When the phone on his desk rang, Tony was startled from deep concentration. Annoyed, he stared at the offending thing. He’d been so close to crack the case, too.
“You gonna pick that up anytime today?” McGee sounded as annoyed as he felt. They were the only two stuck in the office, while Ziva and Gibbs got to follow up on a lead he, Tony, had scrounged up.
It wasn’t fair that he hadn’t gotten to go, but maybe he could make having to stay behind worthwhile. Tony deliberately leaned back in his seat, stretching with his arms spread wide. “Eh,” he said, smirking at his fuming co-worker. “I kind of like the sound of it. Brrrrring,” he echoed in a high-pitched sort of voice. “Brrrring. Brrri--”
“Oh my god, Tony, stop!”
Grinning like a loon, Tony gave himself a high-five as McGee glared at him. “You’re an idiot,” the younger man said, “and you did just miss a phone call, breaking one of Gibbs’ cardinal rules.”
Tony shrugged. “Got my cell-phone right here, he’d have called there if it was really important.”
McGee huffed and turned back to his screen, leaving Tony with a sense of accomplishment. A year ago, McGee wouldn’t have the guts to call him out on his admittedly childish behavior, and now here he was being all condescending and superior.
Normally, the ding of the elevator wouldn’t have caught his attention, but since it was pretty late already and he was kind of waiting for Ziva and Gibbs to come back, it did. He craned his head to peek around Ziva’s partition - and froze in his seat.
A second later, he was up, startling McGee who had just picked up his coffee mug. “Jesus, Tony, what…”
Tony ignored the way his co-worker trailed off mid-sentence. He was too busy smiling at the young man walking slowly towards him, closely followed by Jim, their security guard.
“Hey Tony,” Jim said, still keeping an watchful eye on his charge. “I tried calling you at your desk, but when you didn’t pick up, I didn’t want this guy to have to wait for you down in the lobby.”
“Thanks, Jim,” Tony said, stepping towards the dark-haired boy he had known since birth. “I didn’t know you were coming this early, Tris. You should have let me know, I’d have picked you up from the airport.”
“I knew you were working, so I took a cab.” Tristan smiled at him, that same smile that had won Tony over when he’d first laid eyes on baby Tris for the first time, almost 19 years ago.
“Come ‘ere, sprout,” he choked out, suddenly overwhelmed by how close he’d recently come to lose Tristan forever. He pulled him into a close, gentle hug, mindful of any discomfort he might be causing.
“I’m really so much better, Uncle Tony,” Tristan murmured from where he had buried his face in Tony’s neck. “You don’t have to treat me like glass anymore.”
Tony huffed and buried one of his hands in those wild, jet black curls. “Yeah, well, why don’t you let me be the judge of that for a while, huh?”
The boy in his arms had the audacity to laugh at him. “You’ll have to get in line behind my doctors, Miles, my parents, Zoe, Ollie, and surprisingly, Owen.”
Tony took note of the casual mentioning of the infamous ex-boyfriend Miles in the list, but didn’t comment on it. There would be time enough for those kind of talks in the week Tristan was staying with him.
He pressed a quick kiss on a conveniently presented temple. “It might be a while before I take anything about having you in my life for granted again,” he murmured and gently cradled Tristan’s head, allowing himself to treasure the moment.
“I’ll be gone then.”
Jim’s gruff voice brought Tony back to where he was. He carefully disentangled them, making sure that Tristan had his footing before letting him go. “Thanks, Private. I appreciate the extra service.”
The tall man nodded. “No problem, Tony. Any friend of yours, you know that.”
It shouldn’t still surprise him, the loyalty colleagues that didn’t belong to his own team showed him, but somehow it always did. And, also as always, he had no idea how to deal with it.
As if sensing his awkwardness, Tristan grinned, half-turning to give Jim a wink and a pat on the arm. “James here has been the perfect gentleman. He has taken very good care of me.”
