In Unity is Strength

By EmyPink

Disclaimer: NCIS does not belong to me; I've just borrowed the characters and concepts.

A/N This came to me after watching a (very) old episode of Blue Heelers (an Aussie cop show) of the same name. It is set sometime pre-series, but after Tony joined NCIS. This is my first attempt at Tony/Gibbs friendship so let me know what you think.

There are brief references to another of my stories 'His Angel in Heaven' during the fic. You'll know what it is if you've read the fic so you'll know it's not canon, but I couldn't resit. :D

Thanks to my beta, Kandon Kuuson. You're a brilliant help, Jems, especially into the male psyche.

Rating: T for some adult themes

Summary: After a particularly hard case, Gibbs seeks out Tony. (Pre-Series)

'Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That's why it's a comfort to go hand-in-hand.' - Emily Kimbrough
Slamming the door a little harder than necessary, Tony DiNozzo kicked off his shoes in frustration. Watching as one shattered the glass of a photo frame, he all but threw his badge and gun onto the kitchen bench. He ignored the glass splayed on the floor, and looked at his badge in disgust. What was the point of having it if he couldn't do any good with it?

Sighing, Tony stomped over to his column of kitchen draws. Bending over, he pulled open the bottom-most draw. He reached in and grabbed a half-empty bottle of tequila. He has had this bottle for quite a few years; tequila was not his choice of drink. However, tonight it was and that's okay by him.

Unscrewing the cap, he unceremoniously dumped some into a glass before knocking it back, taking a long gulp of the brown liquid. Taking both the bottle and the glass, he headed over to his couch and sat down heavily. Placing the bottle on the coffee table, Tony took a smaller sip and sighed. As he closed his eyes, Tony saw various flashes of previous hardships he had faced with a glass or two of tequila.

His father disowning him when he was twelve.

The death of a high school friend in a high-speed drag race.

His college girlfriend cheating on him.

Serial murders as a rookie cop in Peoria.

Shooting dead a suspect in Baltimore.

Opening his eyes, Tony found that his glass was almost empty, so he reached for the bottle on the table. As he re-filled it, a tear splashed in to the heart of his drink. He set the glass down on the table and brought his hand to his face. Using the back of his hand, he wiped away the few tears that were threatening to follow the first. There was no use for tears; there was nothing they could do.

'Be a man, Anthony,' he heard his father exclaim. 'Tears have no use in a man's life.'

"Yeah, well, what would you know," Tony muttered to himself in response to his father's voice.

Lifting his feet off the ground and tucking them under his body, he reached out and grabbed the glass. He took another sip, letting the brown, alcoholic liquid slide down his throat. If he kept going like this, it was obvious that he would end up at work with a hangover. At this point, he didn't really care. Let Gibbs yell at him, slap him on the back of the head. If he could just forget . . .

'Move on, Anthony,' his father spoke again. 'Get over it.'

"Get over it," Tony mumbled sarcastically, "maybe you should take your own advice, old man." Tony's father had never gotten over the death of his mother . . . or his sister.

Tony was about to lift the glass to his lips again, when the doorbell rang. Sighing frustratingly, Tony hesitantly got up off the couch and headed for the door. If it was a salesperson or someone similar, Tony was all ready to tell them where they could shove their products.

The lock made its familiar clicking noise as Tony turned it. Opening the door, but leaving the security chain on, Tony started to say, "Look, whatever it is, I'm not . . ."

"Not what, DiNozzo?" Standing outside Tony's apartment with his customary glare was his boss, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

"Boss!" Tony exclaimed in surprise. "You . . . here . . ." He didn't know what to say.

"Are you going to leave me here all night, DiNozzo," Gibbs snapped, tapping his foot impatiently.

"Err . . . no, boss," Tony said shakily. Flicking off the security chain, Tony pulled open the door with a little more force than necessary. "Err . . . come in?"

