Disclaimer – Still don't own and my only profit is your enjoyment.
AN – Not so much a 'new' story as an old one recovered from my laptop when it died. Slighter darker than my usual fare and a different take on Tony's relationship with his father, dedicated to my Grandmother who had a series of strokes and lived for several years without knowing us or those around her and to my mother on the anniversary of her death a woman who was entirely healthy until she died overnight of a blood clot in the brain.
I claim no medical knowledge expect my own experience of these events and offer no moral judgement expect a sincere desire that we all live as if there was no tomorrow for who knows what our future might bring.
The first year he had been at NCIS the gods were kind. Human Resources had already been making irritated noises about the proper use of time accrued so it hadn't been too hard to get Gibbs to sign his leave request. Even so, he had purchased his plane tickets more in hope than expectation. But as luck would have it, they solved the case, submitted the paperwork and he had even had time to steady his nerves with a quick workout in the gym before he had caught his flight.
The second year Gibbs had know enough to sign his request for leave without commeningt, even though he had camouflaged his true intent by arranged a 'spring break' vacation with his frat buddies for Kate's benefit. Even so, right up until the last minute he had anticipated that something would crop up to scupper his plans, so the relief he felt as he could finally switch off his lamp say his goodbyes to his team and head to the airport had been 100% genuine.
He hadn't missed Gibbs' raised brow at his elaborate subterfuge. He supposed it was all a bit cloak and dagger but he wouldn't past it past Kate to find some official premise to check his flights and he wasn't ready to spill his guts just yet. When he got back the dark circles and blood shot that came from taking four flights in almost as many days were a perfect substitute for a real hangover – given that he had only actually bonged the one beer for old time's sake - and the discovery of Kate's wet T-shirt photo deflected any of her awkward questions.
He had planned on telling her one day.
His third year at NCIs almost everything had changed. Kate was dead. McGee was a fully fledged field Agent and Mossod Liaison Officer Ziva David watched his every move like a particularly glamorous, and observant, hawk. Tony figured that his luck had turned for the worse. Especially, when they caught an especially gruesome case just a few days before he was due to catch his flight. They had no witnesses, no leads, nothing. It seemed damned near impossible they would ever solve the murder in time.
Yet never let it be said that Anthony DiNozzo was one to take 'no' for an answer. So he had started coming back after Gibbs' had sent them home for the night and coming in early, trying to find that one crucial lead to break the case before it was too late. When Gibbs caught him at it he expected a head-slap. Instead, the man simply put down his coffee, took off his coat and worked twice as hard himself Tony was more grateful than he could express.
When he had seen the gourmet coffee beans at the airport on his way back he had bought them without a second thought. Gibbs might not know or care about the exorbitant cost but he knew his Boss would appreciate the thought behind the gesture.
Then came the fourth year, Gibbs wasn't his Boss anymore and there was no way he could get away. Part of him felt bad about that. And he hated the other part that was secretly relieved. But the weight of leadership weighed heavily on his shoulders, leaving him little time to think, which admittedly was how he used to like it. Lately, he had got used to things being different. Even so, he took refuge in the fact that he was doing his duty and told himself it was for the best.
His fifth year rolled around and Gibbs was back. Back to normal or as normal as NCIS ever got. So, he booked the leave and brought the plane tickets. He even had his cover story for Jeanne all planned out. Anthony DiNardo was going to Film Studies conference out of state. He'd decided he didn't need a cover for his team this year. Gibbs already knew where he was going and what he was doing and he didn't owe the others any excuses. Let them think he had another 'dental' appointment.
But before he could break the news to Jeanne, she had told him that her Mother was flying into town. She had been both happy and excited at the thought of him meeting her maternal parent. It would have seemed churlish and more than a little contrived to suddenly mention the Film Studies conference now. So, he had sucked it up, done his duty and sat through one of the most excruciating dinner dates of his entire life, which was saying something because he had had a few of those in his time.
Gibbs had pulled a few strings so he could get away a couple of days later. Tony had been grateful but not entirely surprised. Family was important. Gibbs knew that better than most.
