A/N: I don't own NCIS, CBS, or any other known entity. This came to me at the conclusion of Obsession, so obviously, there are spoilers for that last scene. As always, I hope you guys enjoy the story, and please review. :)

The Hardest Rule to Keep

"You okay?"

Tony briefly contemplated leaving the question hanging, or worse, lying, but instead decided to be truthful. "Not really," he whispered, keeping his back turned.

He fidgeted with the tool in his hand before he plopped down on the chair, sighing dejectedly. He didn't look up as he heard the familiar sound of metal pieces being poured out of a glass jar, followed by the sound of bourbon being poured into it.

"I broke rule number 10… again," he admitted as he accepted the drink. "Never get personally involved on a case."

Gibbs picked up his own mug. "Yeah," he said softly as he stretched his back. "That's the rule I've always had the most trouble with."

Tony looked over at Gibbs for a second before turning away, staring at the other side of the basement. He wasn't sure why he went to Gibbs' in the first place, given that his idea of consolation was a few shots of bourbon and some sort of hobby. But, if anyone knew what he was thinking, it was Gibbs.

"Just my luck," Tony muttered almost inaudibly.

"What's that?" Gibbs asked as he started working again.

"I finally meet a girl worth settling for, and she dies."

Gibbs knit his brows together.

"I mean, given that she would've been interested in the first place," Tony clarified. "Which, isn't likely. And, it doesn't negate the fact that I crossed the line."

Gibbs looked down at his mug, not sure whether to comment on Tony crossing the line or his self-deprecation.

Tony snorted softly. "How many rules does that make this year?"

"Hmm?" Gibbs asked.

"That I've broken."

Gibbs tilted his head back and forth. "Who's counting?"

"I can think of at least four."


Tony held up his hand, counting them off on his fingers. "Never say you're sorry, never get personally involved in a case, never take anything for granted… when the job is done, walk away… I'm sure there are others I just can't think of at the moment."

"Tony," Gibbs chastised softly, causing the younger man to pause his rant.

"I can't just let this go, Boss," Tony breathed after a moment.

"Don't expect you to tonight."

Tony sighed heavily, sinking further into the chair as he took another drink from the glass. He listened to the ever-present sound of scraping wood that was a staple in this basement. Although, since the latest boat was gone, the basement seemed to have undergone a few renovations. Mostly because of Gibbs' latest hobby… whatever that was.

Tony swallowed down the last of his drink in a long gulp, feeling the burn all the way to the pit of his stomach. His head and his heart both wished that could be the only thing he'd feel at the moment, but he knew it wouldn't be.

"Did I ever tell you I almost got married once?" he blurted out before he could stop himself. He cringed almost invisibly at his own admission and weakness.

"Don't think so," Gibbs said, refilling Tony's glass as he tried to hide the shock in his voice.

"Long time ago," the younger man said, taking a sip of the liquid.

Gibbs stopped working as he took a drink from his mug. "What happened?"

"She… uh… she died." Tony cleared his throat as he thought about her. "God, it must've been… at least fifteen years now." His hand reached up and stroked his chin, feeling the stubble that was starting to sprout.


"She was shot in the line of duty. We, uh, we went to college and the Academy together, both got jobs on the beat in Peoria." Tony chuckled half-bitterly. "We had always said we'd get married soon because tomorrow wasn't guaranteed."

Gibbs huffed softly, leaning against the bench.

"She had it all, Boss," Tony continued, running his index finger along the top of the jar as he wondered why he couldn't stop himself from talking. "Beautiful, smart, funny… she was even a red-head."

Gibbs smirked lightly.

"And, for some reason, she loved me."

"Don't sell yourself short," Gibbs said with a shrug.

Tony scoffed somewhat. "Sure, I have my good points. I'm childish, arrogant, annoying, and I hurt people."

Gibbs grunted softly before smacking Tony on the back of the head.

Tony frowned. "You smacking my head isn't going to make those any less true."

Gibbs stared at Tony.

Tony ignored the Gibbs stare by keeping his eyes trained on his drink. "It's all my own doing anyway," the younger man added. "I mean… if I don't get close to people, they can't hurt me, right? Or… or it won't hurt as much when they die…"

Gibbs shifted behind Tony, watching him.

"You know, women should stay away from me for their own health."

Gibbs half-chuckled. "I thought Lieutenant Kim's posting was a fake."

