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Chapter One

Gibbs winced as the glass shattered—the third tonight—and looked away. He couldn’t meet Tony’s eyes right now, didn’t even want to. Things were spiraling out of control faster than he could keep up with, and Tony’s emotions were getting more and more erratic.

“Why? Why can’t you let me in? Why can’t you fight for me?” Tony raged, hurling another glass at the mantel. Gibbs watched it shatter, hoping he didn’t show his reaction. Tony had been at this for twenty minutes now and Gibbs couldn’t give him the reaction DiNozzo wanted. No matter how much was on the line. And Gibbs knew damn well everything was on the line right now.

“Let you in,” he said mildly, blood dripping into his eyes from a deep gash in his forehead. That had been courtesy of the fifth—or maybe sixth—glass. A chunk had cut deeply into him but Gibbs hadn’t wiped up the blood, had just let it flow, itchy and burning, down his face. The physical pain wasn’t as bad as the emotional. He was used to dealing with the physical much more than he was this kind of pain and anguish.

He wanted to help DiNozzo out, but he couldn’t. Hell, he’d tried, though he couldn’t let Tony know that. The call to SecNav had made with numb fingers and acid burning Gibbs’ gut, but SecNav had made his mind up. After the situation in Somalia and Tony’s part in it, he was being promoted, made team leader and being based out of the Pentagon. It was close, but it wasn’t Gibbs’ team. Everything was changing and none of them were ready for this.

Even though Gibbs had known that DiNozzo was destined for good things—great things—at NCIS, it was a loss, and like it or not, it felt as if they were being pushed apart as a punishment rather than the promotion it in fact was. Maybe the specter of agent afloat was in too close memory.

Tony didn’t want to go to the Pentagon. He liked working with Gibbs;’ team; saw it as a rejection even though it wasn’t, strictly speaking. Gibbs couldn’t exactly come clean to SecNav and explain why he needed DiNozzo on his six, though he’d begged—he’d actually begged—stating that Tony was the only one who could and should inherit the Major Case Response Team, that Tony had paid his dues many times over.

“It won’t be too different,” Gibbs ventured, wiping at the blood. But he knew it would. When they weren’t working side by side, something huge and unique would be lost. And Gibbs wasn’t entirely sure if they could get it back when it was gone. That worried him—they’d weathered Tony being an agent afloat, but it had been hard, and they hadn’t been together then, anyway. And Tony had been drinking a lot those days.

“It’s over. You’re gonna have some probie on your team with big bright eyes and a smile and he’ll steal your heart.”

“DiNozzo!”

“What?”

“You think that little of me?” Tony had finally done it now, he’d provoked Gibbs and sympathy was fading away to rage of its own. They didn’t throw out the past like this, because it always devolved into scoring points—usually Tony scoring them on Gibbs.

“Chris Pacci,” Tony said, his voice brittle. “Brent Langer, Jenny Shepard, G Callen—and what the hell name is G anyway—Stan Burley, and me. You’ve been with every new probie you’ve taken on. You established a pattern.”

“Not true. What about Keating, Lee, McGee, Blackadder, Kate, Ziva, Cassie Yates.”

“Cass doesn’t count! She was only your probie for a month.”

Gibbs could feel that Tony was starting to waver and closed the gap between them, his anger evaporating into something that wasn’t quite concern, but wasn’t far off. He couldn’t help thinking Tony was a frightened animal that needed taming.

“Don’t!” Tony said, backing off. “Don’t give me assurances that you can’t keep. I know you too well.”

“What do you know?” Gibbs asked, his voice dropping in register. He would pull out all the stops to stop Tony from his self destructive path.

“I know how you are. You need to scratch an itch.”

“Is that all you think this is?” Gibbs asked, shocked. Oh yeah, anger was back, hot and raging and he could actually see red right now. He and Tony had been together for over a year now, and it was good—damned good. Where was all of this coming from? He pulled in a breath, willing himself to calm down and actually talk with Tony, no matter how uncomfortable that made him. No matter how angry Tony was making him. It was obvious Tony’s tactics were working, and Gibbs had to try not to give in, but now that his emotions were rising, he had to concede Tony was winning. He was getting a reaction all right!

“Wonder sometimes,” Tony muttered. The fight had gone out of him and he sank into a chair, fists clenched on the kitchen table. He stared down at the wood, his breathing harsh in the near-silence of the room, fists thunking down onto the table and then rising slightly in some parody of a drum rhythm.

“Don’t,” Gibbs shot back. “You moved in. You’re here, DiNozzo. With me. Moving you in means something.

“You moved in three readheads,” Tony pointed out. “And you didn’t give them a thing, Gibbs.”

This wasn’t Tony—not the Tony he knew. And that worried and bothered Gibbs more than he could put into words. He had to find a way to make this better, to get them back on solid ground, but words were so hard for him even at the best of times.

“You done breaking my glasses? Want to move on to the coffee mugs?” Gibbs asked, trying to make a joke. As the words came out, he knew they were the wrong thing. Tony only looked at the mess blankly, blinking and shaking his head. His shoulders slumped, the fight clearly gone right out of him. Gibbs moved in close, patting Tony on the shoulder. He walked into the kitchen, grabbing the dustpan and broom and eased Tony’s fists open, placing the cleaning implementsI into Tony’s hands.

“You make the mess, you clean up.”

Tony let out a sound that might have been anguish or frustration, blinked a few times and Gibbs had the distinct sense that this was only the calm before the storm.

~*~

Three Months Later

Tony stormed into the house, throwing down his laptop bag and kicking it halfheartedly. It had been another nightmare day and he was exhausted. From the lack of lights and the sixty-five degree temp in the house, it was clear that Tony was the first one home, at ten pm. Great. Just great. Another week of him barely even seeing Gibbs. This was no way to keep any relationship alive.

This was not working out. There were so many nights where he or Gibbs were catching long cases, working crazy hours—and in his case, traveling to San Diego for three days in pursuit of someone selling counterfeit Navy uniforms. The responsibility was immense and after the Renny Grant thing, Tony didn’t trust himself, not entirely. And with a new team, he had a huge learning curve anyway.

He supposed his team was okay. Dwayne Wilson was sharp and they’d worked together before—briefly, but Dwayne had made a great first impression on that Quantico bank robbery case a few years back. Tony was as confident in Dwayne as he assumed Gibbs had been toward him in the early days, but Dwayne was still a very green agent on a team with a very green leader.

Cynthia Summers was the surprise. Jenny’s former admin assistant had been laid off when Jenny had died and Vance had brought in his own executive admin, and Cynthia had taken the opportunity to get through the police academy and FLETC. She’d graduated top of her class and brought the team smarts and wit—not to mention beauty.
But Tony wouldn’t flirt with her; that just didn’t feel right. Her only real weakness was the fact that she flinched when she shot, so Tony was taking extra time with her at the range to make sure her shots didn’t go wide. In a life and death situation, any falter in accuracy could be deadly.

