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Chapter 3: End of 5 days before and 4 Days til Christmas
Fortunately for the family involved, but unfortunately for Tony, the missing child call turned out to be a false alarm. The child, a ten year old boy named Jonathan, was found quickly at his father’s ex-girlfriend’s house. It turned out that dad got engaged and left his son, who was already unhappy with said engagement, with the new fiancé when he was suddenly deployed. The boy’s mother had dropped out of the picture so long ago that no one had any idea where she was. Jonathan ran off to dad’s ex-girlfriend’s house, whom he liked much more, after an argument didn’t go the way he felt it should.
It was actually her call to the new fiancé, much to the displeasure of Jonathan, that helped locate him after she got home from work and found him on her doorstep. Fortunately both women, for maybe the first time in longer than Tony could remember, only wanted the best for the child and agreed to frequent visits with the old flame while dad was overseas. Everyone involved agreed that this was the best for a child already suffering from a separation from the only parent he had contact with.
Unfortunately this speedy wrapping up left Tony with nothing to do, but think about but his conversation with Jimmy at lunch. Was Jimmy right? Did some part of Tony already know how Gibbs would respond? He certainly couldn’t argue with his logic, because the fact was that even when he’d debated getting it, the idea that it wouldn’t be worn hadn’t entered his mind. Hell even now that it had been pointed out to him, he still didn’t doubt that it would be worn. Was it really Abby and Tim’s reactions that he was worried about? Again the only answer that came to mind was that Jimmy had been correct in this one also.
Sure Abby was his friend, but she’d made it abundantly clear over the years that Tony was no Gibbs and not being good enough for Gibbs was just an easy hop, skip, and a jump in logic from there for Tony to make. Tim’s reaction was more of a work concern given that Tony couldn’t honestly consider them friends or at least not enough of friends that this type of thing was a worry. When it came to Tim, Tony already had his doubts that Tim really respected him some days. What would he say if he found out that they were together? The thought of losing his respect all together tied his stomach up in knots tight enough he had to fight not to puke. But, it still wasn’t enough to turn him away from Gibbs, as Jimmy said… the man he loved.
As he considered Jimmy’s words, he wondered if it was so much a confidence in Gibbs answer as it was a fear of continuing on his current path. Because the fact was, Tony knew that he wasn’t getting any younger. Father Time was catching up with both himself and Gibbs, and if he were honest with himself, Tony knew that he was tired of being lonely.
There weren’t as many bubbly airheads anymore as he liked to make out. Not that he even had to make up or exaggerate stories anymore. People just assumed that they knew what he did with his free time. The reality was that even the people he saw every day had very little clue. So, while Jimmy may have been on the right path, he was a little off on his reasoning, compared to Tony’s perception of the situation after some reflection.
The next day was a Saturday, and while it was usually his sleep in day, for some reason his brain was wide awake at a bright and early 6AM. Deciding not to fight it, Tony went ahead and got up and started his day early getting into his Saturday routine. Workout, breakfast, and cleaning were all done before noon. Dry cleaning was dropped off at his regular place not far from the apartment and then he headed to the US Soldier’s and Airmen’s Home. It was a retirement home that catered to military veterans that Ernie had clued him into during one of Tony’s visits with the man. As was usual he ate lunch with some of the guys and listened to whatever stories they wanted to tell. Christmas presents were left with the nursing staff to pass out for him on Christmas morning and he made a list of things the nurses had overheard the guys needing that they would never mention to Tony.
There was only one person who knew he did this, and Tony was happy to keep it that way. Despite what people thought, Tony wasn’t one who sought attention every time he did something. Tony understood maybe better than anyone what it was like to feel like you were the only person in the world who cared what happened to you. Not all, but several of the men whom he spoke with regularly had no one to come visit them. It was those that Tony made sure he kept in touch with. He realized that if this thing with Gibbs progressed that he most likely would end up having to tell the man about this, and while the thought made him squirm inside, he wasn’t going to stress out about that until he had to. There were other more worrisome things for him to focus on.
After wishing everyone a happy holiday, Tony headed to the grocery store intending to buy food for the holiday. Instead he found himself standing in the seafood department staring at the case thinking the shrimp and scallops looked unexpectedly good with a vague notion forming in the back of his mind. Before he could really think about it, and most likely talk himself out of it, Tony picked up the things he would need for the menu that had formed based on those two ingredients. He purchased everything down to the spices he would need, doubting that the final destination would have even something as simple as garlic powder, as he knew salt and pepper were as exotic as it got. He’d never looked at the pots and pans, and mentally hoped that there was at least a decent boiling pot, but picked up disposable pans for everything he could. Pasta, seafood, cream, parmesan, whipped cream, cherry pie filling, frozen baguette dough, fresh romaine lettuce were just some of the items that went into the cart. He would be serving his favorite recipe spaghetti pie, this version would be an alfredo seafood spaghetti pie, a salad that would put Olive Garden to shame, homemade garlic bread, and one of his favorite holiday desserts Holiday Cherry Delight, which could be made with little effort, but was delicious.
