When it starts, Tony's not even sure how, how it happened, though the why is, with hindsight, pretty obvious. They come back from Kate's funeral on SecNav's private jet, and despite Abby's jazz and the fact they got justice, finally, despite the relative peace they found having said their goodbyes, the mood on the aircraft as they fly home is decidedly sombre. Somehow the funeral just makes it so much more final.
Tony finds he envies McGee and Abby their casual closeness. The status of their relationship is convoluted as a Greek tragedy, but in this situation they both have someone to turn to, and it reminds Tony, bitterly, that he... does not.
So turning up at Gibbs' house with a bottle of bourbon held up in front of him like a shield-cum-bribe-cum-peace-offering seems pretty natural.
"It's okay to admit you were a little in love with her," he tells Gibbs after a few too many inches from the dusty jar.
Gibbs turns a look on him that's both wise and ineffably sad, but doesn't respond. Not that Tony expected him to. Gibbs the enigmatic showing emotion or admitting he's hurting? Yeah, right.
"I was," he adds. "I mean, sometimes I really hated her. Because she was beautiful and a bitch and unattainable, and I hated her for making me want her anyway. But mostly I was a little bit... you know, kinda crazy over her. So, you know, I do understand, Boss."
Gibbs looks down at his own jar and fails to contribute to the conversation.
"I mean, I saw the way you looked at each other sometimes. Like there was a secret conversation going on no one else could follow. I noticed. I was jealous. Of the way she looked at you."
He thinks about it a few more seconds, finds some alcohol induced honesty. "And the way you looked at her." He's suddenly mad Gibbs isn't reacting. "There, I said it, I was jealous, okay, I was fucking jealous and I-"
Afterward, he suspects Gibbs suddenly grabbing his head and forcing their lips together was drunken logic finding the quickest way to shut him the fuck up. At any rate, it's mostly just a mash of mouths, and when they surface Gibbs looks almost as surprised as Tony feels.
Absolutely unable to deal with this development, Tony stares at his boss for a moment, blinks wildly, then he's muttering something, even he doesn't know what, and scarpering up the basement stairs. Too inebriated to drive, he spends the night curled uncomfortably into the driver's seat of his car, and when he wakes up with the sun, he drives home as fast as he can and mainlines coffee for an hour before heading into work.
He's pretty sure it shouldbe kind of awkward, and it kind of is but not in any of the ways he'd imagined. He fully expected Gibbs to glare at him in his patented 'I can kill you with my bare hands without even breaking a sweat so do not fuck with me' way, but when Tony arrives in the bullpen Gibbs shoots him a look that's... apologetic, even pleading.
Which, needless to say, freaks Tony out to the highest degree. He does his best 'it's all cool, just chill' Tony-type-grin, shrugs exaggeratedly, his hands spread wide, and hopes Gibbs will get the message they're okay, he's not pursuing sexual harassment charges or anything, and he doesn't plan to let it make things weird.
Gibbs relaxes slightly, which is to say he looks more like his normal grumpy self, and Tony breathes a sigh of relief and resolves never to think about it again.
After a week of not thinking about it, honest, he's come to the conclusion he really has a problem. He never meant to look at Gibbs that way. He's slept with guys before and he liked it, but this is different. Dipping your pen in the company ink? Never wise.
And then he wishes that metaphor had never occurred to him because damn. It's been a while, but Tony kinda likes being the one getting dipped, if he's honest. And then he wonders if Gibbs has ever... and if he likes to... or if he's like the last guy Tony was with and just prefers to...
And he keeps having to stop his thoughts mid sentence because holy inappropriate topic, Batman. Especially since the thoughts keep coming to him while he's at his desk and supposedly working.
His unruly curiosity pops up to ask if he thinks Gibbs and Fornell ever...
"God, I just have to stop." He doesn't realise he said it aloud till he catches Ziva giving him a strange look from Kate's desk, and then he wants to put his head in his hands and die.
It doesn't help that it's still all mixed up in his head with the ever-present Kate sadness. It's still Kate's desk, no matter how hot (in a deadly, 'do not play games with me or I will end you' kind of a way) Ziva is. Kate is still hovering around them, all the time.
He knows from the looks he sees on their faces that it's not just him. She's haunting the whole team, if only in their thoughts.
About the only time since her death Tony hasn't been nursing a little ache of loss is when he's been freaking out because Gibbs kissed him, and it's weird on many levels, most of them things along the lines of 'I shouldn't still be thinking about this, it's Gibbs, for chrissakes.' But freaking out about it has been a welcome break from grieving, a welcome break from remembering the warm splatter of her blood hitting his face.
