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The Story of A Boy

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Tony winced as Ducky’s fingers moved over his chest and ribcage.

“I’d say bruised, not broken, but I still wish you’d see a doctor, m’ boy.”

He shrugged his shirt on carefully, wincing again at the pull against his ribs. “You are a doctor, Ducky.”

“My ‘patients’ are all dead, Tony. And if you’re not more careful.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. You’ll be seeing me on your table.” He cut Ducky off, knowing the lecture by heart at this point. He’d heard Ducky’s analysis of his behavior from every angle over the past six months -- friend, co-worker, and psychologist. If it kept up he might actually have to go to a ‘real’ doctor, just to skip the chastisement.

Ducky sighed, shaking his head and patting him on the shoulder. “At least take care of yourself the way you’re supposed to while those heal.”

Tony grinned, “What, miss a chance to pamper myself?”

“I’m serious, Tony. With your lungs, the last thing you want to risk is pneumonia. I will go to the director if I have to. Besides, do you really think you’ll be helpful to the team this way? What if one of them gets hurt because you couldn’t move like you needed to?”

Shit. Ducky knew exactly which buttons to push. Tony would happily risk himself but he couldn’t risk McGee or Gibbs. “Fine, I got it. Ice, pain pills, deep breaths, no sudden movements.”

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

Tony gave the junior agent that had volunteered to drive him home, the address on autopilot, not even thinking about the office grapevine until he was up the stairs, undressed and sliding into bed. By then, he was too tired and sore to care.

 

The pain pills had worn off enough for the pain to wake him and he was laying there, trying to find the energy to get up and get some more when he heard the door open and close and then familiar footsteps on the stairs.

He squinted at the light from the hall as Gibbs opened the door. If he was surprised to see Tony there, he had no plan to show it, as usual.

“Ducky told me he gave you the lecture, so I won’t bother.”

“Thanks, Jethro.”

“At least you got yourself transport for life. The junior agents were falling over themselves to give you a ride after you flung yourself off a cliff to rescue one of them.”

Tony was about to shrug and remembered at the last minute that it would be a fucking bad idea. He grinned instead. “It was a hill, at the most. And if we let the baby agents get killed, who’ll take over for us?” He knew he was pushing, but he couldn’t help it.

He saw Gibbs visibly swallow whatever he was about to say and settle for a glare and he sent a silent thanks to Ducky. He’d rather a Ducky lecture to a Gibbs’ one any day.

“You spending the night?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind.”

“When have I ever?” Gibbs went to the bathroom and came back with three pills and a glass of water.

Tony took them gratefully and settled back down in the bed. Gibbs ran a hand briefly over his forehead, dropped a quick kiss on his mouth and headed out the door and downstairs. This thing between them had been amicably off and on for years, though more on than off lately, but even when it was off, Tony’d sometimes find himself bunking over. Logically, he knew Gibbs’ bed wasn’t more comfortable than his. His might only be a single but he hadn’t skimped on his mattress or his bedding and he doubted Gibbs even knew what a thread count was. Hell the man was just as likely to bed down on the sofa or the floor of the basement as he was to get in the bed anyway.

He still slept better in Gibbs’ bed, even when Gibbs wasn’t in it. And yeah, he knew the situation with his ribs was making him a little clingy but frankly he was tired and frustrated and in pain and it seemed like he’d been that way for a while. It seemed like the whole team had been that way since Ziva left. They knew they needed another agent permanently instead of the constant parade of temps marching in and out, taking their turn at Ziva’s desk. They just hadn’t found anybody that clicked.

Of course it might help if they stopped thinking of it as Ziva’s desk. She’d made her choice and NCIS wasn’t it. Tony wasn’t it. He could deal with that, could wish her the best and hope she found what she was looking for, but he’d lost another partner and friend and while it wasn’t the same as Kate, it still stung deeply. On top of his injury, he was starting to wonder if maybe he wasn’t getting too old for the job.

Tony didn’t know if he had the fortitude to stick it out like Gibbs and Fornell, didn’t know if he wanted the job to be his life. They’d at least had somethingbefore wrapping the job around them like a fire safety blanket. More and more it seemed like any chance at something real kept slipping through his fingers, and as much as he didn’t like to admit it, he wasn’t getting any younger.

The door opened and Gibbs slipped in, a solid shape in the dark. “I can hear you thinking from the basement.”

Tony snorted. Gibbs slid carefully in beside him and tapped him lightly on the head. “Go to sleep, DiNozzo.”

“Yes, Boss.”

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

“Anthony DiNozzo?”

Tony looked up, glad of the distraction from the most boring cold case pile in the building. He figured Hal down in filing did it on purpose. He still blamed Tony for winning the office ‘dance’ pool last year. Once he found out that Tony had actually played in the tournament once upon a time, he’d called him a ringer and tried to get his win declared invalid, with no luck. Thank goodness he was mostly healed and pending a doctor’s release on Monday, back to field work. He didn’t know how much longer he could take this.

The woman standing at his desk was petite, dark-haired and attractive, despite the harried look on her face and he automatically put on his most charming grin. “Tony DiNozzo, at your service.”

She sniffed and folded her arms. “I’m sure.”

He’d heard that tone many times before from various romantic partners, though it had been years since he’d been the guy that earned it. It made him look at her more closely, but she didn’t look familiar at all.

He tilted his head to the side and raised a brow. “Well, that doesn’t sound like happiness to see me.”

“Oh, don’t bother with the charm, buddy. You’ve done enough.”

Considering he hadn’t done anything in quite a while, Tony was starting to get a little pissed. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

“Not me, Nadia.”

Tony was so, so glad the name didn’t ring a bell. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know Nadia.”

“Bullshit! Men don’t forget Nadia.” She turned around, then snapped her head around quickly, eyes searching.

Okaay, and Tony could only hope he wasn’t dealing with another case of someone not playing with a full deck, considering the last couple of times, he’d been infected with the plague and framed for murder. “Ma’am?”

“RJ!” Her sharp bark resulted in heads snapping up. Tony even saw a couple of agents reaching for their guns while they checked out the situation. She quick-stepped down the hall and returned with a boy attached to her hand. He looked eleven or twelve, not that Tony was any particular judge of kid’s ages but he was definitely too young for teenager and too old for ‘little kid’. Judging from the way he was dragging his feet, he wasn’t any happier about the situation than Tony was. They were back in front of Tony’s desk in a few seconds and she released the boy’s hand and bent down to him.

“Don’t wander off, RJ. Do you want to play something?”

