- Discussion - Rape
Author’s Note: There is discussion of rape. However, no rape or dubious consent actually occurs in the story
Tony walked in to the crowded and noisy bar, and looked around carefully. His eyes quickly adjusted to the dark interior. For the sake of his lungs he was glad no one was allowed to smoke inside anymore. He knew the man he was looking for was here, but he saw no sign of his quarry.
The sweet sound of jazz music drifted through the air, and any other time he would stop to enjoy it but right now he was a man on a mission. He was exhausted and really looking forward to getting into his own bed. First, he had to figure out what the hell was going on. Having to drive all the way to New Orleans from Baton Rouge on very little sleep was not his idea of a good time.
Tony made his way to the bar. Fighting his way past several people to get there. He was surprised his friend had chosen such a crowded place to apparently drown his sorrows. Dwayne Pride wasn’t the type to air his problems in public. Tony supposed he should be grateful Dwayne hadn’t chosen to get drunk, alone in his makeshift bedroom. The idea of that made Tony hurt inside.
Tony stopped to listen as the live band stared another song. Tony recognized My Baby Just Cares for Me. He liked the Nina Simone version best. The lead singer’s voice caressed each note of the sad, blues song, filling the air with beautiful music. He could see how listening to such good music would be comforting to Pride.
He knew his friend had been having a hard time lately, and he’d been surprised when Pride had called him to get together. There had been something in his voice that had alarmed Tony, but he’s been busy knee deep in wrapping up case and had to decline. Now, he’d wished he’d been able to say yes. There was undoubtedly something very wrong with Dwayne.
He had just arrived home when he’s received a call from the bartender to come and pick up his friend and bring him home. Pride had apparently been causing a little trouble. It was not a call Tony had ever expected to get. He’d never known Pride to overindulge. He had far too much self-control for that. Tony had broken a couple of speed limits to get here as quickly as he could. He wanted to make sure Dwayne was doing alright.
The upcoming divorce had really been taking its toll. Despite Dwayne’s attempts to hide it, Tony hadn’t been fooled. He was letting Linda go because he wanted her to be happy no matter how miserable it made him. Dwayne always put those he cared about first. It was one of the things Tony loved best about him.
The bartender looked up at him inquisitively, as he walked over.
“Hey, I’m looking for someone named Mike. He called me, my name is DiNozzo. I’m here about Special Agent Dwayne Pride.”
Mike was a big, burly man, and he had former military written all over him. Chris had mentioned that he was a good man to have at your back in a fight and a good listener like bartenders all over. He was a friend of Pride’s so Tony was predisposed to trusting him, even though they’d never officially met.
Mike smiled looking relieved to see him. “Agent DiNozzo. I’m glad you got here so quickly. Thanks for coming. I’m sorry to drag you down here at this time of night. I got your card out of Dwayne’s wallet, I took his keys too. He’s mentioned you before, and I didn’t know who else to call. I didn’t think he’d want La Salle or anyone else on his team seeing him this way.”
Tony nodded understandingly. “You’re right he wouldn’t.”
Not that Pride’s team would think any less of him. They all thought the world of him, but Dwayne could be a very private person. He wouldn’t want anyone to see him drunk, especially not anyone he cared about. Tony knew Pride wouldn’t be happy to see him either, but at the moment he didn’t care. Dwayne could suck it up, as far as Tony was concerned.
“What happened?” Tony asked leaning forward to hear my better over the music.
Mike shrugged “I’m not exactly sure. King came in a few hours ago. He looked pretty upset. I tried to talk to him but he wasn’t having it.” He told me to shut up and do my job.”
Tony frowned at Mile’s words. His concern deepening; it wasn’t like Pride to be rude to someone like that. He said as much to Mike.
Mike nodded in agreement. “I was really surprised; he was obviously upset when he came in. He sat at the far end of the bar. Then he asked for a glass and a bottle of bourbon. I tried to talk him out of taking the bottle but he insisted. Mike shrugged. He’s a grown man so I gave it to him.”
Tony really wished he hadn’t, but he couldn’t blame the man for his actions. He felt a bit guilty. Pride had obviously needed him. Tony hated that he’d let the other man down. He was even more anxious to see Dwayne with his own eyes. He knew he needed to be patient though; he needed to know what he was walking into.
Mike, oblivious to Tony’s thoughts continued speaking, “I made sure he was sitting nearby so I could keep an eye on him. He’s had plenty to drink, but when I judged he’d had enough I took it way. That’s when he took a swing at me.
“He should be ok. If it had been anyone else I’d have called the police. I’ve never seen King like this, Tony. Thant’s why I called you.”
Tony winced. “I’m so sorry, man. If you know Pride then you know he didn’t mean to hurt you. He’s been having a tough time lately.”
Mike waved away his apology. “Don’t worry about it. He didn’t come close to hitting me but he’s lucky no one else got hurt. I was able to keep a fight from breaking out, and he only knocked over a few bottles”
Tony was relieved to hear that. It sounded like the situation was under control. “I’m sure he’ll want to apologize in the morning. Where is he now?”
Mike pointed him toward a table in the back. Tony made his way to the dark quiet corner. The sight the greeted him made his stomach clench with worry and he felt a tug of sympathy for his friend. Dwayne was slumped down of the table his head resting in his hands and empty water glass, and a cup of what Tony assumed was coffee sitting next him.
In all the years he’d known Dwayne Pride he had never known the man to drink excessively. Dwayne was a solid as they came, and while he’d been known to lose his temper on occasion his self-control was legendary. There were certain lines he was careful never to cross. He must be really hurting.
Tony reached out and gently touched Dwayne on the shoulder, careful not to startle him. Dwayne raised his head and looked over at Tony blearily. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked miserable. Tony’s heart ached for him. He wished he could find some way to ease Dwayne’s pain but he knew all he could do was offer friendly support. That’s what Dwayne needed right now. He’d just have to hope that it was enough.
“Tony?” Dwayne asked looking puzzled. “I thought you were busy on a case, and couldn’t meet me. You shouldn’t have come. I’m doing fine on my own.” Tony noted the when Drunk Dwayne’s accent deepened. Under other circumstances Tony would have enjoyed listening to his southern drawl. It always made him shivery inside.
Dwayne looked so adorably puzzled Tony couldn’t stop himself from smiling affectionately. Hopefully Pride wouldn’t notice anything odd about the way Tony was looking at him.
Tony pulled over a chair and sat down next to his friend. He patted him on the shoulder in a friendly manner. “That was hours ago. The case is all wrapped up, thankfully. It’s been a long week. I was already home when Mike called me to come and pick up you. I hear you haven’t been behaving in your usual gentlemanly manner. “Tony teased lightly. “I’m here to take you home.”
Tony was expecting Dwayne to crack a joke or maybe apologize for dragging him down here. Instead Pride’s face fell and he teared up. For a moment Tony froze. He had never seen Pride close to tears. He felt a wave of alarm wash over him, what on Earth had happened? However, before he could ask Dwayne continued speaking.
“I don’t have a home anymore Tony.” His words slurred slightly. “I mean that literally, the house is on the market. We’re going to split the proceeds.
“I didn’t know things had progressed that far,” Tony admitted. “I know you were hoping the separation was temporary.”
“The divorce went through today. Linda isn’t my wife anymore. Twenty-three years of my life up in smoke just like that.” A tear slid down Dwayne’s cheek.
Tony didn’t really know what to do. He’s never seen Pride like this. He thought back to when it has seemed that his own life was falling apart around, when he’d lost all the trust and respect he’d had for his team mates, the people he’d considered his family. Dwayne had been quietly supportive. Offering an ear to listen and a metaphorical shoulder to cry on. Tony hadn’t shed any tears, but it had been nice to have someone to talk to why he sorted things out. Change was never easy.
“I’m so sorry,” Tony said quietly. “I didn’t know it was already a done deal. I wish you’d said something Pride. I know you like to keep certain things close to the vest, but you shouldn’t have to suffer through this alone. I can’t really understand how much this must hurt. Come on let’s go now. You need to sleep this off,” Tony said gently.
Tony cared for Linda, and he even understood why she’d decided it was time to walk away from Dwayne. He thought her reasons were bullshit. However, right now faced with Pride’s pain; he had the urge to find her and give her a piece of his mind. Dwayne deserved so much better than this.
Pride smiled but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. I’m not alone you’re here. “I didn’t fight it because I want Linda to be happy. She hasn’t been happy for a long time. But I love her so much and it hurts so much to lose her. I didn’t expect it to hurt this much.”
Dwayne face started to crumple up again and Tony couldn’t stand it. He remembered how much he hurt when his fiancée called of his wedding, and when he realized he really didn’t have a place in D.C. anymore. Tony knew quite well what it felt like not to be wanted. Dwayne had supported him when he needed it most. Tony was determined to do the same.
