Disclaimer – Everything person and thing mentioned belongs to DBP etc. Including the Zero Tolerance Knives and the steaks.
AN – Thanks to everyone who responded to "Souvenir" with such kindness and encouragement. I intended to reply to you personally but then I got sucked into working on this! "Flesh and Blood" won't actually air in the UK for another week, so please forgive any glaring inconsistencies. But for the first time in a long time this was something I just had to write.
Gibbs took a long swallow of his beer as he looked in the fire and thought about the young man finishing his meal on the sofa beside him. The home cooked steak and the warm beer buzz had gone a long way to smooth down the ruffled feathers that had been DiNozzo ever since his father had walked into the Navy Yard. Now he looked relaxed and satisfied, and more at peace than Gibbs had expected. Part of him hated to ruin the mood, but he was an investigator by nature and not knowing was eating at his gut.
"When you got sick with the plague why didn't you call your Dad?"
Gibbs watched as Tony suddenly stilled, then very carefully and deliberately ate the last forkful of steak, chewing it thoroughly, while he thought up an answer he figured might fly with his Boss.
"I didn't know where to find him."
It was good, Gibbs admitted to himself. In fact, as smokescreens went it was damned good. Specific enough not to draw suspicion and enough basis in fact to make it sound plausible. Hell, Gibbs might even have believed him, if he didn't know better. Taking a sip of his beer and keeping his eyes firmly forward he spoke quietly.
"You try to find him?"
"Did I tell you I missed a step-mother?" Tony evaded. "That makes eight, I think. Or maybe nine."
"No, alright?" The younger man admitted. "I didn't try to find him."
"C'mon, Boss, I by passed security protocols to open a suspicious envelope and infect an entire Federal Building. It left us and a man down in the field and earned us both a big black mark from the Director," Tony grimaced. "That's not exactly something to write home to the folks about."
"It was only one floor," Gibbs corrected mildly. "And you left out the part where you almost died. You don't think your father would have wanted to know about that?"
"How would I know what he wanted?" Tony shrugged. "Its not like we ever actually talk. You know, all this time I thought he was disappointed in me for choosing a career in law enforcement rather than business? Turns out he just doesn't care. Although, to be fair, it turns out that he's not exactly your bona fide business man either."
"He cares about you."
Gibbs hoped DiNozzo Snr wouldn't make a liar of him. He hoped the jealously he had seen in the man's eyes when he had been forced to admit that Tony thought the world of his Boss and the irritation he had displayed at being lectured by a virtual stranger he had only just met about what his son needed, was more than just ego. It had to count for something that the man had held onto his temper for Tony's sake.
Gibbs knew how that felt.
Except he had done it because it was what Tony needed. For better or worse, Tony needed his Dad in his life and Gibbs was damned well going to do whatever was in his power to make sure that happened. He really hoped DiNozzo Snr hadn't just kept a lid on it because he needed to ask his son for some cash. Gibbs knew Tony had a reasonable income from his mother's side of the family, enough to keep him in those designer suits and hand made shoes he favoured. If this visit by DiNozzo Snr ever turned out to have been some elaborate scheme to dupe his own son into bankrolling him Gibbs wouldn't need his sniper skills, he would kill the bastard with his bare hands.
"He said you talked to him, about your daughter." Tony cast a sideways look at Gibbs.
They both knew that Gibbs almost never spoke about his first wife and child. Tony had lost count of the times he had seen Gibbs respond to the apparently innoculous question of whether of not he was a father with a simple 'no'. In Tony's book the fact that his Boss had been prepared to lay his own feelings on the line like that, for his sake, was a greater act of loyalty and courage than taking a bullet for him.
"You're pretty good company when you're not trying too hard," Gibbs acknowledged. "I wanted him to think about what he was missing out on."
"He told me, he loved me," Tony sighed. "Twice."
Gibbs was mildly surprised. That was more than he had expected from DiNozzo Snr. Maybe, there was some hope for the man yet. But by the look on his senior field Agent's face the touching sentiment hadn't gone over all that well.
"You don't believe him?"
"You remember that bit at the end of Indiana Jones and the last Crusade when Jones Senior finally, finally, calls him Indiana and makes him give him his hand instead of reaching for the grail, so that you know his son was actually the most important thing in his life all along?" Tony waited for Gibbs' nod of acknowledgement. "It wasn't like that."
"Life doesn't come with a script. We're all just making it up as we go alone," Gibbs pointed out as he finished his beer. "You should give him a call sometime."
Tony picked at the label on his own beer bottle. It didn't seem fair. He had waited all his life for his Dad to tell him he was loved and now it didn't feel anything like he had always imagined it would. Instead, his father's comment that they should talk more often had reminded him of too many childhood promises not kept. Part of him wondered if he was just too old to build a relationship with his father. But when he opened his mouth to blow off the suggestion he remembered Gibbs letting himself talk about Kelly to try and make this right. Make him right. Maybe, it would never be the way with his Dad he had longed for as a child, but just because they were related didn't mean they couldn't be friends of a sort.