Given the choice, he'd much rather think about Gibbs. Who is, in fairness, kinda hot. And not dead. Which is also a definite plus.
He can almost feel ghost-Kate leaning over his shoulder and taking the piss. You always were so desperate for his approval, Tony, she taunts, in the slightly nasal tone she used when she really wanted to needle him. Should've known you were harbouring a secret crush. She leans in a little closer. Always so greedy, DiNozzo. Wanting us both.
So. Not. Helping. He could swear he hears her laugh and smells her perfume, but when he looks eagerly over his shoulder, instead of Kate (modest suit or Catholic schoolgirl outfit, Tony would honestly have been okay with either) he finds the bossman staring at him. The universe has a cruel sense of humour, and Tony does something he hasn't done in years.
He finds himself sitting outside Gibbs' house again, huddled over the steering wheel, not at all sure what he's doing here, what he wants, even if he wants anything that Gibbs is capable of giving him. He wants to feel something other than grief. He doesn't know if there's anything here to give him that release, but he'd be willing to try if he could figure out what this is.
Maybe it's a way to feel close with Kate, or at least close with someone who feels the same grief, who misses Kate the same way Tony does.
Gibbs hasn't admitted it, not out loud, but Tony is an astute reader of people. While he can't say for sure exactly how Gibbs felt about Kate, he's certain it wasn't something so easily explained as the normal relationship between coworkers. Tony's also sure it wasn't one-sided.
It could conceivably even have worked, not least because Kate would never willingly have allowed it not to if they'd started it, and the woman grew her own balls. Gibbs would've had his work cut out screwing it up without getting dead.
But they meshed well, too. It isn't hard to imagine them being happy.
He's not sure either of them realised. He sure as hell isn't about to point this out to a grieving man who already lost Kate-as-coworker and Kate as... as some kind of colleague-family-crush mashup.
On the other hand, maybe being here is an excuse to be close to Gibbs. Maybe that thought scares Tony even more.
He really doesn't know, which is what makes him turn around and drive back home, tail between his legs, because he doesn't think either of them need more unnecessary pain right now.
"We need to talk."
Gibbs doesn't look up from whatever he's doing on the damn boat. "You breakin' up with me already, DiNozzo?"
This kind of forced joviality looks godawful on him, in Tony's not especially humble opinion.
After another week of not talking about it and failing to stop thinking about it, of trying, and failing, to quash the feeling maybe there's something here worth exploring, he's back in Gibbs' basement where it started, trying to summon up the guts to do something about it.
Gibbs sighs heavily and puts down his tools. "Okay. Talk."
Of course, when Gibbs turns those cool blue eyes on him, Tony loses track of what exactly he wanted to say.
Gibbs seems kind of amused, which is at least a distinct improvement on broken, the default expression he's been wearing the last few weeks.
"So, um, how are you doing?" Tony manages.
Gibbs' look unequivocally tells him he's a damn coward, and it's so familiar, so pre-Kate's-death-pissy, it actually makes Tony smile.
"Life goes on." The unspoken admission rings out loudly in the silence. Life goes on, and sometimes they'd both rather it didn't have to.
"Yeah." Tony nods awkwardly and shifts his weight from foot to foot.
Boss, you remember you kissed me, right? Right? Can we try it again, properly this time? 'Cause I'm not sure, but I think I want some more.
Yeah, Tony really has no clue how to do this. He decides to wait and see if the subject comes up of its own accord.
(Because reminiscing about that time they kissed seems so likely.)
Gibbs' face says, clear as day, 'Spit it out, DiNozzo.'
Tony wishes he'd say it aloud, not just think it, give Tony an excuse for blabbering like an idiot and at least putting it out there and screw the consequences. Instead, he's trying to find the right words and ends up standing here with his mouth open, doing his best goldfish impression.
The right words. He suspects the right words for this scenario do not exist.
He sighs, shrugs. He's waiting on Gibbs the functional mute for some way to continue this conversation, which would be hilarious if it weren't so sad.
Gibbs smiles slightly. Yup. Bastard's amused at Tony's discomfiture. You remember you started this, Boss, right? For once the awkward is totally not Tony's fault. Well. He's almost sure it's not his fault. Like, ninety-five percent sure.
There's another minute of uncomfortable silence. Gibbs turns away, picks something up from the workbench. Tony can't see his face, but still sees the brokenness is back. He definitely prefers the Gibbs who's laughing at his stupidity.