He sat down next to Pride. “I know it hurts, man. Don’t punch me for saying it, but I’ve known you both a long time, and too be honest I don’t think either of you have been really happy for a while now. I really think you and Linda will be better off in the long run.” He added optimistically
Pride nodded, looking defeated. It made Tony’s heart clench to see it. He hated to see Pride this way. He wanted to make everything better, but he knew it wasn’t possible. All he could do was support him.
He leaned forward as he spoke. “It’s Linda’s loss, if you ask me.” Tony couldn’t understand how anyone could let Pride go.
Pride frowned sadly. “We’ve both lost something important. Staying together was hurting both of us.” He looked down at his hands.
Tony nodded. “I can’t claim to know what it’s like to loose someone after being with them for half your life. I know you’re hurting. I promise you the pain does get easier. Believe me I know where of I speak.” Tony smiled self-deprecatingly. “When my fiancé called off the wedding I didn’t think I’d survive the pain but I did. I still sometimes wonder if I hadn’t been so focused on work, whether things might have been different.”
Pride gave Tony a look. Tony recognized the look of disapproval on his face. It was the one his team dreaded. It let a person know they’d let Pride down. Pride always got this look when he thought Tony was being too hard on himself. He made no secret of how much he hated it when Tony made self-deprecating comments. The look made Tony smile. Pride was one of his strongest supporters. It meant a lot that he believed in Tony so fiercely. It wasn’t something Tony had much experience with, and he cherished it.
Dwayne’s expression turned sympathetic. He reached out and patted Tony on the hand his aim slightly off so that only his fingers brushed over Tony’s hand. “Don’t say that. You’re a great catch Anthony. I told you, you’ll know when the right person comes along.
Tony flushed a bit at the praise. It was a response very few people seemed to be able to rouse in him, but Pride never failed to make Tony feel like he mattered. If Tony was honest with himself he was a little addicted to the rush of it.
He forced a carefree smile onto his face. “Don’t worry about it. I’m the one who is supposed to be comforting you in your time of need. Remember?”
Dwayne opened his mouth to argue but Tony stood and gently tugged Pride to his feet. Whatever Pride was going to say was forgotten as he struggled to maintain his balance.
“Easy. Cowboy.” Tony said softly. “Let me help you.” Dwayne smiled slightly and nodded. He put his arm around Tony and leaned heavily on him as they made their way slowly out the door and into the parking lot.
Making a quick decision, Tony led Pride over to his car. It was a bit tricky to maneuver Pride over to the car, but he managed it. He’d leave his in the lot. He’d pick it up tomorrow on the way home. He was glad he’d decided to take the car rather than his motorcycle. He wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving his bike here. Tony got the car door open without incident and helped Pride in. Once he was sure his friend was alright, he got behind the wheel.
With a quiet groan Dwayne slumped down in his seat.
Tony rolled down the window. The fresh air should make Pride feel better. “Hey If you decide to throw up let me know so I can pull over, ok?”
He stole a quick glance over at Pride, but he had his eyes closed tightly. Knowing he wasn’t being observed Tony allowed himself the luxury of staring for a few seconds. Pride’s face looked pale and drawn but it was still one of Tony’s favorite sights in the whole world. Could you be any more pathetic DiNozzo? Tony snorted quietly to himself. He forced himself to turn back to the problem at hand. Namely what to do with his very drunk friend.
Tony didn’t want to leave Pride alone, but his apartment in Baton Rouge was over an hour away. He was exhausted and didn’t want to drive that far tonight. He could always sleep in a chair in the office that masqueraded as Pride’s bedroom. He’d certainly slept in worse places.
The drive to the NCIS office was quiet. Pride dozed off. Tony was relieved, sleep was the best thing for him right now. Once they’d arrived, Tony helped Pride out of the car. He seemed to be better off. He seemed to be less shaky,
Tony really loved the building where Pride and the NCIS team had their offices. It was open and airy, and had a southern charm to spare. It was unique as far as law informant offices went, at least any Tony had ever seen. It was so much better than an impersonal office building. It was also so very like Pride. It fit his style perfectly. Tony loved it for that reason alone.
Though he admitted privately to himself, he was jealous of the gorgeous kitchen too. He’d never tell Dwayne, the man was already smug about it. Tony’s kitchen kind of sucked, but he wasn’t home enough to justify moving. He kept promising himself that he’d find a new place, but there never seemed to be time to look. Chris La Salle had offered to help, but Tony hadn’t taken him up on it. He’d heard stories of how Brody’s search had gone.
At the time he chosen the apartment, he couldn’t be bothered to put much thought into where he was going to live and he’d taken practically the first apartment he’d found. Getting his office in order had been much more important. He wasn’t sure how Pride and the others lived without AC though. Even at this late hour the air was oppressive and warm. His apartment in Baton Rouge was pretty small, but at least it was cool in the summer. Tony was not a fan of heat stroke thank you very much.
Tony was happy to see that Pride was staying upright on his own, but Tony followed behind him as they went upstairs just in case his friend slipped.
They reached the bedroom and Pride sat down onto the bed.
“Here let me help you off with your shoes” Tony said. He quickly set word to action.
“Thanks,” Dwayne said quietly. He smiled softly at Tony.
Tony smiled brightly in return. There was just something about Dwayne’s smiles Tony couldn’t help but respond in kind. “No Problem. I’m happy to help. Let me get you some water before you fall asleep. You’re going to be in a world of pain when you wake up tomorrow.”
When Tony returned with the water, Pride had fallen asleep again. Tony debated for a moment where or not to just let him sleep. But he knew that getting water into Dwayne was important.
He reached out and gently shook Dwayne awake. Dwayne started looking confused for a moment. Tony couldn’t help but find the expression endearing.
“How are you feeling?” Tony asked.
Pride seemed to think about it for a moment. “Still drunk, but I’m feeling more myself now.”
Tony nodded “Here’s your water. Drink it all.” He ordered. “I also grabbed another bottle for you, to have later.”
Dwayne reached out as a he took the glass their fingers brushed. Tony felt a pleasant tingle at the contact but he ignored it.
“Thanks again,” Dwayne said quietly. His words still slurred slightly. “I appreciate you coming all this way to help me. I’m glad Mike called you.”
“Hey, that’s what friends are for.” Tony said with a grin. “I think it was my turn anyway.” It warmed Tony that Pride didn’t mind that Tony was seeing him in such a vulnerable position.
Dwayne smiled “We do seem to pull each other out of the fire a lot don’t we?”
“Yes, we do.” Tony agreed. Dwayne had been a strong support for Tony over the years, asking for nothing in return. Tony was only too happy to return the favor any time he could.
He reached out and took the now empty glass but before he could move away from Dwayne he reached out and gently grabbed Tony’s other hand. He tugged gently downward. Feeling mildly confused, Tony took the hint and sat down next to him on the bed. Unsure what Pride was going with this Tony waited curiously. Did he want to talk more about the divorce in more detail? Nothing seemed to be wrong. Dwayne was just staring at him contemplatively. Tony let him but he began to feel weirdly anxious. A sensation he wasn’t used to around his friend.
Then Dwayne seemed to come to a decision. He stared at Tony intently, and Tony found himself holding his breath in anticipation. Everything seemed to slow down. Tony stared at Dwayne, intently waiting. He knew he should stop this, before it went further, but his conscience was drowned out by the suppressed desire that had suddenly flowed to life in his veins.
Dwayne reached out, and cupped the side of Tony’s face stroking it softly. He ran his thumb over Tony’s lip. He leaned forward and gently kissed Tony on the cheek and then trailed little kisses and nips down his neck.
Tony barely dared to breath, afraid to break the moment. He’s never even let himself fantasize about this.
Dwayne leaned back and looked at Tony intently for a moment. Whatever he saw in Tony’s eyes, he leaned forward and pressed his lips against Tony’s own. Dwayne’s lips were warm against his own. Tony moaned softly and he mindlessly pressed himself against Dwayne. He could feel the heat of Dwayne’s body and he wanted to pull him closer. He felt arousal begin to rise slowly but pleasantly through him. Dwayne deepened the kiss, and Tony found himself caught up in a sensual wave of desire that threatened to carry him away.
Dwayne slowly pulled away and they breathed together. Tony took a deep breath to calm his racing heart.
“Tony,” Dwayne whispered, his voice was thick with desire “will you stay?” The longing to take what was being offered to him was so strong it was like a punch in the gut.
However, there was something about the words that gave Tony pause. Something was wrong here. Tony took a good look at his friend his ace was haggard, Dwayne looked exhausted. The desire he was feeling lessened, and Tony felt able to think more clearly. Tony felt Dwayne’s warm breath on his skin. He became aware of the smell of alcohol and his stomach turned. Tony pushed Dwayne away gently.
He forced himself to take another deep breath. He needed to think clearly. Pride was drunk and hurt, and he couldn’t be trusted to make decisions right now. Tony had to protect the both of them.
The whole situation seemed little surreal, suddenly. How did we get here? Tony knew he couldn’t let things escalate any further. If Tony had been drunk too that would be a different matter, stupid things happened when alcohol was involved.