Tony bit back a grin as their tough-as-nails, ex-Marine security guard blushed a bright red and gave a little ‘aw, shucks’ shuffle. It was a common effect Tristan had on men, especially now that his more sardonic tendencies had been tempered by everything he’d gone through since the bus accident. Of course, it also didn’t hurt that he was stunningly beautiful.
“Careful,” Tony murmured, quietly enough to not be overheard. “You’re gonna break his heart, sprout.”
Tristan ignored him, just continued to smile at Jim, who actually leaned in for a half-armed hug. He then cleared his throat, and turned to go with a mumbled, “Gotta get back before Anita gets into my half of DiNozzo’s cookies.”
Tristan’s face had lit up at that. “You made cookies?” he exclaimed, his Canadian accent thickening. “Oatmeal?”
Tony nodded, adding an eye roll. “Of course they’re oatmeal, as if I’d try to feed you anything else.” He waved goodbye to Jim, peripherally aware that McGee had left his desk and was staring at them curiously. Giving Tristan a critical inspection, Tony tried to decide if he was up to meeting a quarter of the MCRT - if only the most harmless one.
Of course, Tristan noticed his scrutiny. “And? Do I pass muster?”
Tony grinned, leaning back a little to give the closest thing he had to a son a serious once-over. Blue eyes stared back at him almost defiantly as he raked a critical eye over him.
At almost six feet tall and skinny as a rake, Tristan didn’t much resemble the chubby kid he had once been. He’d let his hair grow out and didn’t bother to straighten it anymore, so the black curls freely surrounded his face, giving him an impish look.
He looked good, healthy, and a far cry from how he’d been after waking from the coma. That Tristan had been confused and weary, unable to cope with the world around him. And while there were still some lingering changes in the way he interacted with his environment, it was not even remotely close to those days when Tony had thought he’d never hear Tristan’s laugh again.
“You pass with flying colors,” he finally said, leading Tristan forward and, ignoring the boy’s murmured “as if Mom would’ve let me fly otherwise”, he waved towards his teammate. “Tris,” he introduced, “this is Tim McGee, my probie. Tim, this is Tristan. My godson.”
McGee’s mouth flopped open. “Your what?” he asked disbelievingly, looking about as stunned as he had when he’d told the Deputy Secretary of State to stick it.
Tristan was frowning a little, confused by the reaction. He threw Tony a quick glance that Tony answered with an eye roll. “McOblivious over here loses 10 points for Ravenclaw for not paying attention when I was talking about you coming for a visit.”
“You never said he was your godson,” McGee protested. “I thought ‘Tristan’ was one of your frat buddies.”
Tony sighed. “McGee. When have you ever known me to bake frikkin’ oatmeal cookies for any of my frat buddies?”
McGee actually blushed. “I thought that was a bit weird,” he mumbled. “But you do a lot of weird things.”
Tristan looked back and forth between them, frown deepening. “But you have made cookies for Dad before,” he said to Tony, clearly confused by the strange dynamic between the two co-workers.
“Ah,” Tony answered with a grin, “but John never got oatmeal. Those I make only for you.”
Now it was Tristan’s turn to smirk. “And the security guards at NCIS, apparently.”
“Well,” Tony shrugged, “You gotta make nice with the important people, or you’re screwed. Just ask McScatterbrain over here how often he’s gotten in trouble because he’s forgotten his log-in chip and was denied entry into the building.”
McGee looked embarrassed, but ignored the dig. “So John’s the frat buddy then,” he said instead, finally catching on. “And this guy was crazy enough to make you godfather of a real human being? What did you do, save the kid’s life?”
Tristan huffed and rolled his eyes. He gave McGee a look that could only be described as haughty. “He did actually save my older brother from choking to death on a cheeto, thank you very much, but that is not why Dad made him my godfather.” He turned his head to smile at Tony. “That had more to do with me being the cutest baby that ever lived, totally winning him over with my irresistible charm. Dad just took advantage of him being smitten.”
