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"Andy"

by: Xanthe (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 005 Word Count: 48169
Rating: ADULT
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo
Category(ies): Angst/Drama, Character Study, First Time, Hurt/Comfort, Romance
Pairing(s): Gibbs/DiNozzo
Summary: When Tony receives some bad news, it forces him and Gibbs to go on a difficult and emotional journey.

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

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Part Four

1991
With sleep, medication and rest – to say nothing of several sessions of highly pleasurable sex - Andy recovered quickly, and the cuts and bruises on his body soon faded. It was pathetically obvious that he loved having someone around who cared about his state of health, even if it *was* Gibbs whose actual displays of caring rarely went beyond an injunction to take his meds, and a terse insistence that he eat and sleep at regular intervals.

The few days in that room, eating, sleeping, fucking and not getting drop-down drunk every night had a positive effect on Gibbs too, and for the first time since his family died he started to feel like his old self again.

Gibbs was aware they couldn’t stay locked up in this little bubble of make-believe forever though. He didn’t have any plans for the future, because up until now he hadn’t been sure he had one, but he was damn sure that any such plans didn’t include spending the rest of his life holed up in a motel room with a nineteen year old boy.

Gibbs was under no illusions that this was something that could last. Andy was soaking up every crumb of gruff paternal affection Gibbs could throw his way, and Gibbs was happy enough to throw it, such as it was, but he didn’t want to start enjoying it too much. Kelly was gone, and Andy wasn’t any kind of substitute. Gibbs knew he was using Andy as much as Andy was using him; they’d both found something in each other that they needed at this particular point in their lives. It was an escape, a lifeline, and it helped - god knows it helped - but it wasn’t something that was going to go anywhere.

After a few days of avoiding the world Gibbs decided it was time to start figuring out a way to solve this. He took Andy out to a nice restaurant, both of them washed and shaved and wearing clean clothes, and waited until the kid had devoured enough to feed a small army, before sitting back, and clearing his throat. Andy looked up, anxiously.

“Is it now?” he asked.

“Is what now?” Gibbs frowned.

“I’ve been waiting for the lecture for days,” Andy shrugged. “The one on the subject of allowing myself to get beaten up in exchange for cash.”

“Well it was a pretty dumb move on your part,” Gibbs said. “I know he paid well, but you’ve been off work and off college for days as a result so that kind of defeats the object, doesn’t it?”

“I didn’t *know* it was going to be that bad when I agreed to it, Jethro!” Andy protested. “I thought I could handle it.”

“Well you couldn’t, and that’s my point,” Gibbs told him, with an impatient flick of his fingers. “I also don’t think you can handle being a hustler for much longer. To be honest, you’re just not that great at it, and it’s dangerous – you could get arrested, or hurt, or killed.”

“Wow, you’re a real optimist,” Andy muttered.

“And you’re a fantasist,” Gibbs shot back. “Now speak to me, Andy – I need to understand what goes on in your head.”

“Not much,” Andy grinned.

“Seriously – what’s the plan here?” Gibbs asked sharply, in no mood to be won around by the kid’s undeniable charm. “Why don’t you just quit college and get yourself a real job? Surely that’s got to be better than sleeping in dumpsters and letting some guy kick you around?”

“No,” Andy said quietly.

“Why the hell not?” Gibbs demanded. “You can save up, go back to college later. It’ll buy you some time.”

“No,” Andy said again. “I’m not screwing this up. It has to be now.”

“Why?” Gibbs frowned, genuinely puzzled. “Is this about your dad? Are you trying to prove something to him? Do you think he’ll come around if you get your degree?”

Andy’s shoulders hunched automatically, and Gibbs sighed.

“You think he’ll love you if you can prove to him you’re worth it?” he asked quietly.

Andy laughed out loud. “Oh you think you’ve got me all figured out, don’t you? Well, it’s not that simple, Jethro.”

“Then why?” Gibbs gazed at Andy speculatively. “You said you wanted to be a private investigator but that isn’t the plan, is it?” he murmured.

“No.” Andy shook his head. “At least…it’s not the main plan. It’s the backup plan.”

Gibbs thought about those expensive sneakers in Andy’s bags, and the kid’s sheer athleticism, and all the sport he’d been watching on TV these past few days. Those shoes in Andy’s bag had been high tops, which meant…

“You tall enough to play pro basketball?” he asked. Andy looked up sharply.

“How did you…? Oh never mind,” he sighed. “You’re good at figuring stuff out about people, Jethro.”

Gibbs grinned, and rubbed his jaw. Maybe Franks had been right, and he *would* make a good agent.

“I’m still growing,” Andy said, “and I’m good – very good. It’s not all about height – I’m the best ball handler the team has.”

“So that’s it. This is your best shot at turning pro, which might just earn you enough money to impress your father and get you back in his good books - because I’m not sure what happened there, or what you did to piss him off but you’ve fucked up big time with him. If that doesn’t work, you get the degree at least and that’s more than he expects so maybe that’ll be enough.”

Andy threw back his head, downed the last droplets from his glass of coke and then glanced around, looking for the waitress.

“Could we leave now and go back to that bar? I liked you more when you were stinking drunk,” he said.

“No,” Gibbs said firmly.

“What about you?” Andy flung at him. “You keep nosing around in my life but I know fuck all about you. Why do you cut your hair like that? Are you in the military? What’s with the road trip and all the drinking? You said you were running away from something – what the hell are you running away from, Jethro? You fuck me like you’ve fucked guys before but you’re not gay. You don’t look at women when we’re out but you sure as hell don’t look at men either. You fuck like you just want to get off and you don’t care how or who with, and then you get weird about kissing, like it does matter after all and you haven’t figured out why. What’s your story, Jethro?”

He said all this in a low, even tone, not even close to losing his temper, but Gibbs was impressed. It was like a switch had been flicked, and he was seeing a very different side to Andy. The kid was undeniably smart – much smarter than he seemed with all the clowning around. Gibbs leaned back in his seat and gazed at Andy, without saying a word. Andy gazed back at him defiantly but Gibbs was confident that he wasn’t the one who was going to break. He started tapping his fingers on the table in a dull, monotonous beat.

They stared each other out for a long time, the tapping of Gibbs’s fingers the only sound between them, and then finally Andy dropped his gaze and looked down at the table.

“My father is a drunk and a bully,” he said. Gibbs stopped tapping, and leaned forward. “He paid for me to go to all these expensive schools but he never once asked me what I wanted. He had all these plans for me – I was supposed to get a business degree and join him in the family business but that’s not me.” Andy glanced up at Gibbs, and he looked suddenly much older than his nineteen years. “Seriously, that’s not me. I want to have some fun, Jethro, and I don’t think his plans included that. If I can’t make it in basketball then I want to be a private investigator, or a cop, or something cool. Besides, if I worked with him I’d annoy the hell out of him. I also wouldn’t be able to…”

He broke off with a shrug.

