Tony eyed the envelope with suspicion. It was heavy cream rag stock: expensive, classy. And it was sitting on his desk.
From behind his desk, Gibbs couldn't make out in any detail the discreet logo printed on the back flap, but he used his covert observation skills to take note of Tony gingerly placing it in his backpack. Then the phone rang and they were off to their next case, their next crime scene.
Hours later, over steaks grilled cowboy-style on the grill over the fire and a couple of cold beers, Gibbs fixed Tony with his best interrogative stare.
'You open that letter yet?'
'What letter?' Tony asked innocently. 'Mostly I just get emails and text messages.'
Gibbs raised an eyebrow and waited.
After a minute, Tony looked down and gave a tired sigh. 'No.'
'You going to?'
Tony shook his head. 'I already know what it says.'
'Going to tell me?'
With a deep sigh, Tony slumped back against the couch. 'Dear Mister DiNozzo, blah blah blah, trust fund, blah blah blah, close to turning forty, blah blah, forfeit, blah blah, married. Yours sincerely, your grandmother's lawyers.'
Gibbs raised the other eyebrow. 'This time with the rest of the words.'
Tony rolled his eyes. 'My maternal grandmother left me a trust fund. It isn't huge, but it's conditional on me getting married before I'm forty.'
With a shrug, Gibbs said, 'There's always the time-honored tradition of a quickie marriage in Las Vegas.'
'No can do, boss. If I get married, I have to stay married for at least a year, or the fund's forfeit anyway.'
'So what's the problem?'
'Come on, Gibbs! I'm not exactly prime husband material,' Tony said, running a hand through his hair, leaving it standing on end. 'It isn't as though I have a whole lot to offer someone. I work insanely long hours, and when I'm not at work, I live in my boss's spare room. Yeah, I can see why women are falling over themselves to marry me.'
'Don't sell yourself short,' Gibbs said. 'You've got a while left.'
'I haven't been out on a date since I moved in here,' Tony said softly. 'I should just write back and tell them to give it all to my cousin Pete.'
'The one with the button collection?'
'Hell, no, DiNozzo! Let me think about it.'
'Okay, fine,' Tony said. 'I'll leave it up to you to come up with a brilliant plan. Just remember, knowing my luck, any mail-order bride will be wanted for murder and extortion in her country of origin. If you don't mind, I'm going to bed. Been a long week, boss.'
'You mind if I take a look at that letter?'
Tony shrugged. 'Be my guest.' He nodded towards his backpack. 'It's in there. Night, Gibbs.'
'Good night, Tony.' Gibbs waited until the agent had left the room and headed upstairs before he retrieved the letter. He pulled out a knife and slit the envelope, then removed the single sheet of heavy cream paper. Gibbs held it at arm's length, then frowned and grabbed his reading glasses from the case on the coffee table, sat down on the couch and began to read.
The next morning, Tony found the letter back in his backpack. He and Gibbs moved around each other in the kitchen in their usual silent morning routine. When they were both fully caffeinated and Tony had a bowl of sweet, sugary Cap'n Crunch cereal inside him, they gathered up everything they needed and drove into work. As they pulled into the Yard, Tony turned to look at Gibbs.
'Still thinking,' Gibbs said.
'You won't tell anyone, will you?' Tony asked.
'Nope. Nobody's business but yours,' Gibbs said. Later, though, while the rest of his team busied themselves with paperwork and reports, he took a fresh sheet of paper and laid out the facts as if it were a case.
Anthony DiNozzo, 38, single, no romantic interests, mother deceased, father estranged. Grandmother, deceased, left trust fund, value c.$50,000. Conditions: must be married by 40 and stay married for a year.
He stared at the paper, then glanced up at the man it represented. 'DiNozzo!'
Tony's head shot up. 'Boss?'
'Get me the exact wording.'
After a moment of incomprehension, Tony nodded. 'On it, boss.'
Tim and Ziva looked from one to the other, confused. 'Boss?' Tim asked.
'You finish your reports?' Gibbs asked mildly.
'Er… Half an hour,' Tim stammered, flushing.
Gibbs raised an eyebrow.
'On it, boss,' Tim said hastily, echoing Tony's words. He turned his attention back to his monitor and the sound of his rapid typing filled their corner of the bullpen.
Gibbs turned his eyebrow on Ziva, who was far less easily intimidated. She raised her eyebrows in silent query, but Gibbs' glare sent her back to her own pile of paperwork. As Gibbs stared at his sheet of paper, he knew most of her attention was still on Tony and himself.
Tony left the bullpen and found a quiet corner in the stairwell. He placed a quick call to the lawyers managing what was left of his grandmother's estate, then returned to his desk via the men's restroom. An hour later an email arrived, which he printed out and dropped on Gibbs' desk.
'What you asked for,' Tony said quietly.
Gibbs nodded and picked up the printout. Twenty minutes later, with the outline of a plan in mind, he folded up the printout and his notes, stuck them in his jacket pocket, and stood. 'Going for coffee. DiNozzo, you're with me.'
'What about us?' Ziva asked.
'I want your desks clear by the end of the day,' Gibbs said. 'Vance has been riding my ass about the team's paperwork backlog. We'll pick up something for lunch.'
Ziva sighed. 'Yes, Gibbs.'
He could feel her watching them right up until the elevator doors closed. Tony was uncharacteristically silent on the way down and the walk to the coffee shop. Gibbs ordered two coffees and led them to a small table in the corner.
'Not going to ask?' Gibbs said, leaning back.
'Not sure I want to hear you say I'm screwed,' Tony admitted, staring down at his coffee.
'Hey! What did I tell you last night?' Gibbs said, tapping a knuckle under Tony's chin. 'You have time.'
Tony looked up, a little of the tension leaving his shoulders at the warmth in the other man's voice. 'Yeah, I guess. So, what do you think?'
Gibbs pulled the papers out of his pocket and smoothed them out on the table. 'The terms are actually that you get married and stay married for at least a year before you turn forty.'
'So I need to get married some time in the next three months?' Tony asked. 'I'll just run out and pick up a bride now, then. Think Wal Mart will have some in stock?'
'Seems to me you have a few problems with that,' Gibbs said. 'For one, you aren't in love with anyone, are you?'
Tony shook his head. 'No.'
'You don't have your own place, you aren't seeing anyone, and there's no real reason for anyone to give you a marriage of convenience if they aren't getting a cut of your trust fund,' Gibbs pressed on.
'Yeah, making me feel a lot better, boss,' Tony said sourly. 'Don't you think I haven't gone over all this?'
'I think you're missing the fine print,' Gibbs said, tapping the printout.
'What? I had my own lawyer look it over. There's no way to get around the marriage clause,' Tony said, frustrated. 'Don't tell me you've found a way.'
'Not around it entirely, no,' Gibbs admitted, taking a sip of his coffee. 'But you've got to pay attention to the words. It says spouse, not bride or wife.'
Tony eyed him with suspicion. 'So what are you trying to say, Gibbs?'
Gibbs took a deep breath. 'Same sex marriage is legal in DC. You already live with me, neither of us is dating anyone, and I won't sue you for half your trust fund when you get it.'
Tony's jaw dropped and he blinked comically at Gibbs for a few seconds. 'Wait, what?'
'I'm saying marry me, Tony. It doesn't have to change anything between us. When you turn forty and get your trust fund, you can get your own place if you want it, or put it towards that Ferrari you've been lusting after your whole life,' Gibbs said.
'You make it sound like the easiest thing in the world,' Tony marveled.
'Doesn't have to be complicated,' Gibbs said. 'Think about it, let me know.' He drained the last of his coffee, then left Tony seated at the table while he picked up a tray of drinks and a selection of sandwiches. Together, they walked in silence back to the office, shared out lunch, then got back down to work.
Tony was uncharacteristically quiet as he worked his way through the last of his backlog of forms, reports, requisition requests, assessments, and all the other mountain of paperwork that fell to him to do as senior field agent. Towards the end of the afternoon, though, the concerned looks from either side began to make his skin crawl. He waited until Gibbs had gone up to MTAC before pushing back from his desk.
'What?' He cocked his head, looking first at Ziva, then Tim. 'Do I have something on my face? Has my hair spontaneously changed color? C'mon, what's bugging you?'
'Uh…' Tim blinked. 'You've been really quiet all day.'
'You have not attempted to play practical jokes on either of us,' Ziva chimed in. 'And you have not thrown anything at us, or threatened us, or made us the ass of one of your jokes.'
'Butt, Ziva,' Tony corrected automatically. 'The butt of a joke, not the ass. And?'
'And, well, it's a little concerning,' Tim admitted. 'Is there something wrong?'
Tony shrugged. 'Not that I'm aware of.' Then he grinned. 'Aw, how sweet! You do care! Probie! Probette! Come on, group hug!' He tugged Tim out of his chair and dragged him over to Ziva's desk. 'Come on, Ziva! You know you want to.'
'What's up?' a familiar voice asked.
'Abby!' Tony beamed. 'You're just in time for a group hug.'
'We do group hugs now?' Abby bounced over and flung her arms around Tim and Tony. 'How cool! Why didn't you call me? Come on, Ziva!'
'For god's sake, come and hug before I freak out,' Tim urged.
Reluctantly, Ziva got up and joined in the hug. A few seconds later, it broke apart as the three agents rubbed the back of their heads.
'Ow! What was that for?' Tony protested.
'Hug on your own time,' Gibbs said, sitting back at his desk. The corners of his mouth twitched as the three scowling agents retook their seats. 'Anything I can do for you, Abby?'
'Nope, just came up to make sure you were all okay,' Abby said, perching on the corner of Gibbs' desk. 'It's hinky when everything's so quiet! It's as though everyone decided to behave themselves.'
'Bored, huh?' Tony smiled.
'Like you wouldn't believe,' Abby said. 'I've checked over every piece of equipment in the lab, taken inventory and put in next month's requisition forms. I've even made a start on the Christmas bowling league spreadsheet. You guys will come along, right?' she asked anxiously, looking round the group.
'As long as we aren't in the middle of a hot case,' Gibbs said.
'When's the first match?' Tim asked.
'December first. Twenty-four days of bowling for charity,' Abby said. 'The first day is for Martha's Table, the shelter over on 14th Street Northwest.'
'That's a lot of fundraising,' Tim said. 'How does that work? Pay to bowl, pay to watch, sponsored bowling?'
'Any and all of the above,' Abby said. 'So if you have any good ideas, let me know. The nuns are putting the word out over the next couple of weeks.'
Gibbs turned his attention to Tony as the agents got sucked into the discussion on bowling. Thanks to Abby's distraction, Tony was looking and acting like his normal self. Not at all like a man considering a marriage proposal. Abruptly, Gibbs felt the blood drain from his face and hastily got to his feet.
'Going for coffee,' he muttered, escaping the bullpen as rapidly as possible. Shit, he'd gone and proposed marriage to his senior field agent. After swearing off marriage after divorce number three, he'd blithely gone and set himself up for divorce number four. That is, if Tony said yes. At least he wouldn't have to worry about Tony trying to take his house in the settlement. One thing he could count on was no screwing over of any kind. As he poured himself some of the sludge from the break room, Gibbs carefully ignored the twinge he felt at the idea that Tony might say no.
They didn't catch a case, so Gibbs ordered his team out of the office at a very respectable six pm. He'd carpooled in with Tony, so they left together.
'I should really do some target practice,' Tony said with a sigh. 'Mind dropping me off at the range?'
'Could do with a little shooting time myself,' Gibbs said.
An hour later, perforated targets rolled up and put in the trunk, Gibbs pulled up outside Alessandro's, a decent steak house on their way home.
'You buying me dinner, boss?' Tony asked, his eyes sparkling with amusement.
'It's either that or go grocery shopping,' Gibbs said. 'And then start cooking when we get home.'
'When you put it like that…' Tony laughed. 'Didn't we have steak last night?'
'Won't kill you,' Gibbs grumbled. 'Besides, they do pasta.'
'Yeah, I know,' Tony said, stretching as they climbed out of the car. He shivered in the late fall air.
'Time to dig out your winter coat,' Gibbs said, following him into the restaurant.
Tony frowned. 'I'm not sure where it is.'
'It's up in the attic. I'll get it down for you later,' Gibbs said.
'Thanks, Gibbs.' Tony was silent as the hostess led them to a table, his smile polite, rather than his habitual flirtation. Once they were settled, with menus in front of them, Tony fixed Gibbs with a steady look. 'We going to talk about this?'
Gibbs fought the urge to shift uncomfortably under the scrutiny. 'We need to?'
Tony sighed. 'You proposed to me. So yes, I think we need to talk. As far as I know, you aren't secretly in love with me and you aren't gay, or bi. But the minute you find out I need to get married or I don't inherit my trust fund, you offer yourself up. Don't you think that's taking Semper Fi a bit too far?'
Gibbs gave in and looked away. 'It isn't as though I'm planning on marrying anyone else,' he muttered. Then, looking back, he said, 'DiNozzo, you've outlasted my last three marriages put together. You don't expect me to be any less of a bastard than I am. It doesn't matter if I'm gay, straight or attracted to anything that moves, you've been a damn good second all these years and more of a friend than I've deserved. I'm not going to court you with flowers and chocolates. I'm not trying to get you into my bed. You need a spouse and at least I have some experience of getting married. But if you don't want to, just say so. I won't be heartbroken.' He smiled wryly.
Before Tony could reply, the waitress arrived to take their order. Once she'd gone, and drinks had arrived, Tony sipped at his beer thoughtfully.
'So what you're saying is, apart from the love and the sex, we're already in a long-term relationship and we just didn't notice?' The corners of his mouth twitched.
Gibbs felt his own mouth twitch in response. 'Yeah, I guess so.'
Tony let his grin break through. 'In that case, don't you think I should call you Jethro when we're out of the office?'
Gibbs laughed. 'Don't see why not, Tony.'
They sat quietly together for a few moments, then Tony said, 'You won't expect me to do all your housework, will you? I mean, I can clean the bathroom as well as any guy, but dusting? Not such a big fan. And life's too short to scrub floors, you know?'
