Where Angels Fear To Tread Part Two
"You want to take this?"
From his seat in the obligatory wheelchair, Tony grimaced at the cello-wrapped basket. "Leave it at the nurses station?"
Picking it up, Gibbs was nearly hidden behind the towers plaid bow. "Will get no argument from me."
They were halfway out the door to safety when they were met by an obsequiously smiling Douglas Majors who offered his hand with an equally sycophantic, "Mr. DiNozzo, I do so hope your stay was satisfactory."
Handing over the brimming basket with a brief, "Give this to somebody," Gibbs took control of the handles of the wheelchair, leaving the now-burdened administrator and the displaced orderly rapidly behind.
Tony looked back over his shoulder. "Nice move."
"The second wife had a Chihuahua that grinned just like that," said Gibbs, stabbing at the down button of the elevator. "Damn dog hated me. She used to put little sweaters with pompoms on it." Gibbs shook himself slightly causing Tony to grin a much more natural smile than the one the hospital executive could ever bestow.
"Rufus wears a vest," put in Tony.
The chair was pushed into the confines of the elevator.
"And I see a pompom on it, DiNozzo, and youre both out of here."
He was rewarded by a laugh and he moved his hands from the chair and rested them on Tonys shoulders, feeling the tension there. He stroked a hand through the crown of short hair as Tony leaned back against him.
Rufus was bouncing, his head appearing momentarily over the fence as he barked with joy at the sight of the agency car pulling into the driveway, looking far more like an overgrown puppy than a highly trained, professional service dog. As Gibbs went to release him, Tony struggled out of the car, finally coming to stand at the bottom of the front steps. He stared at the stoop, which at this moment might be the summit of Machu Picchu for all the energy he felt he could muster.
A wet nose slithered up the side of his free hand and he reached down and gave a pat to the Great Danes flank.
Knowing he was being watched, he gave Gibbs a weak grin, "Sure you didnt add extra steps while I was gone?"
Gibbs tried to hide his concern, but Tony could see the wheels turning behind the blue-eyed gaze. "Nope," he replied casually, putting an arm around Tonys waist.
He levered them both up the first riser.
"Put some bars in the bathroom, though," Gibbs quietly admitted.
Tonys head dropped forward and he closed his eyes momentarily. "Okay," he finally conceded, "guess if I complain about the stairs, a few modifications arent unexpected."
Gibbs smiled thinly and heaved them up a few more steps.
From the vantage point of the open stairs, Gibbs could watch unobserved as Kate eyed Tony worriedly, could see her return her attention to her work only to look toward his desk again. When she began to get that determined look in her eye and Gibbs was sure she was just about to rise and go see about him, he drew her attention away from the far cubicle.
"Kate, may I talk to you a moment?"
Kate snapped her gaze from Tony upward to Gibbs and she rose stiffly from her desk with a small sigh under the weight of the scrutiny. "Sure, Gibbs." But her gaze strayed back to a pale and clearly dispirited DiNozzo.
"In the conference room," Gibbs instructed, pointing toward the back wall.
The walk to the empty room was a silent one, Gibbs falling in at her shoulder.
"I need you to stop doing that," said Gibbs as he closed the door.
Kate frowned. "Stop doing what?"
"Sympathy is the worst thing you can do to Tony at the moment."
"Hes not you, Gibbs." Kate crossed her arms and took a few pacing steps before turning back to face him.
"No," agreed Gibbs, "and thank God for that, but he doesnt need your pity. He needs to"
"If youre going to say get back on the horse," declared Kate flatly, "I might have to shoot you."
Gibbs managed a brief, tightlipped smile. "Abby tell you what shes working on?"
Kate finally conceded this with a nod. "Youre looking for something on Tonys family." She fixed him with her best interrogative stare --- the one shed learned from him. "You ever thought of just talking to them, Gibbs?"
"Tony doesnt want to."
"So youre just going to what?settle this in court, because in court this could get ugly. Your job could be in jeopardy. Worse, his job could be in jeopardy. No job and theres no health insurance."
"It wont get to court," said Gibbs firmly.
"Youre going to blackmail them to leave him alone? I watch you play fast and loose with the rules on investigations - your small lies in pursuit of larger evils. And Ive even come to accept that its necessary sometimes. But this isnt a case, Gibbs. Its Tonys family."
"I do what I do, Kate."
"Youre a protector." She looked him up and down appraisingly. "Youre pretty easy to profile actually. You probably have something in your past where you think you failed to live up to your duties and youve been subconsciously making up for it ever since. So you feel its appropriate to break the rules when you need to: when its for you and yours."
"Yes, I do," he acknowledged.
"And youre sure this is the only way."
"If he doesnt want to see them," Gibbs stated decisively, "Im not going to force him."
"What about Sam?"
"Were seeing Gretchen tomorrow."
"She knows about Tonys family," deduced Kate.
Gibbs nodded. "She knows. She wants to know why Tony didnt tell her that Sam was an heir to possible millions."
"It could get ugly, Gibbs."
"Yeah," he concurred. "It could."
There was no doubt Gibbs was good. Very good. And, on a case, she had no doubts he would succeed come hell and high water. But this was personal. And she saw in his eyes the complete conviction that this was a cause more than worth fighting for -- this was Tony. And, for a brief second, she let herself fear for both of them.
Gibbs rolled over and leaned into Tonys bare back, his hand snaking to palm against Tonys breastbone and feel the rise and fall of the sleeping breaths. He placed a dry kiss on the back of Tonys neck just under the fringe of brown hair and, murmuring sleepily, Tony turned in his grasp, offering him more enticing places to kiss. The murmurs turned to a wistful moan when he traced his finger around one hard-nubbed nipple.
"Thought I might get some of those kinks out," offered Gibbs softly.
In two hours theyd need to leave for the meeting at the lawyers office. And apart from his own pleasure and obvious desire, a rush of endorphins would ease Tonys usual morning aches, diminish the cramps and tremors.
"You havent even found all my kinks," replied Tony, arching a little as Gibbs applied more than just a fingertip touch.
"Dont move," whispered Gibbs. "Let me do all the work."
Tony stretched against the cars seat as he released the seat belt. "Definitely de-kinked."
"You ready for this?" Gibbs took the hand that met his, the cold fingers giving away the nervousness Tony hid behind the smile.
"Yeah," decided Tony, giving Gibbs fingers a squeeze before he released them. "I am."
Opening the door, he levered his awkward body upright, balancing against the cool metal until Rufus pressed with stable warmth against his legs. One hand on the frame of the door, he reached down and identified the harness by touch, grasping the leather-wrapped handle.
It was dim in the parking garage and, after glancing up at the bare flickers of the fluorescents above them, Gibbs moved back to put a guiding hand on Tonys elbow. A grip he didnt release until they reached the door to Candy Freres inner sanctum and it swung open, both Candy and Gretchens attorney rising in greeting. Gibbs found himself giving the unfamiliar attorney his own profilers glance. He might not, as Tony teased, know any designers but Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean, but even he recognized the cut of an expensive suit, knew the price of the heavy gold links on the French cuffs. And he doubted this was a lawyer who normally saw service at the hourly wage that a Baltimore cop could afford.
"That went well," remarked Tony with forced irony, the outer offices of Andrews, Frere and Walker softly blurred around him, his one clear view of Gibbs military-straight spine. At the comment, a striding Gibbs stopped and waited for him, wrapping his hand with unaccustomed tightness around Tonys upper arm once he reached his side.
"They want to play hardball," murmured Gibbs, "they came to the right place."
Tony tried to pull back a little out of the steel clamp of the grasp. "Gibbs," he hissed quietly, the injured tone finally netting the mans distracted attention, "you think you could quit playing the Incredible Hulk with my arm?"
Gibbs fingers immediately released and Tony smiled, if only wanly, at the tender, apologetic massage of his bruised bicep.
"I told you" began Tony, only to be shushed as Gretchen and her new attorney exited the office and headed toward the elevator they also waited on.
The grip returned to his arm, lighter now, the touch both soothing and supportive. Gretchen stopped a few feet away, hanging back, but the attorney Price was apparently of the how-to-influence-people school of thought and he pushed his way forward intimidatingly close to where they stood.
Gibbs, not shying from overt surveillance, looked his adversary up and down, doing his own probing for weakness.
"Mr. Gibbs," acknowledged Price.
"Special Agent," Gibbs corrected with cool precision.
"Special Agent," returned the lawyer, putting his own emphasis on the title, "there is no need to make this a pissing contest."
A smile, just visible from where Tony stood, quirked the corners of Gibbs mouth. The kind of smile you only saw when Gibbs was undercover. Tony had figured out, after just a couple of assignments, that this this patently unGibbslike smile was Gibbs tell. The equivalent of the nervous stacking of poker chips when you had a good hand. It wasnt an unconvincing flash of teeth, nothing like the falsely ingratiating grin of the hospital administrator. It was a cheerful, sometimes seductive smile that managed to reach his eyes and seemed to have a convincing effect on whoever he directed it at. But it was -- if you knew the man well -- just wrong. As if a second personality had inhabited the body Gibbs.
"Do you see me pulling anything out, Mr. Price?"
The attorney smiled back, but it was a strained smile.
Gibbs, in case-mode, produced a certain strain in the NCIS hallways. Or, as Abby more colorfully put it he made serious vibrations in the NCIS celestial aether. Gibbs, in pursuit of the family DiNozzo, was a cosmic force all his own.
And Tony had to deal with both a distracted superior and a distracted lover, there being no hiding from a cranky Gibbs if you had to drive home with him. Tony held onto the door handle as the sedan took a right-hand turn at breakneck speed, Gibbs taking out on the road what little hed failed to take out on an increasingly Gibbs-shy staff. Tony swallowed back the bile that threatened as his eyes and his dysfunctional balance system stopped reading from the same sensory page. He shut his eyes tight and clung to the handle, noticing the car had finally slowed only when they bumped to a fairly gentle stop.
"Sorry," murmured Gibbs.
Tony cautiously blinked his eyes back open and found they were sitting on the shoulder of one of DCs lesser known byways.
"I dont like to lose," he explained
"Ah," replied Tony offering his hand, "wouldnt have guessed that."
Gibbs fingers were cold.
"You get used to it, well, after youve spent a lifetime with my father," shrugged Tony. "You know that old saying youll never be as good as your father? Dont know when I first heard it maybe at school, but when the girl you lose your virginity to says it " Tony shifted uncomfortably in the seat, " well, I think it was probably then that I gave up trying to compete with him."
Gibbs frowned. "How old were you?"
"When I gave up? Twelve."
"You lost your virginity when you were twelve?"
"Yeah," Tony drawled the affirmation out guardedly, "when did you lose yours?"
"When I was seventeen."
"Guess I was just an early bloomer," quipped Tony.
But Gibbs studied the man beside him without a trace of humor. "How old was the girl?"
"Fourteen or fifteen."
Gibbs took a deep breath. "Do you think she was speaking from experience?"
Tony laughed. "Now theres a thought."
Tony turned a little more in his direction. "She said it like she was."
"You got a name?"
"Of my first conquest? Of course Ive got a name "
Tony didnt get to finish as he had to grip the handle again as the car started up with a roar and made a stomach-jolting u-turn.
"This couldnt have waited until morning?" Tony sighed plaintively and leaned back against the desk chair he was, once again, occupying. One hand absently patted Rufus head, receiving a halfhearted lick in return, as if Rufus, too, was ready to be off duty for the day.
