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Chapter 1: 6 Days to Christmas
All that I want is stillness of heart so I can start to find my way out of the dark & into your heart. ~ Stillness of Heart by Lenny Kravitz
Tony stood in his living room staring out the window watching the snowfall. The rest of the apartment was quiet except for his stereo, which was playing a Lenny Kravitz song softly in the background on loop. Lenny wasn’t a favorite, but he had enough songs Tony liked that he had a few of his CD’s in his collection. There was one song he’d heard a few days back that seemed to perfectly fit the headspace that he’d been in lately. It almost seemed as if whoever penned the lyrics had known where he’d be at mentally when Tony heard them.
He knew he’d been more maudlin than normal, but Ziva’s exit from the team and their lives was too sudden, too final, too painful, and not really for the reason everyone assumed. Or at least that was the reason he was allowing himself to believe, if only for the moment. He knew that everyone assumed they’d had some great romance, but they hadn’t. Sure they’d flirted and he wouldn’t lie to himself or anyone else by claiming that he didn’t find her attractive. She was after all beautiful, strong willed, and more than capable of taking care of herself.
Unfortunately those were some of the problems as well, and frankly he had a much more tantalizing option that actually came with a functioning work life / home life personality toggle switch. No, Ziva had no more been anything than a regular flirting target, a good friend, someone whom he believed that he could trust to a certain extent, as long as he wasn’t trying to trust her with something as important as his heart. Ziva had been someone safe that he could needle and tease, but knew that there was no way he’d ever really fall for her. Tony had a feeling that Ziva maybe wanted more from their relationship than Tony was willing to offer her, and the kiss at the end was a concession to that, easy to give knowing that he’d most likely never see her again.
If he was going to fall for a female co-worker it would have been Kate… sweet Kate taken just when they were really getting to know each other. His run-in with the Plague had really changed things between them. Maybe if she hadn’t died so soon after that but… Shaking his head, Tony forced his thoughts away from Kate’s ending not wanting to go down that road. In the end the facts were he would never know what may or may not have become of him and Kate. He also was enough of a realist to admit that time and the suddenness of her death may have blurred past hurts and sharpened the happy times. Guilt, even acknowledged unnecessary guilt, had a funny way of painting the past into a prettier picture than a photograph of the real thing would reflect.
Briefly thinking back to Ziva, Tony had to admit that maybe had the whole Michael incident not happened or maybe had her reaction not been so… violent… things might have been different at her ending in his life, too. However if his father had taught him anything, it was that you never forget or overlook periods that could be viewed as least borderline abuse and lack of respect. The reason why Tony continued to hold his father at an arm’s length, unwilling to forget childhood abuse and neglect, was the same or at the very least in the same ballpark of why he would never forget how things were with Ziva prior to them rescuing her. If Tony was going to overlook such actions for anyone, it certainly would be his father. Anthony DiNozzo Sr. would always be the man for whom he rightfully or not would feel some amount of longing for a connection with, which would make their current relationship much different.
In the end Ziva was simply a co-worker whom he had affection for yes, but a passion and romance for, no, as those required a level of trust that he just would never be able to develop for her. If he needed any proof that he couldn’t even at the end trust her completely, it was the fiasco she’d manipulated Tim into. Using NCIS resources in a non-sanctioned investigation could have landed them both in serious trouble with not just NCIS, but the judicial system as a whole. No, putting guilt and wishful what if’s and maybe’s aside, the reality was that things with both Kate and Ziva ended for a reason. Just like things with Gibbs continued on for a reason despite all the ups and downs in their relationship, such as it was.
Not ready to focus his thoughts on the real source for his mood, Tony tried to distract himself by moving away from the window and into the kitchen where he poured himself a glass of wine. It was not his normal adult beverage of choice, but something that soothed a part of his soul on occasion. Unfortunately there was some thought or unfulfilled need that would not go denied that night and Tony found his focus turning back to Gibbs as he stared unseeing at his granite island countertop.
Things had been different since Tony return from Israel, from the trip that he wasn’t admitting to reaching his destination much earlier than he’d already admitted to. Gibbs in return wasn’t admitting to knowing that he knew where Tony had been when he told Gibbs and Tim he was still searching for her either, so it all evened out. Sometimes things between him and Gibbs just worked out like that, and they both understood without speaking the words, that it was for the best. It almost felt like someone had hit the reset button on their friendship, returning to Tony the man whom had lured him away from Baltimore, the man Tony had fallen for all those years ago. He didn’t know what caused it or why, but he found himself equal parts grateful and scared to death. It was truly everything that he’d been wanting since Kate came along and threw off the dynamic.
Tony wasn’t afraid to admit that he wasn’t sure he could trust this current environment would last. He’d trusted it before only to lose it the first time other people came around. The problem was that he wasn’t sure he could keep himself from falling further down the rabbit’s hole. At the bottom lay the fact that he just straight up loved Gibbs, and Tony knew he couldn’t and wasn’t sure that he wanted to even try to change that fact. When he really got down to the nuts & bolts of it, Gibbs was just too much of… well everything.
