It was entirely possible that he was about to make a huge mistake, Tony realized anxiously. There was no guarantee that Gibbs even remembered this guy. Worse, they might not have gotten along when they served together. After all, Taylor had been a commissioned officer and Gibbs had just been a Gunny. If it was possible for Gibbs to be 'just' anything.
Too late to back out now, Tony told himself firmly. Given how much effort he had put into convincing Gibbs the two of them could use a couple of drinks to unwind after closing the case that had brought them to New York, it would look odd if he suddenly backed out now.Suck it up and hope for the best.
The bar was dimly lit and simply decorated. The murmur of conversation was subdued, not challenging the music that drifted outward from the stage. Tony double checked the performers. Yup, Taylor was there. Threading his way between occupied tables, Gibbs hadn't reacted. Tony was sure he'd noted all the details of the room, including the musicians, which meant that either he didn't remember Taylor, or he hadn't recognized the man. He was, after all, dressed in civvies and bent over a bass guitar.
Gibbs found a table and chose a chair. Tony was just settling into his seat when Gibbs's gaze drifted back to the stage and sharpened suddenly. Tony held his breath for a moment. Then Gibbs's eyes crinkled a little and his expression eased. Not an outright smile, but Tony had known the man long enough to know when he was pleased. "Tell me again why you picked this particular bar, DiNozzo," he said dryly.
Tony couldn't help grinning as he repeated his earlier comment. "Just seemed like the kind of place where anything could happen, Boss."
Gibbs snorted. "Especially when 'anything' gets a helping hand from a busybody subordinate."
"You want to leave?" Tony asked, glancing around and signaling one of the circulating servers.
"Not before I've had my drink," Gibbs responded.
Tony shrugged mentally. It wasn't like he'd been expecting wild enthusiasm. The real test would come when Taylor finished his set. In the meantime, they had a couple of beers and some decent jazz. Gibbs didn't seem interested in chatting, so Tony leaned back in his seat and turned his attention to people watching.
It was a pretty ordinary crowd. Almost all of them had their attention on their drinks or their companions. They weren't really here for the music; it was just pleasant background noise for them. Taking a look at the stage, Tony realized that the band didn't really care how much attention the audience paid to them. They were all smiling, leaning into their instruments, bodies moving in time with the music.
A slight commotion at the door distracted Tony from his study of the musicians. Four people, three men and one woman, had piled into the bar. The woman and one of the men, a slender black guy, were tugging on the arms of a man with dark hair and a smile that made his eyes disappear into a sea of crinkles. That smile made Tony relax a little, despite the fact that the fourth member of the group, who was standing off from his three companions and shaking his head, was obviously ex-military and all four of the group showed the distinctive lumps and bumps in their clothing that showed they were carrying.
The ex-military guy said something and the dark haired guy threw some comment over his shoulder that even at this distance looked a lot like a sarcastic, "Gee, thanks for the help."
The woman made some sort of reply and tilted her head towards the rest of the bar, probably pointing out the attention they were drawing. The dark haired guy held up his hands in surrender and his two captors traded a pleased glance.
Tony kept half an eye on the group as the black guy picked out a table and led them over to it, but turned most of his attention back to the stage now that the show was apparently over. Not surprisingly, Taylor was eyeing the group, too. Not only had they drawn the attention of everyone in the room, but Taylor was a cop and a former Marine; he could certainly tell they were carrying as easily as Tony could.
After a moment he returned his attention to his bass, but, to Tony's surprise, it didn't stay there. Taylor glanced back up at the group and watched them for a long moment before letting his eyes drift away again.
Tony looked back at the group, wondering if he'd missed something. They were sitting now, arranged around the table so that they could all see the stage, but still mostly talking to each other. They were all dressed in conservative, off the rack suits. There didn't seem to be anything unusual about them, aside from the fact that they were all armed. Maybe that was why Taylor was keeping an eye on them.
Except his attention didn't seem exactly professional. It wasn't sharp enough for that. Tony frowned to himself and continued to watch Taylor and the new arrivals. They didn't seem aware of Taylor's attention, chatting and ordering drinks. A round of beers had just been delivered to their table when the band finished their current piece and Taylor leaned towards a mike and introduced the next.