Abby reported in with an, "Im here, bossman," practically as she bounded from the elevator. McGee, who she had in a hand-to-hand tow, looked a little disheveled, which could have explained the bounce in her step. Anyway, the duo got a real grin from Tony which was more than Gibbs had been able to muster out of him in the past few days.
Even though hed expected alacrity, Gibbs blinked in the face of the energetic arrival. "I need to find someone."
"Kay," replied Abby. "Who?"
"A Patricia Chaney, born sometime around 1970. In the 80s her family lived in Bridgeport Connecticut, probably sent her to private school, though were not sure which one."
"Whatd she do?"
"Stole DiNozzos cherry," replied Gibbs with the seriousness only he could muster.
Abbys nose wrinkled. "We find people for that? I mean, if so, I better tell Hank Kenneda that hes in a world of trouble." She turned to a blushing McGee. "What about you, McGee? Who do you need to warn?"
If possible, McGee blushed even redder.
"Oh, come on," she prodded. "Were all family here. Even Gibbs had to lose his virginity to somebody."
Not unsympathetic to his youngest agents worsening distress, Gibbs handed over the note with what few particulars he had about Patricia Chaney. "Get to it, Abs."
"Oh yeah," Abby studied the note for a second. "Right. Ill get right on it." She looked back up at the still blushing McGee, "You coming McGee? Ill let you help."
With a little sigh, McGee followed.
When they were safely in the elevator, Tony laced his hands together behind his neck. "So, who do you think stole McGees cherry?"
"Abby," said Gibbs simply.
Tony sat up straighter. "You are kidding me, right?"
"Patricia Chaney now Arnwine, born April 17, 1970." Abby clicked the remote and popped up a picture of a blonde teenager with a big, black hair bow and an oversized jeweled crucifix choker, "definitely going through her Madonna Desperately Seeking Susan" phase at the time. In the year of our Lord 1985, actually, she was attending a public school in Bridgeport hence the trendy dress in the school pic -- and living on the corner of Maple and Elm Streets. You have to love the whole Main Street theme. While our Anthony was living at the equally Our Town corners of Elm and Oak about two blocks away." Her fingers made little scissoring motions across the desk. "Walking distance."
She observed Gibbs. "So you gonna tell me why were deconstructing the early years of Tonys sex life?"
"Were not," she echoed in a definite explain-yourself tone.
"Were deconstructing his fathers sex life."
"Oh." Abby frowned. "Tony and his dad boffed the same Madonna wannabe?"
" Eww. And were dragging up Tonys painful past because "
One of Gibbs hands fretted with the straw on her oversized soda cup. "Because we couldnt come up with anything else and, if we dont find something to use as a weapon, all Tonys father has to do is take the custody battle to court and no judge in the land is going to give Sam to a ill man in a gay relationship -- even if he is the father -- when a paragon of business virtue is there to step in and give the kid everything money can buy."
Gibbs tossed the photo copy across Tonys desk.
"Trish," Tony identified with a glance. "How come I got older and she hasnt changed a bit?" He tossed the photo back toward where Gibbs stood.
"Weve got to do this, Tony."
Tony shook his head. "Wont work."
"You think my father hasnt already paid her off?" challenged Tony.
"Maybe," Gibbs conceded, "but its the only card we have."
"Gibbs, she surely wont appreciate having her life disrupted."
Gibbs took the photo back into his hand. "I know. Thats what Im counting on."
Tony shifted in the front seat and asked the same question hed asked the day before. "Are you sure we just cant call her and talk this out on the phone?"
The I-95 was taking its toll on his already queasy stomach and he rubbed absently below his ribs trying to calm it.
"Wouldnt do that with a suspect," observed Gibbs, swinging into the left-hand lane to pass a much slower moving minivan.
Tony closed his eyes and swallowed hard as they swerved back into the center.
"Trish isnt a suspect," reasoned Tony. "At most shes a witness."
"Tony, itll make a much greater impression if were standing on her front porch." The only reply was a low groan and Gibbs reached out to knead Tonys thigh. "Want me to pull off and get you something? A soda?"
Tonys eyes were still closed. "Just pick a lane and stay in it. I want to get this over with."
It was nearly three when they pulled off into a Connecticut suburb of older, well-kept houses, Gibbs squinting at the blurry driving instructions. His glance at Tony told him the younger man was still asleep, head propped up on his fist, temple pressed against the passenger-side window. He glided the car to a stop before a pale yellow, renovated Victorian and sighed at the natural rock steps leading up to the porch. All, he quickly counted, eight of them and no handrails in sight.
He shook Tonys shoulder gently. "Were here."
Tony blinked dazedly at the oak-lined road before him. "Connecticut?" He stretched as best he could in the confining quarters, turning to look at the house. "Nice digs." He blinked again and pressed his forehead against the glass of the side window. "I think," he amended.
Gibbs got back a simple "no," but Tony was already moving to unbuckle the seatbelt. In a minute they were both standing stiffly, Tony holding onto the car for balance. Gibbs let out an eager Rufus, who was obviously ecstatic to be released from the back seat.
He trotted around the car to nuzzle at Tonys hand and have his ears scratched. Then he positioned himself with canine professionalism at Tonys side.
"Got rock steps, eight of them," Gibbs informed Tony, taking a minute to consider the logistics. "No handrails."
"Ill make it." Tony said it determinedly, although Gibbs wasnt sure if the reassurance had solely to do with climbing the stairs. "What if shes not there?"
"Then we wait for her." Gibbs nodded toward the porch. "Got a porch swing."
"Cozy," muttered Tony, taking the harness up in a firm grip.
At the bottom of the steps, they paused, Gibbs surveying the uneven surface of the rock risers. "Come on," he finally urged, taking definitive action and stepping up, a helping hand clamped high up on Tonys inner arm. He waited while Tony hefted himself onto the first step then squared him to climb the next. The whole thing, which Gibbs could have easily done in three large steps, took, instead, eight painfully slow ones, but eventually they were safely on the porch. Tony leaned hard against the crutch, more shaken than he obviously wanted to admit.
"Your steps are starting to look appealing," he panted, suddenly cherishing the relative steadiness of the bricks and the wrought iron handrail he faced on a usual day.
"Catch your breath," Gibbs instructed, rubbing a brief circle against the tense shoulder muscles.
"Im okay," muttered Tony, a bit petulantly. "Lets get this over with."
Gibbs pressed the antique doorbell and listened for the sound of footsteps. Tony took up a place behind and a little to the right of where he stood, clearly wanting Gibbs to take the lead. In a few seconds the door opened. Patricia Arnwines hair was still blonde and curly, but her wardrobe apparently leaned more toward jeans and t-shirts than Madonna these days. A toddler was shyly wrapped around her leg and her free hand rested on childs head.
She took in Gibbs, then Tony, her eyes lingering on the crutch before she faced Gibbs more fully. "Can I help you?"
"Hi Trish," said Tony softly, causing her gaze to return to his face.
Recognition finally sharpening her gaze, she said, "Tony? Tony DiNozzo?"
"Long time no see," Tony offered.
"Wha what are you doing here?"
"Could we come in?" asked Gibbs.
"Uh," Trisha backed up a couple of steps, " sure."
"Theres a small step up," Gibbs pointed out as unobtrusively as he could, trying to not make Tonys entrance any more awkward than it already was.
"We can sit in the living room," said Trish gesturing across the hall.
Gibbs merely nodded, settling Tony in the closest chair, lowering the crutch to the floor while Rufus sat at his usual position on Tonys left.
Trish had balanced her little girl on her hip. Small, pudgy fingers reached toward Rufus as she moved to the couch.
"Trish," Tony leaned forward, elbows on knees, "this is Jethro Gibbs, we work together at NCIS."
The acronym brought forth a frown. "That, like, a software group?"
"Naval Criminal Investigative Service," supplied Gibbs. "But were not here in an official capacity. We came to talk about a more personal matter."
"Did you " Trish gestured vaguely in Tonys direction, " get hurt on the job?"
"No," Tony briefly touched his braced knee. "Multiple sclerosis."
"Oh, Im sorry, Tony."
Tony shifted uncomfortably under the sympathy. "Were here to talk about my father, Trish."
Gibbs watched as the womans body language, previously open, now became protective. She pulled the toddler closer to her.
"Tony, Ive always had nothing but the utmost regard for father."
"He pay you to say that or just threaten you?" asked Tony.
Trish laughed but the levity was clearly forced. "I dont know what you mean."
"Yes, you do, Trish," Tony countered gently. "And, whatever happened, you were a minor. Any blame rests solely on my father."
"I have a family, Tony."
"And so do I," Tony acknowledged, "one that Im trying to keep together and that my father is trying to pull apart. He wants my son, Trish. You can surely understand why I cant let that happen."
There was sympathy in the womans blue eyes, but her reply was firm. "Tony theres nothing I can do."
"Did you have a relationship with Albert DiNozzo while you were underage?" asked Gibbs.
Tony winced at Gibbs cool style of interrogation while Trish merely looked startled, as if shed forgotten Gibbs was in the room.
"I was high school was a bad time for me. I had issues," Trish admitted, one hand holding tightly to her daughter, who was threatening to squirm off the couch. "I did more than one thing Im ashamed of "
"Did you have a relationship with Albert DiNozzo?"
"Gibbs!" hissed Tony at the repetition.
Trish looked from one man to the other, finally settling on Gibbs. "If I say I did, what are you going to do with the information?"
"Use it," said Gibbs simply.
"Use it how?" pressed Trish.
"There are things neither of us wants to make public," conceded Gibbs, nodding briefly in Tonys direction, not stopping to make the declaration clearer. "We dont intend to bring charges or leak the story to the press. However, if this is going to work, Tonys father has to think we will."
Trish shook her head. "Why do you think I wont just call him and tell him that?"
She shied a little at the cool appraisal of Gibbs gaze but he merely asked, "When was the last time you saw Albert DiNozzo?"
"When I told him I slept with Tony."
"Bet that went over well," Tony observed wryly.
"Not one of my finer moments," admitted Trish, finally helping the squirming child to the floor. Once released, she made a beeline for Rufus.
Tony held up a hand as Trish jumped up to retrieve her. "Its okay, hes great with kids. Sam climbs all over him."
"My son." Tony dug into his pocket and produced his wallet. Sliding out the snapshot Gibbs had taken of a smiling Sam, he was about to find someway to lever himself up when Gibbs rose, retrieving the photo and passing it to Trish.
Gibbs was met by a gaze that showed, from even this relatively innocuous action, that Trish had apparently figured out what it was that he would not want made public.
She ran a fingertip over the photo. "Hes beautiful, Tony."
"It wont get out, Trish," Tony assured her. "Its a bluff and always will be. But weve got to make my father think its not. The one thing hell go to the ends of the earth to protect is his reputation."
"What would I have to do?"
"Stand firm if he contacts you," answered Gibbs. "Say that you will go public if it comes to that."
"Ill need to talk to Jack - my husband," she explained. "He knows I was a little wild in my youth but he doesnt know the specifics. Ill need time to--"
"Trish," Tonys voice was soft, "if this is any way will harm your family then I dont want you--"
Trish could see the look in Gibbs eyes harden at Tonys declaration.
"Its okay, Tony. Jack wasnt a saint either. We know this about each other. Well survive this." She grimaced. "I owe you one, Tony. For what I said for what I did."
Gibbs took out one of his cards, scribbling their home phone number on the back. "Our number," he said, deliberately confirming her conclusion.
