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Whose Life Is It Anyway?

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The sun was warm against Tony’s skin as the rays deepened his early-season tan. He was relaxing on the deck of the Bold Adventurer, a yacht owned by his father’s company. Having it titled to the company protected it when his father nearly lost everything else he owned. Motioning to one of the stewards, Tony barely lifted his head as he requested another Mojito, and rolled onto his back for a while.

He didn’t think much about it when they returned to the dock. Senior often pulled over to restock the food, alcohol and other supplies. They were currently at a marina in the Chesapeake Bay near Norfolk. There was also a constant change of passengers, as they dropped a few off only to pick up others whenever they came back to shore. The current passengers were all business associates of his father’s, as Tony’s friends had been banned since they had gotten drunk and busted a hole in the wall between two of the suites the previous day. Tony’s father had demanded they leave the yacht as soon as it docked, and told Tony in no uncertain terms that none of his friends would be allowed back onto the vessel.

Tony did his best to play the drunken frat boy who cared nothing about his father’s business dealings. Often feigning sleep, he kept careful note of who boarded their ship as well as others in the area. During the stop at the marina, he noticed someone new boarding, but obviously not one of his father’s cohorts. This man was weathered more than tanned, dressed for labor and carrying a toolbox. Despite the silver hair betraying his age, the man was quite handsome and Tony was instantly intrigued.

The silver-haired man quickly noticed Tony eyeing him and walked closer. “I’m looking for the captain of the vessel. Ben called me from the dock about some urgent carpentry work that needed to be done.”

Tony flashed his ‘you’re boring me and I don’t care to listen to anything you’re saying’ expression at the man. As he was currently pretending to be a spoiled brat, Tony wasn’t going to ruin his reputation by giving the handsome carpenter the time of day.

“Look, I just need someone to tell me what work needs to be done.”

Without saying a word, Tony pointed to the bridge of the ship.

“Right,” the man said. “The name is Gibbs, by the way.”

Tony ignored him and reached for his Mojito. He noticed the carpenter shook his head as he walked away. Tony smiled smugly as he soaked in the sun.

Moments later, Senior called from the top deck, “Junior! Junior! Get up here. Now!”

With a heavy sigh, Tony rose to his bare feet and padded off to see what his father was yelling about. It was no surprise that the carpenter was standing nearby, along with a couple of the crew members. “Yeah, Dad?”

Senior vaguely waved in Gibbs’ direction. “Show the carpenter the hole.”

“Really? Can’t one of the servants do that?” Tony asked, a tone of disdain tinting his question.

“Junior! It was you and your friends who caused the damage. Now, go below and show him the work that needs to be done so we can be on our way.”

“Whatever. Come on,” he said as he signaled for Gibbs to follow. When he arrived in his stateroom, Tony checked his hair in the mirror. He’d recently had it cut into spikes with frosted tips. A smile graced his face. He looked every bit the rich party boy he was aiming to portray. Leading the way to a large, walk-in closet he motioned toward a hole in the wall, amidst the wreckage of several broken shelves. “My friends and I were running some football moves,” he explained with a sheepish grin. “Bit of a challenge on a moving boat. I think we hit a rogue wave or something and that happened.”

Setting down his toolbox, Gibbs surveyed the damage. “I was told this was some sort of an emergency.”

“Well, it is. This is a boat and that is a hole in the boat. Senior wants it fixed immediately.” Pointing through the hole, he continued, “That goes right into Senior’s suite and let’s just say you can now hear everything going on in either suite, not to mention, if the light is on in one suite, it shines through to the other. It simply is not acceptable.”

“Uh-huh.” Gibbs ran his fingers through his hair as he glared at Tony. “So you want me to fix the hole and the shelves. Is that it?”

“Haven’t I been explaining that in some detail? Yes, there is a hole and a few busted up shelves. We need it fixed so we can get back on the ocean. Time is of the essence.”

Pulling out his tape measure, Gibbs balanced a pencil on his ear and began taking measurements. “All over it. Shouldn’t take too long, but I will have to stain the wood to match. It will need two coats to look right and that will take time to dry.”

“Please don’t bore me with your mundane details, just get it done,” Tony said dismissively as he walked away leaving Gibbs behind examining the closet and the damage.

~~~***~~~***~~~

A short time later, Gibbs left the yacht sans his tools. Tony watched him go, studying him. He noticed the older man had a bit of sun on him but didn’t appear to be aiming to tan. More likely he just worked some outside jobs from time to time. He had a steady gait and a determined bearing. The Marine haircut hadn’t escaped Tony’s notice either. As he adjusted his sunglasses and settled onto the lounge chair, he muttered, “He must have served.”

An hour later, an old gray pickup truck showed up at the dock and Gibbs began hauling pieces of lumber onto the yacht, lugging it across the boarding ramp from the dock. Tony watched with interest and caught Gibbs eyeing him. “Just admiring your wood,” said Tony as he lifted his glass in a mock salute.

Later in the day, Tony went to his suite to shower and change. It was nearing dinnertime and Senior refused to allow Tony to dine with him and their guests without at least a shirt, shorts and some sort of footwear. Completely ignoring Gibbs, Tony dropped his trunks and kicked them aside as he noticed his shirts were now strewn across the bed. His brows furrowed in confusion.

Using a handkerchief, Gibbs wiped the sweat from his forehead. “I’m sanding in here. Trust me, the last thing you want is sawdust in your clothes.”

Tony pursed his lips as he stood completely naked and chose a salmon-colored button-down shirt.

“Is that a coffee cup tattooed on your ass?” Gibbs asked.

Tony couldn’t stop his laughter. “One night, I was a little drunk and decided to get a tattoo. I told the tattoo artist to surprise me, then mumbled that I could sure use a cup of coffee. And this is what I got.”

“Did you still pay him?”

“Sure. Why not? It certainly was a surprise and that’s what I asked for. Do you like my coffee cup, Gibbs?” he asked as he pulled on his clothing. “Would you like to put your hands on it or lick it perhaps?”

Gibbs was taken aback by the young man’s boldness. Standing still for a moment, he cleared his throat while he hurriedly gathered a few words together. “I just want to get this job done so you can be on your way.”

Deliberately getting into Gibbs’ space to further the man’s obvious discomfort, Tony leaned in. “Really? I bet we could have some fun together. You’re in pretty good shape, piercing blue eyes. I wouldn’t kick you out of my bed.”

Gibbs shot a stern glare at Tony.

With a dismissive shrug, Tony backed away and said, “I didn’t see a wedding ring or anything. Open invitation.” Without further comment, he left the suite and imagined Gibbs was rolling his eyes, shaking his head or perhaps both.

~~~***~~~***~~~

The following day, Senior had the crew start up the engines and called for Tony. “Is that carpenter person finished yet? The hole is fixed, right? I couldn’t tell if your light was on last night.”

“I guess. He’s putting the shelves back together.”

“He’s had enough time. We’re ready to go. Please escort him off the yacht.”

Tony hung his towel around his neck and groaned at being inconvenienced by having to deal with the carpenter instead of relaxing on the deck. “Alright already! I’ll tell him to go.”

Down in the suite, he saw Gibbs making some last-minute adjustments.

“Senior is ready to set sail. He wants you to pack up and go.”

“Okay, I’ll get a bill ready.”

“You’ll have to see Senior about that,” said Tony as he turned to leave the suite.

Fifteen minutes later, Gibbs hauled his toolbox up to the bridge and presented his bill to DiNozzo Senior.

“What is this?”

“The bill for my work. It’s the cost of the lumber, hardware, wood stain, and my labor. It’s very reasonable, especially for a rush job. I can take cash or a check.”

Senior handed the bill back to Gibbs. “Junior can pay your bill. He and his friends caused the damage.”

Gibbs watched the older man walk away for a moment before going to the main deck where Tony liked to tan. When he found him, he thrust the bill in his direction, “Your father said you would be paying me.”

Tony chuckled easily. “Oh he did, did he? Do I look like I’m carrying a wallet? Do I look like I have any money?”

“I don’t give a rat’s ass who pays me, but that’s how jobs work. I perform a task for you and you pay me.”

“You sound like a hooker!” Tony roared with laughter. “Maybe we can work out a deal where I can do a little service for you in trade?” he asked as he waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Leaning over the upper railing, Senior called out, “Junior, is that carpenter person gone yet? We’re ready to set sail.”

“He wants to be paid,” Tony called up to this father.

“You and your friends caused the damage; the repairs are your responsibility. You pay him!”

“It’s your damn boat, Dad.”

“It is not my concern. Just get him off the yacht so we can be on our way.”

Turning back to Gibbs, Tony said, “You heard him. He’s ready to push off. Why don’t you send a bill to his business office?”

Leaning his butt against the railing, Gibbs folded his arms across his chest. “I’m not leaving until I get paid.”

“There’s nothing I can do about that.”

Senior called from the top deck again, “Junior, what’s the holdup? Get that handyman off the boat now!”

Tony watched as the crew began reeling in the lines securing them to the dock. With engines running, the ship began pulling away. Looking at Gibbs, he smiled sweetly, “You heard my father. You’ve got to go. He has business associates to entertain and I have a deep tan with my name on it. You better hurry before you wind up having to swim.”

Gibbs appeared unfazed. “Just pay me the damn money and you’ll never see me again.”

Invading Gibbs’ space once more, Tony closed in and ran his hand down Gibbs’ chest. “Do dreams count? I wouldn’t mind a nighttime visit from a sexy carpenter, if only in my dreams. I’ll even let you put your hands on my coffee cup,” he said suggestively.

Unfolding his arms, Gibbs pushed Tony back. An instant later, Tony retaliated by shoving Gibbs hard in the chest, knocking him over the railing. After hitting the water with a big splash, Gibbs swam to the surface, sputtering.

Staring up at Tony, he glared sternly as their eyes met. “What the fuck was that? Pay me my damn money and let me get my tools!” Gibbs demanded.

“Looks like you’re shit out of luck, Gibbs.” Looking around, Tony saw the toolbox. “But you can have this back,” he said as he lifted the heavy box onto the railing.

“Don’t you dare! Don’t throw my tools in the water!” Gibbs yelled vehemently.

With a mischievous grin, Tony did just that, dropped the toolbox into the water below. Fortunately, Gibbs had brought his handmade wooden toolbox that was built watertight and was able to float, as long as the water didn’t come in over the edges. At least Tony hadn’t flipped it over and dumped all the tools into the bay. Tony gave Gibbs a mock salute as the ship sailed further away. “Get a lawyer!”

Gibbs slapped the surface of the water, muttering, “I hate fucking lawyers.” He helplessly watched the vessel chugging away from the dock for a few moments, then swam over to rescue his toolbox before the churning water of the boat’s wake caused it to sink. By the time he reached his tools, two guys in a small dinghy were headed over to help get him back to the dock, where he thanked them for their assistance.

Soaking wet, he slogged into Ben’s office.

“What the hell happened to you, Gibbs? You look like a drowned rat.”

“That damn job you asked me to do, they didn’t pay me. The man’s son shoved me overboard and chucked my tools into the water.”

Ben tossed a towel to Gibbs. “Sorry, man. I feel like this is my fault. I only called you because Sam’s wife is having a baby and these guys said it was an emergency. Let me pay you for your work. Please?”

Shaking his head, Gibbs dried off then took a seat. “It’s not the money so much as how fucking arrogant they both are; the father and son. And get this, they call each other Senior and Junior. What a couple of pompous assholes.”

“They’ll be back eventually. I’d be glad to call you when I see them return to the dock.”

“What makes you so sure they’ll be back?”

“They picked up passengers. That’s what they do. They pick up a handful of people go out for a bit, then return to drop off their guests. They’ll be back in a day or two.”

Grabbing his toolbox, Gibbs tossed the damp towel back to Ben. “Sure, I’d love to have a few more words with them when they return.”

Ben smiled. “Just words or were you thinking more of making your point with a sledgehammer?”

“They didn’t pay me for the lumber or hardware, so I think that would be fair for me to smash it up. You know how to reach me.”

“I’ll give you a call when they’re back at the marina. I promise. Of course, you’re always welcome to stop by anytime you’re up for a game of gin rummy.”

“Sure. I’ll see you later.” Gibbs gave Ben a wave as he grabbed his wet toolbox and left the building. In the parking lot, he put his toolbox in the bed of his truck. After a short stop to pick up Chinese food for lunch, he drove back to his cabin with the intent of relaxing by chopping up and stacking a few additional logs once he changed into dry clothes. He decided to call his daughter later in the evening, after he’d calmed down and de-stressed a bit.

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Since Tom Morrow had forced him to use a week of his accrued vacation time, Gibbs took the opportunity to spend some time at his cabin. When the sky turned dark, flames flickered and crackled in the fireplace as Gibbs seared a steak for dinner. At least he ate well. No matter how hard he tried to dislodge Tony’s image from his mind, he failed. It wasn’t like him to let anyone get under his skin like that. Not unless it was a criminal he was chasing. But hey, not paying a bill was a criminal act in Gibbs’ book. He’d done the job well and deserved to be paid for his efforts. And it’s not like the DiNozzos couldn’t afford it!

While he was still brooding over his lack of payment, his cell phone rang. “Damn it!” he chastised himself as he checked his watch before answering the call. “Yeah, Kelly, how are you?”

Everything is great. Becca’s family is taking good care of me. We’ve been riding every day. Thank you for letting me visit them for the week. How are you doing? I was worried when I didn’t hear from you yet.

“I was just about to call you. Didn’t want to catch you too early.”

Daddy! I called because we’re about to go to bed and I wanted to say good night.

“I must have lost track of time. But I didn’t forget. I’m glad you’re having fun, Sweetheart. I knew you’d rather go to Becca’s family farm and ride horses than come to the cabin for your spring break.”

You know I enjoy the modern conveniences of plumbing and electricity. And of course the bonus of getting to ride horses. How are the fish biting?

“Doing great. You know how I love settling on the lake and casting a line.”

You should have brought Uncle Ducky with you. I hate that you’re alone.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m not alone. I have a whole lake full of fish all to myself. Besides, I went to the marina today to visit with Ben.”

Good! I’m glad you’re not hunkered down alone the whole time.

“No, it’s all good. Don’t forget to thank Becca’s parents and especially her grandparents for hosting you.”

I won’t forget. I’ve been helping feed the animals and paint the barn, so I’m earning my keep.

“Good girl. Miss you.”

Miss you, too. See you soon. Good night, Daddy. I love you.

“Good night, Kelly. Love you, too.”

She seemed to be thirteen going on twenty. They’d both mourned the loss of Shannon a few years earlier. Not that Kelly had forgotten her mother, but she thought of her father as unhappy and lonely. She even went so far as to create a profile for him on an online dating site. That stunt got her grounded for a week.

Before turning in for the night, Gibbs polished off a couple more beers and a bit of bourbon. A smile crossed his face, knowing his daughter was completely right that he missed having a partner in his life. He just rather meet a partner the old fashioned way, in person and generally through personal contacts. Work only went so far in keeping him occupied.

He thought about one of his closest friends these days, Tobias Fornell. Their common bonds were having the same ex-wife, they were both federal officers, and they each had a daughter who rode horses and took piano lessons. Also, neither man seemed to be able to make a romantic relationship work for very long these days. They both worked a lot of hours and wanted to spend time with their daughter. It didn’t leave much time to meet or court women.

Gibbs often thought about Kelly and his ex-wives. Kelly wasn’t the reason his marriages didn’t work out. It was him. Him and the way he threw one hundred percent of himself into his job after Shannon died. It wouldn’t have surprised him at all if Kelly had wanted to leave him, too. She did spend time with her grandparents, but she continually insisted she wanted to live with him. He was a lucky man to have a young daughter who refused to give up on him.

