Gibbs frowns, gazing around the squad room. Something isn't quite right, but he can't put his finger on what it is. His team is at their desks, diligently writing up their reports on their latest case, but he can see minute signs of tension in all three of them. The case had been a rough one, senselessly brutal.
Ziva types with the same ruthless efficiency that she applies to everything, her fingers precise on the keyboard, turning her notes into a finalized report without any hesitation over word choice or phrasing. Ziva's reports are always refreshingly terse and to the point. Her hands are rigid, and Gibbs surmises that she would be taking the case out on some unsuspecting male later on. He knows she fucks to forget and leaves most of her casual pickups in a state of disbelieving shock.
McGee is more fluid with his typing, the translation of his thoughts into words coming naturally and easily to him. Gibbs appreciates McGee's reports because they are so easy to read and understand, although they aren't nearly as short as Ziva's. McGee's face is taut, his mouth in a thin line and his eyes squinting as though he were looking at the sun. Gibbs knows all about McGee's small circle of close friends, and he doesn't doubt that the young agent will find his way to their comforting and undemanding presence before the night is over.
Both McGee and Ziva are upset, but they are handling it. They'll work out their feelings and frustrations, and then come back to work normal and ready for more. They aren't the source of his unease.
That leaves one person. Gibbs watches his senior agent carefully. Tony hums a jaunty tune under his breath while he works at his computer. His mouth turns up at one side as though he is going to break into one of his room-brightening grins at any moment.
Tony glances up to meet his eyes just once, and the bad feeling that has been lurking in Gibbs' gut intensifies and coalesces.
Those hazel eyes give lie to everything else about him.
Unfortunately, Gibbs recognizes the look. He's seen it in the mirror often enough. Tony is on the verge of defeat, of giving up and letting the darkness that lurks on the edges of civilization overwhelm him. They see things like this case all the time in the course of their work, but it looks like Tony is reaching the end of his ability to cope with it.
While Gibbs' own despair had been the result of one single, life-shattering event, he suspects that Tony's is an accumulation of things – loving and losing Jeanne, Jenny's death, his exile afloat, and then finally Ziva's anger and distrust which was coupled with months of worrying about her.
The idea of Tony being broken is suddenly the most repugnant thing Gibbs can imagine. He won't allow it to happen. Not on his watch.
He waits until they've turned their reports in, and then he barks, "DiNozzo! With me!" in a tone that accepts no argument.
Tony no doubt recognizes the tone because he shrugs, slinging his pack over his shoulder and falling into step with Gibbs. They ride to the parking level in silence. Gibbs can feel Tony's impulse to ask questions, and while he appreciates that Tony manages to stifle it, he sees it as one more sign that things are really off with his senior agent.
Tony restrains himself until they are beside Gibbs car. "Boss? Where . . . ?"
"Get in, DiNozzo."
"But, I drove . . ."
Gibbs stares at him, not saying anything else. With a sigh, Tony rolls his eyes and then tosses his bag in the back, settling himself in the passenger seat. Gibbs doesn't say anything on the drive to his house, but he stops at a drive through for an order of Tony's favorite kind of burger.
"Eat," he orders, handing the food to DiNozzo.
Tony gives him an incredulous look but doesn't argue. Gibbs knows he can't expect this compliant Tony to last forever, but he really doesn't want to have to explain something he isn't quite sure he understands yet.
Neither man speaks for the rest of the drive to Gibbs' house. Tony seems to be in a state of numb acceptance that really bothers Gibbs because of its unnaturalness. When they walk in the door, Gibbs slips his fingers under the straps to Tony's backpack and eases it off his arm, leaving it on the couch. Tony startles, staring at him with wide eyes.
"Come on," Gibbs says, leading the way to the guestroom.
Tony follows without comment, but one look at his face tells Gibbs that his curiosity was roused. Gibbs hides a grin. A curious Tony is a normal Tony. Gibbs steps into the room and turns the blankets down. Habit made him keep the room ready as though he were expecting someone. Habit and years of nagging wives. He's glad he'd done it now.
Gibbs moves forward and loosens Tony's tie, pulling it out of his collar and setting it on the dresser. Next he unbuttons Tony's shirt and pushes it off. He keeps his movements brisk and clinical, not lingering on the chore like he would if he was undressing a lover.
"What the fuck, Jethro?"
Annoyance colors Tony's voice. That and the use of his name instead of his title tells Gibbs how pissed Tony is.
He steps back. "Take your pants off."
