Chapter 5: Gibbs' Way
If the truth of Tony consisted in digging below the constructed personae, illusions, and backstory of his existence—really he had been on one long undercover assignment, in some sense, since adolescence—then the truth of Gibbs consisted in a list. The first list that Shannon didn't have a conscious hand in making.
1. When Kelly and Shannon died, it was either kill himself or find a reason to live.
2. He thought seriously about killing himself, every night, for at least a year after they were gone.
3. He wasn't likely to die on his own, of a broken heart, even though it felt like he could. Every day he was surprised that broken as it was, his heart still beat and that painful as it was to draw breath, his lungs still pulled in air. His legs still held him when he got up in the morning and despite the hours he spent awake in the dark, he was surprised that his eyes would eventually close. He would sleep, despite his best efforts. He could not will himself to die.
4. So in the end, instead of finding a reason to live, he found a way to live.
5. Gibbs' way had two parts. First, he created a space inside himself for Kelly and Shannon. They were there, not gone, he spent a lot of time there with them, but he could separate his living from their dying.
6. Second, there was no reason to live, but there was an opportunity. A kind of fatalistic chance that most people never got, to live exactly as who they were. He did what wanted, how he wanted, and if he was a walking dead man, then he would exact justice where he could. He did what he loved, his job, in exactly the way he wanted to do it. He took Murder personally, which he figured didn't violate Rule #10. He trained probies the way they should be trained. If they couldn't handle it, and most couldn't, they left. If his bosses wanted to fire him, they could. He had plenty of money, untouched, in the bank, thanks to insurance. If suspects or witnesses wanted to complain that he asked difficult questions, rude questions, questions that crossed the boundaries of their own self-importance or wealth or status, so be it. He wasn't ever going to eat anything he damn well didn't want to ever again, though he would take precautions to stay fit and able.
7. So he gave up on living the dynamic life that others lived. He didn't want, expect, or plan on changing, growing. He did, in a sense, die that day with Kelly and Shannon. Not dead but not exactly a normal sort of living, either.
8. His development was arrested—he thought that was what they called it. At the time that his family died, he was a human man who was self-contained and quiet, but not unable to communicate, not unloving. He laughed when things were funny and had his own sense of humor. He always liked using his mind, knowing things that other people didn't know, figuring things out before them. He enjoyed being touched, and hell, he was a guy, he liked sex. He enjoyed a beer with a friend. He always enjoyed being around children. His job was good for all these things, and he still took enjoyment from them. When, eventually, he found himself surrounded by a team of people who thrived under his rule, he was able to accept them as family. They were his, and fell under the auspices of his rules, the unspoken ones as well, and he would protect and keep them.
7. A surprising (to him) side effect of his world view was that he became really attractive to women. Tony said once that he figured women were all over Gibbs because Gibbs wasn't needy. He didn't need them, but he wanted them, and that was sexy. Why wasn't that a good thing in the end, though? They knew going into it who he was, obviously. They had liked it. Why didn't they like it once they were married to him? If he had gotten this far in his thinking, and it just wasn't that important to him, he would have said it was because they did expect him to change, to grow with them. And he couldn't. Wouldn't. That was the deal. He didn't change for anyone. Ever.
Twice. An exchange of sorts. Sex. First Tony, for him. Then Gibbs, for Tony. Never again though. Rule 12 and all that. That moment in the locker room was a mistake.
And Gibbs was reassured, after the Colonel's breakdown and hospitalization, that Tony hadn't taken it on as a mission to comfort Gibbs physically. He forced Gibbs to accept his sympathy but no more. And that was a relief. Really it was. Last thing he needed was Tony thinking he needed a relationship to hold him together when things got tough. Things could get back to normal now. And they did.
The events of that week played and replayed in Gibbs mind: from the moment he knew that it was Pacci dead and eviscerated in the elevator to the glimpse of Tony's face after Gibbs shot Voss in the forehead. He couldn't shake these dark scenes, but knew they will play themselves out eventually and the churning that allowed them to surface will slow and calm with patient daily application of booze and woodworking.
Kate's voice, "Why did he do that? Why did he try?" About Voss and the choice to raise the gun and end her life. And Gibbs, Gibbs knew the man was going to choose death, could see it in her eyes, that death was better than losing the life she wanted.
McGee's stuttering report on Tony's whereabouts and Tony's explanation of how his date with Amanda came about and the smug satisfaction that Gibbs always felt when Tony took these risks. The man had guts and brains and Gibbs chose him and he was right. The plan also made Gibbs agitated and even more controlling than usual, as always happened when one of his team—usually Tony, he had to admit—was in direct danger. But if anyone could seduce the woman to mine her for information it was Tony.
Tony's glee over the stakeout, like a little kid; his kidding with Kate—the way he answered her phone, egging McGee on to play a practical joke on her; the kick he got at playing a role, "Stringfellow" of all the names. Only Tony. His irrepressible high spirits kept them going sometimes. Gibbs knew it.
"Sounds like Dwayne's in love." and Kate's response: "Permission to shoot him?" And her smile when he, Gibbs, answered. "Uh-huh."