“Hide that overactive libido of yours?” Gibbs asked. “And the fact that you’re not exactly fussy about which gender you sleep with? He know about that?”

Andy was very still for a moment, and then he gave a curt little nod. “Yeah. He knows,” he said tightly, and Gibbs had no doubt at all there was a story there. He wondered if that was behind the cold tone of that letter the lawyer had written to Andy on his father’s behalf.

“If he already knows…” Gibbs began.

“Knowing is one thing – accepting is something else.” Andy made a face. “He’s kind of unforgiving. He divorced my mom because she embarrassed him by getting drunk in public the whole time but he drinks more than she ever did – he just hides it better. Hiding’s okay – getting caught isn’t.”

Gibbs leaned back in his seat for a moment, and thought about it. If he was going to get involved – and he didn’t kid himself for a second that he wasn’t already involved up to his eyeballs – then he needed to know more.

“You’re what – a sophomore? You must have made some friends at college – couldn’t you at least bunk down with one of them until you figure out a way to make some money?”

“You don’t get it,” Andy said, with a firm shake of his head. “I don’t want them to *know*.”

“Why the hell not – if they’re your friends?” Gibbs frowned. “Your mom was paying your way through college but she died. Your dad won’t help out – where’s the shame in that?”

“Like I said…I don’t want them to know,” Andy stonewalled, his eyes narrowing.

“You don’t want them to know you’re broke, you don’t want them to know you’re a hustler, you don’t want them to know you’re bisexual…that’s one hell of a double life you’re building up around you, Andy,” Gibbs pointed out. Andy shrugged. “You sure you can keep it all straight in your head?” Gibbs asked. “Can’t be easy.”

“I can handle it,” Andy said confidently, and Gibbs had no doubt at all that he could.

“If the basketball thing doesn’t work out, you’d make one hell of an undercover cop,” he grunted. Andy grinned, clearly loving that idea. “So when’s your next game?” Gibbs asked unexpectedly. Andy looked surprised.

“Thursday night. Why?”

“Your dad ever come watch you play?” Gibbs asked. Andy laughed.

“Nope. Never.” He shook his head vehemently. Gibbs suppressed an urge to drive to Long Island right now, find Andy’s father, and slam his fist into the man’s face. He thought he was doing well, unravelling the mystery that was Andy, but there was still something that wasn’t slotting into place, and he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.

“I want to watch you play,” he said suddenly. “Can I come along on Thursday night?”

Andy’s face was a study in various emotions – surprise, bemusement, and an almost pathetic kind of joy. Gibbs saw the ten year old in him again, and while he knew he was just getting in deeper it was worth it to see that look in Andy’s eyes.

“Yeah. You can come,” Andy said casually, as if his entire face hadn’t just lit up at the suggestion. He thought about that for a moment, and then leaned forward, and spoke straight into Gibbs’s ear. “And talking about coming…” he whispered.

Gibbs sighed.

~*~

2008
“You guys must be hungry,” Pete said to Gibbs. “Why don’t I arrange some food? Take out okay? Chinese?”

“Fine.” Gibbs shrugged. He was hungry but with all that was going on he hadn’t given it much thought. Neither he nor Tony had eaten since that sandwich on the plane hours ago, and Tony wasn’t exactly famous for doing without food for any length of time.

Pete walked away to arrange it and Gibbs decided that Tony had had long enough on his own out there.

He went outside, and took a sharp intake of breath as the icy cold air hit him. Tony had left his jacket inside and wasn’t wearing anything warmer than a shirt. He had to be freezing. He was standing underneath a single outdoor light, which shone on his dark hair, illuminating a few paler strands, making him look more like Andy than Gibbs cared to think about right now.

“Christ it’s cold out here,” Gibbs said, going over to stand beside him. Tony glanced at him.

“Yeah. Feels good. My head was pounding being locked up in that stuffy dark room. Feels like it’s starting to clear now.”

“Yeah.” Gibbs nodded, glad that Tony was acknowledging just how goddamn awful that room had been. “Pete’s getting us some food. I said Chinese would be okay.”

“Thanks.” Tony looked down at his shoes, and then glanced at Gibbs. “Sorry you’re being dragged into all this, boss,” he said quietly.

“My choice to come along,” Gibbs shrugged.

“About that…” Tony began, looking up, directly at him.

His face was illuminated by the overhead light, and his gaze was open and honest, and in that instant Gibbs knew that Tony remembered every single minute of those two weeks all those years ago, and he knew exactly who he'd spent them with.

Gibbs wasn't surprised; he didn’t believe in coincidences, so he’d always suspected that Tony had tracked him down to NCIS and applied for the job with the agency in the express hope of seeing him again. He thought maybe it had started out as curiosity on Tony's part, just the usual DiNozzo nosiness, but then Gibbs had been intrigued enough about how the kid had turned out to offer him the job, despite the many black marks on his resume, and Tony had clearly been intrigued enough to take it. Gibbs remembered Tony’s job interview, and how they’d both pretended those two weeks in a motel room had never happened – just like they were still doing, seven years later.

Gibbs shifted his weight slowly from one foot to the other, gazing back at Tony stonily, his eyes hard and his face impassive, giving nothing away. Gibbs knew that Tony was looking for some sign – any sign at all – that would show that Gibbs remembered but Gibbs couldn’t give him that sign – with it came accusations, revelations and no doubt a whole truckload of unintended consequences.

If only he’d known back then what he knew now, would he have still done the same thing? He didn’t even have to think about that; he knew he would. Tony was here, wasn’t he? He was here, alive and if not exactly well then better than anyone might have expected given kind of life he’d been leading back then. What was it Mike Franks had once said to him after the murder of his family? That he was battered and bruised but not broken? That was Tony too – maybe that was as good as it got for either of them, considering who they were and what they’d done in their lives – and what had been done to them.

Tony’s gaze faltered when he didn’t find what he was searching for and he shook his head. “Thanks,” he muttered, looking back down at his feet.

“Pete thinks you might hate him,” Gibbs said. Tony looked up again immediately, an expression of surprise on his face. “For stealing your inheritance,” Gibbs explained.

“Too right I hate the thieving little shit,” Tony replied, and then he grinned. It wasn’t up to his usual standard but it was something. “Of course I don’t hate him,” he said. “Pete’s one of life’s good guys. My Uncle Nico was as much of a bastard as my father. Pete and I used to get together and swap horror stories. My dad didn’t have a good word to say about Pete when Uncle Nico was alive – he moaned about him all the time because Pete was everything he wanted me to be, and he was so competitive with my uncle that he felt like Nico had got one up on him by having this perfect child. Then Uncle Nico died, and I got thrown out of school again, and Pete was heading off to do a business degree so Dad decided Pete was the son he should have had. Turns out Uncle Nico was up to his eyeballs in debt when he died, so Dad put Pete through college and then welcomed him into the business after. He got to wash his hands of the real son and get his hands on the prodigal. That wasn’t Pete’s fault though and I don’t blame him for it.”