The third member of his team was the most surprising of all. Jemma Dorchester was British born and raised; the daughter of a Naval aviator who’d married a Brit civilian when he’d been based over at one of the RAF bases. She’d gone to college at NYU and after getting a degree in Criminology, she’d decided to go to the FBI.

The Feebs were no place for her, and Jemma had joined NCIS three years ago, one of Jenny’s last hires. She’d been designed as a probie for Paula’s team, but then all of that had gone to hell when Paula and her team had been lost. Jemma had been assigned then to Vance’s office, where she’d impressed the then assistant director. After Jenny’s death, she’d gone to Pensacola, as a solo agent who had a fantastic close rate. Now that she’d closed a few high-profile cases, SecNav had his eye on her and had moved her closer to DC. Jemma was his senior agent and Tony found himself relying on her more and more, despite the fact that she was a younger agent than McGee.

Gibbs had a new probie as well. McGee was his senior agent now, and Tony could accept that. McGee’d been part of the core group and had paid a lot of dues. With Kate. With Ziva too. Even though it made Tony itchy to think of McGee and not him on Gibbs’ six, he could accept it. He trusted McGee as much as he trusted anyone and knew McGee had the interests of the team—not to mention Gibbs’ safety—as his top priority.

Ziva hadn’t come back to NCIS after Somalia. She hadn’t been cleared for field-agent duty, hadn’t wanted to be on desk duty as an agent or an analyst. She was now working at the Israeli embassy and Gibbs and McGee had seen her a few times. Tony had no interest in talking with her again—their relationship had been complicated at best, and conflict had dogged their time as partners. They’d saved her when planning to avenge her death and that closed the book on Tony’s involvement with her.

Tony didn’t know the two new members of Gibbs’ team by more than names, but the one name had floored him—Alexander Remington…Alexander Remington Gibbs. Turned out Jethro had a brother that neither he or Jack had ever thought to mention to Tony. Or the team. McGee had told him, calling him in shock, Abby squealing in the background.

The guy had just shown up, stowing his gear at Tony’s desk as if he’d belonged there, looking strongly like Gibbs, only a decade younger. It was eerie, they’d said. And when they’d sent Tony the personnel file and picture, Tony’d been shocked and stunned. The guy had a military career, had washed out after an accident in Iraq, looked exactly like what he was—a ten years younger member of the Gibbs family. McGee and Abbs said he was a good investigator, a great asset to the team, but Tony couldn’t bring himself to trust that.

Tony hated everything about him. He’d been replaced by Mini Gibbs and didn’t that suck?

The other probie was a guy named Cal Hatori, someone who’d been in McGee’s FLETC class. An older guy, former Dot Commer. He was a good shot and methodical, but even when he pressed, Tony couldn’t get more details from Abby and McGee, and the personnel file hadn’t revealed anything important either. He was coming to the conclusion that Hatori wasn’t that memorable, though he had to be good if he didn’t wash out. Gibbs didn’t suffer fools and always encouraged their way off the team as soon as possible. It meant something that Hatori had been on the team several months now.

Tony had tried to press McGee and Abby—and even Ducky and Palmer—about Gibbs’ team, but outside of the love fest for Alexander Remington “Mini Me” Gibbs, the team had nothing for him. And nothing wasn’t gonna help the mess of Tony’s life.

It wasn’t as if Gibbs said a word to him about how the team was adjusting. Most nights, the men lived separate lives, with Gibbs spending the evening with his boat, playing with the not so enjoyable sort of wood. Many nights, he’d crawl into bed way past midnight—and those were the good nights. More often than not, he’d sleep under the boat. Or come to bed and not even touch Tony, no matter how hard Tony’s body strained for any contact. They were drifting further and further apart every day, and Tony didn’t know how to save it any more. Or if he even wanted to try. He was tired and he was raw. And he was sick and tired of the secrets and silence. He wanted Gibbs back, his Gibbs not this strange cold zombie-like guy who was the shadow of the man he could barely remember some days.

Tony grabbed a beer and flopped down on the couch, staring out into nothingness. The dark and cool room suited his mood. He knew he should probably go upstairs and change his clothes, get comfortable and maybe see if there was a game on. But Tony wasn’t interested in much of anything tonight. He picked at the label, eyeing his watch, trying not to think of anything. Thinking was overrated and after the week he’d had, he was done. He needed to decompress.

Even though he was aware of it, Tony didn’t try to stop the feeling of crawling inside himself, the mental movies he played when times got bad. Tonight it wasn’t scenes from one of his favorites, but a jumble of memories and hopes, wishes and dreams.

“DiNozzo.”

The voice started Tony and he dropped the bottle. It clattered onto the table where it rolled in a small circle as Tony stood. At least he’d finished the beer, though he didn’t consciously remember doing so.

“Hey. How was your day?”

Gibbs shrugged, looking away, one shoulder hitching up. “Closed the case.”

“That’s good.” Tony’s vision narrowed and he looked at Gibbs’ sportcoat and a rusty stain at the collar.

“Yours?” he asked, trying to sound casual.

“What?” Gibbs asked, trying to twist around and look. He winced and grunted, his arm coming across his body. Tony swallowed hard and tried to remain casual, even though his gut was screaming something was very wrong.

“Blood, Gibbs. Yours?”

“No. Hatori’s. Got winged.”

Tony felt like an ass for being thankful that someone else had gotten hurt.”He gonna be okay?”

“Flesh wound.”

“You should have called, Gibbs.”

“Not your responsibility any more,” Gibbs shot back. Jethro wasn’t a warm and fuzzy guy, but the malice and fury in his voice was unexpected and took Tony aback. He watched his lover, wanting like hell to reach him, though he knew he couldn’t. There was a part of Jethro that was so locked down, so inaccessible that there was just no point in trying.

“Still worry,” Tony said, feeling his shoulders droop. There was a huge part of him that had already given up and they both knew it.

“Yeah, I know.” Jethro sighed, stowing his gun and tossing his keys, wallet, and spare change onto the side table.

“You eat?” Tony asked, studying the features he knew so well. Maybe he could disarm Gibbs with some charm and a visit to the diner.

“Not hungry.” Tony could only watch as Jethro strode to the basement door and pulled it open. Only when it was open did Tony rush to the door, but Gibbs closed it firmly in his face, a clicking sound echoing in the silent room. Tony blinked a few times in shock, turning the knob before sagging against the familiar wood. Gibbs had locked him out! Gibbs never locked him out!