Kelly may have gotten her determined stubbornness from her father. It wasn’t like him to give up on something when he knew he was right. The DiNozzos owed him money, and by God, he was going to make them pay, one way or another. A few beers and a little bourbon went a long way in helping him formulate a myriad of scenarios in which he made the DiNozzos fork over what they owed him. It wasn’t the money. It was the principle of the matter. Rich people got away with far too much bullshit, and he was not going to back down. No way.

~~~***~~~***~~~

Early the next morning, Gibbs prepared himself a hearty breakfast of bacon and pancakes, then spent a couple of hours fishing on the lake. Back at the cabin, he fixed himself up a cooler filled with sandwiches, snacks and a few bottles of beer, then carried it out to the truck along with his toolbox.

It took him over an hour to drive back to the marina, where he stopped in to visit with Ben. The pair took to playing a game of gin rummy accented with a few words scattered here and there.

It was midday when the Bold Adventurer appeared in the marina. Ben did a double-take, then nodded for Gibbs to turn around. “Sometimes they stay docked overnight. Other times they stay out all night. I suppose they have enough beds for their guests and crew.”

Gibbs eyed the sleek vessel, then continued the card game, pleased when he won the hand. “I think I’ll go have a few words with the DiNozzos,” he said as he stood up slowly and headed for the door.

Ben followed Gibbs outside, and the pair stood on the dock watching the yacht approach. It wasn’t the only one. There was constant movement at the marina, with several ships coming and going throughout the day. Gibbs stood in plain view, but didn’t make a move toward the vessel until it was fully docked and tied off. He didn’t want to take a chance that they’d see him and leave the marina before he could confront them.

As he started walking along the dock, he saw Tony running off the yacht in great haste. Stepping into his pathway, Gibbs glared at Tony, giving him the type of stern look that made suspects quiver before spilling their guts, yet the younger man kept going like Gibbs wasn’t even there, obviously distracted by something or someone else.

“Hey!” yelled Gibbs fiercely. “You still owe me money!”

Finally noticing Gibbs, Tony grinned quickly, but didn’t stop. “I have an errand to run. Old man’s on the boat. Check with him.” With that, he sprinted off.

Gibbs trailed after him, but cut off to the side to get into his pickup truck. He noticed two Hispanic males getting into a yellow Mustang. Right behind them was Tony in a Red Corvette. Gibbs shook his head and trailed after the Corvette. He wasn’t chasing, just following. Tony had to stop somewhere and when he did, Gibbs was determined to be there to confront him.

At first, the drive seemed relatively uneventful. They were even headed in the right direction to get to his cabin. It was obvious Tony was following the men in the yellow Mustang, so Gibbs suspected they were friends. When the Mustang sped up, Tony followed suit, as did Gibbs. Something seemed a bit off, but he knew the road and knew when to hold back and when to keep the sports cars within his view.

Then something odd happened. The Mustang slowed down, and Tony passed them. Gibbs kept the Mustang in view for a bit. When the nearly deserted road began winding through a heavily treed area, Gibbs hung back out of sight, knowing there were no turn-offs for over two miles.

While he didn’t see the accident, he heard it. The first hit startled him, and he sped up. He heard two more hits, and then he came around the corner in time to see the Mustang forcing the Corvette off the road. The red car flew over the embankment and disappeared from view, hidden by the trees. A heavy thud followed by silence indicated when the car had settled.

“Well, shit!” Gibbs exclaimed as he watched the taillights of the Mustang disappearing around a bend in the road. He hadn’t gotten a plate, being more concerned with whether Tony had survived. Pulling onto the shoulder, he stopped the truck, got out and looked down. It was steep, but he was sure he could make it down to the Corvette. The car itself was blocked by the trees, but he could see where it left the road by the tire tracks.

Pushing the dense brush aside, Gibbs forced his way through the greenery. It was easy to follow the path it took, leaving broken branches in its wake. When he finally reached the car, he noticed it had landed at a precarious angle, propped up by a boulder. Tony was outside the car, sitting down and holding his head, which was bleeding.

“Are you okay?” Gibbs asked.

Tony was obviously dazed and looked up questioningly. “What?”

“Is anything besides your head hurting?”

“I’m not sure.” Staring at the car, he asked, “Did I do that?”

“You had a little help. I don’t suppose you have a first aid kit in the car?”

Tony cocked his head. “Not sure.”

Gibbs climbed up far enough to peer inside the car. It was smashed up pretty good. While he failed to locate a first aid kit, he did see one thing of interest, Tony’s wallet. He knew he’d want the wallet retrieved if it was his. It took him a few minutes before he could get to it. The door wouldn’t open, so he had to climb up on top of the boulder, and then crawl through the broken window. While hidden from Tony’s view, he reached for the wallet and tucked it into his pocket before crawling out of the vehicle and climbing back down.

Holding out his hand to Tony, he offered, “Let’s get you out of here and patched up.”

With a nod, Tony grabbed Gibbs’ hand and struggled to his feet.

Gibbs paused and looked the younger man over. There were some scrapes, but he saw nothing bleeding much other than the head wound. “You’re okay to walk? Nothing feels broken?”

“No, I’m fine; just a bit of a headache.”

It took the pair several minutes to climb back up to the road where the pickup truck was parked. The Mustang hadn’t returned. No one else had stopped. Reaching into the truck, Gibbs grabbed a shop towel and handed it to Tony. “Hold that against your head. A little direct pressure should stop the bleeding.”

“Yeah, okay,” Tony said agreeably. Eyeing the cooler, he asked, “Is there any water in there? I’m dying of thirst.”

“Sorry, there’s only a beer left. You probably shouldn’t drink alcohol with that head wound. There are ice cubes.”

“That will work,” said Tony, as he pulled out a couple of ice cubes and tossed them into his mouth.

Gibbs checked for other cars, then carefully pulled back onto the road. They were close to the cabin and he knew he had some Advil, water and first aid supplies there. When he saw Tony’s eyes were closed, Gibbs patted the other man’s knee. “Stay awake, okay? I’ll get you some water soon.”

~~~***~~~***~~~

Within twenty minutes, they arrived back at the cabin. Tony looked up inquisitively. “Home?”

Gibbs smiled. “Weekend getaway. It’s the closest place. The nearest hospital is over an hour away.”

“Hospital? Are you hurt?” Concern showed in Tony’s eyes.

“Not me. You hit your head, remember?”

Reaching up, Tony gingerly touched his forehead. “No, not really.”

“What’s the last thing you do remember?”

Taking in a deep breath, Tony stared at Gibbs for a few minutes. “We were on a boat.” Eyeing the fishing tackle on the porch, he added. “Fishing?”

Now, Gibbs was the one looking concerned. “Do you remember your name?”

“Of course. It’s um. Hm. I mean, of course, I know my name. It’s a. Shoot.”

“Let’s go inside and I’ll get you some water,” Gibbs offered, wondering if Tony’s memory would come back after a few minutes of rest.

Inside the cabin, Gibbs got Tony settled in a handmade chair and gave him a glass of water from a gallon jug he kept on hand, along with two Advil tablets. As Tony quickly downed that, Gibbs set the jug on the end table next to the chair.

Tony reached for his forehead again. “What happened?”

“You were in an accident. You fell off the road and hit your head,” Gibbs explained.

Gibbs grabbed his first aid kit and cleaned up Tony’s scrapes and cuts, then lifted his eyelids to see if his pupils looked dilated. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine. Really, I’m fine. I feel like I got the wind knocked out of me, but it’s getting back to normal. How are you? Did you fall, too?”

The young man’s thoughtfulness threw Gibbs. He didn’t even seem like the same spoiled party boy tanning on his father’s yacht that Gibbs had met the day before. “No, I didn’t fall. But I had to fight through the overgrowth to find you and get you back to the truck.

“Thanks.”

“For what?”

“Saving me?”

Standing up, Gibbs headed for the door. “You’re welcome. Stay here. I need to make a couple of calls. Try to drink more slowly. If you gulp down too much too fast, it’s bound to come back up.”

“Okay. Am I not supposed to hear the calls? Is there something wrong with me?”

“I can never get a good signal inside the cabin, and you need to rest in the shade. I’ll be back soon.”

Walking a few yards away from the cabin, Gibbs made his first call. Although he knew the number by heart, he used his speed dial to call Ducky. After a quick consult by phone, Gibbs found himself being chastised for not going to the hospital immediately. “The cabin was closer,” he explained. “He was bleeding and I wanted to get that stopped pronto. He seems fine now except he can’t remember his name.”

Nonetheless, you will need to get the lad to a hospital to be properly examined and treated. Immediately, Jethro. There is no time to waste.”

“Yeah, of course,” he replied as he disconnected the call.

Instead of returning to the cabin, he looked longingly at the woodpile and the ax. While chopping wood would help him get his thoughts together, he knew he shouldn’t leave Tony alone for too long. Ducky was right. He should take Tony to the hospital immediately.

Did Tony have medical insurance, he wondered. At that moment, he remembered rescuing Tony's wallet from the car wreck, and he pulled Tony’s wallet out of his pocket. There were no credit cards, or insurance cards, but there was some cash. Pulling the bills out of the wallet, he counted three hundred dollars. Tony owed him money and there it was in his hands, Tony’s cash! He was keeping it, but it wasn’t even enough to cover the lumber, hardware and stains he’d purchased to do the job on the yacht.

As he was staring at the driver’s license from the wallet an idea struck him like a lightning bolt. The words Tony said on the boat were fresh in his mind, “Maybe we can work out a deal where I can do a little service for you in trade?”

After checking in on Tony again and making sure he was doing okay and resting, Gibbs returned outside to chop some wood and do some thinking. Here was a guy who owed him money, who didn’t seem to remember who Gibbs was, or even who he was himself. Tony DiNozzo would probably never pay Gibbs what he owed, but what if Gibbs gave him a different name? Just until his memory came back. How could he send Tony home with no memory when those two guys in the Mustang were obviously determined to harm him? No, it was Gibbs’ duty to keep Tony safe until his memories returned. And if he could get a little payback at the same time, then so be it!

“He can fucking pay me back in trade,” Gibbs said aloud. And just what talents did this party boy have, other than tanning and driving fast? Gibbs wasn’t sure, but certainly, he could provide some basic help around the house.

His next call was to Abby. “I need you to do me a favor, Abs. Off the books.”

He quickly filled Abby in on getting stiffed for his work by this party boy and his wealthy father, and that the party boy in question had himself suggested the trade for services rendered. He was certain to include how two unknown assailants had run Tony off the road, clearly trying to kill him.

They simply could not allow Tony to go back home with no memory when those guys were still after him, with the obvious intent to do him harm. He would be in imminent danger without knowing it. Gibbs adamantly promised her that he could keep Tony safe by giving him a fake ID and there was nothing wrong with Tony providing a few services while he was hiding out at Gibbs’ house. After hearing the story, and learning that Tony was in danger from his attackers, Abby agreed to help Gibbs set up a new ID for Tony’s protection.

“I’ll need a fake license and some photos of us together. You can do that, right?”

“Absolutely. I’m sure he has some social media. Nearly everyone does, these days. I will surf the web and see what I can find out. When you say fake license, I’m guessing you want a fake name?”

“Yeah, how about Steve?”

“Okay. I guess that would explain why you call Stan Steve all the time. How about a last name? And don’t say Burley!”

Glancing around, Gibbs saw his stack of firewood all ready to burn in the cabin’s fireplace. “Woodburn. Steven Woodburn. And can you do one of those commitment things?”

Abby laughed gleefully. “Really, Gibbs? I didn’t know you swung that way. Although I’ve already found a few images of Anthony DiNozzo Jr. online and he is super cute.”

“Can you tell what he likes to do?”

“Apparently, he enjoys drinking to excess with his friends and tanning. Most of the pictures seem to be taken during parties. It also looks like he attended Ohio State University, and was on the basketball team, and he played football there until he was sidelined by a broken leg. He seems to spend a lot of time with his frat brothers going on spring break every year and partying.”

“Just get the stuff together, whatever you can do. And get it into the system, like an undercover ID, so it comes up if anyone checks up on him, even if the cops run his license, I want it to come back as Steve Woodburn.”

“Anything else?”

“Put a giant Caf-Pow on my tab. Hell, make it two!”

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Returning to the cabin, Gibbs checked on Tony and said, “Come on, Steve, let’s get you checked out by a doctor.”

“Steve? My name is Steve?”

“Yeah. Did you remember?”

“No. You just said it. And why do I need to be checked out by a doctor?”

“Steve Woodburn. That’s your name. I called Ducky. He’s concerned that you hit your head and can’t remember your name. He wants me to take you to a hospital so you can be examined by a doctor.” Leaning in, Gibbs planted a chaste kiss on Tony’s cheek and held out his hand.

Tony grinned and took Gibbs’ hand, following him out to the truck and allowing Gibbs to open the passenger door for him. “And just who is Ducky?”

“He’s a friend from work. You’ve met him a few times; older Scottish gentleman. Sometimes he comes over for dinner or hosts us at his house. Occasionally, he comes to the cabin and goes fishing with me.”

“What exactly do you do for a living? I know I should know, but I’ve forgotten.”

“I work for NCIS.”

Tony nodded thoughtfully. “Naval Criminal Investigative Service.”

Gibbs was surprised Tony had heard of NCIS and knew what it was, but he didn’t let on. “I’m the lead investigator of the Major Crimes Response Team.”

“Wow! That’s pretty impressive. And what does Ducky do?”

“Dr. Donald Mallard, medical examiner.”

“I guess if he thinks I should go to the hospital, then I probably should have a doctor take a look at me.”

“That’s why we’re going.”

“And you and me. We’re…together?”

Patting Tony’s hand, Gibbs said, “Yeah. After my wife passed away, I was so sad. Our daughter, Kelly, said I needed to be in a relationship so I wasn’t so sad all the time.”

“We have a daughter?”

“Yep, thirteen going on twenty. My relationships with other women never worked out because none of them measured up to Shannon, my first wife and Kelly’s mother. Then I met you. You are very different from Shannon, but it works.”

“How long have we been together?”

“A couple of years.”

“One more question. What is your name?”

“Jethro.” He paused while Tony absorbed the information. “Leroy Jethro Gibbs.” He was thankful that his surname didn’t seem to trigger any memories for Tony.

~~~***~~~***~~~

There was nothing Gibbs could do when they whisked Tony away after he was admitted as Steve Woodburn. The emergency room staff agreed to treat him despite no medical insurance, but Gibbs had to provide his own full name and ID, and also had to sign off on a promise to pay all medical bills in full. When something was said about calling the police, Gibbs flashed his badge, but that didn’t seem to deter the staff from calling the police anyway due to Tony’s memory loss.

Stepping aside, Gibbs called both Ducky and Abby asking for their help in backing up his story. “I can handle the cops,” he said. “If they realize it’s a phony ID, I’ll insist this is part of a deep undercover operation.”

Abby arrived at the hospital a short time later, hugged him and handed him a large envelope.

“Thanks, Abs,” he said. “This is going to take a while. Could you do me another favor? Pick up Kelly, then go to a used clothing store and buy some stuff for ‘Steve’?”

“Sure, I can do that. What size?”

Gibbs shrugged. “He’s about my size. There’s an empty dresser in my bedroom. Put the clothing in there,” he said as he handed over the three hundred dollars cash he had pulled from Tony’s wallet. “Get him some bathroom stuff, too. Okay? Like a razor, toothbrush and some of that hair gel stuff.” Waving his hand above his head, he explained, “He’s got that spikey hair going on.”

“Yeah, I saw the pictures. I will take care of everything, I promise. Between me and Kelly, we’ll make the house look like his home, too!” she said excitedly before walking away.

After hours and hours of tests, the doctors brought Gibbs back to tell him that ‘Steve’ seemed perfectly fit, but had received a concussion and was suffering from some degree of amnesia. They were concerned for ‘Steve’ because he couldn’t remember who he was or who Gibbs was, and didn’t even know his home address or phone number.

The police officer called to investigate looked bored, but concurred they couldn’t release ‘Steve’ to anyone until they had some proof that he was who Gibbs said he was and that they did indeed belong together.

When pressed, Gibbs handed over the large envelope Abby had given to him in the waiting room. “I asked our friend, Abby, to stop by the house and bring anything that might help clear this up.”

He looked on as the officer scanned through a few photos Abby had produced, along with the commitment certificate that caused the officer to raise his eyebrows ever so slightly. Most people would have missed the man’s reaction, but not Gibbs. After sorting through the images, the officer searched the envelope for anything else and found the fake driver’s license Abby had created. She’d used the photo from Tony’s real license, pulling it from the DMV records, however, the name on the license was ‘Steven Andrew Woodburn’ and she had used Gibbs’ home address.

“Looks legit,” said the cop.

The doctor was still skeptical and wanted more proof. “He has a tattoo. Can you describe it?”

“Of course,” Gibbs said confidently without skipping a beat. “It’s a grayish-white coffee cup on his right butt cheek. It’s outlined in black ink and there are three squiggly black lines indicating steam. Those lines represent our family, Steve, me and our daughter, Kelly.”

Tony stood up from the bed, lifted his thin hospital gown far enough to check, then turned around to show the proof to the officer. Even the doctor appeared to be satisfied with the identification.

“Why don’t you go ahead and get dressed, Steve,” said Gibbs. “We’ll get you home so you can rest up. I’m sure you’ll be feeling better in no time.”