The kid shrugged and nodded, head down. She handed him her cell phone and he went to sit on the wide ledge under the window, popping headphones in and turning his attention to the small screen.

She turned back to Tony. “Congratulations. It’s a boy.”

Tony froze and he would swear the bullpen did as well. No, he’d more than swear. There was complete silence in the room before someone coughed loudly and everyone went back to moving around, pretending to work, but much quieter, so they could still hear the show.

“There’s obviously been an incredibly large mistake.”

“On your part, yeah. And now you’re going to man up and help out.”

Not only was she delusional, but she’d brought a kid into this. Tony was always careful, and while he knew there was always a small chance, he’d never seen the woman before in his life, and out of the many women he’d dated, there’d never been a Nadia. He opened his mouth, glanced over at the kid, and then paused and really looked at him this time. The kid, RJ, was looking over at them with blue eyes, a sullen expression and an undeniably familiar face. His mouth snapped closed, hard.

“Maybe we should take this to a conference room.”

Tony winced, jerked around, then winced again at the pull on his ribs. Almost healed didn’t mean acrobatics. “Boss.”

Gibbs cocked a brow. “Unless you enjoy sharing with the class, DiNozzo.”

Tony didn’t have to look around to know they were still the center of attention, though he doubted anyone was brave enough to let Gibbs catch them watching. “No, Boss.”

“Conference room three is free.” McGee spoke up from his own desk, where he’d been watching the whole scene, wide-eyed.

“Thanks.”

“Fine, let’s go.”

He reached out a hand to guide her, but her glare made him drop his hand in a hurry. “ Follow me.”

Tony opened the door and she went inside, the boy following along behind her. He paused outside of the conference room. “I swear he’s not mine, Boss.”

Gibbs nodded. “I know, Tony.”

“You do?”

“If you even thought there was a chance, you wouldn’t deny it.”

“Yeah. But the thing is, I’m pretty sure he’s a DiNozzo.”

Gibbs cocked a brow at that. “Your father?”

“I’ve seen pictures and he’s the spitting image of Senior at that age.”

“You better get in there.”

Tony slid a hand along the back of his neck, and glanced at the door. It was the last place he wanted to be. He really thought he’d rather be sitting back in that jail cell, or torture chamber than this. At least in those cases, he knew Gibbs was going to get him out of it. This, nobody could rescue him from.

“Could you call Abby? He probably doesn’t need to hear any of this.”

“Want me to take him?”

“I was kind of hoping you’d stay.” And maybe he should be embarrassed but it was no secret to anybody who he preferred to have at his back, at his side, or hell, even in front of him when things went sideways.

Gibbs nodded and opened the door, stepping through. Tony took a deep breath and followed him inside.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

Gibbs settled in the corner and Tony sat across from the two of them.”

“Coffee?”

“No!” She slammed her clasped hands down on the table, and Tony saw the kid flinch. “I don’t have time for that. I really need”

“To calm down a little.” He tilted his head toward the boy.

She glanced down, and seeing his expression, sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I’m sorry RJ. Are you okay?”

He nodded and glanced Tony’s way. Tony penned his brightest, most non-threatening smile on his face.

“This is Anthony DiNozzo. He’s”

Tony cut her off, almost choking over it, before she got out what he thought she was about to say. “A friend.”

She nodded. “Of your mother’s, and I just need to talk to him for a little bit, okay?”

He glanced at Tony again. “Okay. Am I gonna stay with him?”

“We’ll see.”

Tony was still trying to fumble out a response to that, eyes going automatically to Gibbs for help, when there was a knock on the door and then Abby peeked her head in. She grinned when Tony waved her in with relief.

“Hi!”

“RJ, this is Abby. She’s a friend too, and she has a really cool lab, which she’s going to show you, and then maybe take you to get a soda?”

“Sure. My lab is amazing RJ, and I can introduce you to Bert and Major Mass Spec.”

RJ stood up, but didn't move away from the table. She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead.

“It’s okay, RJ.”

Abby reached out to grab his hand, dropping hers when he pulled away. Her eyes met Tony’s, the worry in them apparent and he gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

“You’re a friend of my mom’s too?”

“Not your mom, but I’m Tony’s friend, and I think we’re going to be friends too.”

He reluctantly followed Abby out of the room, glancing back repeatedly. Tony felt a pang at the forlorn expression on the kids face, remembering well what it felt like to be at the mercy of strangers at that age. After his mom died, his father had shunted him between various nannies and whatever relative was willing to take him, until he’d found a boarding school for him.

There was silence until the door closed, and then Tony focused on the most important thing. “What did he mean, stay with me?”

“I don’t know what your deal is, what happened between you and Nadia but you have a kid, and this is an emergency. I have to go home -- my plane leaves tonight, and RJ doesn’t have a passport so I can’t take him.” Her tone turned from pleading to belligerent again. “The least you can do is step up for once and be his dad.”

“Look,”

“Marie.”

“Marie. I’m sorry, but RJ’s not mine.”

Something about his tone must have gotten to her because her eyes widened and she covered her mouth with one hand before pulling it away. “Oh my God! You really didn’t know. Nadi is going to kill me. I just thought you were one of those assholes who dump their kids.”

She threw her hands out wide. “So, surprise?”

“No, Marie. I mean I’ve never met Nadia before. RJ really isn’t my kid.”

Consternation turned to confusion. “I don’t understand. You’re Anthony DiNozzo, right?”

“One of them. But I think you’re looking for my father.”

“Shit! But that makes sense though. Nadia has always liked them more mature.” She let out a string of curses half in English and half in French that almost made Tony blush.

“Mature isn’t exactly how I’d describe my father.” It was mumbled partially under his breath, not that it mattered because Marie was still swearing like a longshoreman.

She finally stopped cursing and took a deep breath. “Okay, okay, your father, he lives here?”

Tony shook his head. “Last time I talked to him, he was in London.”

Her face crumbled.“What am I going to do? I can’t reach Nadi, she’s out in the field. I e-mailed her and left a message with her CO, but I don’t know when she’ll be able to get back to me.”

Gibbs’ expression sharpened at that. “She’s military?”

Marie nodded. “Marines. She’s a chopper pilot.”

“What about his mother’s back up plan?”

Marie shook her head. “Her Aunt moved to a senior home last year. There’s no one else to take him. I can’t let Papa die without me seeing him again.” The tears she’d been holding back started then and Tony winced, then sighed, passing her the box of tissue they kept in the room.