Now he was six years in. The team was working a double homicide which had had them all up to their elbows in blood and guts and intrigue for the last week. They were almost overrun with possible suspects and probable murder weapons. It was like an online version of Cluedo. Tony hadn't even bothered to buy the plane tickets. They were all already working around the clock. There was no way they were going to wrap this up in time. Even if Gibbs could have found a way Vance would have held them both accountable.
Tony might have risked it for himself. Not for Gibbs.
Gibbs had always had his six. Even when he screwed up and Tony wasn't about to compound the whole frog thing, not to mention the way Jenny had died on his watch, by sloping off now. He didn't much care about Vance's opinion, but he wasn't about to repay Gibbs' loyalty in fighting for his re-assignment as an Agent Afloat by giving the Director any chance to say "I told you so." He owed the ex-marine a hell of a lot more than that. And right now the best way to repay him was to focus all of his energies on solving the case in front of them.
So, he'd miss another year. He was the only one who would notice.
He didn't want to consider that there would only be just so many more years left. And that the time might fast be approaching – faster than he was ready for – that he would never have to go again, which was kind of ironic because he had been preparing for that moment ever since he was twelve years one way in one way or another. But expecting it to come and actually experiencing it, going through the loss, were two very different things. If he had learnt one thing from his Mother he'd learnt that.
But one more year surely wouldn't matter. There would still be other years.
It didn't matter anyway reminded himself as he focused ruthlessly on his screen, because he had a job to do here and he couldn't just 'up sticks and leave when the fancy took' as his mother used to say. He had been lucky that he had only really missed that one time in the last six years. Being a Federal Agent wasn't the kind of job that came with any sorts of guarantees. He closed his eyes painfully as that particular thought reminded him too sharply of Kate, Pacchi, Paula, Jenny and he pounded his keyboard a little too hard as he tried to blink back the stinging in his eyes.
Anyway maybe next year he would be the one who wasn't here. Wouldn't that just be a kick in the ass? Given the number of times people had already tried to drug him, infect him with deadly viruses, blow him up or frame him for murder (three times and counting) it was perhaps only a matter of time before something actually did take him out of the Game.
Maybe it would even be natural causes. Doctors didn't know everything. His mother was proof of that. She had been perfectly healthy apart from the silent and deadly blood clot which no-one knew to look for until it was too late. Even now his arteries might be clogging as they edged their way to a brain aneurism or heart attack waiting to happen. Ducky would probably see it as some kind of Divine retribution for his dietary choices. Sure he always worked out and he had kept in pretty good shape for a guy of his age. But his diet had been poor since College. And he had perhaps been drinking a little more than was really good for him this last year. Maybe, it was only fair.
Although, he still had a secret weapon, not even cholesterol would dare to defy Gibbs. So perhaps he had a few years in him yet.
Tony squinted at the screen as he realised the words he was supposed to be reading were blurring and dancing again. He massaged his fingers over his temples to see if that would help. It wasn't like there was anyone to see. McGee was down with Abby, Ziva was looking at the security tapes in the conference room. He had been going through these records for twelve hours and most likely would be doing it for another twelve if the progress they were making was any guide.
"If you go now you'll miss the worst of the traffic."
Tony blinked, shaking his head slightly to clear it as he tried to process what Gibbs had just said. He couldn't go home yet they hadn't come close to solving the case. Except, Gibbs seemed to be getting impatient with Tony's lack of reaction and came around behind him to start shutting down his computer. Tony watched with a distinct lack of comprehension as his monitor went blank.
"Wait much longer and it'll get snarled up and you'll need Ziva to die you to the Airport." Gibbs said conversationally.
Oh. That. The light bulb went off in Tony's brain.
"Look Boss," Tony looked up. "I appreciate the thought but we both know I can't just leave. We're in the middle of a case here."
"Which we will manage," Gibbs assured him. "Ziva knows what she is doing. McGee is up to speed. You and I worked plenty of cases three handed in the past and they got solved more often than not."
"We worked plenty of cases two-handed as well," Tony reminded him. "Because you kept firing, transferring or just plain disappearing our third when they accidently spilt your coffee, screwed up in interrogation or whatever it was Agent Nelson did, I always did wonder about that."
"Stop changing the subject," Gibbs reached in his filing cabinet pulled out his change of clothes, dropped them onto his desk and plucked his coat off the back of his chair before thrusting it in his arms. "And get your ass in gear before you miss your flight."