~~~***~~~***~~~

While Tony was being examined, Gibbs had also called Ben to see if DiNozzo Senior had been asking about Tony. Ben had said no, and that the Bold Adventurer had already set sail. He’d not heard anything at all around the docks of anyone asking about anyone or mentioning someone had gone missing. Ben even noted that wasn’t all that unusual around boats. People often failed to show up, so it was common practice to set sail at the appointed time whether everyone had arrived or not.

Gibbs shook his head. How can the man not be concerned about his son? Senior’s indifference certainly did work to Gibbs’ advantage. The longer no one was looking for Tony, the more time he could get the young man to work off his debt. First was the repair job on the yacht and now there were medical bills and clothing. It was only fair, after all, that Tony pay off all of the debts incurred by Gibbs on his behalf.

According to his driver’s license, Tony was twenty-five and would turn twenty-six in July. Thirteen years, that was the difference between their ages. Gibbs was about thirteen years older than Tony and Tony was about twelve years older than Kelly. It would be interesting to see how they could fit him into their family.

It had taken a little convincing to get Kelly to buy into the plot. It wasn’t that Gibbs needed the money from the job, but what if he did? He despised rich assholes who stiffed their employees and other hired help when they could easily afford to pay their promised wages. Gibbs had explained that it was Tony’s responsibility to pay off his debts and he’d even said something about working out a trade, although he most likely wasn’t serious when he said it. However, a man should stand behind his words, at least in Gibbs’ book of life.

They arrived back at the house and found Abby’s car outside. At least Gibbs was certain she’d picked up Kelly and had brought her home. He hoped Kelly and Abby had completed the next task, making the house appear like Tony had lived there for several months.

“Come on, let’s go inside,” Gibbs said as he shut off the truck’s ignition. “I asked our friend Abby to pick up Kelly while we were at the hospital.”

Tony remained sitting in the vehicle for a minute and stared at the house. It was warm and cozy looking, like something out of a Rockwell painting. Gibbs finally opened the passenger side door, and offered Tony a hand, helping him out of the truck. When they entered the house, it smelled fantastic.

“You didn’t have to cook dinner, Abs,” said Gibbs.

Abby was beaming as she carried the large pot of jambalaya to the table. “I know you and Steve have had a super rough day and a long ordeal at the hospital. I didn’t want you having to worry about fixing a meal when you got home.”

Kelly trailed after her bearing a basket holding fresh cornbread wrapped in a towel. “We put jalapenos in the cornbread just like you two like,” she said. “Welcome home!” With that, she walked over and hugged Tony quickly, then gave her dad a longer hug and a kiss on his cheek.

Nodding to Abby, Gibbs thanked her for picking up Kelly. He was impressed with how perfect their acting was, and relieved they remembered to use the name ‘Steve’.

“I’m happy to help out, Gibbs. I’m just glad Steve is okay. What the heck happened anyway?”

Reaching for Tony’s hand, Gibbs gave it a firm squeeze. “We were out at the cabin and had gone for a hike. Steve slipped on a steep path and fell quite a ways.”

“Oh, no!”

“I think he knocked his head against a boulder or two as he fell and tumbled down the embankment. The doctor said he suffered a concussion and appears to have amnesia, so he’s not remembering everything clearly right now.”

“That’s not unusual after a traumatic head injury,” said Abby. “I bet you don’t remember anything about the fall or the hike.”

Tony thought for a minute, then shook his head. “No, I really don’t. I remember the pickup truck and the cabin.”

Gibbs set the envelope with all the faked pictures and documents in the top drawer of his end table next to the couch. As he looked around the dining room, he saw framed photos of himself and Tony, some including Kelly. He’d owe Abby big time for this.

Tony eyed the photos as well and asked, “No pictures of Shannon?”

“There were a couple other wives after Shannon.”

“Three,” said Kelly.

“Yes, three. The pictures of Shannon are in Kelly’s room.”

“Okay, that’s good. I know I miss my mom. I think I remember a photo of us together. At least, I have this image in my head.”

“You remember your mom?” Abby asked.

“Yeah, I think so. Maybe.”

“Sometimes your oldest memories come back first, so that’s promising. There is a picture of you with your mom up in your bedroom. You showed it to me once,” said Abby. “Your mother was very beautiful.”

Gibbs was really going to owe her now. Who else would have dug back far enough to give Tony a picture with him and his mother? Then again, Gibbs wondered if it was really Tony and his mother, or just some random boy with his mom. It didn’t matter. It was a nice touch that would help make Tony believe this truly was his house and his life.

The group enjoyed the dinner Abby and Kelly had prepared together, then said their goodbyes to Abby. After she left, Gibbs made popcorn and the trio sat on the couch to watch a movie. Midway through the movie, Tony yawned and leaned his head onto Gibbs’ shoulder.

Later, Kelly said good night and gave them each a hug before going upstairs. Gibbs waited until she was done in the bathroom before escorting Tony upstairs.

“I wish I could remember more. I guess I’m just feeling a bit off.”

Gibbs settled his arm around Tony’s shoulder. “It’s okay. There is hope your memories will return one day. For now, the best thing is to get back into your regular routine.”

As they went through the bedroom and the bathroom, Gibbs pointed out the items that Abby and Kelly had bought for Tony. The expression on Tony’s face clearly showed he wasn’t remembering any of these things, but Gibbs only had to sell it long enough for Tony to work off his debt. Hopefully, that would happen before his memory returned.

“Do I have a job?” Tony asked.

“You’re my househusband. I work and you take care of the house and drive Kelly when she has appointments or needs to be picked up. She plays soccer and softball. You also drive her to her piano lessons and to the stables for riding lessons.”

“Oh, okay. So I cook and clean?”

“Yeah. We have a little garden in the back yard. You take care of the plants and yard, shopping, cooking, the laundry, cleaning and vacuuming, all that sort of stuff.”

“Do I have a car?”

“Yeah, you drive the sedan. I drive the truck. And trust me, Kelly much prefers being seen in the sedan than the truck.”

“So when she gets her license she’d rather drive the car than the truck?”

“Absolutely! I think she’d cry if I handed over the keys of the truck to her on her sixteenth birthday. But that’s my work truck. I need it to haul things from time to time, so she doesn’t have to worry.”

Tony walked over to the nightstand and picked up the framed photo of a young boy and a blonde woman and smiled. “I think I remember my mom. Did you ever meet her?”

“No, she died when you were very young. I’ve met your dad though.”

“Should we go visit him, or call him? Does he live nearby?”

Gibbs shook his head, then walked across the room and hugged Tony. “I’m sorry. He disowned you when he found out that you were gay. He isn’t a part of our life. You introduced me to him once and he was furious. He stormed away swearing he’d never speak to you again.”

“Oh.” Tony’s eyes dropped to the floor and he sighed heavily.

“We are your family now, Kelly and I. We’re happy. Quite frankly, your dad is an asshole. Always was.”

“Are we close to your parents?”

“My mom died when I was around Kelly’s age and my Dad runs a little store in my hometown of Stillwater, Pennsylvania. Kelly sees him more than we do. I spend a lot of time at work.”

“How old was Kelly when Shannon died?”

“Seven and a half. Kelly was born in August eighty-three and Shannon died February of ninety-one.”

“So she still has memories of her mom? That’s nice. And then you married three more times?”

Gibbs laughed. “Yeah, never found the right fit…until you came along. First was Diane. She was a fiery redhead. I was trying to replace Shannon, but it just didn’t work out. I spent more time with my job and in the basement than with her. It wasn’t enough and she left. Rebecca wound up having an affair and that was the end of that. The last one was Stephanie. She lived in Moscow with me for a few months while I was on assignment overseas. Kelly stayed with Shannon’s mother during that time. I don’t know. It just never worked out with any of them.”

“How long were you married to each of them?”

“Diane was around for just over a year. Neither of the other two lasted a full year; around nine months for Rebecca and six for Stephanie. My job always came first and women just don’t understand that.”

“But I do?”

“None of them wanted to be a housewife, like Shannon. The other three all had careers of their own. There just wasn’t enough time for us.”

“I never had a career? I never wanted a career? How did we meet?”

Gibbs gently took Tony’s hand into his own and led him over to the bed, motioning for him to sit down. Once he was seated, Gibbs sat beside him as he searched his memory. What had Tony said about college? What had Abby told him?

“You went to Ohio State and played basketball and football. You wanted to go pro, become a professional athlete, but were sidelined by an injury. You came to DC working as an intern on the hill. We met at a bar and bonded over cars and hiking. You said you wished you could get out of the city for a while, and I took you to my cabin. You enjoy big cities, like DC, but you like to get away from it all and relax a bit, too.”

“What did I major in?”

“Physical Education. Your plan was to play professionally, and then you hoped to coach. It just didn’t happen. After we met, we spent more time together. The guy you worked for lost a vote and you lost your job. I invited you to move in and help out with Kelly and the house. I work too much to keep it all up, and she’s too young to have to bear that burden.”

Tony turned and eyed the bed. “And this is our room? We share the bed?”

“You’ve been through an injury and I know your memory isn’t a hundred percent. You need to get plenty of rest, doctor’s orders. I’ll sleep on the couch for a while so you can recuperate.”

“You don’t have to…”

“It’s okay. I don’t mind. The couch is plenty comfy.” Pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket, Gibbs unfolded it, smoothed it out and placed it on the nightstand. “Speaking of doctor’s orders, that’s your list of dos and don’ts. No alcohol for you. You need to get plenty of rest and ease into your workload. Kelly offered to help out where she can. She’s a terrific kid.”

Tony picked up the sheet and scanned over the list.

“There is Advil in the bathroom if your headache returns. The green toothbrush is yours. If there is anything else you need, I’ll be on the couch.”

As the pair stood up, Tony gave Gibbs a hug. “Thanks for taking care of me, Jethro.”

Chapter Text

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The next morning, Tony arose and went down the hallway to the bathroom where he brushed his teeth and fixed his hair. After scrounging through the dresser that Gibbs told him contained his things, he pulled on a pair of jeans and a maroon polo shirt. Frowning, he thought the jeans didn’t fit as well as they should, but he located a belt that helped a bit.

He went downstairs to find that both Kelly and Gibbs were already up and eating breakfast. There was a bowl set out for him. A box of Cheerios was next to Gibbs, and a box of Fruit Loops was near Kelly.

“What kind of cereal do I normally eat?” he asked.

Gibbs paused long enough to say, “There’s some granola and bran crap in the cupboard that you like.”

“Have a seat, I’ll get it for you,” Kelly offered with a smile.

Tony poured himself a glass of orange juice and followed that with a glass of milk. “Sorry I slept so late,” he said with a stifled yawn.

“It’s not like you have to go to work or to school,” said Gibbs between bites. “Besides, the doctor said you needed to get plenty of rest, and not to overexert yourself.”

“But he also said to get back to my routine, right?”

Pushing a piece of paper toward Tony, Gibbs said, “Yeah. I made you a list.”

Tony splashed a little milk over his cereal as he eyed the list.

Gibbs set his spoon in the empty bowl when he was done eating and reached for his coffee cup. “Honestly, I’m at work most of the week, so I don’t know your exact routine, but those are all things I know you do.”

“Yeah, okay. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I can always start some new routines.”

“Don’t forget to pick Kelly up from practice after school.”

“Of course. I think I lost my wallet though.”

Pushing back from the table, Gibbs went to the end table in the living room and pulled open the drawer. “Here ya go,” he said as he handed a wallet to Tony.

Tony checked inside the wallet to find a license that indeed said Steve Woodburn and had what he assumed was the address of the house on it. There was also a ten, a five and a couple one-dollar bills, a library card and a photo of him and Gibbs, and another of Kelly. “No credit cards?”

“Sorry, your other wallet was lost when you fell. I searched around, but couldn’t find it. It’s probably at the bottom of the ravine. I’ll call and get the cards canceled and replaced.”

Tony nodded. “Thanks. How am I supposed to buy things without credit cards? Like gas and groceries?”

“Here, take mine,” said Gibbs as he tossed one of his credit cards to Tony.

As Tony slipped the card into the wallet, he said, “Why is my driver’s license here? Wasn’t it in my wallet when I fell? And where did this wallet come from?”

The corner of Gibbs’ mouth twitched slightly. “You had just renewed your license. That one just arrived in the mail yesterday. I put it in your wallet for you. And you always had two wallets, a brown one and a black one. I have no idea why, but you like your wallet and shoes to match.”

The comment had Kelly giggling, so she added, “That is so true!”

“And the car keys?” asked Tony

Nodding toward the back door, Gibbs said, “On the key rack in the laundry room.”

“How do I get to Kelly’s school?”

Gibbs slid a map and a piece of paper across the table. “The full map has more details, but I drew you a basic map of how to get to Kelly’s practice field.” After adding a couple more streets, he said, “Here are the grocery store, gas station and post office, too.”

“Thanks. I’m sure it will come back to me eventually. Sorry to be such a pain in the ass.”

Gibbs rested his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “No worries. We’re here for you.” Leaning over, he kissed Tony’s temple, then nodded to Kelly, who smiled as she watched their interaction. “Ready to go?”

“Yeah, I’ll get my backpack.”

“What time do I pick you up?” Tony asked.

“Four-thirty! I’ll be at the softball fields.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then.”

After grabbing her backpack, Kelly stopped next to Tony and dropped a kiss on his cheek, her hand lightly resting on his shoulder. “Thanks, Steve.”

