"What do you mean you're flying to Sardinia?"

Over the crackling cell connection, Tony could hear Gibbs sigh. Even for a Monday, this day was turning out extra karmically loaded. Not that Tony thought karma would dare touch Gibbs. Besides, he was apparently karma-challenged enough for the both of them.

"I mean I'm flying to Sardinia, Tony. It happens. I didn't have a choice here."

"Yeah, I understand. Sorry. It's just tomorrow—"

"You'll be fine," reassured Gibbs. "Get somebody to drive you over there tomorrow. Kate, if she's not busy; otherwise, grab Abby or Ducky. It's just a preliminary meeting. I talked to Candy on the phone—"

"Candy? You call my attorney 'Candy?' With a 'y' or an 'i?'"

Gibbs started across the tarmac, yelling over the revving engines. "Our attorney. And why would that matter? It's her nickname."

"It doesn't matter; I'm just ..." Tony lowered his voice. "... nervous, okay?"

"The paternity results come back?"

"They're positive," acknowledged Tony.

"She let you do the test, Tony. I don't think she's planning on putting up much of a fight." Gibbs stood at the bottom of the ramp to the C2 and waved off the hurry-up motions from the enlisted man standing at the top. "I'll call you as soon as I can. This is just a meet-and-greet with some terrorism experts over the Mashreza thing. It shouldn't take long. You're going to be fine."

"What do I do if she asks," Tony ducked down, lowering his voice further,"about us?"

"You don't lie to your attorney, Tony. Ever. And I've got to go, I'm holding up a whole transport. It's going to be okay. I promise."

"Okay." Tony let the words he wanted to say die in his throat. Unsecured cell phones. A planeload of personnel steeped in "don't ask/don't tell." But he had never needed to say the words he couldn't more than he did now.

"I'll be back as soon as humanly possible," Gibbs vowed.

"I know you will," replied Tony accepting that it was the closest thing to an "I love you" he could expect. Knew the only one he could give in reply would be equally as coded. "Just ... watch your six, boss."

He heard Gibbs laugh just as the line closed.

In the late afternoon, Kate took to hovering over his desk. "Gibbs said you need a ride tomorrow."

"I can take a cab."

"He also," Kate smiled, "said to ignore you when you said that."

Kate watched Tony's composure waiver just the slightest bit.

"He also," she continued again, "said to give you a ride home tonight."

"I can take care of myself, you know," Tony retorted, regaining a bit of his usual hubris.

"Come on, I thought we could talk."

"Gibbs told you to talk to me?"

"No, Tony. I do have a mind of my own." She crossed her arms. "Look, I'm ready to get out of here. I'm sure you are, too."

"Yeah, actually I am. Just..." Tony gave a kind of shrug to indicate the whole process that he now had to get through to go anywhere, "give me a minute. I'll yell at you on the way out."

It netted him a brief interval of quiet, but fifteen minutes later Kate was back to her obvious vigil, bestowing a long look at the man standing impatiently beside her car when he told her to tone it down.

"Tony, I... what I mean to say ..." She winced as Tony fidgeted. "Damn it, Tony, stop doing that to me!"

"Doing what?" he protested, frowning. "I was just standing here."

"You never just stand there, Tony."

"Okay, look, whatever you want to say – you're sorry, you're pissed, you're bemused, whatever – let's just take it as given."

"Fine," snapped Kate, opening the doors, moving to take the leash from Tony's hand. She closed the back door firmly after Rufus scampered in.

Tony heard the driver's side door shut with a similar smack. He missed the familiarity of Gibbs' car. At least, in it, he didn't feel quite so disconcerted, despite his blurring sight and the slight car sickness he got even when Gibbs drove like a reasonable person, which was, he was pleased to say, most of the time these days. At least he wasn't sharing the back seat of a cab with a Great Dane, where he likely would have ended up puking on the floorboard.

"So which is it?" he ventured when the engine turned over with a well-tuned purr. "Sorry, pissed or bemused?"

"It's not the same with McGee."

Which was not at all a comment he'd been expecting. "What?"

"I don't get to vent about Gibbs anymore." Kate moved a hand off the steering wheel and gestured into the air. "The poor guy is terrified of him. I can't say one snarky thing without him going pale."

"Ah," mused Tony, "the good old days: pulling all-nighters, wearing the same clothes for three days. You remember when we claimed we both had cell trouble and we took that mental-health hour in the park in Annapolis?"

Kate laughed. "I guess what I want to say is that I miss my partner in crime."

"Me, too," acknowledged Tony. "I miss it more than you could imagine."

"So he's ... treating you okay?"

"Gibbs? Sure. You know beneath that Marine exterior-- Okay, way beneath that exterior is a really nice guy."

"Yeah," said Kate, quieting.

Tony closed his eyes to shut out the dizzying collage of afternoon traffic, understanding Todd's hesitancy, understanding what she couldn't bring herself to truly ask.