She studied him a moment before taking it. "Ill talk to Jack tonight."
"Afterward, call us," Gibbs instructed. After a look at Tony, he added, "please."
Trish nodded, "All right." She walked over to kneel down next to Rufus who was enduring an exuberant patting. "I think youve petted the nice doggie enough, Kris."
Taking the cue, Gibbs helped hoist Tony to his feet, Rufus scrambling up, abandoning his newfound friend.
Trish watched Gibbs closely, clearly studying their interaction. Finally, grasping Tonys forearm lightly, she said, "Im glad you found someone, Tony."
Tony smiled, imagining the look that must be on Gibbs face. "You, too," he replied.
Gibbs nodded his goodbye, bestowing a gentle touch to the top of the little girls head as he passed by. At the door he reminded Tony of the step down, then at the edge of the porch he slipped his arm around the slim waist. Released, Rufus trotted down the stone steps, turned and waited for them. Gibbs could feel Trish Arnwines gaze on his back and it made him tighten the hold he had on the man beside him. In reply, Tony, likewise, brought an arm around Gibbs waist, tugging him toward him.
At the bottom, they unwound their grasps, though Gibbs hand lingered in Tonys for a moment.
The front door clicked shut above them and they made their way to the car unseen.
Gibbs glared at the phone as it sat on the coffee table, even gave it his best intimidating stare, yet it simply sat there and refused to ring. Hed broken murderers with less, intimidated terrorists but the phone lay inanimate and silent. Deciding he needed to focus on something else, his attention wandered back to ESPN and he spent a few moments dully wondering when the soccer game had turned into a golf match. The droning play-by-play of the shots probably explained why Tony had his nose pressed to Gibbs outer thigh and was softly snoring, though. He wasnt quite sure when that had happened either; he remembered some halfhearted attempts to distract him from his vigil but Tony had obviously given up, and when hed laid his head in Gibbs lap, Gibbs had stroked fingers through the light brown hair, separating the strands.
One of his exes -- he wasnt even sure which one anymore, the trio of them combining into a kind of single, red-haired, spousal nightmare had accused him of such singlemindedness while on a case that hed forget she existed.
He laid a hand on Tonys head, softly, so as not to wake him.
In his current singlemindedness hed done the same thing been so concerned about protecting Tony that hed ignored him. Not just tonight. The last few days as well. He contemplated this a few moments before giving Tonys shoulder a gentle shake.
He leaned forward trying to see the sleepy eyes blink open and got back an unintelligible, "Mmm?"
When he brushed his lips against Tonys temple he got a more contented hum.
"Come on, lets go to bed."
Tony rolled his head up and peered suspiciously at him. "You sure youre finished watchin the phone?"
"Rather watch you," replied Gibbs.
"I dont ring either," observed Tony rubbing a hand over his sleepy eyes, looking for all the world like a much larger version of a tired Sam.
"But I can make you purr," said Gibbs.
Tony huffed out a short laugh then conceded, "Yeah, you can."
"Come on," Gibbs pushed Tony upright.
"We gonna see if I can purr?" asked Tony, his sweet tone marred by the wicked grin and the low throaty growl that followed.
Gibbs grinned back and was just leaning in toward him when the phone finally rang shrilly. Tonys smile dissolved and he leaned back against the sofa with a sigh while
Gibbs scooped up the phone.
Tony squinted, trying to make out the expression on Gibbs face, as listening to the one-sided conversation only netted him a handful of "yeses" and a "we understand." Gibbs "thank you" though was quietly heartfelt and Tony straightened, "She agreed?"
"She agreed," said Gibbs with a deep breath, running a palm over his open mouth.
Concerned, Tony rubbed a hand along Gibbs back. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I " Gibbs simply fell silent.
Tony put his other hand over Gibbs clenched fist and found it was trembling. "Hey," he said softly, working his fingers into the clenched ones.
"I might have mentioned before that I dont lose well," admitted Gibbs, smiling wanly.
"You didnt lose," noted Tony.
Gibbs frowned in the tables direction, "Took that phone a long time to ring."
Tonys free hand moving up to cup Gibbs head and he planted a kiss on the silver hair. "Ive learned never to doubt you, Gibbs."
"Never?" asked Gibbs.
"Well, I dont think you should be left alone with an innocent PDA, but apart from that Im fully convinced theres nothing you cant do."
Shifting, Gibbs took Tony in his arms. "Youre a bad liar, Agent DiNozzo."
"My non-work talents may lie elsewhere," offered Tony, leaning into the cradle of Gibbs arms, giving a tender nibble to his neck.
Abby worried her lower lip between white incisors and stared at the empty desk with her hands balled on her hips.
"Took a day off," replied Tony, preparing to pop his headphones on.
Abby turned and watched as his fingers skimmed them, settling the earpieces into place, Tonys gaze not quite on either the monitor, the headphones held in his hands, or her.
Bad day, she knowingly translated from the way he was using his hands to replace his gaze.
When her hand settled warmly on his shoulder, he smiled up at her. "Im okay. Vision was a little shot this morning."
"Gibbs know?" she asked.
"Abby " The warning was low and soft, but pointed enough for her to pat him conciliatorily.
"Going," she made it as far as the front of the desk. "This is me going."
"This is you not going very quickly," observed Tony, but the retort was softened with a grin.
"Kay," she muttered, "Im leaving you alone."
She looked back over her shoulder and, satisfied that shed go undetected, slipped into McGees space at Tonys old desk. She crouched down beside a startled McGee, grinning up at him when a rather anticipatory light shone from his eyes.
"Its not what you think."
McGees full lips pursed. "Damn."
It earned him a swat on the thigh.
"Keep an eye on Tony, would ya?"
McGee frowned in the direction of his colleague.
"The vision thing is a little rough this morning and Gibbs isnt here."
"I got his back," confirmed McGee.
"Good," Abby grinned again. "You get his back and, tonight, Ill get your front."
McGee sighed, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "I hate it when you do this, you know that?"
Abby swatted him again. "No, you dont."
Gibbs knew wood knew the strength of white oak, the durability of teak, the dense resistance of greenheart and the hardness of ironwood. And, as he sat in the gracefully appointed lobby and rubbed his hand over the inlay of the small table in front of him, his fingers glided above the light, close grain of the holly and the dark, mahogany-like Brazilwood.
"You admire antiques."
Gibbs looked up sharply. Albert DiNozzo was shorter than his son and Gibbs suspected, if he rose, that even he might have an inch or so on him. He was also stockier than Tony, even before MS stole pounds Tony didnt need to lose.
"I admire good craftsmanship," returned Gibbs, smoothing a final touch over the lacquered grain. "A job well done."
"So youre Special Agent Gibbs."
It wasnt a question and Gibbs stood up, equaling their heights, not about to accept the coming interrogation sitting down.
"Perhaps we should take this conversation into my office," Al DiNozzo raised a hand toward the open door of his sanctum.
Like the waiting area, the office was scaled to impress. Big enough to hold the government-issue cubicles of Gibbs entire staff, it held, instead, a massive cherry desk that was swept clean except for the obligatory leather desk accessories. Across the wall were scattered photos of Tonys father with various politicians and richly framed award certificates. Al DiNozzo sat in the high-backed leather chair behind the desk and gestured toward the pair of brocade covered seats in front of it.
"Please sit down, Special Agent Gibbs. May I call you Jethro?"
"Sure," Gibbs acquiesced, settling in the offered seat.
"You must know that everything I do, I do only with my sons best interests at heart."
Gibbs merely studied him.
"Anthony has never known whats good for him." Al DiNozzo gestured around the spacious quarters. "I built this. Well not the company, as such, but what the company became. Built it for my family."
"And Tony wasnt sufficiently grateful," concluded Gibbs. "So you disinherited him."
"The decision was Anthonys. I gave him an opportunity at the finest education. He attended the finest prep schools. I could have gotten him into Yale or Oxford. Into the Sorbonne. Instead, he took a football scholarship, worked construction in the summer to make ends meet." Tonys father clasped his hands together on the desktop and leaned forward. "My offer still holds: a masters degree from Kellogg or Wharton with a vice-presidents slot when hes done. Anthony is aware that hed be welcomed back into the fold."
"You hired Price," stated Gibbs plainly, wanting to get to the point.
"I did," acknowledged Al DiNozzo.
"You have no right to take Tonys son."
"I have every right. My son is clearly profligate. I can more than easily provide the child with a more," Tonys father paused, making his point clear, " normal upbringing. The childs mother has a right to choose."
Gibbs ignored the jibe regarding their relationship. "The childs father also has rights."
"Well let the courts decide," Al DiNozzo concluded, shuffling some papers, not looking back up.
Gibbs realized hed been dismissed and he rose smoothly, his fact-finding trip clearly over and the facts just as hed suspected they would be.
"Perhaps well meet again, Special Agent Gibbs," was called out as he reached the door and he looked back over his shoulder at the man whod inadvertently blessed him with the greatest gift of his life Tony.
"Im sure we will Mr. DiNozzo," he replied. "Im sure we will."
McGee found himself being regarded skeptically from the furthermost desk. However fuzzy Tonys vision was, it wasnt fuzzy enough to let him get away with such obtrusive surveillance.
"You have got to work on your technique, McGee."
Trying to look innocently nonplussed, McGee demurred, "Dont know what youre talking about, Tony."
Crossing his hands behind his neck, Tony leaned back a little against the seat. "Abby put you up to it, didnt she?" He added with a little laugh, "You are *so* caught, my man."
"Still dont know what youre talking about."
"Shes got you twisted so far around her little finger"
"She said you couldnt see," explained McGee defensively. Then he frowned, watching as Tonys hands dropped to scrabble self-consciously in search of the abandoned headset. "You cant see."
"Cant is such a big word," Tony deflected, wrapping his fingers around the headset and proceeding to settle it back on his spikily mussed hair. "Im not blind, McGee, Im just a little fuzzy."
He frowned up at the McGee-shaped shadow that was suddenly haunting the front of his desk.
"McGee?" he returned in a pointedly less concerned tone.
"Did Gibbs know"
"Dont go there," Tony waved a finger in warning.
"Its just hes not here."
"He had something to do, McGee."
"Yeah, okay, youre right. None of my business." The McGee-shape shuffled its feet. "Um its just if, you know, you want to go get lunch or something Ill be right over there."
Tony waved an open-faced palm. "Bye, McGee."
"I thought perhaps" The ME let whatever he thought lapse quietly unsaid as Tony sighed deeply.
"Not you, too, Duck."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Abby make up a volunteer list or something?"
"I thought perhaps," Ducky repeated, his cultured accent a bit clipped, "you could assist me in tracking down a bit of information."
"Oh " Tony straightened in the seat. "Sorry, Duck. Abby sicced McGee on me and I thought"
"You thought shed sent me to do he same," deduced Ducky.
"Yeah, well," Tony ducked his head a little, "guess Im a little paranoid. What do you need?"
"There was once a restaurant in Baltimore named Haussner's "
"On Eastern Avenue," acknowledged Tony.
"Delightful place. I remember there was a painting in the bar she was quite nude "
Tony grinned. "The wood nymph?"
"That was it the nude wood nymph. I thought sure youd know. You know, Orpheus wife was a wood nymph. A dryad actually. Her name was Eurydice. She died trying to escape the amorous advances of Aristaeus."
Tony could still only make out approximate shapes and fuzzy colors but he heard the ME cross his arms, the brush of the fabric of his jacket audible.