Gibbs beamed, then headed out the door.

~~~***~~~***~~~

Left alone in the house, Tony eyed the dirty dishes still sitting on the table and began to clear them. His next task was to put the milk and juice back into the refrigerator. So far, so good. There was a dishwasher, but he wasn’t sure there were enough dishes for that. After rinsing them off he went ahead and loaded the dishwasher, deciding to run it later, after he had something for lunch.

He spent a bit of time going through his things in the dresser upstairs. Nothing sparked any memories for him. There was only one closest in the master bedroom and he and Gibbs were about the same size. Thumbing through the suits, he wondered which were really his and which belonged to Gibbs, or if they shared.

“Double the wardrobe if we share,” he muttered.

He found a small photo album in the nightstand on his side of the bed. There were a few more photos of him as a youth, a few pictures that appeared to be from college, and more of him and Gibbs, some together, some separate. It certainly looked like they were happy together.

Venturing into Kelly’s room, he viewed the pictures of Shannon, admiring her beauty. There were some with only Shannon at different ages, a few of Shannon and Jethro together, some with Shannon and Kelly, and a few of the three together. There was also a more recent image with Kelly, Jethro and himself. That made him smile. After seeing the pictures, he left the room without further snooping. Although he didn’t remember Kelly, he instinctively knew that teenage girls expected their privacy to be respected and he’d honestly only gone in to see the pictures of Shannon. Mission accomplished.

He continued his walk through the house and found a back room on the first floor that had hundreds of books, an acoustic guitar and an upright piano. Running his fingers over the keys, he found the piano to be in tune, and he was able to play a couple of songs from memory. Turning to the guitar, he strummed through a few chords.

“Apparently, I play. Interesting.”

Eventually, he meandered into the basement, where he stopped in his tracks when he saw the boat.

“Wow! That’s a boat; a real boat.” He wondered if he should ask Jethro about it when he got home.

Next, he went into the yard, checking out the plants, and the patio. There was also an oversized single-car garage in the back that housed the lawnmower, rakes, shovels, hoses and other yard-related items along with a beautiful, classic yellow and black Challenger.

“Now this is more like it!” Tony spent several minutes looking the car over with admiration. As the door was unlocked, he got in and sat in the driver’s seat and glanced over the dashboard. “I wonder where the keys are to this baby?”

As it was a lovely day, he sat on the patio for a while and enjoyed simply being, as he tried to search his memories. He remembered a few things, like it was apparent that he spoke Italian and even a bit of French. He felt like he had traveled to France and Italy, but had no specific recollections of either country.

“I know, the doctor said I can’t force my memories to come back,” he said aloud to himself as he ran his fingers through his spiked hair. “But it’s so fucking frustrating.”

As he walked around to the front of the house, he eyed the sedan in the driveway, it felt wrong. “I’m more of a sports car kind of guy. I think. I guess I can’t haul Kelly and her friends around in a sports car,” he said with a disappointed sigh. “I’m sure I had one, but I guess I had to sell it when I lost my job.”

Standing out in front of the house, he stared at it for a few moments hoping it would spark some memories and was saddened when no memories came to him. “I guess this is my life.”

Returning inside the house, he made himself a sandwich and set it on a plate with carrots and a handful of potato chips. Although he eyed the beer, he remembered the doctors said he shouldn’t have alcohol. There was also a pitcher of grape Kool-Aid, so he poured himself a glass of that instead, then carried everything to the patio table to eat outside amidst the sunshine, flowers and chirping birds.

“I suppose it’s not all bad. I have a nice place to stay. I guess I have no bills to pay. And I have a family who loves me and takes care of me. I can make this work. I can do this.”

When he finished eating, he returned to the house, loaded up the dishwasher and ran it.

Taking a seat at the dining room table, he glanced over the list of chores Jethro had left for him. It included cleaning the house, dusting, sweeping, organizing, wiping down the kitchen counters, scrubbing the bathrooms, doing the laundry and also tending to the plants outside, watering and weeding, and mowing the lawn.

He cleaned up the kitchen, then the bathrooms. Cooking and shopping were also on the list. He had no idea what to make for dinner. Maybe Kelly would have some suggestions? The list also noted he was to pick Kelly up from softball practice at four-thirty. There were almost three hours left before he’d have to go do that.

Returning to the den at the back of the house, he tinkered around a bit more on the piano, then took the guitar outside to strum a few tunes in the sunshine. His well-tanned skin betrayed his love of the sun, even this early in the season. The warmth felt good.

Later, he returned inside and scanned over the books and magazines. There were a ton of westerns, and books about horses and horseback riding. The magazines mostly dealt with woodworking, cars and boats. There were also books and magazines about guns and snipers.

Moving back to the living room, he switched on the television and flipped through the channels. He came across The Maltese Falcon and watched it through. Parts of it seemed familiar, so he was fairly certain he’d seen it before.

A short time after the movie ended, he went back to the laundry room to retrieve the keys to the sedan and smiled when he saw the keyring that said ‘Steve’.

“Do I remember how to drive?” he wondered. Shoving his wallet into his back pocket, he locked up the house and started the car. The map that Jethro had made for him was sitting in the passenger seat as he navigated his way through the streets. The school was fairly close to the house, so it didn’t take him long to get there.

After parking, he got out of the car and leaned against it. Kelly noticed him and waved, so he smiled and waved back. That seemed to incite a giggling fit in some of Kelly’s teammates, but the coach quickly quieted them down.

After a few more minutes of practice, Kelly said goodbye to her friends, who stared at Tony. A couple of them waved and giggled when he waved back. Two girls walked with Kelly as she approached the car.

“Hi Mr. Woodburn,” they said cheerfully. He simply nodded back to the girls.

“How was your day?” he asked as he opened the door for Kelly.

“Good. The usual.”

As he pulled away from the curb, he asked, “What was all the giggling about? Is that normal?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Marcy and Stacy both have a mad crush on you. The other girls think it’s funny. That’s all.”

“Don’t they know I’m in a relationship with your father? Who do they think I am? A family friend? Uncle?”

“No, they all know. That’s why the rest of them were giggling. Don’t be offended, but some of them call you…,” her voice trailed off.

“What? What do they call me?”

“It’s silly. Some of them call you Mrs. Gibbs. Just because he works and you stay home like you do.”

“Househusband,” Tony mused.

“Except you’re not married. Because you’re two guys. It’s not legal.”

“But there’s a certificate. I saw it.”

“You had a commitment ceremony last summer, but it’s not really the same as being married in a legal sense.” At a stoplight, she shifted in her seat as she did her best to remember the details her father and Abby had told her. “How was your day?”

“Okay, I guess. I knocked off some tasks from the list, tinkered around on the piano and guitar, and watched a movie.”

Kelly nodded. “That sounds about right.”

“Do you play the guitar? I wasn’t sure who it belonged to, but it felt natural to play. I clearly know several chords.”

“The guitar was Mom’s, but you play it a lot. Dad knows a few chords, but he doesn’t play very often. The piano has been in the house as long as I can remember. Mom played and I take lessons.”

“And your dad is building a boat in the basement?”

The comment drew laughter from Kelly. “Oh yeah. That’s Dad’s big thing, woodworking. He likes making things and fixing things.”

“Can I fix things?”

“You and Dad like to tinker with the cars, but he’s more of a handyman than you are. You mostly watch while he does the work.”

“I saw the Challenger. Who does that belong to?”

“It’s Dad’s. He bought it as a teenager. Grandpa kept it for years and had it restored. Dad didn’t bring it home until long after Mom died. Actually, I don’t think he brought it here until after Stephanie left. I have no idea why.”

“He probably didn’t want to lose it in a divorce. Do I ever drive it?”

“I’ve only seen Dad drive it and not very often.”

“That’s a shame. She sure is a beauty.”

“It only gets like ten miles to the gallon, maybe less.”

“What about dinner? And shopping? Do I cook?”

“Yeah, you cook all the time. I can help you if you want. Sometimes I help you after school.”

“I have no idea what to make for dinner,” confessed Tony.

“We’ll find something,” Kelly said confidently.

“So you play softball and soccer, and the piano. Anything else?”

“I ride horses.”

“What do I like to do?”

Kelly thought for a moment. What had her father said? “You like sports, music and movies.”

“Do I ride horses?”

“Sometimes. Dad knows this old retired Marine guy who owns a stable. I take lessons there, and we all go riding together sometimes. And my best friend, Becca, her grandparents have a farm. I go out there sometimes and they have horses.”

“He said you were at Becca’s riding horses while we were at the cabin.”

“Yeah. It was spring break and I rather go riding than to the cabin for several days.”

“Is that pretty normal? Jethro and I go to the cabin on the weekends and you do something else?”

“Sometimes. I love my dad, but I would rather go to Becca’s and ride horses than sit around the cabin and go fishing. You guys don’t go there every weekend, though.”

“You don’t sound like you’re a fan of the cabin.”

“Dad built it himself. He loves building stuff. But there is no running water and no electricity.”

“And no horses.”

“Yeah, that, too. And who wants to use an outhouse? It literally stinks! If he ever adds electricity and plumbing, I would spend more time there.”

Tony smiled, thinking that was unlikely. Jethro seemed like a bare-bones kind of guy who preferred as few complications as possible.

When they arrived back at the house, Tony pulled far enough up the driveway to leave room for Jethro’s truck.

After Kelly dropped off her backpack in the dining room, Tony followed her into the kitchen. “How about spaghetti and meatballs?” she suggested.

“Yeah, sounds great.”

Standing nearby, he watched as she pulled a pound of ground beef out of the refrigerator, and set it aside while she chopped up an onion.

“You don’t use a cookbook or recipe card?”

“Mom taught me how to make meatballs when I was really young. I used to help her in the kitchen a lot. But there are some cookbooks if you want to use them. Over there.”

“What sort of things do we like to eat? What do I normally make?”

“Dad likes meat and beans. He grills steak and beans at least once a week. Other than that, just whatever. Meatloaf, baked potatoes, pork chops, fried or grilled chicken, casseroles, pasta, salad, tacos, pizza. Make whatever you want. We’re not that picky.”

“Fish?”

“Dad’s not that big on seafood. I’m not either. He likes Chinese. He brings Chinese home now and then. Some days you don’t feel like cooking and you call him to pick up Chinese or pizza.”

“I saw fishing rods at the cabin.”

“Yeah, he likes to catch and release. He never brings any fish home or cooks them. He has given some fish to the neighbors near the cabin. They watch over it to make sure it doesn’t get broken into.”

“I seem to have lost my cell phone.”

“Dad mentioned that. I’m sure he’ll get you a new one.”

“Do I have any friends of my own?”

Kelly chewed on her lip a bit. “I guess. You talk on the phone sometimes. But you don’t go out without Dad. We hang out as a family a lot. You guys mostly stick around the house or go to the cabin.”

It made her sad that they didn’t even know who Tony’s friends were. Her father had said the yacht was registered in New York, so she assumed that must be where Tony was from. Knowing she’d be lost and sad without her own friends, she was determined to befriend ‘Steve’. He certainly seemed nice enough so far.

After setting the meatballs in the oven, Tony helped Kelly put a salad together, and they made cheese garlic bread. All the while they chatted amicably about her school day, music and movies.

“How do I know who Gandalf is, when I couldn’t remember my own name?” Tony mused.

While Kelly set a pot of water on the stove, they didn’t turn on the burner until Gibbs had returned home. Kelly had warned that he often worked late. The moment he stepped inside the door, she turned the burner on high, then ran to greet her dad.

The pair walked into the dining room arm in arm as Kelly chatted about her day and her friends.

Glancing up at Tony, Gibbs smiled and asked, “And how did things go with you today, Steve?”

“Good, I guess. I got a little cleaning done. Found your boat.”

“Keeps my hands busy. Something smells good. What’s for dinner?”

“Spaghetti and meatballs with cheese garlic bread. Mostly Kelly’s doing.”

Gibbs wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulder. “It’ll all come back to you soon enough, I’m sure.” Leaning closer, he kissed Tony’s cheek. “I bought you something,” he said as he handed over a small bag.

When Tony opened it, he found a brand new cell phone. “I was wondering! I am sure I had a cell phone before.”

“You did. It got smashed up when you fell. I had the guy at the store program my number and Kelly’s in this one for you. Abby and Ducky’s numbers are in there, too.”

“Thanks! Do I have a phone book or anything? A list of friends?”

“It was all in your old phone. And it was too smashed up to get anything out of it. But you and I spend all our time together when I’m not working.”

“I don’t hang out with anyone else?”

“No. We’re more homebodies. We invite Abby and Ducky over to grill once in a while. And Stan.”

“Who is Stan?”

“My partner. At work. You’re my partner at home, he’s my partner at work.”

“Don’t forget Mr. Fornell and Emily,” added Kelly as she set the table.

“Who are they?” asked Tony.

Gibbs shook his head. “FBI agent. He was married to my second wife, Diane, after me. Emily is his daughter from his first marriage. Sometimes they have dinner with us.”

“The ex-wife, too?”

“No, they’re divorced now. Emily is a bit younger than Kelly, but they both ride horses, and play the piano.”

Tony helped Kelly bring all the food out to the table and sat through dinner as Kelly chatted about her friends and the softball team. After dinner, Tony cleared the table, put away the leftovers and ran the dishwasher again.

When he was done cleaning up in the kitchen, he found Kelly at the table working on her homework.

“Where’s your dad?”

Using her pen, she indicated the way to the basement. “Where he always is, working on his boat in the basement.”

“Are you okay up here by yourself?”

That earned him a look as if he’d grown a second head. “I am thirteen and a half. I don’t need a babysitter.”

“Right. Practically all grown up.”

“I’m old enough to study by myself without someone hovering over my shoulder.”

“Good. Well, I’ll go check on your dad then.”

Down in the basement, he found Gibbs sanding the boat.

“What do I normally do in the evenings?” Tony asked.

Gibbs shrugged. “Whatever you want. Sometimes you read, or watch a movie.”

“I don’t hang out with you?”

“Sometimes we all watch a movie together.”

“Don’t I ever help you with the boat?”

Pausing in his work, Gibbs stepped over and took Tony’s hands into his own. “Not working hands. I mean, you’re welcome to help if you want to, but you don’t like the sawdust, splinters or blisters that come with it.”

“Okay. I guess I’ll go watch a movie then.”

“I’ll be up in a bit.”

Chapter Text

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A couple of days after bringing Tony home, Gibbs bought him a watch that showed the date and the day of the week, along with a paper calendar and appointment book, so Tony could keep track of Kelly’s lessons and practice days, as well as her games and other appointments.

When there was a softball game scheduled, Gibbs always tried to get away from work on time. Sometimes Stan, Abby or Ducky showed up to cheer Kelly on as well. Tony found that he liked all three of them and was looking forward to hosting them for dinner, as Gibbs had promised to invite them soon.

The days marched by relatively uneventfully. Tony created his own routines and found some cooking shows to watch, at Kelly’s suggestion. She’d insisted that he liked to learn new recipes from the shows he watched and then prepare them for their family. Some of the meals were hits, while others were misses. If Jethro didn’t like a meal, he wouldn’t say anything, but he would retrieve a bowl of cereal and milk from the kitchen. Tony and Kelly would just look at each other and sigh.

Some nights they ate on the patio when the weather was nice, other times, they used the dining room. Kelly would study in her bedroom if Tony and Jethro were watching sports or an action movie. Other nights, when her father was working on the boat, she would study at the dining room table. When she finished her studies, she would often join them in the living room for a movie.

Gibbs smiled, they were like a family, his family. He was amazed at how wonderful ‘Steve’ was, far from the party boy persona Tony had displayed aboard the yacht. Here, he was so kind, thoughtful and hard-working. Maybe he hinted that he was a little lonely during the day, but he always seemed perfectly content once Gibbs and Kelly got home. The smile quickly faded when reality reminded him that Tony would be leaving them one day.

~~~***~~~***~~~

As promised, Gibbs would grill steak at least once a week, and enjoyed heating up a pot of baked beans as a side dish, while Kelly and Tony would make one or two cold salads to round out the meal. Sometimes, Tony had Jethro grill up an extra steak that could later be used in a stir fry or a Mexican dish. Tony seemed to have a natural talent for cooking pasta. He was happy to spend time with Kelly, especially when she helped him prepare a meal. Gibbs was pleased to see how well they got along, but was concerned about her becoming too attached. There would come a day they would have to let ‘Steve’ go, and he was already beginning to dread that moment.

Later in the week, when they were preparing a meal together, Tony ventured to ask Kelly how Shannon died. Kelly explained that Shannon had witnessed a murder, and NIS (NCIS’ predecessor) had assigned an agent to protect them.

“The NIS agent was driving our van one day, just going to the store. Mom was in the passenger seat. The agent was shot in the head through the windshield. Mom unfastened her seatbelt. They’re not sure if she was trying to gain control of the van, or if she was coming to check on me or protect me. She died when the van crashed. It happened so fast.”

“So you saw it all happen?”

“Yeah. I was in the back and kept my seatbelt on and that saved me. I didn’t know they were dead. I guess I was in shock and didn’t really understand what death was. Some other drivers stopped to help, and the police showed up, and then a fire truck. They took me to the hospital in an ambulance. I was really scared and wanted my mom, but she never came to me. Dad was deployed at the time. They kept me at the hospital with an NIS agent at the door until Dad came home. He told me what happened, that Mom was dead and explained to me what death was; that she wasn’t coming back to us. That was in Pendleton out in California. We moved back to DC right after that. Mom is buried here. She loved this house, so this is where Dad wanted me to grow up.”

“I’m so sorry you had to go through all that. Your dad told me my mom died when I was young. And that his mom died when he was around your age now. I don’t know how they died.”

“You told us your mom died in a car accident. Dad’s mom died from cancer.”

Leaning over, Tony gave Kelly a hug. “I’m glad we still have each other.”

“Yeah, me too. It’s nice to have you around. Dad was so lonely before. I was always worried about him.”

“We do make a nice family.”

“Yes we do,” she agreed with a broad smile. “I’m really glad you came to live with us.”

“You like me better than the ex-wives?”