The wall between them was growing. Tony didn’t know if he had the strength to scale it any more.

~*~

Gibbs made his way down the stairs slowly, gripping the banister and trying to hide his grunts of pain. He hadn’t lied, Hatori had been winged and his blood was on Gibbs’ shirt. But in the battle to subdue a group of meth addicts, he’d taken a lot of painful blows. Hatori had been injured, and McGee wasn’t the scrappy fighter DiNozzo was. Alex had held his own against the crazed, armed druggies, and had bruised kidneys and a concussion he was nursing. And Gibbs had two broken ribs.

He didn’t want to tell Tony; didn’t want to deal with that fallout, the worried looks, the panic. Since becoming leader of his own team, Tony had changed, and Gibbs was trying to shield him from the worst of what was happening at the Navy Yard. Tony had his own responsibilities now, and those didn’t include worrying about a former boss, and his former team.

Having Tony as an equal should have been even more relaxing than having him as a senior field agent, but Gibbs couldn’t shake the twisting and turning of his gut, something that kept him on edge at work and unable to sit back and relax in the evenings. The first time DiNozzo had been away from the team for a long time, he’d barely been back and Kate had been killed. And the second time, when he’d been afloat, Brent Langer had been murdered by Michelle Lee. When Tony wasn’t around, Gibbs’ gut wasn’t at its strongest. That would kill someone else on his team one day, and the tema had dealt with more losses than it should have.

Gibbs leaned against the workbench and sighed, pulling out his cell phone. He wanted to check on Alex, make sure that he was doing okay. McGee had offered to spend the night with Alex; those two were becoming close friends. Which freed Gibbs up to come home and deal with Tony. Or not. He didn’t know how to communicate with DiNozzo on this new level. He didn’t know how to be Tony’s equal. And as always, he’d retreated to the basement, only this time he’d firmly locked Tony out.

Gibbs dialed Alex’s cell. As expected, McGee picked up, telling Gibbs that Alex had eaten some soup and was on the couch dozing, doped up on pain meds and juice to flush the bruised organs. McGee’d been through enough concussions with Tony to know what the warning signs were. He could handle this and he was more than capable. Gibbs said a quiet goodnight and disconnected the call, feeling more lost than ever.

Gibbs turned to look at the exposed ribs of his boat and poured a jar half full of bourbon. There was no way he’d take the pain medication he’d been given; there was no way he’d dull his senses like that. Especially since he wasn’t gonna tell Tony any more than he had to.

Gibbs sipped his drink, fingertip tracing over the small scar at his hairline and wondered if he could fix this. Or if he even had the strength to try.

Chapter Two

Gibbs hadn’t come up to bed last night. Tony was wide awake at oh six hundred, arms pillowed under his head, waiting. He hadn’t slept much either, had crept downstairs twice to see if Gibbs had unlocked the basement door, which he hadn’t. From what he could tell, Gibbs hadn’t emerged for hours. Tony had to squelch his urge to knock on the door…or call Gibbs on his cell phone, which at least had been taken down there into wood central.

Tony texted Abby and McGee, but he didn’t expect to hear back, not this early, not yet. And it wasn’t as if they’d necessarily tell him what was happening. They were getting more distant about the team details by the week—if not the day. Tony was trying not to take it personally, but it was hard.

And it hurt like hell. They were his team—he’d worked with them for eight years, longer than any place. The team had become his family, and he missed them. It was the same…but it was different now. He was trying, but Tony could feel things slipping away. First it was Ziva…who Tony hadn’t even spoken with since Somalia. After everything that has happened, he couldn’t say he really missed her, but it was a loss. A change he wasn’t sure he—or the team—had been ready for. And maybe even a change the tema blamed him for. They’d had a weird friend/enemy chemistry.

Abbs was as warm as ever, but she never seemed to have a lot of time for Tony any more. And McGee…they had the brotherhood they’d had when Ziva had been in Somalia, but it was different; they were more equals now than ever, even though Tony was a team leader now. He couldn’t help feeling jealous that McGee had slipped into his old life, that McGee was Gibbs’ go-to guy now. Tony couldn’t deny that he felt as if he’d been replaced.

Tony strained to listen, his stomach clenching when he heard the basement door snick closed. His instincts had become honed over the years, his hearing sharpening almost as much as his eyesight. And it wasn’t as if he wasn’t familiar with every creak and sound in the house. As quiet as Gibbs was, Tony knew the house would give away its secrets. It always had, it always would. In that, it was his closest ally.

Tony sat up as Gibbs walked in, his entire being attuned to his lover. He watched as Gibbs first hesitated at the door, glancing to the bed, a small grimace appearing on his features. Was Gibbs pissed that he was awake? Annoyed that Tony was still here?

"Hey," Tony said quietly, patting the bed. Gibbs glanced over, freezing for a moment. With a brief jerky nod of his head, he walked over, sitting down gingerly. He was hurt. It was clear in the way he moved, the way he held himself stiffly, the way his posture had changed and slumped slightly, as if he was curling around himself, protecting his internal organs.

"What happened?" Tony asked, resisting the urge to reach out and touch Gibbs. There was no way Jethro would accept comfort right now; to be comforted when he was hurting was a sign of weakness, he'd said. It wasn't anything Tony understood or agreed with, but he respected it nonetheless.

"Hatori winged." It was what Gibbs had said earlier and didn't explain a damned thing!

Tony tamped down his annoyance, nodding. "The rest of the team?"

"McGee's fine," Gibbs assured quietly.

"And Alex?" Tony asked. Gibbs had mentioned his brother by first name only a handful of times. It was always Hatori and McGee, always Alex. Never a last name. Never a description. Nothing. And that was one of the things that hurt so damned much.

"Banged up," Gibbs admitted with a resigned shrug. "Brusied kidneys, concussion. Sent McGee home with him last night."

"And you?" Tony finished, his voice gentle and non-confrontational. He couldn’t help extending his hand, even though he let it hover in the air above Gibb’s shoulder and didn’t dare to actually touch him. Not yet.

"I'm fine, DiNozzo," Gibbs ground out, his voice sharpening. The use of Tony's last name plus what amounted to a verbal slap made him wince.

"No, you're not," Tony insisted. "Bruised ribs?"

"Broken," Gibbs admitted softly.

"Jethro..."

"Don't, Tony."

That sharp tone was in Gibbs' voice again and Tony couldn't hide his wince.

"Why not?" Tony replied, striving to keep his voice even, though he wanted to yell.

"Just don't," Gibbs finished tiredly. Tony reached out to rest a hand on Gibbs' shoulder, but Gibbs shied away. That was too much for Tony. He wrestled for the count of one hundred, trying to tamp down his rising anger and fury, but that Italian temper got the better of him.

