:deep breath... let head fall back... wipe away copious tears...:
Long time coming, but this is it, folks. I have to thank all of you for your amazing support and unfailing encouragement. It kept me going when the muses and bunnies both went on vacation and helped me keep believing that the characters and I would eventually make it to this point. Thanks again and eternal peace and luv to ya'll...
JETHRO'S: LATE THE NEXT NIGHT
"Damn it, where are you, DiNozzo..."
Following an instinct he didn't quite understand, Gibbs had opened the door to Tony's room a few minutes before, needing to check on him. He'd been disturbed to find the younger man wasn't there. Now staring blearily into the dimly lit living room, Jethro finally made out the shape of Tony sitting on the sofa, curled tightly into the far corner. A small flashlight was gripped in one hand and he was holding what looked to be comic book in the other, though it was hard for Jethro to tell without better illumination. Bittersweet memories of the many times he'd taken a book out of his daughter's hands in similar situations flooded Gibbs' heart with sorrow and regret, but at the same time the sight of Tony in that position nudged the older man back toward laughter.
"Hey." Tony responded quietly, his head coming up slightly. "What are you doing up?"
"That's my line. It's almost midnight." Gibbs countered, joining the other man.
"I have a decision to make... thinking about it was keeping me up, driving me bananas. I finally had to do what I always do at home."
"Read comic books in the dark?"
"Graphic novel. It's a graphic novel. And yeah, reading gets my mind off my problems."
"Can I help?" Gibbs asked, reaching out and finding Tony's hand unerringly, despite the fact that he couldn't see it.
"I wish. There's a call I should make... but I don't know if I can."
"Okay. I'm here. Nothing says you have to talk... but I'm here if you want to."
Tony sighed and clicked off the flashlight. "What was that for?"
"The preservation of my dignity. This won't be easy to say. If... if I don't handle it well, I don't want you seeing me get...emotional, okay?"
"Only if you promise me something."
"Which would be?"
"That you think about letting me down off the mile high pedestal you've got me on. I don't like heights so much. I get dizzy."
"I'm no superhero, Tony. You check my closet tomorrow. No cape, no red boots, no utility belt. I'm a man, nothing more, nothing less. Men hurt... and if the hurt is bad enough you either have to let it out or go crazy. It took a big loss to teach me that."
"Later... I promise you, later. Right now we're talking about you. Will you make me that promise?"
"Okay. I'll think about it."
"Good. Now. You feel like talking or are we both gonna try and get some sleep?"
"It's my father... I have to call my father. Lewiston and I... we did some talking about forgiveness... how it's really for the person giving it, not for the one they're giving it to. I was lying there in bed and I kept thinking... it'd be such a big step for me if I could get him on the phone and just say it. Then it hit me that maybe I can't handle his reaction..."
"That's not on you, Tony. You settle things however you have to. How he deals with it is his problem."
"Yeah... maybe. No, you're right. I need to do this... tonight."
"Let's get some lights on then and get dialing..."
"No! I mean... I can't call from here. He's paranoid... caller ID, call monitoring, everything. I don't want him knowing where I am."
"You mean he doesn't?"
"No. He thinks I'm still in Baltimore. I can call from work. He won't know what to make of seeing the NCIS number on his phone display. I've been wanting to go back to the office anyway... the sooner I start adjusting to being there again, the sooner I can get back on the job."
"Okay. I'll go get dressed."
As they stepped off the elevator, Tony paused, tensing momentarily, but he forced himself to breathe slowly and his muscles gradually relaxed. Gibbs saw and felt the brief hesitation and gently questioned the other man.
"Fine... now. C'mon. let's get this over with."
Approaching the mostly dark section of desks where one of the worst nights of his life had kicked off, Tony stopped dead, slowly gazing around the small area. Gibbs was just about to speak up again, ready to suggest that the plan should be postponed until another time, but once again, Tony found a reserve of strength from somewhere and moved forward, turning on his desk lamp and dropping heavily into his chair.
"You don't have to do this. I'm here, whatever you decide, you know that." Jethro reminded him,
Tony shifted around slightly and gazed uncertainly at Gibbs, who crouched beside him.
"I can't move on if I don't. This one last thing... and maybe I can finally feel like I'm done... like I've put it behind me."
"As long as you're doing this for yourself. Not me, not the doctor... you."
"I am. I need this."
Gibbs reached out and entwined the fingers of his left hand with Tony's right.
"Okay. Go on."
Grimly, Tony lifted the phone receiver, tucked it into the juncture of his neck and shoulder and dialed a long number, reclaiming the receiver with his free hand once the connection had begun to ring through.
"Yes, hello... could I speak to Michael DiNozzo please?"
"If he's available, who should I say is calling?"
Tony hesitated, eyes shut as he drew deep breaths and shored up his failing courage.
"I... I'm sorry. I was lost in thought for a moment. Tell him it's Michael DiNozzo junior."
The voice on the other end of the line responded with shock, suddenly far less formal.
"Mickey? Oh my God... I never thought..."
"Annette? Wow... you're still there..."
"I couldn't leave them."
"Of course not... How are you?"
"I'm fine. It's so good to hear your voice; though it's changed so much I didn't recognize it at first. You hang on, alright? I'll go get your dad."