“Tony?” McGee sputtered. “Liking a baby? Yeah, right. Sorry to burst your bubble there, kid, but he probably just used you to pick up girls.”
If Tristan had been less than impressed by McGee before, his opinion now seemed to be slipping more towards strong dislike with every word he uttered.
It was almost funny to see his probie digging his own grave like this, but Tony didn’t like the effect the conversation had on Tristan. Stress still was a thing he could ill-afford, especially after a strenuous day of travel. “You kind of were a chick magnet, though,” he said lightly, trying to wrap up the conversation. “Funny how that turned out.”
Tristan gave a startled laugh, shaking his head at his godfather and mock-punching him in the arm. “For the record, I still am. Girls just love me. I just don’t love them back.“
“Using a kid to get laid, real classy, Tony.”
Though the words were said quietly, they still had a drastic effect. Tristan whirled, glaring at McGee. “You know, it’s strange,” he snapped, “because for an investigator? You’re actually pretty clueless.”
McGee’s face turned a worrying shade of purple, but before he could get out a single word, Tristan began to sway on his feet, letting out a startled sound.
Tony made a grab for him, steadying the boy with an arm round the waist. “You alright?” He asked, anxious. This was exactly what he’d tried to prevent. God, Jill was going to kill him. He’d had Tristan less than an hour and already he was relapsing.
Tristan was nodding against his shoulder. “I’m totes fine, really. Just some leftover vertigo from the flight, the doctors warned me this could happen.” He pressed a quick peck on Tony’s cheek. “You can let me go now, Toto. I promise that I’m alright; I just turned too quick.”
Ignoring the warmth flooding him at the old nickname, Tony studied his godson’s face, looking for any signs of him not being well. “You sure?” He asked quietly, aware of McGee’s curious stare.
Tristan nodded. “Cross my heart.”
Reluctantly, Tony nodded, but steered Tristan towards his desk and made him sit down anyway. “Why don’t I get us all a nice round of caffeinated goodness from Le Café de Breakroom, huh?” he asked, going for normalcy. McGee was still foaming at the bit, but Tony wasn’t about to let that deter him. “I do have some work to do still, but it shouldn’t take that long, and then we can have a nice night in and eat the lasagna I prepped yesterday. Sound good?”
Tristan nodded, smiling up at him. “Can you make my order a herbal tea? I had coffee on the flight, and I’m still only allowed one a day.”
Tony brushed his godson’s dark hair back from his forehead, unable to help himself. It was just so fluffy and it had been years since he’d seen it without product. He grinned when Tristan ducked away with an annoyed huff. “Sure thing, sprout. What’s your poison gonna be today, Agent McGee?”
“Coffee, of course,” came the sullen reply. “Black.”
“How very predictable, McBoring. Why don’t you--” The headslap came out of nowhere. One second, Tony was teasing McGee about his choice in caffeinated drinks and the next, his ears were ringing and the back of his head felt like it was on fire.
“Less talking, more working, DiNozzo,” he heard Gibbs say from directly behind him.
“Ow,” he whined, for once having honestly not been prepared for the slap. “What the hell, Boss, where’d you even come from?”
What happened next, would forever be remembered by Tony as the moment Gibbs met his match.
He hadn’t even seen Tristan getting up, but suddenly, his godson was standing right in front of him, squaring off against Gibbs with all the righteous indignation only an 18-year-old could that easily project. “I don’t know who you think you are,” he spat out, low and furious, blue eyes practically shooting sparks he was so angry. “But this better be the last time you hit anyone like that, especially Tony.”
Gibbs’ face was unreadable. “Who are you?” he asked in a deceptively mild tone. He was clearly reserving judgment, which probably had more to do with the fact that Tristan looked younger than he was, than an actual willingness to listen to what he had to say.
Tony stepped forward, moving half in front of Tristan. “He’s with me,” he said quickly, giving his boss a telling look.
Gibbs’ eyes widened the slightest bit, the only sign of surprise he showed. “That’s your godson.”