"Maybe, we could have dinner or something?" He suggested.
"It's as good a place to start as any," Gibbs approved. "You still didn't answer my question."
"I told you," Tony blinked. "I used the money I was going to spend on the cruise with my frat brothers."
"Not that question."
"Oh, the plague question," Tony made a face. "That question."
In the silence that stretched out between them, Gibbs waited. Hoping that everything they had been through as partners, friends, as family, would be enough to elicit an honest answer. They both knew Tony had the contacts and resources to track his father to the ends of the earth if need be. And whatever else Gibbs might think of DiNozzo Snr it had been painfully obvious he hadn't known his son had been at death's door. Finally, there was a soft clink as Tony set down his beer bottle.
"You're right and I'm sorry, Boss," Tony met his gaze. "I should have called my Dad when I got sick. It wasn't right to take advantage of your hospitality when I could just have picked up the phone and got my Dad to take care of everything."
"Hold on," Gibbs' eyes narrowed. "You're apologising for that to me?"
"I barely moved from your couch for two weeks," Tony pointed out. "You had to take annual leave to make sure I didn't suddenly forget how to breathe. You stopped working on the boat because the sawdust on your clothes was enough to set me off hacking up a lung. You ate the same tasteless food Brad prescribed for me. You can't tell me it didn't disrupt your life."
"What would your father have done?"
"So, maybe the guy's not Rockefeller," Tony looked awkward. "Or the world's best Dad. But he's always made sure there was someone taking care of me. He's still got contacts and my Mother's family has money. Uncle Clive always liked me, he would have coughed up enough for a couple of weeks in some nice place with landscaped gardens, nutritionally balances meals, medical staff and oxygen on tap."
The worst part, Gibbs realised, wasn't even that that was probably true. It was that Tony was so accepting of the fact that his father obviously felt his parental responsibilities began and ended with meeting his son's physical needs. He wondered if DiNozzo Snr had seen his son, pale as a ghost and too weak to even sit up by himself, fighting with every fibre of his being to beat this thing, in a way that had ripped Gibbs' heart from his chest, even as it had made him proud, whether it would have been enough to make the man see that there was more to being a father.
"That what you wanted?" Gibbs demanded. "To be shipped off to some upmarket private medical facility?"
He knew better, of course. If that's what Tony had needed he could have paid for it himself. The look of gratitude in Tony's eyes every time Giibbs cared enough to gruffly order him to take his meds or clear his plate, all the times he had sat in silent vigil, knowing that his presence reassured the man that it was safe to sleep without fear of asphyxiation, the countless times when he had wrapped his arms around him and held him through the worst of it and pretended not to notice the cold tears that rolled down the younger man's face as his body continued to betray him. That was what Tony had wanted.
"No." Tony answered simply.
"Wasn't what I wanted either." Gibbs smiled fondly.
"Do you know, Boss," Tony leant forward to pull two more beers out of the pack, taking advantage of the movement to swallow the lump in his throat and school his expression to something resembling normal. "What I think really bothered me about my Dad telling me that he loved me?"
"Rule 43." Gibbs nodded. "Say less. Do more."
"Okay. How do you do that?" Tony demanded, as he pased the beer over.
"Simple, I know you, DiNozzo."
This time it was Tony who tilted his beer in salute, smiling as Gibbs tapped the neck of his own bottle against it. It was true Gibbs knew him better than anyone. Just as it was true that Tony understood the former Marine in a way that few ever achieved. He looked at their Zero Tolerance knives lying side by side on the table and smiled. He had his Dad's looks and aspects of his personality. He liked to think he had something of his Mother's compassion for others. But it was Gibbs who had given him a set of rules worth living by. The taciturn former Marine didn't say a whole lot but Tony had always known where he stood with him.
"You know I did learn something these last few days, apart from the whole Frank Abagnale Jr scenario," Tony leant back into the couch, toed off his shoes and put his feet on the coffee table next to his empty plate. "My Dad is actually a pretty lonely guy. He's so busy being something he's not that he keeps everyone at arm's length. Makes me feel kinda sorry for him. I'm not even sure he knows what he's missing."
"What about you?" Gibbs asked.
"You ever let me be something I'm not, Boss?" Tony raised a brow.
Gibbs leant back, satisified. Maybe the last few days would be enough to encourage DiNozzo Snr to step up and do more to convince his son that he had a place in his heart. But what ever happened he was confident Tony could handle it. Despite, his worries that DiNozzo had (understandably) been thrown off his game by the unexpected arrival of his father, in the end the younger man had had made him proud. Again.
"So, Boss," Tony's teasing voice interrupted his thoughts. "If I'm the best young Agent you've ever worked with, does that include Stan Burley? Because you know he was kinda old."