“Most definitely!”

~~~***~~~***~~~

Gibbs checked in with Kelly every day before he left the office. At first, he was a little concerned about leaving her as Tony’s responsibility, but the teen gave glowing reports that ‘Steve’ was always on time to pick her up, followed proper driving laws, was very good company and fun to talk to.

By the time she got home from school, Gibbs usually could gauge how early or late he’d be leaving the office, and could let her know as they chatted. “How are you two getting along today?” he asked one afternoon as he was on his way to autopsy.

“He’s really nice, Dad. He always asks about my day and he’s always willing to listen. We had a nice talk about Mom, and he asked how his mother and your mother passed away. I told him that his mother died in a car accident, too. It’s the first thing that popped into my head. He’s been really supportive and caring.”

“As long as the two of you are getting along, I guess we’ll keep him a bit longer,” Gibbs teased as he was entering autopsy. “Love you, I should be home by seven. Working a case.”

“You cannot keep the lad on the hook forever,” said Ducky once Gibbs had disconnected the call.

“What? I’m not. Really. I have a ledger.”

“A ledger?”

“Well, yeah, Duck. When the balance is zero, I’ll send him back.”

“Back to where?”

Gibbs shrugged as he walked around the autopsy table to get a better look at the deceased’s gunshot wound. “To his father, I guess.”

“And what if his memories never return?”

“I don’t know. How is it really my problem?” As much as he enjoyed having Tony around, he knew it wasn’t right to keep him around forever. Senior was bound to come looking for his son eventually.

“Because he and Kelly are bonding, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Rolling his eyes, Gibbs said, “She knows the score. She knows he’s working off a debt for what he owes.”

“The work you did on the yacht and what else?”

“Medical bills. And I bought him clothes, a cell phone, watch and other stuff. Plus, we’re feeding him, so maybe a bit for food.”

“You’re not trying to stretch out his stay indefinitely, are you?” asked Ducky.

“Of course not. I’m giving him credit for cooking, cleaning, yard work, and when he chauffeurs Kelly around.”

“And companionship?”

“Duck, come on. Tell me about the body here so I can get on with my case.”

“All I’m going to say is that I have never seen you or Kelly happier. And I am not the only soul to make that observation.”

“Let me guess. Abby?”

“Stan as well.”

~~~***~~~***~~~

Over the weekend, Gibbs grilled steak in the backyard and invited Ducky, Stan and Abby to join them. His friends commented on how nice the place looked, which had Tony beaming with pride. Kelly helped bring snacks out, while Tony kept Abby and Ducky’s drinks filled and brought bottles of beer out to Stan and Jethro. He watched them together, interested in seeing how Jethro interacted with the others. Stan tended to hang out at the grill while Jethro was cooking and they seemed to be discussing a case. They might not be immediate family, but it was clear Gibbs considered his three co-workers as extended family.

The group all gathered around the table when the steak and hamburgers were done. Kelly had invited Becca over for the night and they wanted hamburgers. Jethro was happy to oblige.

Stan and Gibbs continued discussing their case and were surprised when Tony spoke up. “Did he have a hat? Like a cop’s hat or a state trooper’s hat?”

“Yeah, he did,” replied Gibbs.

“Did you check it? Check the inside the lining? Many LEOs often keep plastic cuffs in their hats in the sweatband, hatband or the lining.”

Gibbs turned to Stan. “Worth a shot. Monday morning, get me a search warrant.”

“For a hat?”

Reaching behind Stan, Gibbs head-slapped him. “For the house. Box up whatever might be connected, but get me that hat.”

“Why wait until Monday?” asked Abby. “Let’s get it done now!”

“I’m not bugging a judge on the weekend for a maybe.”

“What if he gets rid of it?”

“Nothing will happen between now and Monday. If he’s worried about it, it’s already gone. If he’s not worried about it, it will still be there Monday morning.”

After they ate, the group played a couple of rounds of horseshoes while Kelly and her friend went inside to watch a movie.

The weather was lovely, neither too hot nor too cool. Tony brought out a pitcher of iced tea as Abby and Ducky had both driven. Since Stan and Abby lived close to each other, Abby had offered to drive so Stan could drink all the beer he wanted to.

After putting all the food away and starting the dishwasher, Tony returned to the patio and took a seat on the bench next to Gibbs, smiling when Gibbs put an arm across his shoulder. Abby begged Tony to bring out his guitar and sing with them, insisting it was a normal occurrence. He was happy to entertain them, and even took requests. While he didn’t remember all of the songs, he remembered enough of them. Abby even helped by setting up her laptop so they could easily look up lyrics online as needed.

An hour later, Tony set the guitar aside and leaned his head against Gibbs’ shoulder again as the sun set and the evening began to feel chilly. It made him sad that he didn’t remember this wonderful life he had, with a committed relationship, good friends and a lovely daughter. It seemed to be as perfect as any fairytale with a happy ending.

~~~***~~~***~~~

Monday evening, Gibbs was smiling broadly as he came through the front door. He immediately found Tony in the kitchen and kissed him on the cheek.

“You’re in a good mood,” said Tony as he set the meatloaf and potatoes in the oven to bake.

“You solved our case! Stan got the warrant, we grabbed the hat, duct tape, rope, trash bags and a few other things. Abby found a couple of cable ties shoved in the lining of the hat and they were an exact match to the ties found on our dead petty officer. When I confronted the perp with all the evidence we collected, he confessed.”

“Congratulations!”

“What made you think about ties being in the lining of the hat?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I saw it in a movie.”

“I know you already fixed dinner tonight, but tomorrow, I’m taking you out to celebrate.”

~~~***~~~***~~~

Later in the week, Gibbs had brought home a work file with photos from the crime scene. After cleaning up in the kitchen, Tony sat down beside Gibbs and glanced at the photos as Jethro thumbed through them.

“What are you looking for?” he asked.

“You’d be surprised how many perps come back during the investigation. It’s not unusual for them to be in the crowd at the scene.”

Tony tapped a face in one of the photos. “My money is on that guy. He has guilty eyes. The eyes always give them away, you know. When people lie, they tend to look away however briefly.”

Gibbs was taken aback. “And how do you know that?”

Tony’s brilliant smile lit up his face. “You must be a good influence. Or I saw it in a movie. Maybe a crime show. I really like Forensic Files and Forty-eight Hours.”

Picking up his cell phone, Gibbs called Abby. “Can you run facial recognition on the guy in photo fourteen, green shirt, a tan hat and dark hair? See if you can figure out who the hell he is.” After snapping the phone shut, he said, “She said she’d get right on that. I guess she can run it on her laptop from home.”

Later in the evening, they were sitting together on the sofa watching a movie, when a very excited Abby called back having identified the guy as someone with a long record, and outstanding warrants from Philadelphia, who should probably be brought in for questioning.

“If you keep this up, I may have to offer you a job with NCIS,” Gibbs said before leaning in and kissing Tony’s cheek.

Tony grinned. “That would be cool. Working together. Solving crimes. But what would we do with Stan?”

“He’d be the senior field agent and you’d be the junior field agent, while I remain team leader.”

“Junior,” Tony said thoughtfully. “Junior. Why does that sound so familiar?”

Fortunately, Gibbs remembered Kelly talking about a horse named Junior at the barn. “There is a palomino at the stable that you like to ride. His name is Junior.”

“Oh. Maybe my memories are trying to resurface. How often do we go riding?”

“Usually every month or two. We can go this weekend if you want to.”

“Sure. Maybe I’m missing my buddy, Junior the horse.” Turning to face Gibbs, Tony picked up the remote and muted it. “Can we talk?”

Gibbs shrugged and reached for his beer before responding. “Sure. What’s on your mind?”

“Us.”

“Us? What about us?”

“You said we shared the bedroom before, and we have that commitment document. I trust we were,” Tony began before hesitating and looking away nervously for a moment while he gathered his courage. “Weren’t we, you know, intimate prior to my memory loss?”

Gibbs could feel the warm blush rising in his cheeks. “Yeah, sure.”

“We haven’t even really kissed since then. I mean, yeah, you kiss me on the cheek, forehead or temple, but never on the lips. You put an arm around my shoulder, but you never hold my hand. I sleep upstairs alone, while you remain down here on the sofa.”

Shifting uncomfortably, Gibbs asked softly, “Your point?”

“Do you not want me anymore? I thought things were going well, even though I don’t really remember before. But I can see it in the pictures. We look happy. I think I miss being physical, sleeping together, sex. I’d like to have that back in our lives. How about you?”

Gibbs did his best to keep his expression neutral and rubbed his hand over his mouth while he considered what Tony was asking. What reason could he give? “I didn’t want to rush you.”

Scooting closer, Tony insisted, “You’re not. But you’re making me feel like you don’t want me anymore.”

Gibbs smiled, but didn’t meet Tony’s eyes. “No, it’s not that. Really. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“I don’t know. I guess I want you to remember first.”

“Am I really that different? There is still a chance my memories will come back, but if they don’t, I’m still me and you’re still you.” Reaching out, Tony ran his hand along Gibbs’ arm. “And if they don’t come back, we can start over, build new memories. Jethro, I want you. I want to be with you. I want you to come back upstairs and share the bed in our bedroom. Not tomorrow, tonight. Okay? Please?”

Gibbs considered it for a moment, but didn’t like what he saw in Tony’s eyes; the hurt, the rejection. “Yeah, sure. After the movie is over, I’m going to go downstairs and work on the boat for a bit, but I’ll be up later.”

“You promise?”

“Absolutely,” Jethro assured him.

For the rest of the movie, Tony rested his head against Gibbs’ shoulder. When the movie ended, he stood up, then leaned over to kiss Jethro’s lips before disappearing upstairs.

~~~***~~~***~~~

It was a couple of hours later that Gibbs put his tools away for the night, and took the staircase up to the bedroom. He found that Tony was still awake, sitting in bed naked and reading a book. When he saw Gibbs, he smiled, closed his book and then patted the mattress. “I’m glad you came upstairs. I’m really tired of sleeping alone.”

Gibbs muttered a nearly unintelligible, “Yeah,” then went down the hallway to the bathroom. He’d hoped Tony would be asleep by the time he came upstairs and all he’d have to do is quietly slip into bed. The fact that Tony was still wide awake and obviously waiting for him meant he’d have to make a decision, and fast. He took his time brushing and flossing his teeth while he pondered his next move.

It wasn’t that Tony was unattractive. Just the opposite. Tony was a very good-looking young man who kept in shape. Unlike the self-centered, lazy, sitting-in-the-sun-all-day, drinking and tanning party boy Gibbs had met on the yacht, his ‘Steve’ was a hard-working, caring and compassionate person. Talented, too. He had a great knowledge of many things including movies and music, and also had a good mind for police work. Kelly clearly adored him and enjoyed their time together.

But sleeping with the man under false pretenses felt wrong. Aside from that, he had no idea what Tony’s sexual history was. How many partners had he slept with? Were they male, female or a mix? Had he ever been exposed to any sexual diseases? It wasn’t like Gibbs could ask him now. And even if he did, it’s not as if Tony was likely to remember. That all left Gibbs with quite a dilemma.

Stopping at the bedroom door, he leaned in and said, “I forgot my cell phone in the basement. I’ll be right back.”

“Do you really need it?”

“Yeah, Steve. You know I’m on call seven days a week. Nights, too. I’ll be right back, I promise.”

Racing down to the basement, Gibbs flipped his phone open and called Fornell.

“Gibbs, it’s late. What do you want?”

“I have an issue.”

“Spit it out already. I’m tired and ready for bed.”

“Okay. It’s Steve.” Turning around, Gibbs faced the staircase and lowered his voice. “He wants to…um.”

“What, Gibbs? Just tell me or I’m hanging up!”

“He wants to have…sex,” Gibbs said at a whisper.

“So what? Are you calling me just to tell me you’re about to get laid? I know we’re friends, but that’s really on the verge of TMI. And no, I don’t have any experience with guys, if that’s what you called to ask about.”

“No, it’s not that.”

“Are you attracted to him?”

“Yeah. Sure. I guess. That’s not really the issue.”

“Then what is it?”

“I like him. He’s a much nicer guy than before he lost his memory.”

“So, what is your problem? First time with a guy?”

“Yeah, it is. But it’s more of a moral issue. I’ve created a fantasy relationship that doesn’t really exist. Sure, ‘Steve’ loves me and wants to sleep together, but what happens when he wakes up as Tony and turns into that punk-ass jerk again? Can he sue me for this?”

“I’m no lawyer, Gibbs, as you well know. Personally, I’d think you’re more likely to get hit with kidnapping or something like that. Even without his memory intact, he is still a consenting adult, so if he’s willing, I really don’t see an issue.”

“Kidnapping? More like rescuing! That other car forced him off the road. If I had just left him there, he’d probably be dead!”

“So, now you’re the hero in this?”

“I did take him to the hospital. I have provided him with room and board. I’m not holding him here at all. He has access to a phone and a car, and can leave at any time.”

“Except you lied to him, and fed him a fairytale romance where the two of you are living your very own happily-ever-after scenario. It’s really up to you, but if it’s his idea, I don’t think you have any legal issues in sleeping with him. Okay?”

“Yeah, thanks. Go to bed Tobias.”

The FBI agent laughed. “You, too. And Jethro? I do not want to hear any graphic details tomorrow.”

“I don’t kiss and tell.”

After he hung up the phone, Gibbs double-timed it back up the steps, and found Tony still awake and waiting for him on the bed.

Tony looked relieved. “I was afraid you weren’t coming back.”

Gibbs waved his cell phone in the air, then plugged it into the charger and set it on top of his dresser before shedding his clothing. He eyed Tony, sitting naked on the bed, and wondered if he should try sleeping naked as well, or put on his usual boxers and USMC T-shirt.

Tony patted the other side of the mattress again. Gibbs turned the light out and climbed into bed naked, slipping under the covers. Tony immediately turned to him and kissed him. After a few minutes of kissing, he pressed their foreheads together and said, “This is exactly what I’ve been missing, you and me, together.”

Gibbs embraced the younger man and leaned into the kisses. Oddly enough, it didn’t feel strange or awkward at all, even when Tony’s hands started exploring his body. After taking a deep breath, Gibbs allowed his own hands to caress Tony’s skin. It felt right and it was definitely turning him on.

Eventually, he felt Tony’s hand touching his cock, and he froze only for an instant. Then he told himself that people hook up with people they don’t know all the time simply for sexual gratification. They were both adults and both obviously feeling horny, and there was nothing at all wrong with what they were doing.

He could feel Tony pushing back the covers, and shifting around on the mattress. A moment later, he felt a warm tongue lapping the length of his cock. Looking down, he could make out Tony’s head bobbing up and down as he sucked and licked his way up and down Gibbs’ cock, while his hand was busy pumping the shaft.

Although Gibbs had no real idea whether Tony had ever done this before, he suspected it was likely he had some experience. The guy was very good at what he was doing. Eventually, Gibbs closed his eyes and enjoyed the ride.

After bringing Gibbs to orgasm, Tony shifted around again so they were lying side by side. Feeling slightly guilty, Gibbs reached over to his nightstand for some lotion, and gave Tony a hand-job. Despite leaving a wet spot on the bed, once they were both sexually gratified, happy and sated, the pair cuddled together and fell asleep in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

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Tony was all smiles when he awoke. As he came downstairs, he said good morning, then hugged Gibbs from behind and kissed his cheek, which left them both grinning. Kelly and Gibbs finished their breakfasts and left for the day, with Jethro dropping Kelly off at her school as usual.

Tony set out to do his daily chores of clearing the table, loading the dishwasher and cleaning the countertops. His next task was cleaning the bathrooms. After taking a break to play the guitar, he went back to sweeping and dusting before going outside to weed and water the plant beds.

He marked down on his schedule that they were going horseback riding on Saturday morning. Of all Gibbs’ friends, he hadn’t yet met Tobias Fornell or his daughter Emily, but apparently they would be coming along to the stable and that was a normal occurrence.

While he was happy that he and Gibbs had a few friends through Jethro’s work, Tony constantly wondered if he didn’t have his own friends. During a chat with Kelly, she’d mentioned something about his frat brothers. Why hadn’t they called? Had they abandoned him too, like his father when he found out that ‘Steve’ was gay?

~~~***~~~***~~~

Although he rarely went down to the basement, the handle of one of the cabinets had fallen off while he was cleaning, and Tony went down to search for a screwdriver to reattach it and tighten the others. He should have mentioned it to Jethro earlier, but had forgotten. As he was searching around the workbench, a book caught his eye. The words General Ledger were imprinted on the cover. He was curious as to why Jethro would be keeping a ledger.