“Christ that’s fucked up,” Gibbs said, startled by that story into saying more than he’d intended. He looked into Tony’s eyes and saw the shadows that lurked there, and wondered how Andy had felt, still barely more than a kid, knowing his dad had found such an easy replacement for him. That put a whole new dimension on the way he’d viewed Gibbs all those years ago. Suddenly that request that he call Gibbs “Dad” took on a different perspective. He’d seen his father get a replacement son – maybe it wouldn’t be so hard for him to get a replacement father. If only things were that simple.

“Welcome to the DiNozzo family,” Tony grinned. “’Fucked up’ is the family motto. At least Dad’s always been honest with me about how totally worthless he thinks I am – he’s never lied to me about it.”

Gibbs thought about the lie he’d asked Tony’s father to tell just a short time ago, and then about that massive great lie he’d told Tony seventeen years ago, and was still telling him now, in a way. Who was the good father, he wondered? The one who lied to his son - or the one who subjected him to the brutal, honest truth?

“Truth’s over-rated,” he muttered, leaning back against the wall of the house.

“Yeah, well, you would say that, boss,” Tony said, with a sideways glance at him. Gibbs raised an eyebrow. “Your track record with telling us anything isn’t exactly stellar,” Tony pointed out. “You had to be blown up and comatose before we found out about your past, and then there were a couple of cases where you hid stuff from us. Important stuff. Stuff we should have been told,” he added firmly.

Gibbs considered slapping the back of his head but Tony was right – and he guessed it took them being here, with all that was going on around them, to make him brave enough to say it.

“You can’t talk,” he pointed out with a grunt because Tony was the master of the misdirect after all. Gibbs just kept his mouth shut and dared people to ask, whereas Tony sent them off in the wrong direction with a series of smart comments and idiotic jokes.

“Yeah. Well.” Tony flushed, the tips of his ears turning a pale pink colour under the lamplight. Neither of them wanted to go there.

“Would you rather be lied to?” Gibbs asked. “If it was a lie designed to help you, or maybe even to protect you?”

Tony turned to him, and they stared at each other for a long moment, the past hanging perilously between them.

“Depends on the lie,” Tony said softly.

~*~

1991
Gibbs took his place in the gym and glanced at his watch. Andy had been like a cat that got the cream for the past few days. He was fully recovered from the beating he’d received, most of the cuts and bruises now almost completely gone, and he had so much energy that it had been all Gibbs could to do keep up with him.

The sex, predictably, had been both frequent and satisfying, and between bouts Andy had taken him around town and showed him just about everything there was to see. Gibbs had also insisted he attend his classes again, and hang around with his friends; Gibbs had given him a key to the motel room so he could come and go. It was intriguing, getting to know the college student instead of the hustler. He could now see that there were two very distinct sides to Andy’s personality and he suspected Andy was very different when he was with his friends compared to the way he was when Gibbs was alone with him.

Gibbs sat back as the teams emerged from the locker room, and saw Andy search the crowd for him, his gaze restless until it settled upon him. Then he gave a big grin and a massive thumbs-up sign. Gibbs rolled his eyes.

Andy was right about one thing – he *was* good at basketball. In fact he was the best on a strong college team. Gibbs watched him leap around the court like a hurricane, outclassing his opponents, a whirling force of nature as he passed, dribbled and jumped. He was infused with a wild, exuberant energy that was familiar to Gibbs from his performance in the bedroom. All the same, Gibbs wondered whether his performance on court was enhanced to a certain degree by having someone in the audience to show off for. Andy always did like to have an audience – whether for his idiotic jokes, endless knowledge of movie trivia, or even just when he wanted his erection admired.

Andy’s team won easily, 52 – 29, and Andy accounted for almost half his team's points. He wasn’t as tall as some of the other players but he had a springy leap that made up for that, and his cocky sense of triumph when he scored and the low-level chat he kept up trying to distract the players on the other team made it clear that he was having a great time.

Gibbs went down courtside after the game ended, and Andy came running over.

“Did you see that three pointer?” he asked Gibbs excitedly. He’d scored from mid-court just before the buzzer, a testament to both his timing and his showmanship. “Did you see what I did there?”

“Yeah, I saw,” Gibbs said, grinning because Andy’s excitement was infectious. At that moment a throng of Andy’s team-mates and friends surged over to join them, in a testosterone-fuelled mass of exuberance, excited by their victory.

“Hey, Tony, we’re going to be pouring the beer down your throat tonight,” one of them said, grabbing Andy in a neck lock. Andy pushed him back and they had a minor tussle.

“Did you see those hot girls watching in the second row?” another kid asked, gesturing. Andy glanced over to where a gaggle of girls was standing, pretending they weren’t looking at the team but casting surreptitious glances their way all the same. Andy’s face split from ear to ear with a grin that boasted of his supreme confidence in the imminence of a new sexual conquest.

“Tonight, my friends, we get lucky,” he leered. “Just observe the master at work – watch and learn!”

Gibbs stood back and studied Andy interacting with his friends, and then, suddenly, the last piece of that jigsaw slotted into place. Andy didn’t want his friends knowing about the reality of his life because he wanted *this*. He wanted acceptance, wanted to keep up the persona he’d had when he started out here. He was the frat boy, the player, the rich kid without a serious thought in his head, and that was how he fitted in here. It was what his friends wanted him to be, what they expected of him - and what he wanted to be when he was with them. They didn’t want to know about nights in a motel room with a man old enough to be his father, and they sure as hell didn’t want to know about him spending nights in a dumpster, or blowing strangers in bar restrooms for cash.

No, this, right here, was the world Andy belonged to – it was the only world his upbringing had equipped him for, and he was trying to hang onto it as best he could by caddying at the country club and hanging out with the frat boys, kids who had led similar lives to him. No wonder he didn’t want them knowing – Andy’s experiences would set him too far apart from them, and change the nature of their friendship, and, fundamentally, Andy just had too much pride to allow that to happen. Gibbs could understand that kind of pride; the unbending kind that would break rather than yield. Finally he recognised in Andy something of himself, and he felt a certain empathy for him and what he was trying to do, misguided and dangerous though it was.

One of the kids joking around with Andy turned to him, and Gibbs recognised – too late – the boy he’d talked to at the country club the previous week.

“Hey – you’re Tony’s dad aren’t you?” he asked.

Gibbs looked at Andy for one long second, and Andy looked back at him, with anxious eyes, both of them clearly wondering what he was going to say – not least because the kid had used Andy’s real name. In the end, the answer was simple – there was only one thing he could say.

