“No longer will I play the field. The field stinks, both economically and socially, and I'm giving it up.”
January 18, 2008. Washington DC
Tony twiddled a pen in one hand nervously as he looked up at his boss across the bullpen. It was eight PM. Everyone else left long ago for some Friday night engagement or another. Gibbs was still at his desk with his reading glasses on, holding the phone to his left ear.
“This is Agent Gibbs, NCIS. I’m calling to check on PFC Jaquon Banks?”
They’d caught a case this morning – an open-and-shut road accident that left a young private in a coma and a very drunk civilian driver in jail. Until about an hour ago, no one had shown from the kid’s family at the hospital yet. Tony’s heart ached with empathy. For a second, he even extended that empathy to Werth – his folks hadn’t come to see him when he was in Bethesda fighting for his life and sanity either.
Tony looked back at the boss who was waiting to be patched through to Banks’ attending doctor. Trust Gibbs to always gravitate to the poor strays. He was like a fucking stray-magnet.
A minute later, when it seemed that Gibbs was finally done for the day, Tony perked up. “Big plans tonight, Boss?”
Gibbs stood up to don his jacket. “Got a date with a boat.”
Tony stood up too. “Great! I’ll get the beer?”
He’d been hoping for it to come out casual, instead it came out hesitant and ended with a question mark. Gibbs looked, for a second, not too happy with the suggestion. But Tony had already invited himself over, and he had no choice but to be polite. When he nodded, Tony’s face split into a wide grin and he quickly grabbed his own gear to follow Gibbs into the elevator.
They drove separately, Gibbs in his car and Tony in his rented Impala. Damon had taken the evening Chinatown bus to New York. The job interview had been set up for next morning. So this was Tony’s small window of opportunity to… to – do what, he wasn’t sure yet. All he knew was he needed to talk to Gibbs; see if he could fix whatever it was that’d broken between them.
He reached Gibbs’ place fifteen minutes after the boss did, having stopped to buy a six-pack on the way. But once there, Tony sat in his car for several more minutes, gathering his wits and courage and everything at his disposal to prepare for the upcoming confrontation.
“We need to talk… there’s this great white elephant in the room and I can’t ignore it anymore…” he mumbled, practicing his speech. Then, with an “Aw hell,” he got out of the car before he completely lost his nerve.
“Hey,” he called out as he descended the basement stairs. Gibbs hey’d him back and resumed sanding the starboard, or whatever it was called, Tony could never keep the terminology straight. Why didn’t they just keep it simple and call it left and right, front and back?
“Do you need a hand?”
Tony took his jacket off and popped open a can of beer, then went to stand besides Gibbs and watched the man at work. Considerable progress had been made on the boat, thanks to Damon. Tony’s jaw hardened.
“You sure? I could start with sanding over at this side…”
“I actually like building boats,” Gibbs grumbled without even looking up. “I don’t think of it as work like you boys do.”
Us boys? Tony wondered if he meant Tony and McGee, or Tony and Damon. Oh well, he’d offered.
“Boss, I-I wanted to…” We need to talk… “…there’s this thing…” elephant, white elephant in the room…
“Spit it out, DiNozzo.”
Tony gulped nervously. “I’m sorry,” he blurted, immediately cursing himself.
Gibbs just glared at him. Whether it was for breaking his rule or something else, Tony didn’t know. “I know I said this before, but… I wanted to say it again. I am sorry, for all of last year, for not reading you into the Frog mission…”
“You had no authority. You were given a direct order, you followed it. Nothing to apologize for.”
The words should have appeased Tony, except they were delivered with a dull tone and a face turned away. All he saw was a stiff spine and proud, unrelenting shoulders.
“Then why do I get the feeling you’re still mad at me for it?”
“Okay, if not that, then what?”
Gibbs didn’t care enough to respond. Something inside Tony wanted to scream, maybe even stomp his feet like a child and throw stuff around. Why couldn’t the man just be human, for a change?
“I-I feel… it’s been weird between us. D-don’t you feel it?”
The marine shrugged nonchalantly, no words came out to accompany the extremely offending gesture.
