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A Family Tradition

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A Family Tradition

Gibbs had to admit that Tony still looked pretty awful. He was pale and there were circles under his eyes from the sleep he wasn't getting. He was propped up in bed with more pillows that Gibbs had owned in his life. Kate and Abby had fussed over him and probably created this nest before he chased them out. Gibbs set the water filled glass down with a sharp clink. Tony's eyes were washed out and nothing like their usual green tint. "Come on, boss, I thought at least you would bring me something other than water. Can't I have some soda? Juice? Anything?"

"Ducky said water. Have you actually managed to keep more than chicken broth down today?"

The sulking glare had more heat than it had in days. "For your information, Ducky shoved a glop of gruel down my throat this morning. He claimed it was oatmeal, but it tasted like sawdust."

Gibbs looked at his second for a long moment. "Why the Hell did you open that letter, DiNozzo?"

"Do we have to talk about this now?" Gibbs' sharp retort was broken up by a bout of nasty, productive coughing. Tony rinsed his mouth and spat into the bucket that seemed to be his constant companion.

"Yes."

"Bastard." Tony leaned back. "God, I hope that ends soon."

"Answer me!"

"I had to or someone else would have died. I can't see McGee with his geeky barely in-shape frame surviving it and Kate doesn't have the body mass and I couldn't see you sick."

Gibbs' eyes narrowed. "Did she call? Was there a threat you didn't bother to tell me about?" The former Marine growled, leaning into Tony's space threateningly. The younger man simply sighed.

"No, she didn't call. It wasn't like that. I wouldn't keep something like that a secret. I'm not an idiot."

"Well, you sure were acting like one. You know better than to open up an anonymous letter!"

"Maybe I was just jealous."

"Maybe you were being an irresponsible brat. On little things, I expect it. I expect you to rag on McGee or tease Kate. I expect to need to smack you or ride to the rescue because God knows you're a trouble-maker."

"I am not a trouble-maker! Things just happen around me. I don't start fights or anything. It's not my fault people notice me!"

"You go out of your way to be noticed. Damn it, give me a straight answer! Why did you open that letter?"

"I had to." Tony's jaw clicked shut.

Gibbs was silent, waiting to see if Tony would break. He was pretty sure it would work. Tony couldn't bear Gibbs glaring at him for too long.

"Just yell, you'll feel better," he said quietly.

"You could have infected the entire team."

"I took the brunt of the powder."

"That's not the point."

"It had to be me! I told you McGee's not in good enough shape and Kate's too small!"

"So you knew there was something wrong, but you opened it anyway. Explain yourself!"

"Can't you just trust me! You trusted me to follow orders and not die on you! Trust me about this." Tony started coughing then. Gibbs supported him as he choked up a little more of the phlegm that was slowly working out of his lungs.

"I can't. Tell me what's going on here. You're never this stubborn about telling me what's happening." There was a long silence. Gibbs didn't say anything more. This was it, he could practically see Tony weighing his words, his story. His eyes narrowed. He better end up with the truth or I'll smack him. Tony had been working for Gibbs too long to play these games anymore. He'd broken him of the lying habit within the first year. He used to lie about tips and phone calls when the truth was Tony was just good enough to come up with the right answer. Tony had gotten used to hiding his brain and Gibbs usually let him get away with it. That wouldn't work this time.

"Will you let me just say it was instinct?"

"No. I want the truth. You know better than to lie to me." Gibbs kept his tone fairly neutral.

"Boss, it happened. Maybe it was just me being stupid. You know I'm not exactly faithful to one girl. So, the lipstick looked familiar. I grabbed the envelope because it could have been someone who I'd flirted with, but didn't give my name to."

"Bullcrap."

"It was just a mistake. I was expecting this pretty little petty officer to write to me and it looked like her handwriting."

That earned him a head-smack. Gibbs glared at the younger man.

"I was stupid! I made a mistake and did something I'd do at home or at the frat-house or a hundred other places, but should never do at work. I was being nosy. I wanted to see who was getting anonymous love letters."

The senior agent weighed that answer. It was a good one, but Tony was lying to him. He'd obviously given some signal that he'd believed part of the earlier explanations, which were both BS. It was something he'd seen Tony do while under-cover. It allowed him to feed the suspect false information by seeming reluctant to tell them the truth. He'd seen Tony lie straight-faced to drug-dealers and murderers to get the to confess. This was no different. Gibbs had him on the ropes now. A few more exchanges and Tony would give up the truth. He'd be too tired to do otherwise. "Stop lying to me, DiNozzo."

"I wanted to infect the entire building. Is that what you want me to say? That I was working with some girl to infect NCIS with the plague so that I could watch everyone dying from my own bedside? How many ways do you want me to tell you that I was stupid?" The false tears were a new addition. Tony didn't cry unless in physical pain.

"Overkill," Gibbs said, gesturing to his eyes.

"You think?"

"Yeah."

"Damn. And that was the one that was supposed to win me a supportive hug while you reamed me out."

Gibbs snorted. He leaned forward to whisper a soft promise. "Tell me the god-damned truth, Tony, or I will ignore every warning that Ducky gave me and take you to the mats."

Tony swallowed convulsively. "You'd break me and then who would you yell at?"

"McGee. He's started to grow a pair." Tony put a hand to his head and rubbed his temple like he had a headache. It was a signal that he really was tired and that Gibbs should let him rest, but he couldn't. He couldn't let Tony fall asleep again if he didn't get the truth. All the defenses would be back up if Tony got some sleep. "Tell me why you opened that letter." Tony sighed. Gibbs could see that he was still fighting with himself over the answer. Tony appeared to finally come to a decision. Tony's shoulders slumped and he looked up at Gibbs with a resignation plastered on his face.

"Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. This is going to take awhile to explain." Tony closed his eyes. Gibbs gave him a moment to pull himself together. He knew he would hear the truth. Tony knew better than to lie to him. "Sometimes. . . sometimes I know what's going to happen before it happens. It's not like I have dreams or elaborate visions or something. Sometimes I see what's going to happen and it doesn't make sense until the situation shows up. Other times, it's just that I know I have two choices."

"It's called being a good investigator. Your brain doesn't stop looking for patterns. It's why you can pull someone out of the way of a bullet."

"Not like that! Christ, Gibbs, it's not like that. It's like closing your eyes and suddenly seeing that you'll be in the subway and an old lady is going to be shot because she doesn't speak the language unless you jump in and translate for the muggers. Then, four years later, you're sitting there and the situation starts and you have to choose whether to walk between the cars and get shot when all you want to do is translate for them to keep her alive."

"Mahoon case in Philly."

Tony jerked at the comment. His eyes opened. He looked scared. "You heard about that one?"

"You killed four muggers and ended up in the hospital with a bullet in the gut. Of course I heard about it when I talked to one truly pissed off captain because he'd lost you."

"I had the dream in the Academy in Illinois. I put it down to stress, but it wasn't the first time that happened and it wasn't the last."

Gibbs' eyes narrowed. The young man started coughing again. He bent over the side of the bed and retched into the bucket. "I have to be back at work by next week," Tony muttered. Only Gibbs' sharp ears let him hear that.

"Why?"

Tony jerked up. "Why what?"

"Why do you have to be at work?"

Tony licked his lips, eyes darting around the room. "Because if I'm not McGee and Kate will be dead by the end of it."

Gibbs took a deep breath. "I'm going to get lunch for both of us. By the time I get back, you'll be ready to tell me something coherent. Got it?"

"Right, boss." Tony bit his lip. "Boss?"

"What?"

"Is there any ice cream?"

"I'll pick up a pint while I'm out."

Gibbs stepped out of the room and turned off the overhead light. He didn't look behind him when he heard the television turn on.

****

Tony waited until the front door of his apartment had shut. He left the comforting flickers of the television on. He wasn't actually watching it, but the sounds and the movement of light were soothing. He pushed himself upright, wavering as he stood next to the bed. He had to be in fighting shape by Monday. He forced himself to the bathroom. As he washed his hands he looked into the mirror. The apparition that greeted him didn't look all that familiar.

God, I hate being sick, he thought. He ran a hand through his hair. At least he was starting to get some color back in his cheeks. He glanced across the countertop at all the skin and hair products he kept there. It was just too much work. He'd start tomorrow. He had to be able to put on a good smile and look well enough or Gibbs would handcuff him to his desk. He couldn't let that happen. He stared into his eyes. Why? He asked a god he didn't really believe in anymore. Why me? I don't believe. I'm just a cop. There were no answers in his eyes. He let his head droop forward and leaned on the sink.

He didn't have much time. Gibbs wanted a story, but he'd also want evidence. It was who they were, after all. They were cops. They didn't convict on the basis of gut instinct, even if they did sometimes arrest on it. He went to his desk and found the key that would unlock the footlocker at the foot of his bed. He kept everything that he absolutely needed to take with him in there. There were other things that would be nice to take, but the most important things, his memories, he kept those locked away just like he had as a boy.

He opened the locker and dug down until his found the smaller box he was looking for. There was a stack of CD's and a few handwritten journals in it. He'd started keeping his, he hesitated to use the word vision, journals on disc as soon as he could. He didn't like typing, but he hated writing more. Besides, on disc he could append evidence as he needed to. McGee would approve, he thought with a smile as the flickering lights played off the disc. These ones had been burned from his floppies when he moved to Baltimore. He set them on the bed. He fished out a stack of casefiles and photographs as well. Technically, he shouldn't have the photos, but he didn't know any cop who didn't secret one or two photos away to remind themselves of what had happened.

His old partner would keep the victim's photo pinned to his refrigerator until the case was solved. When Tony had last visited, he couldn't see the door for all the photos. "It's not the same without you, Tony," Miller had said quietly before handing him a beer.

"I'm sorry, Miller," Tony whispered to the photos on his bed. He fished out one more thing, the small box his grandfather had given him before his death. It wasn't proof of anything, but Tony wanted it there to remind him of what this was all about.

"What the Hell are you doing out of bed?" Gibbs demanded as he barged through the bedroom door.

"Getting evidence for you. Will you bring my laptop from the desk when you bring the lunch tray in?"

"Think you can sit at the table?"

Tony bit his lip. "Yeah. I guess." He tried to make it to his feet on his own. Gibbs stood close, but didn't touch him. Tony looked up at his offered arm. Tony took it. "I hate this part of it."

Gibbs snorted. "Come on. I got you something better than broth."

"Thank God. Just to let you know that if it's oatmeal, I'll shoot you."

"There's an Italian dive three blocks away."

Tony smiled at that. "What did you convince her to make me?"

"You'll see. It's not pizza."

"Water." Gibbs' voice was uncompromising. Tony sighed. He settled into his seat, happy enough that he had spaghetti instead of oatmeal or broth. "Take it slow."

"So what have I been missing?"