“Yeah,” Gibbs said, putting an arm around Andy’s shoulder and squeezing. “Yeah, that’s right - I’m Tony’s dad.”

He didn’t even want to think about the way that made Andy look at him, because he was all too well aware of just how much that had meant to the kid. Andy slid a sweaty arm around Gibbs’s waist, and leaned against him for a moment.

“Thanks, Dad,” he whispered into his ear.

Noise erupted around them as another group of their friends joined in the celebrations, but all Gibbs could see was Andy, looking over at him every few seconds, his eyes glowing. Then the team left to hit the showers and the crowd started to disperse.

Gibbs walked over to where the coach was sitting, and took a seat beside him. He was a big man, with thick, dark hair, and a bushy moustache.

“Good game,” Gibbs said. “I’m…uh Tony DiNozzo’s father.” He held out his hand and the coach took it and shook.

“Nice to finally meet you,” he said. “Tony’s told us a lot about you.”

“Really?” Gibbs raised an eyebrow, wondering what the hell Andy had told them about his father.

“Yeah.” The coach nodded, grinning, the ends of his moustache drooping over the sides of his mouth, giving him a lugubrious look. “Way he made it sound you’re about the best dad in the world. Always sending him money, calling him before each game to wish him luck – said you were too busy working to come watch a game, but looks like you finally found the time to see your boy play.”

“Yeah.” Gibbs shook his head wryly at the image of the fantasy dad Andy had created. It sounded very Andy. “Listen…just how good is Tony?” he asked. “He was pretty impressive tonight but does he have a chance of turning pro?”

The man hesitated before replying, obviously weighing his words. “If he could make it to the pros, then he’d be here on a scholarship and he isn’t, as you know.” The coach stroked his moustache thoughtfully. “He’s good - damn good - but I think he knows he’s never going to be tall enough to turn pro.”

Gibbs nodded. He’d suspected this was another of Andy’s fantasies, and he also suspected that Andy knew it was a fantasy too – just like having the perfect father, and living the life of a spoiled rich kid when he was flat out broke and hustling to get by. All the same, if the fantasy kept him in college and helped him get his degree, what did it matter?

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Andy emerge from the locker room, his hair wet, and he and his friends made a beeline for the pretty girls standing courtside. Andy was grinning, clowning around and talking too fast – most of it total crap Gibbs suspected but the girl he was trying to impress was giggling inanely so it was working.

This was where a kid like him belonged - not out there, turning tricks in bars. Gibbs turned back to the coach, and held out his hand.

“Thanks,” he said. “You’ve been a great help.”

“No problem, Mr DiNozzo. Nice to finally meet you. You take care now.”

Gibbs returned to the motel room alone. It felt strange, after the past couple of weeks of being holed up here with Andy, to have the place to himself. He found himself missing the kid but he wasn’t expecting him back tonight. They hadn’t exactly talked about it but Gibbs was pretty sure that a hot girl who was willing to put out trumped your dad any time. He packed up his stuff, which didn’t take long, and then he sat down and wrote a short note:

Dear Andy,

It’s time for me to move on. The room is paid for until the end of the month so that gives you three weeks to figure some stuff out. I’ve left you some cash under the pillow for food. Do not go back on the streets.

Take care,

J

He left it on the table with a grimace. He knew this was going to trigger all of Andy’s abandonment issues but it was the best way. Andy would bounce back – it was a knack he had. Besides, Gibbs really did need to move on. It was time.

He glanced around the room, at the rumpled bed where they’d fucked so many times, and at the TV, which had almost driven him insane from an exposure overload. Then he picked up his bag and left.

~*~

2008
Tony gazed at Gibbs and Gibbs gazed back at him. He could tell him, he thought. He could just open his mouth and tell him. Maybe it’d even be a relief after all these years but they were both in such a different place now, and such different men. Did either of them want to be reminded of those two weeks in that motel room seventeen years ago and how fucked up their lives had been back then? What the hell must Tony think of him, he wondered. Last thing Tony knew Gibbs had abandoned him, just like his real father. So why come chasing after him ten years later, and why work with him for seven years, neither of them ever saying a word about it?

Pete broke the impasse by sticking his head out of the door. “Food’s here,” he said. “Damn – it’s freezing out here. You guys should come in.”

Tony gave one final glance at Gibbs, and then returned to the kitchen. Gibbs felt a muscle in his jaw twitching with tension. “Depends on the lie”, Tony had said. Well, this was a massive lie, too big to be ignored if it ever came out; the kind of lie that would change everything between him and his agent. Maybe it wouldn’t come out, and they could continue to play this game of purposefully not remembering around each other. It would sure as hell be easier that way.

He was kind of surprised the truth hadn’t come out already, maybe during one of those Christmas Day phone calls between father and son, but it clearly hadn’t. He’d braced himself these past seven years, ever since Tony joined NCIS, knowing that if Tony ever found out then he’d say something – he'd have to - but he never had so Gibbs was sure he didn’t know.

He took a deep breath of the icy air, and followed the two cousins inside. That feeling he’d had in his gut when he woke up this morning had been right, and the storm clouds were now all around them. He had no idea how this would play out - all he could do was wait and see.

He joined Tony and his cousin at the dining table where they were opening up the take out. He took his seat opposite Tony, who, now he’d got his head together, was back in full charm offensive mode, mask firmly in place so nobody would see how much he was hurting right now.

“For an almost-dead guy he has a lot to say,” Tony grinned. “I thought he’d be more…you know…out of it.”

“He has been these past couple of days,” Pete said. “That’s why I called you. That conversation he just had with you is the most he’s said to anyone in a week.”

“Well, you know, this is his last chance to win one final argument with me,” Tony said, handing Gibbs a take-out box of noodles. “I can see why that would make him rally. He always did like a good fight. Especially with me.”

Gibbs sat back in his seat and ate. He was hungrier than he’d thought and the hot food warmed him after being outside in the cold night air.

“So how’s business?” Tony asked Pete.

“It’s good.” Pete nodded, talking around a mouthful of rice. “Your dad was still coming into the office and bugging the hell out of everyone until a few weeks ago. That was despite officially retiring last year.” He grinned at Tony and rolled his eyes.

“Poor Pete.” Tony grinned back.

“His business instincts are still sharp though,” Pete said. “We’re in good shape - just about to expand into a big new office building.”

“Hah – see, if I’d joined the business, like he wanted, I’d have bankrupted you years ago,” Tony grinned. Pete laughed.

“Yeah, I remember when we both helped out there together that one summer,” Pete said. “You were about fourteen? I’ve never had so much fun or got into so much trouble – you were just crazy back then, some of the stunts you pulled. I hope you’re a better federal agent than you were an office boy.”

“He is,” Gibbs grunted.

Tony looked up, startled. Gibbs pushed the box of noodles towards him. Tony hadn’t put anything on his plate yet, and Gibbs had a feeling this was going to be a long night.