The entire group glanced at the stage, of course, but the dark haired man who'd had to be all but dragged into the bar didn't glance away again. Looking back at Taylor, Tony realized that the two men had caught each other's gaze. Taylor was the first to look away, his eyes dropping to the bass as the band started up again.
Back at the foursome's table the dark haired man seemed to have developed a new appreciation for the music. He kept his eyes on the stage as he sipped his beer and chatted with his companions.
Turning to Gibbs, Tony found him watching Taylor with a distinct light of amusement in his eyes. Tony opened his mouth, realized he was about to ask a very stupid question, and adjusted it at the last moment. "Is it just me," he said, "or were they checking each other out?"
Gibbs shot him a wry glance. "I think that was a little too protracted to count as just 'checking each other out.' I don't know about the Fed, but Mac is definitely interested."
The Fed? Tony blinked and then mentally smacked himself upside the head. Of course they were Feds. The look Gibbs gave him told Tony he knew exactly what was going through Tony's head. Tony shrugged. "Hey, I didn't think Feds were allowed to smile like that, never mind laugh."
Gibbs snorted and drained his beer. "Don't let your own experiences with them fool you into thinking they're all useless."
"Not all of them," Tony muttered, "just most of them." But he settled back into his chair and went back to people watching...and contemplating the fact that Gibbs hadn't seemed the slightest bit surprised by Taylor's apparent interest in another man.
As far as Tony had been able to determine, they'd only served together for a single tour. Given the military mind set, there had to be more than the usual degree of trust between them for Gibbs to be aware of Mac's preferences. Tony couldn't help feeling a surge of jealousy at that thought. He'd been a member of Gibbs's team for better than four years and yet Tony knew that he'd never be even half as close to Gibbs as the men he'd served with as a Marine.
The musicians completed their set and when Taylor glanced around as he unplugged his bass, Gibbs caught his eye and lifted his beer in salute. Taylor flashed a smile at him, eyes touching only briefly on Tony before he went back to tidying up his part of the stage.
Coming here really was a mistake, Tony realized. Taylor was going to join them at this table and chew over old times with Gibbs and Tony was going to get his nose rubbed in just how close he wasn't with Gibbs. The fact that Tony had arranged the whole thing was just painfully ironic. I never was the smart one.
Sure enough, Taylor soon emerged from the back stage area and threaded his way through the tables towards them. Gibbs rose to his feet to greet him.
"Gunny," Taylor said warmly, smiling. "It's good to see you."
Taylor snorted. "You didn't use 'sir' off duty even when we were both still in," he said. "Why start now?"
"Maybe I've learned greater respect in my old age," Gibbs suggested, deadpan.
"You're about as likely to have taken up yoga and found inner peace," Taylor shot back dryly.
Gibbs chuckled and gestured for Taylor to sit. "Once I would have considered that about on a par with the idea of you leaving the Corps and becoming a lab rat."
"I'm a criminalist, not a tech." Taylor flagged down one of the servers and ordered another round of beers. "Besides," he said, eyes twinkling, "you wouldn't believe what the detectives let me get away with."
Oh yeah, Tony thought as the two older men settled into what was obviously a familiar rhythm, definitely a mistake. Somehow he didn't think an introduction to Taylor was going to be forthcoming.
"Oh, I'd believe it," Gibbs commented. "You've managed to step on NCIS's toes a couple of times."
"Have I?" Taylor asked noncommittally.
A server set fresh beers on the table and Gibbs picked up his and pointed at Taylorwith it. "You know you have. A dead Marine is NCIS business."
"A dead Marine is personal," Taylor said seriously.
Gibbs tilted his head. "Can't argue with that."
The conversation drifted to old times from there, just as Tony had expected it would. He resigned himself to nursing his drink and playing spectator. As the conversation meandered along, he slowly became aware that there was something beyond the usual familiarity of old comrades between Gibbs and Taylor. It's wasn't anything obvious, just the way their eyes met when spoke of certain events, the tenor of certain jokes. Given that Gibbs had already confirmed Taylor's interest in men...but Gibbs was straight. At least, Tony had always thought he was straight.
The man's been married three times, Tony thought. I had every reason to think he was straight! Between that and his military background, Tony hadn't thought there was any doubt. Hell, the possibility had never even crossed his mind. The man had to be straight. Except, unless Tony had lost all his skill at reading people, Mac and Gibbs had been lovers once.