Gibbs leaned forward and swatted Tony lightly round the back of the head.
'Ow! Spousal abuse!' Tony laughed and Gibbs joined in.
'Does that mean you'll say yes?' Gibbs asked once they'd calmed down.
'I suppose it does,' Tony said thoughtfully. 'Yes, Jethro, I'll marry you.'
'Okay then,' Gibbs said, feeling an overwhelming sense of relief. 'Good.'
Later that evening, as Tony helped Gibbs sand down wooden toys for the local shelter, he frowned. 'What if you meet another redhead?' he asked.
'I'm through with that,' Gibbs said, watching the agent out of the corner of his eye.
'You sure? Because you do seem to like them an awful lot,' Tony said.
'Yeah, I'm sure.' Gibbs took a deep breath, then put down the toy and looked directly at his fiancé. 'I'll always miss Shannon and Kelly, but I've done my grieving and I've moved on. They'll always be a part of me, but I'm not looking to replace them.'
Tony nodded. 'But if you meet someone else?'
'What do you want me to say, Tony? I'll be married to you and while it may not be the most conventional marriage, I won't cheat on you.' Gibbs said, exasperated.
Tony blinked. 'But we won't be sleeping together.'
'Doesn't matter,' Gibbs said. 'I never cheated on any of my wives and I'm damn sure I'm not about to start with you. Some things are too important.'
Frowning, Tony bent his head back to the task of sanding for a minute, before glancing up again. 'You haven't asked about me,' he said.
Gibbs shrugged. 'Either you'll stay faithful, or you won't. You've never brought anyone here and I don't see that changing. If you sleep with someone, you'll be discreet. And just because I'm a little old-fashioned, doesn't mean you have to be. Like you said, neither of us is gay.'
It was only later, once they were both in their separate beds in separate rooms that it struck Gibbs that Tony hadn't said that at all.
A couple of days later, after another slow morning, Gibbs stood and grabbed his coat. 'Take an hour for lunch. DiNozzo, with me.' He took his gun and badge out of his top drawer. 'Well?' he asked impatiently as Tony scrambled to grab his coat and backpack. Together they strode to the elevator.
Ziva frowned. 'There is something going on,' she said as the doors slid shut behind them. 'Do you not think so, McGee?'
Tim nodded. 'Definitely. Any ideas?'
'No. We could try following them?' she offered.
'I doubt they'd appreciate it,' Tim grimaced. 'How about we see if Abby and Ducky know something?'
'Team lunch?' Ziva smiled.
'Team lunch,' Tim confirmed.
'Got your driver's license?' Gibbs asked as they got into his car.
'In my wallet,' Tony said. 'Why?'
'Thought we might as well get down to the courthouse before we catch a heavy case,' Gibbs said nonchalantly.
'You- Oh! Marriage license?' Tony asked, his eyes widening in surprise.
'Unless you'd rather wait?' Gibbs kept his attention on the road despite the sudden bolt of anxiety that shot through him.
'No, no that's fine,' Tony said, frowning, then turned his head and looked out the side window.
'You sure?' Gibbs asked.
'Yeah.' A couple of blocks later, he said, 'It just seems kind of real, you know? To go from talking about getting married to actually going for the license.'
Gibbs grunted. 'Second thoughts?'
'And third, fourth, fifth and sixth thoughts,' Tony confessed. 'This… It's a little crazy, you've got to admit, Jethro.'
'Not nearly as crazy as some of the things we've been through,' Gibbs said with a sudden smile.
'No, I suppose not,' Tony admitted. 'Still, if this ever comes out at work, we're going to have a lot of explaining to do.'
'You think?' Gibbs said with his usual sarcasm. 'Wasn't planning on telling them.'
'Probably for the best,' Tony agreed. 'Besides, it isn't as though they'd believe me if I said anything. They'd just think it was another practical joke.'
It didn't take long to fill out the application form, then after the clerk had checked their drivers' licenses and they'd handed over the fee, they were issued with a receipt.
'In theory, you can pick up your marriage license in three days,' the clerk said. 'In practise, because that's a Sunday, you'll have to wait until next Monday.'
'And we can get married then?' Gibbs asked.
'That depends on where you want the ceremony to take place,' the clerk said. 'If you want us to perform it, it'll be at least another ten days. I can check the bookings list if you want?'
Gibbs exchanged glances with Tony. 'Sure.'
'The earliest we can fit you in is the fifteenth,' the clerk said after a minute of tapping away at her keyboard. 'Three thirty.'
'That's three weeks on Monday,' Tony said. 'We okay for that?'
'Should be,' Gibbs said. 'Unless we get a case that takes us out of town, we should be able to swing by here for then. How long does the ceremony typically take?' he asked.
'Roughly twenty minutes at the most,' the clerk said. 'Shall I book you in?'
'Go ahead,' Tony said with a grin. 'Might as well get it over with as soon as possible.'
The clerk frowned, but put through the booking and printed off confirmation. 'Don't forget to come in on Monday to pick up your license,' she said. 'And congratulations.'
'Thanks,' Gibbs said. 'Come on, Tony. Let's grab a sandwich before we have to get back to work.'
'Good,' Tony said as his stomach rumbled and they laughed as they headed down the steps outside the courthouse.
They caught a case that afternoon that sent them all over the eastern seaboard and kept them running around for a week and a half. Tony was down in South Carolina and Gibbs ended up chasing a lead in Chicago. As Wednesday afternoon drew to a close without either of them able to say when they'd make it back, in frustration, Gibbs found a quiet corner of the local police station where he'd spent the day in a fruitless quest for their prime suspects, and pulled out his cell phone.
'Ducky, I need you to do me a favor,' he said without preamble. 'Can you get away for half an hour?'
'Before five,' Gibbs said.
'I believe I can safely leave Mister Palmer in charge for that length of time, yes,' the ME said warmly. 'How can I help you?'
Gibbs paused. 'I need you to go down to the courthouse on Indiana Avenue.'
'I need you to pick up a marriage license,' Gibbs said.
There was silence on the other end of the line, then Ducky said, 'I believe I shall transfer this through to my office. One moment, Jethro.' A click, a moment of dead air, and he was back. 'Now, what was that about a marriage license?'
Gibbs closed his eyes and bit back the curse that sat on his lips. 'Ducky, please.'
'I was unaware you'd been seeing anyone, let alone that things had progressed to such a stage. She must be very understanding if she is prepared to share your house with Anthony also. Or were you planning on asking him to leave?'
Biting the bullet, Gibbs said, 'It's Tony, Duck.'
Another silence. 'I beg your pardon?'
'I'm marrying Tony on the fifteenth, but we can't do that without the license. We should have picked it up on Monday, but what with this damn case, neither of us has had chance,' Gibbs forced himself to explain, fighting back the increasing sense of frustration. He eyed the detectives across the room, hoping none of them could hear him.
'I rather think you owe me dinner, Jethro. It's been too long since we had chance to catch up, don't you think?' the ME said firmly.
'Fine. I'll have to check with Tony,' Gibbs warned. 'I promised him I wouldn't say anything, but…'
'In that case, say no more,' Ducky said. 'I shall go immediately and upon your return, you can both tell me as much or as little as you wish.'
'Thanks, Duck.' Gibbs ended the call, scrubbed a hand over his face, then went back to work. That night, he called Tony from his hotel room.
'Hey boss, what's up?' Tony asked. Gibbs could hear him stifling a yawn.
'Not your boss,' Gibbs said softly.
'Just wanted to let you know Ducky picked up the license this afternoon.'
There was a pause. 'Oh.'
'He says I owe him dinner. I told him it wasn't my story to tell.'
Tony sighed. 'At least Ducky knows how to be discreet. Thanks for letting me know.'
'I couldn't think of any other way to get the license. They won't mail it out.'
'Sure. Listen, I'm going to go grab some sleep while I can. Ziva and I are on stakeout again in a few hours.'
'Okay. Watch yourself. Don't want you getting into trouble while I'm stuck all the way up here,' Gibbs said.
'Why Jethro, I didn't know you cared.' There was a teasing note in Tony's voice that came through the tiredness.
'Hell, Tony, I've always cared,' Gibbs said, then hung up. He grinned, picturing Tony's face: a mixture of surprise and the unadulterated happiness he always seemed to feel at getting an unexpected compliment from his second-b-is-for-bastard boss.
A week later, the team dropped their reports on Gibbs' desk with a sigh of relief. 'It's sad, but I'm really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed,' Tony admitted, stretching his arms out in front of him. 'I must be getting old. I should send that last motel the bill for my chiropractor.'
Tim yawned. 'They could set up a practice in the motel. They'd make a fortune.'
Gibbs grunted. 'Would you really want to let a budget chiropractor loose on your back?'
'Good point, boss,' Tony said. 'So can we get out of here?'
'In a minute. Why don't you go see if Ducky's free?' Gibbs said.
Tony hesitated, then nodded. 'Be back in a few.'
Gibbs finished reading Tim's report and set it aside. 'McGee, you can go. I don't want to see you in here before Friday.'
'Thanks, boss,' Tim said, grabbing his coat and powering down his PC. 'See you Friday, Ziva.'
'Enjoy your day off,' Ziva smiled. She waited until he'd gone before approaching Gibbs' desk.
'There something I can help you with?' Gibbs asked mildly without looking up from her report.
'I was wondering,' she began hesitantly. 'Is there something the matter with Tony? Because he has seemed a little… His behavior has not been quite normal over the past few weeks and things seem different between you.'
Gibbs set down her report and looked up. 'Tony's fine,' he said. 'Why, has he said anything?'
'No, but I am his partner and I remember the last time his behavior changed and I did not ask. I should have paid more attention then. And it is not only myself who has noticed. Both Abby and McGee wish to know what is wrong.'
Silently cursing how observant his team was, Gibbs put on his best game face. 'Have you tried asking Tony?'
Ziva shook her head. 'He will not talk about things that truly matter to him. He talks to you and sometimes to Ducky.'
'Ziva, if there was something going on with Tony that he thought you should know about, he'd tell you,' Gibbs said firmly. 'Since he hasn't, I don't think you have anything to worry about.'
The agent fixed him with a gimlet-eyed stare. 'But you do know something.'
'Drop it, Ziva,' Gibbs warned.
She took a deep breath. 'Very well. But if it turns out that you do not have his back and Tony comes to harm, I will be very displeased.'
Gibbs barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. 'Go home, Agent David.'
Ziva glared at him for another few seconds, then stalked over to her desk. Gibbs skimmed the rest of her report as she bundled herself up in a down jacket gathered up her things. She got into the elevator as Tony and Ducky got out.
'Good evening, Jethro,' Ducky said. 'I was just asking Anthony if he had any plans for dinner. There's a rather nice little French place a few minutes away that I've been meaning to go back to, but I always find food tastes better in company. Don't you think so?'
'Duck,' Gibbs nodded. 'Give me a minute and I'll be ready to go.' He tidied his desk, turned off the lamp and grabbed his coat. 'French, huh? Better not be nouvelle cuisine. Always have to grab a sandwich when I get home.'
'Boss, you know nouvelle cuisine?' Tony asked in mock-astonishment. 'I wouldn't have thought there was a force on earth powerful enough to get you to eat it. And more than once!'
Gibbs cuffed Tony lightly round the back of the head. 'Usually tastes fine, just overpriced for what you get,' he grumbled.
'Really, Jethro,' Ducky tutted as they made their way through the parking garage. 'Sometimes the experience of the flavors and textures is more important than the quantity of food.' In the face of skeptical looks from both agents, he sighed. 'The restaurant serves Breton cuisine. That means lots of meat and seafood, in large portions.'
'What are we waiting for?' Gibbs asked, stopping by his car. 'Want a lift?'
Ducky shook his head. 'I'll take mine and you can follow me. That way there is at least a small chance of avoiding fiery death on the highway.' He headed for his own car, leaving the two men staring after him.
'Was Ducky dissing your driving?' Tony asked. 'You know, I think he was,' he said, answering his own question. 'Possibly saying your driving is a little on the fast and reckless side, boss, which I'd take offence at if, you know, your driving wasn't a little on the fast side. Some people might say reckless, but not me-'
'DiNozzo!' Gibbs snapped. 'You want to eat tonight? Get in the damn car!'
Tony did as he was told. Smiling, they pulled out of the Yard after Ducky and made the short drive.
The restaurant was welcoming, cozy, and Ducky assured them the food was more authentic than the waiters' accents. After they were seated and the drinks had arrived, Ducky lifted his glass of wine. 'To your very good health. May you find joy in your forthcoming nuptials. I wish you a long and happy life together.'
Tony raised his beer. 'Good health,' he murmured, echoed by Gibbs. He put his glass down with a sigh. 'Thanks for picking up the license.'
'You're welcome.' Ducky regarded him with a steady gaze that revealed the steel he normally kept well hidden. 'Forgive me for my impertinence, and I really don't mean to pry into your affairs, but I can't help thinking that whatever your reasons are for getting married, this isn't, as my mother would have put it, a love match.'
Tony flushed. 'Not really, no.'
'Then allow me to say this,' Ducky paused to include Gibbs. 'I do hope that, whatever your motives, you are at least happy together.'
One corner of Gibbs' mouth quirked up. 'I don't know about happy, but Tony's lived with me longer than my last wife did. Without the shouting and throwing things.'
'Shouting and throwing things are options? Wow,' Tony said, wide-eyed. 'You really must be different as a husband.'
'Tony,' Gibbs warned.
'Jethro,' Tony replied, more seriously. He sighed. 'My grandmother left me a trust fund. She said it was to take care of the inevitable DiNozzo mid-life crisis, so I only get it once I've hit forty. The catch is that I have to have been married for at least a year before then. I have no idea why, but Jethro offered to step up to the plate for me. I still don't get it, you know?' he added, turning his attention to the older agent. 'I mean, won't this cause problems at work? And what if word gets out and people think we're, you know, sleeping together. Things might be changing in the military, but I can't see many of the marines being too happy about dealing with gay agents. Or at least with agents they think are gay.'