"It's okay that you know," he finally offered, hearing Kate sigh with relief that he was the one to say it. "I just wouldn't bring it up with Gibbs. He's still got that military mindset. And he doesn't want to look like he's showing favoritism."

Tony could feel the car take the right-hand turn into Gibbs' subdivision and he re-opened his eyes. "It's the first house on the left after you cross the intersection."

"Got it," said Kate. "So, do I get to come in?"

"I can make it up the steps," replied Tony, softening the retort with a small laugh.

"Okay, okay." Kate pulled to a stop in the driveway and got out to release Rufus. "So, I'll see you tomorrow."

She managed to restrain herself when Tony balanced carefully and began methodically climbing the brick risers. When he got to the top, he waved back at her. Kate shivered slightly in the cool breeze then got back into the car, her own empty house waiting.

Tony twisted again in the suddenly too-large bed, stacking the extra pillows as a stand-in for the warm body he was used to finding there. It didn't work. Two cool pillows were in no way a substitute for one warm Gibbs. He burrowed face down against them, drawing one to his chest and completely failing to feel the least bit like sleeping. At this rate, he was going to look like shit tomorrow. He used to take sleepless nights with aplomb, now they just served to screw further with his already crappy vision and throw his tentative balance off even more.

And that, as far as sleep-inducing thoughts go, was not going to get him anywhere.

So he thought about Gibbs in Sardinia. Pictured how he would look standing by the blue waters of the lagoon of Colostrai.

When the phone rang, he was deep in an imaginary lunch in a café at Porto Cervo, Gibbs' silver hair glistening in the hot Mediterranean sun, the corners of his blue eyes crinkling above his smile. He rolled over with a groan and groped for the phone, bringing it to his ear with a clumsiness that was only partly caused by the hour.

"Hey, DiNozzo."

"Hey," replied Tony. The room was still pitch black, the alarm clock glowing a radioactive green that was too florescent to make out. "What time is it?"

"Where I am? GMT plus 1," returned Gibbs.

"Um, okay."

"It's six here, Tony. That would make it one in DC."

"I miss you," breathed Tony.

"Miss you too," said Gibbs. "I don't know how long I'll be in this meeting. I'll call you as soon as I can."

"Where exactly are you?"

"I can't tell you that."

"Yeah, Sorry. I—"Tony scrubbed at his tired eyes. "I wish I was there. I'd make you sit on the beach and listen to me recite Petrarca."

"So ... recite some now." Gibbs coaxed.

"Not the same," mumbled Tony.

"Well, I'm on a balcony with a beautiful view of the sun coming up, if that makes you feel better."

"Not really," Tony muttered. He rolled his head, trying to release some of the tension he'd been carrying ever since Gibbs' first call from the tarmac.

"You been asleep yet?" Gibbs voice was low and concerned.

"Not ... really."

"Then recite to me, Tony."

There was a sleepy snort now from the other end of the phone and Gibbs smiled at the familiar sounds of Tony unwinding himself from the sheets. He could imagine him rumpled and sleep-mussed, his back against the dark wood of the headboard, knees drawn up, feet puddled in white cotton.

What little Italian Gibbs knew did not cover the words bestowed on him in Tony's beautiful, slow tenor.

"Benedetto sia 'l giorno, et 'l mese, et l'anno,
et la stagione, e 'l tempo, et l'ora, e 'l punto,
e 'l bel paese, e 'l loco ov'io fui giunto
da'duo begli occhi che legato m'anno;

et benedetto il primo dolce affanno
ch'i' ebbi ad esser con Amor congiunto,
et l'arco, et le saette ond'i' fui punto,
et le piaghe che 'nfin al cor mi vanno."

The recitation trailed off just as the knock on the hotel room door echoed out onto the terrace.

"Soon, Tony, I promise," Gibbs whispered. "As soon as I can."

In the dark, Tony drew one of the pillows across his stomach, Gibbs reassurances steadying him. "It'll be fine," he conceded. "I'll know you're thinking about me."

"Try to sleep." The knock resounded again, louder. He cleared his throat, trying out his pitiful Italian. "Ti penso sempre." Tony's chuckle tickled his ear. "I'm sorry, Tony, I have to go now."

"I know," said Tony, accepting the snap of the disconnection. "Mi manchi, cara mia," he whispered into the darkness.

It was a long time until a DC dawn.

Oh blessed be the day, the month, the year,
the season and the time, the hour, the instant,
the gracious countryside, the place where I was
struck by those two lovely eyes that bound me;

and blessed be the first sweet agony
I felt when I found myself bound to Love,
the bow and all the arrows that have pierced me,
the wounds that reach the bottom of my heart.

Francesco Petrarca -- Italian poet and humanist, b. at Arezzo, 20 July, 1304; d. at Arquá, 19 July, 1374