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Snowball Effect

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Tony left the Navy Yard after Kate's joke. He ran from the place, couldn't bear another minute in there, having to endure the eyes of everyone staring at him, judging him. He knew he had screwed up. Badly. He didn't need anyone else's judgment, he already felt miserable enough. He was fleeing, and not because of the tonguing a guy thing. Hell, he had kissed enough guys in the past to not be concerned about that. The problem wasn't the male thing. He didn't care about what Kate might think, although her joke showed she was clearly not the friend he needed now. Tony just couldn't believe he had had Pacci's murderer's lips on his. He felt so sick, devastated and disgusted with himself, all at the same time. Some Special Agent I am, was all Tony could think.

Tony drove on auto-pilot, not really focused on the road but enough not to have, or to provoke an accident. He was lost in thought, reflecting on the terrible day he had gone through. Tony could not believe how the day had become so quickly one of the worst days of his life. He had lost a colleague, one of his lover's best friends, had lost the respect of said lover in the same day by acting like a newbie and a womanizer in his eyes, and even managed to put himself in danger. Tony thought he deserved it. Being in danger. Again. Maybe he wouldn't be a problem for anyone anymore if he was hurt and out of the field. He couldn't cause problems for everyone the way he usually did. He would not be a thorn in the side of the team anymore. Of his boss. Of his partner.

Tony took off his shoes and jacket after dropping his keys in a bowl, and then climbed the stairs. He went into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. Tony didn't know what to do, how to act. He was aware he was reacting disproportionately, but he couldn't help it. It only irritated him more and he felt even more helpless and useless. But his brain couldn't stop churning, and crazy ideas and theories flashed through his mind. Tony was reviewing specific times of the day, focusing on Jethro's reactions and his own actions.

Thus, Tony remembered when he and Gibbs were on the street earlier, and when the building manager asked them if they were together. Tony could clearly see Jethro's body turning to face him, and the way it seemed to amuse Jethro so much. The surprise had made Tony react reflexively and he had simply smiled and denied the man's question. Tony could understand why Gibbs didn't answer with the truth – they were on duty and had much more important preoccupations – but nonetheless, Tony still felt hurt and huffy about the situation. He thought he was okay with the secret relationship thing, but at the moment, he felt so... rejected. Gibbs was his, well, he thought he was. Maybe only he was Jethro's, and it was not reciprocated. A quantity of doubts invaded Tony's spirit and he suddenly felt so troubled. Tony thought again that he was acting childishly, compared with Pacci's family situation and Jethro's loss. However, at the moment, he felt terribly abandoned and alone, in this bed, where he used to be wrapped in Jethro's embrace, so protective and reassuring. Damn, he really needed that comforting clasp right now. Why had he been so chicken as to run away?

Naturally, Tony's thoughts slowly wandered towards other uncertainties, like how Jethro must find it wearisome to put up with Tony's exuberant energy. How he had to endure his jokes and the constant film references, which Jethro rarely understood. How Jethro really felt regarding their age difference, or that he was with a man now, which was new for Gibbs. How Tony could still act like a rookie at times, or that he still found amusement in pretending to be a womanizer, even though it was nothing more than a cover now, as Jethro well knew. Tony was faithful, exclusively in love with Jethro. But then, Tony wondered if the fact he was physically very affectionate in private really suited Gibbs, and a succession of absurd questions continued to rattle around in Tony's mind. As all of these concerns had no answers, they left Tony a little more hesitant, and a little more self-doubting.

Indeed, feelings hurt, Tony had paid no real attention to Gibbs's true reactions, and how carefully Jethro observed him throughout the day. In fact, when the caretaker asked them about being together, it had surprised Jethro so much that he stayed professional and only watched Tony's responses. Jethro noted all the anxious movements Tony's hands made, how he touched nervously his eyebrow, how he looked away and managed to avoid the question by a smile and said that no, of course not, they weren't together. Observing all Tony's nervous twitchings, Gibbs understood that his partner was in fact uncomfortable because he didn't know what to tell people. Gibbs knew it would be necessary to have a conversation with Tony, to reassure him again about their relationship and tell him that yes, of course, they were a happy couple. At present, however, Gibbs was deeply focused on catching the bastard that had savagely killed his colleague and friend, so he brought the conversation back on a professional level by showing his NCIS ID.