Gibbs filled the silence with a rundown of the case follow-ups the team was working on and Abby's newest experiments. "She misses you," he said.

"I'm not gone. She can call me." Tony considered. "Okay, maybe listening to me hack over the phone is about as appealing as coming over, but she still could call. I email her every day."

"Now. She was devastated when she realized that she couldn't help you."

Tony sighed. It felt good to be able to take a deep breath again without drowning in his own fluids. He shivered.

"Back to bed."

"I'm okay to stay here."

"The pasty white completion and shivering tells me you need to be back in bed. Don't cross me, Tony, or I'll ask Ducky to look after you tomorrow."

"I'll be good. I can be on my own."

"Maybe after I get my answers."

****

"I guess we should get that over with, huh?" Tony's voice was subdued. Gibbs got him back into the bed and brought one of the kitchen chairs in to sit by him. He had a feeling that this was going to take awhile. "My laptop? I need it for the CD's."

Gibbs nodded and went to get the computer and the cord. He plugged it in and set it on Tony's lap. He turned on the bed-side light, not willing to use the television as a lamp. Don't make me wait too long, DiNozzo, he thought. "You didn't believe me earlier, when I told you that sometimes I know things. This is my proof. You weren't gone long enough for me to have made all of this. I don't type that quickly. I'm also not that creative. These are my journals. Any time I have a flash of insight, I write it down. Later, when things start fitting into the flashes, I add the evidence. You know at least one of the cases, but there's hundreds of details here on these CD's and in my journals. I'll let you look at them. You get to choose which ones you want me to expand on."

Gibbs looked at the young man. "You sleep while I read. I'll wake you up for dinner and you can fill in the blanks."

"Start with the hand-written ones. They're the oldest." Tony cradled a little wooden box in his hand. He set it carefully on the bedside table. He closed his eyes and was asleep within a few moments. Gibbs watched him for a moment. He'd come so close to losing him. He hated losing men under his command. There was more to it than that, but he wasn't going to think about that until he'd found out what madness was hiding behind those too pretty lashes. Let me just have misunderstood him. I don't want him to be suicidal. Reckless I can deal with, suicidal will kill both of us.

He opened the smaller of the journals. From the date it had to be while Tony was in Peoria. He smiled; just out of college and still trying to find himself in a welter of testosterone and insecurity.

****

I had another one of those waking-dreams today. I can't take this any more. Hopefully by writing them down I can make them go away. Or maybe if I can disprove them they won't disturb me so much. I've been having this one for about a week now. I'm on a subway. It doesn't look like New York or DC. It's some train I've never been on. There's an old lady with blue hair in the next car over being hassled by some thugs. She doesn't seem to understand what they're saying. This is where the whole thing gets strange. I know that she can't understand them because they're speaking in the same back-street Spanish that Enrique used to use and taught me when I was seven. I know that if I could get there, I might be able to translate. I don't move and the thugs start beating her. She's down on the ground with her blood running under the door of the train car when I finally get off my butt and open the door. I stop frozen for a moment, watching it drip onto the tracks.

The dream was different tonight, I went through the doors to confront the muggers. They didn't bother to listen, just fired on me. My stomach still burns. But the old lady survived.

God, why won't this go away? What does it mean?

Mahoon – Philly – case 64567524MA – she lived, thugs died, 2 bullets removed from me

****

Gibbs closed his eyes when he finished reading the case file number in the margin. He decided to take a sample from the next journal.

****

Grey-haired man with gorgeous blue eyes is walking into a trap. He knows it's a trap and so do I. He wants to spring it and attack from inside. He's shot three steps into the room.

Something to do with boats. I can feel the water breeze on my face and the ground is moving like a small boat. It smells like oranges. The air is warm and moist. Maybe Florida?

Why isn't he wearing a jacket? Deathwish? He knows it's a trap and that his cover is blown.

I can't let him die. I know it will destroy me. I've never met this one. Not like when Pat was going to be shot. I can't let this be the same mess that was. I've learned my lesson. I can't stop it. Maybe I can keep him alive at least or take out his killers.

Slow down, DiNozzo. You don't even know this guy.

Gibbs – Spain – arms deal – I walked in instead, they weren't expecting me. No bloodshed. Handcuffed Gibbs to the car. Worth every bruise.

****

"Jesus, Tony," Gibbs breathed. He remembered that operation. There had been a deal going down that would have sold off three crates of Naval supplies to a group of arms dealers. Gibbs had pushed his way in as the broker. Tony had talked him into letting him come along, pleading his case by playing off the fact that he needed the experience in a NCIS operation to see how it was different from a PD operation.

****

"Please, boss, I need to see how things run around here. I'm not going to be any use to you if you keep leaving me behind to deal with paper-trails. I know how the PD does things, this is different."

"No. You're staying here to finish the follow up."

"Gibbs, Balboa is already doing the follow-up. He found the lead. Besides, if you leave me behind, I'll just sweet-talk the Director's admin into scheduling me to follow." Tony batted his lashes in mock-innocent form.

Gibbs felt his lips twitch. "Fine."

"Yes!" DiNozzo was like a little kid sometimes.

They were in Spain the next morning. It wasn't until Tony was arguing with a cashier over the price of their coffee that Gibbs realized that Tony was fluent in the language. Tony turned around with the coffee and a satisfied smile. He handed Gibbs the strong coffee and started walking towards their rental. "Where did you learn it?"

"Gardener."

Gibbs shook his head. "Give me the keys."

"Can you read the signs?"

Gibbs' eyes narrowed.

"I keep the keys."