He met Gibbs eyes and got the barest hint of a crinkle in return. Tony sighed in resignation. When he hung out with his frat brothers and they complained about how boring and routine their lives were, Tony fought the urge to tell them how lucky they were. He’d take boring and routine with a smile if it ever came his way.

“RJ can stay with me for a few days while I get in touch with my dad, or until his mother can make other arrangements.”

Marie looked between him and Gibbs, her expression hesitant. “I don’t know.”

Tony figured Marie finally snapped to the idea that she was planning on leaving RJ with a complete stranger. At least when she’d thought he was RJ’s father, she was willing to take the chance. He appreciated her caution but it was pretty moot at this point.

He reached across the table, laying his hand on top of hers and put on his best ‘trustworthy’ expression. “He’s not my son, but he is apparently my brother so he’s still kind of my responsibility.” He tilted his head toward Gibbs. “My boss, will be happy to vouch for me.”

She nodded, sniffed and wiped her eyes. “I have his bags and paperwork in the car.”

Tony followed her to the parking lot, unloading the two pieces of wheeled luggage and the plastic file folder. Marie threw her arms around him, knocking into him with nearly the force of an ‘Abbyhug’.

“I can’t say thank you enough, Anthony. I know I was horrible to you and I’m sorry.” She pulled back, wiping at her eyes again. “I don’t want to leave him, I’d take him if I could, there’s just no time.”

“It’s Tony, and I know.”

“I need to talk to RJ, say goodbye. Oh God! And give you Nadia’s information and”

“Hey, take a deep breath. It’ll work out, okay?”

Marie nodded and followed his instructions, inhaling and holding it in for a moment before letting it out with a whoosh. “Okay.”

&&&&&&&&&&

They found Abby and RJ in the break room, and Tony was glad to see they were the only ones in there. They were sharing a soda and laughing and they both looked up when Tony and Marie walked in. He was struck once more with how much RJ looked like his-- their, father.

He squatted down next to the table and smiled at the two of them. “So, RJ. Looks like you’re stuck with me for a little while.”

“RJ, I’ll be back as soon as I can and Tony is going to keep trying to reach Nadi, so you’ll hear from her soon, alright?”

He nodded, expression solemn. “Yeah. Did you get my stuff from the car?”

“Sure did, Buddy.”

RJ just looked at him and Tony winced inwardly, aware he was falling in to the ‘try too hard’ mode he usually went into around kids. He toned it down some. “Anything you need, we can stop by the store and pick it up.”

“Oh, he has his house keys too, just in case.”

“Sounds like we’re all set.” He stood up. “I’m gonna let the two of you say goodbye.”

Abby practically pulled him into the hall while Marie sat down and leaned toward RJ, talking softly to him.

“Spill!”

Tony shrugged. It wasn’t like half the story wasn’t all over the building anyway, and it wasn’t like he had any plans to hide it. Still, he couldn’t help teasing Abby just a little. “RJ in there is the newest DiNozzo.”

The squeal was worth it. “Oh. My. God. You’re a dad? That’s amazing!”

So was the punch in the arm when he told her the truth, though it stung like hell. She’d obviously been practicing.

“So you’re a big brother? That’s still awesome. I love being a big sister and finding Kyle was an amazing gift. Congratulations!” She threw her arms around him, squeezing tight.

They pulled apart when the door opened and Marie stepped out, wiping her eyes.

“Do you want us to walk you to your car?”

She shook her head. “No, it’s easier, this way.” She took his face in both hands and kissed each cheek. “Bless you, Anthony DiNozzo, Jr.”

Then she was gone done the hall and the weight of everything suddenly enveloped him. He cast a panicked look at Abby who just grinned and punched him again before she took off in the other direction. Tony winched and rubbed his arm, eyes going to RJ who had been watching through the door.

“I could totally take her if I wanted to.”

RJ giggled. “Psst, no you couldn’t.”

Tony shook his head, grinning. “You’re right. I probably couldn’t.” And something in him relaxed and made it easy to jerk his head for RJ to come there and to keep up a light, silly conversation about which cartoon characters could beat up which as they headed down to the bullpen.

Heads came up when they entered but the interest wasn’t as intense as it had been. Tony guessed a kid wasn’t nearly as interesting as a beautiful woman doing ‘j’accuse’.

“McGee, RJ, RJ, McGee, the computer whisperer.”

McGee stuck out his hand, shaking RJ’s. “Call me, Tim.”

“And this is the boss, Gibbs.”

“Hello, sir.”

“Gibbs is fine, RJ.”

Tony leaned down and mock whispered. “Gibbs was a Gunny, so we don’t sir, him.”

“This is my team,” He flung his hand around, gesturing to their desks “and this is where we catch the bad guys.”

“You’re taking RJ home. Talked to the Director and gave him a heads up.”

“RJ, you ready to get out of here?”

“DiNozzo!”

Tony looked up in time to jerk his hand up and catch the keys that Gibbs threw at him. He glanced down at Gibbs’ car keys and realized, yeah, he’d taken the bus again this morning. That wasn’t exactly going to work with RJ and all his stuff.

“Thanks, Boss.”

Gibbs gave him a faint nod and turned his attention back to his monitor, dismissing him.

&&&&&&&&&&

 

“Home, sweet home. Or something like that.”

“Wow! You have a lot of movies.”

“It’s kind of my thing.”

“My mom too. Cause she doesn’t get to see stuff when she’s gone, so we watch a whole bunch when she comes back.”

“Well, you can watch anything you want, unless it’s R rated. Speaking of. I don’t know what your rules are about bedtime and things like that, so I’m going to need you to be on the honor system, alright?”

He showed RJ where to put his things and gestured to the bedroom. “The bed is yours. Let me know if you need anything.”

RJ nodded and started unpacking, putting everything away neatly, which Tony thought was definitely the sign of a military parent. He was pretty sure when he was eleven flinging his jacket at the doorknob was as close as he got to hanging anything up voluntarily.

Tony moved his stuff out of the way when necessary and fed Kate, telling her they had a new roommate for a while. She gave that about as much attention as she gave anything that wasn’t food.

“You hungry?” RJ shrugged and Tony took that as a yes. He thought about ordering in but going out for food would give them some more time to adjust before they were alone together. Tony grabbed the keys off the counter, glanced down at Gibbs’ keys, then over at RJ. He thought about school and who knows where else he’d need to drive with an unexpected passenger. “You know what I need?”

RJ looked up from his game. “What?”

“A car. We can get something to eat, then go car shopping. ”

“Oh cool. I went with my mom.”

