Months after Kate's death, Gibbs and Tony are still leaning hard on one another, and still don't seem to be able to work out what exactly they mean to each other.

Sequel to chasing ghosts and afterward. Set after 3.18 "Bait".

Rated: FR15
Categories: Slash / Femslash, General > Angst, Slash / Femslash > Gibbs/DiNozzo, Het > DiNozzo/Kate, Het > Gibbs/Kate
Genre: Angst, Character Study, Episode Tag, Hurt/Comfort, Romance
Warnings: Character Death
Challenges: Lucky in Love Challenge
Challenges: Lucky in Love Challenge
Series: unresolved
Story Notes

Thanks to phoenixrising360 for conversations that got me thinking about part three and for posting a challenge that gave me the kick up the bum to get it written, and to K9Lasko and BadWolf303 for beta-reading and soundboard duties <3

Chapter Notes

I think this teeters on the border between T and M for language and sexual situations, but it's mostly just suggestive, hence the FR15 rating.

Also references Kate's canon death in Twilight.

love and war


Tony is actually going to kill Gibbs one of these days (if some batshit crazy terrorist doesn't get him first, of course), and when it's all over it takes every ounce of common sense and self-preservation Tony has not to yell at him about taking stupid risks. (Or maybe just kiss him hard on the mouth, right there in front of everyone from the director to McGee, which might be equally as foolish in a completely different way.) He wants to scream and shout and tear Gibbs a new one. He wants to curl up in a corner and cry with relief because nobody died on his watch, including the kid grieving his mom whose life was in Tony's hands, who only survived the day because Tony trusted his gut to tell him what Gibbs would do.

He wants a lot of things. He wants to remind Gibbs that suicide by crazed teenager would still be suicide and it's not cool. He wants to tell Gibbs that his proverbial shoes are fucking huge, and putting Tony in a position where he has to fill them is not okay. He wants to point out that Gibbs could've been blown to pieces today, and that Tony isn't ready, isn't ready at all. He wants to say that he doesn't have it in him to lose someone else close to him, not yet. Maybe not ever.

He wants to apologise for using Kate's name the way he did.

(He wants to say that he misses Kate, too.)

He wants to connect in a way that's just out of reach.

Gibbs wants to wring Tony's neck, then give him the pat on the back he's wanted for years, then pop him in the nose. And after that, maybe drag him somewhere private and kiss him. (A lot.) He wants to yell at him about the whole fucking situation, about the risks Tony took, about the sucker-punch of Kate's name in that message that was clever and cruel and necessary and unforgivable.

He wants to tell Tony he's proud.

(He also wouldn't mind having words with a couple other people. Telling Ziva this isn't Israel is right there on the list. Reminding Jenny she's no longer a field agent and she has no one to blame for that decision but herself is also pretty high up. But all the things really jostling at him and demanding his attention are Tony-related. It's infuriating and predictable in equal measure, given the year they're having.)

He hasn't sorted through nearly half the things he wants to do and say by the time they're back on the Yard. Tony is holding court in the bullpen and Gibbs is having an argument with Jen that, as it turns out, is completely unnecessary. (And why is nothing ever just straightforward with her?)

When Jenny reveals the kid's mom is alive after all, not just alive but embracing her son and husband, he has a sudden moment of wild hope. For a second he allows himself to believe Kate's death was also faked, that he'll turn around to find her smirking at him, looking like the cat who ate the canary, wearing that smile that should have a cartoon feather sticking out the side of her mouth. "Good to know I can still surprise you," says Jen, and in his mind, it's Kate speaking.

Then, even as he watches the tearful reunion, he remembers the spray of hot red on Tony's face, the bloody mess that used to be the back of Kate's head, and he thinks he might vomit. It takes all his willpower to hold it together and pretend it's okay, he's okay; this is one thing he never wants to have to explain to 'Director Shepard'.

Once upon a time he might have tried, tried to let her in on at least some of it, but this new Jenny, politically savvy, personally ruthless, is a woman he barely recognises. He can't help but react to her like she's still the same person, but he knows, on a bone deep level, that she's not. Hell, maybe she never was who he thought she was. Maybe she's as much of a redheaded mistake as the women he did marry. He'd once thought he wanted to spend his life with her, but there was so much he held back. So much they never shared. Maybe part of him knew.

Either way, it's the same in the end. He's not sure he could explain to her. He's not even sure he wants her to understand.