"You're freaking me out, boss," Tony says, his smirk back in place. His gaze challenges Gibbs, but when Gibbs reaches for his belt, Tony backs away hurriedly. "Okay, I can do it."
"Get in bed," Gibbs says, keeping his tone stern.
Tony looks mutinous, and Gibbs adds, "I'll tie you to it if I have to."
"Normally, I'd say that sounds like fun, but right now I'm getting a definite Annie Wilkes vibe from you."
Quoting movies is a good thing, Jethro decides. Not that he knows what Tony means, but he can tell just by the way Tony is acting what he's supposed to do next. Gibbs plays along. "Who? Never mind. In."
Tony looks wary as he lies down in the bed. Gibbs pulls the blankets up, tucking them carefully around Tony's body. The wary look turns into outright astonishment.
"I'm not a kid," Tony protests. "I'm especially not your kid."
"I know," Gibbs says, keeping his voice as mild and soothing as possible. He runs a hand through Tony's hair gently. "Go to sleep."
He turns the light off and closes the door without looking back. He really can't explain what he is doing at the moment, but he's just running on pure instinct.
The next morning Gibbs makes pancakes, bacon, and coffee. When DiNozzo appears, freshly showered and shaved, and somehow managing to look fresh despite wearing yesterday's clothes, he looks more rested than Gibbs has seen him in a long time.
"Eat," he says gruffly, putting a plate down at the table.
"I don't . . ." Tony starts to protest, but the words die when Gibbs glares at him. He sits down and eats quietly. Gibbs has his own food and several cups of coffee. He watches his guest, pondering whether the silence is Tony's normal morning mood or whether it's part of the problem. He decides that he needs more data. Abby would be so proud of his methodical approach to the problem.
That evening, Gibbs drives them back to his house, completely ignoring Tony's protests about his own car. When they arrive, he settles Tony on the couch and orders pizza.
Tony sits hunched forward with his hands clasped between his knees. Gibbs sits down beside him, not really knowing what to say to him, but offering his presence anyway.
"Why are you doing this?" Tony asks finally.
"Why are you letting me?" Gibbs responds.
"I have no idea."
Gibbs shrugs, not wanting to analyze the whole thing too carefully. His gut had been jabbing him, making him crazy with the sense of things off balance. Now that Tony's here, under his watchful eyes, his instincts are calming, telling him that he's doing the right thing. He's not sure he could explain that to Tony without making a fool of himself, so he settles for inscrutable silence.
Tony sighs and shakes his head. "Whatever," he mutters.
Gibbs tenses, ready to stop him if he tries to leave, but Tony flops backwards on the couch, spreading his arms and legs as though he's taking over. The doorbell rings then and Gibbs gets up to pay for the pizza. They eat in silence, although this time the quiet isn't weighted with things neither wants to talk about. It just is.
When they finish, Tony helps with the clean up and then stands in the kitchen, looking uncertain.
"Time for bed," Gibbs says.
"But . . . it's only a little after eight."
"Oh, this is fucking ridiculous." Tony grumbles, but he's already turned to go up the stairs.
Tony has his back to the door when Gibbs enters. This time he keeps his hands to himself and is careful not to react when Tony turns around wearing nothing but his boxers, defiance in his eyes. Gibbs just pulls the blankets down and holds them up, patiently waiting for DiNozzo to stop his rebellion and lay down.
"This is so fucking weird. Most people who get me naked don't want to tuck me in."
Gibbs admits that under other circumstances he wouldn't be opposed to getting Tony naked for reasons other than to just put him to bed. And if he thinks that it will help DiNozzo with whatever was going on with him, Gibbs won't hesitate to seduce him. His gut is telling him that sex will make things worse though, so he doesn't respond to DiNozzo's taunt.
Instead he says, "Not now. You need sleep."
DiNozzo flares to anger with that. "I told you I'm not a fucking kid. Don't tell me what I need."
"All right. Get in."
Gibbs is afraid that Tony will push the whole thing and then the progress he's made will be erased, but the fight goes out of Tony and he crawls into bed. Gibbs works the covers around his body and doesn't neglect the careful caress to the back of his head.
The routine holds for the next week. Gibbs is slightly surprised by the large amount of clothes that Tony keeps at the Naval Yard. Every day he disappears after they check in, reappearing in fresh clothes. At some point during the week, Tony drives his car to Gibbs' house and Gibbs learns the right angle to take into his driveway to leave room for two vehicles.