However, Tony was stone cold sober. He he had to do what was right for both of them. He had never taken sexual advantage of another person in his life, and he wasn’t about to start now. Tony knew Dwayne wouldn’t hold it against him in the morning, but that didn’t make it right. He pulled away as if burned. He felt as if he’d been hit by a bucket of cold water. This can’t be happening. Not like this. This isn’t what I want.
Pride had been happily married for a long time and Tony had the utmost respect for both Pride and Linda. He would never have imagined even the possibility getting between them. He’d never had the faintest idea that this could happen. Tony had always assumed his feelings for Dwayne were doomed to remain unrequited. He’d accepted it, and part of him had hoped that eventually his love would dwindle over time.
He knew he had to stop this before it went any further. This wasn’t how he’d wanted any future he might have with Dwayne to start. Dwayne was too important to him. He somehow he found the strength to step a safe difference away from the man he loved.
Dwayne stood up as well looking confused and walked toward him, but Tony held up a hand and he stopped.
“Tony, what’s wrong?” His gaze sharpened and he looked Tony over carefully.
Tony shook his head, unsure what to say. He didn’t want to hurt Dwayne’s feelings or make Dwayne think his advances were entirely unwelcome. Don’t be an idiot. The truth was they’d both be better off if they forgot this ever happened. Tony took a deep breath. He knew what he had to do.
Dwayne must have seen something in his expression because he frowned. “I’m sorry. If you don’t want this, it’s ok.”
“No.” Tony said firmly. “I’m the one who is sorry, Dwayne. You’re drunk and not thinking clearly. This can’t go any further. So you’re going to go to bed and sleep this off, and we’re going to pretend the last few minutes never happened.” Maybe if I’m really lucky he won’t remember it at all.
Dwayne looked instantly contrite; he ran his hand through his hair. “God I’m not sure what came over me. Tony. I wasn’t thinking. The truth is I’ve always fond you attractive and I’ve been feeling so awful… the idea of kissing you is very appealing, especially right now.”
Tony frowned not sure how he felt about the entire situation. Part of him was angry at Dwayne for starting this, but it had been Tony who had gone along with it, if only for a few minutes. Thank goodness, he had come to his senses in time. A kiss could be forgiven, but Tony would have hated himself if he’d gone any further tonight.
Their friendship meant a lot to him. His feelings for Dwayne might be more than platonic but he valued his relationship with Pride, and he wouldn’t risk damaging it. Still a part of him was regretful; he couldn’t help but think they’d be great together. The kiss had certainly had promise.
Tony forced himself to grin widely. “Don’t worry about it. Drinking leads to bad judgment. I don’t really have an excuse for my end of things, but we stopped before any real harm was done. Let’s just move on.” Tony mentally willed Dwayne to let it go. Not to pry into Tony’s response, into Tony’s feelings for him.
Dwayne looked like he wanted to argue but he suddenly swayed on his feet and Tony instinctively reached out to help him. Dwayne waved him away. “I’m okay, but I think I’d better lie down for a while.”
Tony nodded relieved. He needed time to think, “I’m going to sleep in the other room ok? Yell if you need anything.”
“You don’t have to stay,” Dwayne replied immediately. “I’ll be fine.”
Tony was tempted to go but hastily decided against it. He needed space and time to think, but Dwayne needed him more. “No, I’ll stay just in case. Can’t have you choking on your own vomit, now can we?” Tony forced on of his big fake smiles onto his face. He hated having to use a mask around Dwayne.
Dwayne grimaced probably at the mention of throwing up, but gave in more gracefully than Tony had expected. “I don’t think that’ll happen but I appreciate the concern. I have a pretty comfortable couch out there now. You should sleep ok.
“Sounds good. I’ll see you in the morning.” Tony turned to go but stopped when Dwayne called his name.
“Will you play for me for a while?” Dwayne asked softly.
“Of course, anything in particular you want to hear?”
Dwayne shook his head. “Surprise me.”
Tony nodded and walked out into the other room. He took a moment to get comfortable, taking of his jacket and kicking off his shoes. The air felt far too warm and sticky, and he was grateful for the overhead fan.
The piano was sitting right where he’d last seen it. He sat down at the bench and reverently ran his finger along the keys. He was as comfortable with this piano as he was his own. Tony enjoyed musical instruments, particularly those that had a history. Pride’s family piano was well-cared for, and well loved. Tony felt as if all those positive emotions were soaked into the piano itself. Tony fancied he could feel them whenever anyone played it.
He knew the type of music Dwayne preferred but he thought something more soothing might be in order. He really needed to relax as well. He suspected Dwayne knew that. Music would relax them both like few other things could.
In his bedroom Dwayne smiled as Tony began to play. The opening chords of Bach’s Prelude in C Major floated gently over the air. It felt good to be taken care of for a change. It had been a long time since Linda had shown him casual affection. He knew Linda still cared about him, just like he did her. However, there was too much hurt and things left unsaid between them. The ease and comfort they’d once had were gone. It hurt but Dwayne knew he’d done the right thing letting her go.
Dwayne took stock of his situation. He was feeling much clearer headed now. He’d always been able to hold his alcohol pretty well. He was angry with himself for coming on to Tony. He knew Tony would blame himself for what happened. Dwayne thought the blame should rest squarely on him, but he knew Tony wouldn’t see it that way. As far as Tony was concerned he had been the one in control. King couldn’t deny he’d feel the same if their positions had been reversed.
Dwayne had been pretending to handle the divorce pretty well, but it was mostly just for show. He hadn’t wanted to worry anyone. The simple fact was he didn’t know how to live his life without Linda. He wasn’t even sure he knew who he was without her. He hadn’t been alone in more than twenty years. He was sure how to be by himself anymore.
Dwayne considered himself a very strong person, but his divorce had him floundering in a way he had rarely experienced. He knew he needed to give himself time to come to terms with the changes in his life. He just needed to be patient with himself, still he hated that Tony might have been hurt because of him.
He’s make sure to apologize again tomorrow. Hopefully, they could hash out everything in the morning He didn’t want this to make things difficult between them. He hoped he hadn’t ruined their friendship. The truth was he’d always found Tony attractive, and now that the idea of being with Tony had entered his mind Dwayne couldn’t stop thinking about it.
In the other room, Tony began playing another song. Tony was an enigma wrapped in a riddle. Dwayne had known him for years but he had a feeling there was a lot about Tony he didn’t know. Dwayne considered himself a proficient player, there were times he was even good. Tony, though, he was on a completely different level. Listening to Tony and Laurel play together was one of King’s favorite things in the world.
The man had real talent, although he had dismissed Dwayne out of hand when he’d tried to point it out. Dwayne knew his father had a lot to do with why Tony sometimes had a low opinion of himself. Dwayne would love to get Senior into an interrogation room sometime.
Dwayne also knew that Senior wasn’t the only one who had made Tony feel that he hadn’t mattered. He longed to have a little talk with Gibbs but Tony had demanded he let it go. He remembered the deadly serious look on his friends face. “I can take care of myself Dwayne he’d said I’m no damsel in distress you need to rescue. I’ve moved on. End of story.”
Dwayne had admired Tony’s strength and determination to move on.
Dwayne remerged how sad Tony had looked when he’s mentioned his broken engagement. Tony deserved to find someone who would appreciate how amazing he really was. He knew Tony had also had another relationship fall apart a few years ago, but he’d never filled Pride in on the details. Dwayne suspected it had something to do with a case at work but he hadn’t pried. He knew Tony well enough to know it would only make him shut down.
Dwayne had been able to see how special Tony was almost from the moment they had met. He had been very impressed by Tony when the Ronald Reagan had been docked at New Orleans. Tony was able to make intuitive leaps that truly amazed Dwayne, the kind of leaps only the very best investigators were capable of. He had enjoyed working a case with Tony immensely.
They’d stayed in touch, over the years. When Tony had finally decided that he’d had enough of D. C. and needed to change his life. Pride had been there to support him. He’d quickly realized that he and his family where the only support Tony had. It had made Pride furious, and he’d wanted to smack some sense into Gibbs and his team. Tony had gotten his life together though, and on his own terms. When Tony had begun to shoot up the ladder at the FBI Dwayne had almost burst with pride.
Both he and Laurel were thrilled to have Tony living nearby, and it made Dwayne feel a lot better to know someone he trusted lived within easy driving distance of Laurel when she was at school. He frowned remembering his actions from earlier; he didn’t regret the impulse, but he wouldn’t want to hurt Tony for anything in the world. He’d make sure they had a chance to talk in the morning and Dwayne could explain himself properly. Dwayne knew had had to find a way to move on with his life, but it was easier said than done.