Tony smiled somewhat. "It was. But… I don't know. Maybe I should stay away from women before I get them all killed."

"Most of your girlfriends are still alive," Gibbs reminded him gently.

Tony shrugged. "I don't mean to sound callous, but… I didn't really… I didn't see myself having a future with them. It's when I think they could be the one that things go wrong. My God, I'm my father."

"You're not your father."

"He's just as bad with women as I am. Except, his ex-wives are still alive. Except for my mother. And Nancy."

Gibbs fell silent, taking a drink from his mug.

"Now, Nancy died of a heart attack about two years after the divorce was final. But my mother… she… uh, she committed suicide."

Gibbs rubbed his hand over his jaw.

"I told you that before, didn't I?" Tony said, glancing over.

"You told me she died when you were younger, and that you found the body," the older man replied.

"Oh. Yeah, I guess I did leave that part out." Tony took a long drink from the jar, exhaling as the alcohol burned its way into his gut. "Wasn't much to tell, I guess."

Gibbs knew the gloss over very well, had used it plenty of times himself, and he had a feeling that it was coming even before it happened. But what Tony did next was what really surprised him.

A single tear.

Gibbs furrowed his brow, more confused at just which person Tony was mourning. Or maybe it was all of them. Whoever it was caused Tony to start breaking down in a way that Gibbs had never seen before. Sure, he'd seen Tony upset before, and it wasn't even the first time Gibbs had seen him cry. But the gut-wrenching agony seared into a face full of otherwise silent tears was new territory.

Gibbs stepped forward, placing his hand on Tony's shoulder, a gesture that caused the younger man to bury his face into the opposite sleeve. No matter how close they were, Gibbs knew that Tony would never feel comfortable with moments like these.

Tony's face flushed red as he composed himself, scrubbing his hand under his eyes. He wanted to apologize, but he was too embarrassed to even utter a word. The thirtieth time he'd show this kind of weakness in front of Gibbs…

To his credit, Gibbs said nothing, squeezing Tony's shoulder gently before letting go. Tony felt his face grow warmer, and he looked down at his lap. And after a moment, he decided to hell with his pride at this point in the night.

Even though I'm going to regret this in the morning…

"The room was a mess," he whispered tentatively. "I mean, it always was… my mother had the maid keep the rest of the house in order, just not her room. Their room, I should say. She was on the floor of it… towels underneath her… there was so much blood everywhere… the, uh, the movies really had nothing on it.

"She did it on a night when she knew I'd be the first home," he continued as he felt Gibbs shift again. "Probably because she figured that my father wouldn't have bothered to do anything about it. She wrote a note that instructed me to clean up the room and call 911. But… she was still breathing when I walked in, so I just called for an ambulance. She died on the way to the hospital.

"With Melissa… we had just gotten off-shift, and we were out at dinner. A nice dinner too… probably the best I could afford at that time. I had just asked her to marry me… and was surprised when she said yes…"

Gibbs snorted softly in amusement as Tony gave the smallest smile.

"And we were about to go home when we got called in for overtime," Tony continued, still looking at his lap. "A pair of guys on the night shift had just gone down, so every available unit was called in for extra assistance. Melissa… she wasn't normally my partner because of everything between us, but our captain stuck us together on patrol for the night. We went to respond to a call of shots fired, ended up getting ambushed… she died in my arms waiting for the ambulance."

Gibbs cleared his throat.

"And… well, you know what happened to Paula. And Jeanne. And, well, Kate and I never had the chance, but I don't know that we would've ever broken that rule anyway." Tony chuckled bitterly. "Seems like that's the only rule I've never broken."

Gibbs didn't respond.

"Maybe I should try that with McGee."

Gibbs shook his head, but chuckled lightly.

Tony finished off his drink, running his hand through his hair. Gibbs took the jar, putting it back on the bench, effectively cutting Tony off for the night. Tony closed his eyes, dropping his head back.

"You waste time on regret, right?" Tony said quietly.

"Hmm," Gibbs said, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

"Just gotta… move on."

Gibbs said nothing, going back to working with the wood.

Tony shook his head again, scrubbing his hand over his hair. He yawned softly, leaning further back in the chair.

"Couch is yours," Gibbs offered quietly, causing Tony to nod slowly.

"Night, Boss," Tony said, standing up and making his way to the stairs.