“Eat,” he said.

~*~

1991

It was raining. It rained all night, just like the night he pulled Andy from the dumpster a couple of weeks ago. Gibbs enjoyed driving through the rain – it kept him focussed, and matched his mood somehow. He arrived at the offices of Weston & Grant just as they were opening the next morning.

The receptionist didn't sound like the woman he'd spoken to on the phone so maybe she was a different one.

"I need to speak to Daniel Weston," he said.

"Do you have an appointment?" She glanced at a large, leather-bound appointment diary on her desk.

"No, but he'll see me," Gibbs said confidently. "Tell him it's about Tony DiNozzo, and tell him it's urgent."

She looked at him with alarmed eyes, and Gibbs guessed that nothing this dramatic ever usually happened in the sedate offices of Weston & Grant; then she nodded, and disappeared.

A couple of minutes later a tall, bespectacled young man emerged from a nearby office, a puzzled frown on his face. He had an earnest, scholarly look about him, and Gibbs immediately got the impression that this was a man of integrity.

"Uh…I'm Daniel Weston. You wanted to see me, Mr…?" He held out his hand, looking at Gibbs speculatively.

"Gibbs." Gibbs shook the man's hand firmly. "And yes I do. It's about Tony. Can I have a few moments of your time?"

"For Tony – yes," Weston told him, ushering him into his office. Gibbs glanced around at the orderly stack of files on the desk and on the floor. This man was methodical and hard-working. He wasn't some hot-shot high flier. He was someone who had to work at what he did, and was conscientious to a fault.

Weston sat behind his desk and gestured that Gibbs take a seat in front of it.

"Is Tony okay?" Weston asked anxiously, leaning forward. "Someone called here last week when I was on vacation and said he'd been hurt."

"That was me, and he had," Gibbs said. "It seems his father is less concerned about him than you though."

Weston sat back in his chair with a sigh. "I've known the DiNozzo family all my life. Tony is like a kid brother to me. A real handful of a kid brother," he added, with a faintly exasperated smile. "I can't comment on Tony's relationship with his father but I'm fond of the kid. And you didn't answer my question – is he okay?"

"He's recovered physically if that's what you mean," Gibbs said. "But he's in trouble and needs help – financial help."

Daniel Weston shook his head. "I can relay this news to his father but I'm afraid I already know what his answer will be."

"So do I," Gibbs replied shortly. "So don't bother telling him. He's not interested. I want something different from you."

Weston frowned.

"I want to employ your services," Gibbs said. "Will you take me on as a client – for Tony?"

"I don't understand," Weston said.

"I have some money that I'll never touch," Gibbs told him, thinking of the payout he'd got from Shannon's death that was burning a hole in his bank account "It's no use to me but it'll help Tony. It comes with conditions."

Weston was frowning even more now.

"He passes all his classes – hell, he attends all his classes - and he works hard. That's where you come in. If he fails or flunks out then the money stops; you make that clear to him."

"I'm not sure I really understand," Weston said.

"Yes you do," Gibbs said curtly. "I want to help him but I don't want him knowing it's me. I don't want him feeling like he owes me anything, or he has to repay me. When he graduates he's on his own. Money stops."

"I won't lie, Mr Gibbs," Weston told him. "Are you asking me to pretend the money comes from his father?"

"No." Gibbs shook his head. "I'm asking you not to say it doesn't."

"I don't see how…" Weston began.

"It's easy," Gibbs cut in tersely. "How about something like – "Dear Tony, I've been instructed to send you the enclosed. Your tuition, board and rent will be paid for monthly from now on…etc etc". No need to say *who* instructed you. Tell him to send any correspondence on the subject to you, not to his father. I believe Tony's father has already made it pretty clear he doesn't want to hear from his son in any case."

"And if Tony asks who the money is from?"

"If he asks, which I doubt he will, then I'm sure you'll think of something to tell him - but I want to remain anonymous," Gibbs said firmly.

Weston gazed at him owlishly from behind his spectacles.

"Do you want to help Tony or not?" Gibbs asked him softly. "You said he was like a kid brother to you."

Weston thought about it for a moment, and then leaned forward again. Gibbs noticed how sharp his blue eyes were, behind the spectacles. This man was nobody's fool.

"What kind of a person *ever* has money they know they'll never touch?" he asked.

"Someone who lost the two people he loved most and doesn't want the cash settlement he got for it," he replied tersely. Weston's eyes widened. Gibbs took a check out of his pocket and handed it to Weston.

"This won't be enough to see him through another three years of college," Weston told him, glancing at it.

"I know." Gibbs nodded. "I'll send you a sum monthly until he graduates."

"You sure you can afford this?" Weston's gaze travelled over his unshaven jaw and his casual clothes, dishevelled from his long, overnight drive.

Gibbs gave a tight grin. "I can afford it," he said. "Have you got any more objections or will you handle this for me?"

Weston thought about it for a moment, and then nodded. "I'll do it. To be honest…you're not the kind of man I can imagine many people say no to."

Gibbs managed a wry grin at that, and rubbed the stubble on his jaw thoughtfully. "Don't tell Tony's father about this," he said. "This is just between me and Tony. It's got nothing to do with him."

Weston nodded again. Then he got up, came around to the front of the desk, and perched on it, right in front of Gibbs. He leaned forward and gazed at him, sharp blue eyes blinking earnestly from behind his glasses.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked.

"Like I said – I lost everyone I loved and I was looking for a reason to get up in the morning," Gibbs told him. "Now I have one. I'm helping myself as much as I'm helping Tony."

"What did he tell you about himself?" Weston asked. "I wouldn't want to take your money under false pretences. He might have lied."

"Oh he lied – about a lot of things," Gibbs laughed. "But I'm good at seeing through lies. It's kind of my job – or at least it will be, soon."

Weston raised an eyebrow. Gibbs got up and drew an envelope out of his jacket pocket.

"Here's my address if you need to contact me," he said, handing the envelope to Weston. "Send me his exam grades at the end of every semester and any updates you think I should know. Do not give him my address. Do not tell him who his anonymous benefactor is. Do not contact me unless it's important."

Gibbs held out his hand and Weston took it, and shook it firmly. "I still don't understand why you're doing this," he said. "What's Tony to you?"

There were all kinds of suspicions in Weston's eyes, and Gibbs thought that at least some of them were pretty much well-founded. He wondered what Weston knew of Tony's sexual preferences, and whether he'd guessed how he might be funding himself through college since his mom died.

"He's just a kid who needs a dad," he said. "And I'm a dad who just lost a kid. That's all." It wasn't all – it was a hell of a lot more complicated and fucked up than that - but it was something Weston could understand. His expression softened.

"I'm sorry – and thank you, Mr Gibbs. This really is most extraordinarily generous of you. I'll make sure your instructions are followed to the letter."