When he went silent for a minute or two, Gibbs looked at him curiously, but Tony merely mouthed ' later ' and put his focus back on the humming phone, half of him praying to hear Annette return, the other half hoping his father would choose to take his call. In the seconds before he heard the receiver lifted, he couldn't decide which outcome he really wanted. Then, suddenly, the choice was no longer his.
Fighting down a sudden tang of bile in the back of his throat, Tony cleared his throat and managed to respond with relative calm.
"I never expected to hear from you again. Not after our last conversation. You made your opinions quite clear..."
"I know. I just... I've been doing a lot of thinking... and soul searching. I realized I needed to call... I need to tell you something..."
"Yes? What is it? My time is valuable, Michael. Please get to the point."
"I know... I wanted to... I had to tell you that I forgive you."
"Forgive me? Forgive me what, for God's sake? I don't understand."
"You don't have to. Good-night." Tony responded in a near-whisper, sliding the receiver back into its cradle. Even before it clicked into place, however, Tony was already falling apart. Using their linked hands to move the younger man forward, Gibbs tugged Tony out of the chair and into his arms then dropped down to sit on the floor. Tony ended up in Jethro's lap, warmth, love and solid arms surrounding him as he alternated between long periods of heartbroken sobbing and stretches of fast, shallow breathing that almost reached the level of hyperventilation. Gibbs rocked and soothed him as best he could, dying a little inside because he couldn't simply wave a hand and make it all instantly better. Unfortunately, he knew from experience that the agony Tony was suffering had to be released on its own schedule, and nothing he could do or say would make it happen any faster. Still, his heart pushed him to try.
"Shhh... it's done... you made it, Tony... shhhh, you're okay now... I'm here... it's all over... easy, love... easy now..."
"Son of a... bitch... I... hate him..."
"Don't, baby... he's not worth it..."
Abruptly, Tony began to struggle to get away, but Gibbs held him tighter.
"Damn it... I'm pissed... just let me be pissed! I have a right... to how I feel!"
"Yeah, you do. I know that... okay, so be mad. Hit me, kick me... whatever you need to do..."
For several minutes, Tony did just that and Jethro stoically absorbed the fists raining down on his shoulders, chest and legs and the vivid curses assaulting his ears. Despite knowing he would be a mass of bruises the next day, he let Tony release his pain, anger and loss until the younger man finally ran out of energy and ceased his barrage, forehead braced on the other's shoulder. Gradually the tense body in Jethro's arms relaxed, the harsh, panting breaths flowing over his neck slowed and calmed and Tony collapsed, allowing himself to be fully embraced once more.
"I'm sorry... God, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it..."
"I know... hush, now... go to sleep, Tony... go to sleep..."
"Shouldn't... not here..."
"Yes, here." Jethro told him, scooting back to lean against the side of Tony's desk. "You're exhausted... and I'm not going anywhere, so just give it up and rest, okay?"
"I'm sorry... I'm so, so sorry..." Tony sighed once again,
"So am I, baby... so am I..."
NEXT MORNING: 7:45
Tim rushed in, anxious to place his things properly in and around his desk and frantically shuffling and organizing papers and objects, desiring perfection he knew he would not get in the ten or so minutes he had. What he had just witnessed downstairs had knocked him for a loop and he still had not quite pulled out of it when the noise he was making brought groans and muted grumbling from the two men on the floor, causing Tim to jump and his blood pressure to rise another few notches.
"Gibbs?! Tony?! What are you doing down there?"
"We were sleeping, McGee." Tony complained, slowly sitting up and pulling away from Gibbs' arms, allowing the older man to also change position.
"Here? Now? Get up! Both of you have to get up! Guys, don't just... you have to move, now!"
Tony slowly got to his feet, but Jethro, stiff with contusions and still asleep from the thighs down, was not able to rise as quickly. Tony extended a hand to assist him, but was waved off, so he turned to Tim, seeking the cause of his distress.
"What's wrong with you, kid? Is it a drill? Are we on fire? Wait, we're not are we, because..."
"No, none of that! The new director was filling out security paperwork as I came in downstairs. She'll be here any minute!"
Tony and Gibbs' hearts both sank when they heard the pronoun Tim had used.
Finally, Tim smiled, though it still showed the tension he was laboring under.
"It's okay... at least I think so. Wait until you see... you'll understand. There shouldn't be any problems this time..."
Tony was about to ask more questions, but the bell announced the arrival of the elevator and the three men turned to watch the doors open, uncertainty and hope warring for control in all of them. The sight of the slender, dark-haired woman strolling confidently over to greet them drew a bright smile from Gibbs, a relieved laugh from Tony and both from McGee.
"Good morning, gentlemen. Good to see you all here so early... though it looks like you and your second had a rough night, Special Agent Gibbs."
"More like a rough few months, ma'mm. You'll hear the details later from more than one source I'm sure. Welcome to NCIS, Colonel Mackenzie."
FINIS. Really, this is it. No more. The story endeth.
HA! Gotcha! Knowing me and how I can never resist a sequel, how could you think I'd just leave you there?
"With a Little Help From My Friends"
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Luckily, this theater is so big no showing is ever sold out...