“Yeah? Then you’re just the man I need.” He grabbed their coats, hats and gloves, handing RJ his and slipping on his own. “So, what color are you thinking?”

RJ pulled his hat on and paused, brow furrowed in thought for a moment before he grinned up at Tony. “Blue, with racing stripes!”

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

Tony’d thought about getting a Mini Cooper but in the end he decided it would remind him too much of Ziva. He’d admired the car the LA guys drove and he figured it was solid enough to help survive the next inevitable car calamity he experienced. Besides, it definitely came in blue with racing stripes.

He signed the papers and arranged to have the car delivered Saturday. RJ had been babbling excitedly but on the ride back he got very quiet until they pulled into the parking garage and turned into Tony’s space.

“Tony, can I ask you something?”

“Sure.” He glanced over but RJ was looking down, fingers twisting at each other.

“Are you my dad?”

And Tony had been really hoping that Senior or RJ's mom would be around when the inevitable questions came. No such luck. He wasn't putting RJ off though, or lying to him. He deserved the truth. “What makes you ask that?”

RJ shrugged, eyes still aimed at his feet. “I heard Marie on the phone with her sister. She said, your name and she called you a lot of bad words and she said you needed to be a man and take care of me.”

“I’d be lucky to be your dad, but I’m not.” Tony reached over and turned his chin until RJ was looking at him. “You know I’m not the only one named Anthony DiNozzo, right?”

RJ nodded. “Yeah, cause you’re a junior.”

“So what that means is that my dad is your dad.”

RJ frowned at that. “So, you’re my brother? But you’re really old.”

Tony laughed. He was definitely too old for all this. He unbuckled his seatbelt. “Come on, you can help me into the house, since I forgot my cane.”

RJ rolled his eyes. “Not old, old, like Aunt Lydia. Just, like my mom, old. All my friends brothers and sisters are like our age, or babies, except Brandon. His brother is in college.”

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

He still hadn’t heard back from Senior or from Nadia by that Saturday morning. RJ’s mother, he could understand but he and his father’s relationship had been so much better lately that he was a little upset that Senior would ignore repeated calls. He checked the fridge and realized he was going to need to go to the grocery store, since it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for RJ to live off take out the way Tony mostly did. He half a carton of eggs -- mostly stored for a quick hangover cure, enough bread to make toast, milk that -- he sniffed--was still pretty fresh and a little cereal left, so he figured he’d let RJ decide if he wanted the cereal or eggs. Tony didn’t particularly care.

 

Tony’s weekend routine was pretty set and he figured if there was problem, RJ would say something. He switched to ESPN, figuring he could always pull up a movie on Netflix for the kid if he complained but RJ seemed enthusiastic when he saw what was on the screen. Tony threw a bag of Orville Redenbacher in the microwave and grabbed a couple of sodas.

They settled down to watch the game, passing the bowl of popcorn back and forth.

“You play?”

RJ shrugged, picking at the label on his soda. “I’m too short for the school team. Mom says Holden men aren’t very tall.”

Tony batted him on the shoulder. “Hey, you’re a DiNozzo man too and I’m pretty sure I hit a growth spurt when I was a little bit older than you.”

“Yeah?”

“Sure. How about when it warms up, we hit the courts?”

RJ grinned. “Cool!” His face fell. “Only, my Aunt Lydia lives in Florida.”

“Well, what’s the best place to be during spring break?”

RJ frowned, confusion in his expression.

Tony leaned over and lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Florida.”

“You’ll come see me?”

Tony draped an arm over RJ’s shoulder, ruffling his hair. “Sure, kiddo. We’re brothers, remember. You’re kind of stuck with me now.”

From the way RJ leaned into his touch as they settled back into the game, Tony had a feeling he didn’t mind too much, and Tony found, to his surprise that he didn’t either.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

Tony’s phone rang in the middle of the game. When he saw it was his dad, he grabbed it and stepped outside into the hall, closing the door behind him.

“Dad! Where have you been? I left you ten messages.”

“I’m sorry Junior, I was in a very important meeting. I figured if it was an emergency, you’d say.”

“I did say.”

“Urgent, you said urgent. Not the same thing. Semantics count, son.”

Tony rolled his eye, barely stifling a sigh. “Yeah, well you need to get here as soon as possible.”

“I should be able to swing by there in a few weeks, maybe a month.”

“Let me rephrase this. You need to come here, now.”

Something about his tone finally seemed to get through to his father.

“What’s wrong, Anthony?”

“Do you remember a woman named Nadia Holden?”

“Of course. No man could forget Nadia, trust me.”

“Great, Dad. Not that I want to hear details of your love life, but turns out you left her a little gift to make sure she wouldn’t forget you either.”

”What are you talking about, Junior?”

“You know how I always said I was glad I was an only child?” And how he’d never really meant it, not that his father had ever gotten that. He would have given anything to not be alone when he was growing up. “Well, turns out I’m not. Congratulations! I’ll lay in some cubans.”

There was silence on the phone long enough that Tony got worried. “Dad?”

His father cleared his throat. “I’m here Junior. I’m just not sure what to say.”

“His name is RJ and there’s kind of a situation. He could use you here.”

“Is he, he’s not hurt or sick?”

“No, it’s nothing like that. He just needs a place to stay for a little while, until his mother can make other arrangements.”

“Where is he now?”

“He’s with me for now.”

“I can’t just leave. I’m working on something big, something to get the DiNozzo fortune where it should be again.”

Tony swallowed a curse, conscious of RJ on the other side of the door. “Dad.”

“Just, just give me a few days, Junior and I promise I’ll be there.”

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

Tony had barely hung up his phone when it rang again. He didn’t recognize the number but the frantic voice on the other end wasn’t hard to identify.

Anthony?

“Nadia, right?”

”Who is this? Where’s Ryan?”

RJ had looked up at the sound of his mother’s name and Tony motioned him over.

“Nadia, don’t panic. RJ’s fine, he’s right here with me.”

“And who is me?”

“Anthony DiNozzo, junior.”

“Oh my God! Oh God!” Fuck, you’re kidding me.”

“Marie said she left you a message.”

”Our connection went down and the only thing I got from her was a frantic message about her father collapsing and that she had to go home and was leaving Ryan with his father.”

“I’m going to let you talk to RJ and then we’ll discuss what’s going on. It’s going to be okay.” And Tony felt like he should get a t-shirt with that phrase he’d used it so much since this whole thing started. He handed the phone to RJ who took it eagerly.

“Mom?”