Which makes this an even bigger mistake than I thought. Tony groaned mentally. Because the way things are going right now, I wouldn't be surprised if I somehow end up going back to our hotel by myself.
Taylor stood, drawing Tony out of his thoughts. "I'll be right back," he said. "Order me another one of these?" He waggled his empty beer bottle. Gibbs waved him off and Taylor turned and headed in the general direction of the men's room.
Gibbs called the server over, but after he'd placed an order for another beer he added, "You know Mac, right?"
The server nodded. "He's in here every Wednesday night, business permitting," she said.
"When he gets back to the table here, I want you to take a drink to the guy in the grey suit with the dark hair," Gibbs instructed. "He's sitting at the back corner table with a woman and two other men. You can put the drink on my tab, but tell the guy that Mac bought it for him."
"You sure Mac isn't going to mind?" she asked, but from her grin it was clear Gibbs's request appealed to her.
Gibbs shrugged. "If he minds, all he has to do is tell the guy he didn't buy the drink."
The server nodded. "Sure," she said. "No problem."
Now Tony was confused. "Why'd you do that?" he asked when the woman was out of range.
"Because Mac is interested, but the man never makes the first move," Gibbs said, shaking his head a little.
"I thought you--" Tony broke off awkwardly.
"You thought Mac and I were working up to spending the night together."
Tony started picking the label off of his beer and nodded shortly. At the moment he didn't care if Gibbs took his response entirely the wrong way.
Gibbs chuckled softly. "You're jealous. And here I thought you weren't interested."
Tony looked up at Gibbs and frowned. "You say that like you knew about me."
"I've known you're bisexual since the day I hired you," Gibbs said.
"And you thought I wasn't interested," Tony said slowly. Gibbs shrugged. "Of course I was interested," Tony said, frustrated. "I just had no idea you weren't entirely straight!" Tony glared at Gibbs for a long moment. Then Gibbs's lips quirked up into a smile and he and Tony abruptly broke into laughter.
They were still chuckling when Taylor arrived back at the table. "Did I miss something?" he asked, settling back into his chair.
"No," Gibbs said. "We did," he gestured at himself and Tony. "For about four years, apparently."
Out of the corner of his eye, Tony watched the server Gibbs had spoken to arrive at the Fed's table. She handed him a drink and pointed in their direction. Tony averted his eyes quickly so he wouldn't accidentally catch the guy's gaze and found himself looking right into Taylor's eyes.
"I don't think we ever got introduced," Taylor said. "Sorry about that."
"Don't worry about it," Tony said easily. It had worked out in his favor, after all. "Tony DiNozzo."
"Ah," Taylor said, unexpected comprehension coloring his expression. He shot Gibbs a glance. "I hope you aren't going to let your ridiculous rules get in the way here."
"Set a good example for me and I might not," Gibbs said.
Taylor's brow wrinkled in confusion, but before he could make a response a new voice broke in.
Tony concealed his smile as Taylor turned in his seat and looked up to find the Fed standing over him, drink in hand.
"Thanks for the drink," the guy said.
"Ah...you're welcome," Taylor responded, a little awkwardly. Tony had no idea how the man managed not to glance at Gibbs just then. "Did you like the set?"
Tony winced internally. Given that the man had been all but dragged into the bar and Taylor's set had been over for a good twenty minutes, that wasn't exactly the best opening line.
"Well, I admit I'm not much of a jazz fan," the Fed said, smiling, "but you were enjoying yourself so much up there, it was impossible not to get drawn into the mood. I was sorry when you finished."
Fortunately, Tony thought, this guy is much better at this.
"I don't get much chance to play," Taylor said, a hair more relaxed. "I have to take advantage when I can."
"Seize the moment," the Fed nodded in agreement. He looked over at Tony and Gibbs. "You guys mind if I borrow your friend for a while?"
"Go ahead," Gibbs said easily.
The Fed nodded his appreciation, smiling, and turned his attention back to Taylor. "Shall we?"
Taylor slowly stood. "Sure." He glanced back at Gibbs as he followed the Fed over to a table for two. Gibbs just saluted him with his beer bottle and smirked.
"Playing matchmaker?" Tony asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Well, I've been told this is the kind of place where anything can happen," Gibbs said blandly.
Tony grinned. A few more 'anything's than even he had expected, apparently.