Tony took a step backwards and allowed his boss to step into his apartment. Shuffling nervously on the spot, he watched as Gibbs surveyed his surroundings, the messiness of the apartment overlooked as if that was just an unnecessary continuation of Tony's life.

"Nice place you have here, DiNozzo," he finally said. This was the first time Gibbs had been to Tony's apartment and was one of the rare occasions they had seen each other outside work.

"Thanks, I guess," Tony said, trying to put a half-believable smile on his face. He failed.

Showing himself into the small living room, Gibbs spied the open bottle of tequila. Sighing softly to himself, Gibbs reached out and slapped the back of his young agent's head.

"What was that for?" Tony asked irritably. He had just entered the room, only to be head slapped by Gibbs.

"That," Gibbs stated, scowling at him. He gestured to the bottle of tequila on the coffee table.

"Oh, that," Tony muttered.

"What are you doing, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, walking over to the only shelf that Tony dedicated to photographs. Running his hand along the shelf, Gibbs looked at each photo in turn.

Tony as a baby.

Tony as a five-year-old with his mum. Plus a few more pictures of his mum by herself.

Tony with a little girl sitting on his lap

Tony graduating high school.

Tony and a group of friends, most of whom looked drunk. .

Tony surrounded by basketball-clad boys.

Tony in his wide receiver uniform with his football buddies before the Super bowl.

Tony's leg in a cast

Tony graduating college.

Tony graduating the police academy.

Tony in uniform.

Tony as a homicide detective.

Gibbs noted to himself once he had finished looking at the photos, that there was not a single photograph of his father. Stepping on the broken glass, Gibbs looked down and found he was mistaken. The one and only photo Tony had of his father was lying underneath a sheath of broken glass. It wasn't even a single shot of his father, it was a wedding photo of both his mother and his father.

Tony watched silently as his boss looked at the few fragments of his life he liked to display.

"What are you doing, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked again, turning away from the photos.

"What does it look like," Tony snapped, plonking himself down on the couch and reaching for his glass.

Unfortunately for him, years as a marine sniper and a NCIS agent meant that Gibbs had quick reflexes. Before Tony had a chance to pick it up, it vanished from his sight.

"Hey! Give that back. It's mine," Tony almost shouted, as if he was a young child whose toy had been taken away.

"No," was Gibbs' one worded answer. Gibbs reached out and snapped up the bottle quickly, looking back and forth between the glass/bottle combination and Tony.

"Tequila?" Gibbs raised an eyebrow as he sniffed the bottle.

Tony shrugged nonchalantly. "It works."

"Works for what, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked.

"Making me forget," Tony said as he suddenly became very interested in a stain on the floor, an underlay of sadness in his voice. Gibbs did not fail to note the tinge of sadness in his voice.

"Tony . . ."

Tony's head jerked up. It was the first time he had heard his boss call him by his first name. It felt strange and Tony knew that quite possibly he would be turning red.

"Boss . . ." Tony echoed, looking at his boss' face. For once, he did not see any traces of the Gibbs stare, only a look of understanding.

"It's okay to feel, Tony," Gibbs said quietly.

Tony stared back at him blankly. "Feel?"

"It was a hard case," Gibbs stated softly, still holding the bottle of tequila.

"A hard case!" Tony yelled angrily, all the pent up emotion finally exploding. "A hard case is one where there is no suspects, no lead, no nothing!"

"DiNozzo . . ." Gibbs tried to say, but Tony ignored him.

"A death of teenager 'cause of a drunken dare is not a hard case!" Tony continued to yell, standing up so that he was face to face with his superior. "It's a downright, bloody mess!"

Tony was referring to the death of sixteen-year-old Alexander Freight on a Quantico base high school. He had fallen to his death from the English block roof after a drunken dare by his friends.

"You finished, DiNozzo?" Gibbs stated, looking his agent in the eye.

"No, I'm not finished!" Tony continued to yell and turned away from Gibbs. "And we can't even do anything about it! Nothing! Na-da! An accident, they say. A goddamned accident! How do you think the family feels, Gibbs? To know that their son was idiotic enough to get himself killed by falling off a roof. A bloody roof!"

