Tony sat in the middle of the large booth in Smitty’s Bar . It was a simple bar and for him and the people around him it was perfect. When the arm came around him and pulled him close he smiled up at the man and relaxed even more. Tony looked around at the people that were with them, drinking, laughing and having an all around good time, Tony realized he was happy.
The last eight months for him had been something of an epiphany. The way he had been accepted for who he is, the respect and genuine affection he got from these people was something of a wonder to him. They all liked him, not just the persona that he had carefully cultivated over the years to keep people at a distance, but they got him. They got the heart of who he really is, they saw through the facade and didn’t let him get away with his bullshit. They cared. The teasing was all in good nature and again, affectionate. He smiled and laughed a genuine laugh when they got together like this and he felt more at ease all the time. He began to feel comfortable even in his own skin, something that he hadn’t felt in a very long time.
The other thing he realized was there was no competition. No one trying to outdo or one up each other. No one trying to outshine the other because they each, in their own way, shined. They each had their talents and had at one time or another gone above and beyond their duty and it made Tony feel a sense of pride, of accomplishment that he was the one to lead some of those that were sitting around this loud, raucous table.
Then he looked up at the man beside him again and his heart fluttered in his chest. No matter how many times he looked, it would always feel the same. New, exciting and so stupidly in love it made him sometimes question why he wasted so many years on someone that didn’t even give him a second look. When the man bent down and kissed him, unashamed in his actions Tony practically melted into the sticky vinyl of the booth. When a strong hand cupped his cheek and that smile was given just for him it made such emotion well up inside him that he had to duck his head a moment to control the blush he knew was creeping up on his face. And when he got a rare, but genuine smile from that same man it made his heart both flutter and ache to make it happen again.
“Okay, okay calm down everyone. It’s now time for the monthly box of the strange and weird from my father.” Tara Gideon, Tony’s 2IC and a woman he came to greatly respect stood on slightly shaky legs. He knew she was a bit tipsy, but would switch to coffee soon because she didn’t want to get drunk.
Everyone at the table quieted down, but would talk in little whispers with each other as Tara handed out the quirky gifts sent each month to a group of people that had been left behind. Tony had never asked for the full story, he knew one day his lover would tell him.
“Now Reid, catch,” Tara giggled as she threw the bubble wrapped package over to him.
“Hey, Tara, watch it.” Reid grumbled a little but there was no heat behind it. Even though everyone was anticipating what it was, they all knew it would be another chess piece.
He opened it and the table was silent in anticipation of what it was. When Reid scrunched up his face Tony sat-up and just knew this was going to be good.
“Where in the world would he even find something like this?” Spencer held up the chess piece that was an ornately carved wood piece in the shape of the Pi symbol.
“He’s got your number Pretty Boy,” Morgan laughed as he slapped his best friend on the back.
The teasing went on for a minute till Tara calmed everyone down. Tony watched as she pulled out the next little present and threw it towards his lover.
“And you Hotch.” She smiled fondly as he caught the package. He slowly opened it and surprise flashed on his face. While it wasn’t unusual for Hotch to get coins from Gideon, Tony wondered at the look of shock.
“Everything alright Aaron?” He asked as he laid a hand on his thigh.
“Yeah, it’s just, I never expected something like this. It’s a 1909-S VDB penny. It’s fairly rare. See the VDB initials just under the wheat stalks? That was the initials of the designer. There was such outcry from the public because of how large the initials were and that they were even on the penny that the US Mint had to redo it. These are now very valuable.” Hotch carefully put the coin away and Tony couldn’t help the cheeky smile that he sported.
“What?” Hotch looked up to see everyone gaping at him.
“I don’t know Hotch, you’re geek side is showing. Are you sure that’s such a good thing?” David Rossi, Hotch’s best friend and fellow Italian teased.
“You and Tony are always telling me I should loosen up.”
“Oh I’m sure Tony tells you to loosen up all the time. ” Dave smirked as he took a sip of the scotch he had been nursing all night. Without even skipping a beat Hotch grins and turns to Dave.
“Well, he did help me take the proverbial stick out of my ass, as you often put it.” The table all stopped and again stared at Hotch. He was in a rare mood and everyone was shocked.