When he opened it, his heart sank. The first entry was for some closet repair, supplies, plus labor, which confused him. The next entry, and a few later ones, were labeled ‘medical expenses’. The dates coincided with when he was in the emergency room at the hospital and his follow-up visits. And there were other charges for clothing, the cell phone, the watch and a food allowance. Those were all negatives. On the positive side was the work he did, cleaning the house, cooking and picking up Kelly. Slamming the book closed he threw it back on the workbench and stormed upstairs.

His first thought was to grab his cell phone, call Jethro and demand an explanation for the ledger entries. Then he stopped himself, not wanting to disrupt the man’s workday. Instead, he went outside and took a long walk. When he got to the neighborhood park he began running and found that it felt right. He had the stamina and was able to run the full track around the park without taking a break. When he did finally stop, he sat down on a bench and stared into space as he tried to solve the puzzle of why Jethro would be keeping track of his work and expenses in a ledger. Why? If it didn’t balance, was he going to get kicked out of the house, and the relationship?

“I thought I meant more to him than that.” It felt like his heart was breaking.

He felt utterly lost the rest of the day, and was overly quiet when he picked up Kelly. She was obviously concerned.

“Is everything okay, Steve?”

He smiled weakly. “Sure. I guess I’m just feeling a little bit off today. It will be fine.”

When they got home he stood in the dining room and stared at the pictures on the wall. They looked happy. But were they really?

“Have you thought about dinner?” she asked.

“No, not really. I’m not very hungry today.”

She appeared concerned about his current state. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. You’re not nervous about going to the stable, are you? I’ll understand if you don’t want to go.”

“No, it’s not that. I’m not really sure what’s wrong. I think I’ll go upstairs and rest for a while.”

~~~***~~~***~~~

Kelly called her dad to let him know that ‘Steve’ wasn’t feeling well and was resting upstairs. “I’m a little worried. He’s never done that before. I’ve never seen him acting so down before. He’s usually a really happy guy.”

“We’re wrapping up for the day. I’ll pick up a couple of pizzas on the way home. Kelly, he hasn’t mentioned any memories coming back, has he?”

“No. He just seemed sad and distracted. When I asked if he was okay, he said he was feeling a bit off. We came home and he said he was going upstairs to rest. He hasn’t come back downstairs. I have no idea what's going on with him.”

Tony still hadn’t come downstairs by the time Gibbs arrived home. Kelly set the table, pouring a glass of milk for herself and bringing out a bottle of beer for her dad. “I’m not sure what Steve will want to drink since he’s not feeling well.”

“Go ahead and start eating while the pizza is still hot. I’ll go check on him.” Once he was upstairs, Gibbs found Tony lying on the bed and staring up at the ceiling. “Kelly said you weren’t feeling well. I brought home your favorite pizza. Are you hungry?”

“Not really.”

Gibbs pressed his palm against Tony’s forehead. “No fever. What’s going on?”

“I found the ledger,” he said simply.

“What?”

“I needed a screwdriver and went down to look for one in the basement. The ledger was just sitting there on your workbench.” Staring up into Gibbs’ eyes, he asked, “Are you doing a cost analysis of our relationship? Seeing if I’m worth keeping around?”

“No, of course not. Just balancing the budget.”

“You are recording the work I do around the house. That’s not normal!”

Gibbs had to think fast. “It was your idea.”

“Mine?”

“Yeah. You kept asking if I wanted you to get a job and I always say you contribute plenty by what you do around the house. I keep track to prove to you that you’re valued by what you do here and that you don’t need a paycheck. Having you home with Kelly and taking care of the house is more important than a second paycheck. That’s what we agreed to. We’re in this together, you and me. And Kelly.”

Finally sitting up, Tony looked around the room. “Okay. I’m fine with our arrangement. It’s not that. I love being here with Kelly so she’s not alone before you get home. But if that ledger thing was my idea before, I don’t much like it anymore. Can you please stop keeping the ledger? It makes me feel like I’m a number to be balanced instead of a person.”

Kicking himself, Gibbs wondered why he hadn’t kept the ledger at the office in the first place and made a mental note to take it into work. “Yeah, sure. If you don’t want me to track it all anymore, I won’t. I just have to negotiate a payment plan with the hospital. Since you don’t have a job, you don’t have any health insurance. But that’s okay. We’ll deal with it.”

“I’m not on yours?”

Gibbs took Tony’s hand into his own. “Our relationship isn’t recognized because we’re both men. Maybe one day the laws will change, but for now, this is what it is. We talked about it, but since you’re young and healthy, we decided it wasn’t worth it to buy separate medical insurance for you.”

“And then I had to go fall off a trail and fuck up the system. I’m sorry.”

Wrapping his arms around Tony, Gibbs gave him a long hug. “Don’t be. We’ll handle it; we’re going to be fine. Now, will you please come downstairs for dinner? The pizzas are getting cold.”

After dinner, Kelly and Gibbs cajoled Tony into playing the guitar on the patio. As there was a slight chill in the air, Gibbs even tossed a few logs into the patio fire pit to keep Kelly warm. They spent a couple of hours sitting outside and singing under the stars before Gibbs insisted everybody needed to go to bed so they’d be ready to ride in the morning.

~~~***~~~***~~~

Gibbs took the wheel of the sedan in the morning and Tony didn’t argue. They arrived at the stables early, and met the owner, a retired Marine named Chris Matthews. Gibbs had served with him briefly a few years earlier. Tony stood by smiling as Chris and Jethro chatted amiably. Kelly was already in the barn retrieving her favorite horse from its stall, and starting to brush him down. Tony soon followed her into the barn.

“Which one is Junior?” he asked. “Gibbs told me he was my favorite horse here.”

“Right, I can bring him out if you want to brush him.”

“Okay. And Chris doesn’t mind?”

“No. I take lessons here, so I know how to handle the horses, groom them and saddle them. He seems to be happy to let me do it. Emily and I ride English. We take lessons in jumping. You and Dad usually ride western.”

“Cowboy style.”

“Exactly!”

He followed after her to Junior’s stall and watched as she put a halter on the palomino Quarter Horse and led him into the aisle. Once he was cross-tied, she gave Tony a quick lesson on how to groom him.

“I’m riding Pippen. He’s my favorite these days. I’ll get Smoky out for Dad.”

“Are we getting horses out for Emily and Mr. Fornell as well?”

“We can, but they should be here shortly. We can use Midnight and Ginger for them.”

“You know all the horses pretty well?”

“Yeah. I spend a lot of time out here in the summer, helping out. I can ride all I want as long as I help feed the horses, lead trail rides and clean out the stalls. It’s a lot of work, but I love to ride and I love being around the horses. When I’m a little older, Mr. Matthews said he’ll let me be a riding instructor.”

“That’s pretty awesome!”

“I already come in early to help groom and saddle horses sometimes. I’ve also helped with the beginner lessons. Those are the kids who need more help. So we saddle the horses for them, lead them out, help the kids mount up, then keep the horses on a lead line until the kids can do the basics.”

“I don’t need to be on a lead line, do I?”

“No. You rode when you were young. Your mother loved horses. I think she still rode a bit until she died. You used to ride with her.”

“English or western.”

“English. She used to ride jumpers herself when she was a teenager. At least, that’s what you told me.”

“What was her horse’s name? Did I tell you that?”

Needing names that were easy to remember, the first thing she thought of was Black Beauty. “You said she had a horse named Beauty for years and another named Bard. I’m not sure which one you rode.”

“If I ever get more horses, I’d name them things like Corvette or Ferrari.”

Kelly laughed easily. “I guess they better be fast! I’m glad you’re feeling better today, Steve.”

“Yeah, me too.”

A few minutes later another car arrived in the gravel parking lot outside the barn. Kelly went out to the lot and hugged Emily hello, then led her into the barn. The girls giggled as they went around to the different stalls and patted the horses that came to the front of their stalls. Emily had a bag of carrots and she wanted to make sure every horse got at least a bite of a carrot.

Like Gibbs and Tony’s horses, Midnight was saddled western for Fornell, while Ginger was saddled English. Each of the girls led a horse outside for their fathers and held them steady while their dads mounted up. As they led out their own horses, Tony followed behind them with Junior. He watched as the girls mounted up using a mounting block, so he didn’t think anything of leading Junior over to make getting on a bit easier.

Gibbs nodded toward the trail, and said, “Let’s ride.”

Fornell stared at Tony as if he were studying him. “Hold up a second. You know, I’d like to get a picture of the group first. Why don’t you all line up over there? It will be a nice memory.”

“You, too, Daddy,” Emily begged.

Chris reached up for Fornell’s cell phone. “Go on, I’ll take the picture.”

The group lined up their horses and Chris snapped a couple of images, telling Fornell he could delete one of them if he wanted to. As Fornell pretended to inspect the images, he surreptitiously snapped another shot of Tony, closer up and isolated, and then he tapped around his cell phone a bit before putting it back into his pocket. “Let’s hit the trail.”

The group rode down the worn path in single file until they reached an open meadow. Once there, the girls pushed their horses into a canter, racing from one end to the other and back and Tony urged Junior to keep up with them.

Gibbs held Smoky back and waited for Fornell to catch up. “What’s going on, Tobias?”

“We might have a problem. I’m just waiting for confirmation.” Just then, his phone rang. “I have to get this. Hello?”

Gibbs waited silently while Fornell gave the stable’s address to whoever was on the other end of the line after they’d chatted briefly.

When he ended the call, Fornell looked out over the field, where Tony, Kelly and Emily were still cantering around. “I hope you got your money back, Gibbs, because the jig is up.”

“What jig is that?”

“We have an ongoing case. A police officer from Philadelphia has gone missing. He told his partner he was coming to the Norfolk area to follow up on a drug dealer. We’ve been keeping a lookout for him.”

“What does that have to do with me? Is he involved with the Navy or Marines?”

“No, that’s not it. Here, this is his picture,” Fornell said as he held out his phone.

Gibbs maneuvered Smoky over and took the phone, and found himself staring at the image of Tony dressed in a Philadelphia police uniform. “He’s a cop? No way!” Pointing across the field toward Tony, he said, “This guy is a spoiled rotten rich party boy. There has to be some mistake.”

“Did you manage to catch the party boy’s real name?”

“Tony. Tony DiNozzo, Junior.”

“That happens to be the name of the missing police officer, Anthony DiNozzo, Junior. I took a picture of him back at the barn and sent it to a friend at the agency. They have confirmed that your ‘Steve’ is indeed our missing Philadelphia police officer. I can’t play along with this, Gibbs. The FBI is sending agents to meet us back at the barn.”

“Tobias…”

“It’s out of my hands. I can’t be a party to this.”

“How the hell is he a cop?”

“You keep telling me his personality is totally different than when you met him. Maybe he was working undercover as a spoiled brat party boy.”

“Using his real name?” asked Gibbs.

“You got me. Maybe he was just surveilling his suspects and they didn’t know his name. No one takes notice of people tanning on the deck of a yacht.”

Shaking his head, Gibbs said, “I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t want it to end.”

“All fairytales come to the end eventually. He has his own life. You need to let him go.”

“So his father never reported him missing, but his job did?”

Turning back to his phone, Fornell scrolled through a report. “As far as I can tell, that’s about the gist of it. Philly PD reported him missing because he disappeared and they weren’t able to reach him or ascertain his whereabouts.”

The group rode for a couple more hours before returning to the stable. When they got back, there were three black SUVs in the lot, and six agents wearing suits and dark glasses waiting for them.

The girls appeared surprised, but dismounted and led their horses into the barn. Chris was there and took the reins of Midnight and Smoky, so Gibbs and Fornell could go speak with the agents. Tony looked at them curiously, but he dismounted from Junior and followed the girls into the barn, leading the palomino behind him.

After unsaddling Junior and putting him back in his stall, Tony returned to the parking lot to see what was going on. Fornell stood in front of him. “These agents are going to take you in.”

Tony’s confusion was evident. “What have I done? What do they think I did? I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“Tony, you’re a missing police officer from Philadelphia. These men are going to escort you back to our agency so we can close the case. Once they’re done questioning you, you’ll be free to go wherever you want to go.”

“I don’t understand. There has to be some mistake. Who is Tony? My name is Steve.”

“Go with the agents, they’ll explain,” said Fornell.

Gibbs sighed heavily.

Tony turned to him and shook his head. “Jethro, I don’t understand. Tell them this is a mistake. Tell them I belong here with you and Kelly. I don’t want to go!”

Stepping forward, Gibbs hugged him. “It’ll be okay. Go with the agents. I’ll come down later and we can talk.”

As Tony began walking away, Kelly ran to her father. “Why are they taking Steve away?”

Gibbs wrapped his arm around his daughter and whispered, “We knew he wasn’t going to be with us forever."

“I don’t want him to go,” she said, her voice quivering as she wiped away a tear.

~~~***~~~***~~~

As they were driving back to their house, Kelly sat in the front seat with a scowl on her face and her arms folded across her chest. “It’s not fair. He’s part of our family.”

“Not really. Fornell says Tony is actually a missing Philadelphia police officer. For all I know he has a family of his own to go home to.”

“His name is Steve and he is part of our family. Things are better with him around. We have to get him to come back home.”

“Sweetheart, it isn’t possible.”

“Why? He doesn’t even remember before. All he remembers is us. He belongs with us now. I don’t want him to leave. Don’t you want him to stay? Don’t you love him?”

“We can’t make him stay with us.”

A short time later, Fornell called, asking Gibbs to come to the FBI building voluntarily.

Turning to Kelly, he asked, “Can you spend the night with Becca? I can drop you off.”

“You’re not going to jail, are you?”

Gibbs smiled. “Of course not. We’ll get it all sorted out, I promise.”

As she hugged him tightly around the waist, she said, “I don’t want to lose you, too.”

“You won’t. I’ll be home tonight, but it might be late. I promise everything will be fine.”

“How can it be fine if Steve doesn’t come home? Or Tony? I haven’t seen you so happy since Mom died. I know you’re happy with him and he does a great job taking care of me.”

“I know.”

“I miss him already.”

“I’m sorry. I thought it was a good idea at the time, but I guess it wasn’t. I didn’t expect him to fit in so well.”

~~~***~~~***~~~

Forty-five minutes later, Gibbs arrived at the FBI building, after having dropped Kelly off for the night. Fornell was waiting for him.

“We showed him some pictures and gave him some information. Some of it is starting to come back to him, but he may never fully recover all of his memories.”

“Then what am I doing here?”

“They want to question you. They want to know how he came to be living at your house and going by the name of Steve. They found his wrecked car, by the way.”

“How the hell did they find that? It can’t be seen from the road. Helicopter?”

“They tracked his cell phone. It’s GPS enabled. The car is trashed, but the phone was still in it and sending out a signal. What the hell happened, Gibbs?”

“I was following him, and I saw a yellow Mustang force him off the road. I went down to help him and took him to the hospital. You know the rest.”

“I don’t suppose you got the plate?”

Gibbs shook his head. “Wish I did. All I can tell you is that it was two Hispanic males. Check with Ben at the marina. He might have footage of them and the car.”

“Okay. We’ll work on that.”

Gibbs was questioned for two hours, wherein he insisted that Tony had offered to trade services in payment for the work Gibbs did on the yacht. And why was he going by Steve? Gibbs insisted Tony was in danger and had also wanted to lie low and hide from his father for a while.

“The man is an asshole,” Gibbs said. “Plus, Tony had lost his memory and I didn’t know who the guys were that ran him off the road. I was protecting him until his memories returned.”

At the end of his first interview, Gibbs asked if he could speak to Tony. The agents wouldn’t allow him to see Tony and said they were returning him to Philadelphia and back to his life there once they were done interviewing him.

Fornell was waiting for Gibbs in the lobby.

“Am I free to go?” asked Gibbs.

“Not yet. The agents speaking to Officer DiNozzo would like a few words with you first, once they’re finished interviewing him. Have a seat. I’ll wait with you.”

Chapter Text

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Tony sat through hours of interviews with FBI agents asking him what he knew and what he remembered. They had stacks of photos and files they shoved in front of him.

“So who exactly is Steve Woodburn?” he asked.