Right then, Dwayne promised himself he was going to work on feeling better and asking for help if he needed it. For the first time in a couple of months he felt himself growing hopeful. The good times would come around again, Dwayne was sure of that. He was beginning to think maybe Tony could help him with that. Maybe it was time to let himself lean on his friend. He wondered if Tony would be open to a change in their relationship. The thought was captivating. They had both been alone to much lately maybe something casual with someone they trusted would do them both good.
He closed his eyes and willed himself to relax. He let the sound of Tony’s playing lull him to sleep.
The next morning Tony woke up feeling surprisingly well rested. The couch really was comfortable. He wondered if he could get one for his office. It would make sleeping at the office much easier. He was incredibly grateful; he had the day off, and he didn’t have to go into the office. Being in charge had its perks. The drive from here to the office would take a couple of hours at least, in Monday morning rush hour traffic, barring some emergency, of course.
He found some NCIS sweats and a towel sitting on the piano. Tony smiled at Pride’s thoughtfulness. He still had a couple of sweatshirts at home, and he wore them sometimes when he was feeling nostalgic, but it had been a long time.
He took a quick shower and got dressed, and he made his way downstairs. Wonderful smells greeted him. He did love Pride’s cooking. Tony felt a wave of anxiety but he forced it down. He wasn’t looking forward to the coming conversation. He pasted a carefree smile on his face.
He entered the bright welcoming kitchen and Dwayne was at the stove. He looked up as Tony walked in, and Tony took a good look at him. Dwayne looked pale and tired but his eyes were bright and assessing. He was plainly feeling better, and Tony was relieved to see he was sober. He knew how much Dwayne hated to get smashed. He knew his friend well enough to know Dwayne was kicking himself for the loss of self-control the night before. Just like Tony was kicking himself for almost taking advantage.
They stared at one another in awkward silence for a moment. The tension between them made Tony feel a bit sick his earlier hunger forgotten. Things had always been easy between them since their very first meeting. He wished he had a time travel machine so he could turn back in time and keep last night from ever happening.
“You hungry?” Dwayne asked. Tony’s stomach answered for him and they both laughed breaking some of the tension. “I guess so sit down and we’ll eat.”
They kept the conversation light while they ate. They’d shared dozens of meals, and much to Tony’s relief the familiarity between them quickly reasserted itself, and the atmosphere grew much easier between them. They hadn’t had much time to spend together lately, and Tony filled Dwayne on what had been going on in his life. He was really proud of his team and he enjoyed talking about them.
Dwayne filled him on what was going on with his team. He especially enjoyed his stories in on the forensic tech’s latest antics. Tony liked Sebastian very much. He was a good man bit a lot of his ideas were pretty kooky. He remained Tony a little bit of Abby, but only in a good way. Dwayne’s team was full of interesting people. They’d welcomed Tony into his family, and he enjoyed spending time with them. In the beginning, they’d made the pain of losing his DC family easier to bear.
In return, Tony told him about some of the trouble his new probie was getting into. The kid’s heart was in the right place, and he had the makings of a good investigator. The problem was he was damn clumsy. Tony swore the kid tripped over his own feet.
The story of how the newbie had accidently spilled Anderson’s lunch all over himself had Dwayne laughing. Luckily Valarie had not been at her des k at the time, so the kid was spared her revenge for messing up her suit.
Afterwards, Tony helped Dwayne clean up the dishes. As they were finishing the sudden silence between them became awkward once again.
“Can we talk about what happened last night?” Dwayne asked quietly.
Tony valiantly ignored his abrupt queasiness. He wasn’t sure he was ready for this conversation. He was pretty sure Dwayne would forgive him for almost taking advantage of him, but he was worried he might have damaged the trust between them. Dwayne was good at reading people.
He looked at Tony seriously. “Tony I want you to listen to me. You didn’t do anything wrong ok? I was drunk true, but I was aware enough to know what I was doing. You’re right I wasn’t in a good place last night, and I’m grateful to you for being levelheaded, and stopping us from making a mistake.”
Tony’s relief was intense, and he relaxed. Dwayne forgave him. “I’m glad we’re okay. I was worried you might be angry with me. I’d never want to damage the trust between us.”
Dwayne reached out and patted Tony on the shoulder. “You haven’t Tony. I trust you, maybe even more than I did yesterday.”
Tony was glad to hear that, but he was still a little uneasy. Tony thought he hid his feelings well. However, he wasn’t completely sure that Dwayne didn’t know how Tony felt about him. In truth, Tony was happy not knowing for sure. With any luck he could get through the rest of this conversation with his dignity intact. Dwayne did not need to know that Tony was in love with him.
“Thanks, Pride. We really don’t need to talk about this anymore. We can forget it ever happened. We never have to talk about the kiss again.”
He wouldn’t mention the few times he’d allowed himself to imagine just that, although in his fantasies Dwayne was always just as enamored of Tony as he was of him.
Dwayne shook his head. “I think we still need to work out some things. Just hear me out.”
Tony sighed. He fought the urge to fidget; instead he deliberately picked up his coffee and took a drink. Finally he nodded his agreement.
“I just want to say I’m sorry again Tony. I know I really upset you. I didn’t mean to upset you as much as I did. Obviously you’d never take advantage of someone who’d been drinking. I know that. I’m sorry that I put you in a position where you might have felt you’d taken my consent away from me. I’m to blame for my actions not you. I appreciate you looking out for me. I trust you, more than almost anyone else in my life.
Tony smiled. “Thank you, Dwayne. That does make me feel better. Can I ask you a question?”
Dwayne waved his hand in a go ahead gesture.
“Why did you kiss me in the first place?” he asked.
Dwayne shrugged. “I have no excuse. I wasn’t thinking. I acted on instinct. You know that right? I guess I was just looking for some comfort, you know?”
Tony held up his hand. “I can understand that Pride, and under different circumstances I might have even said yes. But you were drunk, and grieving and not in your right mind. We both made a mistake. It’s water under the bridge.” He hoped he sounded convincing.
He was so thankful Pride had no idea how he really felt about him. He knew it would have made Dwayne feel worse about the situation, and that was the last thing Tony wanted.
Dwayne nodded. “That’s good to hear Tony because I think we’d be good together. I’m not looking for anything serious right now, but you’ve been on my mind since I woke up this morning. You seemed to enjoy the kiss as much as I did. I’m wondering what circumstances would get you to agree?” Dwayne smiled flirtatiously, and he ran a finger over Tony’s wrist. The coaxing tone of his voice made his knees go a bit weak, but he steeled himself against it. Judging by the grin on his face Dwayne knew the effect he was having on Tony. He was enjoying himself. The bastard. Damnit, he’d given too much away.
Tony felt caught. This was such a bad idea on so many levels, but a big part of Tony wanted what Dwayne was offering anyway. The man could temp a saint. There was no sense in denying his desire. He had no doubt sex with Dwayne would be amazing, and he had no doubt that would enjoy themselves while it lasted. It might almost be worth the broken heart Tony would have when it was over. But he was an adult and that was his choice to make.
Maybe he should just agree to spend some time with him, and see where it went. As long as Dwayne didn’t figure out that Tony wanted to be much more than just friends with benefits, then he wouldn’t get hurt.
He started to reply, but the shrill sound of a cell phone broke the moment. Tony released his breath in a relieved rush. Holding up a finger, Dwayne took the phone call. From his expression Tony knew their little talk was over. He felt a surprisingly strong rush of relief at the unexpected reprieve.
Pride’s conversation was over quickly and Pride looked at him with a regretful expression on his face.
“I’m sorry I have to go Tony. I need to call the team in we got a body.”
Tony nodded, and smiled at Dwayne. “Don’t worry about it I understand the job comes first.”
Dwayne returned the smile. “I do want to finish our conversation though. Are you headed back to Baton Rouge now?”
Tony had actually been planning to hang around the city for the day. Maybe play tourist for a bit. He didn’t get down to New Orleans nearly often enough. Baton Rouge was a nice place to live but it wasn’t nearly as exciting. He opened his mouth to tell Dwayne, but then changed his mind. He wasn’t ready to finish their conversation yet. He desperately needed some time to think and sort out his feelings. The last several hours still felt like a strange dream to him.
Acting on impulse he did something he’d never imagined he would, he lied to Dwayne. “Actually, I have some paperwork I need to finish, and then I promised a buddy we’d go out to dinner so I’m going to head back now.”
Dwayne’s expression shuttered at the lie, but he didn’t call Tony on his bluff. He simply nodded. “I’ll call you as soon as I get a chance,” he said simply.
Tony nodded and forced a grin. He hoped it was more convincing than it felt. “Sure thing Dwayne. He found himself hoping Pride would forget all about the whole thing. He didn’t think he could stand to have Pride flirting with him, all the while knowing he couldn’t have what he really wanted.
The next day, Tony sat at his desk. It was late, and aside from the agents on call he was the only one in the office. He did some of his best work at night, it helped that the idea of going home wasn’t all that appealing.
He had spent so many years working in bull pens first at NCIS and then at the FBI, having his own office with a door still gave him a bit of a thrill. He didn’t keep it closed all the time. He didn’t want to be the kind of leader who ignored or undermined his subordinates.
