Once everyone opened their gifts, the evening quickly wound down. Tony took care of the final details and helped everyone out to their cars with their gifts after thoughtfully providing large gift bags to help. With final waves good-bye, Tony grabbed his own bag and stepped outside to his car.
“You okay to drive?” came a low voice behind him and Tony whirled around.
“Boss!” he exclaimed as he jumped slightly and then frowned at Gibbs’ smirk. “Thought you’d already left.”
“Making sure everyone got out okay. So?” Gibbs asked again and waited.
“I’m fine. Just loading up and heading home,” Tony answered. Gibbs looked him over carefully and then nodded so Tony got in after he stowed his things and Gibbs did the same in his car. They left the lot, one after the other, turning in different directions on their way home. Tony chuckled ruefully to himself. He’d half expected Gibbs to follow him home. He automatically scanned the road behind him and then laughed at himself. It didn’t stop him from scanning the area around his apartment building just to be sure.
Once he was in his place and had stowed the really cool things he’d been given, he looked around and knew there was no way he could stay there. Changing out of his more formal suit, he put on some comfortable clothes and called a cab to take him to his favorite bar.
It was late and Tony figured it was nearly closing time. Wouldn’t be the first time he’d closed this particular bar only this time his mood was very different from his previous visit and he wasn’t even close to being drunk. He went over the night’s events, happy with the way things had turned out. He’d enjoyed the look of surprise on everyone’s face when Ziva and Ray made their announcement. That had been good. What kept rolling around in his head, though, was that conversation. A part of it had filled him with worry and he hoped the stresses of their respective jobs wouldn’t damage Ziva and Ray’s relationship.
He also kept hearing Cathy say “it’s cuddle time!” He wondered if his parents had ever indulged in cuddle time during those few instances when they were together and not busy entertaining his father’s business associates. He doubted it. Maybe if they had, things could have been different. Maybe his mother wouldn’t have driven off after that fight on Christmas Day and wouldn’t have gotten into that accident. Maybe.
Cuddle time, the honest attempt to be together and then, when you were, making sure it was quality time. A few hours…it didn’t sound like much, but over a lifetime? It probably made all the difference in the world. He took another sip of his drink and became aware of a presence at his side.
“Still babysitting me?” he asked as Gibbs sat down and ordered a drink.
Gibbs shrugged and then took a sip of his drink. He looked at Tony. “You okay?”
“Taking a cab as usual, Boss.”
“Not what I meant. Are you okay?”
Tony frowned. Gibbs couldn’t actually be asking about his feelings…
“I’m fine,” he repeated.
Gibbs stared at him a bit longer. “You loved her…”
Tony looked at Gibbs in shock. “No! What? Not like that…she’s like a cousin, Gibbs,” Tony declared still reeling a bit from this very weird conversation.
Tony could see the disbelief in Gibbs’ eyes.
“Okay, maybe we sort of tried things out once, a few years ago, but it wasn’t right. She really is like family,” he said sincerely. “I honestly hope this works out for them.”
Gibbs didn’t say anything but Tony could tell that he believed him so he relaxed a bit. They were quiet for a bit more. Carl came by.
“Last call, guys,” he said easily.
Tony looked at what was left of his drink. He was done.
“I’m good. Gibbs?”
Gibbs just waved his hand once and Carl moved off.
“Come on, Tony. I’ll give you a lift.”
“We going to my place or yours?” Tony asked warily.
Gibbs eyed him the way he’d been doing a lot lately and then smirked. “I’ll run you home.”
Tony smiled and the men left together. They climbed into Gibbs’ truck. The Charger was now parked in the garage for the season since they were expecting snow.
“Thanks for the lift,” Tony said when they got to his apartment building. Gibbs stared out of the windshield and just nodded. He turned to look at Tony again.
“Door’s open,” Gibbs said finally which took Tony a little by surprise. It had been years since Gibbs felt the need to remind him of something he knew so well, but he felt warmed by it nonetheless.
“Thanks,” Tony said again with a grateful smile and then got out and trotted to the front door. He heard Gibbs pull away and only then turned to watch him drive off.