So maybe it's natural that when he heads back down to the bullpen, his gaze connects with Tony's, with the man who gets it without needing an explanation. The man who sees and shares his pain.

A look of acknowledgement and understanding, a question asked and answered, and he knows Tony will be turning up at his place tonight.

Tony sort of hates himself for being so easy, for how one look from Gibbs is enough to skew his plans on any given evening. For the way part of him is just so relieved to know he has an outlet for all the memories and feelings this case has stirred up. (For how grateful he is that Gibbs has given him an excuse.)

He's talked himself into and out of continuing this weird... thing they have so many times he's meeting himself coming back. He doesn't know why he can't seem to let go, why mutual guilt and grief and excellent but strangely depressing sex are enough to keep a hold on him. He can't figure out what it says about him that this is the longest relationship he's had in years.

Abby would tell him about endorphins and shit. (And fuck, he remembers Kate mercilessly teasing him about his endorphin high in Cuba, and why does everything still have to remind him of her?) She'd tell him it's natural to celebrate life in the face of death, tell him that comfort is a good thing, and she'd probably be right, to an extent. But he's not sure why Gibbs screwing him into the mattress soothes the pain better than his usual drugs of choice (copious alcohol and fast women), why sex with Gibbs, in itself a total mindfuck, is preferable to rubbing one out in the shower and falling into his own perfectly comfortable bed, preferable to a safe, satisfying orgasm that wouldn't jeopardise life as he knows it.

The one thing that he's sure of is that it seems to help, and he's not in a place where he can bear to give it up, even if it's a stupid and potentially career-ending mistake.

Fool that he is, he thinks he'd probably put more effort into weaning himself off of this unhealthy codependence if it didn't seem to help Gibbs, too. Tony has long been aware that he cares about his boss more than is normal, puts more stock in his opinion than is healthy or reasonable, and has always hidden a bit of hero worship under the attitude. He just hadn't realised how readily he'd put his own mental health on the line to help safeguard Gibbs'.

He's trying. Trying to pretend everything's fine and normal and not fucked up. He flirts with Ziva and puts the moves on her, and hell, he's pretty sure he could fall in love with her if he let himself, given time, but he keeps being drawn back to Gibbs. He can't imagine Ziva being the kind of woman who'd be willing to play second fiddle to anybody; if he was unfaithful to her, he'd be lucky to get away with his manhood intact. He can't go there until he stops going... there.

And so far his efforts to break himself of the Gibbs habit have all failed miserably. The second something throws him off (and he does his best not to think about how it's not even all Kate related at this point), he finds himself making his way back here, back to this... whatever the hell it is; this relationship (is it a relationship?) he doesn't want to end but can't bring himself to acknowledge, let alone label, even as he lets himself into Gibbs' home.

Tony has no idea where empathy-fucking your boss to deal with grief and the unresolved sexual tension you had with your dead partner (who also had a charged and ambiguous relationship with said boss) fits on the Rule Twelve scale. It's not like they're dating, it doesn't look like any romance Tony's ever seen, and the mere thought of Gibbs sitting him down to have The Talk is enough to make Tony want to run for the hills. But he's pretty sure getting naked and sweaty with Gibbs breaks the spirit of the law, if not the letter, and he can't see Director Shepard being too thrilled, either.

Of course, all of this makes no real difference. The fact of the matter is that he's not ready to let this stop, not yet, so he tries to ignore how stupid and potentially destructive it is, and pretends he's not a complete idiot for letting it continue.

Gibbs hasn't got the faintest idea what this is or what it means. If it was just sex, it would be easier to dismiss as a peculiar facet of grief, stirred up again by a difficult case and a woman back from the dead.

Grief is still a big part of it, which he suspects is the main reason neither of them ever brings up how Tony keeps appearing at his house after midnight, how they keep dragging each other into Gibbs' bed; how it doesn't seem to matter if the sex is hard and brutal or unexpectedly tender or anything in between, because it inevitably ends in a tangle of limbs and warmth and unacknowledged tears. It's become a safe place for all the sadness and confusion neither of them has managed to get past.

All of this makes sense, in a backassward kind of a way.

But along with the sex and the grief, there is tenderness; there's kissing and touching and something Gibbs is afraid to name, because if this means something, it might mean change, it might mean disaster.

It might mean he's opening himself up to get hurt again, and after... after Kate... that's a terrifying thought. It's a thought that's almost made him tell Tony, a dozen times or more, that they really have to stop doing this, that they have no business doing it. But the words have never made it past his vocal cords, have never reached his lips.