Tony believed he got the best from his people by being approachable. Tony made a point of spending time near his agents and he kept a desk in the bullpen for that purpose, but it was nice to be able to go into his office and close the door when he needed to.
Being the head of a Resident Agency gave Tony the ability to go out into the field and investigate cases while gaining leadership experience. It was the best of both worlds as far as he was concerned and it worked for him.
Being in charge still meant a surprising amount of paper work, though, and it was a bit different from what he’d done in the past. Right now, Tony was grateful for it, and wasn’t that a sad state of affairs? The paperwork kept his mind from wandering too much.
He knew if let himself dwell, he’d just drive himself crazy thinking about the situation with Dwayne. Tony was used to not getting what he wanted personally, if not professionally. The idea that Dwayne might be open to something between them even if it was causal was a lot to wrap his head around. Tony was man enough to admit the idea scared him a bit.
The question was if Dwayne was willing should he act on his feelings. Even if it meant walking away and letting Dwayne go? Could he do that? Tony wasn’t sure.
There was a knock on the open door interrupting Tony’s woolgathering. He looked up to see his second in command Valarie Anderson standing in the doorway. Tony smiled and waved her in.
“Valarie,” Tony greeted warmly. “What can I do for you?”
“Hey Boss what are you still doing here? I thought you’d gone home hours ago.”
“I still have some paper work to finish up on the last case. I’m planning on going home soon though, I promise.”
Valerie smiled “Good, you go way too hard, Tony.”
Tony grinned. “It comes with being the boss Anderson. It’s important to keep our solve rate up.”
“Our solve rate is already pretty awesome.” She pointed out returning his smile.
“True,” Tony agreed, “but you know I won’t be happy until we’re up to a hundred percent.” Tony repeated the familiar joke.
Anderson grinned back, amusement sparkled in her eyes. “Absolutely, sir. The team and I will get right on that.”
Feeling more light hearted than he had in a while, Tony gestured for Valerie to sit. But she declined. “I’m on my way out, I just wanted to let you know, the weakly expense reports are done and in your email.”
“Great thanks. I’ll take a look at them and get back to you if I have any questions.” Tony had no doubt everything would be in order. Valarie was conscientious and thorough agent. Tony knew he was lucky to have her.
Valerie didn’t leave and Tonty wasn’t really surprised. He knew when one of his people wanted to ask him something. He was surprised to note Valarie looked a little bit nervous.
“Was there something else?” He asked. “You know I’m here for you, if you have some sort of problem.”
She nodded and smiled. “I know, Sir and I appreciate that. There’s no problem. I wanted to talk to you about something personal, actually. I just wanted to give you this. My husband and I are celebrating our tenth anniversary. We’re having a dinner party and we’d love it if you came. You can bring someone if you like.”
Tony was pleased to be included. Many people wouldn’t be comfortable hanging out with their boss in their off time but Tony knew the invitation was genuine. Chance, Valerie’s husband, worked for the Baton Rouge police department as a detective. They both worked long hours at stressful jobs but by all accounts their marriage was a happy one. Tony knew they worked hard to keep it that way and he admired them for it. It was nice to know not all marriages ended up likes Gibbs’ or his father’s.
He also understood why Valerie was nervous. Tony did occasionally go out with his team for a drink after work, but that’s where he drew the line.
Truthfully, it was on the tip of his tongue to say no. He didn’t usually hang out with his team outside of work. He knew Dwayne treated his team like family, but after what happened with Ziva and Tim, Tony had decided it would be best to keep a more professional distance. Before the move to Baton Rouge he’d hung out with Dwayne and his team so often that he’d never felt lonely. However, since he’s been promoted to the head of the RA he’d been feeling his self-imposed isolation much more deeply.
He thought again of his empty apartment, and how lonely he’d been, and for how long. He made a spur of the moment decision.
“I’d love to come. It’ll just be me. I can a bring anything?” he asked
Valarie looked surprised for a moment before she schooled her features. She hadn’t been expecting him to agree. Tony kept his smile to himself. He did enjoy keeping people on their toes.
“That’s wonderful,” she said brightly. “My husband’s going to be so happy to see you again and there are a couple of people I really want you to meet.
Tony felt a wave of alarm. He suddenly remerged another reason why he refused so many invitations. “I’m coming alone because I want too. You know my policy on blind dates so don’t even think about setting me up.”
Valarie shook her head but she was grinning mischievously “No worries. I know that even though you’ve been here over a year you still don’t know many people in the city. I’ll just make a friendly introduction and if you happen to hit it off then we’ll just call it a happy coincidence. You could always use more friends right?”
Tony laughed in spite of himself. Valarie was hard to resist. He still wanted to argue but he was forced to admit that Valarie had a point. Talking to her friend couldn’t hurt. He thought about how lonely he had been the last couple years. He hadn’t even had a date in six months. He thought about what happened with Dwayne the night before.
Tony needed to accept his feeling for him where a most likely a lost cause. Dwayne didn’t want Tony the same way Tony wanted him. Tony knew he needed to accept that. Maybe a little fun with his team was just what he needed, and if he happened it hit it off with a beautiful woman what could it hurt?
Decision made he grinned at Valerie. “It sounds like fun,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Valarie left, and Tony turned back to his work. But it couldn’t hold his attention any longer. Dwayne still hadn’t called, and Tony had to admit he was grateful for the reprieve. Tony wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but he knew he needed more time to think and sort out his feelings. He knew that Dwayne would be calling very soon. Tony only hoped that when the time came he knew what to say.
A few days later and Tony was becoming increasingly frustrated. He and Pride had been playing phone tag. Both of them had gotten cases, and they couldn’t seem to find any time to get together and talk. At this point Tony just wanted to get things over with.
Tony had no doubt the meeting would happen he knew how persistent Dwayne could be. Being the focus of Dwayne’s complete attention was an intense experience. It felt amazing to be the center of his world even for a little while, even in a platonic way. While Tony had fantasized about what it might be like to have Dwayne’s complete attention in the bedroom, right now the idea of being the center of Dwayne’s romantic focus was proving to be a little more than Tony could handle.
He knew Dwayne was equally frustrated. If they didn’t get together soon, it was entirely possible Dwayne would just show up at his apartment. He had a key, after all.
Tony had made good use of his time. He’d gone for a long ride on his motorcycle with some of his riding buddies. It had done a lot to clear his head. There was nothing like riding a bike on the open road. With the scenery rushing by and the wind blowing in his face, all his problems seemed to disappear. It was Tony’s version of meditation.
He’d taken the opportunity to talk things out to talk things out, and his friend Paul had pointed out gently the Tony might be over reacting a bit to what had almost happened between them. “You realized Pride was impaired and you put a stop to things. I wouldn’t have expected any less, and neither would he,” Paul had said firmly. After much consideration he’d realized that here had been some truth in his friend’s words Dwayne had made it plain that he still trusted Tony. Tony was doing his best to let it go but it was easier said than done.
Tony hadn’t been able to adequately explain why he was so concerned. Romantic relationships had never gone well for him in the past. It seemed to him, that every time he let himself fall deeply in love, things had a way of inevitably blowing up in his face. It was not something he was eager to experience again, but he was also so damn tired of being alone.
He’d told Paul as much. Paul never one to pull his punches had looked Tony straight in the eye and said, “Well then as I see it you have three choices, bury your head in the sand and pretend nothing has changed, accept what Pride is offering you, or take a chance and tell him how you really feel. I think you already know which is the right choice.”
Then he’d shrugged and gotten back on his bike, as if his words hadn’t been a punch to the gut for Tony.
Paul’s words had given Tony a lot to think about. No matter what Paul said the situation wasn’t nearly as simple as he made it sound. Going back was definitely not an option. Could he handle something casual between them? It was a question that he didn’t know how to answer. Tony knew himself well enough to know that if he had sex with Dwayne he would have a lot of trouble separating his feelings from the actual act. He was afraid it would only deepen his feelings. Yet, he couldn’t deny he was tempted to take Dwayne up on his offer. Tony suspected being with Dwayne was worth the inevitable heartache he would suffer.
Dwayne was so important to him. His friendship had been all that had kept Tony above water on more than one occasion. The idea of making those kinds of mistakes with Dwayne terrified him. No matter how much he cared for Dwayne Tony didn’t want to risk losing their friendship. It was too important. However, he felt that he and Dwayne could have something very special, if only they had a chance.
The thought of them as a real couple was so tantalizing. Tony couldn’t stop thinking about it. The question was Dwayne open to the idea of a deeper commitment between them? There was really only one way to find out. However, Tony was afraid Dwayne would push him away. The thought was terrifying.
Tony knew he needed to be sure of what he wanted before he took the risk. He’d done a lot of careful thinking, and come to a couple important conclusions about what he wanted. He knew he’d never forgive himself, if he didn’t take this chance. He felt as ready as he was ever going to be to talk to Dwayne. Whatever came of their conversation, he was ready to accept it. Still he couldn’t help the hope that Dwayne would be open to more with him.
