The thing about a tuxedo, Tony thinks, is that it’s like a suit of armor – and takes about as long to put on. Socks, shirt, shirt studs. Cufflinks, vest, bow tie.
Bow tie. He’s never gotten the hang of it. He can do a necktie in a few dozen different knots – four-in-hand, Windsor, half-Windsor, Pratt-Shelby – but the bow tie eludes him. Tonight he’s tried three times, and still it sits there under his Adam’s apple, loose and lopsided. Briefly, he considers going for a black necktie instead, then decides to stick with tradition. If a bow tie is good enough for Bond, it’s good enough for DiNozzo, Jr.
He pulls on his pants and turns to check out his ass in the mirror. If this party were anything other than what Walsh had hinted it would be, Tony would wear his other pair of tuxedo pants, the ones that don’t show off nearly everything he’s got. But Walsh had barely avoided saying this party was an exclusive, anonymous meat market, and at the very least Tony needs to make sure he has someone to kiss when the clock strikes midnight.
Hell, if worse comes to worst, he can grab Walsh at 11:55. There’s been an undercurrent between them for a few weeks now, and if Tony learned anything in all of those dorms, summer camps, and frat houses, it’s how to spot the guys who spend most of their time pretending they don’t like sucking cock. After all, it takes one to know one.
When the cab pulls up in front of the house, Tony almost lets out a low whistle. White stone, columns, manicured grounds. Walsh has friends in high places. He pays the cabbie and walks up the drive, letting his hips roll into what has to be called a saunter. He’s not sure what he’s in for, but he figures he needs to look – and be – ready for anything.
At the door, he’s given a black domino mask, which he slips on before walking into the house. It’s all parquet floors and Colonial-style furniture, and filled with throngs of masked people wearing tuxes and ball gowns. He watches tuxedoed waiters come through the foyer carrying trays of drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and revels in the shiver that runs down his spine. It’s all so cinematic, like something out of a Cary Grant movie. He’s going to have fun tonight, he can feel it.
Tony snags a glass of champagne from one of the passing waiters and begins walking through the crowd. It’s an eclectic bunch, probably due to how many people were invited by other guests. A tall brunette in a red strapless dress catches his eye, but she’s already talking with someone, so he keeps going. After a hour or so, he feels overheated – besides the layers of clothes he’s wearing, the mask makes his face hotter than he’d bargained for – so he undoes his bow tie and a couple of buttons on his shirt. Maybe if he looks a little undone someone will volunteer to finish the job.
He’s on his third glass of champagne and about to hit the buffet when a man a few feet away shifts his weight and leans against a large marble pillar. Tony can’t figure out why such a slight movement would grab his attention in the middle of a giant party, but a closer look proves his lizard brain made a good choice: Salt-and-pepper hair, a nice body under the tux. The guy’s looking over toward the band, and the way he’s not talking to anyone, or even looking like he wants to talk to anyone, prompts Tony to make his move.
He skirts a few groupings of people, which puts him at his target’s back. "This your first time?"
The guy turns – fast reflexes – and looks like he’s about to say something snarky, but just stops instead, and once Tony sees his eyes, he really wants to stay, because those eyes… those eyes are a hundred percent Steve McQueen, and Tony’s had a thing for McQueen since the first time he saw Bullitt.
"This sort of thing isn't really my scene. I'm more into nightclubs and DJ's and all that,” Tony continues, watching the guy sip his champagne and look off to the left.
"So why are you here?" Mystery Man asks, and then flinches so faintly Tony barely picks it up. He remembers the lecture Walsh gave him about preserving people’s anonymity if they wanted to keep it, and figures whoever invited this guy had nagged him about it, too.
Tony shrugs. "Buddy of mine at work...saw I'd been having a rough few months. Told me I needed a night off...a night where I could just relax and have fun and not have to worry about the real world for a while."
"My friend told me something similar," Mystery Man replies, gesturing vaguely toward the dance floor. "He appears to be taking his own advice."
"Good advice,” Tony says, leaning back to finish his champagne. He can feel the man’s gaze on him like a tangible thing, and knows he’s interested in… something. "Like what you see?" Oh, flirting is always so much fun.
Mystery Man jerks his head up to look at Tony’s face instead of his crotch, and Tony smiles. "You don't mind?" the guy asks, his eyes open a little wider behind the mask.
"If I hadn't wanted people to look, I wouldn't have worn them," Tony says. "My buddy...let’s just say he told me what sort of party this could turn out to be." He moves a bit closer, leaning in toward Mystery Man, whose whole body tenses up. Never dropping the sultry look on his face, Tony checks his move and gives him a little space. “Hey, if you’re not comfortable with it, that’s cool. I mean, maybe we could just talk.”
The guy appears to consider it, touching his mask with an economical move of his finger. Tony figures he’s worried about staying anonymous, which might mean he’s law enforcement, or military. The grown-out high-and-tight haircut makes Tony think Marines, so probably military. Tony decides to wait him out.
"Maybe we should find somewhere a little quieter," Gibbs finally says. "To... to 'talk'."
"Whatever you say,” Tony replies. “How about if I get a plate from the buffet and we take a look?”
Tony fills a plate with pretzels and some small pie things, Mystery Man following close behind him. They spy a small alcove under the grand staircase and sit next to each other on a little bench. Tony turns so he’s half-facing Mystery Man and says, “I’m Tony.” He’s not very concerned about the whole anonymous thing, and Tony’s a pretty common name, anyway.