Agent Tanner shook his head. “A farce. It’s a fake ID created by NCIS. They conjured him out of thin air, like a backstopped deep undercover ID. Special Agent Gibbs will be questioned. We believe he can give us a timeline and some locations we can check out, so we might be able to pull some camera footage together to see if we can glean any more information.”

“Do I have a real family? Am I married?”

“No. You’re single. Your father is still living, Anthony DiNozzo, Senior.”

“He reported me missing? How long ago?”

“No. Your partner reported you missing about three weeks ago.”

“My partner?”

“You’re a police officer from Philadelphia. You told your partner that you were going to Norfolk area to follow up on a lead about a drug dealer. You missed a couple of scheduled check-ins with him and he reported it to your captain.”

“And you’ve been looking for me all this time?”

“We have been investigating your disappearance ever since your partner reported you missing. We tracked down your father and he said he hadn’t seen you for a few days and figured you’d hooked up with a woman.”

It disturbed him his father hadn’t bothered to look for him or even to report him missing. After being interviewed for hours, confusion had set in. He wasn’t sure where he could go, but he knew he was ready to leave the FBI building and get some sleep. He was tired of talking to the agents. “And I’m free to go?”

“Yes. We will contact you if we need more information.” The agent pushed a cell phone toward him. “It’s yours. We found it in your car and charged it up for you.”

It was fancier and lighter than the one in his pocket. For a moment, he held both phones in his hands, then pushed the one Gibbs had given him across the table. “Can you return that to Agent Gibbs, please?”

“We’ll make sure it gets back to him.”

“I don’t have a car. I’m not even sure where my home is,” Tony said sadly.

“Your Corvette was totaled. We have two agents ready to escort you back to Philadelphia. They’ll take you back to your precinct. I’m sure your captain can help fill in some blanks for you.”

Drained from the day’s experiences, Tony nodded slowly, appearing a bit lost.

After releasing Tony, the agents then moved on to question Gibbs, with Fornell standing by. Gibbs explained that he’d done some work on the yacht, but wasn’t paid. However, Tony had offered to work in trade to cover the debt.

“I was following him when the yellow Mustang sped by and forced him off the road.”

“On purpose?”

“It looked deliberate to me. They didn’t just tap him once. I heard three hits before he was forced off the road. Those are the guys you should be searching for.”

After a short discussion, they agreed not to charge Gibbs with anything, despite giving Tony another name.

“It was to protect him,” Gibbs insisted. “I didn’t know who had forced him off the road, but I knew it was on purpose. Tony’s memory was gone, so he couldn’t tell me what was going on and didn’t even realize he could be in danger. I wanted to keep him safe until his memory returned.”

In the end, it was Fornell who convinced them they could spend a ton of time investigating Gibbs, and nothing would stick anyway. “He didn’t kidnap Officer DiNozzo, he drove him to the hospital for treatment, took care of him and kept him safe. DiNozzo had full access to a car and a phone, so you will never prove he was being held against his will.”

Fornell escorted Gibbs out to the parking lot and handed him back the cell phone that he’d bought for Tony. “They gave him his actual phone back. He asked that we return this to you.”

“Can I talk to him?” asked Gibbs.

Shaking his head, Fornell said, “He’s already gone. The FBI sent two agents to escort him back to Philadelphia.

“Damn. Kelly is going to be crushed.”

“How about you?”

“Come on, Tobias. He’s not going to understand. Let me talk to him and explain it to him.”

“It’s out of my hands, Gibbs. Out of yours, too. Leave him be.”

~~~***~~~***~~~

On his way back home, Gibbs phoned Abby, explaining that DiNozzo was actually a missing Philadelphia police officer. “How did you not know?” he asked. “Didn’t you background him?”

“Well, no, Gibbs. You said he was a rich party boy and you asked me to pull photos from the internet. I pulled those pictures from his social media accounts. There is no mention regarding law enforcement on his accounts. The images are of him and his friends partying on boats, beaches, and a few bars. He had a couple pictures of his mother posted, and a few of himself from college wearing football and basketball uniforms. No mention of being a cop anywhere that I saw.”

As he continued on his way home, Gibbs stopped off to pick up Chinese takeout, then went down to his basement to eat. If DiNozzo had been doing surveillance on his father’s boat, maybe he hadn’t wanted anyone to know he was a cop and had deliberately quashed any mention of it on his internet pages. “Undercover, but not undercover,” Gibbs mused aloud.

When Kelly came home the next day, she was still upset. “Can I at least call him?”

“We don’t have a number for him,” said Gibbs as he pointed the cell phone on the table, the one he had bought for ‘Steve’.

“You spoke to him? What did he say?” she asked anxiously.

“I asked to speak with him, but he had already left the building. He gave the cell phone back to the FBI agents and asked them to return it to me. They found his real cell phone in his wrecked car and gave it back to him.”

“I just can’t believe he’s gone. What can we do?”

Enveloping his daughter in a warm hug, he kissed her forehead. “He has his own life. He’s a cop from Philadelphia.”

“Really?”

“That certainly explains the change in personality. The party boy persona was just an act. He knew what NCIS meant, and he had such a good instinct with cases because he is a cop. He is a trained observer and investigator.”

“We need to go find him and talk to him,” said Kelly. “I’ll bet he’s lonely and misses us, too, especially if he has no family and the only memories he has are of us. We are his family!”

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do, Sweetheart. He’s gone.”

The next few days seemed sad and dreary around the Gibbs’ household. There was no music or laughter. Gibbs had removed the Photoshopped pictures of Tony, but Kelly only got more upset, so he put them back in place.

Over the following days, a heavy sense of moroseness blanketed their home. It felt like ‘Steve’ had died and the family was mourning his loss. Gibbs knew he had to do something about it.

~~~***~~~***~~~

Two FBI agents who had been assigned to escort Tony back to Philadelphia dropped him off at his police precinct and also returned his set of keys that had been found in his wrecked car. The agents had a private meeting with Tony’s captain and partner and handed off a report prepared by the doctor who had treated him, explaining a bit about his memory loss and how his memories may one day return in part or in full. There was a list of things Tony should and shouldn’t do, including he should not be left alone, or be allowed to live alone for now.

His partner, Dean Webster, offered to put him up for as long as he needed a place to stay. Tony wasn’t terribly happy about that proposition, but as his car had been wrecked, he had no transportation. And there was the whole thing with the doctor not wanting him to stay alone at all. Still, he didn’t want to impose on Dean’s wife, Kathy, or their two small kids. However, his captain gave him no choice. He had to follow the doctor’s orders if he wanted to keep working. He had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.

Dean accompanied him back to his apartment to gather some clothes and anything else he needed. Tony smiled when he saw that he had a baby grand in his apartment, and also a guitar. He grabbed the guitar and was sorry he had to leave the piano behind.

He didn’t want to be an inconvenience at Dean’s house and insisted on sleeping on the couch, rather than take one of the kids’ rooms. He found himself dawdling in the morning, preferring to put together everyone’s lunches for the day, clean the kitchen and table. He’d even asked Kathy if he could help out by cooking a meal here and there to give her a break.

The bottom line was, it simply wasn’t enough. In his heart, he missed Gibbs and Kelly like crazy. The Websters were great, but it wasn’t the same. They were a family, but they weren’t really his family.

~~~***~~~***~~~

Two weeks went by and Tony studied his case files. Occasionally, something would spark a memory. He remembered flashes of a yellow Mustang on a curvy road.

“Carlos and Manuel Ortiz,” he said one day, out of the blue. “That’s who I was chasing. They were ahead of me for a while, then they dropped behind me. I guess they wanted to see if I was following them. The road was really curvy. They approached me from behind and bashed into me a couple of times, then forced me off the road. I remember I felt like I was flying. Then everything went dark.”

“They’re major suppliers in the area,” Dean informed him. “We’ve been watching them for months, trying to put together who all the players are.”

“We need to stop them.”

“You were surveilling them when you went missing.” Leaning closer, Dean settled his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “You scared me to death, man. I thought they’d killed you and dumped your body in the ocean for shark food.”

A faint smile appeared on Tony’s face. “You can’t get rid of me that easily. I’ll bet they’re still going to that area, down in Norfolk. I think they might own a yacht at the marina. That’s where the stuff is coming in. I bet they’re going out and meeting a boat bringing the drugs up from Mexico.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Dean asked.

“I’m not sure. My Dad’s been calling, asking me to come back. I remember being on his yacht. I remember him yelling at me from the bridge. Maybe we go back and snoop around a bit. It’s just a few hours away. We can go down there, take a quick spin on Dad’s boat, and come back in a day or two. I started this. I want to finish it. We need to find out exactly what’s going on.”

“They’ve seen you. They know what you look like.”

“No worries. I’ve let my hair grow out. I’ve darkened the blonde tips. I’ll comb it down and maybe put on a hat and sunglasses.”

Dean laughed. “Master of disguises.”

“Plus, I’ll be with you. We’ll be in a different car. We can pretend to be business associates of my father and the Ortiz brothers will never know the difference. I remember my dad has people constantly coming and going.”

Dean drove to the dock in a luxury car they borrowed from the undercover vice unit. They dressed in casual clothing, polo shirts, Bermuda shorts and sandals. They each donned a baseball cap and dark sunglasses.

As Tony boarded the Bold Adventurer, more memories returned. He was familiar with the layout of the boat and recognized some of the crew. It was awkward seeing his father again, knowing the man hadn’t cared enough to report him as missing. Tony pushed the feelings down. They were here to close their case. He told himself his relationship with his father had no bearing on their job and he had to move on.

He led Dean down to his suite and looked around. The closet was still full of his clothing and gear. Laying a hand on the new shelves brought back even more memories. Gibbs had built them. Closing his eyes, he focused on the thoughts that came to him. Gibbs put all his clothing onto the bed so he wouldn’t get sawdust all over the shirts. The man had been here, sanding, sawing, and staining. Tony saw images of Gibbs carrying lumber aboard the yacht. “Nice wood,” he muttered.

“What was that?” asked Dean.

Turning around with a heavy sigh, Tony said, “Nothing. Nothing at all.”

Once the yacht was underway, they went up to the deck. Tony asked for a beer, until Dean reminded him he shouldn’t be drinking. The pair stuck with iced tea after that, even though Tony grumbled that with some memories returning, he didn’t think the liquor restriction was fair.

They’d spotted the yacht owned by the Ortiz brothers but had not yet seen the pair. It was a beautiful day for sailing, and Tony found himself relaxing in the sunshine. Maybe his old life wasn’t so bad after all.

When they were well on their way, Senior called Tony up to the bridge and sent the staff away. He pushed some papers in front of him asking him to sign them.

“Routine stuff,” Senior said, nonchalantly. When Tony began reading through the pages, Senior appeared miffed. “It’s just standard stuff. No need to trudge through all the legal gobbledygook. Just sign where the damn signature markers are.”

Grabbing the pages, Tony said, “No, I don’t think so. If you don’t mind, I’ll take these down to my suite and read through everything.”

Senior was steaming as he grasped Tony’s arm tightly. “What has gotten into you, Junior? You know that we do this to protect my assets. We do this all the time. Just sign the damn papers!”

Tony twisted away from Senior’s grasp. “I don’t think so.” When Senior tried to snatch the pages back, Tony blocked him. “I am a police officer, Dad. Don’t make me handcuff you.”

Down in his suite, Tony read through all of the pages, making notes along the way of questions he wanted to ask. Dean’s brother-in-law was an attorney, so the pair called him to see if he could provide Tony with some legal advice. Another call was made to the bank mentioned in the documents.

When he had his answers, it was Tony who was steamed. He and Dean went back out to the deck and settled into lounge chairs, keeping an eye out for other boats.

“You don’t think he’ll have the crew toss us overboard, do you?” Dean asked.

“No. I threatened to handcuff him if he does anything hinky. He’ll want the papers back, but I’ve hidden them. It turns out there is a secret compartment in the bottom of my bag. I can’t believe he tried to swindle his only child.”

Eventually, Senior did ask for the documents back, signed, and Tony laughed in his face. “I threw them overboard! There is no way I was going to sign those. Just because I suffered a concussion and memory loss doesn’t mean I suddenly became stupid!”

He couldn’t wait for the yacht to return to the marina. As soon as they docked, Dean and Tony spotted the Ortiz brothers getting into their car and were able to follow the pair back to Philadelphia. A quick call to their precinct led to a group of squad cars getting into position and blocking the road. When one officer pulled up behind the yellow Mustang and put on his lights and siren to stop the Ortiz brothers, they sped away, only to find the police roadblock across their path. A quickly deployed spike strip brought their car to a halt. They faced several officers with guns drawn and pointed at them, and others coming up from behind, blocking all escape routes.

Their yellow Mustang was searched and a shipment of drugs was found. Tony also looked over the car. There were scrapes along one side, flecked with red paint that he was certain would be a perfect match to his smashed-up Corvette.

“Excellent work, Officer DiNozzo,” said Dean.

Tony smiled as they went back to police headquarters to fill in their captain.

Chapter Text

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Despite doing his best to get everything back to normal, Tony always felt there was a hole in his life. His thoughts often strayed back to his time living with Jethro and Kelly. He’d been happy with them, truly happy. He had felt loved, wanted and needed. Now, his life felt like an empty shell, where he continued moving through his existence mostly in an automatic mode. He found himself sighing heavily more often than he’d like.

About a week after his drug bust of the Ortiz brothers, he found a letter on his desk. He didn’t often get mail at the precinct, but there it was, addressed to Officer Anthony DiNozzo. He read the letter slowly, then re-read it.

“What’s that?” Dean asked.

“Job offer.”

Dean smiled. “It was a good bust. I guess word has gotten out. Congratulations! Are you considering it?”

“I don’t know. It’s from Tom Morrow, director of NCIS.”

“NCIS? Isn’t the guy who held you an NCIS agent?”

“He wasn’t holding me exactly, but yeah. They’re offering me a job in DC as a junior field agent.”

“You’re not going to go work with him, are you?”

“I don’t know. It’s something to think about. I always wanted to work my way up to detective. I never thought about becoming a federal agent. Perhaps it’s worth exploring.”

The following day, another letter showed up on his desk, also addressed to Officer DiNozzo. Dean watched as he read it, and took notice of the slight change in Tony’s demeanor. "Another job offer?” he asked. “Don’t tell me. The FBI is after you, too?”

“No. That’s not it. This one is personal.” Folding the letter carefully, Tony returned it to its envelope, then placed it inside his jacket pocket.

After dinner that night, he went to sit on the deck and pulled the letter out and read it again. Dean came out to check on him.

“Are you okay?” asked Dean.

“Yeah.”

“You seem bothered by the letter you received today. Who was it from?”

“Kelly. She’s Agent Gibbs’ daughter. She says she misses me, and her life isn’t the same since I left.”

“Are you going to write back?”

Tony shifted in his chair. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. I remember that life, but it’s almost like it wasn’t my life, you know?”

“Yeah, it was Steve Woodburn’s life.” Getting up, Dean patted Tony on the shoulder, then went back inside the house, leaving his friend alone with his thoughts.

The following day, Tony took a few hours off from work and went to talk to his bank. He also went to consult with Dean’s brother-in-law, the attorney. Dean drove him but didn’t attend the actual meetings.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I think I’m going to consider a move to DC.”

“Really?”

That night, Tony packed up his belongings. He’d already spoken to his captain at the precinct and had been cleared to use two weeks of his accrued vacation time. He asked Dean to drop him off at the train station the next morning and promised to call when he arrived in DC and checked into a hotel.

While on the train, he called Director Morrow asking about the job offer with NCIS.

~~~***~~~***~~~

Gibbs was surprised when Tony arrived in the bullpen escorted by Agent Zimmerman. Stan took notice of Gibbs’ interest.

Rising from his chair, Gibbs approached Tony. “Can we talk?”

“I have a meeting with your director.”

“I know. He told me. I just…we didn’t get a chance to talk after…what happened.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Gibbs led the way to a conference room and invited Tony to have a seat. It didn’t escape him that Tony was wearing a suit, and lugging along a large bag and a guitar. “You look like you’re ready to move in.”

“I took the train down from Philly. I haven’t checked into a hotel yet. Too early.”

“Are you really considering coming to work for NCIS?”

“Was it your idea?” Tony asked, his eyes locked on Gibbs.

