- Work in Progress
- Explicit Sex
- No Beta
- Violence - Canon-Level
- First Time
Tony stared at his hands, noting absently that they’d turned white with the grip he had on the bag in his lap. That grip the only anchor to his sanity as he listened to the echo of Gibbs’ words ricochet through his head, shattering his illusions and his sanctuary in one absent-minded twist of a verbal knife.
He knew he should speak up, but what could he say? What response was there to that tone of disgust and those dismissive, destructive words. “I don’t understand guys like that. Why does he have to act so… I’m sure he’d have far fewer problems if he acted like a normal man. And what was he doing at a sports bar anyway?”
The conversation continued, but Tony didn’t hear it. He tried to find some other way to interpret the words, but there wasn’t and he knew it. They were driving back to the office after having interviewed everyone at the victim’s last known location, a local sports bar. Tim had made a sly comment that at least one of the witnesses had been paying close attention to the young dead petty officer. Everyone knew he meant Sean- an attractive, highly flamboyant gay man- who had been very helpful, if on the more dramatic and flirtatious end of the spectrum.
Then Gibbs had said… THAT. And Tony felt his heart break. It’s not that he’d ever thought he had a chance with his boss romantically. He knew the man was straight, but he couldn’t help having feelings for the bastard anyway- fluctuating and ill-defined as those feelings were.
But he’d comforted himself with their friendship and had finally decided that he needed to move on and find a relationship with someone who could return his feelings. Part of that meant he needed to come out to his team, to Gibbs. He was so tired of hiding this and he wanted more than the furtive liaisons he got by on these days. McGee would probably provide light teasing and he admitted he deserved that, but he didn’t expect any actual animosity from him. He was a little uncertain about Cait and her tight-laced Catholic sensibilities, but he could deal with her. Gibbs though- he had known- known for certain- that Gibbs would be ok with it- would support him fully. And now he knew he was wrong.
His mentor, his friend, the man he idolized and might even love would be disgusted to learn that he was one of those “guys like that.” He needed to escape. He needed a drink. He needed to hit something. Not necessarily in that order.
After four days spent going through the motions of his life, days spent pretending that he still cared about anything, and four nights spent drinking himself to sleep, he started looking for a new job. He couldn’t stand being in the same room with Gibbs anymore- the pain was too deep. And he knew his mask was slipping further every hour.
Gibbs had asked him what was wrong several times, but there was nothing he could say. Nothing that wouldn’t make things worse than they already were. He just pasted on his happy DiNozzo grin and mumbled something about girl troubles. That steely blue glare told him that Gibbs didn’t buy it for a second, but, for once, Tony just didn’t care.
Abby glared ferociously at the corner of her screen with the internal chat window. Tony always logged in when he was in the office, always ready to talk to her. But it had been four days since he’d been on. And the two times she’d seen him since then, he’d been polite and professional and aloof. Something hinky was going on and she was going to find out what. She summoned Tim.
He entered Abby’s lab with a look of pure relief.
“Timmy! What is going on up there? Tony is avoiding me and acting like a pod person. Gibbs hasn’t brought me Caf-Pow in days. Are they mad at me? Did I do something wrong?” She felt the panic rise up- what would she do if this didn’t get better?
Tim sank into a chair. “It’s not you. I don’t know what it is though. Tony just shut down after the Lewison case. I have no idea why. He won’t talk to anyone. And Gibbs won’t admit it, but I think he’s worried and that’s making him even grumpier than usual. I don’t know how much more I can take.”
“We have to fix this! You tap into Tony’s computer and see if there’s anything he’s been looking at or working on that would explain his mood. I’ll look at the Lewison file and see if anything looks hinky there. Maybe he knew someone involved in the case and it brought up bad memories?”
“Wouldn’t it be better for you to just ask him? You can get anyone to admit anything,” he said, blushing slightly.
She beamed at him. “Thanks, Timmy. But he can be as stubborn as Gibbs when he wants to be and it will be easier if I have some idea what I’m trying to get him to admit.”
He sighed, but pulled up a keyboard, knowing resistance really was futile. A few minutes later, he swallowed hard, not wanting to be the bearer of bad news to Abby. “Um, Abby?”
She rushed over from her other computer and looked over his shoulder. “Did you find something?”
Leaning aside to give her a better view, he decided it was better to rip off the band-aid. “Tony’s job-hunting.”
Her sharp nails dug into his shoulder as she scanned down the recently accessed sites, coming to the same conclusion he’d reached. Tony wanted to leave. She turned on her heel prepared to storm up to the bullpen and demand answers.
Timmy grabbed her wrist. “Don’t you think this would be a better conversation for outside of work? We can go to his apartment tonight, maybe take some beer and pizzas and find out what he’s thinking.”