Gibbs doesn't look up. "Ziva, she..." His voice cracks a little. "She cleared out Kate's desk."
It's the first time Tony has heard him say her name out loud since the funeral. He swallows hard. They both know the desk has to become Ziva's. It can't remain Kate's forever.
It doesn't mean they have to like it.
"Ziva found... some stuff."
Gibbs finally turns back around, holds out what's in his hands like it's something inordinately precious. It turns out to be a sketchbook.
Tony recognises it immediately. He takes it, but doesn't really want to open it. For several long minutes, in fact, he just stares at it, running his hand back and forth over the cover. It hurts.
Eventually he takes a deep breath and starts to leaf slowly through the pages, pausing here and there to admire her work. Kate was good.
He hates using the past tense.
Most of her work went to be used for BOLOs and the like. What's left are personal sketches, familiar faces, drawn with love and skill. Not caricatures. Pencil portraits, capturing character as well as likeness.
Tony finds himself, looking kind of cool and likeable as he chats on the phone. He never imagined Kate had ever seen him in such a positive light she would draw a picture like this, so careful, so beautifully done.
A few more portraits. Gibbs, with a soft look Tony recognises, one Gibbs bestowed on Kate now and then, when he thought she wasn't looking. He wonders if Gibbs is thinking something similar, that he never realised Kate had seen him this way. That he wishes he'd figured it out before.
Tony clears his throat. "Wow. I, uh." This time, he's pretty sure the speechlessness isn't his own fault, or even Gibbs'. It's Kate. Even though she's gone, she can still mess with his head. If she can see him, if there's a place in heaven for federal agents and she has the time to keep tabs on him, on them, she'll probably be pretty smug about it.
He lays the sketchbook down with appropriate reverence on the workbench, touches the closed cover again. "She was good."
He sees in his peripheral vision when Gibbs nods.
"She was." Gibbs' voice is low and husky.
There, they've both said it. 'She was.' It's official. She's gone. Can it please stop hurting now?
"I miss her."
Gibbs doesn't respond. Not that he has to. It's obvious.
Tony screws up all his courage, looks up. "Boss?"
"Yeah?" Gibbs studies his face.
Sometime in the last few minutes, while Tony was absorbed in the sketchbook, Gibbs got a whole lot closer, and Tony could swear his entire field of vision is just blue eyes, staring at him.
Gibbs lets out a sigh, exasperation laced with a liberal dose of humour.
"Whaddya need, Tony?" The question sounds resigned, but not unfriendly. Just like he's been waiting for this since that first weird, grief-filled evening, and is pretty much relieved it's finally being asked outright.
"I don't know what I need." Tony shrugs. No point being anything but honest. He doesn't have it in him to lie about this, anyway. "I don't have a fucking clue what I need. I just know what I want."
The words 'And it's you, by the way' aren't actually spoken, but Tony knows they're heard and understood.
Gibbs gives him a calculating look, then steps closer. "That so?"
Tony forces himself to stand his ground. "Yes."
"Hmmm." Gibbs is looking at him, studying his face like Tony is a murder suspect who just won't give it up, then he's moving closer still and tilting his head, and Tony is so relieved he doesn't overthink it, just leans in to meet the kiss.
It's surprisingly tender, surprisingly not weird, and sets off a not at all surprising burn at the base of his spine. Gibbs' hands close on his hips and draw him in, and finally Tony allows himself to reach one arm around Gibbs' body and put his other hand up to Gibbs' cheek, feeling the roughness of stubble under his fingers.
Gibbs sighs again, but this time it sounds kind of satisfied, and anyway, his tongue is in Tony's mouth so... Tony could care less right now.
When they pull apart, a look passes between them that could've been lifted straight from one of those silent conversations Gibbs was always having with Kate, and Tony can picture her rolling her eyes at the pair of them. You're both completely dense. And you better not be imagining me joining you two, DiNozzo.
Gibbs' eyes are dark. After a few seconds of intensity, of making Tony feel like his brain is being x-rayed right to the back of his skull, he abruptly turns away. He crosses the basement, climbs the first couple of stairs, then looks back, an eyebrow raised in question.
"You comin' or what?" The pissy tone is back. Thank God.
Tony considers his options for few more seconds, then shrugs. "Yeah." After all, can't win if you don't play the game.
It might not be what they need. It might just be what they want. But maybe it'll turn out to be enough.
~ fin ~