It wasn’t a question, but Tony nodded anyway. Gibbs was the only one who knew about the fact that he had a godson - one that was the only exemption to him not getting along with kids - and he’d also been the one to find Tony crying in the stairwell, back when he’d first gotten the news that Tristan was in a coma and unlikely to make it.
Gibbs had taken care of him that night, had taken him home and made him cowboy steaks, and even fixed it with Vance that Tony was given a few days off so that he could go visit Tristan. There had been something between them that night, something more. Nothing had come off it, but Tony hadn’t been able to get rid of that tiny hopeful spark ever since.
It was the same spark he felt now, when he was bodily playing brick-wall between the two most important people in his life. While he was pretty sure Gibbs realized that his usual hands-on approach to get his point across wasn’t possible with Tris, Tony was still reluctant to take the risk.
He cleared his throat. “Tristan here got in earlier than expected and Jim brought him up so that he could wait for me here. I was just about to get him settled before going back to work, no biggie, boss.”
Gibbs shot him a fixed stare, but said nothing.
“I didn’t know that you had a godson, Tony.” Ziva felt pertinent to insert into the somewhat tense silence.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Zivaah.” Even the hated mutilation of her name didn’t deter her. She looked at Tristan with a strange intensity, gaze flickering from him to Tony in a way that made him shift uneasily. Having Ziva’s undivided attention seldom was a good thing, in his experience.
“And so you know,” she said, sounding as if she were talking to a five-year-old. “This is Gibbs. He is Tony’s boss, and as such can treat him however he wishes. When Tony gets head-slapped, it is a schooling practice, see?”
“A schooling practice.” Tristan repeated, incredulous. “Like, something you’d do to a dog?”
Ziva gave an excited nod. “Exactly! Except that we have not yet managed to housebreak him.” She was grinning widely, looking over at McGee to gauge his reaction to her joke. To his credit, McGee didn’t do much more than give her a weak grin.
Gibbs studied Tristan with narrowed eyes, eyebrows drawn together, scrutinizing him as if the boy was a riddle he couldn’t quite solve. Tony tensed, ready to step into the breach. There was no way he was letting Gibbs rip into his godson in his usual fashion, no matter how out of line Tristan had been.
Instead of going on the offensive, though, Gibbs leaned back, sitting on the edge of his desk. “Stop shielding your boy like I’m about to rip his head off, DiNozzo,” he said mildly before turning to Tristan. “Now you, tell me why you’re so upset.”
Tristan pushed his hair out of his face, a nervous habit that he’d trained himself out of years ago. Apparently, it had made a reappearance. “Why shouldn’t I be?” He retorted. “You were hurting someone I care about, and nobody here even flinched.”
Gibbs looked thoughtful, but what he answered was a flat, “I wasn’t hurting Tony.”
Tristan snorted. “So you think he doesn’t feel pain then? Or maybe he’s just so used to being your punching bag that it doesn’t even register anymore.”
Tony was more than a little touched by those words. It had been a long time since anybody had shown such open concern for him - well, except for Abby on occasion. But it was also a little embarrassing to have his teenaged godson raising hell and staring down his boss on his behalf. “Tris.” It was both a warning and a reprimand. “I’m right here.”
Tristan actually looked abashed. “Yeah, I know. Sorry. I know how much it sucks when people talk about you like you’re not even there.”
Gibbs stirred. He looked thoughtful. “This sounds like it’s personal.”
Tristan met his gaze unflinchingly. “It is. My boyfriend was mistreated by his father and for years, I was ignorant to it. I swore that I would never again turn a blind eye to abuse of any kind, not if there was anything I could do about it.” Tristan wasn’t done. “I also know how often Tony has had concussions since he started working here. Do you have any idea how breakable our brains are, what damage even a minimal impact can do?” His tone was as grave as Tony had ever heard it. “Because I do.”