She took a deep breath, pushing down the overwhelming need to resolve this right now. Timmy was right, though, it wouldn’t help anything to have this conversation where others could hear it.
Dragging himself into his apartment, Tony headed resolutely towards his laptop, removing tie, shoes, and shirt on the way. He’d identified several places he could apply, but he still needed to update his resume and he couldn’t concentrate well enough in the office to do that. He wished they’d catch a case to distract him from all this.
Closing his eyes, he tried not to relive the end of the day. Gibbs had silently stepped into the elevator with him as he headed out. He’d looked so worried as he’d stopped the elevator and placed his hand on Tony’s shoulder and asked what was wrong. It took everything Tony had to not respond to the echoes of years of friendship and camaraderie he knew Gibbs was trying to call on. And then he heard the memory again, haunting him still, “I’m sure he’d have far fewer problems if he acted like a normal man.”
That gave him the strength to pull away, restart the elevator, and say coldly, “Nothing you can fix. Don’t worry about it.” He saw the pain in the other man’s eyes and wanted to enjoy that the pain went both ways, but all he felt was a deep well of remorse.
He’d barely figured out where to start describing his current job when a frantic knocking at the door jolted him from his mental gear grinding. Looking through the peephole, he groaned when he saw his Abby and Tim. No way to avoid the inquisition this time. He pasted on his best carefree smile and opened the door to find that Tim was also there and they’d brought pizza and beer. Ok, this was serious.
“And what brings my favorite goth and the McGeekster bearing the traditional offerings of Frat gods everywhere?” he enthused, ushering them in as if he were eager to see them, slamming the lid to his laptop shut as he got near the couch.
Abby just glared while McGee fidgeted. “Don’t think you can charm your way out of this discussion Mister Looking-for-a-New-Job. Something is wrong and you’re going to tell us what and then we are going to fix it.”
Tony stared back, judging the odds of bluffing his way out of this, and decided it was a bad bet. He crumpled to the couch. “I’m sorry Abs. I wish you could fix it, but you can’t. Sometimes things can’t be put together once they’re broken.” He stared at his hands in his lap, unable to face her.
“What did he do?” she cried indignantly, pacing the room, working up a full head of steam. “I mean it had to be something Gibbs did. You don’t care enough about anyone else’s opinion to let them drive you away. Especially since it would mean you not having his six, which is pretty much your purpose in life, so it had to be pretty bad. But this is Gibbs, and I know he wouldn’t want you to leave, so I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose…”
Tony stood and grabbed her shoulders, causing her to pause in her tirade. “Breathe, Abby. Sit down and breathe.”
“But you idolize him,” he placed his hand over her mouth and guided her to the chair opposite the one McGee had claimed as he sat watching her, wide-eyed.
When it seemed she was willing to let him talk, he let go and dropped back to the couch. “Yeah. I did idolize him. You’re right. And maybe that wasn’t fair to him. Maybe if I’d accepted that he was only human and susceptible to the same flaws and stupidity as everyone else I wouldn’t be here now. But I don’t know how to go back and I can’t live with the way things are now.” He sighed, hoping that would be enough, but doubting it.
She jumped up and tackled him to the couch, doing a good impression of a skull-obsessed octopus. “Oh Tony, what happened?” she asked plaintively.
“I’m sorry Abby, but I can’t share that. It wouldn’t be fair to Gibbs.” And it would reveal more of myself than I want to share right now, he added to himself. “But that pizza smells amazing, let’s eat?”
She stared at him speculatively and decided to postpone her next battle.
Tony managed to distract them while they ate and then popped in The Princess Bride to lighten the mood. He knew she hadn’t given up yet, but he at least got them to leave after the movie without further questioning.
It was day six of zombie Tony, and Gibbs was at his wits’ end. And it’s not like he could even reprimand him for being well-behaved and professional, but god if he didn’t get the real Tony back soon, he was going to lose it. Something was seriously wrong and the fact that Tony was brushing him off sent up alarm bells all over the place.
He was getting desperate enough that he’d thought about having McGee hack the man’s medical records to see if he’d gotten bad news or something. His stomach clenched in agony at the thought of something being wrong with his senior agent and friend, or at least he’d thought they were friends before this week.
Abby’s summons to her lab was such a welcome distraction from his increasingly morbid thoughts that he didn’t even question why she was calling him when they didn’t have an open case.
As soon as the elevator opened on her floor, he found himself pushed back against the wall by a frenzied mass of black lace and leather who whirled and pushed the buttons to start and then stop the metal box.
“Whatcha got for me Abs?” he asked tentatively, not knowing what was going on.
“You. You broke him- now you have to fix him,” she demanded, poking one long, sharp black-painted nail in his chest.