Tony ambled about his apartment. It was late on Saturday, Christmas Eve, since he’d slept in a very long time. He got something to eat and then popped a movie into the player. He wasn’t quite sure what movie he’d put it, he just let it play in the background while he got his thoughts together. He thought about Wendy and Jeanne and Ziva, three very different women that he cared for in very different ways. They each represented a different time in his life and the door was firmly closed on two of them. Wendy, though…
He looked at the clock and briefly considered going out again but knew he wouldn’t. He wanted to be clear when he went to meet her and her son. Tony dredged through his memory to see if he’d ever seen a picture of the man Wendy had married. Yeah, dark hair and eyes and with Wendy’s dark hair, Tony was sure the boy was dark-haired, too. There’d been a time when he’d imagined the child he and Wendy would have but that had been a long time ago. He couldn’t even conceive of it now. Well, he’d find out about Wendy’s son soon enough and then settled in to watch his movie.
The next day Tony sat outside of the restaurant where he was supposed to meet Wendy and her son. He kept thinking of Abby’s words about finding someone who could accept how much his job was a part of who he was and, deep inside, he knew that Wendy never would. So what was he doing sitting here? Had he actually contemplated re-opening that wound, too? He barked out a humorless laugh and then started the car without thought as to where he would go.
Naturally, he found himself sitting outside of Gibbs’ house and was surprised to see the truck in the driveway. Without questioning his actions, he jumped out of his car and walked into the house.
"Pretty pink bike, Boss. Nice tassels," Tony said as he walked down into the basement.
Gibbs huffed a bit. "For Mike Frank's granddaughter."
"Mmmm... I forgot Amira and Leyla live in DC now. Of course. So I guess you have somewhere else to be?"
"Yeah, well, so do you.”
"Ahhh, I went. Sat in the car for about 20 minutes debating. I didn't go in. Decided to swing by Casa de Gibbs instead."
"Well, we all make our own choices DiNozzo," Gibbs said with a slight note of disappointment in his voice that made Tony’s stomach clench.
"You think I made a mistake."
"I think you made it twice now," Gibbs said as he lifted the bike onto his shoulder.
Huh. So Gibbs thinks he should have chosen Wendy over NCIS? Only problem was that Gibbs didn’t know all the history. Wendy expected a lot. Probably more than he was capable of giving then…maybe even now.
“Well, when I joined NCIS I knew what you expected of me…everything. Doesn't exactly leave a lot of room for the Wendy's of the world,” he said to Gibbs’ back as he started hauling the bike upstairs.
"Did you come here to blame me, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked as he paused on the steps.
"No Boss," Tony answered softly. His choices were just that…his. He’d never begrudged the time he’d devoted to the job…to Gibbs.
"Good," Gibbs answered but didn’t take another step.
Tony looked down at the bench and saw the coffee cup and mason jar, one placed inside of the other for the next time he’d be there, in the basement, with Gibbs. He’d always been an all or nothing type of guy. It’s what Gibbs had expected and what he’d been more than happy to provide. Working for Gibbs was everything. But maybe…just maybe he could split that up a bit differently. Quality over quantity.
"Family and job, two different cups."
"That's right," Gibbs said from his station on the steps.
"And... If I couldn't fill both, that was my problem," Tony said still contemplating the two cups.
At Gibbs agreement, Tony looked up. "What if I can now?"
"Then get out of my basement!” Gibbs ordered, seemingly angry now. “Man up and move on."
"Like you have," Tony accused, slightly angry at Gibbs’ response. Was he kicking him out now?
"Don't be like me. Learn from it,” Gibbs said and then strode angrily up the stairs.
Tony watched him leave. "Good talk!" he said sarcastically and then put the two vessels down. He looked at the workbench and played with the old string of lights Gibbs had, yet again, strung up. They flashed half-heartedly a couple of times before going out and staying out.
"Merry Christmas," he said dejectedly. He heard movement and looked back up to see Gibbs with his coat on looking at him from the stairs.
"Hey! Are you coming or not? Leyla's making lamb," he asked somewhat exasperatedly.
"You sure it's alright?" Tony asked, stunned at the turn of events.
"Yeah, I told her you were coming."
Tony scrunched his face in confusion. "When?"
"I told her last week. You're not gonna find what you're looking for down here, DiNozzo. Come on," Gibbs said with a wave of his arm and then turned to jog up the steps.
Not if you’re not here, Tony thought as he watched him go and then automatically followed as he always did. The Christmas lights on the bench chose that moment to come on and he smiled.
TBC in Fill Me Up, Part 2: The Bucket List