“It’s just…” Tony wheezed tiredly, his choked emotions in combination with his weakened lungs doing him no favors. But he folded his arms and tried again. He was a DiNozzo. He wasn’t giving up without a fight. “I know I’d be upset if someone I thought of as a-a…”
Gibbs kept working at his boat. Tony’s wheezing got harder and he struggled to finish the sentence he’d started. “…as a close f-friend was keeping secrets from me. Just a little upset, not too much.”
“I don’t mind that you have secrets, DiNozzo. You are entitled to them, don’t let anybody tell you different,” Gibbs declared as he looked up at last. “I have a few of my own that no one knows about. Not even Ducky.”
Tony frowned at that, but he didn’t get a chance to respond.
“Every friendship has its limits. It’s best to know what they are and respect them.” Gibbs said, picking up his bottle of bourbon and pouring himself a drink.
Tony watched him pour the golden liquid into a nail jar before quickly pouring it down his throat. “I thought our f-friendship ran a little… deeper than that.”
“Yeah, so did I,” Gibbs whispered, and it stung. He spoke louder when he continued. “But like I said, I don’t hold it against you. Like right now, if I ask you a question and you lie to my face, to keep your cover or whatever, I will understand.”
Tony took another deep, noisy breath in. Damn the plague and its fucking chronic consequences. “Gibbs, I’m not undercover anymore.”
“No! A-ask me anything.”
“Yeah?” Gibbs advanced towards Tony. His one step forward made Tony retreat one step back. “Let’s start with an easy one. What’s keeping you busy these days, huh? Life after the Benoits. How’s it going?”
That’s an easy one? Tony swallowed and attempted his usual defense: nonsensically ramble his way out of the question without giving away too much. But what could he possibly say? Where to even start?
How about how embarrassed he was by how easily he’d fallen in love like a chump, with a target at that? How she’d asked him to choose between his family and herself and he’d chosen Gibbs, which incidentally wasn’t working out so well for him either because Gibbs kept fucking freezing him out?
Or how about that ‘special bond’ he’d always thought he had with the older man but turned out it wasn’t so special after all and that in fact the boss preferred the Damon Werths of the world over him? How could Tony disclose his feelings of envy and the lengths he’d been going to, to get Damon out of Gibbs’ house and life? Heck he’d even roped McGee into it.
Which, by the way, brought him to a whole another can of worms: How was he supposed to talk to Gibbs about the weird encounters he’d had with Werth these past few days? The strange vibes that left his heart racing and his gut in knots, the accidental touching that messed with his head… how was he supposed to tell Gibbs after all these years that he might be bisexual? And how screwed up must he be to feel both jealous of and attracted to the same guy at the same fucking time?
“I’m waiting,” Gibbs cut through his whirlwind of thoughts. Tony realized, to his dismay, that his usually reliant gift of the gab had abandoned him completely.
“It’s… going… just fine. It’s all good.”
The slight smile that flickered across Gibbs’ lips was both victorious and bitter. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
It was the finality in his tone that did it, did Tony in. The boss knew he’d just lied again, had even expected him to. Feeling guilty, his eyes dropped and without intent landed on the bottle of bourbon in Gibbs’ hand.
“Stick to beer,” Gibbs said offhandedly, catching Tony’s line of sight. “You’re driving.”
Of course. No reason to hope Gibbs would offer Tony his old bedroom to crash in ever again. Gotta admit, Gibbs had style. What a subtle but brilliantly cruel way to dismiss an unwanted guest from the house, so very reminiscent of DiNozzo Senior himself.
Tony caught himself inhaling deeply, fighting to keep the wheezing down. He grabbed his jacket, left the six-pack by the stairs and left. He got behind the wheel of his car and just sat there, staring at the porch light, knowing who it was left turned on for. Werth.
Couldn’t say he was surprised. He’d been expecting to fuck it up from the beginning, hell, since October 2001. Gibbs was a stray-magnet alright. But only Tony was foolish enough to believe that even Gibbs could keep a wretched thing like him around forever.
Tony bit through his lower lip in an attempt to keep the tide at bay. Grow up, DiNozzo. Just fucking grow up. But that was easier said than done. The voices inside his head continued to laugh and jeer at the history of his pathetic life repeating itself again. Tony had been abandoned once again.