The ME watched the men with interest as Gibbs shrugged. 'Don't see why word would get out, Tony. I don't think Ducky's planning on spilling the beans.'
'Most certainly not. And you didn't have to tell me why you're marrying, although I'm very grateful you have done,' Ducky said. 'Far be it from me to betray a confidence.'
'If it does,' Gibbs said, leaning forwards, 'we'll deal with it. I won't let it cause any problems at work.'
'Don't we have to let HR know?' Tony asked. 'I thought there was a whole pile of paperwork to get through.'
Ducky smiled. 'Leave that to me. I believe I can make the necessary changes without alerting anyone to the fact. So you aren't planning on staying married beyond the year necessary?'
'Hadn't got that far,' Gibbs said. 'We'll sort it out when the time comes. So, have you heard about the imaging table they've got up in the crime labs for the NYPD? Abby's already pushing for us to get one.'
The ME didn't miss the unsubtle change of topic, but allowed the conversation to turn to other things until the meal was over.
'You were right about the food,' Tony said, leaning back in his chair and sighing contentedly. 'I'd happily eat here again.'
'How about yourself, Jethro?' Ducky asked. 'Was it worth the visit?'
'Not bad,' Gibbs said with a smile. 'I've had a damn sight worse.'
'In that case, maybe I won't give you indigestion…' Ducky said. 'I, ah… I was wondering when your wedding is.'
'Monday afternoon,' Tony said. 'Why?'
'I was wondering if you were in need of a witness.'
Gibbs regarded the ME in surprise. 'You want to come along?'
'Very much so,' Ducky said. 'If neither of you would mind.'
Tony shared a look with Gibbs, then beamed. 'Ducky, we'd love to have you there. We'll pick you up from Autopsy around quarter to three.'
'Wonderful!' And with that, the evening drew to a close.
Monday morning, Tony dressed in one of his better suits, slipped the license into his inside jacket pocket and checked himself over in the mirror. He was clean shaven, had patted on a dash of his favorite aftershave, and his hair was behaving itself for once. Down the hall, Gibbs was doing much the same.
They met at the front door, travel mugs in hand. 'Court suit, Jethro?' Tony asked.
'Yup. Since we're going to the courthouse,' Gibbs said with a grin. 'Armani?'
'Zegna,' Tony smiled. 'We good to go?'
Tony patted his jacket. 'Right here.'
'Then we're good to go,' Gibbs said, leading the way out of the door.
The morning was slow. Tim was busy helping out another team as they attempted to track the path of suspected fraudulent bank transactions, while in the gym, Ziva led a class in Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defence technique. Gibbs and Tony took the opportunity to go over the annual performance reviews while the other agents were out of the way. They also did reviews for Abby and Ducky; although not technically part of the team, as the senior agents on the MCRT, they spent the most time with the medical examiner and the forensic scientist, and Director Vance had seized the chance to have them conduct the reviews before passing the evaluations up to him for a final overview.
All too soon lunchtime arrived, and Tony was surprised to find his appetite had disappeared. When he set his sandwich down after only a couple of bites, Gibbs said, 'Nervous?'
'Me? Why would I be nervous? Absolutely nothing to be nervous about, boss. I'm just not all that hungry. Haven't done anything to work up an appetite.' Doing a credible impersonation of Abby, Tony rattled on. 'Did you know the brain uses up around four hundred calories a day, more if you give it a real workout? Sex, on the other hand, is three hundred an hour, but that depends on what you're doing. And an hour of basketball is around five hundred calories an hour. So an hour of basketball equals an entire day of thinking, and I get hungry after basketball. But since I haven't been playing basketball, and it's only lunchtime, and I'm pretty sure my brain stopped working when I got up this morning, it's hardly surprising I don't have an appetite.'
'Tony,' Gibbs said, his voice firm but gentle. 'It's okay.'
The younger agent took a deep breath, held it a few seconds, then let it out slowly. 'Right. It is. Nothing to worry about.'
'Nothing at all,' Gibbs said. 'Want to go spar?'
Tony shook his head regretfully. 'Yes, but it took me half an hour to sort my hair out and I don't want to have to shower again.'
'In that case, go see if Abby needs a hand, and be back here by two thirty,' Gibbs said.
'What are you going to do?' Tony asked, curious.
'Your review,' Gibbs said. 'Have to get it in before this afternoon, or Vance will have to do it instead. Undue influence, unprofessional bias.'
Startled, Tony laughed. 'In that case, here's my evaluation for yours. Did it last week.' He reached into his desk and pulled out a slim folder, then dropped it on the lead agent's desk. 'I can't imagine you being subject to undue influence, boss.'
'Nice to know,' Gibbs growled, hiding his amusement beneath his customary gruff exterior. 'Go help Abby.'
'On it, boss,' Tony said and headed for the stairs with a bounce in his step.
Gibbs allowed himself a little smile at his senior agent's irrepressible nature, then finished off his own sandwich and got back to work.
Promptly at two thirty, Tony bounced back into the bullpen. Ziva was staring at her computer screen with a fierce determination that usually meant Gibbs had sent one of her reports back for her to correct.
'I take it nothing's come in?' Tony asked.
'Nope,' Gibbs said. 'Hit the head,' he ordered, and Tony turned and marched back out. Gibbs took a minute to lock his computer and tidy his desk, then made his own side trip to the men's restroom. Back in the pen, they donned their coats, made sure they had their badges and guns, then Gibbs said quietly, 'Go get Ducky and meet me at the car.'
'Will do,' Tony said easily, ignoring Ziva's confusion.
'Gibbs? Where are you going? Do I need to gather my things and call McGee?' she asked.
The agent shook his head. 'Nope. Stay here, keep working on that report. I want it done by the time I get back.'
'When will that be?' Ziva asked, frowning.
Gibbs glared at her. 'In a while.'
He raised an eyebrow and she subsided. With a satisfied nod, he turned and headed for the elevator.
Tony appeared with the ME in tow just as Gibbs unlocked the car. Tapping the steering wheel, Gibbs waited impatiently as they climbed in and buckled up.
'Do you have everything?' Ducky asked as Gibbs pulled out of his parking spot.
'Yup,' Gibbs said.
'Pretty sure,' Tony chimed in. 'Although I'm not entirely sure what you need in order to get married, what's essential and what's just tradition. I mean, neither of us has a bouquet, and I don't know about Jethro, but I'm not wearing a garter. Men's garters just aren't that sexy, you know?'
'As far as I'm aware, you merely need the license,' Ducky said. 'And, of course, each other. Everything else is optional.' He regaled them with marriage traditions from Scotland and around the world until at last they reached the courthouse. Gibbs found parking outside and all too soon, Tony was standing in front of a Justice of the Peace.
'Do you have rings?' she asked.
'Erm…' Tony looked at Gibbs, who held out his hand. Ducky took a small box out of his pocket and, opening it, placed two plain gold bands in his palm.
'Yes, we do,' Tony said, fighting back the urge to laugh.
'Very well, then.' As her words washed over the men, Tony found himself watching Gibbs, studying his face. He was calm, dignified; somehow his presence turned the ceremony from a sham into something more profound. When Tony placed the ring onto Gibbs' finger, repeating the words of commitment, he felt something shift inside him, and when Gibbs did the same in return, Tony found himself wondering if there really was solid ground under his feet still: he couldn't feel it, only the hands, warm, solid, dependable, in his.
Then it was over, and the Justice was looking at them expectantly. Tony didn't know why - but Gibbs was there, leaning in, and as Tony blinked in surprise, he brushed a gentle dry kiss across Tony's mouth. When Tony stared at him in shock, Gibbs grinned and cupped the back of his neck, pulling him in for a hug.
'Come on, let's go sign the paperwork,' Gibbs said softly into his ear. 'You did it, it's over.'
Tony nodded, blinked, and Gibbs let him go. He stepped back in time to catch Ducky lowering a camera.
'Congratulations,' the ME said, smiling broadly.
A couple of minutes later as they exited the courthouse, Tony glanced down at his hand. The gold ring lay warm against his finger, heavy and unaccustomed. Silently, he played with it, turning it round and round, sliding it up to his first knuckle and back down again, as Gibbs drove them back to work. Ducky, for once, said nothing until they'd parked up.
'I think I shall go and put the kettle on. If you'd like to join me, I shall have tea and coffee waiting for you.'
'Thanks, Ducky,' Tony said. 'Be there in a minute.' Once Ducky was out of the car, Gibbs put a hand on Tony's arm.
'You okay? You're kind of quiet.'
'I'm fine,' Tony said automatically. 'Just… processing, I think. I mean, I know this doesn't change anything, but…'
Gibbs nodded. 'It's a big step, whether you mean it or not.'
'Yeah, that's it. It's like I was expecting it just to be a few words and a certificate and that's all, but somehow it's… more,' Tony struggled to explain, to articulate his thoughts and feelings.
'I know,' Gibbs said.
'With a few marriages under your belt, I'd hope so,' Tony said. 'At least that makes one of us.'
'Hey, it'll be fine,' Gibbs said with finality. 'Don't forget to take your ring off, unless you want people asking questions.'
'Okay,' Tony nodded. He pulled out his wallet and put the ring inside. 'So security don't find out the first time they make me empty my pockets,' he explained with a grin. 'Might as well just post a memo on the board.'
'Mm,' Gibbs grunted, doing the same. Together, they climbed out of the car and went to have tea with Ducky.
After that, Ziva kept a close eye on the two senior agents, and her suspicion infected Tim, but as time passed and nothing untoward happened, they relaxed a little. Christmas came around and they were officially off duty, not even on call. Tim flew out to spend it with his family, Ziva went to friends in New York who'd promised to show her the traditional Jewish way of spending Christmas in New York, with Chinese food and an afternoon at the cinema.
'It sounds like something you'd enjoy, Tony,' she said as she gathered her things together and began bundling herself up to face the cold. 'You could come too; there is always room for one more at a Jewish gathering.'
'Thanks, Ziva,' Tony said, 'But I'm really looking forward to the It's a Wonderful Life Christmas movie marathon on TV this year. I might actually get to watch all of it. Oh, and sleeping in! I can do that this year! No being dragged out of bed at four in the morning to go to a freezing cold crime scene. No more dried out turkey-cranberry sandwiches at midnight and sleeping under my desk. No, you go, have a great time. I'm going to stay home and veg out. If I feel the need to go do something, there's always a pick-up game of basketball down at the Y in the afternoon.'
'Very well, have a good time. What about Gibbs? Do you know if he is doing anything?' Ziva asked.
Tony shrugged. 'His father's visiting. Beyond that, I have no idea.'
'If you get the opportunity, please give him my regards,' Ziva said. Finally finished wrapping herself in scarves and gloves, hats and earwarmers, she picked up her handbag and moved to stand in front of him. Awkwardly, she stretched up on tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. 'Happy Christmas, Tony.'
Bemused, Tony touched his cheek. 'Happy holidays, Ziva.'
'Am I interrupting something?' Gibbs came around the dividers, an amused expression on his face.
'I was just wishing Tony a happy Christmas,' Ziva explained, walking up to the older man. Even more awkwardly, she repeated her gesture, placing a kiss on Gibbs' cheek too. 'And happy Christmas to you, as well.'
Gibbs smiled and patted her on the shoulder. 'You too, Ziva. Have a good time in New York.'
With a wave, she left the bullpen. Tony watched as the elevator doors closed behind her. Wonderingly, he touched his cheek. 'What was that about?' he asked.
Gibbs came to stand beside him. 'I suspect she's been talking with Abby.'
'Oh.' After a moment, Tony said, 'You think she's going to start wearing mini-skirts? Ow!' He rubbed the back of his head as Gibbs went back to his desk. 'She sends Jack her regards.'
'You can tell him yourself when we get home. And speaking of…' Gibbs let his voice trail off meaningfully.
'On it, Jethro,' Tony grinned, hurrying to turn off his PC. 'Officially off the clock. Let's get out of here before someone tries handing us an investigation.'
'You said it,' Gibbs said, and together they left the bullpen and headed home.
There was a car parked outside the house when they pulled up. A metallic maroon Ford Taurus, it had local plates, but neither man recognised it.
'Think someone's visiting one of the neighbours?' Tony asked.
Gibbs didn't answer, but loosened the strap on his gun as he got out of the car. Quietly, he and Tony moved up the path to the house, then, standing to one side of the door, Gibbs turned the handle and slowly pushed it ajar.
They could hear Jack talking from somewhere further into the house. He sounded jovial, not angry or intimidated, so Gibbs opened the door the rest of the way and strode in, going through the living room to the kitchen.
'Dad? Who's your friend?'
'Leroy! Home on time for once,' Jack said warmly. He opened a cupboard and pulled out two more mugs. 'I was just making some spiced cider. This is Adelle.'
The young blonde stepped forward, hand outstretched. 'Adelle Roberts, from Mercy, Stills and Graham.'
'My grandmother's attorneys?' Tony asked, putting his gun away. 'Why are you here?'
She blushed prettily. 'I'm sorry for dropping by unannounced. The partners felt that due to the timing of your marriage, it would be wise to make sure it wasn't in name only.'
'I was just telling her how you've been dancing around each other for years,' Jack said, ladling out the cider and handing mugs to each of them. 'And how sorry I was not to make it down for the wedding, but I couldn't get anyone to mind the store for me. Ducky came by earlier, though, and brought the copy of your wedding photo that he had framed, wanted you to have it for Christmas. Here.' He handed Tony a wrapped present.
'That was very thoughtful of him,' Gibbs said, frowning, as Tony tore off the paper.
'Wow,' Tony said softly, looking at the photo. It was in a simple wooden frame: Tony and Jethro kissing, eyes closed, a soft expression on Gibbs' face that Tony didn't think he'd ever seen before, and Tony himself looking a little vulnerable, but not quite as stunned as he'd felt at the time. He passed the photo to Gibbs, who looked at it and, smiling, passed it back to his father.
