Tony had been sitting in his car for a while. Just as he considered going inside Gibbs' house, his boss came out, something rusty in one hand and a spade in another. He moved aside some greenery and buried the rusty item, then stood tall and walked quickly over to Tony's car. There wasn't even time to slump or pretend he was doing anything but watching out for Gibbs.
His boss rapped on the window. "You gonna sit out here all night or you coming in?"
"Coming in, Gibbs." Tony grabbed the six pack of beer and the still-warm pizza he'd picked up beforehand and followed Gibbs inside and down the stairs to the basement. Without a word, he put the pizza box on the workbench and handed Gibbs a beer.
"You get the assignment of watching over me?" The statement was said without heat or anger, very matter-of-fact.
"Not at assignment. I wanted it."
"Bet ya did. No plans tonight?"
"This is right where I want to be, "Tony replied, standing his ground. "You could have died today."
"Not the only one. You breathing okay?" Gibbs looked as concerned as Tony had ever seen him. Tony broke off eye contact first and grabbed a piece of pizza and cracked his beer open.
"Yeah, I'm fine, Boss. You're the one I'm worried about. We could have lost you today." He lowered his voice. "I could have lost you today."
"But ya didn't. Eat up, DiNozzo. The pizza is getting cold and the beer is getting warm."
Tony put the pizza and beer down, stepping closer, placing his hands on the older man's shoulders before releasing him, stepping back. "I could have lost you today. Don't you understand? Boss ... I—"
"Can it with the boss thing, Tony. You call me Jethro when we're home, remember?"
Tony nodded, swallowing hard. "I could have lost you, Jethro. And I never said the words."
Jethro quirked an eyebrow. "I know how you feel, Tony."
"Do you? I love you. I love you like—"
"I know. I know. Insert movie reference here. C'mere, Tony." When Tony hesitated, Jethro pulled him into his arms. Tony rested his chin on Jethro's shoulder, tightening his arms around his lover.
"I needed this tonight. When I had to choose between you and Maddie..."
"You made the right choice. You know you did."
"I made the choice that broke my heart," Tony said quietly.
"But it's all okay now. I'm here. You're here. We're both okay. Let's eat."
Tony wasn't quite ready to give up yet. "Jethro—"
"Eat, Tony. You're going to need your strength later."
Tony gave up and ate his pizza in silence, studying Jethro. He had a lot of questions but he knew that Jethro wouldn't talk until he was ready to. The pizza disappeared quickly followed by two bottles of beer each. Tony drifted over to the television and put a game on while Jethro puttered around. Tony made every effort to be casual, to not stare or even act too interested in what was going on.
"You want to know what I buried?"
Tony turned around to see Jethro swallowing hard. "Memories. Maddie and Kelly's memories." He motioned over to the pictures sitting on the workbench, pictures Tony had been studiously avoiding. One was the one of Gibbs and Maddie that Abby had taken but the other was one he hadn't seen yet, though he recognized the young girl.
He moved toward the picture and then hesitated, waiting until Jethro nodded his permission. Tony picked up the picture, holding it gently. Jethro had never spoken of Shannon or Kelly to Tony, and it was a subject he would never push.
"She was beautiful." It was all he dared say.
"Yeah," Jethro said in a resigned voice. When he looked at Tony, his eyes were overbright. "I saw her today. Both her and her mother."
Tony blinked a few times, forcing the instant panic welling up inside him down. "You what?"
"Saw Kelly. Must have dreamed her. She told me it was okay." He shrugged, appearing unaffected but Tony knew him too well to buy it.
"She must have known how much I need you." Tony traced a fingertip over Kelly's face. "Thanks, sweetheart." He put the picture down carefully, moving it back into position with the other photo.
He and Jethro looked at each other for a few second before Tony moved to the older man, offering his hand. "I need you, Jethro. More than ever. Come to bed with me."
Jethro glanced over at the picture and then nodded, slipping his hand into Tony's. The past and present had collided today and Jethro had chosen to return to him. He didn't need the other man to say the words. His actions spoke volumes.
But Jethro surprised him. After he turned the lights off and closed the basement door, he squeezed Tony's hand and gave him the biggest gift Tony could imagine. "I love you too, Tony."