"Someone has to," he shot back, every word delivered angrily. "I'm sick and tired of you locking me out, Jethro." Tony stood, pacing, watching Gibbs, who was looking at him impassively. Didn't Gibbs care? Wasn't he as invested as Tony was? Of course he wasn't! Tony hadn't even met--or heard about--Alex Fucking Remington Fucking Gibbs from him. It hit Tony with a clarity that almost brought him to his knees. He had to end this; he couldn't continue to do this any more. It wasn't benefiting either of them. They were killing themselves and each other doing this dance of whatever the fuck it was.

"I'll be out later today, Gibbs,” he said quietly. Now that Tony had made his decision, a peace crept over him and he felt limp with relief.

“Out?” Gibbs echoed, his voice strangely quiet. His eyes were wide and as brilliant a blue as Tony had ever seen.

“Out,” Tony replied firmly. “For good.”

“That’s it?” Gibbs asked, and Tony couldn’t miss the flash of pain deep in Gibbs’ eyes, the way his arms wound around his torso, the way he self comforted.

“That’s it,” Tony confirmed. Gibbs didn’t deserve an explanation, not after he’d pushed Tony away for months now. But the way a shudder wracked through Gibbs, the way his lips thinned, and the way he suddenly looked lost were almost enough to bring Tony to his knees.

“Tony,” Gibbs whispered, his anguish settling over Tony’s shoulders like a heavy stifling cloak. “Don’t…”

“I have to,” Tony choked out, his own pain bubbling to the surface. “I can’t get kicked any more.” He pulled in a shuddering breath, wrenching his gaze away from the other man. “I have to…”

“No…you don’t,” Gibbs whispered.

Even though it was the hardest thing Tony had ever done, he stood slowly and walked into the bathroom. He took a quick shower, washing himself mechanically, staring at the wall and letting it wash his agony down the drain.

When Tony emerged from the bathroom, drying himself and hastily packing his toiletries, Gibbs was gone. Tony nodded, refusing to look at the bed they’d shared for so long. It was over; Gibbs had let it die from neglect. At least Tony had tried.

Chapter Three

Tony had been gone only three days now, and Gibbs couldn't get him out of his head. Every waking moment was spent trying to figure out what had gone wrong. How he'd screwed up. And Gibbs knew he'd been the one to screw up. He couldn't put his finger on why and how, despite having a rough idea of what Tony was mad about. He was jealous of the team—Hatori and probably Alex. It was the reason Gibbs hadn't discussed Alex with Tony. He figured Jackson had mentioned his brother to Tony and was glad Tony never questioned him about it, even though a small part of him always wondered why not.

But between McGee, Abbs, Ducky, and Jackson, Tony probably had the gossip mill churning. When DiNozzo wanted to know something, all he had to do was probe and push. And if that didn't work, Gibbs knew he had other ways of making things happen. He didn't even want to know the specifics of how Tony got into files and made secrets his own knowledge.

Gibbs was aware that the team was worried and shaken up. Vance had pulled them off field duty. With three members of the team not at top fighting shape, there were too many chances for accidents and problems, and in their line of work, agents could end up dead very easily. Gibbs would never have admitted it, but he was glad for the down time. The team still worked in the office, doing backups, preparing reports Gibbs had let slide, even looking at some cold cases, himself. Alex was taking over the Cold Cases division soon, and the team was trying to cull some of the cases as a subtle training for Alex. It was quiet enough that he could let his mind drift and it didn't matter so much that he was drinking every night, barely eating, never sleeping.

The bed still smelled like Tony—that blend of expensive cologne and self-assured man that had always attracted Gibbs. He'd tried sleeping in the basement the first night, but somewhere between his fifth and sixth jars of bourbon, he'd ended up in the bed, his head buried in the pillow, drowning in Tony's scent. Every night since, he'd stumbled upstairs drunk and snuggled under the covers on Tony's side. The scent was starting to leave the pillow and sheets now, and Gibbs wondered if he ought to buy some of the cologne, even though he knew it wouldn't smell the same as it did on Tony’s skin.

By the time Gibbs had gotten home that night, Tony had cleared out, all signs of him gone, even the trash emptied. The house had rarely felt colder or darker. Even his favorite foods were cleaned out, dumped in the trash as if none of it mattered, as if they hadn't been a unit for so damned long.

And it hurt. It hurt like hell. It hurt in a way Gibbs had never expected to hurt again. It was different from Shannon, but it was the only thing he could compare it to. Gibbs hadn't fallen in love like that since Jenny, and before her, Shannon. Tony'd stolen a heart Gibbs hadn't even known he had to give and there was no way he was getting it back.

Gibbs shook his head and looked at the cup of coffee on his desk. Was this his third or fourth today? He didn't know, wasn't even sure it mattered. All that mattered was the oblivion he found in a jelly jar of bourbon. Or a half dozen.

"Jeth?"

Gibbs looked up, eyes locking on a pair just as blue as his.

"Alex?"

"You need to eat something.”

His brother knew him damned well, and there was no way Alex was going to let Gibbs get away without eating. He'd been pushing and needling him for a long time. Gibbs figured Alex sensed something was wrong, something that went beyond the team being hurt and him being unable to stop it.

'Not hungry."

"Don't care," Alex shot back, voice full of authority.

Gibbs was aware of a stillness in the air as everyone around them stopped what they were doing. Very few people had the guts to challenge Gibbs and the entire Navy Yard stopped when there were these sorts of confrontations.

His brother plopped a Chinese menu on his desk, glaring at him. Alex's face still bore the bruises, his pupils a little bigger than normal from the concussion. Gibbs knew that Alex's kidneys were bugging him. Ducky had taken a look at the tests and said everything would be okay in a few days, but they were all still healing and it hurt like hell for Alex to function right now.

Gibbs looked over at Cal Hatori and nodded, giving his probie a small smile. He felt a little protective over Cal, which he supposed he shouldn't have. But Cal was from the business realm and not from the military as Alex was, and he hadn’t even cut his teeth at NCIS as McGee had. Gibbs had trained McGee and the Navy had trained Alex. Hatori'd been trained in board rooms and in front of Power Point presentations. He was a good agent, but it was different dealing with him. And sometimes Gibbs was still getting his sea legs with respect to his third agent.

"What're you having, Boss. I'm starved," McGee asked, crossing to stand next to Alex. Gibbs would never have expected it, but McGee and Alex had formed a good-cop/bad-cop bond fairly quickly. They seemed to know how to work him. Gibbs didn't like the idea of being handled by anyone—especially not his younger brother. There was just something wrong with that.