Tony wasn't there in the squadroom, to see Gibbs's expression freeze when he looked at the big screen and heard DiNozzo flirting with Amanda. Gibbs seemed lost in his thoughts, certainly feeling both jealousy and concern for Tony, noticeably swallowing hard at what was in front of him. Tony wasn't there when Abby told Gibbs that Amanda was Voss and Gibbs understood that Tony was in danger, literally running out of the elevator in order to protect him. Tony didn't see the traces of horror and fear invade Gibbs's usually neutral expression. He hadn't caught Kate's concerned gaze in the car when Gibbs ended the call with him who was still at the bar. Nor did he see Gibbs's reaction, after shooting Voss, when he immediately looked in his direction with concern and not a trace of anger, just needing to reassure himself Tony was alright. At the moment, Tony was avoiding Gibbs, because in his view he had screwed up, and he felt ashamed. Gibbs certainly was ashamed of him. He should, thought Tony. Then, earlier at the Navy Yard, Tony had been so exhausted and busy blaming himself for what he thought was his responsibility, he hadn't seen Gibbs watching the whole scene from behind Kate, when she threw her joke in DiNozzo's face, making fun of him despite his feelings.

After a while, Tony decided he needed to move from the bed, or at least to try. He automatically grabbed his cell phone to check the time, saw that it was already late at night. Four messages were unread.

From Jethro, at 00.54
"Why did you leave?"

From Jethro, at 01.17
"Are you okay?"

From Abby, at 01.23
"Kate didn't really mean to hurt you with her joke, Tony. Anyway, you did right to run away from here, Gibbs's getting really grumpy."

From Jethro, at 01.29
"Almost done here. I'm coming home Tony."

Tony froze at the last message. Gibbs was going to be here any minute now. Obviously, Gibbs was coming home. It was his home. Tony blamed himself. What was he thinking, coming here, instead of going home to his own apartment, where he could stupidly cry without being disturbed? The truth was, he rarely went there any more. Anguished, he had come to this house, that had become home, where he felt safe, himself, where Gibbs was. He should have thought about it before, maybe he still had time to go to his apartment if he hurried. If he avoided Gibbs, though, the older man would end up finding him anyway, and Tony didn't want to inflame the situation any more than necessary. It was useless to flee any further. Tony came to the conclusion he had to face the inevitable, regardless of whether it hurt him even more than he already was. Gibbs had warned him, after all; he sucked at relationships, he could possibly hurt him. The fact was, Tony sucked just as much at relationships, the evidence was there.

Depressed, Tony decided to simply curl up under the quilt, still fully dressed, and try to stop imagining the future. He didn't need to be sad before time. If Gibbs was going to break up with him, he could accept it. He could perfectly understand why. He had to be a man for once, and not run away as he always did.

So he stayed, waiting for Gibbs.

Nevertheless, Tony had no more strength to face the confrontation at that time. He decided he would just surrender and leave. At the moment, he felt so tired, and the need to sleep was strongest. Thus, Tony plunged into a troubled sleep.

When he woke up, Tony heard some noise downstairs. Gibbs. Tony felt himself getting nervous, scared of what was coming next. The short sleep hadn't helped him to calm down, he still felt bad. His head buried deeper in the pillow, Tony let Jethro's scent fill his nostrils and calm him.

Gibbs climbed the stairs as he didn't see Tony in the living room. Sighing slowly, he tried his best to anticipate the conversation he was going to have with Tony. His partner certainly needed reassurance, and for that, Jethro had to leave the hard events of the day behind him and be armed with patience.

When Jethro entered the bedroom after registering that the door was wide open, as if Tony had been desperately waiting for him to come in, he found Tony in a foetal position, partially covered with the blanket, fully dressed. Tony had his back to Jethro, and his face was still nestled into the pillows, so Jethro couldn't see his lover's face, but he knew for sure he was crying, and perhaps also shivering. He easily got it that Tony was tormenting himself mentally for something, and needed to be held.

Jethro moved carefully towards the bed, not wanting to scare Tony.