"Haussners. Rather puts one in the mood for German. Perhaps a sandwich from Old Dusseldorf is in order. If you have nothing pressing, my dear boy, perhaps you would care to accompany me."
The answer was a soft but pointed groan. "You should give McGee lessons."
"Jethro wanted to make sure you ate," conceded Ducky.
"Hey McGee "
Tony was grinning but Ducky noted that he didnt bother facing in McGees direction. It was bad today, something the younger man had apparently managed to keep from his normally hyper-observant partner. Of course, given where Gibbs had planned to spend the morning, a little distraction was to be expected.
" want to knock back a knackwurst?"
"Duck?" This time, Tonys voice was pitched low enough that McGee wouldnt hear it across the few feet of carpet where he stood shrugging into his jacket. "I might need you to"
Before he could finish, though, the ME clasped Tonys arm above the elbow as he had seen Gibbs quietly do on occasion.
"Ive got you," said Ducky softly, ballasting the younger man as he bent to snag Rufus harness. He waited a moment while Tony steadied himself, then he nudged him gently away from the sharp corner of the desk and into a hard left-hand turn.
"What ya waiting for McGee?" grinned Tony, his voice recovering its volume as they passed beside Tonys old desk.
Ducky smiled encouragement at their youngest coworker as he frowned slightly at the hand Ducky had locked on Tonys arm.
"Coming," he said finally, taking a final glance at Gibbs empty desk and falling in slightly behind them on the same side as Rufus.
Ducky was well aware of McGee guarding Tonys other side as they made their way to the car, his hands making little guiding motions in the air that Tony was unaware of -- motions that made the young man look like a protective-Gibbs-in-training and Ducky grinned to himself as he slid behind the steering wheel.
The deli was packed with its usual shifting mass of DC business and government workers but the man behind the counter, balding and rotund in a limply wrinkled white butchers apron, looked up from his order pad and greeted Ducky with a decidedly un-Germanic "Yo, Doc!" This caused the front half of the line to swivel their heads towards the door that Tony and Rufus were now struggling through. Unaware of the audience hed attracted, Tony managed to maneuver his recalcitrant legs over the slightly raised lip of the doorway, Rufus professionally ignoring the meaty feast hed just trotted into.
Abruptly abandoning the orders to what looked to be one of his equally plump sons, the deli owner waded through the crowd, his head scoping the delis small and thoroughly occupied seating.
Ducky held out a hand that was engulfed enthusiastically in a strong, plastic-gloved handshake.
"Come, come," he insisted. "Well go into the back."
Motioning McGee in the direction of a curtained doorway beside a refrigerated case of dark slices of black forest cake and Bienenstich, Ducky took a firmer hold of Tonys arm, weaving them through the maze of tables and impatient, hungry patrons who shuffled out of their way only reluctantly, their stares at the trio a kind of blank disbelieving gaze.
"We rate such lunchtime perks because Jack," Ducky confided leaning closer to Tony, "was once a recipient of our services. One of Jethros first cases."
For his part, Tony was wrestling with the feeling of being buffeted and lost in the pressing blur of bodies and he latched onto this bit of information as a distraction to the chaos that he found himself in would, he regretted, have to find his way back out of.
He allowed himself to be led towards a chair, allowed Ducky to loosen the unusually tight grip he had on Rufus harness and move his hand to plant it firmly on the cool vinyl of the low-backed seat.
Then, finally, Tony carefully levered himself down into it, a grin making its way across his previously thinned lips. "You knew Gibbs when he was a rookie?"
Gibbs heard the unlocked front door snick open, familiar voices bantering pleasantly, and he took his freshly-poured mug of coffee and leaned against the doorframe. A brief exchange of glances with Ducky expressed his thanks at the same time that a few sharp lines of worry creased his forehead as he took in the hold Ducky had on Tonys arm, the quiet acceptance of the guidance his normally fiercely independent partner usually shook off.
"Gibbs? You here?"
Ducky watched the lines deepen as Tony blinked toward the dim recesses of the living room, obviously unaware he was being studied with concern from the completely opposite direction.
"Here, Tony," Gibbs corrected.
Tony swiveled toward the kitchen, grinning at the shadow backlit in the frame of the doorway.
The glance Gibbs shot Ducky this time was almost accusing, as if Tony had somehow coerced the ME into tricking Gibbs into leaving when Tony was clearly in no shape to be on his own. In response, Ducky patted Tony on the arm and took his leave, abandoning the younger man to fend for himself.
Bending as much as he could while still keep a grip on the crutch, Tony released the harness and began fumbling the vest off Rufus one-handed. He smiled when Gibbs knelt, joining him.
"How was my father?"
Freed from the vest, Rufus shook himself happily. Gibbs patted a warm flank as he rose. He brought his hands to Tonys shoulders, steadying his slight swaying.
"Come on," he said, tugging Tony gently in the direction of the hallway, finally settling him on the couch in the den.
"My father?" inquired Tony for a second time.
Gibbs took his hand, brushing a thumb along his knuckles contemplatively. "He was fairly polite actually."
Tony sighed and Gibbs didnt think it was in appreciation of his caress. "Thats a very bad sign," he confided, slumping further into the cushions of the sofa. "It means he thinks he can get away with letting the lawyers play bad cop and he doesnt have to dirty his hands."
"Your day?" asked Gibbs, hoping to deflect Tonys normal abundant curiosity.
"Met a man named Jack."
"Jack?" Gibbs, too, like most of his world today, was an almost colorless blur but Tony could easily hear the suspiciousness in his voice.
"Makes a great corned beef on rye." Then he added with a sly smile, "Tells a really good story."
"Im sure he does," replied Gibbs, lips tightening into a pressed, thin line. His hand, likewise, tightened its hold ever so slightly on Tonys as the younger man laughed softly.
Tony pressed the crown of his head back against the sofas cushions, releasing some of the tension in his neck. "Never heard of anybody getting knocked out by a perp throwing baby booties before."
"They were bronzed, Tony." Gibbs hand abandoned his. "And mounted. On a fucking block of walnut." His fingers pantomimed a book-sized rectangle before going to some invisible line on his scalp. "Ducky put in seventeen stitches."
"Still, baby booties?" Tony chuckled softly again. He rolled his head toward Gibbs. "I love you, you know?"
Gibbs ran the back of his hand along Tonys cheekbone, seeing so very little of the egotistical man hed met this morning in his son. He found he longed to meet Tonys mother, to see if he could find him in her eyes. To see where such a gift came from. "Hes not going to give up easily."
"I think he may have finally met his match," observed Tony, his smile genuine but slightly weary as he leaned forward, hand rustling through soft, short strands, Gibbs lips meeting his with an almost chaste, closed-mouthed peck that meant Gibbs had, in his protective wisdom, decided nothing more strenuous than a gentle make-out session would be had tonight. Sighing, Tony leaned back against the couch again. "I want to be the one to tell him."
He heard Gibbs sharp intake of breath. Maybe he was too tired. The thought of a protracted debate made him suddenly drained. God knows this was going to take a precise touch and at the moment he felt anything but precise. Or competent. Or capable. He closed his eyes against the blurriness, but even then he could feel Gibbs studying him.
Hands urged his shoulders down and he finally relented, Gibbs grasp helping drag his recalcitrant legs onto the cushions. Gibbs thigh was hard and solid beneath his cheek.
"Well talk about it tomorrow," said Gibbs softly as he closed his own eyes, the weight of Tony grounding him.
"kay," Tony agreed, relaxing further, the press on Gibbs leg deepening infinitesimally.
Gibbs listened a while to the deep, even breaths of the man stretched out on the sofa, heard the click of Rufus claws on the hardwood as the Great Dane, too, settled down. He remained awake awhile, on duty, erstwhile protector of his small domain, before he succumbed to the warmth and safety and slept.
Gibbs threw a sharp look at McGee while Kate continued to finger the delicate pink yarn of the pair of booties dangling from the edge of Gibbs computer monitor.
"Not me, boss," McGee swore, holding up his hands in placation.
"Somebody going to share the significance of baby booties with me?" pressed Kate before shying back from Gibbs expression. "Or not," she muttered.
Gibbs caught her hopeful glance in Tonys direction and grimaced. "The Peterson case?" It wasnt quite a bark, but Kate snapped to attention and dutifully began to report.
Tony squinted at the fuzzy, pink mass that Gibbs had dropped into his open palm. Hesitantly he poked a fingertip into the fluffy softness.
"Yarn?" he shrugged up at Gibbs with an almost-convincing look of innocence.
Gibbs picked the offending booties up by one dangling tie and swung them pendulum-like in front of owlishly blinking eyes. A line appeared between Tonys brows as he tried to make out the foggy shape.
Letting out a sharp sigh and thinking that he would give Tony another day, maybe two, but if his vision didnt improve he was marching him straight to Sherri Lenz, Gibbs turned Tonys left hand palm up again, dropping one bootie squarely before leading the fingers of the right around the frills of the edge. Tony traced the shape twice before a Gibbs could only call it evil grin lit his face.
"You trying to tell me youre having our baby, Gibbs?" he whispered.
A not-unexpected soft smack ruffled his hair.
"Wasnt me," Tony swore, handing the booties back with a smile before his expression turned serious. "You ready to talk about it now?"
Having managed to derail the conversation about Tonys father last night and, again, this morning, Gibbs knew he was running out of time.
"When we get home," he promised. "Right now I need you to find out what you can on a sub commander named Christian Latherow. Kate thinks shes come up with something on the Peterson case. Im waiting for Abby to check ballistics."
"When we get home," Tony repeated, skeptically waiting for verification.
"One sub commander named Latherow," Tony picked up the headset, apparently satisfied. "You got it."
Engrossed in the data that Tony had managed to dig up on Latherow, Gibbs didnt even notice the shadow darkening his desk. He scratched briefly at one ear, but the alto humming that followed also failed to net his distracted attention. Finally Abby leaned closer, the Brahms melody gaining lyrics.
Lullaby and goodnight
With pink roses bedight
She laughed when Gibbs actually startled.
"Abby " he began, running a hand through silvered hair.
He watched her pale fingers smooth down a baby-pink crocheted rosette.
Her almost-black lips puckered in consideration. "Hard to believe I ever wore pink, isnt it?"
Gibbs put two and two together and came up with the tri-part office grapevine of McGee, Abby and a certain medical examiner.
"Like he was gonna keep that to himself?" grinned Abby. "Ballistics are a match. Same gun that was used in 94."
"Good work." Gibbs passed the tiny pastel booties back to her. "And take these with you."
"We go together."
Tony stopped fumbling with his seatbelt. "That was quick." He leaned to the right as Gibbs reached over to snap it for him.
"Together, " Gibbs repeated. "This is our fight."
"I can live with that," said Tony, "As long as you realize its my fight, too, and that the whole world isnt just balanced on your shoulders."
Gibbs started the car, palming the steering wheel at ten and two. "Are you likening me to Atlas, Tony?"
"Atlas was holding up the sky," Tony corrected, grinning when Gibbs huffed. "Prep school? Silver spoon? The rich are big on classical mythology."
"Statue? Big, round thing that looks like a ball," muttered Gibbs in retort.
"They thought the heavens were spherical and Atlas was supposed to have discovered astronomy or astrology or something."
"Does Ducky realize you know this stuff?"
"Noooo," the word was stretched out.
"Would you like me to educate him?"
The answering "no" was more succinct.
"Both of us," reconfirmed Tony.
Gibbs held out a hand and Tony threaded his, finger to finger, into the warmth.
"Both of us."