"Good." Gibbs nodded curtly, and then turned on his heel and left.

He walked down the road to a phone booth, stepped inside, and reached into his jacket pocket for a scrap of paper that had been scrunched up in there for weeks. He dialled the number.

"Franks? It's Gibbs. That job you offered me? I'll take it," he said. He heard the NIS agent give a gruff laugh on the other end of the line.

"Knew you'd see sense eventually," Franks said. "You can start on Monday."

"I'll be there," Gibbs said. That only gave him a couple of days but he didn't give a damn about that; the sooner the better.

"8am sharp." Franks added. "Don't be late. I'm a hell of a boss to piss off." And then he put the phone down.

Gibbs made his way back to his car and sat there, gazing at the steering wheel. He'd finally come to terms with his loss back in that motel room but learning to live with it was going to take longer. Every day he woke up and they weren't here it hit him in his gut and made him wonder what the hell he had to live for. Now he had no choice. For the next three years he had to get up every day and go to work to make enough money to put Andy through college. Maybe, when those three years were up, he'd have found some way to live with the gaping hole in his heart.

Maybe.

~*~

2008
Tony fell silent as they finished their meal, and Gibbs guessed they both felt an imminent sense of dread about going back into that room. He wasn't sure if he preferred it when they all stood quietly around at the bedside, or when Tony and his father tore into each other. Neither was particularly appealing but if Tony wanted him to go back in there with him then he'd go.

Finally they couldn't delay it any more and Tony pushed his plate away and stood up.

"Time to go back into the ring for round three," he muttered. "I think he's ahead on points but there's still some fight left in me."

"You've been pulling your punches," Gibbs pointed out. "I understand why but keep your guard up and make sure he doesn't land a knockout blow." He gestured with his fists in front of his face, in a defensive posture.

Tony shook his head ruefully. "One thing you need to know about my dad, boss – he always wins."

They walked slowly up the stairs and back into the room. DiNozzo was still asleep. Gibbs went over to his usual spot next to the window. He hooked his finger in the dark green silk drapes, pulled them aside an inch, and looked out at the full moon and the bright stars shining in the clear black sky.

He turned back to find that Tony had sat down in a chair beside the bed again, and Pete was sitting at the end of the bed. Gibbs pulled up a chair, sat down by the window, and listened to Tony and Pete chat in quiet voices about little stuff – mainly Pete’s wife and kids. After an hour or so, DiNozzo opened his eyes and looked at his son as if he didn't know who he was, and then recognition crept in and he grunted.

"You still here, Tony?" he asked. "I thought you'd have left by now. Where are you staying anyhow? Not here." He glanced at Pete suspiciously. "I told Pete you weren't staying here."

"Not here, no. In the hotel on Old Country Road," Tony assured him.

"Good. I meant what I said back then, after you got expelled from Drewes and I sent you to live with your mother. I don't want you spending another night under my roof," DiNozzo said.

"Yeah, I know," Tony said wearily. "Seriously, Dad – you're dying. Let's forget about this stuff. Pete and I were just reminiscing about the good old days."

"You remember when Tony and me came to work in the office that summer when we were kids?" Pete said, leaning forward, doing his best to aid Tony in the whole "let's play nice" thing he was clearly working so hard on right now.

"I remember," DiNozzo chuckled.

"I think you were relieved when fall came," Pete added, with a grin.

"You had ambition, even then, Pete," DiNozzo told him. "I could see that. You didn't fool around like Tony. You knew what you wanted to do with your life. Tony never did."

"I did," Tony said quietly. "It just wasn't what you wanted to hear so you never listened."

"Oh yeah, I remember now - you thought you could throw a ball around for a living. Whatever happened to that, huh?"

Tony's shoulders hunched, and Gibbs winced. "I busted my knee, Dad," Tony said. Then he sighed. “And I wasn’t good enough in any case.”

DiNozzo raised his eyes heavenward, and Gibbs wondered if this was the knockout blow he'd been trying to land since he'd first set eyes on his son again. He was a stubborn old bastard, and this was his last chance to win this old argument with his son before he died.

"Story of your life," DiNozzo muttered. "And what did you major in again, Tony?"

"Phys Ed," Tony said quietly.

"Phys Ed," DiNozzo crowed. He might be dying but he had scented blood and he could see he had his son on the ropes now. Tony looked defeated, his body language completely dejected. He'd taken too many body blows and it wasn't a fair fight in any case; Tony was essentially too nice to fight back as hard as he could against a dying man. Gibbs thought maybe it was time Tony retired from the ring; he might not be able to win but there was no reason why he should stay and allow his father to kick him when he was down.

"Phys Ed." DiNozzo shook his head again. "Pete here got a business degree, and my son studied Physical Education. What the hell damn use did you think that would be?"

Gibbs wondered if he should step in and get Tony out of here, but then it was too late, and suddenly that dead body he'd been dreading, that seventeen year old corpse he'd been waiting for all this time, blindsided him by rising to the surface with unexpected speed.

"If you thought it was such a waste of time, why did you help pay for it after Mom died?" Tony asked quietly.

DiNozzo gazed at him blankly. "Pay for it? I told you, Tony, I wouldn't spend another dime on you after you got expelled from Drewes. That was your last chance – you knew that and you blew it. I wasn't going to throw good money after bad. I didn't pay for anything."

"But then you…" Tony paused, a puzzled look on his face. Gibbs got up from his chair. Tony glanced at his father, and then at Gibbs, and Gibbs could see the exact moment the shocked realisation showed on his face. "No, no of course you didn't," Tony said softly to his father. He ran a hand through his hair, and got up. "I've been…kind of an idiot," he said in a strangled tone. He glanced at Gibbs again, his jaw tight, and then he turned and strode out of the room.

Pete gave Gibbs a startled look.

"I'll go after him," Gibbs said.

His heart was pounding as he ran down the stairs after Tony. He had no idea what he was going to say when he caught up with him, and that look in Tony's eyes hadn't been pretty.

The front door was open when he reached it; he ran out onto the driveway just in time to see the lights on their rental car disappearing as Tony screeched out of the gate at high speed. Gibbs cursed, and went back into the house, slamming the door behind him.

"What the hell is going on?" Pete asked, coming down the stairs. "Did Tony finally have enough? I'm not surprised. My uncle was behaving like a total bastard. What happened back there though? Did I miss something?"

"Yeah. You missed something," Gibbs told him. He got out his cellphone and punched number one on his speed-dial; he wasn't exactly expecting Tony to pick up so he wasn't surprised when his call went straight to voicemail, Tony's teasing, pre-recorded voice at odds with the way Gibbs had just seen him.

"Maybe he needs some time to himself. That was pretty heavy," Pete said.

"Maybe." Gibbs pressed number two on his speed-dial; it rang a few times and then McGee's bleary voice answered.