"You wanna talk about it?" Jethro asked, breaking the heavy silence of the room which was only disturbed by Tony's muffled sobs.

After imperceptibly startled, Tony replied in a low voice filled with tears, "No."

Tony hid his face even more against the pillow and began to slide towards the edge of the bed. However, Gibbs was faster and anticipated Tony's action. He grabbed his lover's shoulder as gently as he could, in order to keep him still. Then, Jethro sat on the bed's side, facing his lover's back, still touching Tony. He eased his grip, sliding his arm along Tony's, gently caressing him.

"Tony, why are you so sad? Talk to me."

"I can't," whispered Tony.

"You want me to start the conversation to make it easier?" Jethro offered.

"No. Don't need it."

"Yes, you do," Gibbs said softly. It hurt him so much to see Tony in such bad shape, when he had not even figured out what pained as much his lover.

"No. I don't deserve it," Tony eventually managed to say.

"Deserve what?"

"You. Your caring."

"What – ," Jethro began, shocked by the remark. His hand froze in place, and his heart hurt so much suddenly.

"I don't deserve your love. I don't even know how you can hug me right now, I'm so dis-" raved Tony.

"DiNozzo, shut the fuck up."

Tony did. Jethro now felt more like Gibbs than Jethro, and DiNozzo always did what Gibbs told him to, so he shut up. Instantly, Jethro felt the immediate tension that his words had caused and he scolded himself fiercely, hating the fact that Tony might think he was going to hurt, insult or yell at him. Jethro lay down behind him. He put his right arm around Tony's body to pull him tight against his own, thus providing a security bubble for Tony. Gibbs settled his body until he was fully installed, his head resting on top of Tony's, his right arm now encircling his waist and his left hand tangling in his lover's hair.

"You're exhausted Tony, I get it. I am too. You're shocked by the events of a shitty day, and that's normal. But you did good. You didn't screw up. Your idea was good. The bastard is dead." Jethro tried to put all the facts into perspective. Neither of them spoke for a long moment. The room was awfully quiet.

"I betrayed you," Tony finally enunciated.

"What?" Jethro wasn't sure what to make of Tony's declaration.

"Today, I betrayed you. I don't deserve your love anymore," Tony explained as if it was a piece of inescapable logic.

"What do you mean?"

"By kissing Voss, I betrayed you. I acted on my own, it was a bad idea and I put myself in danger, and you're disappointed with me right now, and you're right, I'm such a jerk, so why would you want to tell others I'm yours, it's so ridiculous and – "

"Tony, stop, stop, just stop babbling. Please, look at me."

But Tony didn't move. Gibbs slid his hand over Tony's cheek, softly caressing the skin.

"I love you, Anthony, " whispered Gibbs. Tony closed his eyes, squeezing his eyelids shut at the words.

"Yeah, I love you, Tony. You got it? I love you, you, Tony DiNozzo," he said, separating each word distinctly. "I'm in love with you, with Tony, with DiNozzo and with the Anthony part. I'm in love with your entire person, with your character, with your eyes, your body, your stupid jokes, your love for so many things I don't know about, and your faith in life that keeps me going. I undoubtedly love you, madly and forever, Tony. Nothing can change that, no matter what you do, or what kind of day it's been."

At that long declaration of love, delivered effortlessly, Tony stopped acting like a child and he turned around to bury his head directly against Jethro's chest, finally returning the hug.

"I understand what undercover jobs are, Tony. Hell, this is my job too. I know what it takes, what the risks and sacrifices required are."

"Yeah, but I – ", tried Tony.

"I know what you were doing. I didn't think that you were betraying me by dating this son of a bitch. I was scared for you, Tony. When I knew who he was, I wasn't angry. I care for you so much, and I value your work, your talent, our love," Jethro spoke in a whisper in Tony's ear.

Tony was mentally stuck in place. Gibbs tightened his arms around Tony. It was more than any of the previous declarations of love that Jethro had given him. It felt so stupid now to have underestimated himself so much, even if Tony was not the only one to blame, in view of his upbringing which had given him so little love and self-esteem.

"What was that about not wanting others to know?" Jethro asked, thinking back to what Tony had just said earlier.

"Uh, nothing. I – I don't even remember, I didn't say anything."