"Anthony." Al DiNozzos tone was surprised and quite possibly a little irritated. But Gibbs kept his grip on Tonys elbow, thankful that Tonys vision seemed to be returning and that the younger man had strode through the door to his fathers office with his usual public confidence. That beneath his hand, Tonys muscles tightened and released in minute spasm wasnt something that Al DiNozzo would know.
"Dad," returned Tony stopping just inside the doorway.
"There is no need for you to be here. Mr--," Tonys father caught the narrowing of Gibbs gray eyes and corrected, "Special Agent Gibbs and I will settle this between us."
"What, you gonna box him, Dad? Cause I can assure you, hell win."
"You can wait outside, Anthony," he reiterated.
"Of all the pompous, asinine " Tony took a step forward, Gibbs hold tightening automatically against the lurch, "this is my son were talking about. My son."
"My grandson," Al DiNozzo retorted, "and theres nothing to talk about. Given your lifestyle"
"Okay, yes, Ive had lovers, Dad. Of both sexes. And maybe you can make that out to be Im queer. Even worse, Im a crippled queer. But I never seduced a 15-year-old. Can you imagine what will happen when it gets out that not only did you raise a fag, you fucked the nice little underage high schooler down the street? The country club grapevine had it that you were fucking her mother, too. You ever get a two-for-one?"
Gibbs quick step intercepted Al DiNozzos raised hand.
"Thats enough confirmation for me," said Gibbs coldly.
"Rumors wont get you anything," Tonys father observed, pressing against Gibbs restraining hand, finally wrenching his arm free.
"But Patricia Chaneys testimony will. And shes more than willing to give it. Its something I would think about Mr. DiNozzo."
"I will not be threatened, Mr. Gibbs."
"I believe you just were," observed Gibbs as neutrally as he could manage, watching Al DiNozzo give ground and retreat behind the mahogany security of his desk.
"Get out of here before I call security, and take this sorry excuse for my son with you."
Gibbs nodded sharply, placing his hand back on Tonys arm. "Come on, Tony."
To his relief Tony gave a crisp nod, turning and walking out with as much composure as he could muster. It was only once they were in the car that Tonys tremors turned to shudders, but even then Gibbs merely pulled smoothly from the lot giving nothing for Al DiNozzos security cameras to see but the back end of the Buick. He drove a few blocks before stopping, pulling over in the emergency lane to unbuckle his seat belt and pull Tony into his arms.
"Low blood sugar?" grinned Tony weakly, unable to stop shaking.
"I dont think so," Gibbs whispered warmly in his ear.
"Really, I dont usually fall apart like this, just because hes an ass."
"I know you dont," soothed Gibbs, "its okay."
Embarrassed, Tony pulled away. "Im together Gibbs, its okay." He pushed a hand through his hair. "Really."
"Yeah," Gibbs agreed, giving him his space, cranking the engine. "Lets go home."
Two days later, Tony held the piece of paper close to his eyes, squinting at the ten-point type. "I wont let him do this."
"Hes not going to do anything," countered Gibbs, struggling against the desire to simply take the letter out of Tonys hands. "Its a bluff. He has no intention of telling Morrow."
"I cant let you ruin your career."
"Hey," this time Gibbs did remove the paper from Tonys grip, "its just a letter. It means weve rattled him. And when we dont back down, it will rattle him some more."
Tony closed his eyes. "You dont know him."
"I know my gut and hes just baiting us."
"You dont understand, weve given him the perfect way to hurt us. Practically handed it to him on a silver platter."
Gibbs watched worriedly as Tony hitched himself up.
"We were wrong, Gibbs. Confronting him just gave him more reason, not less."
"Tony," he rose and grabbed Tonys arm, then stepped back, surprised at the force used to shake him off. "Tony "
"I need to be alone for a while." Tony stopped. "Just, please, when I was upset I used to get in the car and drive."
"You cant drive, Tony."
Tony winced at the observation. "I think I know that, Gibbs." He limped his way to the door. "Dont follow me, okay. Just " one hand swung dismissively, "just dont."
He made his way down the stairs, an unharnessed Rufus following after him and being sent back. Gibbs watched him settle on a riser and he coaxed the distraught Great Dane back into the hall intending to give Tony his space.
He heard the low drone of Tony talking to someone on the cellphone, but by the time he heard the taxi pull away from the curb a few minutes later, it was already too late.
Gretchen crossed her arms against the silky fabric of her robe self-consciously as the concierge smirked at her from behind his desk.
"Tony?" she repeated, her growing irritation dissipating when she got a good look at the way he leaned, exhausted, over the curve of the chest-high reception desk.
He startled at the touch on his shoulder then mustered a weary, "Hey, Gretch."
"How howd you get here?" Gretchen scanned the lobby. "Wheres Gibbs?"
"Can I see him?"
Gretchen frowned at the doorman as well. "See?"
"Sam." Tony straightened, one hands hard grip on the counter balancing him. "I need to see Sam. Before I lose the chance."
Gretchen switched her glare back to at the man behind the desk until he shuffled his newspaper in an audible crackling.
"Come on, Tony. Well call Gibbs." She caught him under the arm, urged him forward with a hand locked around his waist.
"Where is he?"
Gretchen held a finger to her lips and waved him into the dimly lit living room. Not so dimly lit that he couldnt make out a glowering Lloyd Stebbins sulking in a leather arm chair in the dim lights reflected from the harbor.
To his surprise, Gretchen took his hand, pulling him along toward the bedrooms, pushing the slightly ajar second door open to reveal the sleeping duo, snuggled in the colorful animal-print bedding. Both father and son dead to the world, Tonys arm curled protectively around the smaller body, his leather coat still on over his shirt and jeans, braced leg hanging stiffly over the edge of the twin mattress.
Finally tearing himself away from the picture in front of him, Gibbs nodded apologetically at the woman beside him. "Ill get him."
The hand that stopped him was small and warm. "No, just leave them," she whispered in reply. "Its okay." She motioned him back from the doorway, closing the door with a soft click. "Let them sleep." The look she gave him was almost accusatory. "Tony looked like he could use some."
"He could," admitted Gibbs, studying this apparent emotional turnabout.
"Ill sign the papers."
"What?" Gibbs whispered in surprise.
"Ill " she hesitated a moment under the weight of his stare, "Ill sign the papers."
Then she left him, dumbfounded, in the shadows of her hallway.
Gibbs leaned against the wall and let out a long sigh.
The sides of the plastic chair, made with a preschooler and not an NCIS agent in mind, bit into the backs of Gibbs thighs and when he let his mind drift, the soft exhalations from the bed beside him lulling him toward his own exhausted sleep, he was in serious danger of toppling unbalanced onto the thickly carpeted floor.
Gibbs roused himself with another shake of his head, tired eyes fixing on the finger of rising sunlight beginning to creep under the drawn shade. He squinted at the illuminated dial of his watch, then moved his arm further away from his body and squinted again. Six-twenty. From the direction of the hall he could hear the grumble of voices and, disturbed, Tony jerked slightly. The beginnings of the mornings spasms. And God knows when hed taken his last dose of meds.
When the spasm shook him a second time, Gibbs laid a hand on his shoulder and softly called his name.
"Tony," he repeated when the first attempt received no reply.
"Come on, babe," he wheedled, firming the grip on the leather-clad shoulder, amending, "easy," when a particularly strong spasm shook Tonys legs.
"Where?" Tony jerked back from the unfamiliar bedding then pressed forward soothingly as Sam mumbled sleepily. "Hey, kiddo."
Gibbs got to his feet, a hand on his stiff back, in time to see drowsy blue eyes blink open only to close again, the small body snuggling back toward Tonys warmth. Tonys hand stroked the blond hair softly.
"Gretchen called you?" presumed Tony, looking stiffly over his shoulder at Gibbs nod. A deep breath caught and held in Tonys chest. "I know it seems nuts, but it felt like it was my last chance to see him."
Not arguing, not sure that Gretchens declaration would still be there in the light of morning, Gibbs only asked quietly, "Do you think you can get up?"
Tonys laugh was tight. Answer enough, and Gibbs leaned over, scooping up the small, sleeping body. The blue eyes opened to regard him skeptically.
"How about some cartoons, munchkin?"
"Yep," said Gibbs, heading with his charge through the door.
Gibbs settled him on the sofa, shaking a nearby afghan over him, flipping the TV on. Feeling a gaze settle on him, Gibbs turned to find Gretchen leaning around the corner, observing. She nodded her silent approval, vanishing back into the depths of the apartment.
Tony had managed to turn to his back, riding out the worst of the spasms with clenched fists. Gibbs gently pushed his trembling legs over, and sat, kneading the muscles of the thighs through the denim, working his way around the brace on the right leg, silently massaging until the tremors died down. He got him up with a strong pull on Tonys arm, helping swing the braced leg. Tony pushed up from the bed and took a swaying step.
"Where do you think youre going?"
Tony ran a hand through his hair, making it stand even more on end. "Need to go apologize."
The knock at the door startled them both, Tonys precarious balance giving way, Gibbs hand pincering under his arm as he started to fall.
"God, Gretch, Im sorry "
Turned to keep his partner steady, Gibbs back was to the door and he winced at the beaten tone in Tonys voice.
"Gibbs tell you?"
"Tell me what?" His head whipped in Gibbs direction but the older man only shrugged, still not trusting that the ordeal had simply ended with Gretchen Hales word.
"Ill sign custody over, Tony. I got a look at what your father must be like when you showed up at the door at 1 a.m. I saw you a lot of ways with Greg, but Ive never seen you defeated until last night. Youre a good man, Tony. And anyone who could do that to a good man is not who I want raising my son."
Tony squinted up at her. "Youll youll sign the papers?"
"Ill sign the papers giving you custody. But I want visitation rights."
"Sure, Gretchen, anything."
Tony felt Gibbs hand close on his shoulder. "I can call our lawyer this morning."
For a moment he saw hesitation in her expression but then with a deep swallow she conceded a soft "okay."
Tony could hear Gibbs slight exasperation as he fielded questions from what was probably a very perplexed McGee. Missing an entire day of work for any reason was so un-Gibbs-like that Tony had little doubt McGee was pondering possible hostage situations, sudden secret military undercover assignments, maybe even alien clones that barked just like Gibbs but, strangely, decided to take another day off.
"Everything is fine, McGee. Now go repeat that to Abby and Kate and Ducky so I dont have to play twenty questions with them too."
Tony heard the phone shut with a decided snap. "Were due at Candys at eleven. Want to get cleaned up?"
Tony ran a tentative palm along his beard-shadowed cheek. "We borrowing Lloyds razor?"
"Ill make a run to the drug store. Theres extra clothes in the car."
Tony nodded, smiling, but he was well aware of the humming thrum of exhaustion in his body: tiny vibrations making the weakness in his legs worse. His hands, usually unaffected, trembled slightly, something hed been hiding from Gibbs by pressing them, shaky and sweating, against the fabric of his jeans. Something he couldnt keep hiding if he was forced to try to stand unbraced through a shower in Gretchens lux but hardly handicapped-friendly bath.
"Not sure I can"
He winced a little as Gibbs gaze snapped sharply to him, the gray eyes far too observant. "When did you eat last?"
Tony shrugged, trying to look like it wasnt a big deal. "Lunch."
Gibbs groaned, his own hand moving up to rub his eyes tiredly. "I dont have your meds."
"Ill make it."
"Breakfast," decided Gibbs. After a second this was amended by a "stay here."