But even as he thought it, he found himself flipping through the menu, the thought of savory food making his stomach growl. Gibbs wrote out his order, arching a brow at McGee, who didn't cower in the least, There had been a time when McGee would have stammered at that look, now he just stared Gibbs back. Too many years and too many war wounds lay between them. Gibbs knew McGee thought of him as more of an equal every day and Gibbs was proud of the agent Tim had become, He was far from the geeky and tentative young man Gibbs had met years ago. McGee had grown into his role of senior agent and Gibbs was proud. As proud as he was of Tony.

The thought of Tony made him wince, and he cleared his throat, looking away, glancing down at the paper and nodding. “Order,” he said, thrusting the paper at Alex. “And order some coffee.”

Alex gave him a small salute, nodding. Gibbs watched the two more senior agents conferring with Hatori, and tried to stifle his sigh. He wanted to ask McGee how Tony was doing, but he didn’t dare. Nobody knew about him and Tony. There had been a time Gibbs had considered telling the team, or at least Abby and Ducky. But there had never seemed like a good idea when they were going from crisis to crisis, and then it’d all gone to hell. Now Gibbs was glad nobody knew, even though he suspected his father had an idea. But Dad had never said anything, and Gibbs had been able to ignore his searching looks and the questions about bond between him and Tony.

After the Chinese food arrived, the team fell silent and Gibbs was glad to see Alex and McGee digging deep into cold case files. They were getting close to solving a couple of them, and with every solved cold case, Gibbs found himself thinking of Pacci, who had run the department.

Pacci and Tony had been close as well and DiNozzo had taken Chris' death hard. Dammit, did everything come back to Tony? Gibbs missed DiNozzo professionally, and personally...that was one thing he didn't even want to explore right now. It was too painful, too raw right now.

"Tony!" Gibbs heard McGee exclaim happily into his phone, and his head snapped up, his eyes focusing. With a glance at his watch, Gibbs realized that he'd been drifting for almost an hour, the food cooling, his coffee done. Gibbs tried to act as if he wasn't interested, but in reality, his mind was completely attuned to McGee's conversation.

McGee didn't give as much away as Gibbs hoped, but it was clear this wasn't case related.

"Yeah, I'll bring Abbs along. And Ducky. What about Gibbs? Oh..." McGee glanced over at Gibbs and he frowned, or Gibbs assumed his did. Gibbs was studying him out of the corner of an eye. "You moved out? Why? Oh..." McGee sounded confused now. It was no secret that Tony had moved in with Gibbs when he'd returned from being afloat, and it was clear Tony hadn’t said anything to anyone about his new location, or old one, probably that fancy apartment he’d held on to.

McGee hung up the phone, cocking his head and regarding Gibbs. “What?” Gibbs snapped.

“Tony moved out?” McGee asked, trying to modulate his voice.

“Yeah,” Gibbs replied with a shrug. “Need coffee.” He wasn’t going to sit here and answer these questions. He couldn’t do it. As good as he was, he wouldn’t be able to hide the pain that was hovering just under the surface.

He wasn’t even surprised when Alex ducked into the elevator with him. “What?” Gibbs asked, exasperated.

“Why did DiNozzo leave?” Alex asked. His eyes focused on Gibbs’ and Gibbs felt more exposed and vulnerable than he wanted to be. He barely squelched his annoyance and held back the snappy retort he wanted to say. Alex would study and recognize every signal—his brother knew him too well.

“It wasn’t working,” Gibbs finally replied just as the doors opened. He stroke out, thankful that Alex couldn’t see his face right now. “Too many crazy hours, Alex. Neither of us have time for a roommate.”

“Was that what it was?” Alex asked, reaching out to grasp Gibbs’ arm.

“What?” Gibbs asked, jerking his arm away, wincing as his ribs protested the motion. Alex stumbled slightly and Gibbs had to fight the urge to steady his younger brother. Alex’ kidneys had been badly bruised and he could have been much more seriously injured. It was blind luck that he’d rolled away from the attackers before more permanent damage had been done.

“This DiNozzo. Tony DiNozzo. The guy everyone says you should have kicked off your team years ago. And yet you moved him in, Jeth. Why?”

“Best damned agent I’ve ever worked with,” Gibbs retorted, his voice tight. “Present company included.”

“More than that,” Alex pressed.

“Leave it, Alexander. Just leave it the hell alone.”

“For now,” Alex allowed, his gaze softening. “But you’ve run away from too damned much, Jeth. The running needs to stop some day.”

“Until you know something about it, stay the hell out of my life.” Gibbs whirled, arms crossed as he glared at his brother. The skin around Alex’s eyes tightened fractionally before his brother’s gaze slid away and the other man fixed on a point over Gibbs’ shoulder. The brief stab of triumph Gibbs felt was squelched by the profound sadness tearing through him.

He missed Tony so damned badly. His life was as empty as it had been many years ago in that horrible time of loss.

“He know?” Alex asked, his voice low, soothing, sympathetic.

“Know what?” Gibbs knew his voice sounded weary.

“Know that you’re in love with him. Know why you’re driving him away.”

Gibbs knew he had to look like he’d been sucker punched. Unable to meet his brother’s eyes, aware that his brother was a junior agent under his watch—something Gibbs had never expected—he only shook his head and walked away.

Having a family member on his team was a bad idea. He had no idea why Vance had agreed to it. Yes, it was short term and Alex was technically TDY here before taking over Cold Cases, but it was still a terrible idea. And a conflict of interest on all levels. With the team being injured, Gibbs now had the leverage he needed to get Alex removed from the team right now. He didn’t need someone who knew him; he needed a newbie he could mold. If he couldn’t have DiNozzo.

Gibbs knew exactly why Vance had brought Alex to DC and put him on his team. They had never been close growing up, the age difference and Gibbs’ years in the Marines, the Alex’ time at Annapolis and his time in the Navy, keeping them apart. Leon had studied the records; hell, he’d probably gotten phone records to see how little Gibbs and Alex had spoken. The fact that they were half brothers had probably worked in his favor as well.

While Alex and Gibbs were half brothers, the fact that they’d been raised in different homes and apart had worked in Vance’s favor when choosing the right agent to keep Gibbs in line. Though Alex and Jack were close, Gibbs’ brother had been given his stepfather’s name and for whatever reason, Jackson had allowed Alex to grow up a Remington rather than a Gibbs, though when he’d become an adult, he’d legally added the Gibbs to his name. He hadn’t been raised in Stillwater, but State College, where his stepfather was a professor at Penn State.