“Call me Lee,” Mystery Man says, with a small half-smile that makes Tony assume Lee is a fake name.
Tony launches into some small talk, and somehow they just keep going. Lee asks some questions that seem casual, but Tony can tell he’s trying to get some information. Tony’s familiar with the technique from his own training, so maybe Lee is law enforcement and not military. Tony’s also familiar with deflecting personal questions, so he feints and parries, and time rolls by. He finds himself chattering without really thinking about it, keeping it superficial and sometimes saying something he doesn’t really believe, just to keep the focus off himself.
"I tell you, Lee," Tony says, "That was the best damn movie ever made." He stuffs a pretzel into his mouth and tries not to wince. The Fugitive? It’s great and all, and he plans to someday be involved in a manhunt that will give him the opportunity to quote Tommy Lee Jones’ speech about doing a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in the area, but the best damn movie ever made? No.
Tony looks at Lee, hoping he can convince him to take this to a hotel or an arbor in the garden or something, because Tony really wants to get his hands on him. And his mouth, and any number of body parts. Tony doesn’t really have a type, but Lee is driving him crazy with his big hands and his smile, and his unconscious habit of touching his mask every now and then, like he’s worried it’s going to fall off despite the elastic band. He seems uncomfortable in the tux, so Tony figures that on a normal day, Lee dresses himself indifferently at best. God, does Tony want to find out if he’s right.
Lee looks like he’s working up to saying something, so Tony stays quiet, trying to not look too eager. “Tony…” he says, and the music stops in the main room.
The bandleader announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, and anybody else. It's coming up close to midnight, so if you would all charge your glasses and join us on the dance floor and we can count down to the New Year."
Tony stands up reluctantly, saying, "Guess we'd better rejoin the crowd." He hopes the mood isn’t broken. He can kiss Lee at midnight and suggest they continue elsewhere. If the guy hesitates, Tony will mention a diner he knows that’s not far away.
They head to the dance floor, and Lee says, "Tony, I've really enjoyed myself tonight."
"Me too, Lee," Tony replies, doing his best to avoid grabbing Lee and kissing him right there. Something tells him Lee wouldn’t respond well to it.
Lee continues, "And I..."
A waiter pops in out of nowhere, holding out another tray of champagne flutes. "Drinks, gentlemen?"
Tony and Lee each pick up a glass, and then a group of partygoers swarms by, separating them. Tony spots Lee, makes eye contact, and tries to get back to him. He raises his glass and watches as Lee strains toward him, and then gets pulled back because someone grabs his arm. Is that Lee’s friend, the one who invited him to the party?
The crowd is really starting to bug Tony; everyone’s crowded onto the dance floor, and they’re packed like sardines. Tony can’t even move around as the bandleader goes through the countdown and gets the band to start playing “Auld Lang Syne.” Spinning around, Tony spots Walsh in a far corner, making out with a WASPy blond guy. Go, Walsh.
After the song is over, people start drifting off, no doubt looking to take their personal parties to a more private location. Tony quickly moves through every room he can find, scanning faces and coming up empty. Finally, around one in the morning, he gives up, going outside and asking one of the waiters to call him a cab.
Traffic is awful, and it’s two o’clock before Tony gets home. He pays the driver and goes into his apartment, chugging down a big glass of water while staring out the window at the street below. His head feels kind of cottony, and he tries to remember how many glasses of champagne he had. If he gets a champagne headache on top of losing Lee in the crowd, it’ll be the goddamn capper to the night. It hits him then that he would have been better off just stationing himself next to the door and waiting for Lee to leave. He sighs. Damn it all.
In his bedroom, he slowly removes his tux, piece by piece, imagining what it would have been like to take off Lee’s the same way: To hang up his jacket, and unfasten his cufflinks, stashing them in a cup or something to keep from losing them. To undo the shirt studs and buttons, unbuckle the cummerbund, and push Lee’s shirt off his shoulders, baring his chest. He tries not to think about it, because doing so seems so pathetic, but he’d felt a real connection with Lee, and now he has nothing, and no way to find him. Tony crawls into bed naked and drifts off after awhile. He dreams about running his finger along the edge of Lee’s mask, trying to pry it off.
So that’s it. With no way of tracking him down, Tony makes himself put Lee out of his mind. He hits the bars again, the clubs. A few months later, Walsh transfers to New York, so there goes the only person on the force who knows even a little bit more about Tony than what he presents on the surface. They never do hook up.
Eventually, Tony settles into a routine of casual dates and short-lived relationships, not really committing to anything but the job. He tells himself his life feels full, is full.
And then one summer day, one sweltering, humid, hot-as-hell day, he’s crouching next to a car in Fells Point that contains the body of a Navy Petty Officer when he hears someone behind him say, “Who’s in charge here?” The captain had told Tony the Navy was on its way, so he’s prepared to charm his way onto the case. He plasters on his friendly grin and when he turns around, he finds himself smiling for real, a big, open-mouthed smile, because standing here just off Aliceanna Street, is Lee. The haircut is as unflattering as it was two years ago, and Lee’s fashion sense is just as tragic as Tony had figured it would be, but Tony doesn’t care. Lee tilts his head and smiles back, and Tony knows the recognition is mutual. He stashes his pen and says, “Detective Anthony DiNozzo, Baltimore PD.” He shakes Lee’s hand, smiling the whole time like a total dork. “Call me Tony.”
How did you get into NCIS?