"Hello? Boss? Is that you? You do know it's two o' clock in the morning don't you?" McGee said with a yawn.

"I don't care what the hell time it is, McGee – I need you to get a fix on Tony's cellphone."

"Tony's cellphone…is Tony in trouble?" McGee asked, his voice suddenly sounding wide awake. Gibbs could hear him getting up.

"Just do it, McGee," Gibbs snapped.

"On it, boss. Uh, boss? Where are you?" McGee asked. "Tony said something about going to Long Island but he didn't say why…"

"Just call me back when you have a fix on him," Gibbs said, in a voice like thunder. He snapped the phone shut to find Pete gazing at him, a startled look on his face. "What?" he growled.

"You sound just like my uncle chewing someone out at the office, back before he got ill." He gestured with his head towards the upstairs bedroom. "Tony must find that kind of familiar."

Gibbs's anxiety spilled over in the way it usually did – to full blown rage. "I am nothing at all like that bastard upstairs!" he roared. Pete took a step back, and Gibbs fought to get himself back under control. "I'm a different kind of bastard," he said in a calmer voice. Pete managed a nervous grin.

Gibbs commenced pacing around anxiously, waiting for McGee to call back. Pete sat down on the bottom step of the stairs, clearly unsure what the hell was going on.

"Is Tony going to be okay?" he asked.

"If I can get to see him, and talk to him, and explain something to him, then he will be," Gibbs said, hoping Tony didn't lose control of his car driving like a maniac out there.

"Can you tell me what's going on?" Pete asked.

"No," Gibbs replied shortly. His cellphone rang and he snapped it open. "McGee? What do you have for me?"

"I've got a fix on Tony's GPS – he's…well he seems to be driving around in circles," McGee told him, in a puzzled voice. "What's going on, boss?"

Gibbs thought about it. He didn't like the idea of Tony driving around out there in his current state of mind, but on the other hand he thought Tony might need the space right now. The last thing he wanted to do was make it worse by requisitioning Pete's car and driving after him while he was circling around out there. That might end badly.

"Nothing," he said to McGee. "Just keep an eye on the signal and tell me immediately he stops somewhere."

He snapped his phone shut again and turned to Pete. "I need your car," he said.

"Okay." Pete, like so many people before him, knew not to argue with Gibbs when he was in this kind of mood. "Look, I'm really worried about Tony. He looked really shaken when he left," Pete said, getting up and reaching into his pocket for his keys.

"Go back to your uncle," Gibbs told him. "I'll take care of Tony. He isn't your responsibility – he's mine."

"He's my cousin!" Pete protested.

"Yeah." Gibbs gave him a scathing look. "And you've been so scared of that vicious old man up there that you never stood up to him the way Tony did, did you? At least Tony's got some balls."

He grabbed the keys out of Pete's hand, ignoring his stupefied look, and strode out of the front door, slamming it shut loudly behind him. He found Pete's car and got in. At that moment his cellphone rang again.

"McGee – what do you have for me?"

"He's just pulled up somewhere," McGee said, and Gibbs could hear his fingers clicking away on his keyboard.

"Where?" Gibbs demanded impatiently.

"Uh…seems to be a hotel near your current location, boss. The Holiday Inn in Westbury. Is that where you’re staying?”

"You can go back to bed now, McGee." Gibbs threw his cellphone down on the seat beside him and drove Pete's car down the driveway and out of the gate at 70 mph.

There was no traffic on the roads at this time of night and he drew up outside the hotel within minutes. He parked the car and ran inside, heading straight for Tony's room. There was no reply to his knock on the door so he picked the lock without a second's hesitation – only to find the room empty. He wondered if Tony was in the bar, and considered calling McGee back to make sure he'd got this right. Then a thought occurred to him; Tony was just as good at picking a lock as he was – hell, he'd taught him.

He took out his key and let himself into his own room. It was in darkness, and for a moment he thought he'd guessed wrong – and then he saw Tony, standing by the floor-to-ceiling window at the far end of the room, one arm resting on it, his forehead pressed against his hand as he gazed out.

"Tony?" Gibbs said, turning on the light.

Tony didn’t turn around. "No," he said firmly. His shoulders were hunched and he looked like a man who had taken too many body blows this evening - one more might have him out for the count.

Gibbs thought about it for a moment. Seventeen years led inexorably to this single point in time and there was no use pretending any more.

"Andy?" he asked.

Tony moved his head to look at him. “Yeah,” he said softly. He looked unbelievably tired, and in his current vulnerable state Gibbs thought he really *did* look just like Andy again. "So you do remember,” Tony murmured, never taking his eyes off Gibbs.

“I remember,” Gibbs nodded.

"Well of course you do. See, I was never sure before today. I could see how you'd forget two weeks all those years ago – they were probably far more important to me than they were to you anyway – but I guess it's a lot harder to forget someone when you've put them through college."

Gibbs wasn’t sure what to say.

“Christ, Gibbs!” Tony exploded. “All these years you knew what you’d done for me and you never said a damn thing!”

"I didn't want you to know." Gibbs shrugged. It sounded pretty lame now but it had all made sense at the time.

"Clearly." Tony walked slowly towards him. He came close, too close, and Gibbs stood his ground, wondering where the hell this was going.

"Why?" Tony asked, and there were a dozen unanswered questions in his voice and a whole world of pain.

"I had the money and you needed it," Gibbs replied, as if it had really been that simple.

"No – why did you run out on me?" Tony asked. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, and then fished around inside it. He found a very old, very tattered piece of paper and handed it to Gibbs. It was surreal, after all this time, seeing his own writing on the note he'd left for Tony on the night he'd walked out.

"You kept it, all this time?" Gibbs asked.

"Why are you surprised? I tracked you down, didn't I?" Tony ran a hand through his hair, leaving it standing up on end. "You've always been my little obsession, boss, and in the end it was too much for me - I just had to find out what happened to you. Took me awhile but being a cop helped. Then it turns out you were recruiting agents and, well, you know me…that was too much for me to resist. I had to see you again – had to see if you remembered me."

Gibbs remembered the interview. He'd seen the name on the resume and wondered what the hell was going on, but, like Tony, he'd been too intrigued to resist.

"I wondered if you were there to confront me, but you never said a thing," Gibbs murmured.

"Because you never gave any sign that you knew me!" Tony protested. "And what was there to say? 'Hey – I'm the guy you fucked ten years ago – how about a beer for old time's sake?' You were on marriage number four at the time and not many married men want to hear that kind of thing."

"I couldn't figure out what you wanted – so I thought I'd offer you a job and find out," Gibbs said. "Never did figure it out though. Why did you stick around so long, Tony?"