“Oh no, he just replaced it, with something much better.” Dave teased back and both teams lost it. They were laughing so hard that someone started hiccuping, and someone else was slapping the table. Tony just shook his head as he chuckled and leaned into Hotch who pulled him close and gave him a big, sloppy kiss.
It was all par for the course for one of their get-together's. It started out as a way for Tony to actually get Hotch out of the house and socializing again. Then it morphed into something else, something special that Tony could never quite name. It was the type of friendship and camaraderie that he had missed. Though everyone had their own secrets, things they wouldn’t share in a group and that was fine. People needed to keep their deeply personal stuff to themselves or be allowed to share with who they wished. There were things he’s shared with Hotch over the last few months that he would never talk about at these gatherings, but, this was a way to be open, to connect and make friendships that were, he hoped, genuine.
It had taken Tony awhile to get to this place. This place of carefree laughter and teasing that was genuine and honest. He was brought out of his reflections a moment later when Hotch was nudging his shoulder.
“Tone, where did you go?” Hotch asked quietly.
He smiled wide and he knew he felt the slight warmth of his cheeks as he turned to Hotch.
“Just, thinking.” He curled his fingers with Hotch’s and leaned in. He was a very tactile person and when he found out that Hotch was just as tactile it just made everything better. The person he had been with before didn’t want to be touched, or hugged or even hold hands, only in private did they do those things. It had often been a let down for Tony. But, here with Hotch he could be himself and Tony was slowly learning who that really was..
“You back with us boss?” Tara asked him, her eyes sparkled with amusement. He knew, however, just how quickly that amusement could turn into stone cold calm. She had been a balm to his fragile and bruised ego when he first made the decision to leave NCIS. It didn’t take long at all for the two of them to find respect in each other. Tara was smart and she knew what she was doing right from day one. Tony’s respect and admiration grew when he realized that the woman never used her father’s connection to get where she wanted to in the Bureau.
“Anthony my boy, I can safely say without a doubt that you have found a much better place for you. And I am honored that you have included myself and Mr. Palmer in your social occasions.” Tony beamed at the man that had been sitting on the other side of him. He always had a soft spot for Dr. Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard. The man had always shown him that he knew exactly what Tony was all about. It warmed him to know that at least two people from his old life respected and supported his decisions.
“Yes, thank you Tony.” Jimmy said from his place next to Ducky. Though he was currently wrapped around his boyfriend Dr. Spencer Reid. That came as a surprise to Tony, but the two geeks were just impossibly adorable together and it made Tony happy that Jimmy had found someone that truly understood him. The relationship was still new but he had a feeling that Dr. Reid was the kind of man that held onto those he loved, and boy had he fallen hard for James Palmer.
“Anytime Jimmy, anytime.”
The party was slowly dying down, but the feelings of friendship and connectedness would linger. These social gatherings helped everyone. It helped them forget the horrors they often see on their job, especially Hotch’s team. There had been times the two teams intersected on a case and it gave Tony just an inkling of what they saw on an almost weekly basis. Hence the other reason he started these nights out. They all needed it and he saw a difference in his own team after they started. A chance to de-stress and have fun outside of work was always a good thing in Tony’s mind.
He was almost shocked when he heard a familiar voice coming towards them. He looked-up and his face hardened. His good mood shattered in one go.
“Tony!,” the screech had him pulling back and looking up into a face he hadn’t seen since he walked out of NCIS.
“Abby,” his voice went flat and cold as he looked at the woman he had thought of as almost a sister. But, her betrayal and little slights against him over the last months before he left NCIS were wounds that were still too fresh.
“Don’t I even get a hug?” She stuck her lip out and pouted.
“What are you doing here Abby?” Tony kept his voice neutral with a touch of annoyance.
“We just heard about this place, decided to come try it.” McGee moved forward and plastered on a smile that Tony knew was fake.
“No, you didn’t. This bar is clear across town from NCIS. It’s also not on the internet other than an address and name. The only way you could know about it is if you somehow tracked my phone, which if you did is a violation of FBI protocol and I could have you up on charges. Or, the other explanation is if you followed Jimmy. And if you did that I could have you up on charges of stalking.” Tony gave them his ‘don’t fuck with me’ smile. The three newcomers knew that smile well. It was one he used in interrogation a lot.