'So what is it you want to know, Ms Roberts? Tony and I clearly live here together, we're married, and you're intruding on our first proper Christmas together.'
Adelle blushed even harder. 'I'm so sorry. You have to understand that with so much money at stake, the partners simply wanted to make sure everything was above board.'
'Wait, I thought it wasn't that much?' Tony said, confused. 'Enough for a decent deposit on a house, but nothing more.'
'Oh! Well, since your cousin Peter forfeited his own trust fund, that comes to you by default when you turn forty, if you remain married.' Adelle said.
'And that would be…?' Gibbs asked.
'Another two hundred and fifty thousand dollars,' Adelle said. 'You should have had a letter.'
Tony shook his head. 'Just the standard yearly reminder that I'm not getting any younger,' he said. 'Three hundred thousand dollars?' He whistled. 'That'd get your boat out of the basement, Jethro.'
'You think?' Gibbs said drily.
'Would you excuse me,' Jack interrupted. 'Speaking of getting older, there are certain parts of me that make themselves known more regularly, if you know what I mean.' He left the room and they could hear his footsteps on the stairs.
'Can I ask you something?' Adelle crossed over to the counter, where Jack had set the photo. 'Why aren't you wearing your wedding rings?'
'You're kidding, right?' Tony said, looking from her to Gibbs and back again. 'Seriously?'
'Ms Roberts, we've just gotten in from work. We haven't even had chance to secure our firearms. And you want to know why we're not wearing our rings?' Gibbs said.
The young lawyer looked even more confused.
'We're federal agents,' Tony explained. 'We work together on the same team. Jethro's my immediate boss.'
'And even though it's a civilian agency, we deal with the Navy and the Marines,' Gibbs added. 'All of those are very good reasons not to be out at work, wouldn't you say?'
'I hadn't thought of it like that,' Adelle said.
Tony fished his wallet out of his pants pocket, took out his ring and slipped it on. 'There. Better?'
'Much,' Gibbs said, putting on his own ring. He leaned over and kissed Tony on the temple. When he straightened, Tony stepped closer, so that their shoulders touched.
'Doesn't it make it hard, not being able to tell people that you're married?'
Tony shook his head. 'If they knew, there's a chance it could get one or both of us hurt or killed. We have enough enemies that we don't need to give them another way to get to us.'
'But surely not everyone at your agency is single?'
'No, but they aren't married to team members, either,' Gibbs said. 'And we're the major case response team. We're first in the firing line, quite often literally.'
'How long have you worked together?' she asked.
'Coming up on ten years,' Tony said. 'Been a while.'
'It's been worth it,' Gibbs said. 'Without you, I doubt I'd be here.'
'Oh, you're pretty much unkillable,' Tony grinned.
'I'm not sure that's a compliment,' Gibbs growled. 'Was there anything else you needed, or can we get started on our holiday?'
Adelle sighed regretfully. 'I could do with checking upstairs.'
'Excuse my mess in the guest room,' Jack said, coming back into the kitchen. 'I haven't had chance to unpack properly. After you, my dear.' As Adelle left the kitchen, he winked at the two men.
'But-' Tony began, only to quieten at the touch of Gibbs' hand on his arm.
'Don't worry, dad,' Gibbs said, moving to follow the lawyer. 'We'll get you sorted out in time for bed tonight.'
'Last time you did that, I couldn't find my socks,' Jack scoffed. 'I thought you marines were supposed to have a place for everything and everything in its place?' He ushered Tony out of the kitchen and brought up the rear.
'They were in their place,' Gibbs shot back. 'It's not my fault you're getting a little forgetful.'
'Forgetful? I'm not too old to put you in your place, my boy,' Jack threatened.
They reached the top of the stairs in time to see Adelle enter the master bedroom. A few seconds later, she reappeared, crossed the hallway and went into the guest room. With a quick look into the bathroom, she stopped in front of the men and smiled.
'Thanks for being so cooperative,' she said. 'I'll get out of your hair now and leave you to your holiday celebrations.'
'So everything's fine?' Tony asked. 'You've seen everything you need to?'
'I have, thank you. I'll call the partners from my car and let them know they have nothing to worry about. Congratulations. I hope you're very happy together.'
The men parted to let her through and Gibbs followed her down the stairs to show her out, leaving Tony and Jack alone.
'Mr Gibbs?' Tony asked.
'Give me a hand unpacking, won't you? Such a good boy,' Jack patted him on the arm, the epitome of an aging father-in-law.
'Of course,' Tony said acerbically. 'You shouldn't have carried your bag up these stairs. We wouldn't want you hurting yourself.'
In the guest room, Tony stared at the older man. 'What the hell?' he hissed.
Jack grinned and threw open the wardrobe door. Where there had previously been all of Tony's suits, now only a selection of unseasonal coats hung, together with a few of Jack's things. 'I took the liberty of moving a few of your things.' He gestured towards the bed. On the side table lay a couple of packets of pills, a glasses case and a dog-eared paperback, a western that was anything but Tony's choice of reading. Jack's slippers were set beside the bed, his folded pyjamas on top of the pillow.
'I shifted all your hair gels and fancy shampoos into Leroy's bathroom, too,' Jack said with a self-satisfied grin that was identical to the one Gibbs used on rare occasions. 'And for your information, I'm perfectly capable of carrying my own damn bag.'
They heard the front door shut and a few seconds later, Gibbs was standing in the doorway to the guest room.
Jack fixed them with a stare. 'Now, you boys mind telling me what's going on?'
Downstairs, with cider for Tony and Jack and a large glass of bourbon for Gibbs, they sat around the kitchen table and, as one, Gibbs Senior and Junior looked at Tony.
'What?' Tony asked, defensively. 'I had no idea the law firm was going to send someone out to check up on me.'
'Us,' Gibbs said. 'Check up on us.'
Tony shrugged. 'Me, us: the point is, I didn't know there was going to be any checking of anyone, Jethro.'
'She seemed like a nice young woman,' Jack said. 'I have to say, Leroy, I didn't think I'd be spending the holidays with a brand new son-in-law. No offence, Tony.'
'None taken,' Tony reassured him. 'I never thought I'd get married, especially not to my boss. No offence, Jethro.'
Gibbs grunted and took a sip of his bourbon. 'So what do you want to know, dad?'
'I don't know, son,' Jack said. 'Let's see if I've got this straight. Tony, you need to be married in order to get some kind of trust fund. And Jethro, you being a kind-hearted, selfless soul, offered to do the deed. Am I right.'
'Pretty much,' Gibbs said.
'So when did you get married, and why didn't you invite me?' Jack asked, sounding hurt.
'November fifteenth,' Tony said. He laid a hand on the table close to Jack's. 'And it isn't a real marriage. We didn't think - I didn't think - anyone would have to know.'
Jack looked from one man to the other and shook his head. 'But Ducky knows. And that picture he brought...'
'The JP was expecting a kiss,' Gibbs said dismissively. 'Didn't want her to have reason to doubt us. And Ducky did us a favor by picking up the license while we were out of town on a case. That's all.' Abruptly, he stood, taking his glass with him, and stalked off to the basement.
Jack slid his hand over and patted the back of Tony's hand. 'That's my boy,' he said softly. 'Always stubborn, that one. You hang in there, Tony. He'll come around, see what's right in front of him.'
Tony looked from Jack to his mug and back again. 'Mr Gibbs, I don't meant to be disrespectful, but just how much cider have you had?'
Jack laughed. 'Come on, son. Let's get dinner on the go. And don't you think you should call me dad? You're my son-in-law, after all.'
After that, Christmas went pretty well. Jack stayed in the guest room, although Tony changed the sheets, and when the younger man began getting ready to sleep on the couch in the living room, Gibbs growled at him and pushed him in the direction of the master bedroom.
'Not like we haven't shared before, Tony,' Gibbs said, and that was the end of the discussion.
The bed was large, wood-framed, the mattress on the hard side of comfortable. But the sheets were brushed cotton, and the blue and brown comforter was warm, and in the morning, after they'd woken up a whole lot closer than they'd fallen asleep and managed to negotiate the bathroom without hostilities breaking out, Gibbs said, 'I'll move the other chest of drawers in here this afternoon,' so Tony figured he wasn't moving back into the guest room any time soon.
Jack left the day after New Year's, heading back to Stillwater. 'Make sure that son of mine takes good care of you,' he admonished Tony, 'and don't let him push you around.'
'I won't, dad,' Tony said with a smile and a hug for the older man. 'Drive safely.'
'Come visit when you get chance and I'll look out those photo albums,' Jack promised.
'Dad!' Gibbs complained.
'Hey, it's traditional!' Jack said. 'Didn't get to show those ex-wives of yours, so I'm making up for it now.' He pulled Gibbs in for a hug. 'Don't be a stranger, Leroy.'
'Look after yourself, dad,' Gibbs said. Standing side by side, he and Tony watched and waved as Jackson drove away.
In the small hours of the morning, after a long day tracking down a suspected serial rapist, they stumbled up the stairs.
'I'll just…' Tony gestured vaguely, heading in the general direction of the bathroom. 'Teeth. Brush. You know.' Then a minute later, with a mouthful of foam, Gibbs heard a groan.
Tony spat into the sink and rinsed out his mouth. 'Gotta change the sheets. I knew I should have done it this morning after Jack left.'
'We were late for work,' Gibbs pointed out, taking his place at the sink. 'Go lie down before you fall down.'
Under the force of the older man's glare, Tony's protest withered away. 'I'm going.' He shucked his clothes and pulled on sweats and a t-shirt, then crawled into the bed he'd been sharing for the past ten days. He was already mostly asleep by the time Gibbs climbed in beside him, moving close for warmth under the chilly sheets. It was almost a week before they had time to do laundry and, with most of his clothes now in the master bedroom and the weather being so awful, Tony put off moving back into the colder, smaller guest bedroom.
January was cold, with more ice and snow than the city had caught in a while. It made getting to crime scenes particularly tricky, even with - especially with - Mossad-trained advanced driving techniques, but when the crash happened, it wasn't Ziva's fault.
'Gibbs, I am at the hospital with Tony,' Ziva said.
'A car hit a patch of ice coming out of a sidestreet and couldn't stop.' Ziva paused. 'It hit Tony's side of the car.'
'How is he?'
'He was knocked out. They want to take him in for x-rays and scans to see if anything is broken.' She didn't say, to make sure he isn't bleeding internally, to check nothing's ruptured, but the words hung unsaid between them. 'They want me to fill in the insurance forms and medical history.'
'Insurance card's in his wallet. Which hospital?'
'The George Washington University hospital.' The phone went dead, Gibbs cutting off the call with his customary abruptness. A remote part of her mind cataloged the call, noted that Gibbs hadn't asked how she was, although if she was all right enough to phone him, he could assume (never assume!) she wasn't badly hurt. Ignoring the ache across her shoulder where the seat belt had snapped taut, Ziva made her way back through the ER to where Tony was being treated. 'I need his wallet,' she said, catching a nurse by the wrist.
'Pants are over there,' the nurse nodded towards the heap of ruined cloth on the floor before turning her attention back to the man on the gurney, to the gash on his thigh that a doctor was examining.
Carefully, Ziva emptied the pockets and retrieved the belt, then found a seat in a corner near the admittance desk in which to fill out the forms. She rifled through his wallet to find the card, but as she tugged it out, something fell out from behind it. Something round, metallic. It dropped into her lap and she stared at it and frowned.
'Do you have those forms yet?' The nurse who'd given them to her on their arrival at the ER was standing in front of her.
'Two minutes,' Ziva said, hastily noting down Tony's insurance details and filling in what she could remember of his medical history. She tucked the card away and behind it, the wedding ring, before handing over the forms and settling in to watch for Gibbs' arrival.
It wasn't long before he got there. Ziva rose and met him.
'Tony?' he asked tersely.
'They are still treating him through there,' Ziva said, following in his wake as he strode up to the desk.
'Tony DiNozzo,' he rapped out sharply. 'I'm Special Agent Gibbs, his next of kin.'
The nurse looked up at him with a raised eyebrow. 'One moment, sir.' She lifted the phone and spoke quietly into it, listened, then put it down again. 'Someone will be out to you in just a minute. If you could take a seat over there?' She indicated a spot close to the doors into the trauma room.
'I want to see him.''
It won't be long.'
Even the infamous glare didn't make her relent. After a long moment, Gibbs stalked over to the seats she'd indicated.
'We were on our way to interview Midshipman Jennings when a car came up to an intersection. It was going a little fast, but it should have been possible to stop. It hit a patch of black ice and skidded straight out into the road, into Tony's side of the car. Metro are taking care of the driver. The ambulance was here very quickly and they got Tony out without any problems,' Ziva recounted, a faint tremor in her voice all that betrayed her feelings.
'You said he was unconscious,' Gibbs frowned.
'I believe he hit his head on the car door. He has a nasty cut on the outside of his leg. Other than that, I don't know. They haven't told me anything.'
They sat in silence for a couple of minutes, before Gibbs spoke up. 'How are you? They look you over yet?'
'I am fine,' Ziva said. 'The EMTs checked me up at the scene. I am to see a doctor here when one is available, but I am not injured.' Under the skeptical glance directed her way, she revised her statement. 'I have some bruising, but apart from that, I am fine.' She took a breath, then, looking up at the older man, she asked, 'Do you know why Tony would carry a wedding ring in his wallet?' She held the wallet out to him.
Gibbs took it, rubbing a thumb over the bump in the leather. 'Maybe it was his mother's.'
Ziva shook her head. 'It is a man's ring.'
'Well maybe it was his father's, Ziva. If he wanted you to know, he'd tell you,' Gibbs said, irritably. 'Where's this damn doctor?' He got up, sliding Tony's wallet into his inside jacket pocket, and the doors opened and the harassed-looking doctor Ziva had seen treating Tony stood there.
'For DiNozzo?' he asked.
Gibbs stepped forwards. 'How is he?'
'He's going up to X-Ray in a minute, then for a CAT scan. You want to see him?'
