“It should take you exactly four seconds to cross from here to that door. I'll give you two.”
January 26, 2008. Shenandoah National Park, VA
“Tony, man! This is my fourth message to you. Where are you? You’re scaring me now. Please just call me back? Please?”
The agent heard the message from Damon a couple times before deleting it. He switched his phone off after that and threw it inside his car through an open window. He sat perched up on the trunk of his rental, facing the twilight sun. He’d been sitting there for well over an hour now, not that time mattered all that much anymore. Tony took another swig of his beer.
It was about six in the evening, and he was parked on a mountain edge inside Shenandoah National Park. He’d driven aimlessly from Maryland until he just, sort of found himself here, at this spot.
It was peaceful here.
Couple hours ago, Abby had called too. She left a message bubbling over with barely contained CafPow-induced excitement, as usual.
“Hey you, I know what you did last night! Call me if you wanna know how I know, and be prepared to dish. I’m dying to hear everything!”
Tony didn’t know what she knew or how she knew it. If he had to make an educated guess, she’d spoken to McGee who must have told her about Tony clubbing with Damon, and Abby wouldn’t have been able to control her curiosity (and stifling sense of protectiveness) so she probably found a way to tail Tony, likely by tracking his cell phone’s GPS. The concept of personal space and boundaries was completely lost on her. On any other day, Tony might have indulged in a tiny bout of annoyance about it. But right then, he couldn’t care less.
Ziva had called too, wondering if he wanted to grab some lunch. Her message had been short and carefully worded attempting to sound totally casual. Obviously she’d gotten the full download from Abby as well. Tony didn’t respond to her either.
He knew he couldn’t ignore them all forever. They were, after all, his colleagues and friends, and they meant well. And he would have to face them all come Monday at work. Gibbs too.
Part of him didn’t think he could. Part of him wanted to get into the car and just keep driving, not look back. Cancun was great this time of the year. But he also knew from past experience that he couldn’t just run away from this… this stupid predicament. Truth was, whatever this was, it was inside him. It was a part of him.
“Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself,” he quoted Paul Varjak from his favorite movie bitterly.
Tony took another long gulp to let the liquid soothe his parched throat, and his growling stomach. He should have never opened himself up and let anyone in. Most of all, he should have never let himself start to depend on them, take them for granted, trust that they would always be there. Classic DiNozzo mistake, one he kept making over and over again. It always worked against him, always fucked him up, and still he never learned.
He’d trusted his parents, although to be fair, he was just a kid and didn’t know any better. He’d trusted his frat brothers but realistically speaking, how could they always be there for someone as needy as Tony? They had their own families and girlfriends and wives to take care of. In Baltimore, he’d given his heart to Wendy, his fiancée for all of three weeks. She’d stomped on it and left him for another guy when she realized he’d been cut off from his family estate (for real), won’t go back groveling to his Dad, and chose to follow Gibbs to DC instead.
And then he’d dared to open himself up to Gibbs – look how that turned out. The man he loved more than his own father couldn’t even stand to look at him. He’d let his guard down around Jeanne and she’d left him with nothing more than a four-word ultimatum. And his most recent mistake – he had let Damon Werth in and that sonofabitch… he… he…
Tony grimaced as if in physical pain. That was the fuck-all problem wasn’t it? Damon didn’t actually do anything wrong! How was it his fault if Gibbs saw a son in him and not Tony? How could he be held responsible for Tony’s pathetic-ness?
Fault or not, the thought of Damon kept carving his insides up like nothing else. Fate was doing it again – making him choose between the one he loved and… and Gibbs. And if common sense prevailed, he would not fuck it up this time. He would choose Damon because clearly Gibbs did not want him anymore.
Maybe he could quit NCIS and go with Damon wherever he decided to go. He had enough saved that they could live off of for awhile. Blue sky, open road… no jobs, no responsibilities – it’d be like Butch and Sundance, Tango and Cash, Bonnie and Clyde in which he was most definitely not Bonnie…
Tony sighed, who was he kidding? Damon himself would constantly remind Tony of his own failings. Earlier that day, it had taken all of twelve seconds for Damon to go from Tristan Ludlow, the tortured but rugged and oh-so-handsome but not-so-blond Brad Pitt in ‘Legends of the Fall’, to Caine 607, the genetically enhanced marine played by Jason Scott Lee who rendered Kurt Russell obsolete and dumped him as garbage on waste disposal planet ‘Arcadia 234’ in the 1998 classic, ‘Soldier’.
Tony lay back on the windshield, exposing the column of his throat to the biting wind but he didn’t care.
Besides, how long would Damon want him either? It’d been proven time and time again. How could anyone love someone like him, when his own biological parents never did?
Tony brushed his tears away and got back into the car. It was starting to get dark and DC was two and half hours away. He was not going to sit around here and brood like a miserable little wimp. He was going to do what he’d learnt from Gibbs – swallow it all down, carry on like nothing was wrong. He had a great job. He had great friends in Abby and Timmy and now Ziva too. And he had… he had his Magnum and McQueen and Coltrane. They would just have to be enough, for now. And when they weren’t, well, he’d know it was time to move on.