He could hear the rise and fall of her voice, though he couldn’t make out what she was saying and he moved into the kitchen to give RJ a semblance of privacy even though he could hear all of his side of the conversation, which mostly consisted of multiple answers of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘I promise’ though he was treated to a description of just how ‘chill’ his little brother thought he was. And really, it was getting easier and easier to think of him that way.

RJ talked to his mother about ten minutes before he handed the phone back to Tony and practically bounced back over to the sofa to resume his game.

“You should know my father is on the way.”

“Great. That’ll be a fun conversation. I’m trying to arrange leave but we’re already short-handed. I don’t know how long it will be. I’ll try and find someone else to take him until I can get there.”

He didn’t even know he was going to offer until he did. “You could or you could just leave him here. Marie left everything he’ll need for the time being. I’ll be here and my dad will be soon and it’ll be a chance for us to get to know each other.”

“I don’t know if...I don’t know you.”

“I know, and I’m willing to provide all the credentials you need to make you feel better regarding one very special agent Tony DiNozzo. You can talk to anybody you want to, including the director of NCIS.”

She laughed a little and Tony could hear the relief in her voice. “I don’t think I’ll need to go quite that far. Though I won’t say no if you want to send me a little dossier.”

“Will do. And you have the number. Call RJ any time. Call me any time.”

“Thank you, Tony.”

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

RJ was still in school when Senior’s plane got in and Tony was glad he’d get a chance to feel his father out before the two met. Tony loved his father but it wasn’t like he didn’t remember what it was to be RJ’s age and to be under his scrutiny, desperate to please him and keep his attention and failing in every way. Besides, he wanted the full story of his dad and Nadia -- minus the details because ew!

“What happened to your other car?”

“Job thing.” Tony kept his tone nonchalant, not about to tell his dad someone had t-boned him and Ziva and that they’d been lucky to make it out alive. His dad might be fine with the job now, but he didn’t need to know how close Tony came to dying.

“Hm. I like this one. It suits you.”

“RJ helped me pick it out.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. He’s a great kid, Dad.”

Senior smiled. “Your mother and I always wanted more kids, it just never worked out. Who would have thought at this stage in my life, I’d be a father again?”

“Speaking of that, why was there confusion about which DiNozzo RJ belonged to?”

His dad shrugged, but there was a light flush to his cheeks. “I met Nadia in a bar. I was in between ex-wives and her divorce had just come through and we just connected. When I found out she was in the military, I kind of you know, lied to impress her. Told her I worked for NCIS.”

“Dad! You could have gotten both of us in trouble.”

“That was what, your fourth or fifth job in six years? I didn’t figure you’d stay there any longer than you did at the others, Junior.” His father shrugged. “Besides, I admit I was a little jealous. All you’d been talking about was Gibbs and I felt like I was being replaced. It was getting a little of my own back.”

“Gibbs is not a substitute father!”

“Well I hope not, given that the two of you are doing the thing, but I didn’t know that then.”

Tony snorted. “Really Dad? Doing the thing?”

“Hey, you don’t want to talk about my love life, I don’t want to talk about yours.”

They shared a rueful grin.

 

“I’d put you up in my place but RJ’s got the bed and I’m on the sofa so unless you want the floor.”

“The Jefferson will do just fine, son.”

Tony put the suite on his card, frowning when his father only requested the room for three days.

His father waited until they were in the elevator, then sighed. “Junior I told you I was in the middle of something extremely important. I can’t stay right now.”

“I talked to Nadia and she’s willing to let RJ stay with us until she gets here so you get a chance to get to know him.”

“I promise you, I’m not trying to shirk my responsibilities. I was serious about changing, Tony, but I can’t just drop everything at a moment’s notice either. I’m not the only one affected by this deal. I have commitments.”

“Yeah. They just never seem to be to your family.”

“That’s not fair, Junior. When your mother was alive”

“I didn’t need you when mom was alive!” Tony took a deep breath. He felt the anger draining out of him, leaving the vague disappointment and regret he experienced so often when dealing with his father. “You know what, it doesn’t matter because this isn’t about me, it’s about RJ. You said you’re trying to change, dad. Prove it.”

The doors opened and his father stepped out. Tony put his hand out to hold them open while he handed his father his bag. “We’ll see you for dinner.” He stepped back and the doors slid closed, his father staring regretfully at him until he couldn’t see him any more.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

Gibbs answers on the first ring. “How’d it go?”

Tony leaned against the door of his car, resting his head on the roof briefly. “Hit an iceberg. Sinking as we speak. I’m on my way in now.”

“It’s pretty slow here. Take the rest of the day if you need it.”

“The rest of the year wouldn’t fix this. My father is going to be who he is. I was stupid for thinking otherwise. I was just hoping, for RJ, that it would be different.”

“RJ’s not you, Tony. He’s got his mother, and he’s got you now, too. I can’t think of a better person to have on his six.”

“Thanks, Jethro.” Tony hung up the phone and got in the car.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

RJ was quiet when Tony picked him up instead of the usual chatter.

“You okay?”

RJ nodded. “Is he here?”

“Yeah. We’re going to meet him at the hotel.”

“Do you think, you think he’ll like me?”

RJ looked up at him, their father’s eyes wide and earnest in his face and Tony reached over and brushed back the hair from his forehead, then thunked him lightly. “Bud, he’s going to love you.”

“What if I don’t like him?”

“Everybody likes Senior. But I tell you what. If you don’t, we’ll leave him at the hotel and go to McDonald’s instead, okay?”

RJ giggled and Tony thunked him lightly again. “It’ll be fine.”

 

And Tony was right, of course. His father had met very few people in life he couldn’t charm and RJ was no exception. Senior poured it on even though Tony could tell there was genuine emotion behind every move.

Not ten minutes in, they were chatting easily, which Tony took as his cue. He slapped them both on the back. “Okay, well, not that I haven’t enjoyed the DiNozzo family mini reunion, but I think the two of you need some time to get to know each other. Dad, I made reservations at Mannino’s and the meal is on me.”

Two pairs of nearly identical eyes turned on him in panic, and RJ grabbed his arm, fingers digging into his wrist hard enough to hurt. “Or, you know what? It’s been a while since I had Italian.”

Senior smiled and threw his arm across Tony’s shoulder. “You’re still paying though, right?”

“Of course.”

Despite the rapport they’d started to establish, Tony noticed RJ was careful to stay on the other side of him, away from their father as they walked to the parking garage, and he put his own arm reassuringly across gangly shoulders. He caught a glimpse of the three of them in the window and something warm and solid settled in his stomach. Knowing his father, it wouldn’t last for long but for now? It was nice.

