"Abuela, do you realize I have grown? I am no longer a baby or little kid." He protested softly, his green eyes glistening, then leaned over to kiss her, reaching up one hand to rub her hair.
"You are even now a baby. You are somebody's baby, my baby," she insisted.
Gibbs grinned at the picture. Despite Tony's words to the contrary, and the fact that he was in college, he still resorted to his childhood habit of rubbing Maria's hair for comfort or affection.
"Don't leave out his daddy's baby, too," Jethro smiled, pointing a finger at his heart.
Tony could not help but laugh at that. "Ok, then, I stand corrected. Somebody's Baby wants something to eat, soon, though, so that he can get to his dessert."
They all roared with laughter at the observation.
Once their food arrived, conversation revolved around chitchat and lapses of silence during which they savoured the delectable seafood feast.
Watching the waiter clear the dinner plates some time later, Tony looked hopefully at Maria. She laughed and directed the server to bring a tremendous slice of key lime pie, and Tony and Jethro grinned in return.
The waiter returned quickly, and Tony lost no time in enjoying the pastry.
Finally he settled back in his seat and directed his attention to the other two. "Please, now will you tell me why you are here? I mean, I absolutely love seeing you, but you threw me for a loop today."
"Well," Maria began, "You just returned here from your Christmas break not too long ago, and you were with me in Campeche until after Christmas Day."
Tony nodded, "Yes, of course, and I've just had classes again for a few days."
"Right, but after you left, I decided to fly to Washington for a few weeks myself, to visit my D.C. home. It has been too long since I returned to Virginia and spent any time."
She suddenly got silent, her mind focused on the months and years that had passed since she returned to Mexico for good.
"Go ahead, Abuela," Tony directed, glancing between Jethro and Maria. "Por favor, say the rest of what you were explaining."
Gibbs elaborated instead, "Son, you operated on a pretty short leash for the past couple of years - not by your choice, of course. I did not allow you to return to Ohio until you were a sophomore and I believed you had learned that your focus had to narrow to a tunnel vision towards your academics for the rest of your college stay."
Maria interjected, "That first semester as a freshman you came home to a world of trouble over low marks, your grades."
"Wait, hold on- you are not going to make me go back home to D.C. for school, are you?" Alarm bells went off in Tony's head and he sat up straighter in his chair, a forkful of pie halfway to his mouth.
"Calm down, Anthony," Jethro commanded, reaching over and putting his hand on Tony's arm. "Let us finish. I simply wanted to remind you that you had gotten down to business and earned the right to return to Ohio. Then that following year you fulfilled all of the requirements I wanted met to earn the privilege of trading in the dorm for your own apartment."
Tony flashed one of his megawatt smiles at mention of the flat. He loved the independence of having his very own place.
"Since then, Bambino, you have tended to your schoolwork, made good grades, worked a part time job, and made us very, very proud of you," Maria concluded.
Jethro smiled. "That sums up the reason we flew over this morning. We wanted to make sure you understood that you have exceeded our expectations, you have surpassed what we asked, and that we love you very much, Son."
Tony's breath caught and he turned away a second to get his emotions under control. When he finally felt composed he quietly asked for confirmation, "You flew all the way here, to Ohio State, to tell me this?"
Maria leaned over and touched his cheek, "Yes, you are correct, and we did. You should never go a moment without knowing how much you are loved."
"Or, how proud you have made us, Son," Jethro added.
The waiter interrupted with the receipt from the check and they quickly gathered their belongings and made their way to the car.
Tony spent the car trip back to his apartment deep in thought and strangely quiet. Jethro and Maria carried the conversation without him, realizing that he wanted some reflection time to mull what they had shared with him at lunch.
As Tony unlocked the door to the apartment, Jethro reminded Maria, "We can just safely stay another half an hour or so. I don't want us to miss our flight, and we need to turn in the rental, too."
Noticing his son heading into the kitchen Gibbs directed, "Tony, don't start a fresh pot. There's really not enough time left, and I can drink some coffee at the airport."
Tony nodded and reversed his direction.
Jethro had settled on the sofa and Maria had chosen the recliner. Tony perched on the arm of her chair a few seconds, then slid until he was ensconced in Maria's lap. She didn't say anything, but wrapped her arms around him and kissed the top of his head. He snuggled against her, then reached up to gently rub her hair.
Jethro watched his child, his eyes drinking in the picture.
Despite the fact that Maria was barely visible with Tony sprawled over her, she was smiling and softly humming. A time would never exist when Antonio did not belong to her, or to her heart.
Tony motioned his free hand in his father's direction, and when his dad acknowledged him with a nod, blew him a kiss, his eyes conveying the depth of his adoration for his daddy. Tony would never experience a world without his father's love shaping him.
Jethro pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to control his emotions and then seared that moment and that day in Tony's apartment into his memory.
Yes, Tony was Somebody's Baby, all right.