"Brat."

"Wish I were spoiled too."

The operation was in motion when they arrived. "Listen, Gibbs, I'm not letting you take this over."

"I don't want to take over. I just want in. You need a face they won't recognize."

The agent in charge, Martins, glared at him. "Fine. Who's the new kid?"

"My new probie, Tony DiNozzo."

"Why's he here?"

"To give Gibbs someone to abuse," Tony answered. He offered his hand to Martins. The older agent chuckled.

"Good. Just keep it safe and sane."

"This is Gibbs we're talking about."

"Did you want extra sparring sessions?"

Tony gulped. "I'll be good." He put on his innocent school-boy face. Martins laughed outright then.

"Come on, I'll introduce you around." DiNozzo and Martins had made the rounds of the office. Gibbs already knew most of the agents. They all knew him, by reputation if nothing else.

Two hours later he and DiNozzo were about six inches apart arguing quietly. "You have to wear a jacket, boss," Tony said flatly. "If you don't I'll handcuff you to something until you come to your senses."

"They'll see it a mile away. These guys shoot for the head anyway."

"It's a trap. Even I can see that it's a freaking trap. They've made this deal."

"I'm going to spring it. We'll take them out all together. All we need is bait."

"What you need is a confession which you will not get since they know this is a set up. Because Martins couldn't wait to arrest the supply officers, you are now bait. They'll make you in a heartbeat!"

"This is not a debate, DiNozzo," Gibbs said coldly. "If you refuse to follow orders, I'll leave you here with Carlson."

The green eyes narrowed. "Fine." DiNozzo crossed his arms. "I'll wait in the car and keep watch for your signal. If you get yourself killed, I'll never forgive you." He turned on his heel and stalked towards the other end of the room to talk to the three agents in charge of the wires and the cameras. Gibbs watched the younger man for a long moment. He didn't know how this one would jump. The fact that DiNozzo had the balls to argue with him was a good sign though. Tony gave in a little more often than he should, but time would change that. There was still anger in the young man's shoulders and back.

Gibbs settled himself into his role as he studied the pertinent details. "Gibbs, I'll take your cuffs since you're walking in." Gibbs pitched the cuffs then the keys over to DiNozzo. Tony tucked them away in his pocket. He was wearing jeans with a white shirt. He'd lost his tie and suitcoat somewhere during the morning. His hair was ruffled from him running his hand through it as he talked to the team members. Gibbs knew that Tony would learn as much about the operation by talking as he would by reading. He forced those thoughts out of his head and focused on the details.

Gibbs retrieved the keys from his probie and settled into the driver's seat. He wasn't surprised that DiNozzo was sulking as they drove. He was playing with the handcuffs, turning them around his fingers. The soft clink of the chain didn't disturb him though. He put the car in park and turned off the engine. He turned to give DiNozzo some final instructions. DiNozzo pounced locking one of Gibbs' wrists to the steering wheel. He caught the other wrist and fished out a second pair of cuffs. Gibbs growled at him as he attached it just below the first. Tony calmly put the headset onto Gibbs' head and turned up the radio. "I'm not sorry at all, boss. See you soon."

Gibbs restrained himself from blowing Tony's cover as he walked into the middle of a death-trap. "Somebody better keep me informed," he growled into the microphone.

"Damn, guess this means I owe DiNozzo twenty bucks," one of the techs said. "Don't worry, Gibbs, you'll hear everything we do."

Gibbs listened to the easily flowing Spanish, catching only a few words here and there. Tony had introduced himself at Enrique Martinez. Gibbs maneuvered the lockpick he always kept with him to unlock the cuffs. He wanted to reach DiNozzo first when the team moved in. A soft whistle over the radio caught his attention. "What is it?" he asked.

"That boy is good. He's got them believing that he got rid of us by planting false shipping documents. He's got them eating out of his hand. They're bragging about how they're going to distribute them. Where'd you find him?" Martins asked.

"Baltimore." Gibbs got one wrist free. He worked on the other cuff. "What is he up to?"

"Getting ribbed for his shirt. Christ, I want him. How much?"

"Can't have him."

"Prepare. On my mark. Team 1."

"In position."

"Team 2?"

"In position."

"Team 3?"

"In position."

"Mark." There was a pause. "Go." Gibbs let the main teams swarm in. He glanced around the room. Then, he stalked directly to a mostly defiant, cuffed DiNozzo.

"I'll take care of this one."

One of the dealers looked over with a frown. DiNozzo looked into Gibbs' eyes. Then, he rolled his eyes. He made some comment that set the dealers laughing. Gibbs yanked not too carefully on DiNozzo's arms and walked him out of the warehouse. "You really don't want to kill me in the car, you'll never get the seats clean."

Gibbs settled Tony in the back seat and put the seatbelt on him. The green eyes were wary, but he didn't fight. "Sorry, boss, couldn't let you go in there."

"Save it."

****

He never had gotten a straight answer out of the young man. He'd put him through several punishing work-outs. He worked him until he was sure that the young man would be able to hold his own against a trained Marine, then a few more days. By the end of the week they were both bruised in places he didn't want to think about today.
He smiled suddenly, thinking of Tony throwing matches just to break his temper. "I should make you show Kate exactly what you can do when you aren't holding back," he told the sleeping man. "It'll serve her right for underestimating you."

He put the journal away. He used the computer to look at the next few files. After three more files, he turned it off. There was a pattern. His eyes narrowed. He opened the bedside table and found the journal there. He pulled it out and opened it. "No," Tony said, eyes only half-open. "That's just my sketchbook."