Gibbs discovers that Tony's morning silences are natural, and that he breaks into speech only after he's in the car and heading towards work. DiNozzo fills the silence with observations and speculations, but Gibbs finds that he doesn't really need to participate. Tony seems fine with the situation as long as Gibbs doesn't try to shut him down. Gibbs is relieved enough that DiNozzo's back to babbling that he puts up with it, letting most of the words run over him.
When Tony shows up in the squad room wearing clothes that he'd worn just a week ago, Gibbs realizes that the other man has finally run through his supply of spare clothes.
Their current case goes badly wrong mere hours later, leading to Tony being taken hostage and Gibbs pacing around like a wounded bear. DiNozzo survives, but the terrorist doesn't and Tony ends up wearing most of the man splattered all over his back. Gibbs is unbearably relieved that Tony managed to get himself far enough away before the scumbag dropped the kill switch.
Tony's shaking while the technicians work on him, scraping as much 'evidence' as they can from his clothes. Gibbs makes sure to stay where DiNozzo can see him, hoping his presence will give the stunned man some much needed reassurance that he's alive and fine. Someone finally drops a blanket around DiNozzo's shoulders and Gibbs drives them back to the Naval Yard.
He pushes Tony towards the showers. "Get cleaned up, and then write your report."
DiNozzo's shoulders hunch. "I don't have a change of clothes here. Used them all."
"Take some of mine."
Gibbs really wants to stay and make sure DiNozzo's all right, but he's got responsibilities he can't neglect and that won't wait. Tony is still pale when he comes upstairs, but the shaking is barely noticeable. Gibbs looks him over carefully and decides that he's steady enough for now. He'll do a more thorough job of tending to DiNozzo when he can get them home.
It's late before he can leave due to some delays with Major Mass Spec, but he needs to know if there are any clues to the origins of the explosive in the residue they removed from Tony's clothes. DiNozzo has his head down on his desk by the time Gibbs comes back with Abby's report. Gibbs' clothes are a pretty good fit on him, although the sleeves of his sweatshirt and the legs of his pants aren't quite long enough to look completely natural.
"Lets go, DiNozzo," he says, keeping any hint of anger out of his voice. He is angry, no doubt, but not at Tony.
DiNozzo is quiet as they walk to the car, his steps having a slight hesitation to them that Gibbs thinks no one would ever notice. Not unless they'd walked beside Tony for years, long enough to know how his usual stride is.
Gibbs turns the car towards Tony's apartment. DiNozzo looks around as he realizes where their route is taking him and Gibbs can feel the tension in the car ratchet up to unbearable levels. He can't figure out what the problem is.
Finally, Tony says, "Uh, boss. My car is at your house."
Gibbs glances at him, shocked at the misery in Tony's voice. He's not sure what brought it on, but he'll wait to draw any conclusions until DiNozzo decides to tell him what's bothering him.
"I'm sorry. Jethro, I know you're mad at me, but please . . ."
Gibbs feels even more perplexed. "Please what?"
"Don't kick me out," Tony whispers.
Knowing that a grin is inappropriate under the circumstances, Gibbs carefully keeps his face neutral, trying to keep the triumph out of his voice. "Thought you might like to get some of your things. Clothes. DVDs."
"Oh," Tony says.
Gibbs turns into the entrance to the apartment complex, and DiNozzo shakes his head. "Sometimes I really don't get you, boss."
DiNozzo laughs and it's not the bitter sound that Gibbs has been hearing lately, so he allows himself a satisfied smile.
While Tony gathers his clothes in a duffle bag, Gibbs finds a grocery bag and haphazardly dumps as many movies as he can fit into it. He figures that Tony can sort out what he really wants later.
Back at Gibbs' house, he pushes Tony towards the master bath. "Go shower."
"Hey. I took one already."
"Do you really feel clean?" Gibbs asks. He knows that when he ends up wearing body parts, it takes him a long time to wash the feeling of revulsion away. He can't imagine that Tony's any different.
"No. Guess not."
Gibbs follows Tony into the bathroom and turns the shower on, adjusting the lever until the water is a good temperature – hot enough to burn but not enough to scald. Tony watches him, that bemused look back in his eyes. Gibbs tugs at the hem of the sweatshirt and DiNozzo raises his arms. Gibbs drops the shirt onto the floor and then tucks his thumbs into the waistband of the sweats. Tony makes a sound that halfway sounds like an objection, but Gibbs ignores him. Tony picks his feet up to step out of the material. Gibbs looks him over slowly. Tony's filled out over the years, no longer looking like a scrawny boy. He's solid, the lines of his body matured. Gibbs has to admit that he likes it. He meets Tony's eyes, which are full of questions that Gibbs can't answer.