Sam was cuddled down in the afghan, drowsily blinking at the TV and Gibbs gave the blond head a quick caress. He looked at Gretchen, curled over a cup of coffee in a nearby arm chair. "Mind if I make Tony some breakfast?"
She shook her head. "Theres coffee."
Coffee was the last thing his unsteady partner needed this morning. He let him get away with it sometimes, ignoring the physicians prohibitions against caffeine and alcohol, but he knew the warning signs of Tonys body as well as Tony did. What he needed right now were carbohydrates for a quick fix. Then protein to give his flagging system something to run on. "Orange juice?"
"In the refrigerator."
Pouring a glass, Gibbs took it back to the bedroom, found himself kneeling, steadying the shaking hands Tony clasped around it. "This time your blood sugar really is low," he diagnosed.
"You taking over for Ducky now?" Tony teased, gratefully sipping at the drink.
"Bacon and eggs," Gibbs ordered. "You think you can make it into the living room?"
"Yeah," replied Tony finishing off the glass and pulling himself to his feet with the help of Gibbs free hand. "I can make it."
He shook Gibbs hold off as the hall branched out into the living room and made for the other armchair. Shuffling around the kitchen in search of cookware, Gibbs could hear the softly murmured conversation, could hear Tony offering another apology for his late-night appearance. He cracked the eggs a little harder than was strictly necessary against the edge of the small bowl hed rooted out of the pantry.
"Tony," he interrupted quietly, the plate of scrambled eggs and bacon slices in hand. He shot Gretchen a mild look, expecting a protest about proffering food across the pristine carpet, but she made no comment as Tony balanced the plate on his knees and took the fork up a little shakily.
He studied her with an intensity that would have provoked a reprimand from Tony if he hadnt been so absorbed in keeping his hands steady. "You are sure about this," he asked.
Gibbs smiled tightly at the reprimand when it did come. "Eat," he instructed.
For her part, Gretchen looked more understanding than irritated by the protective questioning. "Im sure," she reaffirmed, fixing on the hand Gibbs had balanced lightly on Tonys shoulder as he leaned against the arm of the chair before moving to rest her gaze on the small bundle topped by tousled blond hair snuggled in the afghan. "I trust Tony to take care of him. " She met his gray-eyed gaze frankly. "And I trust you to take care of them both. I cant imagine my son being in better hands. Not even my own."
Gibbs licked his lips, his hold tightening ever so slightly on Tonys shoulder. "Ill do my best."
Gretchen nodded her head. "I know."
"This is a statement of your voluntary transfer of custody." Candy Frere pushed the sheet across the table. "You sign it. We have my assistant notarize it and then we take it to district court to one of the judges over the juvenile docket," she exchanged looks with Gibbs, "preferably not Wilson, and theyll approve it pursuant to Title 10, Chapter 1."
"And thats it?" asked Gretchen.
"Well, as youve asked to retain visitation rights, well have to work out a schedule, but, yes," agreed the attorney, "thats it."
Beside Gibbs, Tony shuffled restlessly and Gibbs laid a hand above his knee, rubbing gently to try to sooth the tremoring in the thigh muscles that would only truly be brought under control with rest and the now long-overdue mornings meds.
"If youd prefer your attorney to examine it " offered Candy, ignoring the glare an impatient Gibbs shot at her.
"No," Gretchen said firmly. "I know this is the right thing to do." But the pen remained poised inches above the paper.
"Could we " Tony felt Gibbs hand grasp tensely and he swallowed back the wince that threatened. Obviously Gibbs saw it, though, and released his hold with self-conscious quickness. "Could Gretchen and I have a moment?"
"Alone?" he prodded when neither Gibbs nor their attorney seemed willing to leave.
"Sure," Gibbs finally agreed, accepting the half-smile Tony gave at his reluctance.
"Hes got this control thing," explained Tony when the door finally snicked shut.
Gretchen twirled the pen self-consciously in her fingers. "He cares about you a great deal."
"Gretch, all I wanted"
"All I wanted," he repeated, "was not to lose touch with my son." The first genuine smile shed seen in a long time lit Tonys face. "My son. Do you know how incredible that is? I mean I never thought about kids, never thought of wanting them and, then, there he is and I made him and hes beautiful and brilliant and the best damn thing Ive done in my otherwise mediocre life. I just wanted to know him, you know? Be a part of his life. And then, like he always does, my dad rears his ugly head and says I cant have this either.
He took away the money and I didnt care. But this Sam Sam, I had to fight for."
From across the table Gretchen reached to cover his hand with hers. "I know, Tony. And I trust you with his life. Its just " She shook her head. "I know you dont think it of me, but Im going to miss him."
"Then just give me joint custody."
He could see her considering the offer even though he couldnt quite make out her face in the haziness of his vision. Hed grown accustomed to the blurriness, but that didnt mean he didnt mourn the loss of the quick information he now had to glean in other, slower ways.
She sniffed audibly, "No, but I want every other weekend."
"Okay," Tony agreed easily. "Anything."
There was the audible scritch of pen being put to paper.
"I know you dont understand why I"
"Gretch," Tony held out his hand, "dont. I know a gift when I see one and Im not the kind to ask why."
"Here." Gibbs poured the pills in his cupped palm into Tonys open one, following the offering with a large glass of water that Tony downed obediently.
"I know its not over," observed Tony, handing the glass back, closing his eyes when Gibbs settled a hand on his trembling thigh. "Never over," he concluded ruefully.
"Weve got a signed custody declaration and a date with a judge. Its a pretty good hand."
Tony tugged at his wrist, bringing Gibbs palm, cupped, against his own. "It is a good hand," he observed, stroking a finger down the curve of the lifeline in a positively spine-tingling way, turning a slightly weary but honest smile crooking the corner of his mouth.
With his free hand, Gibbs drew him toward him, captured the still-smiling lips.
Gibbs pulled the pillow over his head and groaned as the repeated ringing seemed to grow louder. He rolled over and peered foggily at the clock, a hand out to slap the snooze bar until the glowing dashes resolved into a pair of ones and a four and a six.
Flailing for the cell he peered at it, too.
Beside him, Tony slept on, oblivious.
Flopping back on the bed, he thought it might have all been a dream. But about the time he was going to roll over and bury himself against a warm shoulder, the heavy hand on the doorbell did its damage again.
With an audible groan, Gibbs staggered to his feet, tripping over the fallen covers to tug on his sweatpants. Tony curled toward the suddenly empty space, seeking the missing heat, finally settling on clutching Gibbs vacated pillow, burrowing his face into the softness with the low purr.
Smiling now, Gibbs headed to the door, hastily buttoning the denim shirt.
She looked him up and down, her gaze finally settling on the tips of his bare toes which he, too, found himself staring at with the same curiosity. They were toes. Not particularly attractive, but Tony seemed to have a certain affinity for them.
"Can I help you?" She finally looked up and he added, " Mrs. DiNozzo."
She was slender, but not overly so, shoulder-length blonde hair lightened by silver around her face. Very well dressed for a Saturday almost-afternoon, in a way that screamed old money.
"Would you like to come in?"
"Ive woken you up."
"Which calls for coffee." Gibbs pulled the door all the way open. "Come on in."
She stepped across the door almost carefully. "Is Anthony here?"
"Still asleep." Gibbs put a hand on her back gently urging her forward so he could close the door.
"Is he okay?"
"Hes doing pretty well. The drugs seem to be helping."
She nodded but he could see her hands wringing the handle of her undoubtedly expensive handbag.
"Call me Pat."
"Okay, Pat. You want to tell me why youre here?"
"Youre sleeping with my only son."
Gibbs smiled tightly. "I really do need that coffee."
"Ive known for a while " the long, slender fingers, so like Tonys, only more fragile, circled the rim of the mug. "Anthony tended to take every opportunity to express any behavior his father, and what passes for society in Bridgeport, might find embarrassing."
Gibbs drew back, slightly irritated, "Im not in the least embarrassed by our relationship."
The smile he got back was at least rueful, "That didnt come out the way I intended. If Anthonys at peace, if hes happy then Im happy. Its just Anthonys always seemed to find the hard road."
"His father doesnt share your sentiments."
"It ever, once, occur to you to take your sons side?"
"Dont presume to know what Ive done or not done, Mr. Gibbs."
"Jethro," offered Gibbs, "and youre right. Its not for me to judge you."
"But you do," she offered, observing him, her eyes following the lines of his face, settling, this time, on the silver fringe of hair curving over his forehead. Tonys doing more a demand that he let the military cut grow. Worth it to feel the touch of Tonys fingertips combing through its length. "Are you old enough to be his father?"
Gibbs straightened his spine. So this is what it was going to be. Interrogation. A game he knew well, knew the rhythm of the parry and thrust. Sometimes physical. Sometimes intellectual.
"Technically," he acquiesced.
"Have you considered that you may just be a replacement?"
Gibbs kept his voice steady, worked to keep the tightness in his throat from revealing itself in his carefully measured words. "Tonys concept of a father figure isnt a positive one. I neither berate nor abuse your son, Mrs. DiNozzo. I think that rules me out of Tonys definition of a father."
"I didnt come here to fight, Mr. Gibbs."
"Then may I ask what you did come for?"
"I wanted to see Anthony. Wanted to see that hes all right."
"Because hes " her hesitation seemed honest, " ill. Because Im worried."
"Because you have a grandson," Gibbs inserted.
"Im not going to defend myself. I raised Anthony as best I knew how. Made sure he didnt face the deprivations I faced growing up. Made sure he had all the tools he needed to make it in the world."
"Not all of them," disagreed Gibbs quietly. The mug he raised was empty and, with a sigh, he rose to refill it. "There were a few small things you left out. Like affection " the steaming coffee burned the tip of his tongue, " respect."
"Id like to see my son."
There were no sounds from the end of the hall. Gibbs knew if he looked, hed find Tony still deeply sleeping, find his pillow still clutched in Tonys grip. "One of the symptoms of MS is fatigue. He needs to sleep."
"Its after noon," she challenged.
"He " Gibbs swallowed against the return of the tightness in his throat. His voice, when he did find it, was steadier than hed imagined it would be. "Hes legally blind. On some days I dont think he can make much out at all. His balance is shot vestibular ataxia. He should probably be in a wheelchair except hes too stubborn to give in."
The too-familiar blue eyes blazed with something that, surprisingly, looked like pride. "Thats my Anthony." She paused, watching his reaction. "I gave him tools, remember? Maybe not as much affection as you would have liked, but hes strong. He didnt let Al take that from him. Now," she continued, "may I see my son before I leave?"
He was just as Gibbs had known he would be: his body curved against the space where Gibbs normally lay as if holding it in place for him. Gibbs sank down, his hand closing on the solid heat of Tonys shoulder.
One sleepy eye blinked up at him.
"Ducky?" mumbled Tony, pushing himself up.
Tonys eyes narrowed. "Everything okay?"
Gibbs swatted him gently. "Get dressed. Come on out."
Gibbs nodded a brief affirmation at the questioning glance that was directed at him as he crossed the kitchen. He stopped only long enough to snag his mug from the table and headed to refill it a third time. After that they sat in silence, both listening to the faint snatches of noise from the bedroom: the sound of water in the pipes, the murmurs of one-sided conversation Tony held with Rufus, finally the arrhythmic steps as Tony maneuvered his way down the hall.
"So whos our mystery"
Tony caught himself against the frame of door, Rufus immediately positioning himself protectively across the front of his knees to offer stability even though he was harnessless. Gibbs was up in a split second, a palm wrapping around Tonys arm, another stabilizing his back.