"Go back to sleep."

"Gibbs? I don't keep a real diary."

Gibbs reached over and put a hand over Tony's eyes. "Go back to sleep."

"Been sleeping too much."

"You need it. Sleep."

"That an order?"

"Yes."

"Okay." Tony sighed and fell into a deeper sleep once more. Gibbs brushed quickly through the soft hair of Tony's head. He set the laptop and CD's aside. He opened the sketchbook and smiled. He'd opened to a picture of Abby. She was snuggled under a crumpled comforter, make-up off and dressed only in an old tee-shirt. She looked innocent and happy. He thumbed through the pages: Ducky, McGee, Kate, Paula, himself. He stopped at the next page and stared at the portrait of Haswari.

The next pages revealed people he'd never met. Some of them had dates in the corner. He paused, then went back to check if Haswari's picture had a date. It did. He did some rough calculations. The picture had been drawn about four months before the man had taken Ducky, Gerald and Kate hostage. He closed the book and put it away. He went to the living room to settle on the couch and think.

****

Tony rubbed the gunk out of his eyes. "Boss?" he said fuzzily, looking up into Gibbs' serious face.

"Dinnertime."

"Answertime."

"That too." Gibbs stayed close, but let Tony wander to the bathroom and then out to the kitchen on his own. Dinner was simple, grilled chicken and rice.

"Did you let Kate set the menu?" Tony asked in distaste. He poked at the chicken suspiciously. It looked incredibly bland.

"Ducky left instructions."

"And you're scared of Ducky?"

Gibbs snorted. "Hell yes."

Tony had to smile at that. "Okay, so let's talk about something. Maybe I'll be able to choke down the chicken. I see you're not sharing the punishment." Gibbs' plate looked a lot more interesting. There was sauce on the chicken.

"Just eat, DiNozzo."

"Boss."

"Eat."

Tony sighed. "Tell me about the redhead in the convertible."

Gibbs chuckled. "Why?"

"Because I want to know."

"That's Theresa."

"Theresa? Wife number 1?"

Gibbs paused. "Number 2 actually."

Tony's head snapped up. "Four wives? Kate was right?"

"Three divorces."

"Oh, Gibbs, I'm so sorry." Tony reached out to comfort his boss. Gibbs intercepted his hand.

"It's okay. It's been a long time."

"So, tell me about Theresa."

Gibbs' shoulders relaxed. "We stayed friends after the divorce. We both were married before. We weren't actually looking for a marriage, we just didn't want to be lonely. So, we've stayed friends."

"And she's involved with someone right now?"

"How do you figure that?"

"She's stopped coming around. She's stopped picking you up at crime scenes and driving us generally crazy."

The older man nodded. "She's involved. She also told me that I should find someone permanent again."

Tony laughed at that. "Only the best friends can tell you that. Hell, Abs gets on me all the time about settling down. Not with her, of course, and not that *she's* looking for a picket fence." He shook his head.

"But you are?"

"Well, staying over two years in one place is settling down for me," Tony pointed out carefully.

"What about love or are you in life just for the lust?"

Tony looked down at his plate. He picked apart the chicken breast. "I've already fallen in love. Don't think it's going to go away."

Gibbs was quiet for a long moment. "Not Abby. Not Kate. Paula?"

"No. It should be Paula, but it isn't."

"Tell me it's not McGee."

Tony choked on his water. "God, no. He's not mature enough. Maybe in a few years when he toughens up, but I don't do sweet."

Their gazes locked for a moment. "You serious?"

"Deadly. I haven't had a date since Ari shot you."

"You could have told me."

"I figured you already knew."

Gibbs smiled. "Seems that's your department."

Tony chewed on his lip. "Yeah, well, I can't control that. You're just omnipotent."

The older man laughed at that. "DiNozzo," he chided. "Talk," he ordered after a moment.

"It runs in my family," Tony said quietly. "My father. My grandfather. His father. We all have it. My father started drinking to deal with it. My grandfather never ran away from it. He thought it was a gift. My father thinks it's a curse."

"And you?"

"That really depends on the day." Tony rubbed the side of his head. "Sometimes, when I know that good stuff is coming, a baby or a wedding or something, it's good. Other times I'd rather not know. But I'm so used to it now, that I don't know how to be without it. I trust it too much to force it away or hide from it."

"So, how does your father use it?"

"He makes money. He didn't try to save my mother. He just tried to drink the dreams away."

"Could he have saved her?"

Tony's eyes dropped to his plate. He was half-way through his chicken. He pushed the rice around with his fork. "I don't know," he whispered. "I don't know if he chose between us or something. He could have. Could explain a lot of what he's done in terms of me. Maybe he knows how I'm going to die too." Tony shrugged. "He understands sacrifice. He doesn't like it, mind you, but he understands it."

"You think he sacrificed your mother so that what?" The younger man looked up. Gibbs' eyes were piercing through him, trying to see what was inside. Tony just wished there was something for him to see.

"I don't know. Maybe so that McGee can have little babies that grow up to solve the world's problems. Or maybe if he had tried to stop her, she would have died a more painful death. Maybe someone else would have died in her place and he couldn't face that. It's not like we talked about it. He sent me off to my grandfather for two years when I hit puberty and then to boarding school."

"And you're sure that Kate and McGee will be dead if you don't show up to work."

"Yes."

"How?"

Tony grimaced. "I can't tell you that. It would change things. I need them to go down exactly as I've seen them or I won't make the right choices."