Gibbs nodded. 'Yeah.'
Ziva trailed after them, back into the trauma room, to where Tony was lying under a blanket, pale-faced and bleary-eyed. She hung back as Gibbs stepped up to the gurney and brushed a gentle hand over the bruise at his temple.
'Jethro,' Tony sighed. 'Hey.'
'Didn't I tell you to stay out of trouble?' Gibbs said softly. 'How're you doing?'
'Head feels like someone used it for batting practise,' Tony said. 'Apart from that, I'm good.'
'How about your leg?'
Tony shrugged awkwardly. 'It's just a flesh wound,' he said in a fake English accent.
'No biting kneecaps,' Gibbs teased and Tony smiled.
'No. Don't think I'm quite up to a headslap.'
'Mr DiNozzo? We're ready to take you up now,' the doctor interrupted. 'It'll probably take an hour or two, but you'll be brought back down here once you're done, and we'll see if we need to admit you. Mr Gibbs-'
'Special Agent,' Tony corrected him.
'Sorry, Special Agent Gibbs, someone will let you know when you can come back and sit with him.'
Gibbs nodded. 'Don't chat up all the nurses.'
'Wouldn't dream of it, boss,' Tony said. 'So, wheelchair?'
On cue, an orderly wheeled a chair into the cubicle.
'I have to go back to MTAC to finish up a call,' Gibbs said, helping Tony off the gurney and into the chair. 'But I'll be back by the time you're done.'
'Okay. Thanks, Jethro,' Tony said, looking a little green after moving. 'Make sure Ziva gets checked out.'
Ziva stepped forwards. 'I am fine, Tony. Go, get your scans done. I, too, will be here when you return.'
The orderly wheeled Tony off, and the doctor led Ziva to another cubicle. Gibbs stared down at the gurney for a moment, taking in the blood on the sheet. 'Damn it, Tony!' Gritting his teeth, he strode out of the hospital, cursing the need that meant he had to return to work, leaving his agent alone.
Back in MTAC, he found Director Vance and the Secretary of the Navy still discussing security issues.
'How are your agents?' SecNav asked.
'Ziva's a little bruised. Looks like DiNozzo has a concussion, nasty cut on his leg. The doctor didn't seem too worried, but they're taking x-rays and a scan to see if there's anything more serious,' Gibbs said. 'It sounded like they weren't going to keep him in overnight.'
'When we've finished up here, you can go get your man and take him home,' SecNav said.
Gibbs grunted noncommittally and spent the remainder of the session watching the man carefully. His comment could have been completely innocuous, but the man hadn't reached those lofty heights without an uncanny ability to sniff out secrets.
At last, the meeting was over and the large screen went blank. Gibbs headed for the door, but Vance put out a hand and stopped him.
'What?' Gibbs asked tersely.
'Make sure your personal information is up to date,' Vance said. 'You and the rest of your team.'
'Any reason why it wouldn't be?' Gibbs asked, with his best poker face.
'It's a new year,' Vance said. 'Might as well start it off right.'
Gibbs fought the urge to roll his eyes. 'My records are up to date. I'll make sure the others review theirs.'
'See you do that.' Vance waited, watching him as though expecting Gibbs to say something more.
Vance sighed. 'You heard SecNav. Go get your man.'
Gibbs ignored the emphasis and the smirk, striding out of MTAC and jogging down the stairs with his customary impatience. Ignoring the prickle at the back of his neck that told him Vance was watching, he slung on his coat.
'McGee, let Dispatch know we're off rotation for the next couple of days, and go home.'
'Yes, Boss,' Tim said. 'Ziva called to say she's been discharged with a clean bill of health, but she was going to wait around for Tony until you got back there.' He paused. 'I thought I'd come along, see if she needed a lift home.'
Gibbs nodded. 'Don't be long, then.'
Despite the poor conditions on the roads, it didn't take him long to get back to the hospital. In fact, it took Gibbs longer to find Ziva and Tony, but when he did, they were in a small side room and Tony was looking considerably more like his usual self. He and Ziva were bickering good-naturedly about gadgets in spy films and Gibbs paused just outside to listen.
'Oh, come on! You can't tell me you wouldn't take a Vanquish from Die Another Day if Mossad had offered you one!' Tony protested. 'Rockets, guns and an ejector seat for when your driving gets too hairy. It even had a cloaking device!'
'The car in the film in Germany, Tomorrow Never Dies, yes? The BMW with the remote control. You would use that to play pranks on Tim,' Ziva riposted.
Gibbs imagined Tony rolling his eyes at the comment. He schooled himself to hide the smile that threatened and pushed his way into the room. 'Still waiting for the doctor?'
Tony grimaced. 'Yeah. He should be here any minute, apparently. I don't suppose you brought pants, did you?'
'Nope. Thought I'd let the neighbours get an eyeful of your skinny legs,' Gibbs teased. At Tony's pout, he reached into his gym bag and pulled out a pair of sweatpants. He tossed them over. 'Here, put these on.'
'Thanks,' Tony grinned. 'It's cold enough for bits to start dropping off, if you know what I mean.'
'Those silk shorts not warm enough for ya?' Gibbs asked, leaning against the wall where he could keep a good eye on his agents and on the door.
'Cotton jersey until May,' Tony said firmly, pulling on the pants. 'Maybe even thermals if it gets any colder. Ziva, where do you get yours from?'
'I doubt any of your favorite designers make thermal underwear,' Ziva said with a smile, then the door opened and Tim and Abby trooped in.
'Tony!' Abby tripped over to the gurney and planted a kiss on his cheek, being careful not to jolt him. 'How are you feeling?' Years being around a concussed Tony led her to keep her voice reasonably low.
Tony hugged the tall woman. 'Fine, Abs. A little headachey, but I'm not feeling sick any more. I asked the doctor if he could prescribe me some more of whatever it was he gave me, for next time I was in the car with Ziva, but he wouldn't. He said something about not supplying the black market.' He shot a cheeky grin at the agent in question, who rolled her eyes.
'It was not my driving at fault, Tony.'
'Not this time, no,' Tony agreed. 'I keep telling you that you don't need advanced evasion techniques when we're only going ten blocks, but maybe we do. So, to what do I owe the honor of your presence?' he asked the room at large before Ziva could get in a shot of her own. 'Heating go out at the Yard?'
'I just came to take Ziva home and Abby needed a lift too,' Tim said. 'Nothing to do with you.'
'I'm hurt, McGee,' Tony said, pressing a hand to his heart. 'And here I thought you cared about my wellbeing.'
'Nope. If a concussion was going to do you lasting damage, we'd have known about it years ago,' Tim teased. 'After all, don't you hold the record?'
'Total number of concussions, concussions in a twelve month period and number of concussions during a single case,' Tony said proudly. 'I hope you added this one to the list.'
Gibbs tapped him smartly on the wrist. 'Not something to be proud of.'
'Hey, I have to take my achievements where I can,' Tony pointed out.
Before Gibbs could argue further, the door opened again and the doctor came in. It was the same one, not looking appreciably less harassed. He seemed a little taken aback by the number of people in the small room.
'Do you all need to be in here?' he asked.
'McGee, take Ziva and Abby home,' Gibbs said, and with one last kiss on the cheek from the irrepressible goth scientist, the three cleared out.
'So what's the verdict, doc?' Tony asked. 'Leg and head not going to drop off any time soon?'
'No, you should be fine,' the doctor said. 'Nothing's broken and your concussion appears to be minor. Keep the stitches in your leg dry, change the dressing every day and don't do anything too strenuous for the next week. Take these,' he handed over a prescription, 'finish the course, and go see your doctor if you see any signs of infection, or if you experience dizziness or nausea, any visual disturbances, loss of balance, or anything out of the ordinary.'
Later, once Tony was ensconced on the couch at home and pizza had been delivered and eaten and the mess cleared away, Gibbs brought him a mug of hot, sweet tea and sat down heavily beside him.
'I'm pretty sure Vance knows,' Gibbs said without preamble.
'Knows what?' Tony asked, then the penny dropped. 'Oh!'
'And SecNav,' Gibbs added. 'Ziva asked why you have a wedding ring in your wallet.'
'What the hell, Jethro?' Tony glared at him. 'I spend the afternoon in hospital and you send a memo round about us?'
'Hey, I haven't said a damn word to anyone,' Gibbs said, feeling his temper rise. 'And Ziva found your ring when she was looking for your insurance card.'
'Great,' Tony said, letting his head drop back against the couch. 'Maybe I should start a pool on how long it takes for Vance to transfer me.'
'Look on the bright side,' Gibbs said drily. 'At least he can't send you off as Agent Afloat again.'
Tony opened an eye and looked sideways at the older man. 'Really?'
'Nope,' Gibbs said, feeling his anger transmute into something approaching smug. 'You're married. Can't transfer you abroad or afloat without your agreement.'
After a moment, the corners of Tony's mouth twitched upwards. 'Should've married you last time, then.'
'Wasn't legal then, but if I'd thought of it, I'd have dragged you up to Massachussetts,' Gibbs said. 'Didn't think of it, though. Didn't know it was going to take so long to get you back.'
Tony shrugged tiredly. 'Water under the bridge. So what did they say?'
'It wasn't so much what they said as how they said it. And Vance told me to make sure the team's personal details were up to date.'
'I thought Ducky took care of that?'
'He did. I told Ziva it could've been your father's wedding ring,' Gibbs admitted, leaning back too and feeling his body relax into the comfortable embrace of the couch cushions.
'God knows what happened to it. He might have used it for his other wives,' Tony said. 'If I were them, I'd be pissed, but, eh. Yours isn't, is it? I mean, my ring's new, right? And thank you for that, by the way. I don't think I ever said. I didn't think about it, you know? I didn't think I'd need a ring - no, I guess I didn't think it really applied.'
'Because this isn't a real marriage?' Gibbs asked, finding himself curious at Tony's rambling.
'Yeah. But then we were married, and here's this ring, on my finger,' Tony rubbed the gold band on his ring finger; Gibbs didn't think he was aware of doing it. 'And all of a sudden, it means something. This isn't exactly not a real marriage. Does any of that make any sense at all, or should I go lie down?' he asked, turning to look at Gibbs.
Gibbs laid a hand on top of Tony's, rubbing his thumb over the ring. He had to swallow before he could speak. 'Yeah, it makes sense, Tony. And I got our rings at the same time.'
Under his hand, the younger man relaxed. 'Good. I'm glad. And thank you, Jethro,' he said softly, looking oddly vulnerable underneath his fatigue.
'You're welcome,' Gibbs said. 'Come here.' He turned sideways, hiking one leg up and behind Tony, then tugged the younger agent until he was sitting with his back to Gibbs' chest. With strong, careful hands, he dug into the knots in Tony's neck and shoulders.
'God, Jethro!' Tony moaned. 'If I'd known you could do that, you'd never have got me out of this house all those years ago.'
Gibbs kept it up until the younger man had relaxed under his hands, leaning most of his weight against Gibbs. 'Come on, let's get you upstairs.'
'You want me to move now? After that?' Tony complained, not moving. 'Give me a minute?'
'Sure,' Gibbs said, wrapping his arms around Tony, who sighed, putting his hands over the older man's. They sat together in silence, feeling each other breathe.
'What is this?' Tony asked eventually. 'What are we doing here, Jethro?'
Gibbs bit back the urge to answer with a facetious comment. 'I don't know, Tony,' he admitted. 'But it feels a lot more like being married than my last three.'
After a moment, Tony nodded. 'Okay.'
The next morning, he drove into the Yard early. Gibbs stopped off for coffee and pastries, so Tony went through security on his own. He took the stairs in lieu of his normal morning run, feeling the stitches pull at his thigh, finding the bullpen almost empty. He dropped his backpack behind his desk, powered on his PC and cast a critical eye over his team mates' desks. Clearly both Ziva and McGee were in, but where? Ziva could well be in Autopsy with Ducky, if the ME was in too. He'd want to check Tony over too. And Tim was probably chatting with Abby. With a wicked grin, Tony decided to see if he could sneak up on them as successfully as Gibbs could.
Tony trotted back down the stairs and eased open the door to the right level. The corridor was empty. Tony tiptoed along it to Abby's door. Standing back from the door sensor, he crouched down and took a peek through the glass.
Tim and Abby were standing close together, talking, but Abby wore a scowl and Ziva had her hands up and her best I'm telling the truth face.
Tony couldn't hear what they were saying and couldn't get any closer without triggering the door sensor, so he watched and did his best to lip-read.
'There is something going on!' Ziva said, or at least he thought she did. 'There is the wedding ring. There is whatever they would not tell us about last November. And Gibbs looks differently at him.'
'Differently how?' Abby asked.
'I'm fairly sure they drive in together most mornings,' Tim said thoughtfully.
'So you think they're, what, together? As in together, together?' Abby asked, hands on hips and eyebrows raised.
'I don't know,' Tim said. 'But follow the evidence.'
'Circumstantial at best,' Abby argued. 'They wouldn't do something like that without telling us.'
'Wouldn't they?' Tim asked. 'They're good at keeping secrets, Abby. And even if they weren't, what would they say? Guess what, we're seeing each other outside work?'
'There's never been anything to indicate they aren't straight,' Abby said vehemently. 'You know I wouldn't have a problem with them being together, and everyone needs somebody to talk to, so why wouldn't they tell me?'
'In Mossad, such a relationship, between a team leader and their immediate subordinate, would not be permitted,' Ziva said. 'But there would be no problem with two men together. We do not discriminate like that.'
'If word got out here, it wouldn't be pretty,' Tim said, shaking his head. 'Vance would reassign Tony and given that we deal pretty much exclusively with the military, a homosexual relationship wouldn't be anything anyone would want to advertise.'
'But why wouldn't they tell me?' Abby asked.
'Abby, you are a wonderful, big-hearted woman,' Ziva said, 'but you wear your feelings and thoughts on your hand.'
'Sleeve,' Tim corrected automatically.