"Tony.... You think I'm ashamed of us, don't you? Because of what that man said, about us being together, and my reaction, is that it?" Gibbs said, once he reflected a moment.

"Uh, no, no, I – of course not – " Tony shifted a little, uncomfortably.

"I am proud of you," interrupted Jethro. "I am proud of us, being together, being a couple. We were working Tony, that's all. It made me laugh because it was funny that a man that we don't know thought we might be a couple, sensed the attraction between us, whereas people who have known us for years can't conceive it."

"Yeah, funny thing," DiNozzo murmured.

Jethro chuckled a moment, thinking that Tony was starting to calm down and being reassured. Suddenly, he really got it.

"You thought I was ashamed of us, and that I don't want the others to know about us? That I'm ashamed of being with you?"

Jethro's heart clamped when the realization hit him. He moved in order to be at the same height as Tony, facing him. Gibbs put his hand on Tony's cheek and wiped away a few tears that moistened his skin. Then Gibbs lightly kissed his lover's mouth, and spoke, their lips brushing.

"Tony, I thought you were okay to keep it our little secret, at least for the moment. We will tell them at some time, you know, when you and I want them to know, and want to share it with them. I didn't think you could be hurt by that. I didn't mean to hurt you."

Tony didn't answer, he didn't know what to say. Because that was exactly how he felt. Ashamed of himself, unloved, unlovable, uncertain of himself, hurt and someone with something to hide, as foolish as it seemed. He couldn't bear the piercing gaze of Jethro's blue eyes, this lover who read him so well.

"Tony, you have to talk to me when you feel something like that. Forgot the rule? Never assume anything." He got no answer but only felt Tony trying to settle more comfortably, burying his face once again in Gibbs's neck, looking for reassurance. "We're a couple, we need to communicate, speak when something is wrong. See, even if I don't like it, I'm talking, like a lot," Jethro tried to joke, but Tony remained motionless, not talking.

"Tony..." Jethro captured Tony's chin in his hands in order to see his eyes. "I – I'm sorry, Tony. I truly respect you, and love you so damn much." Tony tensed in his arms at the apology, and Jethro stroked his back with soothing, loving movements. Tony felt he had to reply.

"It was really such a bad day, and I overthought, and I began to think you would break up with me because you could never picture us in a stable relationship and because I pretended to be a womanizer again and – ," Tony started to enumerate.

"We already are in a relationship, Tony," Jethro stopped him. "We are a couple. A happy couple. Well, most of the time. Nothing has changed between us."

"Yeah?" Tony finally looked into Jethro's eyes, hopefully.

"Yes, Tony, of course. It's just another crappy day. But I'm here. I'll always be here. You are such an amazing person, Tony, I don't want to waste the chance I have to share my life with you."

Then, for a long time, they exchanged loving hugs and tender kisses that eventually appeased Tony.

"I think I just freaked out a little... ," Tony confessed.

"A little, huh."

"A lot..."

"It's okay, Tony. It happens."

"Yes, but I am sorry anyway."

"It's okay. Still love you."

"Love you too."

They confirmed it with a series of kisses, more and more passionate, each playing with the other's lips.

Later in the night, entwined under the quilt, providing loving caresses, Gibbs finally expressed aloud the question he had in mind.

"You want to tell some of the team?"


"About us. You want to tell them? Maybe not all of them, but maybe one?"

The suggestion obviously astounded Tony.

"Would you feel more secure if one of the team is in our confidence?" explained Jethro.

"I.... I – I don't know. It's not necessary."

"Yes, it is. And before you begin, I am not suggesting it because of what we discussed a few hours ago. I also want to share our love. Because I am proud, and so happy. Thanks to you, Tony. And that's not negotiable."

Tony purred at that, and he curled up against Jethro's naked body. He reached Jethro's ear, then sucked it between his lips, nibbling the lobe between his teeth.

"Oh yeah? Prove it," Tony teased Jethro, a gleam of excitement in his eyes.

Jethro smiled widely at Tony, pleased to see him cheerful again. He rolled Tony so that his lover was now beneath him and slowly rubbed their bodies together, sending a wave of warmth and love through their embrace, ready to make his lover feel good.