Author's note: This is my first NCIS fanfiction. It's Gibbs/DiNozzo pre-slash, has spoilers for Obsession and various events from season 4 on. Un-betaed, so any mistakes are solely mine. My thanks to all the wonderful fanfiction authors whose works I've enjoyed.
Gibbs squinted a bit as he checked the wood for imperfections. He didn't find any, but that didn't mean they weren't there… his occasionally questionable eyesight together with his borderline exhaustion made him ruefully acknowledge that he wasn't likely to find them tonight. Sleep seemed like a good idea. Wasn't going to happen soon, though, judging by the way Tony was staring into space.
Tony had fallen silent after Gibbs' confession about Rule 10. He was slumped a bit, leaning back against the wall, gazing into the empty space that used to hold a boat. Gibbs noted a slight shakiness in Tony's hands, but didn't comment. He reached for the bourbon on the workbench, and poured Tony another shot. He hesitated a moment – maybe one of them should stay sober? – then shrugged and poured one for himself too.
Gibbs held the jar out to Tony. No response. Reaching out with his left hand, Gibbs nudged Tony's shoulder. His senior agent – his friend, really – blinked a few times then looked over at Gibbs. Tony shook himself a little, then took the drink, giving Gibbs a small smile. He raised the jar, silently toasting Gibbs, who responded in kind. They both drank. Tony turned to put the jar back on the bench, while Gibbs crossed the room to grab a sawhorse. He brought it over to where Tony sat, and perched himself on it. Then he waited.
Tony looked at the empty space in the basement again, but this time his eyes seemed to trace something that wasn't there. Gibbs shook his head.
"Tryin' to conjure up a boat, DiNozzo?"
Tony barked out a short laugh.
"Not me, Boss. You're the magician who got the boat out in the first place. How'd you do that?"
"Story for another night, Tony. Why don't you tell me what's got you so quiet?"
Tony turned to look at Gibbs, a bit wide-eyed.
"Seriously, Boss? You'd tell me how you get them out?"
Gibbs nodded, then raised an eyebrow, looking at Tony.
Tony turned back to gaze at the basement again. He glanced sideways at Gibbs, who was still looking and waiting. Tony sighed, and Gibbs felt a bit smug that his friend was going to open up rather than continue to deflect.
"You sure you want to listen to me ramble, Boss?"
Gibbs leaned forward a bit.
"You need to talk, so I need to listen. Shoot."
"I was trying to figure it all out while I sat with Dana at the hospital. Why I got so caught up in the case the way I did, in her. I mean, it wasn't like I was in love with her. I didn't know her well enough for that. She wasn't any more attractive than dozens of other women I've seen, or dated, or anything else. Maybe it's just because it's been so long?"
Gibbs waited, but Tony didn't say anything more, just sat slumped back against the wall, looking absently down at his own hands. Gibbs decided Tony was waiting for him to say something, so he did.
"Been wondering a bit about that, DiNozzo. You haven't been serious about anyone since Benoit, have you?"
Tony looked up at the empty space in the basement again, and shook his head.
"Haven't really wanted to. Started dating a bit; I guess you heard about that Brenda chick, posting about me and her on Facebook. But I haven't been interested in anyone except for a temporary fling. You know, when you get lonely and need to get out of your own head, need that release..." Tony paused, then glanced sideways at Gibbs again. A bit of a smirk crossed his face, and he continued.
"One difference between us, Boss… I date 'em, you marry 'em."
Gibbs gave Tony a half-hearted glare, growl, and light head smack. Tony reached up to rub the side of his head, grinning.
"Feels good, Boss. Doesn't happen like it used to."
Gibbs shook his head, grinning back.
"You haven't needed the smacks so much anymore. They're pretty much for the nostalgia, now."
"Thanks, Boss. Though I think I needed a few on this one. Might have helped me get my head back in the game the way it should have been."
Gibbs studied his senior field agent for a moment.
"You did good work. Maybe you could have approached it differently, but you got the job done. Got the feeling you needed to work some things through."
Tony dipped his head in acknowledgment.
"Getting there, maybe."
The two men sat quietly for a bit. After a few minutes, Tony got up and walked to the center of the room. He turned in a slow circle, then looked over at Gibbs.
"Gonna start another boat soon?"
"Dunno. Not planning get married again anytime soon… no marriage, no divorce, no boat. Sort of enjoying doing smaller projects these days, anyway. Like the process, but it's nice to get the payoff too."