"Sit down," he ordered, manhandling him to the nearest chair.
"Wh" Tony began, but whatever question the syllable began, it was lost behind the hand he palmed across his mouth. "Mother," he said more distinctly, when hed gathered himself. "What are you doing here?"
"Cant a mother visit?"
"No," replied Tony, although Gibbs was unsure from the tone whether it was a declaration or a question in return. He looked from one DiNozzo to another, trying to gage the situation. Tonys mother was still maintaining her look of well-polished poise but he could see her gaze flit to the dusky circles that seemed to always curve half-moons under Tonys eyes these days, could see her notice the morning tremors that shook Tonys hands in minute, nervous vibrations.
"Mr. Gibbs and I were just having a talk."
Pat DiNozzo shrugged. "This and that." She put out a hand, covering one of the shaking ones. "I wanted to see you." Gibbs could see her eyes narrow, the lines at their corners drawing deeper as she looked him over again critically.
"Calling would have been nice."
"Youre too thin. Do you eat enough?" She turned to Gibbs. "Does he eat enough?"
"Mom," the rebuke, Gibbs noticed, was softened with the slightest grin.
"Im fine," Tony pulled his hand out from under hers, switching their places to cover hers with his own. "My father know youre here?"
"Mom," he urged when it the question went unanswered.
"No, he doesnt know Im here."
"Just another of our little secrets?"
Tony missed the frown that formed on Gibbs face. He gave his mothers hand a reassuring pat. "Im fine."
"Ive got something for you," she pulled away to open the clasp of her purse, folding the rectangle of paper into his hand. "Ive been squirreling away my decorating fund. Your father doesnt know. He thinks that I cant see a Faber Mobili chair I cant live without."
Tony left the folded check on the table, without so much as a glance. "No, Mom, were fine. And Im not fifteen. Slipping me $50 so I can take Mary Alyce Kopinski to the movies and, on the way, stop and get you a bottle of whatever is handy isnt going to cut it anymore."
"You know I havent had a drink in fifteen years."
Tony sighed, ran a hand through his hair. "Okay, that was a little unfair, but were not doing the money thing. I dont need the money." He held out a hand in Gibbs direction, found it reassuringly gripped: a powerful, strong clasp. "We," he emphasized the point by tightening his grip on the calloused fingers, "dont need the money."
"Look," he finally continued, having endured the silence that had stretched out after his declaration as long as he could. He reached his free hand in her direction, saw the blurry motion of her own coming to meet it, their fingertips tangling clumsily. Partly, the on-again-off-again focusing of his eyes. Partly, the little practice theyd had at this kind of comfort.
Irony, maybe, that it was Gibbs, the man who spent most his workday radiating Marine Corp stiffness, whod taught him the value of casual touch -- of brief, everyday caresses that were only meant to ground, to reassure.
"If you want to see Sam, Ill arrange it."
The slender fingers entwined deeper, squeezing his own. "I would."
Gibbs leaned against the doorframe, hands tucked in his pockets.
Tony folded the check in half again then ripped it decisively. "Unlike my father, she means well. Unfortunately," he gestured toward the scraps of paper, "the result often looks the same."
"The drunk driving conviction "
"Brought on by a half-gallon of Gallos finest." Tony moved a fingertip through the shredded remains of the check. "I bought it. My dad always found some infraction that cut off my allowance. She gave me pocket change and "
"You brought her wine," Gibbs surmised.
"Also scotch and vodka."
"Fake ID," shrugged Tony. "It was the 80s -- anyway, about that time Dad found a new prep academy to dump me in that was a few too many hours away for weekend visitation. Cured the problem rather nicely." He smiled a too-smooth smile. "Told you the family was fucked up."
Gibbs restrained himself from offering a hand when Tony rose stiffly, balancing against the tables edge. "Wherere you going?"
"To take the seven pharmaceuticals that call my name." Tony pointed casually in the direction of the bedroom. "Then I think Ill lie back down for a while." The smile was half-heartedly seductive. "You can join me if you want."
"Be there in a minute."
Gibbs gathered up the scattered paper remains, the amount that had somehow survived intact jumped out at him in well-executed razor-point black: $60,000. One hell of a decorating budget.
Gibbs tried not to pull at the knot of his tie, stuffing his hand, instead, into the pocket of his jacket and trying to look as cool and collected as hed feel if he were the witness for the criminal prosecutor rather than a bystander, albeit a deeply involved one, in a case before the DC family court. It reminded him too much of a divorce settlement, specifically the second one where hed been facing not only an impenitent redhead, but Fornell -- her newly preferred partner. He squinted a little at the seal on the bench wondering if it was the same damn courtroom.
Tony shifted against the hard wood of the old-fashioned chairs, his hands working the aches in his unbraced leg. When the bailiff called for all to rise, he had to press himself up almost on the strength of his arms alone and he shot a quick sideways glance at Gibbs to see if hed noticed. But Gibbs stood straight-backed, tense and, thankfully, for once, oblivious. Tonys fingers were still pressed heavily against the well-scratched top of the government-issued table, but Gibbs rubbed thumb to forefinger in a nervous gesture that any good interrogator would have pounced on in a second.
When they were free to sit again, Tony settled back into the chair a bit too heavily. Heavily enough that it even netted Gibbs clearly distracted attention, if only for a moment. Then Candy Frere got up.
"You were nervous."
"Dont get nervous," replied Gibbs tightly, the grip he had on Tonys arm spasming briefly in annoyance, causing Tony to laugh softly.
"You were nervous."
The lobby of the city court building spread out in the foggy bland shades of gray-streaked marble. Tony steeled himself for the trip through the crowd, firming the grips he had on the harness and crutch.
Gibbs gave a put-upon sigh. "Come on, Dad."
"I like the sound of that" but Tony didnt get to finish, Gibbs grip became abruptly tight, the pull spinning Tony around. His good leg gave and he hit the floor hard, a painfully visual example of Gibbs shouted "Get down!"
The next few seconds were a disorienting blur: a cringing Rufus nosing one outstretched hand worriedly; the fuzzy outlines of the crowd diving for cover; the sharp, percussive echoes of semi-automatic weapons fire. It took a minute for the panicked screams to die down, for him to sort out the pained gasps coming from close by. He slid his hand toward the too-still, dark blur beside him, then recoiled from the warm viscid wetness he encountered.
"Gibbs?" He slid forward, the palms of his hands scrabbling for purchase on the cool stone, his reluctant legs practically a dead weight tying him down. "Gibbs!"
Gibbs was still, his face pale and spattered with blood, one arm flung out to the side where Tony had fallen like hed been protecting him even as he went down.
"No, Gibbs." And Tony realized he was begging, clumsy fingers finally close enough to press beneath the jaw line. "I need help here!" His hands felt numb and cold, unable to tell what might be an arterial beat from the desperate wish for there to be one.
"Please," he begged without the volume needed to get attention in the cacophony, drawing his arms under him to try to rise.
A warm hand pressed against his back, sure fingers taking over from his. "Hes alive."
Tony blinked mutely up at his unexpected rescuer. "Mom?"
"Everything is going to be fine." She ran a hand absently through his hair, rocking back on her heels. "WE NEED HELP NOW!"
Incongruously, Tony smiled at the force of the shout right before his body took to shuddering. He reached out for Gibbs hand lying palm up and slightly curled, taking it into his own and willing the man not to leave him. Then hands were on him, separating them, moving him back. He must have made more of a fuss than he realized because they were suddenly around him as well, and his mother was suddenly there again, pulling him toward her away from the well-meaning clutches, cradling his head against the curve of her shoulder and murmuring that Gibbs was in good hands, that everything would be all right.
He squinted up into the concerned face bowed above him.
"Tony, its Jeff Wagner."
The combination of the name and the uniform finally registered and he recognized the Baltimore patrol officer that had transferred to DC about the same time hed moved to NCIS.
"Its okay, Tony, we got him. Theyre taking good care of your friend."
"Wheres he hit?" whispered Tony, trying to push himself upright and only succeeding when the officer laid a strong grip on his arm and pulled.
"Took a round in the chest, his right."
Right side. Away from the heart. Punctured lung. Possibly broken ribs. Tony recounted what would have been Duckys assessment list, repeated his own mantra: Gibbs was going to hang on. Gibbs had to hang on.
"Dead," Wagner reported. "Got about thirty rounds in him."
"Sir, can you get up?"
Tony frowned at the EMT. "Gibbs?"
"Were loading him now, sir."
Tony peered around him to the loaded gurney, then, with a groan and several pairs of helping hands, found himself swaying on his feet, the crutch being pushed back into still trembling fingers. A fretting Rufus whined and pressed a gentle nose into the side of Tonys leg.
It must not have been believable, though, as what seemed a battalion escorted him to a car he dimly recognized as something European and expensive undoubtedly his mothers.
In the car, Tonys numbed fingers fumbled with the phone until it was succinctly removed from his grasp and he heard, as if from a long distance, his mothers voice asking, "which one?"
"Kate," he finally managed when the phone was pushed within what should have been focusing distance. "Shes number three."
The rest receded into a mostly garbled murmur, a few words rising to break the loop of remembered shock: Gibbs voice; the pressure of his hand; the sharp, hard descent to the floor, then the lingering percussions of the shots.
"Theyll be there."
His mothers hand was on his knee and he found himself concentrating on that touch, the familiar feeling of Gibbs hand ghosted in the warmth. He leaned back and closed his eyes and tried to steady his breathing.
He didnt know where the wheelchair came from, some preparatory call of his mothers that he was too out of it to notice, no doubt, but his balking only made the orderly more insistent and got him called "sir" in a placating manner. So, finally, he gave in and sat his butt down. Anything that would get him closer to Gibbs.
But as close as it got him was one of the ER cubbyholes where a fresh-faced resident took up the orderlys gratuitous "sir"-ing.
"Whered you come from?" he asked, when the ER-staff finally gave them a moment alone. Tony laid back and stared blankly upward, shifting restlessly every now and again, trying to relieve the small aches, trying to ignore the anxious need to get to his feet and stride out and demand to see Gibbs, knowing that if he were foolish enough to try it, he would only end up in a heap on the floor with more well-meaning hands on him, this time equipped with well-meaning sedatives.
"Connecticut," replied his mother with false lightness, displaying what passed for humor in his fathers house.
"Why are you here?" he repeated.
"Because youre my son and hes my grandson."
She smiled just a little when Tony frowned at her.
"Tony?" Kate was as pasty as he imagined himself to be, followed in tow by an equally white-faced McGee and by Ducky, who with a much calmer expression, took the nearby ER resident by the elbow and began gathering information the young doctor had resisted giving his patient.
"Hes already in OR," Ducky reported when hed finished the interrogation. "It sounds like a simple through-and-through with a concomitant pneumothorax. If the bullet didnt ricochet off a rib or do other damage, the surgery will be fairly simple. He should be fine, Tony."
Kates hand was in his and Ducky had a supporting palm on his bicep. McGee, while his arms were crossed worriedly over the open lapels of his suit, stood nearby as if shielding him as well and he caught sight of the blur of pink that was his mother pushed into the far corner of the little room.
"Its okay, you can go now, Mom. You dont have to wait."
Some look he couldnt quite make out passed between his mother, when she came forward, and the trio at the side of the gurney. Something that made them edge minutely toward him as if tightening the cordon theyd placed around him.