As if his thoughts had conjured the man Tony’s phone began to ring. There’s no time like the present. With a sigh, he steeled himself and answered. “This is DiNozzo.”
As always Dwayne’s voice made him feel tingly. The anxiety that followed caught him of guard. He hated feeling uneasy around Pride. It felt wrong on several levels.
“Hey Tony, I’m glad I finally caught you. You’ve been avoiding me.” Tony could detect a note of censure it Dwayne’s voice, but he chose not to react. He wasn’t ashamed of taking the time he needed to think.
He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly to calm himself. “Yeah, I have.” Tony admitted. Dwayne chucked at his words. Tony’s heart sped up a little at the sound.
“But you must be a mind reader because I was just thinking about you. I’ve ready to have that talk now.”
Dwayne exhaled sharply. “I’m really happy to hear that Tony.” He did sound pleased.
“Do you want to meet somewhere have way or I can come down to you in a couple of days.”
“Actually, I’m already on my way to you.” Dwayne sounded sheepish. “I didn’t want to give you another chance to avoid me,” he admitted.
Tony smiled in spite of himself; he wasn’t the least bit surprised. Dwayne always preferred to face things head on. His insistence that everyone around him should feel the same was a little exasperating, but Tony also found it endearing. God help him.
Tony gave an exaggerated sigh to hide his amusement. “All right cowboy. I’m on my way home now. Meet me there.” Tony would rather have privacy for this and he thought Dwayne probably felt the same.
“Good. I’ll see you in about half an hour. I’m really glad we’re going to do this.
“Me too,” Tony agreed. It was even the truth. He tried to ignore the sudden knots of tension in his shoulders. You can do this, DiNozzo.
“Oh and Tony? I really like it when you call me ‘Cowboy.’ I’ll see you soon.” Dwayne said softly, and then he was gone. If Tony didn’t know better he’d think Dwayne was flirting with him. That was surreal. How is this even my life?
Tony took another deep breath, and forced himself to relax. He had no reason to be nervous; everything was going to be fine. He just needed to keep telling himself that. Maybe I’ll really believe it after a while.
Tony got home before Dwayne and he quickly tidied up the living room. He was left with nothing to do. Stifling his urge to pace, he went to his piano and began to play a song by Yurima, figuring it would help him calm down. Just as he began another song; he heard a key in the lock and then Dwayne walked in causing Tony’s heart to skip a beat.
They stood awkwardly for a moment before Tony remerged his manners and invited Dwayne to sit down.
After getting them both ice tea Tony sat down across from Dwayne on the sofa. Tony waited for Dwayne to speak as far as he was concerned the ball was in his court.
Dwayne smiled ruefully, “You aren’t going to make this easy on me are you?”
Tony grinned “Nope,” he said, popping the P. “I’m not.”
Dwayne nodded. “I know this must come as a surprise to you. I’ve always found you attractive, if I’m being honest. But it never crossed my mind to act on it honestly. If you’ve decided you don’t want to be with me that’s fine Tony. There’s no pressure here. You seemed interested the other night. Can you tell me what’s wrong?” He looked at Tony intently.
Tony had prepared for this. He had an answer ready, and it was even a partial truth. So as not to trip Dwayne’s inner lie detector. He shrugged negligently. “You’ve always know I’m attracted to both men and women. I don’t hide my sexuality. I was very surprised. I didn’t think you were attracted to men. Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
Dwayne shrugged. “It didn’t seem important. I’m bisexual, always have been, but I never cheated on Linda. Never even considered it. Since out first date, she’s all I ever wanted. It doesn’t mean I’m blind though you’re a beautiful man. Tony.”
Tony felt a thrilling rush of warmth at the compliment. He tried to push it away. He couldn’t let himself get carried away by his feelings for Dwayne. He needed to keep a clear head in this situation.
Dwayne’s comment about Linda didn’t really bother him. He’d always known how important Linda was to Dwayne. Early on, before he’d developed feelings for Pride, he’d admired their relationship. He hadn’t had many good examples of successful relationships in his life. It was only after they’d separated that Tony had allowed himself to even consider his feelings for the older man.
There was a part of him that wanted to jump at what Dwayne was offering him. After all, being with Dwayne, even for a little while was better than nothing. Tony had never imagined he’d be able to have a relationship with Dwayne at all. Take what you can get a voice whispered. Tony reflected the voiced sounded a lot like his dad.
Still Tony really thought about what Dwayne was offering, and he felt a little sick. He couldn’t do it. Casual sex with him would never be enough for Tony. His feelings went so far beyond mere lust. A simple fling would be fun, but completely unsatisfying long term. Right then, Tony acknowledged he’d been right never be happy with something casual with this man. He needed more. He needed a relationship. He’d made the right decision. Relief washed over him. No matter the outcome, he needed take this chance, and follow his heart. He could only pray he’d survive the fallout if things went wrong.
Tony decided to bite the bullet and be honest. They both deserved that. No matter how humiliating this conversation might turn out for him He needed to be brave, even if it blew up in his face. He knew Dwayne well enough to know he would prefer the truth in the long run. “I’ve been in love with you for a long time Dwayne. Something which I know might come as something of a surprise to you. I understand you don’t feel the same. That’s perfectly fine. I’m not trying to put any pressure on you.
Dwayne looked completely shocked. He stated for several seconds, as if frozen. It seemed an eternity to Tony. Tony could only stare back at him. I should have known, it was stupid to hope. Was the idea of being with him so terrible for Dwayne? So unthinkable?
Stop thinking like that. It isn’t Dwayne’s fault At least you tried. Tony forced himself to smile brightly. Though he knew Dwayne wouldn’t be fooled by it. “Hey there, Cowboy. Did I break you?” he asked teasingly. Trying to lighten the moment.
Dwayne blinked, and his face became impassive. He looked at Tony but didn’t meet his eyes. “I’m sorry Tony I don’t know what to say. I feel blindsided. I had no idea you felt this way. I feel like maybe I should have known should have seen but I didn’t.”
Tony forced himself to look Pride in the eye. “You don’t have to say anything. I’m not expecting anything here. Dwayne, I promise. I know how much you loved Linda. This might have been selfish on my part, but I needed to be honest with you about my feelings. I think you deserve the truth. Rather than I complicated lie.”
Dwayne took a deep breath and nodded. “I appreciate that Tony. I would never want you to lie to me. “
Tony shrugged, “I don’t have it in me to lie to you, right now. I know how you feel about it. Besides you can always tell when I do. Just like the other day. You know you wouldn’t have let it go.”
Dwayne cracked a smile. “That’s true enough. I appreciate you telling me. I want you to know I’m honored, but it’s very unexpected for me. I’m going to be honest as I can be. I just don’t feel the same. I’m sorry. I do find you very attractive, and I do love you. You’re one of my best friends. But I’ve just never thought of you in a romantic sense before.”
Tony felt his heart break a little but when he smiled it was genuine. He took a deep breath against the pain. “I understand Dwayne, really I do. I hope I haven’t ruined things between us entirely, and that we can still be friends.”
Dwayne smiled. “Nothing will ever ruin our friendship, Tony. You’re an important part of my life, of Laurel’s life. That’s never going to change.” His tone left no room for argument. Tony knew Dwayne well enough to see he was serious.
Tony nodded. He knew Dwayne meant it, but he still felt uncertain. He’d never forgive himself if he lost this best friend over this. Dwayne was still looking uncomfortable; looking like he wanted to bolt, so his next words didn’t surprise Tony.
“I need to go Tony, I need time to think.” They stood and Tony walked Dwayne to the door.
Dwayne smiled at him, and Tony was glad to see it reached his eyes. “I’m sorry to just leave you like this, Tony.”
Tony put on his best mask “It’s no problem Pride. You need time to process I get that.” He said grinning widely. “You know me I always bounce back. You don’t need to worry.”
Dwayne frowned as he looked Tony over carefully. He reached out and cupped Tony’s cheek “You don’t need to do that Tony. You never need to hide from me. I promise I will call. We’ll figure this out. I promise you aren’t getting rid of me though.”
Tony nodded a bit relieved to hear that. This time he did believe the words. He managed a much smaller but more genuine smile. His heart broke a little more as he watched Dwayne walk away from him. He told himself it wouldn’t be for the last time.
fter Dwayne left Tony’s apartment, he decided to go for a walk. He didn’t trust himself to take the long ride home just yet. Dwayne hadn’t spent that much time in Baton Rouge, but he knew this area pretty well. It was a nice night for a walk, but Dwayne didn’t really take much notice. He wandered aimlessly lost in his thoughts. The idea that Tony was in love with him floored Dwayne. He cared for Tony, and admired him a great deal. Tony was one of his dearest friends. He was intelligent and is integrity was beyond question. He was funny and a hell of a piano player.