And it stayed nice for most of the visit, because that’s all it was. Their father did, whatever he did during the day while Tony was at work and RJ was at school and they spent the evenings together -- dinner, a trip to the museum and the zoo. RJ and Senior formed a mutual admiration society by the second day and Tony was happy to step back and let them get to know each other, but never once did Senior suggest keeping RJ at the hotel with him and he never mentioned changing his plans and staying any longer.

 

“So, I was thinking. I know it’s late in the year but I still have connections from when you were young, Junior. I could get RJ into Millbrook or maybe South Kent, if you don’t mind all boys, RJ.” He winked. “It never hurt Tony.”

Something in Tony froze. He put down his glass carefully. “Boarding school?” He looked over at RJ who looked curious.

“Like a school where you live?”

Senior nodded. “Tony went when he was your age. I think it’s the perfect solution, at least until your mother’s tour is over.”

Tony was trying not to let his personal feelings bleed through, after all some kids actually liked boarding school. Not everybody felt like they were being sent out of the way. “I’ll mention it to Nadia.”

His father nodded, looking satisfied. “Let her know I’ll be taking care of everything, of course. It’s the least I can do.”

He was gone the next day with a promise to be back as soon as he wrapped up his business, of course his father never seemed to wrap up his business so Tony had no idea when he’d pop in again. He was worried that RJ would be upset but he seemed to take it in stride. Tony guessed that since RJ had grown up with a parent that came and went for work, it felt natural to him.

 

&&&&&&&&&

 

They settled into a routine once Senior was gone. Tony dropped RJ off at school before work and he either stayed for the after school program or went home with his friend Brandon, until Tony came to pick him up. Nadia called as frequently she could, talking to Tony as well as RJ. He was really starting to like her, which was good because they were a weird sort of family now, through RJ. He liked her even more when her response to boarding school was ‘no and hell, no’.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me you worked with Gibbs? The man is a legend.”

“What, my own rather impressive creds aren’t enough?”

Nadia laughed. “More than enough. I’m just impressed you’ve worked for him for so long. I swear my CO shuddered when I mentioned his name.”

“Well, don’t ever tell anybody this but his bite is a hell of a lot worse than his bark.”

She laughed again. “I just hope I get a chance to meet him. RJ couldn’t stop talking about your team, and some really pretty girl named Abby?”

“That really pretty girl, is three times his age.”

“So, definitely a DiNozzo man, then.”

 

Tony wasn’t sure what woke him up, the cold or RJ standing next to the sofa, teeth chattering loudly. As sleep faded, he realized just how cold it was in his apartment. He’d unconsciously curled into a ball to stay warm and he started shivering immediately when he straightened out and sat up.

“It’s freezing!”

“Yeah buddy, it is.” He stood up and took the blankets he’d been sleeping under, draping them around RJ’s shoulders. “Let me see what’s going on.”

 

He had maintenance on speed dial and it didn’t take long to reach them. Unfortunately they had nothing good to say. Tony glanced RJ’s way and stifled a curse. What was going on was the damn furnace was broken, again. Tony glanced at the fireplace in his bedroom, the one he hadn’t used in a year. Yeah, the last thing they needed was to be freezing and choking on smoke.

“Come on, get dressed, grab your toothbrush and some stuff for school tomorrow.”

“Where are we going?”

Tony shivered again while throwing on his own clothes. “Some place warm.”

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

The door was open, of course and the house was blessedly toasty.

“Who’s house is this?” RJ was whispering and Tony followed suit, even though he knew Gibbs had been awake from the moment they pulled up.

“Gibbs.”

“Oh. Cool.”

Tony smothered a laugh. He took Kate’s bowl from RJ and set it on the table. “A little bit. Come on, let’s get you to bed.”

He got RJ up the stairs and settled in to the guest bedroom and headed back down. Gibbs was sitting up on the sofa, blanket wrapped around him and Tony sat next to him, taking one of the blanket wrapped arms and lifting it to slide under. He kissed Gibbs on the underside of his jaw, then laid his head on a cotton covered shoulder, snuggling in.

“Furnace.”

“Hmm.”

Tony was already dozing off. He barely felt Gibbs shifting them into a reclining position before he slipped away, warm and secure.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

Tony woke up alone to quiet and the smell of coffee. He got up and stretched carefully, twisting to get the kinks out of his back. That damn couch was hard. Gibbs might have bones of adamantium but Tony didn’t.

He grabbed a cup of coffee and wandered upstairs to check on RJ, but the room was empty. He checked his watch, thinking he’d overslept and Gibbs had taken RJ to school but it was six thirty, so he was fine. The coffee was still warm, which lead him down to the basement, assuming Gibbs was still home as well and he found the rest of the household bent over one of Gibbs’ projects. Gibbs was explaining something about sanding to RJ who was listening intently and nodding. Tony sat on the stairs, sipping his coffee and watching them and he couldn’t remember being more content in his life.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

The landlord promised the furnace would be fixed the next day, which Tony knew meant two or three days at the soonest. Sure enough when he checked back that afternoon, apparently the part was on backorder. He stopped by and picked up enough clothes for the rest of the week before he picked up RJ, who grinned when he saw their things in the back seat.

“We’re staying with Gibbs?”

“For a little bit longer.”

“Awesome!”

Gibbs didn’t say anything, just raised an eyebrow and grabbed a bag when they came shuffling in. Tony held up the bag of Chinese sheepishly. “At least we’re not freeloading?”

“What’s freeloading?”

“It’s when people show up to stay with you and don’t bring delicious take out.”

“Oh. Well that’s not us then.”

Gibbs draped an arm over RJ’s shoulder. “Definitely not.”

 

 

Gibbs and RJ weren’t in the basement when he stumbled down the stairs the next morning, they were in the kitchen, RJ setting the table and Gibbs working on something at the stove that had Tony’s stomach growling.

Gibbs set a plate piled high with buttered pancakes in the middle of the table, as they all sat down.

“Hey! They’re round, like my mom’s. Marie’s are always funny shaped.”

Tony grabbed the syrup and drenched his stack, passing it to RJ. “Gibbs’ pancakes wouldn’t dare not be round.”

RJ laughed, drenching his own. They both ignored Gibbs grimace as he watched them.

He poured barely enough syrup to coat a bite, let along a stack, then closed it and pointedly set it on the end of the table away from them. “Marine secret.”

Tony grinned over at RJ as he dug in, savoring the sweet, buttery taste against his tongue.