After leaving the store there was a stop at the local liquor store to pick up a couple of bottles of red wine even though most would pick white with shellfish. Tony knew however that Gibbs would only drink red, and since it was also what Tony himself preferred he picked up a couple bottles of The Prisoner, which was his favorite. It helped that he never failed to enjoy the irony while drinking it. He managed to not think about what he was doing right up until the time he pulled up outside of Gibbs’ house, then he had a momentary “what the fuck am I doing?” attack. If this was a woman, Tony would have no doubt in this mind that he was springing a date on the poor unsuspecting lady. Of course he’d never cooked dinner for one of his “dates” as usually their time together was much quicker than it would take to cook dinner, and frankly there was way less clothing involved.
He tried to repeat over and over that there was no way Gibbs would think he had any intentions other than cooking his food, but it didn’t help much. After all this was Gibbs and he knew EVERYTHING before you even thought it. He almost floored it right then and left, but stopped himself right before his foot hit the gas pedal and forced himself to put the car back in park, after not remembering taking it OUT in the first place. This was not a date. This was Tony coming over and cooking for his boss and friend. Although he’d never done such a thing before and Gibbs didn’t even KNOW he could cook. Everyone had heard about the conversation last Christmas between him and his father, and was therefore justifiably under the impression that Tony couldn’t boil water, mostly because he’d never taken the time to point out the difference between “don’t cook” and “can’t cook”.
Finally Tony got tired of his waffling and forced himself to get out of the car, telling himself he was going to let the cards lay where they fell. He was tired of stressing out about this whole situation. Christmas was way too far away, and Tony needed some kind of resolution now that Jimmy had convinced him that he was more confident than Tony thought he was. He needed to know if he had a chance, or if he needed to exchange the necklace for a bottle of expensive bourbon. So, not letting himself think about it anymore, he got the bags out of the backseat and, after locking the doors, headed into the warmth of Gibb’s home.
He was putting the seafood, veggies and Alfredo sauce makings in the fridge, leaving out the dessert stuff so that he could make it right away. He liked it best after it had gotten a chance to set, so he needed to get it going right away. The bread dough was thrown into the freezer, the spices were laid out on the counter, and the butter for the bread was going into the fridge with the other stuff when he realized he’d forgotten to put it in there when he was getting out the other cold stuff. After that he had intended to lay the dessert stuff out in the correct order according to his mental recipe when he heard, “What the hell are you doing, DiNozzo?” Straightening Tony shut the fridge door, plastered a toothy grin on his face, and turned to greet Gibbs.
“Putting the stuff for dinner in the fridge, boss, before I make dessert. “ Tony wished there was something that he could do with his hands ‘cause he knew that he looked like a moron fidgeting, but he was undeniably nervous. Gibbs frowned slightly cocking his head to one side as he studied Tony, wracking his brain trying to remember whatever plans they obviously had that he’d forgotten. No matter how hard he tried though nothing came to mind, and he was pretty sure that he would remember something as unique as an offer from Tony too cook for him, especially considering that Gibbs didn’t think Tony could cook. He vaguely remembered that being a point of contention between the two DiNozzo men last Christmas, but… Nope, nothin’. “We have plans I didn’t know about?”
“Yes boss! I mean, no boss. I mean…” Tony stopped talking, mentally head slapping himself, and took a deep breath as Gibbs continued to frown at him patiently impatient, which only made sense if you knew the man. “I was at the store and uhh… I want to cook you dinner, Boss, and I don’t get to do it lots but…. I got stuff for Alfredo Seafood Spaghetti Pie, salad, garlic bread, and dessert.”
Gibbs frowned a little more cocking his head to the other side obviously trying to figure out what was going on. If the whole cooking thing wasn’t odd enough, the nervousness was a big tip there was something else at play here. Home cooking, Italian food, nice wine, if it was a woman Gibbs would think… OH. Could… huh. “You’re right boss,” Tony stammered making Gibbs even more confused because he was fairly damned certain he hadn’t said a damn thing, and while Tony was good at anticipating, Gibbs had no clue what Tony thought he was anticipating this time. “Never assume. Rule 5 or 10 or 2 or 35 or… I should have known that you were busy. I’ll just pack this stuff up and…”
“DiNozzo!” Gibbs barked moving fully into impatient mode before forcing himself to slip back into patiently impatient. “Number 5 is Don’t Waste Good, number 10 is Never get personally involved in a case, number two is Always wear gloves at a crime scene, and 35 is Always watch the watchers. Number 8 is never assume. Did I say I was busy? ‘Cause I am pretty damned sure I didn’t. Been awhile since anyone’s cooked for me, an’ whatcha said you were making sounds damn good, but since when in the hell do you cook?”