"Boss, I didn't put in for any leave. I didn't even buy any plane tickets." Tony admitted. "I figured .."
Tony stopped, open mouthed as Gibbs pulled return plane tickets out of his inside pocket and slapped them onto his desk, before digging into another pocket for a folded piece of paper, when he unfolded and held up between his fingers so Tony could read his leave request, duly signed and authorised.
"Are you forging my signature again, Boss?" Tony asked without heat. He squinted at the paper. "Are you forging Vance's signature?"
"Yes," Gibbs agreed. "And no."
"The Director agreed my request for leave in the middle of a hot case?" Tony was sceptical. "You asked him to let me slack off in the middle of a hot case?"
"I say I going to let you slack off?" Gibbs challenged. "Take the files and read them on the plane. Call me when you find something."
Tony supposed that was fair enough. It would be naive of him to assume that Vance didn't already know what was going on. He was certain the man had had him and his family checked out and it wasn't such a hard thing to find if you went looking. It was rather more surprising that he had agreed to let him go. But whatever his feelings towards the new Director and Tony really hadn't made up his mind about that yet the man understood the importance of family.
The words were enough to get him to his feet. He even got as far as turning off his lamp, shrugging into his coat and even picking up his back pack and the tickets. But he had barely made it around his desk before he froze, letting the bag drop back down as he re-considered. Although, so maybe he wasn't exactly leaving his team short handed and all the paperwork was in order but that didn't make it feel right. He couldn't do this.
"Look, Boss, this is really nice of you and all but .."
"Tony," Gibbs sighed, as he shook his head. Sometimes, his second was too much like him for his own good. He had spent too much of his own life putting duty and work first. And whilst he wasn't ashamed of that it had cost him the lives of his wife and daughter and far too many wasted years with his father. He didn't want any of that for DiNozzo."Think of this as payback for the year you had to miss."
"You know about that? How would you know about that?" Tony blinked.
"I made a call," Gibbs admitted, a little awkward. "My memory wasn't completely out of whack. Ducky said you hadn't been able to make it. And I figured .. I owe you one."
"Well, when you put it like that, how can I possibly refuse?" Tony made himself smile. He was touched and grateful beyond measure that his Boss would go to so much trouble. But that didn't make what lay ahead any easier to face. Picking up his backpack again and hoisting it over his shoulder, he was almost at the elevator when he was struck by a thought. "What are you going to tell the others?"
"I'll think of something," Gibbs assured him. "And you remember. This isn't an excuse to go off the grid. You stay in contact and you check in with me in person just as soon as your flight lands back in DC. Are we clear?"
"Crystal Boss," Tony nodded softly. He had expected that, it was Gibbs' SOP for this situation. In the beginning he had found it intrusive and annoying that another person had wanted to keep tabs on him in a way no one ever had since kindergarten. These days he he understood how Gibbs felt when one of his own was out of arms reach, especially, when it came to something like this. "You want me to bring you some more of that coffee?"
"Why else do you think I'm letting you go?" Gibbs tone was gruff but his eyes were soft with understanding.
"Right." Tony managed a more genuine smile.
He held it together throughout the flight. He passed the time reading all of the files twice and didn't find anything he hadn't seen before. For a while he stared mindlessly at a movie he had already seen and ignored the tray of food placed before him. As ever he didn't stop off to shower or change once they landed. He just hailed a cab and headed straight to his destination.
The sight of the bright summer flowers around the neatly tended lawns almost broke him. They had no right looking so normal and .. well flowery.
He was too familiar with the Hospital smell to let that affect him. And after all these years even the sight of the other patients did not rock him the way they once had. He was almost sorry for that. The kindly smile of the motherly nurse was not enough to breach the emotional walls he was painstakingly erecting as she lead him down the hallway, although the compassionate touch on his arm as she left him at the door almost managed it. Stop that, Anthony, he rebuked himself.
DiNozzo's don't cry.
As he put his hand on the doorknob his courage almost failed him. But he was a big bad Federal Agent used to facing murders and other bad guys so he forced himself to square his shoulders and face this. It wasn't like he hadn't t done this almost every year since it happened. And he supposed he should be grateful that things hadn't got significantly worse in a while. Still he couldn't quash the little flicker of hope that he felt as he opened the door that perhaps this time they might just be better.