Tony slammed his fist angrily into the wall, not caring that he split open his skin. He repeated the motion for an extra effect before turning around. Looking blankly at Gibbs for a moment, Tony slowly slid down the wall, breathing heavily. He hugged his knees to his chest and buried his face in them.

"'This is not fair, boss," came Tony's muffled. "Not fair . . ."

"No, it's not, Tony." Gibbs placed the glass and tequila bottle back on the coffee table, satisfied that Tony would not be touching it again. He joined his agent on the floor, parking himself on Tony's right.

"He was sixteen." Tony didn't bother to lift his head. "Had his whole life ahead of him . . ."

"I know, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, sounding more like a father than Tony's boss, "but sometimes bad things happen to good people."

"They shouldn't," Tony mumbled, sounding like a child again.

"No, they shouldn't, but they do," Gibbs stated plainly. He turned and studied Tony closely before saying, "I knew a marine once . . ."

Tony made an unintelligible sound, but Gibbs was more than sure it was a snort of laughter. This caused a small smile to appear on Gibbs' face, this was more like the DiNozzo he put up with everyday.

"This marine," Gibbs continued, turning away from Tony, "he lost some men. It wasn't even in combat; it was a truck rollover during a training exercise."

"The marine felt guilty," he continued to say, "even though it wasn't his fault. There was nothing he could have done. There was no way of knowing it would happen . . ." Gibbs trailed off as he turned back to Tony, his head was still resting in on his legs.

Gibbs sighed softly before continuing. "He tried to block it out by drinking; he came to work the next day completely hung-over. You know what his boss did?"

"Fired him," Tony suggested meekly.

"No, DiNozzo, didn't fire him," Gibbs smiled, knowing that Tony was thinking about whether or not he'd be fired if he ever came to work hung-over. He could almost hear Tony's sigh of relief. "He told that marine that it was okay to feel."

"Feel?" Tony repeated what he had said earlier.

"Yes, feel," Gibbs clarified. "Okay to feel sad, angry, upset, whatever. And you know what this marine did?"

"No," Tony mumbled from the same position.

"The marine cried," Gibbs finished.

"Cried?" Tony said. "I thought marines . . ." He never got to finish as he was slapped on the head. "He . . .ey!"

"Don't always believe what you see in the movies, DiNozzo," Gibbs chastised him good-naturedly. When Tony didn't reply, Gibbs looked down at his young agent.

"So crying . . ." Tony said in small voice, his face still hidden. He was silent for a moment before Gibbs noticed the shaking. Next came the sobs. Unblinkingly, and taking it in his stride, Gibbs reached out with his left arm and pulled the sobbing agent close.

"It's okay, Tony," Gibbs soothed as if he was comforting a small child. They sat like that for a while, not talking, but feeling.

Then Gibbs said, "That marine's boss told him something that stuck with him for a long time. A man is only a man when he knows his limitations, recognising that he is as fallible as anyone else and prone to emotions just like anyone else."

Finally, Tony lifted his head and looked at the wet patch he had made on his boss' shirt, a horrified expression on his face. "S . . . sorry, boss," he stuttered, drawing away, embarrassed.

Gibbs slapped him on the back of the head for a third time. "Don't apologise, it's a sign of weakness."

"Yes, boss," Tony answered obediently, running his hand over his eyes. "What rule is that, boss?"

Gibbs ignored Tony's question and focused on another one of his rules. "Rule fifty, DiNozzo. It is okay to feel."

"Rule fifty," Gibbs heard Tony mumble to himself. "Have to try and remember that one." Gibbs smiled.

Tony lifted his head. "Boss . . ."

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Yes, DiNozzo."

"What happened?" he asked.

"Happened?" Gibbs repeated.

"You know, to the marine," Tony clarified.

Gibbs just smiled and it dawned on him. "Oh, got it, boss."

"So, DiNozzo . . . you have any good movies?"