So…"blown away" is the only way I can think to describe my reaction to all the amazing reviews and feedback I've gotten from A Sense of Duty. You guys are phenomenal, and I have to admit, it's freaked me out a little, because for I suspect that was just beginner's luck and this one will fall sadly short of your expectations. Hopefully, though, you'll enjoy this sequel-ish bit to A Sense of Duty.
Edit: Sorry about the confusion, guys! Doing uploads at 4am on no sleep is, I suppose, a somewhat poorly thought-out idea. I've replaced the incorrect document in "A Sense of Duty" with the right one again...now it's just a matter of FFNet updating the changes. Thanks for all the alerts and reviews, both liking this story and telling me about the error with the other!
My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person: he believed in me. ~Jim Valvano
After the "amen," there is silence, save for the crackling of a fire and the metallic scrape of knife against plate. Tony, jacket off and shoulders loose, seems at ease now, but Gibbs knows-- maybe better than anyone else-- that what Tony seems to be is a hell of a lot different than what he is. Still, the heartbreak has softened out of his eyes, and the lines of his mouth have smoothed and gentled, and Gibbs isn't sure any of it is complete or lasting, but it's now, and that's enough to settle his gut for the moment.
In the quiet, Gibbs' brain is loud with thoughts of the man (no trace of a boy there, now) beside him. As much as DiNozzo Senior has fumbled the ball as a father, Tony the younger has the act of the Good Son down pat. That same sense of honor and responsibility is a part of his character Gibbs has always seen settled quietly in the shadows of the colorful playboy backdrop DiNozzo paints as his life; it's a strength that goes beyond blood and genetics and comes down to, quite simply, who DiNozzo is.
It's what's made Gibbs' so wryly unsurprised at the fact that Tony has let his father off the hook to keep the tattered remains of his dignity in tact. Tony is just that kind of man. That kind of son. As much as this whole fiasco has reminded Gibbs of the things parents ought to do for their children, it's also taught him a lot about the things a son will do for their father. Or maybe that's just Tony. That idea doesn't surprise Gibbs either, but it does make him damn proud.
He wants to tell Tony that-- wants to say it more clearly and with more words than a simple 'amen' and a tap of bottleneck to bottleneck. Pride is something Tony's always found hard to come by, either in himself or from other people, and there's a difference between being proud of a deed-- be it a winning touchdown pass or a split-second shot to save a woman's life-- and being proud of a man himself, and Tony doesn't really know that bit either, and it's seeming more important to Gibbs these days to teach him those things.
But there are boundaries, too. All sorts of new landmines have cropped up since his conference room tête-à-tête with DiNozzo Senior, and Gibbs doesn't know if he's got the skill to dance around them, or if its even his battlefield to be entering in the first place. As much as the word "father" has dropped itself down into his gut, and as much as Gibbs has swallowed that shock with an alacrity surprising to himself, it doesn't mean Tony's ready to hear it. In fact, he's probably less ready now than he would have been two weeks ago, because two weeks ago Tony's father was relegated to that vague in-between of the chronically absent, and now he's resolidified as a presence in Tony's life. Though God only knows how long it'll last, for right now Tony's father is back in the picture and a second-hand surrogate vying for attention probably isn't going to be the most welcome thing in the world.
Truth is, DiNozzo's right. Sometimes it is better to keep what you know to yourself, even if it isn't easy, and Gibbs figures if Tony can do it for the man who can only barely claim to be his father, Gibbs can do it for the man he can't even marginally claim as his son. The irony is very unappealing.
The steaks are finished now, and Tony, having polished off four beers without Gibbs really noticing, is looking decidedly droop-eyed with exhaustion. The combination of the flickering oranges from the firelight, and his half-open eyes serves to make him look years younger, and Gibbs fights a sudden urge to ruffle his hair, feeling decidedly absurd. Compensating for the need to do something with his hands, he stacks the plates on the corner of the coffee table before leaning back against the couch to look at Tony, eye to eye.
"There's a change of clothes for you in the bathroom." He waits for the younger man to blink once, twice in confusion before he goes on. "Pillow's in the living room for a reason, DiNozzo."
Gibbs expects a token protest, a clownish exclamation of 'Aw, Boss!' or an assertion that 'it was only four beers.' But instead, Tony only ducks his head a little (shyly?), and nods. "Thanks, Boss."