Tony looked at Gibbs, who was pleased to see a bit of the usual devil back in his friend's eyes.
"No marriage in the works, Boss? What if the lovely lady lawyer gets to feeling frisky?"
The glare Gibbs shot Tony had quite a bit more force behind it than the last one.
"Not a chance, DiNozzo."
Tony laughed lightly.
Gibbs raised an eyebrow as Tony walked back to his seat by the wall.
"Why? Planning to ask her out, Tony?"
Tony gave Gibbs a horrified look.
"Hell no, Boss! Don't trust her." Tony grimaced. "She's playing a game that I don't get yet. Don't like her trying to get her hooks into you." Tony looked pointedly at his boss, then leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes. "Besides," he continued, "even if I did like her, I wouldn't be interested in dating her. Haven't been interested in dating anyone, really. Mostly doing it 'cause it seems like I should. Like with Brenda."
Gibbs shifted on his sawhorse, looking Tony over carefully. His agent seemed more relaxed now; that was good.
"How come, Tony? Not interested in settling down with the right girl?"
Tony's eyes opened. He shook his head a bit, the corners of his mouth turned down as he thought about Gibbs' question.
"Haven't felt the need, Boss. Don't really feel like anything's missing. Like I said, I'm getting out there more 'cause I think I should than 'cause I really want to."
Gibbs frowned. He didn't like the idea of Tony giving up on the possibility of finding love with the right person.
"If you're happy with the way things are, that's good, Tony. But if it's because of Benoit… don't sell yourself short. " Gibbs paused, deciding if he wanted to dig up the past, not sure if Tony would push Gibbs to go where he didn't really want to. But if it would help the younger man…
"Look, Tony… what I had with Shannon was amazing. I guess Abs would say we were soul mates. Not sure I believe in anything like that, but if you could have that with someone… I guess I'm saying you shouldn't give up."
Tony sat up, a bit shocked to hear Gibbs speak of Shannon. He looked at his boss, unsure of what to say. Gibbs was looking at him earnestly.
"I mean it, Tony. Maybe you broke Rule 10 because you saw something about Dana that triggered a need. Maybe there's a part of you that wants a wife, a family. Not too late for you."
"Thanks, Boss. Really. But I meant what I said. I don't feel like something's missing. I have a family in the team. A soul mate? Yeah, you're probably right about Abs, she would say that. But I don't feel like I'm missing out."
Gibbs frowned again. He felt like he was the one missing something.
"Why not, Tony? You don't seem like the kind of guy who's happy alone."
Tony smiled slightly, stretching his legs out in front of him.
"Don't really feel alone, Boss. Don't feel like I need a woman to be a soul mate. I've got you."
Well then. Okay. That was a bit of a surprise.
Gibbs stared at Tony. Tony glanced at him, a bit confused by the strange expression on Gibbs' face. He ran the conversation back through his head, and then… whoa.
Wide-eyed, Tony started talking, saying something, anything.
"Um… wow, Boss, I guess I'm more tired than I thought. Kinda sounded like I said you were my soul mate just now, didn't it? Right. Um, funny thing about that. You know how you get so tired, and you say stuff that doesn't really make any sense, and it's like you're hearing someone else saying it, and you're like, gee, where did that come from, and then…"
Tony's babble cut off when Gibbs leaned forward and delivered a head smack.
"Shutting up, Boss."
Gibbs looked steadily at his friend. Tony looked everywhere but back at him.
"Think you need to explain that, Tony."
Tony stretched his neck, tipping his head from side to side. Gibbs called him 'Tony,' so he probably wasn't going to kill him. Yet. Okay, he could do this.
"I don't know exactly what to say, Boss. It's just… well, ever since Baltimore, you've been it for me. You're the guy I look up to, the guy I want to learn from. You're the guy who makes the world make sense. I was sort of aimless until I came to NCIS to work with you. You gave me purpose and a sense of belonging. I don't need a relationship with a woman to know who I am; you've given me that. So now, you know, here I am, loyal Saint Bernard and all that."
Gibbs looked Tony over. The younger man was blushing slightly, and still wouldn't look Gibbs in the eye.
"Get the feeling that's not the whole story, Tony. We need to hash this out – don't want any misunderstandings causing problems. Just calm down, okay?"
Tony nodded, but remained silent for a while. Finally, he looked over at Gibbs, and in an unusually small voice said, "Not sure what else to say, Boss. Maybe you could ask a question or something? Tell a joke?"
