Tony had avoided the crowds. He'd been more than happy to, keeping inside until he was sure the Rolling Thunder Motorcyles had made their way through the city. He'd been sure to avoid the parade and the number of people who would crowd the cemeteries. Today was a day of remembrance, a day to celebrate the memories of their fallen comrades, yet he'd never been able to bring himself to do any of it. The grief he felt for his lost friends was too much. There had been too many and all he wanted to do was be alone.
He'd gone to Baltimore for some of the day. He'd been to Danny's grave, though with conflicted feelings. He'd walked up to and away from the grave multiple times before he managed to kneel down in front of it. He stared at the carved letters for sometime, trying to figure out what to feel or say. While he'd felt betrayed for so long, he knew Danny had tried to come around. He'd tried to do the right thing, to turn in the people responsible, and he'd died doing it. He'd died and it was rubbed in Tony's face, a confident murderer who'd had to gloat as he'd always done. Tony would never find it in him to forgive Frank, but Danny...
"... Sorry I lost my iPhone, man," he muttered, his hand resting against the stone, eyes closing tightly for a moment. "Maybe if I hadn't, things would've worked out differently."
There was a long silence; the kind of silence you only get in cities, where even so much noise can feel quiet. The sound of crowds and sirens in the background, the rare bird chirp, the whirring of cars and the sounds of horns blaring. It was all calming to this city boy. It was what he was used to.
"I forgive you," he said finally, his voice barely a whisper. "And I'm sorry."
He left quickly after.
Paula's grave had been next. The crowds in the DC graveyards had mostly cleared this late in the day. He'd been alone in this area, at least. His fingers had traced over the letters of her name, and even years later, he found tears stinging his eyes. To say he hadn't loved her would've been a lie. Paula had been his equal in so many ways, but his inability to commit to her, his fear of being left alone and hurt had been too much. He'd lost her, even if she'd always been somewhat close even after the breakup. She'd hated him for a while, of course, but their friendship had been too strong. She understood too much. They were two peas in a pod, cut from the same mold, birds of a feather... and whatever other ridiculous idioms he could bring up in his head to describe how kindred in spirit they'd been. He often wondered if he'd pulled himself together if it would have worked between them loner. If things would have been... okay.
He felt his throat tighten as he muttered a silent prayer, head bowed, trying to stop the tears from falling, yet still failing to contain a few. Tony would never be able to get the image of her face from his head, the way the door had closed and how hard he had tried to open it again. It was one of those things he had tried to let go, the kind of situation where he could laugh and talk about Paula regularly, but at the end of the day, if he thought too much about it... if he visited her grave...
It took a moment to pull himself together. To make the pain subside and to try and let go of his grief once more. He didn't know why he put himself through this each Memorial Day. It would have been better to avoid her grave all together. Yet it felt like a disrespect, a dishonor to her memory. And so each year, he suffered just a little. Just for her.
There was another new stop on his list this year, aside from Danny's. He knew it was the closer of the graves to Paula's and so he'd started his walk there. He'd reflected, trying to figure out why he was even bothering going. It wasn't like they'd been close. He'd liked him, he'd considered him a friend, but was it worth handling so fresh a wound? It had been less than a month, hadn't it? He'd begun to lose track of time, really.
The sun had begun to set and was nearly behind the horizon entirely when he made it to the grave. He saw a familiar silhouette as he approached, kneeled before the headstone, coat blowing gently in a wind that had picked up. Tony swallowed, tempted to leave without saying a word, but something stopped him. Today may have been a day of remembrance and reflection, but it didn't have to be done alone. The pain didn't have to be unshared. He took two careful steps forward.
"Hey, Boss," he said quietly. Still, the words felt like explosions in his ears. It had been a whole day without talking, after all.
Gibbs looked up from Mike's grave, taking in his senior field agent, and letting his mouth tug with a sad smile. "DiNozzo."
With no sign of rejection or tone telling him to leave, Tony closed the gap between them and went to kneel beside him, staring ahead of him and frowning slightly. "Should've expected to see you here, huh?" Gibbs didn't answer verbally, but Tony could hear the silent agreement to his rhetorical question all the same. "Guess I thought maybe you'd be gone by now."
"You're here awfully late."
"Wanted to avoid the people."
Gibbs half-smiled, looking down at the grass. It amazed even him sometimes how alike he and Tony could be. The boy was so extroverted so much of the time that those rare moments when he receded inside of himself still surprised GIbbs now and then. The two seemed to like to grieve in similar manners.
Tony bit his lip, going to place a hand against the cold stone. "Miss him?" Gibbs gave him a side look, one that made the answer obvious and had him feeling a little stupid for even asking. "Me too," he finally muttered, swallowing. "I didn't expect it to hurt this much." Gibbs shrugged, looking at the headstone again, but not saying a word. "I know he was your mentor and I knew him well enough, but we spent most of our time arguing and disagreeing then being... friends or anything."
"Mike was the disagreeable sort." He paused, giving a soft, amused smile. "One of his best qualities."
Tony laughed lightly, glad to have the humor to break through the lump in his throat. He didn't respond right away, not sure what to say. There were so many things buzzing through his head, things that had stayed up there as he'd spent the day on his own. They were things he'd never thought to say aloud or ask, but in that moment, they were too fresh and confusing to not bring up.
"Does it ever get easier? Losing them?" He couldn't look at Gibbs as he spoke, his eyes focused on the carved name in front of them. There was a long, almost painful silence, and Tony assumed Gibbs was trying to figure out how to answer him. It wasn't an easy question, he knew. It was something that often got long-winded answers from someone else and he was sure it took a lot for Gibbs to figure out how to compress it into his normal monosyllabic responses. But he trusted him to be honest. It was what he was good at, after all.
Finally, he spoke, his voice quiet and hoarse. "Nope."
It was answer he should have expected. What he hadn't expected, however, was the sudden hand on his shoulder, squeezing in a gentle and comforting manner. It was a small, brief gesture. Yet it spoke volumes between the two.
Tony swallowed. "Been to see Jenny yet?"
"Was about to head that way."
Tony paused, biting at his lip. "Want some company?"
The older agent stood, brushing the dirt and grass from his pants. He started down at Tony for a moment, then to the grave, before looking up at the sky. The faint colors of red and orange and pink still lingered in the clouds, but for the most part, it had turned a deep blue. His mouth scrunched, the thought clear on his face, before he extended a hand to his senior field agent, a quiet gesture of acceptance. Tony took it, understanding, and pulling himself up.
"Thank you, Boss."