Dwayne could admit that he’d always been connected to Tony in an intense way. Their relationship had been strong almost from the first. It was why he hadn’t questioned his attraction to Tony the other night. He was sure they’d be good together, and he’d never questioned the fact that they would remain friends, no matter what else happened between them. He couldn’t imagine his life without Tony in it. It was that simple.
The question was could he see himself with Tony in a real relationship. The idea wasn’t immediately repulsive which didn’t surprise him. Tony was a wonderful man, and anyone would be lucky to have him. Dwayne wasn’t sure he was the right person though. It was no secret he thought he thought the few women Tony had dated hadn’t been worthy of him. He hadn’t liked any of them really. They just hadn’t been right for his friend, but maybe there had been more to his dislike than just friendly concern. Dwayne wanted Tony to be with someone who appreciated, loved and supported the way he deserved. Could I be that person?
He imagined what life with Tony would be like. It was disconcertingly easy. Being able to come home to him, and talk to him every night. Dwayne had been sober enough to appreciate how amazing the kiss had been. He and Tony had amazing chemistry together. There was no reason to think that they couldn’t make a go of it.
Still, it would be a leap that Dwayne was nowhere near ready to take. Tony deserved to be happy. Could Dwayne make him happy? Could they make each other happy?
Dwayne valued their current friendship a great deal. He owed it to both of them not to make any hasty decisions. Dwayne acknowledged the things that most worried him, at the moment was what would happen if things fell apart for them. He didn’t want to lose Tony if things didn’t work out. The idea was too horrible to contemplate. It filled him with dread. The realization stopped Dwayne in his tracks. What does that tell you? Could it be that his feelings were already deeper than he thought?
He needed time to think and sort his feelings out. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Tony. He knew he wasn’t in a place right now where he could pursue a relationship with anyone. Surely Tony would understand that. Dwayne realized he was thinking in circles. He was even more confused now than when he’d started. What he needed was some advice. There was only one person he’d be comfortable talking to about this.
Dwayne felt a little better having a clear course of action in mind. He turned and started back toward his car, suddenly eager to get home. Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.
A week had gone by, and Tony was more and more certain that he’d ruined everything between him and Dwayne. He hadn’t tried to contact Dwayne, figuring that Dwayne deserved to have whatever time he needed. He’d waited for Dwayne to call but so far he hadn’t. Waiting was not Tony’s strong suit. It could be his friend was just busy, but Tony couldn’t help but worry Dwayne was avoiding him. Still he knew needed to be patient. He would handle whatever came next. However, he couldn’t do anything. The ball was in Dwayne’s court. It was just that the inability to act was driving Tony slowly insane.
He had been incredibly grateful for the distraction his team had provided. Dinner at Valarie’s had been lovely. Tony had forgotten how much he enjoyed social situations where he was comfortable. He’d had a blast, and had actually really hit it off with Valarie’s friend Marisol. Tony really liked her, if he hadn’t already been in love with Dwayne, Tony would definitely want to get to know her better and see where their attraction went.
It had really made Tony realize how detrimental his self-imposed isolation had become. When he’d left Washington D.C. he’d decided he needed to maintain a professional distance from his co-workers, for his own well-being. Being betrayed by people he’d considered his family had been very difficult. He had decided to be more discerning about who he let into his life. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but he could see he’d taken it too far.
Aside from Dwayne the people he spent the most time with were his biker friends. He still spent a great deal of his time either working or alone. Tony was going to work on changing that. He was by nature a social person and he missed going out. No matter how thigs went with Dwayne Tony was determined to start putting himself out there more. Tony needed to be around people more. He was done letting past dictate his actions.
Tony climbed up the stairs to his apartment. He entered and immediately knew he wasn’t alone. He reached for his side arm, but it wasn’t there. Tony silently cursed. He remembered he’d left it in his safe, figuring he wouldn’t need it. He loosened his stance, getting ready to fight if necessary. Possibilities ran through his mind but before he could decide on a course of action he heard a voice.
“Tony, it’s just me,” the voice called out. Recognizing Dwayne, Tony immediately relaxed.
“Hey there,” Dwayne said quietly
“Hey, Cowboy. Sneaking into a federal agent’s apartment is a great way to get yourself shot.”
Dwayne turned. He looked nervous but his eyes were smiling. “I do like it when you call me that. I trusted you not to shoot first and ask questions later. I’m sorry to just show up, but I was afraid if I waited, I’d lose my nerve.”
Tony smiled happy to see Dwayne though he felt anxious anticipation tighten his gut. The moment was finally here. Tony wanted to get the conversation over with but he forced himself to observe the social niceties. Tony motioned Dwayne over to the sofa. “Despite the sneak attack, I’m really glad you’re here. Come on let’s get comfortable. Can I get you something to drink?”
Dwayne hesitated as if reluctant for some reason. Then he seemed to make up his mind. “Actually, I’d love some bourbon, if you got it.”
Tony had Dwayne’s favorite on hand. He returned with two glasses, although he wouldn’t be drinking much of his own. He sat down on the recliner across from Dwayne. He’d bought it after moving to Louisiana. It wasn’t his normal style, but it was insanely comfortable, and Tony loved it.
Dwayne took a sip of his and then set it down of the coffee table.
Dwayne saw the look on his face and grinned. “I’ve decided I’ve been drinking a little too much lately. The other night… well it wasn’t the first time.” Dwayne looked down at his hands for a moment, but then he looked up at met Tony’s eyes. There was a determined look on his face. “I’m sorry I went radio silent for so long, Tony.” Dwayne did look regretful.
“Dwayne,” Tony said “There’s no need. I know you were overwhelmed. It was a lot for you to take in.” Tony was quick to reassure him.
Dwayne smiled at Tony, one of his private smiles few people got to see. “That’s true, it was. Still waiting couldn’t have been easy. I appreciate you being patient. The thing is I was shocked at first, but the more I thought about what you said the more sense it made. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you, about us, about what we could be like together.”
Tony’s heart sped up at the unexpected words. “Really?” He asked. Tony was a little embarrassed when his voice shook slightly.
Dwayne nodded. “I’ve cared about you for a long time Tony. I always acknowledged that you’re an attractive man. You’re actually very much my type. I really liked the idea of something casual with you. It seemed like it might be fun. But your declaration really shook me up. The last few days I’ve been forced to admit that my feelings for you might be more than just friendly. I’m very intrigued by the idea of us together. You are so important to me I’d never questioned your roll in my life, but know I can’t stop thinking of what it would be like to be in a relationship with you.”
Tony felt his mouth drop open in surprise, but quickly closed it. He carefully set down his drink on the table. Tony didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t dared hope for this. “How?” he finally managed to get out around the lump in his throat.
Dwayne grinned wryly. “Well after the initial shock wore off.” Tony hid his amusement. That was a big understatement.
Oblivious to his thoughts Dwayne continued, “I can’t deny the idea of a relationship with you started to seem appealing almost right away. I realized that I liked the idea of having more than just a fling with you. I realized I had no trouble imagining us being together. Having you more permanent part of my life. I really liked the idea.”
Dwayne smiled at Tony and it was a bit shy. Tony was incredibly charmed by it. He felt himself flush a little in pleasure. The bubble of happiness was expanding inside his chest. He almost couldn’t believe this was really happening. It felt too good to be true.
“I was forced to admit that there has always been there between us, and to think about what I really wanted. Then I decided I need to talk this through, so I went to Loretta. I figured you wouldn’t mind. I know I can trust her to be discreet and straightforward with me.”
Tony nodded his acceptance; he didn’t trust himself to speak just yet. He wasn’t surprised Dwayne confided in Loretta. Tony knew they could trust her, Dwayne and Loretta had known each other for a long time, and Loretta didn’t take any bullshit from anyone. She was one tough lady. She didn’t pull her punches at all when she felt a person needed a dose of reality. Tony liked her a lot, and he knew she’d given Dwayne good advice. He was grateful Dwayne hadn’t been working through all of this alone.
Dwayne leaned forward toward Tony as he spoke. “You know how she is. She a talked some sense into me. When I told her what I’d done. She was upset with me. Said your feelings for me were obvious anyone who was willing to see them. I was shocked to say the least. “How could she know when I hadn’t seen it?” He looked a little uncomfortable at the admission. Tony knew Dwayne probably felt he should have seen the truth much sooner.
Tony was surprised too, and a little bit embarrassed. How had Loretta seen it? Tony had never suspected anything of the sort. He thought he’d hidden his feeling far better than that. Still if she’d helped Dwayne sort out his feelings, there was definitely a gift of some kind in her future.
“But then she pointed out that I took to you quicker than anyone she’d ever seen before. That I trusted you almost from the moment we met. I let you into my life, my family’s lives without a qualm. She said that let her know you were special.”
Dwayne smiled warmly. “She’s right, you are really special to me.” He looked at Tony seriously carefully judging his reaction.