Tony shrugs shyly again wishing he had something to do with his hands, and briefly turned to arrange the things on the counter picking up the pan they were going in to occupy himself a little before turning back to Gibbs to answer him. “I can cook, boss, it just isn’t fun to do for yourself. So, I don’t, but you know… for special occasions… I mean not that this… uh… it’s…” Tony stopped again cursing himself in his head thinking it would be a miracle if Gibbs didn’t figure this whole damned thing out, then immediately fire him for being a stuttering moron. Shit he hadn’t even stuttered like this when he started, and in fact he sounded a lot like McGee, which frankly made things even worse. ‘Cause McGee was good at a lot of things, but dates were not one of them & Tony was pretty sure sounding like him would not inspire Gibbs to want to spend a lifetime with Tony doing the horizontal mambo.
Gibbs on the other hand just continued to watch him wondering what the hell was happening to his Senior Field agent. He tried to come up with any other reason in the world why Tony would be this nervous about cooking him dinner unless it really was a date, but not a single thing came to mind. And if it really WAS a date then… shit Fornell was never gonna let him live this down. Damn rule number 12 would always be his Achilles heel. “Ok, come on down when you’re done and bring a couple of beers. Gotta call I gotta make.” Turning Gibbs went back down to the basement, and headed straight for the work bench. Sitting on his stool he picked up his phone and dialed Tobias knowing he might as well get this over with. Fuckin’ prick was gonna have a field day with this. At least Gibbs knew this would be one ex he would never have to worry about the FBI agent stealing.
“Don’t come over tonight,” Gibbs said right off when the ringing stopped not waiting for Tobias to say hello. “I think I have a date.”
“Hello to you too, Gibbs, and how do you not know if you have a date or not?” Tobias asked smirking. “I know you’re old and forgetful and it’s been awhile. Surely though an old fart like you can still at least remembering when he’s asked some smoking red head out for a dinner and a roll in the hay.”
“Well, jackass, I didn’t do the asking, and it’s not a redhead. What the hell else would you call it when someone comes over unexpected, bringing bags of food, and says they are cooking you dinner that includes two bottles of red wine. Speaking of… who the hell names a wine The Prisoner?” Gibbs asked shortly feeling off balance and not liking it any more than he normally would.
“I didn’t know you were seeing someone,” Tobias remarked moving into the kitchen to decide what he was having for dinner now that his normal “takeout at Gibbs’ cause Tobias was bored and a grumpy Gibbs was better than nothing” Saturday night was out of the question. “Who is she? Does she have a sister? Since when do you date anything other than red heads?”
Gibbs snorted thinking to himself ‘nosy bastard’. “I’m not seeing anyone. They have no siblings. I date plenty more than red heads!”
“Huh,” Tobias offered intelligently getting distracted from his food hunt when a particular pattern started to stand out in Gibbs’ answers. “Have they ever showed up with food before?”
“Takeout, but they’ve never cooked for me, and they called it a special occasion.”
“Huh,” Tobias repeated and moved to the table smirking again forgetting his own dinner all together. “So, DiNutso finally manned up, huh?”
“I didn’t damned well say anything about Tony, Tobias.” Gibbs grouched knowing the younger man was gonna kick his ass when he heard about this conversation. Gibbs considered for maybe half a second not telling him, but if this WAS a date, he sure as hell wasn’t gonna start out a hopefully fledgling relationship by lying about something as stupid as a damn conversation with Tobias Fornell. Gibbs would just have to make sure Fornell knew to keep his fuckin’ mouth shut, and minded his Ps & Qs around Tony from now on.
“Didn’t have to Jethro. Genderless pronouns tell me it’s a man not a woman. The only two men you know that come over and bring you takeout regularly are me and DiNutso. Ducky cooks when he comes over for dinner, and you hate it because it’s always some healthy crap you detest. Since I know that I am currently sitting at my kitchen table that means it’s Tony. So, like I said… he finally manned up, huh?” Mentally Tobias was gleefully planning out all the harassment he could inflict on the pain in the ass Senior Field Agent and his boss.