And Tony knew everything would be all right.
I told him I loved him tonight. I haven't told anyone that since Jenny. And before that you, Shannon. He needed to hear it and I needed to say it.
I left him sleeping in our bed. I came down to the basement because I had some things to work out. With you especially.
I almost died today. He saved me, he brought me back. And he was the one who came over tonight with food and beer, and a shoulder to lean on even though he knew I wouldn't take him up on the offer. I've never been much of a talker. Remember how you used to kid me about that, Shan?
Kelly's friend Maddie brought a lot of pain back, but seeing you and Kelly today made it all clear. It isn't my time to be with you yet. I still have a lot of living to do.
But I miss the two of you so much. I tormented myself a long time with the what ifs, but I can't go back. I can't change things and have you both here. I can't keep living in the past. I didn't even realize I was back there so much 'til DiNozzo barged into my life.
I think you guys would like him. He's sharp, smart, loyal. He pretends to be a shallow fratboy, but he's so much more. And he's the one who is there just as much as Ducky. For so long I pushed Tony away but he keep coming back without complaint. He kept caring and worrying. And yeah, loving me.
I've known he loves me for a while now.
It isn't just the sex. It was never just the sex. He makes me feel things—frustration, anger, affection, pride, lust, desire. Not only the negative emotions but some positive ones too. I feel alive.
And I think it is time I let someone in again. It's him, Shannon. And I know you understand.
I poured myself a small dribble of bourbon and sipped it slowly. I wasn't saying goodbye to my wife, but I was letting her know that things had changed for me. I had a lover upstairs, more than a lover. A friend, a companion who was turning into more.
The man I love.
And my place was with him, in bed beside him. No longer tormented by the what could have beens or what should have beens. Letting someone else in isn't a sign of weakness or disloyalty. By choosing to live, I honor my wife and daughter.
I finished my drink and walked up the stairs and through the house, into the bedroom. Tony blinked sleepily and reached for my hand.
"You okay?" Despite his drowsiness, his gaze sharpened and he sat up. He must have sensed something. His instincts can be really good sometimes.
I nodded and he just watched me, no doubt hoping I'd speak. I wouldn't have under usual circumstances but it felt right to do so now. "Yeah, I'm okay, Tony."
"Where ya been?" He was concerned but trying to play it off casually.
Normally I would have rolled my eyes and ignored that question, but he deserved more. He's the man I love. "Downstairs. I needed to get some things clear."
An uneasy look appeared in his eyes and he looked younger and vulnerable. "Oh."
I settled down and pulled him against my side. "Not what you think, Tony. I had some things to say to Shannon."
He gasped, but wisely didn't say anything. I admired his restraint. Being quiet was never easy for Tony.
"I decided something tonight, Tony. I'm not living for Shannon and Kelly any more. I'm living for me now. Starting with you. I meant what I said before. I love you. I want to see where this goes."
He gave me that bright grin, relief clear. "I love you too, Jethro."
"Good. Now that we settled that, let's get some shut eye."
I closed my eyes and pressed close to him, feeling peace for the first time since I lost my family.
I never expected what he said. It was romantic and we've never been Bogie and Bacall, or Hepburn and Tracy, or even Ennis and Jack. A lot changed for us today, though. I was so damn close to losing him, when he was lying there, eyes wide open, dull, no life inside them. I felt more frightened than I ever had, far more than when I was injured or when he lost his memory. Even more than when I had the plague. I didn't ever want to lose him.
He sighed and snuggled close, his arm tightening around my torso and I tilted my head to look at his face. He was as relaxed and peaceful as I'd ever seen him, a gentle smile tilting up the corners of his mouth. I could get used to this.
I let my head rest on his shoulder, my own eyes closing. It was early but it had been a damn long day. I was completely at ease cuddling against him, our usual lust pushed into the background. With a couple of strokes and licks I could have him hard and ready, but it didn't feel right tonight.
Tonight was about love and companionship and healing.
I coughed once and he sat up, pushing me onto my back, his blue eyes flashing. "Tony?" His hand rubbed my chest gently. "You really okay?"
I hated the worried look in his eyes. He shouldn't be concerned about me. He'd been the one who almost died today, not me. "I'm really okay. Sawdust or something got caught in my throat."