The distance seemed to be enough for both Vance and SecNav. When Gibbs had heard the information, he’d thrown all his cards, on the table, bypassing Leon and going directly to SecNav. Who it turned out had been following Alex’s career after Alex had done him a favor some years ago. Gibbs didn’t know the details, only that he couldn’t expect any help from the Secretary of the Navy, who was a huge fan of Alex’s and wanted Gibbs’ brother to succeed. At some point along the line, Gibbs had become the go-to guy to train up and coming agents. Maybe Alex, like Jenny, was destined to fast track to the director’s desk.

Alex was close enough to keep Gibbs in line and forceful enough to make it so that he couldn’t run roughshod over McGee. When McGee had come into his own, Alex would be moved across the bullpen and Gibbs would get another new agent, probably one of Vance’s chosen from San Diego. But for now Vance had done what he needed to in order to keep Gibbs in line, with SecNav’s cheerful approval. Even the bottle of top-end liquor Gibbs had offered him hadn’t swayed him. Nor had the gentle reminder of conflicts of interest and chain of command. Gibbs had known when to give up, and even though he wasn’t happy with these developments, he was realistic enough to know that he had to play the cards he’d been dealt.

“Fine, I’ll be Special Agent Alex. We’re on work hours,” Alex said, falling into line beside Gibbs as they strode toward the coffee shop. “But you can’t shirk this forever.”

“Going to Vance. Getting you the hell off my team,” Gibbs shot back, finally locking his eyes back on his brother.

“You do that,” Alex said evenly. “By the way, Dad is coming down this weekend and staying with you.” A cold, triumphant grin lit Alex’s features and he turned away, striding back toward the NCIS building. Gibbs could only stare after him. Not only was Alex pushing into his work life, but his home life too.

“He doesn’t need to come down for me,” Gibbs said to his brother’s retreating back.

“Maybe he’s coming for DiNozzo,” Alex replied over his shoulder. “And good luck with Vance and Secretary Davenport. Next time try the McAllen. He’s a Scotch man.”

 

Chapter Four

 

I hurt myself today
to see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
the only thing that's real
the needle tears a hole
the old familiar sting
try to kill it all away
but I remember everything
what have I become?
my sweetest friend
everyone I know
goes away in the end
and you could have it all
my empire of dirt

It was well after two in the morning and Gibbs wasn’t even tired. He stared at his workbench, adjusting his stool and cupping his hands around the jar of bourbon he’d kept topped up all night. Vance had chuckled when Gibbs ordered Alex off the team, reminding Gibbs that this was SecNav’s decision as well, and that Gibbs could either deal with it or type up his resignation. He’d been half tempted to do just that when Vance ordered him off the Yard and home, telling him to get his head together, for himself, for his team. Before people got hurt. That resonated. That really resonated.

Gibbs had ridden the elevator down, grabbed his gun and coat, and stormed out without so much as a word, knowing that the team’s eyes were locked on him. The way he saw it right now, they didn’t deserve any explanations or answers. And he wasn’t inclined to give them either.

The night had passed in a haze of bourbon, recriminations, and loneliness. He couldn’t even bear to work on the boat, his usual therapy, and instead hunched over his workbench, trying to crowd out the voices screaming in his head that it didn’t have to be like this.

For so many years, he’d allowed himself to exist, to barely exist, because of some need for punishment. It was only seeing himself through Tony’s eyes that he’d had a revelation and a new perspective, that had been sorely needed. With Tony’s encouragement and quiet support, he’d begun mending fences with his father, he’d begun remembering what it was like to live in the present, instead of in the past.

Gibbs opened his phone and thumbed down to Tony’s number, hesitating. Though he wanted to pull the trigger and make the call, something stopped him. This needed to be done in person. Decision made, he pushed himself away from the bench—and the bourbon—and strode upstairs.

Though he was dressed in worn jeans and a sweatshirt, he jammed his feet in sneakers and snatched his keys off the kitchen table. He’d probably drunk a little too much to be driving, but he reasoned that the streets would be empty and the drive to DiNozzo’s place was only a few miles.

When he pulled up, Gibbs wasn’t surprised to see Tony’s lights on. His lover could be just as much an insomniac as he was, and he suspected Tony had just as much on his mind. The bourbon turned sour in Gibbs’ gut, his palms moistening as he rapped quietly on Tony’s door.

Soft steps approached, getting louder as they came closer, and the door was opened slowly, Tony giving Gibbs a wary look.

“Kinda late.”

“Kinda,” Gibbs agreed, cocking his head. DiNozzo was bare chested, in a pair of low slung pajama pants that revealed the shadow of his pubic hair, and the cock resting just below. Gibbs had to gulp hard to shove his arousal back into the box he’d allowed it to languish in. When was the last time he’d held Tony? When was the last time they’d had sex—or intimacy.

“Coming?” Tony asked, one eyebrow quirking upward.

“That an offer on the table?” Gibbs couldn’t resist teasing. He knew he’d made the wrong step when Tony’s expression shuttered and he crossed his arms over his chest.

“No.” Tony stepped back and Gibbs jammed his foot in the space between the door and frame. Tony rolled his eyes, but stepped back. “I have a friend over.”

“Friend?” Gibbs asked, fighting the bile creeping up his throat. Dressed like that, Tony wasn’t watching a game or playing cards. Though Gibbs knew DiNozzo had the bed that was far too small for fucking.

“Your brother.”

“My…” Of all the things Gibbs expected, it hadn’t been that. He knew Alex and Tony weren’t… But what was his brother doing here, overnight, no less. With Tony dressed like that. “Why?” Gibbs asked, struggling to sound neutral around the fist squeezing his heart.

“Thought it was time we met,” Tony said with a shrug. “He crashed between Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.” A faint smile emerged and Gibbs had the idea Tony was trying to squelch it. “He’s as stubborn as you in his own way. Too tired to go home, and too stubborn to sleep in my bed.” He paused. “Alex wouldn’t drink. He got nailed, didn’t he?”

Gibbs nodded. Though Alex didn’t complain, Gibbs knew his back was still bothering him. “Bruised kidneys. Wasn’t good, Tony. Wasn’t good at all. Hatori, Alex too.”

He tried to peer over Tony’s shoulder, but the other man effectively slid into the gap, blocking Gibbs’ view beyond the door. This rankled and he started to comment on it, but Tony put a hand up, shaking his head.

“No. Not the time for it, Gibbs. You want to have pissing contests, we’ll do that, but not over humans. Not over our teams.” He closed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair, and Gibbs realized Tony was shaking, little tremors he couldn’t quite cover up.

“What is it?” Gibbs asked, trying like hell to sound casual, though his eyes and attention were focused on Tony’s hand and the nervous gestures he’d just started to take in.

“Nothing.” Tony lowered his hand and looked at it, pressing his lips together. “This isn’t about me, Gibbs. It’s about Alex.”

“No. It’s about us.”