"I'll find you something to wear," he says, leaving DiNozzo his privacy, and picking up the discarded clothes.
On his way to the laundry room, he detours to Tony's room and finds a pair of soft and worn sweats in his duffle bag. He pulls them out and then puts them in the dryer along with a couple of towels, setting it on warm. Past experience tells him that DiNozzo will be at least twenty minutes in the shower, so he turns on the oven and pulls a package of frozen lasagna out of the freezer for dinner.
He putters in the kitchen, mentally counting down how long it will take DiNozzo to wash the horror of their case off his body and settle his mind. When he thinks that the time is almost up, and the hot water is on the verge of running out, Gibbs retrieves the sweats and the towels, and goes back into the bathroom.
The bath is full of steam, the mirror completely occluded. Gibbs sets the sweats on the edge of the counter and unfolds one of the towels just as the water shuts off. DiNozzo doesn't seem surprised to see him when he pulls back the curtain.
Gibbs holds the towel up. "Come on."
Tony shakes his head, flinging droplets of water from his wet hair, but steps out of the shower. Gibbs wraps the towel around him, noting that his skin is deeply flushed from the heat of the water. He rubs the towel over DiNozzo's head, and drapes the other one over his shoulders. Methodically, he sets to work drying off the other man.
"You don't have to do this," Tony murmurs.
"Maybe I want to," Gibbs replies.
DiNozzo acquiesces to the touches, cooperating as Gibbs moves his body around, drying every nook and cranny. Gibbs is aware that Tony's gotten hard, but he pretends that he doesn't notice, keeping his touches as firm and clinical as possible. He finishes the job and finally holds out the warmed sweats so Tony can step into them.
Tony's a deeper red than before. "Sorry, boss," he mutters. "Natural reaction to touching. You know."
"It's fine, Tony," Gibbs says. "Dinner's ready whenever you are."
He leaves DiNozzo to deal with the problem or not. The last thing he wants to cause Tony any discomfort, not when the attention he's been paying the younger man seems to be working.
They fall into an easy routine. Tony's car stays parked most of the time, and they ride together most mornings. Gibbs watches carefully and he sees as the twinkle in Tony's eyes gradually becomes genuine. Neither of them mentions anything about Tony going back to his apartment. Gradually DiNozzo's possessions migrate to Gibbs' house. Sometimes, Tony falls asleep on the couch, his nose buried in a book. Gibbs has mastered the art of slipping a pillow under his head and draping a blanket over him without waking him.
His gut has calmed down considerably about Tony, and he's happy that the lost look has faded. But the whole thing feels unfinished somehow, as if there's something else he should do.
It nearly falls to pieces one night when he's least expecting it. Gibbs is already in bed, nearly asleep, when Tony knocks on his door.
"What is it, DiNozzo?"
Tony shifts from foot to foot, oddly nervous. "What if I wanted to put a TV in my room?"
Gibbs shrugs. "It's your home, do what you want."
Tony seems to be turning the words over in his head, looking for their meaning. Gibbs waits.
"Why did you do this?"
He doesn't need to explain what he means. Gibbs doesn't have a better answer than he did the first time he forced Tony to come home with him. His gut is rarely wrong, although he's not sure DiNozzo will accept that it was blind instinct. There's no other answer though.
"Felt like the right thing to do. For me. For you."
"What about the rest of the team? What if they needed this? Would you take us all under your wing?"
Trust DiNozzo to cut to the heart of the matter and ask the hard questions. Gibbs sighs. "No, I don't think so. It wouldn't work for them. Just you."
He hopes that's enough to satisfy Tony's curiosity, since it's really the only answer he has. DiNozzo doesn't seem reassured though and actually seems twitchier than before.
"What if . . ?" Tony licks his lips. "What if I want more?"
"More of what?" Gibbs asks, feeling as though he's missing something important, but not sure what it is.
"More . . . from you."
Gibbs connects the dots finally, and Tony's nerves suddenly make sense. He goes with his gut though, making the offer before he can stop to think whether he'll be able to follow through. He lifts the covers and scoots over, leaving room for Tony.
Tony's joyful laugh makes it all worth it, and Gibbs realizes that this isn't falling apart, but it's finally coming together. Gibbs has no doubts that he'll be able to give Tony what he requires as he rolls into Tony's warmth. Tony's mouth opens easily for him and his body welcomes Gibbs. The peace that maybe they both needed blankets them.