He’d probably over-stayed his welcome at NCIS anyway.
Tony reached his apartment sometime after ten. Walking up the three flights of stairs he was already getting drowsy and tired, aching to lie his body down on the bed and never get up again. The alcohol from last night and the lack of proper food all day was starting to take its toll as well.
And while a part of him never actually stopped thinking about Damon, nothing could have prepared him for the sight of said man before him.
The marine sat reclined against his door, his endless legs stretched out so they nearly touched the opposite wall of the narrow corridor. He’d probably heard Tony’s heavy footsteps dragging themselves up the stairs because his neck was turned and he stared right into Tony’s eyes as the agent appeared round the corner.
Tony wondered how long Damon had been waiting for him to return, but didn’t dare ask.
“Where’ve you been?” Damon asked, softly, his voice blank and devoid of any emotion whatsoever.
Tony stopped a few feet away. Even if the marine’s voice was tempered, his eyes spoke volumes. They were practically brimming with anxiety and something else that Tony recognized but refused to put a name to. Something intense, something that threatened to melt his resolve and return him back to the pure bliss he’d experienced last night. But he couldn’t go back, only to be evicted out of there kicking and screaming come morning. He couldn’t go through that again.
“Answer me, Tonio. Where were you?”
“Why didn’t you return any of my calls or messages?”
“Excuse me,” Tony scoffed coldly, put one hand in his coat pocket and fished for his keys. “I didn’t realize I was answerable to you. Must have missed the memo.”
Damon seemed taken aback, hurt even. “Sorry, I was worried. Abby tried to reach you too. Didn’t know if I could ask Ziva or Gibbs, if you’d be comfortable letting them know about us…”
Tony didn’t bother telling Damon that everyone on his team already knew about the two of them having spent last night together (except Gibbs, ‘cause his friends won’t do that to him). Instead he pursed his lips and looked off somewhere behind Damon’s left ear, green eyes dull and staring emptily.
Damon stood up and stretched to his full towering height. The black t-shirt he wore so often (or maybe he’d bought a whole pack of them together at Sears – something else he had in fucking common with Gibbs) stretched across his chest and bulging biceps. The camouflage pants and military boots added to the look of dangerous intensity he projected.
“Look, it’s cool. Sorry I went all ape on you. I just, I just need to know what’s going on in your head, okay? If you’ve changed your mind about us…”
This was Tony’s chance. He decided to take it. “There is no us, Werth. It was a one-time deal only. I was drunk. I do this a lot you know. Ask anyone. ‘One-night-stand DiNozzo’ they call me.”
Damon stared at him, hard, his hands closed into fists by his sides, his shoulders heaving visibly.
“No,” he suddenly declared, after a few seconds of excruciating silence. “You don’t mean that.”
Tony shrugged and started towards his door. “Believe what you want to, man. It is what it is.”
Damon shook his head. “I don’t believe you. Something happened this morning after I left, didn’t it? What was it?”
Tony kept his back to Damon as he unlocked his door.
“Baby, look at me, please, I need to know!”
For some reason, Damon calling him ‘baby’ just irked him to hell and back. “You can go ahead and need all you want, Werth. Please just do it back at your place and leave me alone.”
He had his door open by this time. He strode in with an arrogant flourish and spun around to face Damon, almost challenging him to do something, stop Tony if he dared, lash out even, hell, preferably so. Instead, Damon got this pained look on his face that nearly made Tony take everything back.
Damon stepped away briskly. “Sorry, my bad,” he said looking straight into Tony’s eyes. “I thought my place was with you.”
Tony couldn’t hold his gaze anymore. He pretended to study his keys and his fingers trembled around his doorknob. A second later, Damon turned and walked away from him, possibly for the last time. Something screamed inside him, urging him to run after Damon and call him back, fall into his arms and just wail his heart out. Tony shut that stupid little girl inside him up, and once again tried to do what Gibbs did best – hide the pain; pretend it didn’t hurt.
Guess that was one way to get rid of the big lug – break his heart and hope he had the self-preserving instinct to get the hell out of Dodge.
January 28, 2008. Washington DC
Ziva was having a moment of bittersweet victory. Of course, where she came from, there rarely was another kind. But here in America, in this eclectic group of people she’d come to know and trust as her friends, it was not a victory she wanted, never again.
She’d been watching Tony all morning. He’d come in earlier than everyone, as usual, every bit the self-assured prick strangers assumed him to be. And he’d done everything one expected DiNozzo to do. He bought Timmy a giant tumbler of coffee with whipped cream and marshmallows that turned out to be Styrofoam balls. He poured a whole cup-full of Styrofoam confetti over Ziva’s head that she spent an hour picking out of her hair. God knew what he said to Jimmy to make him stammer so hard and run to the safety of his Autopsy room, only to repeat the same feat minutes later when he made Agent Lee cry.
The act was pretty convincing – juvenile and annoying and meticulously planned – but an act. That was Ziva’s victory – the fact that she could see right through the mask her dear friend had so painfully donned this morning. And it was breaking her heart.