“There is no us any more,” Tony burst out. He glanced over his shoulder, shaking his head. “Not doing this in front of your brother.”

“Then come outside,” Gibbs said in a barely there growl. “He’s a big boy, he can handle himself, and you said he’s asleep. But you and me. We got some things to work out.”

Gibbs saw a second of naked longing in Tony’s gaze before the other man shut down, a wall clicking into place between them. “We’re done.”

“No, we’re not,” Gibbs insisted. He was gratified when Tony closed the door, leaning against the wall of his apartment. The hall was quiet, the lighting soft rather than harsh, but even in the gentler light, Tony’s cheekbones stood out sharply. He’d lost some weight, almost too much for Gibbs’ liking.

“What do you want?” Tony asked, closing his eyes. His head hit the wall with a thunk that made Gibbs clench his fists and swallow down the sudden rush of bile that flooded his mouth.

“You,” Gibbs admitted, and instead of the thundering and commanding tone he’d intended, a quiet whisper came out instead. He fixed his eyes at a spot just over Tony’s ear. “We had something. When did it all go to hell? Ya gotta tell me, Tony.”

“I don’t know.” Instead of Tony’s usual masks, his expression was open, stark, agonized. For a guy who lived his life wearing masks, it was an unguarded and naked moment. “When you stopped talking to me, maybe. When we started being roommates who fucked sometimes. When we lost our way.”

He took a step closer, and Gibbs fought the urge to back down, to pull himself out of the situation and retreat. And that wasn’t him, but what he and Tony had wasn’t his typical relationship. He’d put more of himself out there with DiNozzo than he had anyone but Shannon, and that scared the crap out of him.

“Find it again,” Gibbs said, breaking the silence. Even though it was different now, there was something indescribable about them that was still there. Still alive. And for the first time since he’d had his wife, he wanted to go to the wall to fight for his relationship.

He needed Tony.

“Can we?” DiNozzo asked, the anguish tramping across his features before he shuttered them.

“No. Don’t.”

Gibbs closed the distance between them, his hand lifting to Tony face. Tony flinched and Gibbs clenched his fist, breathing through his discomfort. “Don’t, Tony.”

“Don’t, Gibbs.” Tony pressed his back against the wall. “Not tonight.” Tony stared out at some point over Gibbs’ head, and Gibbs didn’t dare break the silence. He was used to waiting Tony out and sensed that Tony needed time to focus and streamline his thoughts.

“This weekend, cookout at your place. Bring whoever you want, someone you’re not gonna mind knowing about us. I’ll bring Alex.” Gibbs blinked a few times before nodding once. He had someone in mind. “A few days to think about it, Gibbs, and then we hash it out once and for all.”

“Once and for all,” Gibbs echoed. There was a dangerous finality about that.

 

Chapter Five

The three days between their confrontation—though Tony didn’t like calling it that—and the weekend stretched endlessly. Fortunately, his team hadn’t caught any new cases, and Gibbs’ was laid up with injuries. Alex had crashed at Tony’s place just the one night, but they’d spoken several times.

He wasn’t a bad guy, Tony had come to realize. Not that he had ever really thought that, but his jealousy had risen up way too easily. He and Gibbs had lost their way, especially with the change in personnel and the new team dynamics. They’d functioned so long for boss and senior agent, even though that had never come into their home life, such as it had become.

And yet—yet when Tony had left the team everything had changed and neither of them had been prepared. It was something Tony had considered both before and after Mexico. But he had expected that running his own team would strengthen their bond, not throw it all to hell. They were equals now in a very unequal way. And they were making or breaking.

Gibbs had opened up bit by bit. He’d always been kinda like Shrek, the whole layers and onion thing, not the smelly green ogre thing. Getting to know Gibbs had been a challenge, but Tony loved and admired the man he was. Gibbs was complicated, conflicted, his methods weren’t always the best, but his results couldn’t be denied. Tony could spend hours debating some of the things the team had done, but he preferred not to go there. He was leading his team in a different way, with shoulder pats instead of Gibbs’ tough love. It wouldn’t make sense for Tony to channel Gibbs. He’d tried that years ago and it hadn’t been fair to him, to the team, to Gibbs.

Tony clenched and released his hands on the steering wheel, squinting against the bright sun. It was a beautiful early-fall day and was perfect for a cookout. He was picking Alex up at the Navy Yard, where the younger Gibbs had been checking out the Navy Museum, next door to NCIS. They’d have coffee and drive over to Alexandria in two cars. God knew what the night might bring—good or bad. Tony was prepared and ready for any outcome.

As ready as he could be, anyway.

Alex had texted that Jackson was on the way down, which had been planned beforehand. Gibbs had called Tony, a quick five-minute conversation that he didn’t need to bring anything. There had been a hesitancy to his voice, a subtle uncertainty that was very un-Gibbslike, that was very, very wrong. Their relationship wasn’t the only thing that had changed.

Tony pulled up to the Naval Museum, watching Alex as his new friend moved stiffly and painfully. He’d had the crap kicked out of him in the conflict with the suspect, and while Alex didn’t seem the type to complain, Tony could see he was uncomfortable.

He stepped out of the car, extending a hand to Alex. “How’s things?” Tony asked as Alex clasped his hand in a strong grip.

“Better,” Alex admitted, a little grimace on his face that melted away into a small grin. He rolled his shoulders and tilted his head up toward the sky. Tony choked back a gasp at how much Alex resembled his brother. It wasn’t anything he could quantify, but there was something very Gibbsian in Alex’s mannerisms, in the tilt of his lips when he smiled. It was still new to Tony, and took him aback sometimes. He was starting to think of Alex as the man Gibbs could have been if life hadn’t kicked him so much.

“Coffee?” Tony asked. That had been the plan, but it didn’t hurt to confirm.

“You hungry?” Alex asked. It was only three, but Tony could eat. He started to open his mouth to answer, when Alex nodded. “Didn’t think either of you could wait. Dad’s already here, so why shouldn’t we get home and get this started.”

Tony swallowed hard, a wave of nervousness swamping him suddenly. His hand came up to rub the back of his head and then lingered on his neck. “Yeah, that’d be good. Where are you parked?”

“Not, thought we could ride over together, so I took the Metro here. I have a feeling you need to bleed off some energy and talk to a Gibbs who actually talks back.”

“Got that right!” Tony said, exhaling slowly. He could do this. He had to do this. And yet he was so damn scared they might lose it all.

He and Alex made inane conversation as they drove past Nationals Stadium and merged into Virginia-bound traffic. Alex held off on the important questions until Tony hit the Fourteenth Street bridge and they slowed to a crawl.

“What’s the plan?”

The plan? There wasn’t really one. Tony shrugged, feeling his shoulders tensing. “We talk, I guess. We talk as much as your brother allows.”