'Hand, sleeve, leg, whatever,' Ziva said dismissively. 'The point is that you are very easy to read. If you know, then we know, and anyone else who sees you will know. Maybe they are not sure of our support.'
'Or maybe it's another undercover operation,' Tim said. 'Look, we aren't going to solve it now and Gibbs is probably waiting to headslap us for not being at our desks, so we'd better go. Just… keep your eyes open. And be discreet.'
Tony eased back, then stood, turning, and ran smack into Gibbs. 'Boss!'
'See something interesting, DiNozzo?' Gibbs asked, amused.
'Tell you later,' Tony said, stepping aside. As Gibbs swept into Abby's lab, Tony hurried to the stairwell and by the time the elevator opened to reveal his chastened team mates being herded to their desks by a stern Gibbs, Tony was apparently hard at work.
The senior agents kept an eye on the two junior agents throughout the day, but apart from the occasional wary look when Tim or Ziva didn't think Gibbs and Tony would notice, the day passed without incident. Gibbs sent them all home at five, to Tony and Ziva's relief. Ziva got up from her desk with less than her customary grace, clearly glad not to have to scramble around a crime scene. Tony, relegated to desk duty for a couple of days, didn't relish having to watch Gibbs head out without him. And the team, of course.
'You coming, or are you going to sit and spin your wheels some more?' Gibbs asked.
Tony blinked, the bullpen coming back into focus. 'Boss?'
'I can smell the smoke from here, DiNozzo,' Gibbs said.
'Coming, boss,' Tony said, pushing his thoughts away and himself to his feet. He followed Gibbs into the elevator, then out again and to Gibbs' car. As Gibbs unlocked the doors, Tony looked around with a frown.
Rolling his eyes, he called, 'You can come out, Probie.'
Sheepishly, Tim stepped out from behind a pillar.
'Something you want to tell us, McGee?' Gibbs asked with deceptive mildness.
'Uh… I was just waiting for Abby, boss,' Tim said. 'Her car isn't great in the snow, so I offered to drive her.'
'Which would be why she drove herself home twenty minutes ago?' Gibbs asked.
'Oh! In that case, I guess I'd better…' Tim gestured vaguely in the direction of what Tony assumed was his car. 'So… You want a lift, Tony?'
Tony smirked. 'In your McMom-mobile? I don't think so, McGee. I do have a little pride.'
'Right! Right… Uh… I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then,' Tim stammered, turning pink under the weight of Gibbs' amusement.
'Night, Probie! Drive safe!' Tony said, waiting until the agent had turned before bursting out laughing. 'Well, that went well,' he said when he finally had his laughter under control.
'You think? Remind me not to send him undercover any time soon,' Gibbs said.
They took two cars into the Yard for the next couple of weeks, arriving and leaving at different times. It wasn't too hard; a few nights Tony worked late on cold cases or paperwork, other nights, Gibbs did the same. Tony bragged about the women he'd scored with and did his best to irritate and annoy the junior agents. It worked: by the time March rolled around, McGee and Ziva had forgotten their suspicions.
Every so often, though, Gibbs and Tony would catch Abby watching them with a speculative expression that shaded into hurt and sorrow.
'We could tell her,' Tony said as they waited for the elevator.
'And say what?' Gibbs jabbed the call button again. 'We're married, but not really? We aren't together, but we are? We share a bed, but that's it?' The doors opened and he stepped inside, with Tony following at his heels.
'I don't know,' Tony said, running a hand through his hair in frustration. 'It's just… It's Abby and she isn't happy with us and I don't know how to make it right.'
'Take her out,' Gibbs suggested.
'I don't know, my husband might be jealous if I start taking beautiful women out to dinner,' Tony warned.
'Your husband will be just fine with it. Dinner, bowling, go clubbing. Just…' Gibbs trailed off.
'Come home to you?' Tony asked softly.
Gibbs grunted. After a moment, he felt Tony's hand brush his, and his shoulders relaxed a fraction. He rolled his neck, feeling the vertebrae crack.
'Want a back rub tonight?'
'Wouldn't hurt,' Gibbs admitted.
'It's a date,' Tony smiled. Then the elevator opened on the bullpen and Tony waited for Gibbs to stride out, before following in his customary position, covering Gibbs' six. For the few steps it took them to reach their desks, Gibbs could have sworn he felt Tony's heat all down his back. In contrast, for the rest of the day he was just a little cold.
In the end, Tony took Abby out for a 1950's night, with cheeseburger, fries and a malted shake, then cocktails and an evening of rock'n'roll dancing. Abby wore her best black and purple poodle skirt with white bobby socks that had little black skulls edging the cuff. Tony put on a sharp suit with a bolo tie and set about rocking her world.
'I have no idea why you're single,' Abby said as they took a break. She sipped her Pink Lady, while Tony grimaced at the taste of his Mickey Slim.
'I don't know how people ever thought this was a good idea,' Tony said, pushing the drink away.
'You know it isn't a real Mickey Slim, right?' Abby pointed out. 'DDT is banned.'
'This should have DDT in it? Figures it'd take a poison to make this drinkable,' Tony groused. 'Come on, Abby, you know me. I'm the love 'em and leave 'em type. Besides, with the hours we work, when would I find time to meet someone?'
'But you're smart, handsome, funny - you can be charming when you want to be and trust me, women love a man who knows how to dance,' Abby protested. 'And plenty of people at work manage to hold down relationships. There's really no excuse, unless you have another reason for not looking…?' She glanced up at him over the rim of her glass. 'Unless you're already seeing someone?'
Tony sighed. 'I'm not seeing anyone, Abby. Other people don't work for the most demanding team leader in the agency. Do you know how much work comes with being Gibbs' senior agent? By the time I've done all that and made sure my probies have done everything they're supposed to, I barely have the energy to fall into bed with a little light reading on ballistics or whatever.'
'Aw, poor baby,' Abby crooned, patting his cheek with one black lace gloved hand. 'We know about your wedding ring.'
Under the table, Tony clenched and unclenched his left hand a few times, then with an eye-roll, he pulled out his wallet. 'What, this wedding ring? Belonged to my father, see?' He slid the ring onto his finger, making a show of not being able to get it over his knuckle. 'Not mine. Don't you think I'd have told you all about it if I'd gotten married?' At Abby's pout, he put the ring back into his wallet. 'Look, after my dad came around wanting us to be a little closer, I fished it out. Sentimental reasons.'
'Poor baby,' Abby sniffed. 'You really aren't seeing anyone?'
'Like who?' Tony asked, putting on his best confused expression.
'Well… We kinda thought you might be seeing Gibbs,' Abby confessed.
Tony choked on his drink and by the time Abby had finished patting him on the back, Rock Around The Clock was just starting up and Tony whisked the goth back out onto the dance floor, the subject forgotten.
Tired and damp from his shower, Tony crawled into bed. Gibbs took off his reading glasses and closed his book, putting them on the nightstand.
'Everything okay with Abby?'
'Yeah,' Tony yawned, stretching his long body under the covers. 'She asked about the ring.'
'What did you say?' Gibbs snapped off the light and lay down, turning onto his side.
'Went with it being my dad's. As long as he stays away, everything'll be fine,' Tony said sleepily.
'So you have a good evening?' Gibbs pulled the comforter up over Tony's shoulders.
'Yeah, it was fun. But wow, rock'n'roll's exhausting to dance to. I can see why it was teenagers who loved it.' Tony shifted to fit himself around the other man with a contented sigh. 'Going to be stiff tomorrow.' Gibbs snickered. 'Get your mind out of the gutter,' Tony complained.
'I bet Abby's fine,' Gibbs said, grinning. 'Go to sleep, Tony.'
It had been a long few hours: Tony had flown back with Gibbs in the Medevac chopper, leaving Tim, Ziva and the LEOs on scene to take the four drug-dealing marines back to the Navy Yard. Gibbs had been rushed into surgery almost as soon as they'd arrived at Bethesda, leaving Tony with nothing to do apart from filling in the mountain of forms that accompanied any trip to the hospital. Well, that and calling Ducky, Abby and Vance to explain just how the lead agent had ended up falling from a bridge. It hadn't been a high bridge, but the bullet that had creased his temple, knocking him unconscious, hadn't helped, nor had the rock that Gibbs had landed on, fracturing his thigh and dislocating his hip.
To Tony, the following minutes, of targeting the shooter - Ziva had used her crazy ninja skills to sneak up on the man, stepping out from behind a tree and pressing a gun to his head with a terrifying cold anger that had the combat veteran practically soiling himself - and scrambling down the bank into the summer-shallow water to where Gibbs was lying far too still, had the surreal quality of a nightmare. Now, with Ducky and Abby down the corridor in the waiting room, and following a call from Tim to let him know that the marines were booked in and awaiting interrogation at his convenience, Tony was standing in front of the nurse's station, working very hard at controlling his temper.
Gibbs had been out of surgery for over an hour, had been moved from the recovery room to a side room on the ward, and all Tony wanted to do was see with his own eyes that Gibbs was going to be okay. After the second time the nurse had refused to let them in to see him, Tony had calmly and politely sent Abby and Ducky back to the waiting room just outside the ward.
'As I've told you, Special Agent DiNozzo, only immediate family is allowed in at this time,' the nurse said obstinately.
'I am immediate family!' Tony snapped, pulling his wallet out of his pocket. He took out his ring and put it on, then slapped his hand on the counter. 'He's my husband. Aside from Ducky, who's like an older brother, and Abby, who's almost his daughter, Gibbs' family is his father, who won't be here for hours, and myself.'
The nurse regarded him with a cold disdain usually reserved for particularly unpleasant species of insect. 'I can't let you go in. You should leave, before I have to call security.'
'Why the hell not?' Tony seethed. 'The man is my husband. You have no right to stop me seeing him.'
'I don't believe you,' the nurse stated bluntly. 'And even if I did, this is a military hospital.'
'Really? I hadn't noticed,' Tony fought to keep from shouting, but in spite of himself, his voice kept rising. 'He's a civilian. I'm a civilian. Are you telling me you won't let me see my husband simply because we're both men? If you don't allow me in to see him in the next thirty seconds, I'm going to start making calls. The first one's going to be to my director, the head of NCIS. Then I'm going to call his boss, the Secretary of the Navy. And right after that, I'm calling the ACLU and telling them to bring every single damn lawyer and journalist they can find. You have no right to keep me out.'
The nurse glared at him, then her eyes slid past him. Tony turned. Behind him stood Director Vance.
Steely-eyed, Vance stepped forward, focusing his attention on the belligerent nurse. With an unpleasant smile he said, 'I'm Director Vance, and Special Agent DiNozzo is correct. You have no right to keep him out. I suggest you let him in to see Special Agent Gibbs before I have you up on charges.'
The nurse huffed. 'I'm calling my superiors.'
'You do that,' Vance said. 'But in the meantime, Special Agent DiNozzo will be in with his husband.' He put a hand on Tony's shoulder, steering the agent down the corridor. 'And you were doing so well at keeping it quiet,' Vance said as Tony stopped outside Gibbs' door.
'Sir-' Tony began, one hand on the door.
'Save it for later,' Vance said. 'I'll go sort things out. And I have a bet to settle with SecNav.'
Tony gaped at his retreating back, then shut his mouth with an audible clack. He pushed open the door and ducked into the room.
Inside, Gibbs lay still and silent, the standard issue blanket pulled up to his chest, leaving his arms free. An IV ran to a shunt in the back of his hand, a pulse-ox meter was clipped to a finger and leads ran from the neck of his gown to a heart monitor. A large dressing was taped to the side of his head.
Tony stepped forward quietly and took a seat beside the bed, wincing as the feet scraped across the floor, but Gibbs didn't stir. Carefully, Tony took his hand and held it. After a while, he shifted and sighed, brushing the hair off the older man's forehead.
'I, uh… I think I outed us,' Tony confessed. 'No, I know I did. Well, I outed us as married, and Vance is probably going to assume we're, you know, sleeping together. Which we are, but not in the sense of, you know. Having sex. With each other.' He sighed. 'Damn it, Jethro, what the hell were you doing out in the open? You know better than that! When you wake up, I'm going to rip you a new one.' He fell silent for a few minutes, watching the older man's still face. Then, barely aware of speaking aloud, he murmured, 'It should have been me.'
Forty minutes later, the door opened and Vance came in. He moved to the end of the bed, silently watching his agents.
Tony didn't look away from Gibbs. 'So are you firing me or just transferring me?' he asked, his voice dull with resignation.
'I didn't do anything when you moved in together,' Vance said mildly. 'And I didn't do anything when you got married. Why would I do anything now?'
Tony looked up sharply, frowning. 'But the regs-'
'Are there to protect you from an abuse of power,' Vance interjected smoothly. 'I haven't noticed a difference in how you work together. It hasn't changed your team dynamic. Your solve rate hasn't dropped. For what it's worth, I'm glad you've been so discreet. If I hadn't seen the paperwork, I wouldn't have known there was anything more between you.'
'The team doesn't know,' Tony said. 'Well, Ducky knows, but that's it. And Jethro's father.'
'I know, and SecNav knows,' Vance said, then paused for a moment. Tony could see indecision flash across his face, quickly replaced by resolve. 'It isn't always easy,' Vance said, 'being married. And lord knows, Gibbs is one of the most stubborn men I've ever met. I know we don't always see eye to eye, but if you ever need to talk, you'd be welcome at my house. Jackie still asks after you.'
Tony's jaw dropped. After a moment, he visibly gathered himself together. 'Who are you, and what have you done with the real director?'
'Tell anyone, and - well, they won't believe you,' Vance smirked, pulling a fresh toothpick out of his pocket and unwrapping it. 'I mean it, DiNozzo. I don't want to hear details, but my door is open to you.'
'What, you don't want to hear about our big gay love affair?' Tony grinned. 'That's okay, I wouldn't anyway. Not that there's much to tell.'
'So how is he, anyway?' Vance asked, nodding towards the man in the bed.