Tony had to hide a smile. He could see the exact moment that Tristan won Gibbs over. Because while it was blatantly obvious to anyone that the boss had a soft spot for kids - and apparently, Tristan still qualified - what wasn’t as widely known was the fact that Gibbs also had a weakness for candor and bravery, both of which Tristan possessed in spades.
“I’ll keep it in mind,” was all he said, but for Gibbs, it might as well have been an endorsement.
Tristan’s frown didn’t ease, but after a long moment of the two of them staring at each other, they seemed to come to an understanding. He gave a short nod.
“Now,” Gibbs said then, voice deceptively mild. “Since DiNozzo did actually come up with the clue to blow this case wide open, I want you two,” he looked at Ziva and Tim, “to put in the legwork so that we can make an arrest.”
They both groaned. ‘Legwork’ in this case meant paperwork and neither of them were happy with being stuck at their desks for the rest of the day.
“And what’s Tony supposed to be doing?” Ziva asked, frowning hard.
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. “Tony is going to get a late lunch with Tristan and me. There anything you don’t like about that, Agent David?”
She looked like she’d just bitten into a lemon, but she just shook her head and plunked herself into her chair with more force than necessary. McGee was already sitting, even if he didn’t look much happier than his co-worker.
Tony stood stock-still. He was still reeling from the fact that, apparently, he was about to get lunch. With Gibbs, his boss, whom he also had a huge crush on, and Tristan, his godson, who seemed to sense something between them and, unfortunately, was about as circumspect as a machete when it came to matters of the heart.
He was so screwed.
“Uh, boss,” he said, panicking. “Maybe we should just get back to work? I mean, the sooner we’re done, the sooner I can take Tristan home…”
“You can take him home right after lunch, DiNozzo.”
“Yeah, Toto,” Tristan was looking at him with wide blue eyes. He was practically radiating innocence. “I want to go to lunch with Gibbs.”
He swallowed hard, but had no choice but to give in. “Okay, sure,” he mumbled. “Let’s do that then.”
They made their way over to the elevator, Tony and Gibbs having grabbed their jackets while Tristan was still wearing his.
“You know, you could have told me that your boss is a total fox, Uncle Tony.” Tristan was grinning from ear to ear. Shit. Either he was blissfully unaware of the feelings Tony harbored for his boss, or he was about to do something really stupid.
Tony threw his godson a warning glance. “It’s somehow never come up,” he answered, as nonchalant as he could, even as he felt Gibbs’ heated gaze resting on him. “Besides, I’m not exactly the expert you are.”
Tristan laughed, turning to Gibbs. “He says that as if it’s a bad thing. Do you think it’s a bad thing, Agent Gibbs, to be aware of another man’s attractiveness?”
Tony almost gasped. Jesus, the sheer balls on that kid.
“Call me Jethro,” came the gruff reply. “And no, it’s not a bad thing at all. Rule number 5.”
Don’t waste good.
Hope flared in Tony’s chest and as they got into the elevator, he was very aware of Gibbs’ proximity. To distract himself, he leaned into his godson. “By the way, don’t think for a second that I haven’t notice the present tense earlier.” He grinned at the blush staining his godson’s cheeks. Payback was indeed a bitch. “Anything you want to tell me about you and Miles? You guys getting back together?”
“Yeah, kind of? Maybe?” Tristan said, looking and sounding flustered. “I mean, he’s still in England and won’t be back for a while yet, but we’ve been talking and, yeah.” He shrugged.
Taking pity, Tony nodded. “Breaking up was the right thing to do at the time, but I for one never had any doubts about the possibility of a reconciliation.”
Tristan shot Gibbs a quick look, but seemed to be reassured by the neutral expression on the man’s face. “It’s always been there, you know. I don’t think either of us ever stopped caring, we just both had some growing up to do.”
“And some healing,” Tony added. He felt Gibbs’ eyes on him and when he looked up to meet the other man’s gaze, there was a small smile on his face that Tony had never seen before. Grinning at the older man, Tony raised an eyebrow, happiness bubbling in his chest.
Rule number five indeed.