Gibbs’ eyes narrowed hearing said unrestrained glee, and decided to cut this shit off at the knees before it had a chance to go anywhere damaging. “You will not give him shit about this Tobias.”
Fornell snorted still smirking. “Yeah right, good luck with that, Jethro. I’m gonna get all kinds of mileage out of this.”
“Maybe I need to make myself clearer,” Gibbs growled. “You give Tony any crap about this, and you’ll lose your balls. Then after that I will call Dianne and tell her about that little trip you take every March with her very best friend from collage Bethany whatsherface who married that fuckin’ investment broker who is more boring than Dianne’s accountant.”
“How,” Tobias started then stopped swearing at Gibbs in his head seeing his plans for fun die a sad death before they could ever really get fully formed. “Fine, take away all my fun.” Pausing as he moved on quickly used to such things happening when Jethro got involved, Tobias’ eyes got big as a thought occurred to him. “Holy shit! You really like him! This is serious you ol’ dog! What about your precious rule #12? You have the worst time with that damn kneejerk response to Jenny and Paris. At least Tony is a better fit than Hollis and that damn lawyer and the damn shrink.”
Gibbs ran a hand through his silver hair, not sure how to respond. “Yeah, Tobias, if this is really a date then I’m serious about it. As for rule 12, well shit if I know. You’ve been telling me it was stupid for years since as you pointed out I do a really crappy job of following it. Maybe I should change it to: Never date a Co-Worker unless they are a hot male former college two sport athlete who you have known for 10 years. I mean, like you said the damned thing was only made cause of the damn Jenny & Paris fiasco and heaven only knows that I didn’t feel this strongly about her… well ever. If I had maybe it would have ended differently and rule #12 would be something completely different like Dating Co-Workers isn’t so bad. But then again Tony isn’t Jenny either. If heaven forbid we didn’t last, I don’t think that there would be so much to worry about. I have more faith in Tony’s ability to be a professional if things went bad than I would have in Jenny’s if I had thought about things with my head instead of my dick.”
“I just… how the hell am I supposed to know if…” Gibbs broke off hearing Tony coming down the steps. “Gotta go Tobias. Try not to get into trouble on your own tonight.”
Tobias rolled his eyes wondering how Gibbs’ people thought he was so damned slick and sneaky. “Let me know how it turns out, Jethro,” he barely managed to get in before Gibbs hung up on him.
“You didn’t… I didn’t mean to make you cancel your plans, boss. I can go if…”
“Wasn’t anything that is more important than this.” Gibbs interrupted sensing that Tony was still skittish, and wanting to head him off before the younger man could talk himself out of this. Grabbing the bottle Tony was holding out to him, Gibbs nodded his thanks and leaned back against the bench watching the always sexy younger man. Mentally he swore that if this was really a chance at happiness with the younger man he would treat it as if it were as precious as his marriage with Shannon was. His three marriages had been born more out of loneliness and desperation than love, but this… whatever it was maybe possibly with Tony was already so much more than that.
Gibbs had ironically first become aware that maybe he had feelings for something beyond co-workers for Tony while he was in Mexico trying to get his memory back. Somehow as he was recovering, the memories and the feelings just weren’t adding up. Finally he had been forced to admit that maybe those old feelings and longings he’d ignored for years that weren’t quite as 100% heterosexual as most would imagine, hadn’t just gone away when he joined the Marines. Finally Gibbs decided to just act as if this whole situation was the date that he hoped it was. Feeling better now that he had a direction, Gibbs forced himself to relax and smiled at Tony. “I would much rather have a home cooked dinner with you than a crappy takeout dinner with Fornell, I’m really glad that you came over, Tony. Maybe after we eat we can find a western to watch or somethin’.”
Tony looked at Gibbs for a moment then smiled shyly and settled on the padded stool that Gibbs hand down in the basement for him to use when he came to visit. “I… uh… I’d be happy to cook for you more, Boss. I like doing it. It’s relaxing. It’s just… uh… it’s kinda depressing cooking for only yourself all the time and some things you just can’t easily make for one person. So you end up cooking the same things all the time, which eventually gets boring. So you order out cause you have a wider variety to choose from, and before you know it you haven’t cooked for yourself in years.”
Tony shrugged knowing he was still rambling, but Gibbs was used to his yammering and at least he’d stopped stuttering for the most part. “But you know I wouldn’t mind cooking for you now and then… uh… Jethro.” Gibbs smiled at the use of his first name and Tony finally found himself relaxing about as much as he figured he would at least until the first bottle of wine was gone. Leaning forward to rest against the workbench, Tony asked Gibbs’ his opinion on a cold case he’d been keeping his eye on and thought maybe he’d finally figured out why it seemed so familiar.