Gibbs frowned. "How often do you end up basing your decisions on these dreams?"

"I've never really thought about it. I make the decisions before the situation comes up. There's no room for doubt. When a scene starts to play, I know my lines. I know the reactions that will come. I know that if I turn left first instead of right, I'll get hit in the head with a lamp. But if I turn right, I'll get shot. I know that if I eat the turkey sandwich from the gas station and end up with food poisoning, I'll be in the building to stop the fire that breaks out in Mrs. Miligan's apartment, but if I get the egg salad, I'll be at work and stop the shooting that will end up with my partner dying. It's all decisions. Which is the lesser of two evils."

"Christ, DiNozzo."

Tony picked at his dinner. He took a sip of water. "I didn't ask for this, but I won't ignore it. I won't become a bitter drunk like my father who's decided to walk away from everything except his money. I understand why he did it, Boss. I understand why he can't love. If you love people, what happens to them matters and as you choose to let them in, you know more and more about them. And it hurts. It hurts when you know they have to be hurt or they'll never learn a lesson. Or that you have to choose the many over the one."

"You have to be a leader with no authority," Gibbs said after a long moment. "And no one ever knows why you make the choices that you do."

"Or that the choice was there at all. That it wasn't luck or being a trouble magnet." The two men stared at each other. Tony searched Gibbs' eyes for belief. Gibbs searched Tony's for whatever he needed to see to have faith in him.

"I believe you," he said after a long moment. "If you were lying, you'd have made it a lot more glamorous."

"Thank you."

****

"You knew," Gibbs growled. He had Tony trapped between the wall and the sink in the men's room as he cleaned the blood and brain matter off of the younger man's face. "You winced just before the shot hit."

Tony kept his eyes closed, focusing on the roughness of the wet paper towel that Gibbs was using on his face. The smell of blood overwhelmed the wet newspaper smell of the towel. He let Gibbs manipulate his head with almost rough fingers. "Yes," he said. Gibbs was silent. His fingers kept working, erasing the last of Kate's life from Tony's face. A single tear escaped Tony's control and he found himself wrapped around the older man, shaking, but not crying. "I'm sorry," he murmured over and over until Gibbs was just rocking him, quieting him.

"Why?" Gibbs asked, cupping Tony's cheek, forcing him to look. "Why did she have to die?"

Tony's jaw trembled, remembering the dreams with the same painful clarity that he always did. Remembering burying his family. "Because it was one or all and I couldn't let you all die. So hate me for sacrificing her, but at least you're here to hate me," he hissed. He knew that the other teams were letting them have some space, guarding the bathroom. He'd done it for other teams.

"Tell me."

"If I hadn't come to work, Kate and McGee would be dead by that bomb. Then Ari would have killed you and Abby. And Ducky and I would have buried you all, then hunted the bastard down. But it wouldn't have brought you back and I couldn't face that future okay? You'll break my heart, I have no doubt, but I'd rather take that chance than to engrave your name on the memorial." Tony pushed away from the comforting embrace. It wasn't right. He didn't have a right to be coddled.

Gibbs caught him easily, pulling him close again, pinning his arms down. "Hush."

"Let me up, Boss."

"Not yet. You're shaking, Tony. You damn near died last week. You're still sick, so just hush."

The last of the adrenaline seeped away leaving Tony hollow and weak. He dropped his head onto Gibbs' shoulder and just breathed in the scent of him. "I couldn't lose you."

"I know."

"Who are you and what have you done with my boss?" he mumbled into the bullet-proof vest.

"The bastard's on vacation. Just enjoy it while it lasts." They stayed huddled together for a long moment. It was McGee who finally breached the safety of the bathroom. He came with two coffees, a hot cocoa, a handful of pills, and a blanket. He closed the door behind himself talking to whoever had taken to standing guard.

brought your pills, Tony," he said quietly. He carefully didn't look at them until he'd put down the drinks. He draped the blanket around them both. "Ducky wants to talk to both of you." Tony turned in the circle of Gibbs' arms.

"Tim," he said softly. He held out his hand for the pills. He knew better than to argue with whatever Ducky had sent. It was probably just the last of the Cipro that had been prescribed to kill off the secondary infection he'd picked up in the hospital. He swallowed his pills with a sip of cocoa. He sagged against Gibbs before offering McGee a slightly awkward hug. "Thanks."

"Abby needs to see you two. She's got this picture in her head of the two of you shot and bleeding."

Tony nodded. He rubbed at his forehead until Gibbs caught his hand and brought it down to his drink. "It's gone, Tony." Tony closed his eyes, replaying the scene he'd already dreamed several times. This was the best variation. Gibbs and McGee where both alive.

"You okay, Probie? He didn't hit you?"

"No, he didn’t hit me or anyone else. J-just Kate."

He'd done it. He'd made all the right choices in the right order and he'd only lost one person. His hand drifted up to rub at his face and Gibbs caught it again. He drank the cocoa. "Abby then?" he asked Gibbs.

"Let's go talk to her." Gibbs' voice was quiet. He kept a guiding hand on Tony's arm though. "Is the danger over?" he murmured.

"For now," Tony whispered back. McGee folded the blanket back over his arm and followed them to where Abby was sequestered in a conference room. It was the safest place for her. It had no widows and only one door. She wrapped herself around Gibbs. Tony didn't begrudge her that. His fingers twitched. He went back to his desk. He stared at Kate's space. He should clean it out before someone else did. It was his duty after all. Viv, Dobbs, Packard. He'd packed them all out. All three of them were alive though, just too scared of Gibbs to come get their things. Tony pushed himself to his feet. He snagged one of the burn boxes from behind the cabinet and taped it together. He packed her things carefully. His habit of snooping let him know where she kept everything. He paused at her sketchbook. He flipped it open to see if maybe she kept notes the way he did in it.