Her phone rang and she picked it up, eyes still following Tony as he practically hop-skipped his way up to the Director’s office to wreck havoc with Cynthia’s planner.
“I have not had able to speak with him yet.”
“He would not let me, Abby. Every time I try to talk, he remembers a new person to prank and takes off running.”
Ziva and Abby sighed at the same time.
“He was AWOL all weekend and Damon hasn’t been answering his phone either. Maybe my spider-sense is wrong this time, Ziva. Maybe they’re fine and I’m being paranoid just because no one is willing to share any of the steamy hot details with me.”
“No, something is definitely up, Abby. You would know it if you saw Tony right now. But knowing him, he is probably avoiding you and your lab like the plague.”
Abby huffed. “If memory serves me well, and it always does, the plague did catch up with Tony and so will I. Meeting, my lab, o-twelve hundred.”
And she hung up. Ziva noticed McGee never did stop grimacing since he bit into that luscious piece of thermal insulation about an hour ago, and she smirked. “Would you like to try my extra strength mouthwash, McGee?”
McGee looked at her gratefully. “I wouldn’t mind. Thank you, Ziva.”
He came over and took the bottle of Listerine, then headed to the men’s room. Ziva followed a minute later. He turned to her, no longer startled by her presence in there anymore, and sneered.
“Let me guess, you lured me in here to ask about what happened between Tony and Damon.” he turned to face her. “Fine, let me tell you what I know: exactly nothing!”
“Come on, McGee, I saw you two talking when you stepped out of the elevator together. He must have said something?”
McGee grimaced. “You know, I really wish you and Abby would just butt out of Tony’s business. He can take care of himself, and you have no right meddling with his personal matters like this.”
Ziva narrowed her eyes. “He threw you the bird, didn’t he?”
“Flipped me the bird, and… yeah, in a manner of speaking.” He pouted a little, before coming to stand beside Ziva.
“Abby told you what he was… planning to do the other night?”
“Yes, and yet somehow the two of them ended up on a date and even spent the night together. So it is safe to say Tony did not mess it up?”
“Well, maybe not that night, and maybe he wasn’t the one to mess it up. But something did go south, Ziva. I could see it in the way Tony froze the moment I said Damon’s name.”
“Did he say anything? Anything at all?”
McGee shrugged. “I don’t know what to make of it. All he said was that he took care of it.”
“Let’s just say I took care of it, Probie. Now stop probing.”
Ziva didn’t like the sound of that. It almost implied that Tony had slept with Damon with the express purpose of breaking his heart and that way forcing him out of their lives. But try as she might, she simply couldn’t reconcile that theory with the Tony DiNozzo she knew. It just wasn’t him.
They hadn’t caught a case so far so there was nothing holding her back at noon when she made her way down to Abby’s lab. She found the forensic scientist curled up under one of her tables with a CafPow clutched in both hands, rocking back and forth to the morose funeral music playing in the background.
“Look what we’ve done, Ziva,” she cried. “Now he’s more miserable than ever!”
Ziva sat on the floor in front of her, crossing her legs Indian-style, her hands entwined together. “Do not be so hard on yourself, Abby. Your actions were well-intentioned.”
Abby squinted dangerously. “My actions? What about you? I didn’t do this alone, missy!”
“I did not call Gibbs and inappropriately divulge Damon’s medical information to make him stop Damon from leaving!”
“I didn’t set Tony on a blind date with Damon under the pretense of watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s!”
Ziva’s volume rose just as high as Abby’s. “I was not the one spilling the peas on the phone about Tony’s history with men!”
“No!! You were the one who told Damon in person that Tony was frikkin’ intrigued by him and damn it, Ziva!”
“Spilling the peas!??! You botched that one on purpose.”
Abby laughed and slid out from under the table. The girls held each other’s hands and pulled themselves up to their feet.
Ziva winked and kept holding Abby’s hands in hers. “Okay, maybe I did, although I honestly did mix up the two until last year.” She then smiled sheepishly. “And I am sorry, Abby. I was the one who planted this whole idea in your head to begin with. It is indeed my fault.”
“No, I’m sorry too,” Abby hugged her friend tightly. When they parted, they looked at each other with sadness.
“Timmy was right,” Abby continued. “We should have minded our own business. Let’s just try and put this behind us, okay? What’s done is done.”
Ziva nodded. “Let’s make a pact, never to interfere in anyone’s love lives from now on. It only ends badly and we only end up feeling like fools.”
“Done!” Abby spit into her hand and held it out. Ziva grimaced, but Abby seemed eager to go through with this… disgusting version of the gentleman’s handshake, so she spit into her own hand and shook it.
“We resolve never to try and play match-maker to anyone, especially our friends!”
“And even if someone asks us to play match-maker, we categorically refuse and simply look the other way.”
A phone rang. It was Abby’s cell. She turned to pick it up from the table and held it close enough that Ziva could read (upside down) who it was. The two women looked at each other, then back at the caller’s name flashing on the display.
“So it’s not like spit-handshakes are legally binding or anything, right?” Abby asked.
“I doubt it,” Ziva grinned, and together they answered Damon’s call.
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