Gibbs pats him on the knee once and rises, taking the plates and silverware with him into the kitchen. He takes his time washing them, and his mind is filled with memories of Kelly splashing along beside him in the sink, and the way love always seems to end up being the same even when it's completely different.
When he goes back into the living room, Tony's in a T-shirt and sweats, his feet are bare, he's found a blanket from the hall closet, and is looking too tired to be awkward even sprawled out on the couch the way he is. Obligingly, Gibbs sits down in the chair beside him, wondering since when he thinks a simple "goodnight" is something that'll take long enough to sit down for.
"This whole thing has been weird, Gibbs," Tony mutters, his voice unclear around the edges in a way that alcohol and tiredness will manage. He glances at Gibbs, askance, and continues. "Not…not bad weird, maybe. But not good weird, either."
This would be the perfect time for a movie reference, but Gibbs knows there isn't one coming. "Family is weird, DiNozzo."
"Is it supposed to be hard?" The earnestness of the question has Gibbs cringing because honestly, he doesn't know the answer.
"It's supposed to be worth it." It's all he can give him, though he doubts it's even a little helpful. Also, he's wondering if his talk with DiNozzo Senior did any damn good at all.
Tony's only reply is a non-committal hum, and then there is a silence. Gibbs begins to think it's time to make his exit, when Tony speaks again, eyes more than half shut now, his body limp with oncoming sleep. "He told me he loved me."
Everything inside him freezes. He waits.
Eventually, Tony chuffs a little laugh with no humor behind the gust of sound. "He's never told me that before." Gibbs is suddenly rethinking his position on not killing the man, but Tony goes on before he gets much beyond the thought of buying a plane ticket to New York. "I gotta tell you, I thought it would mean more."
And now Gibbs is too surprised to speak.
"I wont bullshit you and tell you I never imagined it, Boss," he continues with a sleepy ghost of a smile. "Your creepy psychic powers would know it was a lie. But I guess…I guess I always thought it would…mean something beyond what it was. Mean something beyond what my father and I are." There's a strange expression on Tony's face now: a mix of regret and something that Gibbs is trying unsuccessfully to get a fix on. Tony's hazy eyes flicker over to him, almost knowingly, before he continues. "But I guess the fact that I didn't even know it until he told me, sort of…"
A sigh, and more silence. The man of a thousand corny one-liners seems to have run dry, and Gibbs is hurting for him and waiting for him and listening, because it's all he can do.
"Saying things like that as…I dunno, proof or-- or reinforcement of something, I mean that's a real good thing to hear. But the truth is I…I never even considered he might…might…" He rubs the back of his neck, and Gibbs sees a dozen demons flicker in the shadows under his eyes for the briefest instant before they disappear, and something about the man in front of him relaxes and softens and mends. "He shouldn't have had to say it for me to know it in the first place."
It's a declaration with a thousand times more power to it than the tone of Tony's voice suggests. The strength of it vibrates through the room and down into Gibbs' bones for a moment before fading, leaving behind it a quiet finality that he takes as his cue to go.
He stands up decisively in the quiet, knees popping with age and tiredness, and only barely resists the urge to tap Tony under the chin or squeeze his shoulder. Truth is, Gibbs doesn't feel like he's much a man of words or action, and he wonders where that leaves them, and if he's just been damned alongside Tony's father. But the conversation's closed for now, and he's content to let it lie for the evening and try again tomorrow, because Gibbs does know how to be patient for the things that matter.
He waits until Tony has settled under the blanket, head rested comfortably on the pillow, the lines of his body and face relaxed and easy, before he begins his way out of the room to head for his own bed. There's no urge inside him for woodworking tonight.
"I mean, you never had to."
The six, simple words come soft but without hesitation, and Gibbs finds himself gripping the door frame so his knees don't go out. Slowly, the sound of a heartbeat heavy in his ears, he turns and looks at Tony, and Tony is smiling at him, eyes closed. In the spotlight of the upward curve of that sleepy smile, a place deep inside Gibbs loosens and warms, because Tony knows. Tony understands, and there's more to being a father than genes. Sometimes, even with the complications, things boil down to being a whole lot simpler than you'd think.
And while, no, family is not supposed to be easy, it sure as hell is worth it.
"Sleep well, Tony," he says gently before turning away once more, his own lips curled up into an easy smile.
But Tony is already asleep.
So...what's the verdict? Feedback is invaluable to me. Cyber-cookie bribes can be arranged. Thanks for reading!