January 20, 2008. Washington DC
Tim was kicked that he got to choose the restaurant this weekend. Usually, when he met Tony for Sunday brunch, the older agent would always bully him into one of his own favorite places to eat. This time though, Tony didn’t seem quite as persistent. So Tim decided to try Level One at Dupont Circle. It was a nice, sunny day and the place had great patio seating.
Half past ten, he spotted Tony walking towards him and the excellent table he’d grabbed. But before he could brag about how he’d negotiated for it, Tony started griping.
“Disco brunch with bottomless mimosas, McGoo? Seriously? Could we possibly be any gayer right now?” Tony grumbled as he sat down opposite his friend.
Tim scowled, at least he’d said ‘we’ and not ‘you’. “Be nice, Tony. You’ll be thanking me after you try their crab cake sandwiches and chocolate chip pancakes. They’re to–“
He stopped but not in time. Tony grinned cheekily. “You were going to say ‘to die for’ weren’t you?”
“No, I wasn’t.”
Tony laughed. “Relax, McTedAllen, and to be clear I got no issues with disco.” He inflected a nasal Louisiana accent as he intoned, “I think it’s the most democratic floor show in town!”
It made Tim laugh. “Let me guess, Gloria Gaynor? Bee Gees? Prince? Although I doubt he was ever interested in democracy.”
“Nope, nope and nope. Truman Capote.”
“You and your obsession with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, who woulda thought?”
“There are a lot of things you don’t know about me, Probie,” Tony said with a silly smile that was probably meant to be enigmatic.
A waiter came over and greeted them warmly. They placed their orders, including the bottomless mimosas of course. When he left, Tim looked across the table at his friend still reading the menu card with intense concentration. He’d known Tony long enough to know when the jokes were forced, the smile just a little less bright than usual. It was the eyes, mostly – they were a dead giveaway. And of late, Tony had been sporting that look way too often.
“So what did you do yesterday?”
Tony looked up at him briefly then pretended to go back to reading the menu, “Not much, me and Magnum, mostly. What about you? How was your date with that temp in MTAC?”
“Let’s just say, I’ve had more riveting conversations with a floppy disk,” he huffed.
“Of course you have, you server whisperer, you…”
Tim bit his lip. He could have sworn Tony had waited around at work on Friday night to catch Gibbs alone. There was a good chance he’d tried speaking to the boss. Going by the dark circles forming under the tired green eyes and his less than animated countenance, Tim guessed it didn’t go so well.
Tim pursed his lips. He wasn’t sure before coming today if he wanted to share what he’d recently discovered about Werth with Tony. But looking at his best friend sitting here, practically fading away as they spoke (or not), he made up his mind.
“I think I found something we can use,” he said. Tony looked up at him, and he didn’t need to be told what McGee was talking about. Strangely enough though, he didn’t seem enthused.
“What’s the point, Tim, let’s just…” he sighed and looked away. Then biting his lip he turned back to Tim, curiosity taking over like it always did with DiNozzo. “Alright, let’s hear it.”
“I managed to hack into Werth’s high school network and through that to their SAN disk that still holds all their data going back fifteen years. I also hacked his old email account, which is now defunct, but the archive still has all his emails. A few threads stand out, going back and forth with a Michael Manning. He was a freshman when Werth was a junior.”
“What about him?”
“Michael and Damon were lovers. Damon is gay!”
Tony blinked, and his Adam’s apple bobbed, hard. But he did not react otherwise. Something occurred to Tim then. This guy had taught Tim half of everything he knew about being a field agent. Hell even Gibbs swore by Tony’s near clairvoyant instincts when it came to reading people. Tim leaned back in his chair and frowned.
“Tony, you knew, didn’t you?”
Tony gulped as the jigsaw pieces of a mental puzzle started to fall in place.
“I didn’t know exactly; had a feeling, but wasn’t sure.”
And that was the God’s honest truth. Those strange and confusing cues that Tony thought he was reading too much into? Turned out he was reading them right all along.
McGee nodded and continued. “Werth had a clandestine affair that lasted two years until he graduated and applied to the Corps. The exchange gets kind of nasty after that.”
“How do you mean?”