“I assume we’re talking about Tony?” he asked since he couldn’t think of anyone else that seemed broken.
“Yes! He’s all quiet and…. and not Tony-like and he’s looking for a new job.” At that, her bravado burst and she clung to him, crying.
Reflexively, he wrapped his arms around her, offering comfort while his mind whirled. Tony was looking for a new job? That hadn’t occurred to him and was not something he’d accept easily. Wait? What had she said? “Abs, I’ll try to fix it- I promise, but what did you mean I broke him? What did I do?”
“I don’t know,” she wailed. “He wouldn’t tell me, but something made him think you’re only human,” she proclaimed, with a look of horror, that seemed completely at odds with the statement.
He looked at her, confused, “Um, ok. I hadn’t realized my humanity was in question.”
She leaned back and hit him on the arm- hard. “You were his hero. He idolized you and would have done anything for you. And then something happened and he doesn’t and now he’s leaving,” she shouted.
He scoured his memory for anything that he’d done in the last week that would have disillusioned Tony, coming up blank. As much as he was occasionally uncomfortable with the pedestal Tony seemed to put him on, the thought of losing his good opinion entirely was like a blow to the gut.
“I don’t know what I did either, but I’ll talk to him, I promise, ok?” he tried to reassure her.
She sniffled as she stepped back. “Ok. You better fix this or both of you are going to find yourselves handcuffed together in a locked room while you work this out,” she threatened, as she hit the open button. “And don’t think I can’t,” she added ominously as she stomped out of the elevator.
He rubbed his hands over his face. “Christ- what now?”
Tony glanced up out of habit as Gibbs re-entered the bullpen. About to look back down, he was taken aback by how discouraged and tired he looked. Fighting all of his instincts to offer comfort or distraction, he returned to pretending to read the file in front of him.
“McGee, Todd, Abby needs some help in the lab,” Gibbs barked. Seeming eager to leave, they leaped for the elevator.
He then looked around to see if anyone was nearby before approaching Tony’s desk. “Tony, we need to talk.”
Tony was startled into looking at Gibbs by the use of his first name and was caught by the worry in his gaze. He wanted to brush him off again, but he couldn’t find it in him to leave this man he’d devoted so many years to without any explanation. And maybe saying everything that was on his mind would provide enough closure to allow him to move on. But he wasn’t going to say any of it here. “Yeah, we do. But not here. Come to my place after work. Bring beer.”
Gibbs flinched at the peremptory order and Tony enjoyed a brief moment of satisfaction, but his boss quickly got himself under control and nodded in response, going back to his desk without another word.
They didn’t catch a case and Tony didn’t get a damn thing done all day, but Gibbs didn’t call him on it. His mind whirled with all of the things he did and didn’t want to say and the seeming impossibility of actually having the courage to force the words out of his mouth.
Tim and Cait seemed to know something was up and did their best to stay under everyone’s radar. Gibbs surprised everyone by letting them all go promptly at five, a sure sign that he was as preoccupied with this as Tony was.
The drive home passed in a haze and he hastily tidied up the apartment as soon as he got in, not quite being able to convince himself that he didn’t care what the other man thought. He briefly contemplated ordering food, but his guts were too tied up in knots for that to be appealing.
He’d just started pacing when the knock on the door sent his pulse racing and his stomach plummeting. He took two breaths to put his casual, nothing-bothers-me mask in place. And then he dropped it. That wasn’t what this was about. This was about being honest about his feelings for once- or at least some of them.
Opening the door, he was faced with a Gibbs he’d never seen before. A nervous, worried Gibbs who looked out of his depth. He was carrying a very nice local microbrew that Tony loved.
He waved the man in and they each grabbed a beer and sat down by unspoken agreement at the table, both needing the extra emotional distance provided by having the barrier between them. Tony toyed with the label on the beer, surreptitiously watching his boss try to look relaxed on the other side of the table. Too many years studying every one of his subtle tells let him know that Gibbs was on the edge. But he waited silently.
After several tense minutes, Tony gave in and decided to rip off the band-aid. “I’m gay,” he blurted without preamble, then tensed, prepared for the disgust and rejection.
Instead, he got confusion. Gibbs just stared at him, as if waiting for the punchline. When it was clear Tony had nothing left to add, he spoke slowly, as if trying to calm a crazy person, “Okaaaaay, and this affects your job how?”
This was not what Tony was expecting and the week of stress and misery and the years of hiding boiled over. He slammed his beer on the table and lurched to his feet, knocking over his chair. Pacing and gesturing, he screamed his questions at a baffled Gibbs. “That’s all you have to say? Aren’t you even surprised? Not gonna tell me I should be a real man? That I’m not fit to work in law enforcement?”