Fresh coffee was still brewing when Gibbs finished his and he reached over and grabbed Tony’s cup, swallowing down the the last of it with a grimace.

“Hey!”

“This isn’t coffee, it’s syrup.”

“At least it’s not strong enough to strip paint.” He stood up and grabbed the coffee pot, refilling Gibbs’ cup first to make sure he got a chance to finish his this time.

He looked over to find RJ watching them thoughtfully. “Is Gibbs your boyfriend?”

“In a non-defined, non-conventional” The headslap was barely a wisp of pressure that made RJ giggle. “Sort of, yeah.”

“Cause you don’t kiss a lot like Brandon’s brother and his boyfriend or like Marie and her boyfriend. One time they kissed for twenty minutes -- through a whole episode of Adventure Time..” He squinched his eyes and stuck his tongue out in a universal ‘yuck’ face.

“Well I promise we’ll never make you watch us kiss for twenty minutes.”

“Good.” He grabbed the last pancake just as Tony was reaching for it. “Hah! Too slow.”

He never got to eat it since he was too busy running from Tony, while Gibbs just shrugged and added it to his plate.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

“...she just doesn’t know when she’s coming back. She’s already dropped her classes for the semester. But everything is coming together, I promise. Aunt Lydia has a friend willing to take over her lease for the next six months and I’m going to set them up in a residential hotel. I tried to get her to take my house but the cold is too much for her.”

Tony felt his stomach drop. “Nadia, really, you don’t have to rush anything, he’s fine here.”

”Tony, you’ve been great, more than I could ever had hoped for, but I know you want to get back to your regularly scheduled life. I have a friend getting ready to go on leave, willing to drive him down to Florida, so in a couple of weeks or so, we’ll be out of your hair.”

“Did you tell RJ?”

“Yeah, when I talked to him this morning. Look, I know he’s not happy about it, but don’t let him make you feel bad or anything. He knows it’s only for a little while. My tour ends in a year and Aunt Lydia is crazy about him.”

He was distracted at work and Gibbs gave him ‘the look’ several times before he pulled it together and managed to concentrate on their current case. Everything still felt wrong somehow though and it almost wasn’t a surprise when he got the text message at noon. It was an automated notice that RJ was absent from school.

He’d dropped him off that morning and watched him go in, exactly the same as every other morning and if RJ had been sick or needed to leave school, he would have called or the school would have. In fact, the only thing Tony could think of that had changed was Nadia’s call.

He tried not to panic, called his dad first on the very, very off chance that Senior had come back into town, not mentioned it to him and picked up RJ from school. And it was bad when he found himself praying his father had been just that irresponsible. There was laughing and talking and some distant music in the background when his dad answered and he was clearly out somewhere.

“Junior, is everything okay?”

“Yeah dad, I hit the wrong number by mistake. I’m sorry. I have to go.”

“Okay. Tell RJ I’ll call him Saturday.”

He could hear the questions in his father’s voice but he didn’t have time to deal with it right now. “Will do. Have a good time.”

When he hung up, both Gibbs and McGee were staring at him.

“RJ’s not at school.” And he was never more grateful for his team and what they were to each other because he didn’t have to say anything more.

McGee jumped up. “I’ll get Abby. She’s got his fingerprints and some pictures on file and we’ll put together an Amber alert, which we won’t need, because he’s fine.” He put a hand on Tony’s shoulder and squeezed before heading down to the labs.

Gibbs grabbed his jacket. “I’ll go by the house.”

“Swing by my condo too.” Even though they hadn’t been back there except to pick up more clothes in nearly two weeks. “I’m going by the school. Maybe he just stayed too long in the bathroom or something and missed roll.”

“Call me.”

Tony nodded, grabbing his own things and following Gibbs out.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

Tony flashed his badge all over the school with no hesitation. Once he found out that RJ definitely hadn’t been in any of his classes, he had to swallow the urge to explode at the fact that he wasn’t notified until half the day was over. He convinced the Principal to let him talk to Brandon, RJ’s best friend. She insisted on sitting in, which was fine, this interrogation was going to be handled with kid gloves. Tony didn’t want to scare anybody’s child, he just wanted RJ back.

The minute Brandon saw him, he started shaking his head. “I can’t tell, I promised!”

Tony felt nothing so much as relief even as he leaned down, and put his sternest look on. “Brandon, he’s not going to be in trouble, but if I can’t find him, I’m going to have to call his mom.”

Brandon snapped his lips together and crossed his arms.

“You know where I work, right?” RJ had told Brandon about going to the offices one day when Tony picked him up. They’d given Brandon a ride home because the bus sucked, at least according to them, and RJ had asked for Tony’s badge so they could examine it.

Brandon nodded.

“Well if I can’t find him, Brandon, I’m going to call the police and the Navy and the Marines to help me look. It will cost a lot of time and money and that would be really bad if he’s okay and somewhere safe.”

“He is safe, he went home.”

“He’s not home he- oh, home.” He stood up and patted Brandon on the arm. “Thanks.”

Brandon frowned. “RJ’s gonna be mad at me now.”

“No he won’t. You’re a good friend. Sometimes there’s more than one way to protect somebody, kid.”

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

Tony’s heart was beating so loudly in his own ears that he couldn’t hear anything else. He swallowed hard and forced himself into investigator mode. He searched each room, methodically, quietly, since the last thing he wanted to do was spook RJ into running again if he was there. Tony breathed his first deep breath since that morning when he got to the kitchen and saw the crusts of bread on a paper towel on the counter, a faint residue of peanut butter just visible.

RJ’s room was empty and Tony stifled the urge to panic again, and made his way to the next bedroom. He slumped against the door jam, whole body relaxing in relief when he saw the small figure curled up under the comforter in what had to be Nadia’s room, sound asleep. Tony sank down onto the floor and sat, knees up, hands draped and curled over them and closed his own eyes. The adrenaline he’d been running on the past hour had worn off and now that he could relax, nerves and exhaustion kicked in. He felt like RJ had been missing for days. His phone vibrated and he didn’t have to look to know who was calling.

“Hey, got him, Boss.”

“Well, bring him home, Tony.”

Tony knew what he meant but the truth was, he wasn’t sure when Gibbs became home, but he was. “Yeah. We’ll see you in a little bit.”

RJ stirred and Tony stood up, bracing himself for the conversation to come.

RJ blinked in confusion, staring up at Tony for a moment before he seemed to wake up completely and realized what was going on. “Tony?”

“You want to tell me exactly what you think you’re doing?”