Gibbs found Tony sitting at Kate's desk with a half-packed box of her things and her sketchbook. "Ducky has her in the morgue."

"I'll go see her as soon as I'm done. She was good at this. Think her parents would mind if I kept one of her sketches?"

"What they don't know, won't hurt them."

Tony nodded. He carefully removed the sketch of Gibbs and Ducky arguing over beer and wings at the local bar. She had to have done it from memory. It had been a good night and the picture brought it back in vivid surround-sound. He could even smell the lager in the glasses. That was one good thing about his visions, they made his memories vivid, three-dimensional movies. It was how he and his grandfather saw the world. Maybe his father saw everything in headlines and stock prices. Maybe that was the difference. Tony'd never had the courage to ask him and his father had never had the balls to talk about it. He rolled the picture and snapped a rubber band around it. He'd add it to his footlocker collection, one more memory of one more partner.

"Do you want me to come down to the morgue with you?"

"No." Tony looked up at Gibbs. The dark half-light of the evening office made the man's grey hair gleam in an almost-halo. He offered a shaky smile. "I might need a ride home though."

"Of course."

Boss." Tony set the sketch-pad into the box. "I think that's all of it. Want to double-check for me? I don't think I'm firing on all cylinders."

"None of us are tonight. Go say your goodbyes and I'll take you home."

Tony went to the morgue. Ducky had left, but Tony had no doubt that Kate had been well taken care of. He pulled out the drawer and folded back the white sheet to look at her. He pulled open the empty drawer next to her. He hopped up onto it and crossed his legs like a kid still in grade school. "You'll be fine from here on out, Katie," he told her. "Ducky cleaned you up nicely and the funeral will be a bitch, but that's to be expected. Gibbs is going to be out for blood soon, but he's going to put me on a leash and leave me in the yard. Not that that's a surprise or anything." He quirked half a smile at her. "I'm sure I'll see you around for awhile." He cupped his hand and blew across it gently. "May the skies be bright and clear and the winds be strong as the angels steer you home." It was his grandfather's blessing and Tony gifted each of his departed with it.

Gibbs found him there about twenty minutes later, leaning against the closed drawers. "Come on."

****

Tony caught Gibbs' fingers. "Don't leave."

"No, just stay for a little bit. Then, go drink to her memory and I'll pick you up in the morning from under the boat. Just give me a few minutes."

Gibbs snorted softly. "You want a drink."

"Of course I do, but I'm not going to have one. I'm just going to sit here, next to you and make-believe that everything in the world is perfect, that you love me, and that you'll never break my heart."

"Ah, Tony." Gibbs sat down on the couch and let the younger man settle against him. It was comfortable and familiar from the long weeks of recovery. Tony hadn't always had the strength to sit up, but Gibbs wouldn't condemn him to the bed. Gibbs' heartbeat was steady and calm. His arm was warm and protective. They didn't talk. Tony considered turning on TMC, but he didn't want anything intruding on this little moment of fantasy.

Gibbs dropped his cheek onto the top of Tony's head for a quick rub as if he were an over-grown cat. "I do love you, that's real, not make-believe, but I will break your heart."

"I know. I know exactly why it's going to be a bad idea when I pull you into my bedroom and show you why high thread-counts make a difference in the sheets. I know exactly how my heart is going to break if I kiss you until I can barely breathe. I know exactly how the smell of sawdust and coffee is going to spark my fantasies for the rest of my life. I even know that when I'm hard and hot and begging for you to fuck me, you're going to hold off just to ask me if I'm sure I want to follow through on this. The thing is, I don't care. I don't care that you're going to hurt me more than anyone I've ever loved. I don't care that some day this will just be a memory. I don't care that I'm going to have to watch you walk away and have my heart shatter. I don't care because when you make love to me, it's going to be the most precious and wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. I don't care because I love you more than I love myself. I don't care because I decided to take those consequences before I ever met you and I'll love you until the day I die. I know what I want. It's your choice, Gibbs. I'm here. Take what you want, when you want it. I gave you carte blanche four years ago."

Gibbs' arm tightened and his breathing got a little rough. There were tears in the sound. They were both damaged tonight, both mourning. "I wish I could promise to never hurt you. I wish I could promise to always be there for you. All I will promise, is that I do love you and always will. No matter what may come, don't give up on me."

"Never could, boss," Tony whispered. He wrapped as much love as he could into the word "boss," to transform it from simple respect to the term of affection it really was. "Will you let me show you how much I love you tonight?"

"Yes."

Tony sat up slowly. He gathered Gibbs in for a soft kiss. He stood up and offered his hands. Gibbs drew a smirk up from somewhere and got up without the help. He did take an outstretched hand and let Tony lead him into the bedroom. Tony turned on the soft flameless candles that Abby had given him to use while he practiced breathing. He found them comforting. He turned back the sheets. Gibbs stored their weapons away on the dresser. Someday, Tony'd have to give Gibbs a blow-job with his shoulder-holster still on. He liked the idea of that danger and protection in one. "I'd have put rose petals on the sheets, but. . ."

"You'd be sneezing for a week," Gibbs finished. The older man's hands settled on Tony's shoulders. He turned him so that they were looking into each other's eyes. "Are you sure about this?"