At that, Gibbs sprang to his feet as well, grabbing Tony angrily by the shoulders and halting his frenetic movement. “What the hell Tony? Yeah, I’m surprised since you’ve made such a big deal about drooling over women, but it’s none of my business. I thought you knew me better than that.”
Tony saw the honest hurt in his eyes at the last statement and was confused, but too far down this rabbit hole to turn back now. “I thought I did too, but apparently you just hid it well.” He wrenched himself from the older man’s grasp and took up a defensive stance behind the sofa.
“I’m really not in the mood to play guessing games DiNozzo! Could you just tell me what the hell is going on?”
He stood behind the couch and crossed his arms, vibrating with the need to express himself in some way that didn’t involve words. “Sean Callery,” he growled, clenching his jaw to prevent more words from spilling out.
Gibbs blinked. And waited. Then furrowed his brow in obvious bewilderment.
And that was the last bloody straw. He bypassed incandescent fury with barely a glance and wrapped all the way around to cold as ice. “You don’t even remember his name. Did you even bother to learn it or did you just think of him as the faggot at the bar?” Tony spat venomously.
“Jesus Christ, Tony! Where the hell did that come from?” Gibbs spat, looking as if he’d taken a blow to the chest as he took two steps back from the opposite side of the couch where they’d been facing off.
“I’m sure he’d have far fewer problems if he acted like a normal man,” Tony quoted, with a bitter sing-song edge. “Or do you not remember those words of exceptional wisdom?”
“I….”, Gibbs looked at Tony searchingly, undoubtedly reading the fury still lurking there, then looked down at the ground, biting his bottom lip in a completely unprecedented show of uncertainty. Two more steps back had him collapsing in the armchair and burying his head in his hands. So softly that Tony wasn’t entirely sure he’d heard correctly, he mumbled, “I didn’t mean it like that.”
Before this week, Tony had thought that he knew Gibbs better than practically anyone. Would have put money on his ability to predict the man’s actions and read his moods. And for the second time in a week, he found himself floundering and confused. He didn’t like it. But if there was one thing he couldn’t resist, it was a mystery, and he was going to figure this one out.
He advanced towards Gibbs, then perched on the edge of the couch closest to him, staring intently. “I’ve been thinking about this almost non-stop for a week now, trying to come up with some interpretation that wasn’t profoundly insulting. So please enlighten me, what did you mean?”
At this Gibbs looked up and the troubled look in his eyes was one Tony didn’t recognize. “Doesn’t it bother you? I mean, if people thought of guys like you instead of like him when they thought of gay men, maybe there wouldn’t be so much hatred and you wouldn’t have to hide. But now you have to worry that if people know you’re gay, they’ll think you’re like that.” And the disgust in that last word revved Tony’s engines up all over again.
Tony opened his mouth to begin a truly epic rant about victim-blaming, gender expression, diversity, choices, freedom, bravery, and acceptance, when he noticed the bone-deep misery radiating from the man across from him and his brain started rapidly assembling the pieces. Holy shit! “This isn’t really about me is it or even about him?” he whispered.
Gibbs jerked back as if touched by a live wire, staring at Tony with a mixture of shock and terror.
“I’ve got your six, Boss,” he promised steadily, suddenly understanding so many things and thinking that Gibbs might need that feeling of normalcy in the situation.
That seemed to help and he got a weak, “Thanks, Tony,” accompanied by an even weaker smile, before he grabbed the throw pillow at his side and clutched it to his chest, leaning back to stare at the ceiling.
Now what? He didn’t feel he could just leave it there. “Soooo, umm bi?” Tony asked, going for casual and missing by a mile, dangerous on the edge of the minefield he felt he’d just stumbled into.
He just shrugged. “I guess. Probably. Never actually tested the theory.”
“Never?” he yelped, then could’ve slapped himself. Way to be calm and supportive, Tony, he chastised himself.
“I…,” he stopped and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and then another. Then he stood abruptly, startling Tony and everything that had been showing on his face was gone. “So do you have any job offers yet DiNozzo?” And that was pure Gibbs, second B for Bastard back in control. Or at least 90 percent. Tony could still see a little fraying around the edges.
Tony stared blankly, mind racing. I guess sharing time is over for the evening. Watching carefully, he reluctantly switched back into the role Gibbs obviously needed from him right now. “Nah, Boss. Nothing interesting out there. I guess you’re stuck with me.”
Only years of observing him let Tony see the slight relaxation in his shoulders and the gratitude in his eyes. “Then you better get some sleep. We’re on call this weekend.”
And then he retreated without another word. Oh, Gibbs certainly wouldn’t have appreciated that description, but Tony knew a retreat when he saw one.