He sat up looking up at Tony defiantly, arms crossed. “It’s my house. I want to stay here. I don’t want to go to Florida. ”

Tony sighed. “You know you can’t stay here by yourself, RJ.”

“Yes I can. I can walk to school and I know how to take the bus to the store. Me and Marie did when her car was in the shop. And she’ll be back soon, she said so.”

Tony sat on the bed next to him. “She said as soon as she could, but her family needs her right now.”

“I need her too. She’s supposed to take care of me.” He sniffed a few times but the tears started anyway. “It’s not fair!”

“RJ.”

“No!” RJ was crying so hard, Tony could barely understand him. “I miss my Mom and Baxter and Brandon’s party is in two weeks and it’s Avengers and I’m gonna miss it and Aunt Lydia doesn’t even have wi-fi and I don’t want to go. I want to stay with you.”

Tony wrapped his arms around him, pulling RJ onto his lap. He let him sob until there was nothing left but sniffles, rubbing his back soothingly. Tony was sweat damp, tear streaked and a little snotty and all he could do was be grateful he had the chance to be.

“Okay. One thing at a time. Your Mother will be to see you as soon as she can, buddy and in the mean time, we can set up Skype as soon as she gets to a good connection.”

RJ nodded, wiping his eyes.

“You’re not going to miss Brandon’s party. We can postpone your trip and I'll take you my self, and we’re going to pick out the best gift. And we’ll get Aunt Lydia hooked up, alright?” He was leaning against Tony now, with Tony carding his fingers through RJ’s hair.

“Yeah.”

“And I’m not sure who Baxter is?”

“My cat. The Crabtrees next door are keeping her. Aunt Lydia doesn’t like cats though, so she has to stay here.”

“Which brings us to the last thing. See the thing is RJ, I’m not that great at taking care of things. Not important things. I’m lucky to keep my goldfish alive.”

“I am.”

“What?”

“I’m good at taking care of stuff. I’m really careful, because Mom always says, even if you break it on accident, it’s still broken. I never leave my toys out and I never forget to bring Baxter water and I know how to fix Mom’s coffee just the way she likes it. And Gibbs is careful too, right?”

Tony smiled ruefully. “Yeah, Gibbs is too.”

RJ twisted the strings of his hoodie between his fingers, staring down at them before glancing up at Tony, face earnest and eyes hopeful. “So, maybe we could show you?”

He thought maybe they already had. “One thing. If we do this, you can’t ever run away again. If something is wrong, you come to me or Gibbs or hell Abby, McGee, Ducky. You’re stuck with all of us now, okay.”

RJ nodded.

Tony draped an arm around his shoulder, drawing him in tight. “Also, don’t think you’re not getting punished for this, bud. You’re helping Gibbs wash his car this weekend.”

Rj snorted into his shoulder. “That’s not a punishment.”

Tony thought about Gibbs’ glare the last time he’d helped and hadn’t gotten the tires up to Gibbs standard of shiny. “That’s what you think.”

The neighbors were happy to return Baxter, a huge yellow tabby who rolled around on the ground with RJ like a puppy before giving Tony a disdainful look and striding like a prince into the carrier. He settle the cage in the back seat, hooking the seatbelt around it then did the same to RJ in the front and realized this was his life now.

Tony knew it wasn’t going to be simple. He’d been lucky, they’d been drawing the kind of boring, easy cases that he mostly hated -- and he was sure Gibbs had a hand in that. But it meant a regular schedule and that made it easy to deal with RJ’s schedule. He’d never been responsible for somebody other than himself for any length of time. There was going to have to be a lot of adjustment, and he’d have to find someone to watch RJ when they caught a case. Of course if he was in to easy, he wouldn’t still be working under Gibbs and he sure as hell wouldn’t be in love with him. Tony couldn’t find it in him to be anything but excited; couldn’t help but feel something settle into place like the final pieces of a puzzle he hadn’t known he was solving.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

They got back to headquarters and RJ got fawned over and chastised in turn by Abby, Palmer, Ducky -- who took turns coming up to see that he was okay -- and McGee. He spent the whole time casting side glances at Gibbs who hadn’t said anything since they came in.

After everybody went back to work, RJ went and stood in front of Gibbs desk. He fidgeted a bit until Gibbs stopped working and fixed him with a stare. The ‘you disappointed me stare’ which Tony knew from experience was worse than being ignored by Gibbs.

“You mad at me?”

“Rule number fifteen. Always work as a team. You left the team behind.”

“I’m sorry.” He was tearing up again and before Tony could intervene, Gibbs stood up and RJ was in his arms.

Gibbs’ eyes met his and Tony wasn’t going to have to ask if Gibbs was okay with RJ staying, the yes was written in the visible worry and love shining out at him. He was going to have to okay Baxter though.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

RJ was upstairs talking to his mom, including the confession that he insisted to Tony was completely unnecessary, until he met both Gibbs’ and Tony’s unwavering expressions.

 

“So, no Aunt Lydia.”

“She’s allergic to cats.” Tony glanced over at Baxter who had claimed an end of the sofa for himself. The steely stare he got in return was eerily similar to Gibbs’.

“I was wondering if you were up for some long-term house guests. At least till I find a bigger place.”

“DiNozzo, the two of you have been living here for a month anyway.”

Tony grinned and shrugged. “I just thought the cat might be a deal breaker.”

“If I can put up with you, I can put up with the cat.”

He sobered. “All of this, it’s not because Ziva left. I mean it is but not some kind of substitute. You and RJ are what I want.” He noticed the way Gibbs expression settled into that stoic but eyes glistening with ‘yes, I’m laughing at you, dumb ass’ thing that he, well actually was rather fond of, when it wasn’t directed at him. “And you know this already.”

“Yep.”

“How long have you been waiting for me to pull my head out of my ass?”

Gibbs shrugged. “I wasn’t going anywhere.”

Tony thought of a letter burning in a fireplace, the last of his connection with Jeanne, of walking away from Ziva to get on a plane and come home, staying neither offered nor asked. “Me neither.”

“Know that too.”

He wrapped his arms around Gibb’s neck. “I guess you know everything, huh?”

“Nope, I just know you.”

“Okay.”

Tony moved back toward the stairs, pulling Gibbs along with him. “So, Boss, if me and RJ are moving in, we’re gonna need a color t.v. I’m thinking fifty two inches.”

“Not happening, DiNozzo.”

“Come on! Did you know RJ hasn’t ever seen the Wizard of Oz? How can he appreciate the change to glorious color when they get to Oz if the whole thing is in black and white?”