"The same reason I tracked you down. The same reason I kept your note all these years. The same reason I never took that job in Spain that Director Shepard offered me a few years ago. The same reason I'm here right now," Tony replied, in a heated tone. Gibbs stared at him, and Tony shook his head. "You really don't get it, do you?" he said quietly.

Gibbs held his gaze for a long moment, and then nodded. He sat down on the side of the bed and rubbed a hand over his jaw, feeling it rasp over the stubble. "Yeah. I do," he said. "I do, Tony."

Tony paced around the room. "There were things I didn't understand back then," he said. "They became clearer over time. I pieced it all together slowly, over the years, bit by bit, like some giant jigsaw of Gibbs. Wasn’t hard to finally figure out what you were on the run from; it was soon after Shannon and Kelly had been killed, wasn't it?"

Gibbs cleared his throat. "Yeah.”

"You used to look at that gun you kept under the pillow like you wanted to stick it down your throat and pull the trigger."

"Yeah." Gibbs nodded.

"Sometimes I was scared you would."

"I was thinking about it."

"I know. I was terrified I'd go back to that room and find you in there with your brains blown out. Or else that you'd kill yourself in your damn car. You were drinking a hell of a lot – you can't always have sobered up when you set off again and there was a look in your eyes that sent shivers up my spine. Then it went away, after…" He hesitated.

"After you let that guy knock you around for cash?"

"Yeah." Tony shook his head, a little grin on his lips. "I didn't always make the best choices back then," he muttered wryly.

"Ya think, DiNozzo?" Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

"Nobody ever took care of me before then, boss. Dad never gave much of a shit about me, and Mom cared but she was so drunk all the time that I was always the one taking care of her. And it turned out that when you weren't drunk you were kind of cool – a bit scary but cool. And then you ran out on me."

"It wasn't going anywhere, Tony," Gibbs said wearily. "I’d just lost my family – I wasn't ever going to be what you wanted me to be. The only way I could see to help you was to leave."

Tony stopped pacing. “I fell for you, boss,” he said quietly. “I really did. Took me a long time to get over you walking out. Pressed all my buttons.”

“Yeah, I knew it would,” Gibbs sighed. “Had to do it anyway.”

“I got back to the motel room that evening just in time to see your car pulling away.”

“I didn’t think you’d be coming back that evening. I thought you’d found a date,” Gibbs said, surprised. Tony frowned.

“No – I looked around and you’d gone. I chased after you but I was too late.” He sat down on the bed beside Gibbs, looking deflated. “I know,” he sighed. “I was just a screwed-up kid and you weren’t in any shape to fall for anyone, let alone someone like me. I can see that now but not back then.”

“You were just looking for a father, Tony - and having met your dad I can see why,” Gibbs grunted.

“It was always more than that,” Tony replied. “I’m not saying that wasn’t part of it, but it was always more. You know that. I mean, trust me, I have never – ever - had any sexual fantasies about my father.” He shuddered. “And some of the things we did…they weren’t exactly things you do with close relatives.” He gave a ghost of his usual bright smile, and then it faded. “Christ, I still can’t believe you sent me all that money. Three years. You sent me money for three years.”

“Gave me a reason to get up in the morning,” Gibbs told him. “When things were tough. It made me take the job at NCIS – it was the kick in the ass I needed to keep going.”

“Why didn’t you want me to know?” Tony asked. “I mean, all those years making that fuck awful yearly phone call to my father because I felt it was my duty, because he’d relented and paid for me even though he thought I wasn’t worth it. Why let me believe it was him?”

“You were the one who wanted the fantasy,” Gibbs pointed out. “The perfect dad, playing pro basketball, the double life…I didn’t want you to be hustler any more, or to have to feel grateful to some guy you fucked when you were down on your luck. That was kind of the point. I wanted you to forget about that, and lead the life you’d chosen to lead with your friends. That’s what I wanted to give you.”

Tony stared at him. “I guess I’m not the only one who knows how to lead a convincing double life,” he muttered.

“What do you mean?” Gibbs frowned.

“Always trying to make people believe you’re a bastard?” Tony grinned. Gibbs slapped the back of his head.

“I *am* a bastard, Tony – don’t ever forget that,” he said, with a faded grin of his own.

Tony fell back on the bed. “Christ I’m tired,” he yawned. “That fucking room and my fucking father…now, *he’s* a bastard.”

“Yeah. He really is a piece of work. I always wondered who screwed you up so badly and now I know."

"I can't believe he's really dying," Tony said, putting his hands beneath his head and gazing up at the ceiling. "After all these years of doing battle with him – I just can't believe it. It doesn't feel real." He looked over at Gibbs. "How did it work? Danny Weston made me send him all my term papers and got really pissy with me whenever I was slow about it. I thought it was my dad hassling him to make sure I didn’t screw up and knowing the money would dry up if I slacked off kept me focussed. I suppose you knew me well enough even back then to know I wasn't a model student," he grinned.

"You didn't screw up though. Weston sent me a report every semester – you never flunked a class. I wondered if you would when you busted your knee – thought that might throw you but it didn't."

"Nah – you were right – I was never really going to be tall enough – or good enough - to turn pro anyway." Tony shrugged, but Gibbs knew that he must have had a hard time dealing with the loss of that particular fantasy. “What happened after I left college? Did you check up on me?”

Gibbs shook his head.

“Weren’t you ever curious to see how I’d turned out?” Tony frowned. “Weren’t you tempted to show up at my graduation or something?”

Gibbs shook his head again. “No. It was in the past. I’d learned how to live without my family – it wasn’t easy but I’d found a way of getting by. I was working in Europe at the time so I couldn’t have gone to your graduation in any case. And I’d done what I set out to do.”

There was a long silence. Tony glanced at the clock on the night-stand, and then he glanced at Gibbs.

“It’s late. I don’t want to be alone tonight, boss. Can I sleep in here?”

Gibbs hesitated.

“On the floor maybe?” Tony grinned. “With a blanket?”

“Like there’s any chance you’d stay on the floor all night,” Gibbs snorted, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, you can sleep in here, Tony – in the bed. I’m too tired to argue anyway.”

They both stripped down to boxers and tee shirts, and then climbed into the bed. Gibbs turned off the light and closed his eyes, feeling completely and utterly exhausted. He felt Tony lying stiffly beside him and could almost hear him waiting for Gibbs to fall asleep so that he could…

“Oh for god’s sake,” he sighed, moving his arm. Tony rolled over immediately, and rested his head on Gibbs’s shoulder, and threw his arm over Gibbs’s midriff, then slid his leg over Gibbs’s legs so that they were entangled, and it felt much like it had all those years ago – like being suffocated by a giant puppy. Tony was heavier now, but the weight of him, the feel of him, and the smell of him felt strangely familiar, even after all these years.

Gibbs relaxed, and felt Tony relax against him now that he was clinging on like a limpet, in his favourite sleeping position - and within seconds they were both fast asleep.

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