He knew better. The nurses might be kind and this establishment sufficently well funded by the family fortune that a well meaning but entirely unsuitable gift appeared like clockwork each birthday and Christmas. One year it had been an electric power sander. By the same token flowers and well wishes were duley sent - signed in some unknown hand - whenever Gibbs was required to inform his family - in this case cousin Pety who held power of attorny - that he was sick or injured.
He couldn't help but think about Jardine sitting with her brother in his coma as he prepared to paste on his best smile to greet the man lying in the Hospital bed in the middle of the room.
"Hey Dad," He found his voice. "Happy Birthday."
He knew he should probably come more often. But life had a way of getting away from him that was only partly to do with how much he hated this. He always made sure the nursing staff had his up to date contact details and they had assured him that after multiple strokes their patient had scant concept of the passage of time. The signs had been there, but they had been overlooked. The moods, the sudden anger, the time he forgot his own son in a Hotel room. When it came it had been brutal. Medical science had kept his father alive but he had only the vaguest memories of his previous life. Tony had become almost used to being greeted like a stranger.
He would stay as long as he could. He owed that to the memory of the man who had raised him, who had made time every night no matter how busy he was to hear about his day at school, who had tried to share his interest in History, had encouraged his love of sport, and cared enough about him to tear him off a strip when he thought his boy was going too far off the rails. Tony knew he might actually have ended up in the gutter if his father's illness hadn't given him a great big dose of reality.
He pretended not to see the way a reflection of his own eyes looked back at him without a flicker of recognition. The familiar features ravaged by age and time. He focused on the man he remembered, tall, dapper, a laughing face and those hands which had steadied him as he learnt to ride his first bike. He started to talk determined to continue until his voice went horse, knowing that this was the best gift he could give.
"So, how have things been?" He searched for a safe topic. "I .. um .. took a kinda a cruise in the Atlantic recently."
The time passed in a blur like moves in a dance so well rehearsed that it could be executed almost without conscious thought, as he visited with his father, consulted with the man's doctors, checked with the nurses that he had all he needed and enough finds for any incidentals until he felt useless all over again.
It seemed almost unreal to head back on a plane with bright, chattering tourists, threading his way through DC airport crowds in search of a taxi, walk up a familiar path, push open a well known front door and make his way down into a well-lit basement. He paused, halfway down the stairs, waiting for the one thing that could put his world back on its axis. Below him Gibbs smoothed his hand along the boat, before meeting his senior field Agent's gaze.
Tony swallowed hard at the familiar greeting, taking a moment to bask in the sense of understanding and belonging inherent in that one word. For a moment he flashed on the time after that explosion on the ship when Gibbs had not quite remembered him. Now he watched as Gibbs looked out a second mug and splashed some bourbon into it, placing it next to block of sand paper.
Taking that as his invitation Tony came down the rest of the stairs and pulled the bag of coffee beans out of his pocket before placing them lightly on the boat's hull.
"You look like crap." Gibbs didn't try to hide his concern.
"You know what airplane food is like," Tony spoke lightly, although his haunted eyes told a different story. "Sometimes, I think I need to get Ducky to autopsy it just to work out what it was supposed to be."
Gibbs picked up his cell and tossed it at his Agent, not entirely surprised when the usually athletic young man fumbled the catch a little. He already had the guest room all made up.
"Chinese. Order plenty. If we don't finish it we can eat it cold for breakfast." Gibbs made his intention to keep his senior field Agent at hand crystal clear.
"Aw, Boss, that's so sweet. You waited for me," Tony's voice was teasing as he dialled and waited for them to pick up but Gibbs knew he appreciated the gesture. "So, I hear you closed the case, Abby texted me and said it was like something out of a movie. She also said that she had been sworn to secrecy and on now account could she tell me what it. So, what gives, Boss?"
Gibbs made a face. In all of his career, military or civilian, he had never come across a case like it. Once he found out the story DiNozzo was going to be insufferable. It would be fodder for endless quips, cracks and comments for weeks to come. But looking at the tired, haunted, expression, of the usually exuberant Agent he figured it was more than worth it.
"Would you credit it, DiNozzo, the damned butler did it."