Gibbs rolled his eyes. "No jokes, Tony. Relax. I'm not mad at you, I just want to understand what's going on in that head of yours." Gibbs pinned Tony with a look well-suited to interrogation. "So how does your obsession with Dana translate to you calling me your soul mate?"
Tony stood suddenly, flinging his hands up in the air.
"I don't know, Gibbs! It just came out. I didn't think about it, didn't plan to say it, didn't come over here with the intention of screwing up our friendship. It just came out, I swear."
Gibbs stood too, reaching out to put his hand on Tony's shoulder. "I said relax, Tony. You haven't screwed up anything. Just trying to understand, that's all."
Tony tensed at the feel of Gibbs' hand, then relaxed when Gibbs squeezed his shoulder. He laughed lightly, shaking his head. "I don't understand it myself, Gibbs, so I doubt I can explain it to you. All I know is that void I had inside, the one Jeanne left me with, somehow you ended up filling it."
Gibbs squeezed Tony's shoulder again. "Glad I could help, DiNozzo."
Tony's head dropped, and he laughed again. "Thought you said no jokes, Boss."
Now it was Gibbs' turn to laugh a bit. He released Tony's shoulder, walked back to the bench, and poured two more shots. Tony followed, and took the offered glass. Both men sat down again, raised their jars to each other, and drank. Tony leaned forward, elbows on his knees, both hands on his jar, looking down into it as if it held all the answers.
Gibbs knew he should probably let things go, leave it where it was. This was a logical stopping point, after all, and if the conversation ended now, there'd be no harm done. But he still didn't get the connection between Tony's recent obsession and his comment earlier. He was sure there was one, though. Fine, he'd be the dog with the bone.
Sitting back a bit, he glanced at Tony, then took the metaphorical leap.
"Abs would probably say the idea of a soul mate is a romantic one. "
"You gotta go there, Gibbs?"
"Trying to understand, DiNozzo."
"Gods." Tony sighed. "I'm not gay, Gibbs. Never been interested in a guy before."
Gibbs scrutinized his friend.
Tony sent a weak glare in Gibbs' direction.
"Before you, alright? And before you really start to embarrass me, no, I've never jacked off thinking about you."
Gibbs nodded. "Okay. But feeling that I'm your soul mate… that got a sexual component to it?"
Tony stared at Gibbs. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He tried a few more times, then finally, "Why do you ask?"
Gibbs shrugged. It was his turn to look into the jar with its drops of bourbon clinging to the side.
"Not sure, Tony. Just trying to connect Dana to where this conversation's gone."
Tony made an exasperated noise.
" Fine. What about you, Gibbs? What am I to you?"
Gibbs sat up and looked seriously at Tony.
"Lot s of things. You were my junior agent first, then my senior field agent, then somewhere along the way you became more than just my loyal Saint Bernard; you turned into a friend. Don't have many of those. Missed you when I went to Mexico. Missed you like crazy when you went Afloat. You said I made your world make sense. Well, you're the first person since Shannon who makes me feel grounded. Ducky thinks you're like a son to me. For a while I thought so too, but it's different from that. Don't know what exactly you are, but maybe soul mate makes sense."
Gibbs paused, looking at Tony carefully. The younger man looked happy, embarrassed, proud, scared and confused, all at once. Gibbs decided it was probably safe to continue.
"Don't know if I mean that in a romance-sex kind of way, in the Abby-sense of soul mate, only that you're damn important to me."
Tony looked into Gibbs' face, saw only earnest truth there. He nodded, and smiled.
"Okay. Sounds good to me. So now what?"
"Beats me, Tony. For the record, I've never been interested in a man before either."
"C'mon Gibbs, before what?"
Gibbs' eyes met Tony's.
The smirk left Tony's face as Gibbs held his gaze. He swallowed and licked his lips in a nervous gesture.
"So what now?"
"Now? Now we think about getting some sleep. It's late. Couch is free if you don't want to drive. You probably shouldn't, not after the bourbon."
Tony nodded. He got up and made his way over to the stairs, then paused. He turned back to Gibbs, a bit of the devil in him telling him to push it, just a little.
"Couch, huh? Not your bed?" He grinned and winked.
"We'll see, Tony. We'll figure it out."
Tony dropped the mask and gave Gibbs a genuine smile.
"Yeah, I guess we will, Jethro."