'Last time I talked to the doctor, he said they were expecting him to wake up in a couple of hours. He's got a pretty bad concussion and he's going to be in plaster for at least the next six weeks, but the break was only minor. It was more that they had to put his hip back into place first that caused the problem,' Tony explained.
'And the men in custody?'
'I'll do the interrogations this evening,' Tony said. 'It's pretty clear at least a couple of them have been sampling their own merchandise.'
'Leave them to get desperate, you mean?' Vance nodded, switching the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. 'Keep me updated, DiNozzo. And if you have any more problems getting in here, call me. SecNav was having a few choice words with the CMO about the treatment of civilians.'
'Does that mean more sensitivity training seminars?' Tony whined.
'Suck it up, DiNozzo,' Vance grinned. 'I'd better get back. Someone has to keep the rabble in line.' He headed to the door, but stopped as Tony spoke.
'Director? Thank you.'
Vance nodded and left.
It was closer to an hour later when Tony looked up from his contemplation of their joined hands to find blue eyes watching him.
'Hospital?' Gibbs rasped.
'Nothing gets by you, does it?' Tony teased. 'Want some water?'
Tony held the cup, making sure Gibbs could sip from the straw. When the older man had drunk enough, he set it back on the stand. 'So. I should kick your ass, you know?' Tony said, taking his husband's hand again.
'I screwed up. I got hurt. Think that's enough ass-kicking for now,' Gibbs said.
'I should call the doctor.'
'In a minute.'
They sat in silence for a while, Tony rubbing his thumb over Gibbs' knuckles.
'You scared the shit out of me,' Tony confessed at last. 'But Vance and SecNav definitely know we're married, so, you know, we're probably even.'
'Huh.' Gibbs blinked. 'So?'
'Not going to fire me. Doesn't care that I'm on your team, since nothing's changed at work. Thinks I might need someone to talk to if I'm going to stay married to you,' Tony said.
Gibbs nodded. 'Probably true. You get those marines?'
'They're stewing right now. I'm going to head back in a bit to interrogate them,' Tony said.
There was another long pause, then Gibbs ran a finger over Tony's wedding ring. 'Got your ring on.'
'Yeah,' Tony nodded, looking at the gold band. 'The nurse wouldn't let me in because I wasn't family. And when she found out I was family… Well, Vance stepped in.'
'Ah.' Gibbs swallowed. 'Who's waiting?'
'Abby and Ducky when I came in. I should get the doc so they can come see you before Abby has to resort to drastic measures,' Tony said with a little smile.
Gibbs winced. 'No, that'd be bad.'
Tony pressed the call button and they waited in silence until a nurse arrived. It wasn't the one who'd tried to keep Tony out and either she'd been briefed on their situation, or she didn't care that they were holding hands.
'Good, you're awake,' she said brightly. 'I'll just go call the doctor, then the rest of your fans should be able to come in and visit for a little while.'
Tony nodded. It wasn't long before the doctor bustled in and checked Gibbs over. She authorised painkillers and visitors, then swept out again. With a sigh, Tony leaned forwards and placed a dry kiss on Gibbs' cheek. 'Be good,' he warned the older man. 'Don't terrorise the place before I get back. I'll send the others in.'
Gibbs squeezed his hand. 'Tony…'
'It's okay, Jethro. I'll be back soon.' Carefully, Tony disentangled his hand from his husband's and stepped back. All the way to the door, he could feel Gibbs' eyes on him.
Nurse Ratched was still ensconced behind the nurse's station at the entrance to the ward. She glared at Tony as he went past: he summoned up his broadest cheesy grin in retaliation, dropping it as he passed through the doors. When he popped his head round the door to the waiting room, Ducky and Abby looked up.
'Hey guys,' Tony said. 'The bossman's awake for now, so you can go see him.'
Abby hopped up. 'Tony! You didn't come back!'
'I didn't know if they'd let me back in there, so I stayed,' Tony said. 'Sorry, Abs.'
'How is he?' Ducky asked.
'Hurting a little, but he's had some painkillers,' Tony said. 'Apart from that, he's okay. Better go see him before he nods off again, though.'
Abby pushed past him and rushed into the ward. As Ducky followed, he clapped Tony on the shoulder in silent support.
'I'll bring Abigail back to the Yard once she's seen that Jethro's all right,' he said quietly. 'If you'd like a cup of tea then…?'
'I'd love one later, thanks,' Tony said. 'Got to go talk to the bad guys.'
'Very well. I'll put the kettle on,' Ducky said, then followed Abby onto the ward.
It wasn't until he'd stopped off at home to change out of his muddy suit and pick up some essentials for Gibbs that Tony realised he hadn't taken his ring off.
Tony strode into the bullpen. 'McGee, Ziva, sit-rep!'
The two agents looked up and sighed in relief at Tony's expression. 'How is Gibbs?' Ziva asked, coming round her desk.
'Awake and probably terrorising the nurses by now,' Tony grinned. 'He's going to be fine. How's our band of not so merry men doing?'
'Petty Officer Rawlins seems to be going into withdrawal,' McGee said. 'The others are demanding lawyers and generally badmouthing pretty much everyone and everything.'
'Glad to hear it,' Tony said. 'Bring Rawlins up to interrogation one and I'll see what he says. Are JAG on their way?'
'Tomorrow morning,' Ziva said with a wicked smile. 'Admiral Chegwidden heard about their attempt to shoot Gibbs. He said to tell you that while he understands the sentiment, he cannot condone them acting on it and since they were caught red-handed, there is little his department can do for them until they go to court martial.'
Tony nodded. 'All right, then.'
'Tony, is there anything we can do for Gibbs?' McGee asked.
'Not tonight,' Tony said. 'Abby and Ducky were with him when I left.'
'I figured he wasn't too bad, since you took the time to get changed.'
'My dry cleaner's taking me off his Christmas card list for sure,' Tony said mournfully. 'He works miracles, but there's a limit to his powers of suit regeneration. Besides, I picked up some things for the boss while I was at it.'
'You keep a spare suit at Gibbs' house?' Ziva asked. 'I was unaware he allowed you such liberties.'
Tony shrugged. Changing the subject, he said, 'If you wouldn't mind fetching the Petty Officer, McSlow? I'd like to get these interrogations over with some time tonight, so I can call by the hospital and maybe get an hour's sleep before I have to be in again in the morning.'
'We didn't have to wait for you,' Tim protested, heading for the cells.
'Yes you did!' Tony called after him.
'How is Gibbs really?' Ziva asked.
Tony picked up the files that were stacked neatly on his desk and flicked through them to find the one on the Petty Officer. 'Sore. A little pissed. Be glad he can't get out of bed right now, because I honestly think if he could, he'd beat them to death with his cast.'
Ziva nodded. 'I will visit him tomorrow.'
'You do that. Your report's done?'
'Then go watch in the observation room,' Tony said. Dredging up a leer, he added, 'I like it when a beautiful woman's eyes are on me.'
Surprisingly, Ziva didn't make a snappy retort. And a few days later, when Gibbs was released, to everyone's relief, no one seemed too surprised that it was Tony who was taking him home and would be looking after him.
'It doesn't seem like a year,' Tony mused, studying the label on his beer bottle.
'Nope,' Gibbs agreed, settling comfortably beside him on the couch. In front of them on the coffee table, two plates bore silent testimony to their cowboy-style steak anniversary dinner. 'Any regrets?'
Tony shook his head. 'You?'
Gibbs pretended to think for a moment, then shook his head too. 'Not a one.'
'Good.' Tony flicked on the tv and flipped channels until he found a football match. 'Your ex-wives must be crazy,' he said quietly.
'Oh?' Gibbs looked at him in curiosity, eyebrow raised.
'Yeah,' Tony said confidently. 'Being married to you is about the easiest thing I've ever done.'
Gibbs smiled. 'That's how it should be.'
Thanksgiving was a team affair. It was pretty much by default, since the team was in the middle of tracking down a possible serial killer who preyed on cadets, but still, Abby got Jimmy to help her set up a table down in the evidence garage and cobbled together a potluck supper for everyone still on the premises. As cases allowed, people popped in, chatted, ate, then ran off again to check on BOLOs or make calls. Even Vance stuck his head round the door and stayed for half an hour.
When the rest of the team had managed to get down there for dinner, Tony dragged a scowling Gibbs down to the locker.
'Eat something, or Abby is going to pout at you from now to Christmas,' Tony advised him. 'If anyone calls, it'll come through to our cell phones. If we get a hit on our suspect, McGee's got it rigged to beep his pager. Taking an hour out to get something to eat won't wreck the case. There's nothing else we can be doing right now.'
With ill grace, Gibbs conceded the argument and let the younger man push him into the room.
'Gibbs! You came!' Abby squealed, bouncing over and planting a kiss on his cheek. 'Here, have a plate. We were just about to say what we're thankful for this year.'
With a grunt, Gibbs took the paper plate and looked over the table.
'I'm thankful you organised this,' Tony grinned, kissing Abby on the top of her head. 'There aren't too many takeout places that deliver on Thanksgiving.' He busied himself filling a plate. 'So what are you thankful for, Abs?'
'I'm thankful for a year without losing anyone,' Abby said. 'And for Sister Rosita's mad bowling skills. For family, for Major Mass Spec, for you guys. How about you?'
'I'm thankful for staying out of the hospital, mostly,' Tony said. 'And for support in unexpected places.'
'You have been trying out a new brand of underpants, Tony?' Ziva teased. 'I am thankful that I am an American citizen, that I am here, now, to share this holiday with you all. I am thankful that Gibbs was not too badly hurt earlier this year. I am even thankful that you were not hurt seriously when that car crashed into us at the start of the year.'
Tim nodded. 'I'm thankful we're all still here, more or less intact. And I'm thankful I finally finished the first draft of my next novel because if it'd taken much longer, you'd probably be investigating my editor for murdering me.'
Ducky put down his piece of cake and stood up. 'I am thankful that my skills as a doctor haven't been required too often this year. And I'm thankful for good friends and good company. For what are you thankful, Leon?'
Vance came over and joined the group. 'I'm thankful none of you have been accused of anything serious this year. I'm thankful I haven't had to explain too many of your stunts to SecNav. And I'm thankful that in about twenty minutes, I'm heading home to my wife and kids.'
'That just leaves you, Gibbs,' Abby bounced.
'What about the Autopsy Gremlin?' Tony asked.
'Oh, I already said,' Jimmy smiled.
'You mean we missed it? Come on, Jimmy, 'fess up again,' Tony said, clapping him on the shoulder.
'Okay, if you really want,' Jimmy said, shrugging diffidently. 'I'm thankful for everything Doctor Mallard has taught me over this past year. I'm thankful for being a part of this team, for helping find some justice for the people who come into Autopsy. I'm thankful that we're all here together and I'm thankful that we're about as close to being a family as we can be.'
'Wow, way to go, Jimmy,' Tony grinned. 'Your turn, Jethro.'
'I'm thankful for stupid criminals,' Gibbs said shortly.
'That's it? That's all you're thankful for?' Tony asked, incredulous.
'There has to be more that you're thankful for,' Abby pouted. 'There really isn't anything else?'
Gibbs stared at them all. Then, his gaze resting on Tony, he said, 'I'm thankful for agents who don't mess around on the job and catch stupid criminals before they commit any more crimes.'
Tony sighed. 'Way to get into the holiday spirit, boss.' As his mouth opened to say more, his cell phone rang. He answered it with a terse, 'DiNozzo,' listened for a few seconds, then said, 'Thanks,' and ended the call. 'We've got a hit. State trooper saw our man on the Beltway. He's in an unmarked car, so he's following at a distance.'
'Gear up, people,' Gibbs said, but they were already scrambling to put down plates and plastic cups, heading for the doors. Gibbs handed his plate to Abby and kissed her cheek. 'That's why I'm thankful,' he said quietly, then strode after his team.
Four hours later, with their suspect in custody, Tony and Gibbs finished off their cold turkey-pasta salad in the observation room while McGee and Ziva conducted the interrogation. The tech in the corner kept his attention on the machines in front of him.
'So?' Tony asked quietly, watching his team mates through the one-way glass.
'What?' Gibbs asked, turning his attention to Tony.
'I know what I'm thankful for.' Tony reached out a hand. After a moment, Gibbs took it.
Tony's eyes snapped open to find himself plastered against Gibbs' back. He was hard, and his hips rocked against the older man's firm buttocks of their own accord.
'Shit! Sorry, Jethro,' Tony said, scrambling back. 'I, uh…'
'Happens to us all,' Gibbs said, not turning over. 'Go take care of it and get back in here so we can get some more sleep. It's too damn early to get up.'
Mortified, Tony retreated to the bathroom, where a few quick strokes of his trusty right hand were enough to have him spilling into a fistful of tissues.
A few hours later, as they drove into work, Gibbs glanced across at the younger man. 'You want to talk about it?' He didn't have to specify what it was.
'No, not really,' Tony said, fiddling with his seatbelt.
A couple of blocks later, Gibbs spoke again. 'How long has been?'
'Since the dinosaurs roamed the earth? A few hundred million years. Since you had your last coffee? About twenty minutes,' Tony said flippantly.
'A few months,' he said grudgingly. 'Why?'
'By which you mean…' Gibbs raised an eyebrow.
Tony sighed. 'Over a year.'
The low purr of the engine filled the silence until finally Gibbs reached out and squeezed Tony's knee. 'I meant it when I said you can go elsewhere. I never intended for you to be celibate.'
After a moment, Tony patted Gibbs' hand. 'Yeah, well, it turns out in some ways I'm not all that like my father.' As Gibbs opened his mouth to speak, Tony added, 'It doesn't matter. I'm fine. I'll just make time to, you know, clean the pipes more often. Really, I'm fine, Jethro.'
With a skeptical look, Gibbs let the subject drop.
Tony made it a part of his morning shower, on those mornings when he had time for a shower, when they weren't hurrying out of the door in the small hours to get to a crime scene. After another couple of incidents of waking hard or half-hard, pressed up against his husband, Tony began taking care of business with his evening shower too.
