Chapter Sixteen

Gibbs blinked a few times when Kelly made her comment, the echo of her voice ringing through the room. For a split second in time, Gibbs was torn between his daughter and Tony. Even though a little bit of shame and disgust ran through him, he told himself that this would be the way things would be. This was the new future, two children, two sets of needs. Sometimes those needs would clash, and the sooner he made peace with it, the better.

He squeezed Tony's shoulder reassuringly as he went to his feet, more gracefully than he would have thought his head would have allowed. "C'mere, Princess."

"Make the boy go away! He doesn't belong." Kelly's lip was jutting out in a pout, her eyes tired and reddened.

"Kelly," Gibbs said, his tone low and firm. "You don't talk to people that way. You can be polite or you can go to your room here." Gibbs was aware that Shannon and Nate had come in, but he kept most of his attention on Kelly, the rest trying to get a read on Tony's body language, even though he couldn't see the boy more than peripherally.

Kelly narrowed her eyes and gave her father a mutinous look before turning to Tony, staring at him. Hostility was in every jerky motion his younger redhead made, her head swiveling, lips thinning. She crossed her arms and tapped her foot. "What is he doing here, Daddy?"

"Kelly," Gibbs warned.

"Yessss?" she replied, dragging the word out, the most innocent look she could manage on her impish little face.

"You are going to say hello to Tony. You are going to welcome him." He'd rarely sounded as stern with his little girl as he was now and she knew he meant business, her eyes widening and lower lip starting to tremble. His first instinct was to pull her into an embrace and soothe her hurts away, but he had to hang tough; he couldn't cave right now. It wouldn't do any of them any good.

"Kelly," Gibbs said, gentling his voice.

"Hi, Tony," she said, her own tone subdued.

Gibbs turned his head slowly, trying to keep his stomach steady. The ball was in Tony's court now and Gibbs had to hope that he knew enough about young children to understand that this was a byproduct of a very early morning and nothing beyond that. This wasn't personal, not yet.

"Hi," Tony said casually. His voice was a counterpoint to his stiff shoulders and eyes that were darting around nervously. "You got wings? That is wicked neat. I never got wings."

"That's cause you're an icky boy," Kelly said, nodding knowingly. "Icky boys don't get wings from the pilots."

"Why not?" Tony asked, and Gibbs sensed that he was fighting a smile.

"Because you're icky. And you're a boy." Kelly replied, rolling her eyes. Gibbs let out a breath he wasn't aware he'd been holding; the entire room seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

When Kelly skipped off to hug her grandmother, Gibbs arched a brow, waiting for Tony's signal that he was all right. They seemed to already be reading each other well, Gibbs realized. That was something he couldn't take for granted; even the guys he'd served with hadn't had this ease in their interactions. It felt…right. It felt like family.

"Jethro." Shannon's low voice held myriad emotions—curiosity, concern, worry, and the lingering hint of jealousy. There was something underlying it all, some tone that he'd never heard before—or if so, not for many years. It was uncertain, maybe even a little scared.

"You okay?" he asked, opening his arms. His redhead looked just as tired as their daughter he realized. Even though Kelly wasn't usually too difficult a traveling companion, it wasn't an ideal situation. The speed of the trip meant that Kelly'd had to go with the flow and their headstrong child wasn't always the best at doing that.

"Been better," Shannon admitted with a small peal of laughter. "Can we talk for a second?" Her arms wound around him, her body fitting against his effortlessly. They were so damned perfect together—always had been, always would be.

"Sure," he said, tightening his own arms around her and squeezing gently. "You remember Tony, don't you? From Christmas."

"Of course I do." Shannon kissed Gibbs' nose and then broke away, walking closer to Tony. He extended a hand automatically as he rose, chin lifted, head back, his gaze steady, expression resolute.

This couldn't work if Shannon wasn't completely on board; Gibbs knew that and he was aware that Tony knew just how high the stakes were as well. But Tony wasn't backing down an inch. Those brilliant green eyes fixing on Shannon's. Tony stood military tall—proud. Whatever had happened to Tony—and Gibbs knew that he only had the barest of basics—the boy still had his pride. It wasn't arrogant or cocky, just a sureness of bearing, a confidence that astounded Gibbs in a boy Tony's age.

"Ma'am," he said, his voice shaking, his hand clenching into a fist, relaxing, clenching into a fist again. The air was sucked out of the room, Kelly and Sarah turning to watch, Nate coming up behind Gibbs and standing so close that he was warmed by the other man's body heat.

"Tony," Shannon said, her voice shaking. "Oh….Oh, Tony." She brought a very gentle hand up to brush over a bruised cheek, a swollen eye.

"Ma'am?" Tony's eyes were rapidly filling with tears, his lips trembling. His arm fell it to his side, where he clenched at the jean material at his thigh.

"Oh, Tony…" She turned, looking at Gibbs and he was shocked to see silent tears staining her cheeks. "Do you know who did this, Jethro?" Gibbs stiffened at the barely banked fury in her voice, a direct counterpoint to the gentle one she'd just used with Tony.

"Yeah," Gibbs finally said, cataloguing his wife's body language, every tell and motion he was used to seeing from her expressed in a completely new and different way, a way that rocked him right off his foundation. He was used to fire from his redhead, passionate emotions driving her even in the best of times. But he'd never heard this cold fury from her before.

"Good. You take him down. Do you hear me? You find that person and you take him down, Jethro."

"Got that covered, Shannon," Gibbs assured. He didn't want to have this conversation with Kelly in the room. Fortunately, Sarah had his daughter by the hand and was leading her upstairs. Gibbs only caught a glimpse of his daughter's face, which was a little confused, before she was gone.

As soon as he heard Kelly's footfalls on the stairs, Gibbs moved in, wrapping his arms around Shannon, absorbing the small trembles shaking her body. "Calm down, Shannon."

"How old are you, Tony?" she asked in that same firm voice.

"Fifteen," Tony said quietly, breaking her gaze and staring at the ground. His posture went from hopeful to defeated in the span of a second and Gibbs had to squelch the urge to comfort him. He had to let this play out with minimal interference, he realized, and released Shannon, stepping back only one pace.

"Your mom and dad couldn't help you? Was that why you called Jethro?"

"Yeah," Tony whispered, eyes locked on his feet now, shoulders rounded.

"His mother passed away, Shannon. Few years back. His father…" Gibbs bit off the last words; he didn't want to put Tony through this, not with Shannon right here.

"His father what, Jethro?" she asked, her voice softening. She looked from him to Tony and then back again.

"Caused this," Gibbs finished in barely a whisper. "He has nowhere to go, Shan. Nobody he can trust beside us."

"Oh God," she whispered, her hand flying to her mouth. "His father. How could he? Oh…" Her hand hovered over Tony's hair for a minute and then she closed the distance between them, pulling him into a tight hug. "It's okay, honey. It's okay. You're not alone."