"More sure than anything in my life." Tony smiled and saw the surge of love and pride in Gibbs' eyes. He carefully undid Gibbs' shirt, feeling the plastic buttons give way to reveal a soft cotton undershirt. The cotton was thin and often washed. It felt like the softest skin beneath his fingers. He barely noticed Gibbs mirroring his motion. He slid the shirt off and tossed it in the direction of his closet. Soon enough he had Gibbs tee following it. He stroked his fingers along the chest he'd seen before, but never gotten to touch. He ran his fingers over the starburst scar of Ari's gunshot. He remembered the feel of the blood on his hands as he pressed gauze into the wound. His fingers wandered south, encountering shrapnel wounds and knife cuts. He stroked along the crooked bottom left rib with his thumb, wondering when it had been broken and why it didn't set properly. He placed a reverent kiss on Gibbs' chest, just above his heart. He heard and felt Gibbs' surprised intake of breath. Then, his head was lifted to receive a kiss.

Tony let himself fall into Gibbs' kiss. It was laced with coffee and bitter cheap aspirin. Gibbs would always taste of coffee. It was in his blood. The rough callouses from years of wood-working slid down Tony's back, reminding him that he was only half-undressed. His pants were quickly getting too tight and he was pretty sure his partner's were as well. He undid Gibbs' belt and worked on his pants. Gibbs broke off with a chuckle. "Shoes first." Tony looked into the amused blue eyes. "Practical son-of-a-bitch aren't you?"

"Yup. I'm too old to go hopping around with my pants caught on my ankles."

Tony snorted. He toed his own shoes and socks off. He shucked his pants and boxers, sending them flying to join the pile of clothes. Gibbs set his knife on the bedside table before allowing his own pants and briefs to join the pile. "Now, where were we?" Tony said. He slipped a hand around the back of Gibbs' neck. He kissed him gently. "That seems familiar." He maneuvered Gibbs onto the bed carefully. He straddled the older man. He kissed him once more, losing himself in the comfort of touch and the swarm of emotions the contact created. Gibbs' hands moved slowly across Tony's body, exploring him and confirming his scars with gentle strokes.

Their cocks settled next to each other, pressed between their bodies. They were both hard. Gibbs' hips rose, rubbing them together. One hand coaxed Tony closer. Gibbs pulled back, leaving Tony panting slightly. "Tell me what you want from me Tony."

"Just love me, Gibbs. The rest doesn't matter."

"That part is taken care of. I was going for something a little more practical."

"Anything you want, everything you want. Even if we just stay like this and make out like a couple of horny teenagers."

Gibbs snorted. "As a teen this would have already set me off. There are advantages to growing up."

"And what a very nice grown-up body you have," Tony shot back. "And if we're stopping to trade quips, obviously, I haven't kissed you well enough yet."

"I don't want you to pass out on me, DiNozzo." Gibbs' voice was stern. His fingers stroked Tony's back. "I want you to feel every second of my hand on your cock. I want you to know that it's me here when you come. I want to hear you call my name."

"Jesus," Tony whispered.

"Jethro," Gibbs corrected with a smirk. "Although, I'll accept 'oh, God' as a substitute."

Tony laughed. He pressed his lips to his partner's throat. "And here I thought I'd be the one seducing you."

Gibbs, no Jethro, pressed his lips to Tony's collar bone. "I'm going to mark you, come winter time."

Tony's eyes closed at the quiet assurance that this was going to last through Christmas. Tony explored Jethro's throat with his lips. He moved his way up the strong jaw until he once again reached his lover's mouth. Tony shifted his hips, feeling the warm length of Jethro's cock sliding against his. Gibbs' fingers wrapped around both of their cocks. Tony's breath stuttered. "Yes," he whispered in answer to the question in the blue eyes. The older man's lips quirked up. He moved slowly, teasing more than arousing. Tony whined deep in his throat. "Faster now, slower later?"

Jethro laughed. Tony felt it rumbling against his chest. He kissed his lover quiet and the hand on their cocks sped up slightly. Time seemed to stretch like Jersey-shore taffy. Jethro's grip was sure and steady. His pace gently increased until Tony had to disengage from the series of small kisses he was laying across his lover's throat to groan. "Like that?"

Tony nodded. "Gonna come soon."

"Good." Jethro's voice was self-satisfied. His grip tightened, pressing their cocks closer together.

"Gibbs!" Tony cried out as his whole body seemed to suddenly focus on that one spot. He rested on Gibbs' shoulder as his breathing evened out. His heart-rate dropped. The hot, haze of pleasure eased. He felt boneless. "Too heavy?" he murmured.

"Nah. Should clean up before we fall asleep."

"Drawer." Tony listened as Gibbs rummaged through the nightstand to find the clean linen handkerchief. What else he found in there, the older man didn't comment on. Gibbs cleaned up enough that they wouldn't stick together, then dropped the cloth to the floor. Tony pulled the comforter over them. He felt Gibbs' fingers tangle in his hair. Their breathing matched and they fell asleep.

When Tony woke at two in the morning, needing to pee, he didn't need to write down the dream. He'd already had it before. Gibbs grunted, eyes slitting open. "Go back to sleep," Tony told him. The blue eyes slid shut. Tony looked at him for a moment, memorizing him for the day when those same blue eyes would look at him with approval, but no love and simply say "you'll do," instead of "I love you."

"Semper Fi," Tony whispered as he turned for the bathroom. "Always."

FIN