Tim’s face was pinched in a scowl as he looked at Tony. “We just wanted to see how you were. It’s not like you talk to us anymore.”
“I talk to the people that I care about, and they are all at this table. Isn’t that right babe?” Tony turned to Hotch and kissed him. When he turned back around the shock on Abby, McGee and Ziva’s faces was priceless.
“But, Tony what about Gibbs? He misses you. We all miss you.” Abby practically whined as she pouted looking at him.
“Somehow I highly doubt that and right now Abby, I couldn’t care less about what Gibbs thinks or wants. In fact, you can tell the Gunnery Sergeant to go fuck himself. Now, if you guys don’t mind I was having a pleasant time with my partner and our friends.” Tony kept the fake smile plastered on his face as he glared at the three. After a moment they got a clue and moved on.
Tony sat back and scrubbed a hand over his face.
“I know I should be above this, but I really wanna scratch her eyes out.” Tony’s teammate Gina LaSalle said as her eyes never strayed from the Goth’s back.
“It’s okay Gina. She’s all bark and well she bite’s but not physically. She’s manipulative and childish and I no longer believe I should be treated that way. So, let’s just get back to what we were doing.” Tony smiled tightly as his eyes flicked to the bar where Abby, Ziva and McGee were leaning against, their eyes every-so-often flicked over to him.
It was another hour and the party broke-up. Tony almost laughed at how McGee’s eyes bugged out when Spencer pulled Jimmy into his arms and kissed him quite soundly on the mouth. Wrapped-up together they left the bar and Tony couldn’t have been any happier than he was at that moment for Jimmy Palmer.
He was saying his goodbyes to the rest of the team, and Aaron’s team before he felt strong arms wrap around his waist from behind.
“Ready to go home?”
Home. It was a word that he never thought that he’d get to truly say. Oh he’d lived in places all over from New York to Virginia but none, not even with his mother, did anyplace truly feel like home. Not until Aaron, and what the man offered. Home, stability, love without strings and a son that he was getting to know and fall for a little more each day. He reflected back on the evening, and all the evenings as of late and even with the little hiccup of three former friends, he was happy.
“Yeah, yeah I’m ready to go home.” He reached over and grabbed his coat and something had been slipped inside his pocket. He took it out and saw it was a postcard.
My daughter tells me you don’t let her get away with any bullshit. That’s good. I’m very happy you could see past her connections and gave her a chance. She’s a smart girl and I’m proud of her. I may have been a shitty father, but I love my children, even if they don’t believe that. I trust you to take care of her and protect her. But, also let her fly like she was meant to. I hear you’re also dating Aaron. I just have one thing to say to that; hurt him and I will have to kill you.
Or, am I? You may never know.
“What is it about you Aaron Michael Hotchner that I’ve now been threatened by a fellow Italian, and a Jew that if I hurt you they wish imminent death on me?”
Hotch laughed a deep hearty laugh as he looked lovingly at Tony, “Hey be glad you haven’t met Max. He’s much, much worse.” Tony just gaped as he watched Aaron start towards the entrance of the Bar. Then the view just made his throat tighten as he ran to catch-up. Yup, even with the death threats, he was most definitely happy.
Later that night after getting Jack to bed, the two men lay in a sweaty, sticky heap, Tony reluctantly disentangled himself from his lover and went to go shower. Taking a deep breath he relaxed more and more. Seeing Abby, McGee and Ziva had shaken him more than he let on. He smiled to himself when he felt Aaron behind him.
“What are you thinking?” Aaron asked as he took the washcloth and started to wash Tony’s back.
“Baltimore. When we first met and how I wished I had either asked you to stay, or taken you up on your offer.”
“We’re here now Tone. Don’t beat yourself up over the past. Believe me I know how caught-up someone can get. I love you Anthony DiNozzo Jr. and that will never change.”
Tony turned and laid his head on Aaron’s shoulder, “I love you Aaron. I think I fell that day but always denied it.” He took a deep breath and let himself be surrounded by strong arms, and strong memories of Baltimore thirteen years prior when Agent Aaron Hotchner, dark, handsome and confident strode through the Baltimore PD looking just for him.