Really, it's his own fault. He's not stupid - he knows he holds the power here. If he told Tony no, didn't give him the nod - if he just locked his damn door - Tony would get the message. He knows Tony is still occasionally freaked out, he knows he could probably end this with a word and Tony might even be grateful. He probably should end it, should've ended it months ago - hell, he never should have started it!

But he doesn't. He keeps letting it happen, he keeps giving Tony the look, keeps issuing tacit invitations he knows full well Tony can't resist. For a man who wants to end this before he gets too involved, he's doing a really bad job of keeping Tony at arm's length, is in fact clinging on like Tony's the sole life raft in a cold, dark ocean.

The thing is, alongside the part of him which is terrified and telling him to get out while he's still in one piece, there's a part of him just as unwilling to let go. There's a part of him that wants to see if there's any there there. If there's something more to this, if the reason it's lasted for so long is not just because they're both damn stupid but because, on some level, they both... want. He's not sure what it is they want, because what they currently have is a hot mess. But messy or not, if it was pure sex and grief, shouldn't it have burned itself out by now? If there was nothing else there, shouldn't they have figured that out already?

And the part of him that wonders what else might be there is just as afraid to let go as the other part of him is to hold on. When they're here, in this warm, intimate space, something makes so much sense it's frightening.

Maybe losing Kate so suddenly and so violently just when he thought they were safe, just when he was letting himself realise how much he cared about her, made him less willing to let the weeks and months go rolling by pretending he's an island and doesn't need anyone. Maybe it reminded him that happiness and pleasure are fleeting. That today was the exception, not the rule. That most people don't get second chances.

He doesn't know if the need and fear is unique to Tony, or if he's latched on because Tony is there and Tony is able and Tony is oh so willing. It's possible Gibbs owes it to both of them to work that out. (Preferably before the next time he walks into harm's way, before the next time he faces down someone with a bomb strapped to their chest and despair in their eyes.)

None of this is particularly comforting or helpful, of course, because watching Kate's life get snuffed out, seeing her go in a second from full of laughter and smiling delightedly and guilelessly up at him to dead and still at his feet, her blood pooling in her hair, also reminded him the people he cares about aren't immune to bullets or bombs (or bubonic plague). And while he may have harboured certain thoughts about Kate, he never acted on them; he doesn't have memories of the scent of her skin, of how it would feel to be inside her, doesn't have to suppress an image of how she looked and sounded when she came. If he was missing... that... he's not sure he would've survived the loss. The idea of letting someone in - all the way in - knowing the possibilities and probabilities of this job, well... it scares him shitless the way few things can.

It's ridiculous, and Tony suspects it's borderline insane to allow the thought any room in his head, but this moment right here is what makes it all worth it. They've fucked and they've cried, and he at least has said sorry (because Gibbs doesn't do sorry except in extreme circumstances, and apparently being locked in a room with an unstable teenager doesn't count), and all of that means sweet F-A, but this moment...

Gibbs falls asleep determinedly 'I am an island' style, no touchy, no feely, but once consciousness has drained away, he gravitates toward the body in his bed, gravitates toward the warmth of Tony's embrace with a sigh that sounds like relief and looks almost peaceful. And something about that allows Tony to relax, lets him sleep without dreaming. He won't be getting an action replay of his day, of his fear, of the unwanted weight of responsibility for so many lives (for Gibbs' life).

He'll wake alone in the morning, most likely. Ever since that weirdly intimate, decidedly uncomfortable first morning, Gibbs' morning wood and morning breath have been dealt with long before Tony is even close to waking up. If he's lucky, he'll get breakfast; if he's unlucky, Gibbs will already be at work on his boat, will do his best to ignore any evidence of the night before (including Tony himself), and Tony will just have to deal.

He'd complain about being used, but at this point, he's really not sure who's using whom, and he's not even sure he minds if it's Gibbs using him. He's not proud. In this particular instance, he's very okay - more okay than he would admit aloud - with being used.

He's not about to say it, but being welcome in Gibbs' bed - even in this weird, unacknowledged non-relationship - means more to him than most other things have in the months since... Kate. It may be a broken, grief-ridden thing they have going here - it may be unhealthy and wrong and liable to wreck at least one of their careers - but in this moment... in this moment, he's honestly happy.

And no one is more surprised about that than him.

~ fin ~

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