Gibbs was acceptance, being the first boss he’d ever had that saw past all the masks and bothered to look for the potential beneath. Gibbs was stability, giving him an environment that he could be himself in and still thrive, letting him break the two year rule. Gibbs was family, over the years since he’d met the man, people who entered his life actually began to stick around. Something that didn’t happen prior to that, frat brothers aside, as that was a complex and unexplainable relationship all onto itself.
Logically he knew he had people from the pre-Gibbs era of his life, but none of them were Abby, who was the little sister he’d always wanted. True sometimes she was spoiled and bratty, but she always knew when he needed a hug, for the most part she kept his secrets and always knew how to make him feel better when he was sure the sun would never shine again. They’d had their rough patch ‘the Gibbs left us and Tony was treated like crap’ months that Tony had just accepted. He’d told himself that he’d forgiven her for it even if deep down inside he wasn’t quite sure that was true.
Of course something else his father had taught him was that family didn’t necessarily need to be fully trusted to be loved. For sure, while he knew he would never trust his father, maybe even by half, there would always be a part of him that loved him and longed for his love in return. Abby was the same. The Gibbs-less months had put a dent in their relationship Tony refused to acknowledge. He did his best to convince himself that he loved her as he always had before, because if he didn’t those hugs might not be as effective as he needed them to be some days.
Moving on from Abby, there was Tim who filled the kid brother role equally as apt to be an annoying spoiled brat as Abby. Sometimes he wondered if because of his lack of understanding how a real family worked, if he didn’t let people in too close that were maybe not always good for him. However when your choices were that or nothing, Tony learned that you could withstand anything. (Again, see father DiNozzo lessons learned for this also.) Fortunately there were plenty of positives in his relationship with Tim. The man was smarter than anyone Tony had ever known, and never failed to awe him when his kid brother picked some vital digital bit out of space to sink that last necessary nail in some perp’s coffin. Not that Tony considered himself stupid, or that Tim never took great pleasure in rubbing his brains in Tony’s face, ‘cause Tony wasn’t and Tim did… often. Again though, it was tolerable considering the alternative, and the Frat House had taught Tony plenty of ways to put underlings in their place when necessary, methods varying depending on the level of the transgression.
There was Ducky who filled the eccentric Uncle role that every family needed. He was someone who may not know him as well as siblings and parents, but would be there to hold his hand when times got tough. This made Jimmy Palmer aka the Autopsy Gremlin aka Black Lung the equally quirky cousin that you were afraid to admit you really liked and missed terribly when you had been apart for too long. His relationship with Jimmy had really changed while Gibbs was on his siesta in Mexico. Jimmy was the one person who seemed to remember that Tony was just trying to keep everything together, and that just maybe he needed some support, too. Hell even Tobias filled his own notch in Tony’s life, although that was a fact that he’d take to his grave.
Lastly and maybe the most complex item on his list of things Gibbs was, was home. There was the city he’d given him that was as diverse and layered with masks and shadows as Tony was himself. There was the basement in Gibbs’ house that he’d come to think of as a sanctuary. He’d long ago stopped being surprised at finding himself making his way down those steps when the world was crumbling around him, because he knew he’d find what he needed at the bottom.
More than anything though, there was simply the man himself. If Gibbs’ bout with amnesia had taught him nothing else, it taught him that he could lose everything else he had and be ok, but Gibbs himself was irreplaceable. When Gibbs and his scrambled brain had gone to Mexico with that simple you’ll do, he’d taken everything else with him. Family, home, acceptance, and stability had all gone up in smoke.
Hell even the whole Jeanne Benoit fiasco could be traced back directly to Gibbs’ absence. Had the assignment even happened, to which Tony had serious doubts about, what in the hell would he have needed some gun runner’s daughter for when he had Gibbs to love even from afar? Tony was fairly certain however that had Gibbs been around, Jenny would never have had the balls to put him on an undercover mission with no backup and no one else knowing outside of the two of them.
Straightening, Tony shook his head trying to clear the cobwebs as he put his wine glass into the sink and headed for the bedroom, pausing briefly as he spotted the box sitting on his coffee table. Sighing, Tony continued to the bedroom, pulling off his shirt as he went, wadded it up in a ball, tossed it toward the wicker basket he used for laundry, and throwing his hands in the air when it went in easily.
The distraction wasn’t working. His mind, intent on torturing him 6 days before Christmas when it should be letting him focus on the peace of the holiday, was fixated on Gibbs and now that damned present. He was not sure what the fuck possessed him to get it, except that it was perfect. When he’d seen something similar online, he’d known what he wanted for Gibbs. Its dual meaning was everything that he’d want to give the man that he was so in love with. Its unwrapped state reflected his nerves. Once it was given there would be no hiding how he felt. Even if by some miracle Gibbs didn’t ask the meaning and reasoning behind such a personal, intimate gift, he would be busted as soon as Abby saw it. Tony knew for a fact that she knew its meaning.
Rubbing his hands over his face, Tony turned out the lights and crawled between his sheets letting the wine fog his mind finally and pull him into dreamland.