"I need to call your father." He could see her hands worriedly dig through the confines of her bag. "And I need a smoke. But," she continued with a certain defiance, "Im not leaving. Ill just step outside. You go anywhere, you have someone come get me."
"Sure," he finally conceded, lying back on the gurney with a groan when the standoff was over.
"So thats your mom," ventured Kate.
"Not what I was expecting."
Tony rose up just a little. "You and me both."
"What?" murmured a bleak looking McGee, whod insisted a finally-released Tony have the entire length of the waiting areas one free couch.
"Like on those science fiction shows," explained Tony, shifting stiffly. "Go into a hospital and you enter this area where time moves slower."
"Youre talking special relativity."
"Actually," admitted Tony, "I was talking more Star Trek."
One corner of McGees mouth quirked a reluctant smile.
"How long this time?"
"Five minutes since you asked me last time," answered McGee.
Tony popped the top on his watch and confirmed the movement of the hands. "Damn." He scrubbed fingers through his hair and pulled at the top of the borrowed scrubs Ducky had helped wrestle him into. "This waiting is killing me."
"Hes going to be fine, Tony." McGee gave his ankle a clumsy pat.
"Okay." Tony released the hold he had on the seam of the hospital-issued top. "I just need to see him, you know."
The pat turned into reassuring grasp. "I know."
"We went shopping at Baby Goth."
Both Abby and Kate wore satisfied if still slightly-strained smirks and he knew this was an attempt, as Kate would put it, to "perk him up" and a Sam wearing a tiny black t-shirt saying (after he leaned for enough forward to make the lettering out) "My Nursery School Sux", black shorts adorned with chains and a pair of mini black combat boots was enough to bring forth an amused purse of his lips.
"You are not dressing my son like that."
Three heads swiveled in the direction of the weak comment from bed.
"Gibbs? Thank God."
"Hey," whispered Gibbs, his own gaze only for Tony, "you okay?"
"Scared out of my mind." Tony hoisted himself up and sat on the side of the bed, settling as carefully as his clumsy body could manage. "Dont ever do that again." He returned the grasp that reached out weakly.
Gibbs licked his dry lips. "Will try not to. " Eyes dulled by the painkillers flowing amply through his system shut involuntarily, causing him to frown. "Cant promise."
"I know," replied Tony.
Gibbs rolled his head against the pillow, refocusing on Abby and Kate. "L.L. Bean," he slurred, holding the index finger of his free hand up in feeble warning. "You want to play fashionista, get your own kid."
Abby smoothed a hand across the still creased forehead as Gibbs eyes shut again. She managed a look that was at once both worried and bemused. "Gibbs knows the word fashionista?"
"Well, he did turn out to be gay," observed Kate dryly, shifting a wiggling Sam to her hip.
"But " protested Abby, "fashionista?"
"Hey," Gibbs replied, mustering a small smile. "Thought you went home."
Tony shrugged. "The girls have got Sam. Thought Id stay a while."
"And watch me sleep."
"And watch you sleep," repeated Tony nonchalantly before changing the subject. "Police want to talk to you. Think you might have seen exactly what went on."
"Guy grabbed the deputys gun and started firing. Pretty simple actually."
"Think theres some question of how careless the deputy might have been."
"Careless enough," observed Gibbs. "Anybody dead?"
"The guy. The deputy. A couple people were pretty shot up." Tony laid his hand on the side of the bed. "My nerves may never be the same."
"Tony, go home," instructed Gibbs. "I have an entire nursing staff at my beck and call." And, as if to prove the point, a respiratory therapist stepped in, inhaler in hand. "Gah," said Gibbs, spying it, "I hate this part. Go," he ordered, pointing a finger past the therapist, "Tony."
Rufus sprang up when Tony rose and Gibbs watched their clumsy interplay with concerned eyes. "You okay to get out of here?"
Tony waved his cell over his shoulder. "McGee said hed come get me. Since Im not wanted, Ill just go wait for him."
"Come back tomorrow," called Gibbs getting another wave before Tony reclasped the harness, "and bring coffee."
"This is not the life I would have chosen for my son." Patricia DiNozzo regarded Gibbs squarely as he shifted against the pillows of the sofa. "But it seems to suit him." She absently stooped down to retrieve Sams stray fire engine from where it had been left rushing to the scene of a fire at the base of the recliner. She placed the toy into the open toy box as Ducky shuffled in bearing two cups of coffee both decaf, as regular had been banned from the house entirely after it was discovered that not even a healing punctured lung would stop Gibbs quest for caffeine. Ducky had rinsed the remains of the bag of Kona dark roast down the drain muttering something about "detox."
Gibbs shot him a jaundiced look, but held out a hand anyway to take the mug. "Isnt there something you should be doing at the office?"
Ducky merely made a tsking sound. "We agreed, Jethro, that at least until Monday you would not be left alone."
Gibbs pointed in Patricias direction. "Shes here."
"While Mrs. DiNozzo," conceded Ducky, "appears quite competent," he gave a small nod in the direction of Tonys mother, "she does not know you as we do."
From Gibbs sigh, he knew that more lay beneath the mans reluctance than simply wanting to be left alone to overstain himself with woodworking and covert searches for anything caffeinated.
He bent down, whispering sotto voce, "Kate will keep an eye on him, Jethro. As will young Agent McGee."
"Not the same, Duck."
This earned him a consoling pat on the arm. "I believe you underestimate Caitlyns protective instincts." He lowered his voice even further, his gaze flicking towards their visitor. "It is, as our lovely Abigail puts it, a female thing."
Gibbs didnt remember falling asleep alone on the sofa, but he definitely would remember waking to a dimly-lit house and an armful of pliant partner.
A partner, who, when jostled, merely mumbled a sleepy hum and burrowed his nose deeper into the curve of Gibbs neck.
"Gotta " Gibbs grimaced as places pulled deep within his chest protested the movement. He forced himself to relax back into the cushions, panting softly. "Tony, babe."
The hum rematerialized warm and breathy against his skin and Gibbs finally had to give a firm shake with his available hand to a nestling shoulder. "Tony "
"Hmm?" Blue eyes opened drowsily.
"Oh. Oh!" The disentanglement was awkward with sleep and with Tonys own aches. "Sorry. Sorry." Warm hands reached and massaged down Gibbs trapped arm tenderly. "Didnt mean to go to sleep."
Gibbs managed to get his arm up enough to scrub a hand against his eyes.
"You just looked so," Tony smiled self-consciously, "comfortable lying there."
Gibbs arched a little, testing the resolve of his body. "Wheres Sam?"
"Safely tucked in upstairs."
"Safely tucked in at his house presumably," Tony added. "Can you get up?"
"I can get up," responded Gibbs in a voice a little flatter than hed have liked.
"Lets get you to bed."
Gibbs leaned his head back, looking up at him. Tony was rumpled, hair sticking in a dozen different directions, barefoot under his khakis, his weight shifted to his good leg and a stabilizing hand wrapped around the floor lamp, his makeshift crutch. If he thought he was not actually in any shape to help Gibbs up, he didnt show it as he rebalanced himself and held a hand, palm up, for Gibbs to grasp. According to the medical profession, the drugs had slowed the MSs procession and Tony balanced on a plateau still hilly with good days and bad days but not the sharp decline of the beginning. But Gibbs liked to think it was stubbornness as much as medication keeping Tony upright.
He looked younger, still, than Gibbs could even imagine any more, though Gibbs knew this was an illusion that Tony had been through much more than, thankfully, had managed to write itself in his face. And, even a bit paler and thinner than the golden-tanned man hed hired, Tony was still well beautiful. More beautiful to him than hed been then.
"Is this the lamp thing again?" asked a bemused Tony, noticing the appraising look. He turned a bit and looked at the light accusingly, as if the nimbus from the lamp was somehow limning him and could be shut off and Gibbs would get moving.
"What then?" he asked gently.
"Just looking. Doctors didnt say anything about just looking."
"Gibbs" was breathed with soft exasperation.
"I love you, you know."
Tony raised a wry eyebrow. "My, um, mother wants to bring my father to visit."
"I love you anyway," Gibbs declared.
"Argh, this is that serious moment, isnt it?"
"Yeah, life and death, shit-scared-out-of-you, that moment." He looked a little self-satisfied. "Ive already had it. You were just too out of it to realize I was clutching your hand and begging you to not leave me."
"Im planning on staying around a while."
"Good, now get up while Im still managing to stay on my feet." The offered hand bobbed up and down more insistently.
With a groan, Gibbs managed to lever himself up without help, although he didnt shake off the support when Tony grabbed onto him or maybe he was the support or maybe they were just doing what came easy these days holding each other up.
Hands came around waists, elbows locked and Gibbs fitted nicely right into the crook of Tonys arm, his thigh pressing up against Tonys braced one. And, step by step, they made it to the Sams bedroom where they leaned in, nearly falling and catching themselves, twin hands shooting out for the sides of the door frame. Comedy that Sam slept through, oblivious, one hand tightly woven in a fierce clutch of the blanket.
Gibbs leaned in and gave a brief kiss to Tonys cheek.
"What was that for?"
Gibbs shrugged. "Promises of things to come."
"Later," amended Tony.
"Later," agreed Gibbs with a groan as they straightened and pushed themselves away from the door.
Morning light banded the walls in stripes when the rustle of covers and the dull, reawakened pain in his chest drove Gibbs to consciousness. Sam didnt say anything, just crawled his way up between them and snuggled, nose-down, into Gibbs shoulder, the blanket dragged behind him, turned edge still clutched in a small hand.
The bottle of pain pills on the nightstand tempted, but Gibbs, instead, resettled his shoulders, easing the ache in his ribs and let the hushed duet of sleeping breathes lull him back toward sleep.
Tony rolled over, one eye opening to gaze at him placidly. "You okay?" he whispered, the question muted by the mound of pillow Tony had folded under his cheek.
"Yeah, hes not heavy."
Tony nodded, eyes closing. "Think Ill stay home today. Boss is a bastard, but I think I can get away with it this once."
"You think?" inquired Gibbs.
"Every once in a while people figure out hes a good guy."
"Mmm," murmured Gibbs, "dont think thats a general consensus."
A hand snaked around until it captured Gibbs fingers lightly. "You might be surprised."
"Oh, Id be very surprised," Gibbs agreed, clasping back.
"Surprised me," admitted Tony.
"Yeah. I mean I thought youd pack me off on disability and be done with me. Didnt expect "
" this?" finished Gibbs.
"Well, no, definitely didnt expect this, but I didnt expect the other either. Could never tell that you cared."
"I care," said Gibbs gruffly.
"I know that now. I just didnt know it then." He rose up enough to observe the sharp angles of Gibbs profile. "Might want to let McGee in on it, though."
"Not finished scaring him." Gibbs turned his head in Tonys direction. "Dont want him to get out of hand."
"Oh, yeah, McGee out of hand. Thatll happen."
"Yeah, Ive already tamed the bad-boy of the group."
"Bad boy? You know if there wasnt a three-year-old in our bed "
"Youd what?" challenged Gibbs.
"Id show you just how bad the bad-boy can be."
"Save it," Gibbs murmured, "for when my ribs can take it."
"Saving," Tony agreed. "Think Ill just go back to sleep for now."
The hand holding Gibbs pulled up, lightly thunking their conjoined fingers to the mattress and the movement caused Sam to shift sleepily between them.
"If youd died on me, I would have killed you."
"Same here," muttered Gibbs.
"Just so we understand each other," laughed Tony.
"Oh that I think we do."