“It sounds like when Damon first got rejected because of his blood anomaly, he went into a funk and started avoiding everybody, including Manning. The emails get desperate at some point after that. Manning writes about how he’s scared for Damon, the way he’s changing, the man he is changing into. That’s followed by a six-month long breakup saga – mostly Manning venting about being used and betrayed and cursing Werth for being chicken-shit like everyone else…”
“And what is Werth’s reaction to all of it?”
“He mostly ignored the emails. Didn’t delete them, but didn’t respond to them either. Or maybe he chose to respond in person.”
Tony nodded, the timeline of events starting to automatically form itself in his head. “So Werth chose the steroids over love, and the Corps over his boyfriend?”
“Looks like it.”
“How does it end?”
McGee thought back to the last email he found from Manning. “It ends a year later with Manning offering reconciliation. He congratulates Werth for making his dream come true and wishes him all the luck. And get this – he ended his last email with the words – your secret will always be safe with me.”
Tony squinted. “Probie, you’re not suggesting we blackmail the guy for being gay, are you?”
McGee shrugged. “I’m just telling you what I found, man. Clearly the guy’s still in the closet. And clearly he’s still recovering from his testosterone-doused hangover. I personally couldn’t care less if he’s gay or not. But if he’s not ready to come out, the question is – how badly does he want to keep his secret a secret?”
Tony did not like this, and it wasn’t just the morality of it all. He was acutely uncomfortable with this entire subject. It was simply too close to home. “Maybe he’s changed or something… it’s been what, ten years?”
McGee looked like he was expecting the question and couldn’t wait to answer it. “Eleven months ago before his last deployment to Iraq, Damon got written up for a misdemeanor – he punched another guy in the mess hall, broke his nose in two places. It’s in his file with some suggestion that the guy he assaulted might have provoked Werth by calling him a derogatory name.”
“I don’t know, man, it’d be a reach.”
“I think he’s so deep in the closet he’s practically the back wall! For God’s sakes, you saw him, right? Flirting with both Abby and Ziva so exaggeratedly the other night?”
Poor McOblivious, Tony swallowed again, wishing the waiter would come with their food already, not because he was hungry but he could really use a change of subject. McGee seemed to notice his discomfort and put his hands up in placation.
“Look, it is wrong. I know. But I thought you wanted him gone. And we don’t have to, like, blackmail blackmail him! Even a slight, deliberate suggestion that we know, might be enough to make him run.”
“Still reaching, Probie.”
“But worth a try?”
McGee didn’t know of Tony’s bi-curious tendencies or he would have never suggested this. Far as he was concerned, he was a straight guy talking to another straight guy. Tony knew McGee was no homophobe, but he could be downright devious if the situation called for it.
“Tony?” Tim’s voice broke him out of his thoughts. “I even got pictures, man. Would you believe it, this Manning kid looked a lot like you – green eyes, brown hair, tall…”
Tony felt the wheezing surge to his lips again, but firmly composed himself. This was so not the time to spaz out…
His cell phone buzzed loudly, startling both men. Tony sent up a mental ‘thank God’ before flipping it open. It was Gibbs.
“Grab your gear, got a call from dispatch. No one else can take it.”
Despite events of Friday night (or because of them), Gibbs was all business and so was Tony. What else could they possibly do? He gestured to McGee that it was time to go, who nodded and immediately pulled out his wallet.
“Sure. I’ll grab McGee and call Ziva. What is it?”
Gibbs’ reply was drowned out by the deafening gunfire in the background. Tony stood up in a panicked rush. “Boss? BOSS!?!”
“Relax, DiNozzo,” the words came back with a tinge of amusement. “We’re at the shooting range. Damon is killing it out there.”
Tony’s heart dropped to his stomach just as he dropped back into his seat. McGee frowned but Tony didn’t have the energy to answer his wordless question just yet. More sounds followed in the background of a guy laughing and hooting and declaring victory over someone called Gunny while his boss briefly described the case to Tony.
Dead navy veteran, breaking and entering gone bad in Falls Church. Those were the words he said to Tony.
“Quit showing off, son! Let’s go!” were the words Gibbs said to Damon, just before he hung up.
Tony flipped his own phone shut, gut clenching once again with a deadly sin so familiar it felt like home.
McGee didn’t say a word. Tony looked up at him and said three: “Let’s do it.”
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