere.
Gibbs ran a weary hand through his short hair. He should go to bed. Working on the boat had left him physically tired, as it had every night of the week, but he hadn’t been able to sleep well.
Gibbs’ gaze came to rest on the bottle of bourbon that sat on his work bench. It was still full, unopened, a belated Christmas gift from Tony. He was sorely tempted to open it and down enough to put him out for hours. Gibbs grimaced, and looked away.
He was not going to get drunk. He wasn’t that far gone. He was just tired. He’d been tired before.
Gibbs finished his coffee. He really hoped the low grade worry, unnecessary anxiety and restlessness were all the byproduct of an over active imagination. Not that anyone had ever accused him of having one before---there was a first time for everything though so maybe his gut was off.
Gibbs set his mug down on the workbench and headed back up the stairs. If he lay down now, he might get a few hours of sleep in before having to start the day. Not that he had to be to work in the morning. It was Saturday. And they didn’t have any leads on the cold case they’d been working. As much as it bothered him to not be making any progress, it wasn’t pressing enough to call his team into the office on a weekend to work harder on cracking it.
Gibbs had just finished his nightly routine in the bathroom when his cell rang. He checked the display before answering, smiling when he saw Tony’s name and number pop up. Given that it was nearly midnight, Gibbs thought he should give his former senior agent at least a little bit of shit over the time. It was expected. Then he could ask about how the case went.
“DiNozzo, do you have any idea—“
“It’s not Tony, Gibbs. It’s Joe LaFiamma.”
Gibbs frowned, his gut tightening. “Why are you calling from Tony’s phone?”
“Because I didn’t know the number and it’s programmed into his phone.”
“Damn it, LaFiamma, you know that isn’t what I’m asking.” Gibbs snarled. “What’s wrong?”
“The bust went bad.” There was too much emotion in that one sentence for Gibbs to catch it all.
“What do you mean it went bad?” Gibbs asked quietly. How the hell could a simple operation go bad, he wanted to scream. It was just supposed to be boredom and bad coffee. Tony had told him it wouldn’t be anything to worry about.
“That doesn’t matter right now.” The hoarse, sandpaper raspy quality of LaFiamma’s normally smooth baritone added to the tension in Gibbs’ gut. What happened to make him sound like that? If he hadn’t identified himself earlier, Gibbs wouldn’t have even recognized him.
“What the hell happ—“
“I called to tell you Tony’s been hurt.”
Gibbs’ grip on his phone tightened, plastic groaned in protest but didn’t give. “How bad?”
LaFiamma sighed, sounding incredibly weary, shaken and unsure. For the first time since he’d met the man, Gibbs was reminded that LaFiamma was younger than Tony.
“He’s in surgery right now.”
“Tell me how bad.” Gibbs ordered as he fought to keep his tone level. Surgery could mean anything he reminded himself. It didn’t have to be life threatening.
“They think he’ll be okay…but they haven’t…they will know more when…shit.” There was a pause and Gibbs could hear LaFiamma coughing harshly and then take a slow, deep breath. When he spoke again his voice was steady, controlled.
“He’s got several broken ribs. One lacerated his liver. They don’t think fixing that will be a problem, but they won’t know for sure until after they open him up. What worries them the most right now is the one that punctured his right lung and the smoke he inhaled. With his medical history, they are worried about complications.”
Gibbs swallowed hard, closing his eyes, appreciating the almost clinical detachment LaFiamma used to fill him in and hating it at the same time. In his head he could hear Ducky talking about reduced lung capacity, scar tissue and susceptibility to respiratory aliments like bronchitis and pneumonia. After Levon Lundy had mentioned Tony’s need to be more careful and not push himself too hard when he jogged, Gibbs had gone Ducky and asked for a full run down of the risks. He almost wished he hadn’t. Lundy had been right to be pissed at him for being so clueless about Tony’s health.
Thinking about LaFiamma’s partner made Gibbs open his eyes. Lundy might be a pain in the ass at times, but he been for more accepting of Gibbs being involved in Tony’s life and Tony staying in touch with his old team than LaFiamma. If anyone would have thought to call him to let him know what was going on, it would have been Lundy. Lundy wouldn’t give him shit about wanting to be on the next flight to Houston either. Hell, he might even help him get there.
“Let me talk Lundy.”
“You can’t talk to him.”
Gibbs had a sinking feeling. “What do you mean I can’t?”
“He’s in surgery too.”
“Shit.” No wonder LaFiamma sounded so lost, almost broken. Tony was the closest thing he had to a brother, and Lundy was not only his partner and best friend, he was also his lover.
“How bad is it, Joe?”
“He was shot in the leg.”
There was a pause. Gibbs waited, knowing LaFiamma had more to say he just needed a moment to get it out.
“There was so much blood…I think the bullet must have hit an artery. I got a tourniquet on but it took me awhile to get there. Levon…he…flatlined as the bus brought him in. They were able to get him back, but…it was…”
LaFiamma’s breathing became ragged, he coughed several times, and then cleared his throat. “I know it’s late. And I probably should have waited to call.”
Gibbs rolled his eyes. Like he cared about the time. This was not the sort of news got any better regardless of when it was delivered.
“I just wanted to let you know about Tony. He’d want me to keep you informed.”
“I’m glad you did.”
Gibbs could hear LaFiamma wheezing. He’d said they were worried about the smoke Tony had inhaled…Gibbs was fairly confident from the way LaFiamma sounded, Tony wasn’t the only one who had. He wanted to know what the hell happened and was going to demand answers when he heard a voice in the background. Whoever it was, was insisting LaFiamma should be resting and use of cell phones was not permitted in the hospital.
“Are you okay, LaFiamma?” Gibbs asked instead.
Gibbs rolled his eyes. Like he was going to believe that.
“I’ll be on the next flight to Houston.”
He half expected LaFiamma to protest but all the younger man said was, “Let me know the flight information, I’ll make sure someone is there to meet you.”
“I can rent a car.”
“It’ll be faster to just have someone met you. Handling traffic in Houston and finding your way to St. Joseph’s isn’t something you should attempt without a good night’s sleep.”
“Not the first time I’ve gone without sleep.” He’d handled worse things than Houston traffic.
“You won’t do Tony any good if you don’t get here in one piece, Gibbs. Just shut up and accept the offer will you? I don’t want to fight with you. Not tonight.”
Gibbs took a breath and let it out slowly. Fighting with LaFiamma seemed like an unnecessary pissing contest. It was petty in light of everything that happened. He could always get a car later if need be. And he didn’t want to waste time trying to navigate his way through Houston while he could be making sure Tony and those he cared about were going to be okay.
“When I get there, I want to know—“
“I’ll tell you everything when you get here.” LaFiamma coughed again. There were more background noises. Gibbs couldn’t make out what was being said but he could guess based on what he’d heard earlier.
“I have to go, Gibbs.”
Gibbs glared at his phone as the connection when dead. He shook off his annoyance, focusing on what he had to do. He needed to be there yesterday.