When he found himself waking in the middle of the night with his hand inside his sweatpants, wrapped around his aching cock, and his mouth pressed to the nape of Gibbs' neck, Tony figured he was in trouble. When it took him another five minutes to force himself to let go and move away, Tony knew it was serious. The next night, when he woke up with his hand cupping the older man's soft genitals through his own sweatpants, Tony knew it was about as serious as trouble got.
He spent the rest of the night in the guest room and after a searching look from Gibbs in the morning, nothing more was said on the subject.
After two weeks of sleeping in the guest room, Tony was in a foul mood. So far he'd snapped at both Ziva and McGee, been curt to the point of rudeness with Ducky, and was avoiding Abby altogether.
With Gibbs away from the bullpen, Tim and Ziva were debating the possible causes of Tony's mood. It wasn't helping.
'He has been very irritable,' Ziva remarked archly. 'I think maybe one of his lady friends has dumped him, or given him an unwanted present. A DST, yes?'
'STD,' Tim corrected. 'It wouldn't surprise me, but… Actually, you know what? It would surprise me. I haven't heard Tony boast about his conquests in a while now. Perhaps his women have stopped taking his calls. Looking for someone a bit…'
'Richer?' Ziva asked cattily.
'I was going to say younger,' Tim said.
Outwardly, Tony gave no sign of listening, but inwardly he was seething. He stabbed viciously at his keyboard in an attempt to finish his report so that he could go out on a coffee run before he snapped and murdered his colleagues.
'Do you suppose they have realised there is more to life than designer clothes and a stylish haircut?' Ziva asked. 'Or perhaps Tony has.'
'Yeah, right,' Tim scoffed. 'The day Tony gives up casual sex with complete strangers is the day I give up writing.'
Tony shot to his feet, hand going to his wallet. For a second, he was ready to pull out his wedding ring, show them just how casual he was, but then common sense reasserted itself, stilling his hand. 'And maybe if either of you had a sex life of your own, you wouldn't feel the need to discuss mine,' he snapped. 'God knows any sane man wouldn't put his dick anywhere near Ziva in case she cut it off, and Tim, the only women you're beating off with a stick are either perps or crazy stalker fans of your books, Mister Gemcity.'
'DiNozzo!' Gibbs was standing by the corner of his desk, face thunderous. 'With me. Now.'
For a moment, Tony wrestled with the urge to say no, then with a growl worthy of the ex-marine himself, Tony stalked off after his boss. In the elevator, he beat Gibbs to the emergency switch.
'What?' Tony snarled.
'Give me your handkerchief,' Gibbs said, holding out his hand. 'Your handkerchief,' he said impatiently.
Taken aback, Tony pulled out the crisp white cotton square and handed it over. 'Boss?'
'Not Boss, Jethro,' Gibbs said, pushing Tony back into the corner of the metal box. In one fluid move, he had Tony's pants open and his cock out.
'What the hell?' Tony choked out.
'Shut up, Tony,' Gibbs said. 'I've had enough of you snapping and snarling at everyone just because you aren't getting laid. Clearly doing it yourself isn't working for you and you're too damn stubborn to go elsewhere.' With a few practised strokes, he had Tony hard and leaking in one callused hand.
'Jethro- God! You don't- You… Oh my God…' Tony's head fell back against the wall with a thump.
'Apparently I do,' Gibbs said wryly.
Tony whimpered as Gibbs jerked him off, hand tight and hot around his aching dick. 'Shit, Jethro!'
'Ssh,' Gibbs said, pumping faster.
Tony panted, hands scrabbling for purchase on the smooth metal walls. He thrust forwards into his husband's fist, then, mouth open in a silent cry, he came hard, shooting into the handkerchief Gibbs held ready.
A few seconds later, when Tony could breathe again, Gibbs let him go. The older man watched as Tony tucked himself away with trembling hands.
'Yeah,' Tony admitted. 'Look, Jethro-'
'You needed something,' Gibbs said gruffly, looking away. 'And it was either this or shoot you.'
'Right,' Tony said, looking down at the floor. 'Thanks.'
'No more sleeping in the guest room?'
'Sure. Okay,' Tony agreed. He took the soiled handkerchief and balled it up, then flipped the emergency switch.
'We good?' Gibbs asked as the younger man avoided looking at him.
'We're good,' Tony said.
Back in the bullpen, while Gibbs demanded Ziva and Tim's reports, Tony surreptitiously stuffed his used hanky in a small evidence bag, tucking it in the bottom of his backpack to wash later. As they scrambled to get them finished, Gibbs disappeared off in the direction of the head, leaving a subdued Tony to get on with his own report.
'Go see Ducky,' Gibbs said when the hard copy of Tony's report landed on his desk.
'On it, boss,' Tony said, ignoring the looks his team mates were exchanging. He pretended not to hear them as he waited for the elevator.
'Gibbs, is DiNozzo all right? He seems… unlike himself,' Ziva said.
'He's fine,' Gibbs said curtly.
'But-' Tim began.
'I said he's fine. Don't make personal comments if you don't want him to make them back,' Gibbs said, shutting down the topic. 'McGee, get me the financial records for our marine-'
The elevator doors closed behind Tony, cutting Gibbs off mid-sentence. 'Damn,' Tony whispered to himself. 'What am I supposed to do now?'
That night, Tony climbed into bed beside his husband. 'So…' he said awkwardly.
'It isn't exactly a hardship,' Gibbs said drily. 'And we're married. Why, you nervous?'
'Actually, I am, a little,' Tony confessed. 'Never thought I'd be doing something like this.'
'What, sleeping with your husband?'
'Come here.' Gibbs put down his book and glasses, turned out the light, then lay down on his side, facing Tony. With a gentle hand, he rubbed Tony through his sweatpants, making the younger man jump. 'Okay?'
Tony bit his lip and nodded. 'Yeah.' Tentatively, he reached out and did the same, eyes widening as Gibbs hardened at his touch. When he was rocking forwards into Gibbs' hand, the older man carefully pulled down his waistband and drew him out. After a moment's hesitation, Tony did the same.
Lying forehead to forehead, in the privacy of their darkened room, under the cocoon of blankets, the two men breathed faster, hands losing rhythm as they sped up. With a muffled cry, Tony came, his hand tightening around Gibbs' cock. With a groan, Gibbs thrust into his hand a few more times, then came too.
After a minute, Tony fumbled for tissues and they cleaned themselves up.
'Um…' Tony began, then squeaked as Gibbs wrapped an arm around his shoulders and tugged him close.
'Still okay?' Gibbs asked softly.
'Yeah,' Tony nodded, then yawned.
Gibbs pressed a kiss to his forehead. 'All right, then. Get some sleep.'
'Mhm.' Tony snuggled closer, draping an arm and a leg over the ex-marine.
'But you have to do something!' Abby said. 'It's your birthday! The big four-oh. Come on, Tony! If you won't have a party, how about coming out for the evening? A few drinks, some dancing?
'Abby… I have plans, all right? Private plans. Plans that don't involve my coworkers, if you know what I mean,' Tony said with a wink. 'If you really insist on doing something, how about we have lunch next week?'
'Tony! Okay, fine,' Abby pouted. 'But for the record, your fortieth birthday should be a big celebration. Huge. Enormous!'
'Duly noted. When it's your turn, we'll hire a circus,' Tony said drily. 'Can I go now? Before Gibbs has to send out a search party? Because if he does, I may not make it to my birthday.'
'Go, shoo, catch bad guys. Lunch next week.' Abby waved him away. As he exited the lab, Tony could hear her muttering, 'That is so not a party.'
Gibbs looked up as Tony's phone rang. The agent lifted the handset and listened.
'Uh huh… Okay, be right there.'
'Case?' Gibbs asked.
Tony shook his head. 'Nope, gotta go sign for a letter.'
Gibbs nodded. With a sinking heart, he watched Tony cross to the elevator. As the doors closed behind the agent, he had the sudden irrational fear that he wouldn't see Tony again. With a snort, he forced himself to go back to the case file on his desk, but when the elevator pinged, he found himself looking up again, watching the tall man stride back to his desk. Tony tucked the letter into his backpack, ignoring his team's stares.
'Are you not going to open that?' Ziva asked.
'Nope,' Tony said.
'It looks important,' Tim chimed in. 'I mean, that looked like a law firm logo, and if you had to sign for it…'
'I know what it is,' Tony said. 'It'll keep for later.'
'What part of it's my mail and I'll open it later do you not understand, McNosey?' Tony said. He shot Gibbs a look.
Gibbs sighed. 'As long as it isn't a demand for child support, or you being called in a divorce case, I don't care. McGee, Ziva, if you don't have enough to keep you busy, I'm sure I can find something for you.'
The threat worked, and the two junior agents put their heads down and got back to work. Tony looked at Gibbs for a long moment, his expression unreadable, before doing the same.
It was after ten - twenty two hundred hours - when Gibbs pushed open his front door. A late call in MTAC had kept him back, but he'd chosen to spend another couple of hours on paperwork rather than face going home. It wasn't something he'd felt since the final days of his last marriage.
The living room was lit solely by a lamp in the corner: no Tony. Gibbs went into the kitchen, where the remains of a romantic dinner littered the table. A cold rage descended on the ex-marine and before he knew it, he was taking the stairs two at a time.
The master bedroom was empty, the bed still made from that morning. Gibbs found himself outside the guest bedroom, hand on the door, oddly reluctant to push it open and see who his husband was with. Steeling his resolve, he opened the door.
Tony was alone. The younger man was sitting on the bed, arms wrapped around one knee, looking out of the window. A suitcase lay open on the floor with some of his clothes neatly folded into it.
After a moment, Gibbs found his voice. 'What's going on? Where's your girlfriend?'
Tony didn't look round. After a moment, he spoke, his voice low and hoarse. 'No girlfriend.'
'I know you had plans with someone. I heard you telling Abby. And downstairs, I saw-'
'Rule number eight, Jethro. Never assume. Yes, I had plans that didn't involve my coworkers. They involved spending the evening with my husband.' At last he looked round and Gibbs flinched at the misery in his eyes. 'But I guess you don't need to pretend any more, do you? I'll go to a hotel tonight, start looking at places this weekend.'
The younger man carried on as though Gibbs hadn't spoken. 'I know you didn't do it for the money, but there's a lot more than either of us knew about. And you've let me live here for ages, let me inconvenience you. So I was thinking I'd transfer half to you once the check's cleared. You can still get your boat out of the basement with it.'
'I don't want your damn money!' Gibbs exploded. 'You want to know why I didn't come home tonight? Because I thought you were celebrating your birthday with some cheap blonde half your age.'
'Yeah, I got that,' Tony said and there was a world of hurt resignation in his tone.
'No! I didn't come home because I didn't want to sit here wondering where you were and who you were with. I… I was… I wanted it… to be me,' Gibbs finished quietly. 'I didn't want you out there with anyone else.'
'Wait, what?' Tony's brow scrunched in confusion. 'You were jealous?'
After a pause, Gibbs nodded. 'I don't want you to leave. I want to be your husband. For real.'
'You aren't just after my trust fund, are you?' Tony quipped, but relief washed over him.
'Screw the money. Tony, will you marry me?' Gibbs heard himself say.
Over the roaring in his ears, he could still make out Tony's fervent, 'Yes!' and a second later, he had an armful of tall, elegant, solid man, kissing him on the lips for the first time since their wedding with what seemed like a lifetime of pent-up passion. Gibbs tightened his arms around his husband and silently vowed never to let him go.
Later, in bed together, in their bed together, Gibbs kissed Tony with long, slow kisses until they broke apart, dazed, their lips were swollen.
'You know we're already married, right?' Tony said, reaching up to run his fingers through Gibbs' soft hair.
'We can renew our vows,' Gibbs said, stroking a hand down Tony's side, exploring his husband's body. 'Invite the team, my dad. Yours, if you want him there.'
'So you're saying this is a forever thing?' Tony asked.
Gibbs nodded. 'Yeah, Tony. I am.'
Tony and Gibbs renewed their vows at the same courthouse, in front of the same Justice of the Peace, but the similarities ended there. They'd decided to surprise the team, but had told Jack, Ducky and Vance.
'Where are we going?' Ziva asked curiously. 'We do not have a case.'
'You'll see in just a minute,' Tony grinned.
'Is Gibbs going to be there too?' Tim asked.
Tony's grin got wider. 'He'd better be.' He drove past the courthouse and found a parking space. Pulling in, he recognised Gibbs' car a couple of spaces down the road, and Ducky drove past them both and squeezed into a third space.
They climbed out of the cars, meeting up in a loose group on the sidewalk, only to be hailed from the courthouse steps.
'Jack!' Abby cried, running over to greet the older man. 'Do you know what's going on? Gibbs and Tony wouldn't say.'
'Abigail,' Jack beamed, planting a kiss on her cheek. 'Just in time.'
'Time for what?' Jimmy asked, coming up and shaking Jack's hand.
'Time to catch up with my favorite federal agents, that's what,' a familiar voice said.
'Tony!' Ziva found herself drawn into a big hug by Tony DiNozzo, Senior.
'You look beautiful as always, my dear,' Senior smiled.
A whistle cut through the chatter and all heads turned to look at Gibbs. 'Take it inside.'
'It's like herding cats,' Ducky complained as the group straggled inside. Outside the courtroom, he stopped Tony. 'Do you have everything?'
Tony patted his pockets. 'Yup. Come on, Ducky. It's showtime.'
'We aren't too late, are we?'
Gibbs turned to see the director and his wife accompanied by the Secretary of the Navy hurrying down the hallway. 'No, we're just about to start.'
'Thank you for inviting us,' Jackie smiled. She kissed Tony's cheek, then Gibbs, and made her way into the room followed by the men, leaving Tony and Gibbs standing outside.
A squeal cut through the air, accompanied by a chorused 'I knew it!' from Tim and Ziva.
'I guess they figured it out,' Tony grinned and held out his hand.
Gibbs took it and brushed a kiss over his husband's lips. 'Come on, let's get married again.'
Tony nodded. 'Forever, this time.'