Gibbs wished he could go back, give Pacci a different answer when he asked the older agent to take a look at something for him. It was his fault. Pacci died because Gibbs couldn't take the time. Fuck. And the director wanted him—him!—Gibbs to speak at Pacci's funeral. "Wouldn't be right, Duck."
Tony, at the bar with Amanda who turned out to be Voss, a known killer, and the high speed drive to the bar, to be ready to backup Tony and McGee. When Tony finally answered his fucking cell phone—always answer, never be out of touch! —his voice was husky and confident; he was deep in his role, and, if Gibbs knew anything, aroused. Gibbs finally got to tell him that Voss was really Amanda, that Amanda, his date, was really a woman.
Kate's voice, "Why did he do that? Why'd he try?" and Gibbs, Gibbs knew the man was going to choose death, could see it in her eyes, that death was better than losing the life she wanted.
Gibbs held his weapon on Voss, a bead on her forehead, all his awareness on her, except for the tiny part of him that had identified the team's positions: Tony ahead of him and to the right, McGee not as far forward on his left, Kate behind him. So when he shot and heard Kate's question, he couldn't help but answer in his own way. Kate didn't understand his answer, wasn't even aware that he had answered, but Tony might have. Gibbs wasn't sure that Tony had heard Kate's question, or even needed to, to know what Gibbs had seen in her—yes, her—eyes at the end, the desire for connection, flirting, passion, love. With someone like Tony. Voss knew better than most, had calculated the price of taking such a life for himself.
Gibbs learned, later, that when Tony heard that Amanda was a woman, he wiped his mouth. Automatically and vigorously. Anyone would think it was out of disgust. But Tony revealed to Gibbs, high on painkillers many months in the future, that it was guilt. That he had kissed another man.
And no matter how many times that final showdown played out before his eyes, awake and asleep, the moment that really haunted him was the anomaly, the one moment where Tony stepped out of character.
Gibbs could hear the bite in his voice, the barked order, "I'll go through his things. You two check out his house."
And Kate's knee-jerk response, "Tonight?"
"I...I just gotta to make a call."
And he was sitting at Pacci's desk, getting ready to go through his personal things, and he turned on Tony. "Is there anyone you need to call, DiNozzo?"
And Tony took the keys from his hand, the stroke of his fingertips quick and almost accidental against Gibbs wrist before the latex gloves started. "No, Boss. No calls."
His voice, soft and open and resigned. The gentleness was for him, Gibbs, and Gibbs barely registered it at the time, but later, when it was all over, that moment would not leave him.
He was able to make peace with the way he failed his friend and fellow agent. He wasn't infallible whatever his team thought. He didn't think anything of refusing to give the eulogy, or his sharpness with Kate. But that moment with Tony, where Tony offered something devoid of pity or condescension. Something undiluted. Recognition maybe. Something like that. Something tuned just to Gibbs, something that only Tony could give. What was it? Understanding? It went beyond understanding.
Gibbs could hear Tony's voice, smooth and low, "No Boss. No calls." It was sweet, whatever it was. And it was his.
A week or more later, they had another case, another bad one, but they wrapped this one up like they always did, about mid-afternoon and Gibbs spent the afternoon doing paperwork. Nevertheless, with bits and pieces of Pacci and Voss still surfacing in his waking life and dreams alike, when he went home that night and recognized the shadowy figure of Tony leaning in the doorway of his kitchen, he didn't fight it the way he should have.
Tony was curiously pliant, almost boneless, his body flush against Gibbs', the wall supporting them both, and Tony was leaning fully against him. Tony's forearms rested against the wall, bracketing Gibbs' face, but again, there was no force there. Gibbs' head was spinning. Tony was taking him down fast, with long, deep kisses.
And while he tried to break the hold that Tony had on him, the desire he felt, suddenly, to have what Voss had wanted, what he himself had wanted a lifetime ago, a chance, just one more chance, to be the center of someone's world, to accept the connection beween them, just once more.
Tony smiled, stepped into him close, closer, closer, until the smooth marble texture of his skin was under Gibbs' fingertips on his back, stroking down his ass, between his legs to touch his balls from behind, exploring, driving the younger man higher. And instead of moaning and grinding or rolling against him, Tony just...gave in. Took everything Gibbs had to give. Immediately, his weight came to rest against Gibbs heavily and Gibbs moved them backwards against the wall until they were in a very similar position to when he first entered the house. Gibbs against the wall, Tony boneless against him. But now, Tony was naked and hot and hard. And absolutely at Gibbs' mercy. And before either of them wanted, they lost themselves in each other, their climaxes almost painful, crystalline and sharp, in contrast to the soft, sweaty heat of rolling hips, and Gibbs mouth pressing soft kisses into Tony's back.
Gibbs separated himself from Tony, went to the upstairs bathroom, leaving the downstairs to Tony if he wanted it. When he realized he was stalling, he mentally head slapped himself and padded down the stairs in an old t-shirt, older jeans, and bare feet.
But Tony was gone.