Needing to be closer to Dwayne, he stood up and sat down in front of Dwayne on the coffee table. He reached out and took Dwayne’s hand and squeezed. “I felt the same way,” Tony said quietly. “When I finally decided to leave DC you were the first person I thought to call. I knew I could lean on you for support and advice. You didn’t let me down, cowboy. You never have.”
He went to pull his hand away but Dwayne clasped his hand between his own. Tony was content to let him.
Dwayne nodded. “I know and if you’d let me I would have flown done there to help you, in person. I was mighty disappointed in Gibbs for letting his team mistreat you like that. I was thrilled to have you living closer to me though, and I didn’t let myself think about why. I realize now, that while I never would have cheated on Linda, you’ve been important to me from the beginning. I know I can trust you with every part of my life.”
The rush of pleasure left Tony light headed. All this was a bit overwhelming but he decided not to question his good fortune for once. Everything really is going to be okay. “Ditto,” he responded softly.
Dwayne laughed loudly and sincerely. It was one of Tony’s favorite sounds. “Wait I know that one, Ghost right? Both Linda and Laurel have forced me to sit through it. I’ll tell you a secret. I actually kinda like it. I’ll deny it till my dying day though.”
This time it was Tony’s turn to chuckle. “Your secret is safe with me.”
“The thing is I had to ask myself why that was. I have a lot of good people in my life, a lot of people. I consider them my friends, my brothers. Still I am a very private person in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of myself I don’t share except with Linda and Laurel… and with you. My feelings for you have always been different, deeper than friendship. I just never wanted to admit it to myself.”
Tony’s heart was beating a thousand miles a minute. Excitement was zinging through him. He could guess where this was going. At least he hoped so.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear that, but I’m really happy to believe me. Does this mean you’re open to the idea of being with me?” He could hear the hope in his own voice. It didn’t bother him, for once he wasn’t afraid of it.
Dwayne shook his head ruefully, and then laughed. “God, I’m not doing this well at all am I? I’ve got us both confused. There are things I need to figure out but what I’m trying to say is that you’re important to me, Anthony. On many levels. I think that we’d be good together, when we’re ready. Someday, I can imagine a future with you.”
Tony still couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing “I need you to say the words Dwayne, please. I need to hear them.”
Dwayne didn’t pretend not to know what words Tony meant. “I think in time I could fall in love with you hell I’m probably a little in love with you already.”
The bubble of happiness in his chest burst leaving behind pure joy. Tony wanted to reach out and touch Dwayne so badly but he didn’t dare move. He was afraid to break the moment.
“But,” Dwayne continued, “I’m not ready to try to be with you yet. I’m still grieving, and I think I need to spend some time alone first. I was with Linda for over Twenty-five Years. I need to figure out who I am without her. I need to heal before I can commit myself.” His eyes reflected his inner pain. It hurt Tony to see it.
Tony wanted to hug Dwayne so badly. “That’s completely reasonable. I understand that you need time, I do. Your health and happiness is very important to me.”
Tony started to let go of Dwayne’s hand but Dwayne took it and laced their fingers together. Tony looked down at their joined hands. He felt a thrill at the sight, but he forced himself to stay on track.
“I need you to understand something. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking too. Moving to the FBI was supposed to be a fresh start, but I’ve down some soul searching recently, and I’ve realized that I’ve spent the last few years hiding from other people, hiding from the possibility of being hurt again.”
Dwayne’s face filled with sympathy. “I’m sorry Tony. I know you were having a tough time, I’m sorry I didn’t realize how badly you were still feeling.”
Tony shook his head. “How could you? I was keeping it even from myself.”
Dwayne was looking at him carefully. “What do you need from me?”
Tony sighed. “I’m not totally sure. I have to put myself first. Every serious relationship I’ve had in the past has ended in some sort of disaster. I need you to me sure about this, if we decide to give a relationship a try. I’m not interested in being your experiment or rebound guy. At this point in my life I want more than that. I want a real, meaningful relationship.”
Dwayne’s face filled with regret. “I’m sorry I can’t promise we can have that Tony. Not yet. Part of me wishes I could just through cation to the wind. That I was in the right place to start another relationship. Right now, I wouldn’t be any good for you.” Dwayne continued earnestly.
That hurt a little, but he wasn’t being outright rejected, and that was more than he ever dared hope for. He was a grown up and he could handle this. It wasn’t the end of the world. Before last night he hadn’t even believed he and Dwayne were even a remote possibility. A part of him still had trouble believing that Dwayne might be interested in him.
Not because Tony didn’t think he was worthy or any maudlin bullshit like that, but because it seemed too good to be true. There hadn’t been many good things in his life, and they few that had come along Tony rarely got to keep for long. However gave him renewed hope that this time it might work out in his favor.
Dwayne looked uncertain and Tony’s heart constricted for him. He knew how much Dwayne had been struggling, and he appreciated that Dwayne was being so open with him. Slowly the realization that this was really happening sank in. The words sank in and Tony felt a wave of happiness so strong it made him feel giddy.
He realized Dwayne was still waiting for a response from him. He felt tenderness well up inside of him. Dwayne had been so shocked by Tony’s declaration of love yet, he’d taken it seriously. He’d opened himself up to Tony without a second thought. Most people probably would have run and not looked back. Dwayne was really the special one.
Tony thought of the party the other night, of Diane with the lovely smile and intelligent conversation. He knew exactly what he needed to say, although suddenly the words felt stuck in his throat. He knew this was the right thing to do. He knew that he had to be strong; he hoped Dwayne would understand Tony’s position. He met Dwayne’s eyes unflinchingly.
“That’s totally understandable, Dwayne. I’m willing to give you whatever time you need.” Tony assured him. He was pleased his voice was steady. “Still, I’ve been lonely for a long time, and I’ve recently realized I’ve been selling myself short. I’ve decided I need more in my life. You have to know I refuse to pine for you. I’m not just going to sit around and wait until you’re ready. If I want to date, I will. If I find someone that I want to be in a relationship then I’ll have one.”
Dwayne frowned but he nodded. “I have to admit I don’t like it. Part of me is already feeling a bit possessive. A part I’m going to ignore. I understand what you want Tony, and I respect it. All I ask is that if you’re available when I’m ready that you keep an open mind. I think we deserve to give each other a chance.”
Tony hid a grin at the words. He understood Dwayne’s dislike of the possibility of Tony dating other people. He didn’t want to see Dwayne with anyone else either. However, they both needed space right now. That left them were both free to do what they liked, for the foreseeable future.
That was a promise he could easily make. “I can guarantee you that I will. I’ve loved you for a long time. That isn’t going to change anytime soon.” Tony hesitated for a moment before gathering his courage, and voicing is greatest fear. “No matter what happens, until then I hope we can still be good friends. I’m honestly not sure what I’d do if I didn’t have you in my life. I can’t lose you.”
Dwayne smiled clearly relieved. “Always Tony you can’t get rid of me I promise no matter what happens.”
Tony smiled genuinely in return. He knew he could always count on their friendship to stand the test of time. Even if they got together and then broke up Tony was confident they would find a way to stay in each other’s lives.
“That’s a deal. Still if it’s okay with you. There’s something I’d like to do. A way to seal the deal so to speak.”
Dwayne nodded. There was a light in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. He looked at Tony expectantly.
Tony felt a giggle bubble up. However, he held it back. Grown men did not giggle. He was delighted to realize Dwayne suspected what he intended. This man knew him so well. Tony adored him for it.
Tony leaned forward placed his hand on Dwayne’s face. They stared into each other’s eyes for a moment. Tony leaned forward, and gently brushed his lips against Dwayne’s he purposefully kept the kiss light, but still it warmed him all the way down to his toes.
As he moved back Dwayne stroked his thumb gently over Tony’s lips. “You are amazing” he murmured. Tony felt himself flush with pleasure and the first rush of desire. It felt wonderful. Before he could formulate an answer, Dwayne leaned forward and kissed Tony again this time more deeply. Tony surrendered control to him, allowing himself to be swept away by the kiss. Desire rose between them, but it wasn’t the explosion of feeling he’d expected, instead there was something gentle and easy about it. Tony felt cherished. It was the only word he could think of to describe the feeling.
Tony relaxed into the kiss opening his mouth a bit and let Dwayne slip his tongue inside. The world melted away and all he was aware of was Dwayne’s body against his and his strong arms wrapped around him. Tony did his best to commit everything about the moment to memory. The kiss was a promise for the future, unspoken but no less binding.
As they broke for air, Dwayne surprised Tony by tightening his hold and burying his face in Tony’s neck. Tony hugged him back just as tightly. Arousal still coiled in his belly, but it wasn’t overwhelming. Tony felt pleasantly warm. They stood that way for an indefinite amount of time. Tony could have stood like that all night.
He soaked up the feeling of having Dwayne close to him. Tony hadn’t felt so content in a very long time. He wasn’t sure what would happen, but he was very pleased to be here, in this moment. The future would sort itself out. Tony couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.