“Its not going to be easy,” Alex pointed out.

“I know. But some things are worth fighting for.”

Alex paused, and Tony heard him take in a deep breath before hesitating once, twice.

“Spit it out.”

“You’re very much like her, you know.”

Her? HER? That was a lot of pressure Tony wasn’t sure he could—or even wanted to—deal with that right now. But the Gibbs he was talking to was Alex rather than Jethro, and he wanted to know more.

“How?”

“She was different from him, much lighter hearted, kinda like you,” Alex ventured.
He doesn’t talk much about you—he never has about anyone important to him.” Tony risked a glance over to Alex, noticing the other man’s head was tilted off to the side. “I think it's that Jethro has a very revealing smile when he talks about how he’s doing. I wouldn’t have noticed it unless I knew him so well, and had seen him through those times. Ducky mentioned it.”

“Ducky, too?”

“He’s the other one who has known Jethro that long. He’s known all the ex wives.”

“And you?” Tony couldn’t fathom why Alex had been a mystery to them. Jackson, okay. They’d had been estranged for a long time. But Alex? That was a different story entirely. Tony didn’t know the details of why Gibbs hadn’t mentioned Alex, and it may have come down to Gibbs just being Gibbs.

“Me too, but it was different. I was…different. My upbringing and my family life wasn’t what Jethro dealt with at all.” Alex sighed and shifted in place and Tony had the sense that Gibbs’ brother was preparing to say something significant.

“You either give him a break and do the talking or you might lose him,” Alex said quietly. “He’s not going to change, Tony. But your responses can. The power is in your hands, but let me tell you something…”

When Alex paused, Tony nodded.

“My brother cares about you, Tony, The only question I have is if you’re both brave enough to take that step together. The power lies with you. You’re the communicator. Know when to talk, and know when to step back and let him breathe. He says a lot, just not always with words.

“Thanks Alex. You’re helping.” It was true. He had so much insight to his brother and yet he was still a mystery to Tony.

But Tony couldn’t help being Tony, and he was curious. He and Alex hadn’t discussed some of these more mundane things and Tony kinda hoped they would, once he and Gibbs had figured out what was going on with them.

If they did.

There was a very real possibility that they might be over, finito as of today. And Tony just couldn’t fathom a life without Gibbs in his life. It was like seeing a movie colorized, where everything looked wrong, even though you weren’t quite sure what was off.

It couldn’t happen.

~*~

“Leroy, settle down!”

Though his father sounded annoyed, Gibbs couldn’t stop pacing. This was a do or die moment, and Tony wasn’t even expected for a while. It was silly and stupid, but Gibbs couldn’t help his emotional investment in this and the way it manifested itself in his physical energy bursts.

He was wholly invested. In Tony. In him and Tony.

“You ready?” his father asked, voice softening. It was that tone that got Gibbs to stop pacing, though he shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Reminds me of you as a teen. All that energy. That time it was over a redhead.”

Gibbs couldn’t hide his wince, but he looked away, swallowing hard. Shannon was still a topic he couldn’t broach with anyone, the pain still cut too deep.

“Tony’s special,” his father continued, as if he didn’t expect a response, and Gibbs figured his dad really hadn’t expected a reply. He knew Gibbs all too well. “You gotta talk, open up, make this one work, Leroy.”

As if it was that easy. Gibbs hadn’t ever been a talker and it wasn’t as if he could change just like that.

“You mad he’s a boss now too?” his father continued. “That the reason for the distance?”

“No,” Gibbs replied quickly. It wasn’t that. Maybe it was a culmination of all they’d been through—Ziva, and Tony being afloat and all of it. Going back as far as Mexico, Kate’s death, McGee joining the team, even Blackadder.

“You don’t have to use words, son. Those hands of yours are talented. You can make something for him. Creating is something you do good. Make him something that matters. A rack for his DVDs or something. There are plenty of other ways to make that boy feel wanted. If you know what I mean.”

Gibbs’ gaze narrowed on his father as the implication of his words filtered through and he felt his cheeks heat. “Dad!”

“Not getting’ any younger, Leroy,” his father pointed out, seeming to be unfazed. “You want that boy, you show him. You can use the words, use the hands, the actions. He’ll respond just as easy to that as he will the I love yous.” He got up from the kitchen table and rested his hands on Gibbs’ shoulders. “You show him, Leroy.”

Gibbs nodded, wondering exactly how to show him in the short term. He could build something with his hands, but that wouldn’t be ready for a while. “Show him,” Gibbs repeated, trying to keep his mind out of the gutter, but failing. Massages. Cooking dinner. Making love with long strokes of his hands down Tony’s body.

He could do this. He had to do this. There was no way he was going to leave Tony.

“You and Tony need me and Alex to get dinner elsewhere?” his father asked, and Gibbs felt his cheeks heating again. He turned away from his father, looking out the window into the back yard. And as two car doors slammed, Gibbs couldn’t hide the rush of energy that brought him up onto the balls of his feet.

“You do!” His father came around, standing in front of Gibbs, and gave what could only be described as a wolfish grin. He clapped Gibbs on the shoulder. “You can lead a horse to water. Leroy, that boy’s at the trough, Go get him. You’re through bein’ hurt, aren’t you? Take a chance with Tony. Both of ya. Turning point here, Leroy. Just gotta get back on the horse and ride ‘em off into the sunset.”

“Enough with the horse metaphors!”

“Giddy up!” his father said with a chortle as he ambled out of the house. “He’s waitin’ for ya, son,” Gibbs heard his father say, and then the door opened and closed and Tony’s steady footfalls came toward the kitchen.

“Hi.”

Gibbs turned to look at Tony, letting his eyes drag up and down his lover’s body. “Hi.”

“Wanna talk?”

“Nope!” Gibbs replied, closing the distance between them. He reached up, a fingertip trailing over Tony’s hairline. The other man let out a sigh and then started relaxing, melting into Gibbs’ touch. “Not so good with words, but I can show ya feelings.”

Tony stared into Gibbs’ eyes for what seemed like forever. Gibbs could feel the tension melting away in degrees and let out a sigh when Tony pressed his face against Gibbs’ hand. Gibbs cupped Tony’s cheek and leaned in, brushing a gentle kiss over DiNozzo’s mouth.
When they finally broke away, Gibbs saw acceptance rather than wariness in Tony’s eyes, and something broke away. One of them let out a sound, a half sigh, half sob, and Gibbs knew they’d be okay.

“Wanna touch. You good with that?” Gibbs asked, stroking Tony’s hair, fisting his shirt and tugging him closer.

“Real good. Perfect.”

They weren’t yet, but they would be in time.