“Yeah. Actually, it was. You have great instincts. I told Tom how you helped us solve a couple of cases when you were here. And you did a great job taking down the Ortiz brothers.”

“Any other reason?”

“Tony, you deserve a shot. You’re good. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you don’t waste good. The interview is a formality. If you want the job, it’s yours. But just to be clear, it is as the junior agent on my team. Are you willing to work with me?”

“I just want to know one thing. Why?”

Gibbs nodded slowly. “Spur of the moment thing. I didn’t know you were a cop.”

“Obviously.”

“You pulled off a great imitation of a rich, entitled asshole. It wasn’t that I needed the money for the work I did on the yacht. Ben called because his usual carpenter was at the hospital while his wife gave birth to their first child. The point was that I did a good job and deserved to be paid. And you and your father blew me off. I didn’t need the money, but what if I did?”

“So this was retribution?”

“It wasn’t a punishment. It was work in trade. You even suggested it on the yacht, that you could work in trade.”

“Did I?” Tony asked as he reached for a glass of water.

“Yes, that is completely true. Although…”

“What? Although what?”

“I don’t think it’s what you really had in mind. You were flirting with me.”

Tony grinned. “Okay, that does sound like me. Look, I didn’t mean to be an asshole. If you had sent a bill, I would have made sure it got paid. I may have been acting like a rich, spoiled brat, but I would have made good on it, even if my father wouldn’t. He truly is an asshole.”

“Why spend time with him if he’s such a jerk?”

“He had a yacht. The Ortiz brothers had a yacht. It was a valid way into the marina without needing a budget. It would have cost a small fortune to rent a yacht for surveillance. I knew I’d never get approval for that type of expense.”

“So you went undercover as yourself? And put your father in danger?”

“He wasn’t in any real danger. I was just observing. There are hundreds of yachts coming and going throughout the day. There was no reason for the Ortiz brothers to suspect anything.”

“Until you followed them.”

“I thought they were going to a meet. I was trying to find out who they were working with and didn’t think they were on to me until they ran me off the road. I just don’t understand why you called me Steve. The FBI said you gave me a backstopped undercover ID. Why?”

“To protect you. And Kelly. I didn’t get a plate on the Mustang. I didn’t know who ran you off the road or if they’d come back to find you again and finish the job. You were in no shape to tell me who they were. And I thought you were that self-centered, entitled brat. Since you had offered to work off what was owed to me, I decided to take you up on it, just until your memories returned.”

“What if my memories had never returned?”

Gibbs chuckled softly as he smiled. “To be completely honest, I hadn’t really thought it through that far.”

“And that’s funny to you?” Tony seethed. “You ripped my life apart and turned it upside-down and you think it’s funny?”

Changing his expression immediately, Gibbs agreed, “That was wrong. I know. I’ll admit, I did not think it through. I took advantage of you and I’m sorry.”

Tony nodded slowly.

“But it is also true that you owed me money and had agreed to a trade. Plus, you were in danger. By taking you in, I protected you from the Ortiz brothers. I kept you safe. I gave you a home.”

“Kelly wrote me a letter,” Tony blurted out. From Gibbs’ expression, he could tell it was a surprise. “Heartfelt. And right in many ways.”

“I didn’t put her up to that. I just mentioned I’d talked to Tom about offering you a job,” pausing for a moment, he sighed. “She asked if I had an address for you, and I said it was being sent to your precinct. Tom had his assistant pull your files and find out exactly where you worked.”

“Kelly is a smart young lady.”

“She misses you.”

“What about you, Gibbs? Do you miss me?”

Sitting back in the chair, Gibbs nodded slowly. “Yeah. I do. I never imagined you’d leave a hole in our lives when you left.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. We made a pretty good team, the three of us.”

Leaning forward, Gibbs offered, “If it’s not too weird, you’re welcome to stay at the house instead of a hotel. No charge. Kelly would really love to see you again. I’ll sleep on the couch. No strings attached.”

Tony thought for a minute. “Okay. I would really love to see her, too.”

~~~***~~~***~~~

After the interview, Tony was indeed offered the job. Gibbs insisted that he and Kelly take Tony out to celebrate. As Tony was still without a car, he rode with Gibbs. There was a local Italian restaurant that Tony liked. Gibbs suggested it was the perfect place for a celebratory dinner.

When they picked up Kelly, she gave Tony a long hug, and was thrilled to find out that he had agreed to stay at their house during his visit. After a quick stop at the house for Kelly to change her clothing, they were off to Andolini’s restaurant where Tony and Gibbs shared a bottle of red wine. The candlelight gave the restaurant a romantic ambiance, but no one mentioned it.

“If you’re going to work with Dad, you might as well move back in with us for real!” Kelly said cheerfully. “You don’t want to live alone in a creepy apartment, do you?”

“I don’t know. I’m used to being alone in an apartment. I have a baby grand in Philly.”

“Great! We can rearrange the den and then you can bring your baby grand here and we can play duets. It will be awesome!” Her enthusiasm was endearing.

Tony found it surprisingly easy to fit himself back into the Gibbs’ household and their routine. Once they returned to the house, he picked up the guitar, tuned it and played a couple of songs on the patio. Kelly sang with him as Gibbs drank a couple of beers and watched.

When it got late, Gibbs reminded her she should have been in bed an hour ago. Although she grumbled, she got up, hugged Tony, kissed her father on the cheek and disappeared into the house.

Tony continued strumming the guitar through a few more songs. As the nearly full moon rose above them, Tony put the guitar aside and moved onto one of the lounge chairs.

“You take the bed,” Gibbs offered again. “I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“I noticed you still keep the linen and a pillow set next to it. I thought you slept on the sofa because of me.”

“When I work late in the basement, I don’t want to wake Kelly up by going upstairs. The floorboards creak. I sleep on the couch a lot. It’s comfortable enough.”

“She’s a wonderful kid. You’ve done an amazing job raising her on your own.”

“Thanks. Sometimes it feels like she’s the one raising me. And I get a lot of help. She spends time with her friends, like Becca. She loves going to their family farm and riding horses. And she also visits with her own grandparents when she’s out of school.”

“That might traumatize a lesser child, but Kelly blossoms from it.”

“Losing her mother was really hard. My subsequent wives weren’t ready to play mom to someone else’s child. Kelly grew up fast. That was her way of coping and surviving.”

“She’s become a very independent young lady.”

Lifting the beer bottle to his lips, Gibbs took another long drink, then said, “She really missed you a lot. Tears were shed and she wanted so badly to write to you.”

“I was surprised to find a letter from her on my desk.”

“I didn’t know she sent that. Must be one of those independent things. She asked how we were going to offer you a job and I mentioned Tom sent a letter to your precinct. She asked where it was, so we looked it up on the map. She must have pulled the address from the internet.”

“Smart and devious, just like her dad.”

“You fit in well here, Tony. And Kelly adores you. You are welcome to stay as long as you want.”

“And you’re willing to sleep on the couch forever?” Tony asked.

Waving back toward the house, Gibbs said, “I do have a cot in the basement. And I have slept in worse places.”

Laughter erupted. “Like your doomsday cabin!”

“You said you liked it.”

“That’s back when I thought we were a committed couple. I assumed I liked it before and didn’t want to make you feel bad.”

“I’m really sorry for deceiving you. But honestly…”

“I know. You thought I was a spoiled, bratty asshole.”

Leaning in closer, Gibbs lowered his voice. “I was going to say, I really liked you a lot. You are an amazing person. I have never cared about another man the way I cared for you.”

“You mean, the way you cared for Steve Woodburn.”

“No matter the name, the personality was all you. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable and you are honestly welcome to stay here as long as you want, no strings attached. But the door is open.”

“The door?”

Rolling his eyes, Gibbs leaned back in his chair and sighed heavily as he stared up at the moon. “Kelly isn’t the only one who misses having you around. But I understand if you don’t want to pursue a relationship. Just saying, that’s fine. I’m not going to push it. But if you ever decide you’re interested, the door is open.”

Chapter Text

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As Tony still hadn’t replaced his car, Gibbs offered him the use of the sedan for as long as he wanted. Since Gibbs’ sedan was a practical family vehicle, Tony had his eyes on buying another sports car, but he hadn’t yet decided which model. After he completed his FLETC training, the pair would carpool together on most days.

Tony fit in well at NCIS and made a few friends there. It was a running joke that he wasn’t anything like the spoiled frat boy Gibbs has initially told people about. Before long, he became well known at NCIS for his acting skills and was often called on to perform undercover ops. Abby, Ducky and Stan continued to spend time with Tony and Gibbs outside of work.

About six months after Tony joined NCIS, Stan requested a transfer to an agent afloat assignment, stating it was about time, and that he was really interested in traveling and seeing more of the world.

As he packed up his things, he said, “Besides, Tony’s got your six, Boss. He’s a seasoned cop and is up for the job. I wouldn’t leave you if I wasn’t sure the two of you could handle anything that comes your way.”

During the holidays, Tony went with Gibbs and Kelly to visit Jackson in Stillwater. Gibbs explained his father didn’t have any other family, so they always planned to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with him.

They spent New Year’s Eve back at their house. Gibbs had offered to drive them all to the cabin, which had both Kelly and Tony rolling their eyes. Kelly had been invited to Becca’s for a slumber party with several other friends, which left Tony and Gibbs alone in the house.

Gibbs opted to grill a fine steak in the fireplace, with his usual side of beans. Tony whipped up a quick salad, just to add some balance to the meal. They spent the evening watching old westerns on the television set and drinking beer.

As the evening wore on, Tony set his beer bottle on the table and leaned his head onto Gibbs’ shoulder like he used to. With a smile, Gibbs wrapped his arm around Tony’s shoulder and held him close.

They watched the New Year’s ball countdown on television, then Tony kissed Gibbs square on the mouth at midnight. When he pulled back, he wished Gibbs a happy new year.

Reaching out, Gibbs ran his fingers through Tony’s hair. “Happy new year to you, too. I’m really glad you accepted the job with NCIS. We’re a great team.”

“Is the door still open?” Tony asked.

Craning his neck around, Gibbs eyed the front door to the house. It appeared closed to him. “Are you feeling a draft?”

Tony physically turned Gibbs’ face back to where they were looking at each other, eye to eye. “In the summer, you said you were leaving the door open. Now that I feel established at work, I think maybe I need to reconsider my relationship status.”

“Oh, that door. Yeah, of course. Is that something you’d like to explore?”

Rising to his feet, Tony reached his hand out. When Gibbs took his hand, Tony led the way upstairs to the bedroom.

~~~***~~~***~~~

In the beginning, they agreed to keep their relationship quiet. They were at a precarious point where they both lived and worked together. Neither wanted things to get blown out of proportion if the relationship didn’t work out. At least once a week, they had a romantic date night out on the town. Either they told Kelly they were working late and arranged for her to stay with a friend, or they planned their date around Kelly’s visits to her friends or grandparents.

One day in the early spring, Kelly was off visiting Becca at her grandparents’ farm, and Gibbs took Tony out to the cabin.

Tony hauled his luggage onto the porch and waited for Gibbs to unlock the door. “I do love the fresh air, even though the electricity is lacking.”

Gibbs smiled as he opened the cabin door. “To make everyone happy, I’d have to add electricity for you and plumbing for Kelly. And we have that all back at the house. I like unwinding out here when we don’t have an open case to tackle.”

After setting down their things, they returned outside to bring in the cooler and the bag of food they’d bought for the weekend adventure.

Taking in a deep breath of air, Tony stood on a spot and surveyed the property. “You know, we could put up a barn over there, and a pasture and riding ring over there. We could break out some trails for riding or hiking. Then Kelly would be happy to come out here and spend time with us, and the horses, of course.”

“Let me guess. The barn would also have a little house standing nearby, complete with plumbing and electricity.”

Tony grinned. “You can stay in your minimalist cabin if you want. I’ll even stay in the cabin with you as long as I can plug my phone in at the house or barn. And it doesn’t have to be a full house, maybe just a small cabin with a couple bedrooms and a bathroom or two. Perhaps the bathroom could be its own building, with a couple of toilets and a couple of showers, so no one has to go into the house full of trail dust. Then Kelly could bring her friends out to ride.”

Glancing down at his hands, Gibbs said, “I’d be retired before I could build all that.”

“We could hire someone else to do the work. Not knocking your cabin at all. It’s sturdy and does its job, but someone else could get a barn, cabin and bathhouse put up in a month or two, ready in time for a summer full of horseback rides and bonding with your daughter. She’s going to be grown and off to college before you know it, Jethro.”

Gibbs stood at Tony’s side and surveyed the land. “You know, when Shannon and I bought this place, we made sure it had a fishing pond for me, and enough level land for a barn and riding ring. When Kelly was younger, I promised to build her a barn out here and said she could have a horse. She and her best friend back then, Maddie Tyler, were both crazy about horses when they were little girls.”

Tony wrapped an arm around Jethro’s waist. “News flash. Kelly is still horse-crazy. She just doesn’t want to stress you out about money because she thinks you can’t afford to build a barn and have horses.”

“News alert for you. I can’t afford it.”

“Maybe not you alone, but together we can,” suggested Tony.

“Maybe we can start building a little barn over there, but just working on weekends, it will likely take all summer.”

“Let’s grab a couple of beers and sit by the fire pit. I have a story to tell you and it’s starting to get cool out.”

Gibbs tossed a couple of logs on the outside fire pit and grilled hamburgers for dinner. After they ate, it was starting to get dark, but the evening was still pleasant and the sky soon filled with stars.

“Okay, DiNozzo, tell me a story.”

Tony took a long swig from his beer, and then settled back in the wooden chair Gibbs had built years ago. “When I first went back to Philly, my partner, Dean Webster, filled me in on our cases. I remembered the names of Carlos and Manuel Ortiz.”

“The two guys in the yellow Mustang. I remember you guys made the bust.”

“Yeah, we reviewed the case and Dean told me I had gone down to spend some time on my Dad’s yacht to surveil them after I’d learned they had a yacht in the same marina. Jethro, they were a couple of two-bit hustlers who owned a run-down garage in a shady part of town. It didn’t make any sense that they could afford to have a yacht at a marina unless they were running drugs.”

“Seems reasonable.”

“I convinced Dean to go back to the marina with me. I’d grown my hair out and had gotten rid of the blond tips by then. I didn’t think the Ortiz brothers would recognize me. So we went out on the yacht and my dad handed me a stack of papers to sign. He insisted it was all routine stuff and that he’d played around with hiding some assets, put things under my name, both assets and shell companies.”

Leaning back, Gibbs settled his feet on a stump. “But you didn’t buy it?”

“I went missing from his yacht and he never reported it! I was pretty sure my best interests were not his concern. I took the papers down to my suite to read. We called Dean’s brother-in-law, who is an attorney, to get his take.”

“Let me guess. Your father is a bit shady?”

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg!” said Tony. “The guy is pretty much a conman even though he calls himself an entrepreneur. The thing is, he gets hooked up with these high-risk deals and cons people into investing. He says he believes in the products, but it seems most of them bring little or no return. He gets his finder fees and walks away.”

“He seems to be doing okay. And no one has taken him out yet.”

“Here’s the thing. Dad’s been married at least six times. He charms wealthy women, marries them, and by the time they figure out he’s only in it for their money, they file for divorce.”

“And I’ll bet most find out when their money has been significantly drained.”

“He says he loved my mother. She was English. Did I ever tell you that?”

“No.”

“She’s from a wealthy British family named Paddington. She came to America to study, met my father, married him, and stayed here. I vaguely remember her taking me to England once a year. I’ve met my Uncle Clive a few times. Anyway, she was the wealthiest of all of my dad’s wives. And she set aside some trust fund money for me. Dad was trying to get me to sign papers making him my power of attorney with full access to those trust funds.”

Gibbs raised his eyebrows. “Wow!”

“Again, it’s certainly not in my best interest. Apparently, he’s hurting for money and hasn’t found another rich woman to latch onto. He thought with my memory loss that I’d sign anything he put in front of me. Some of the documents had to do with his shell companies, but he’d slipped those power of attorney papers right in there and hoped I wouldn’t notice.”

“I’m glad you took the time to read them through. And I’m glad he didn’t get whatever is coming to you.”

“There are five trust funds altogether. I’m thinking Mom was onto him and figured she’d spread the money out so in case he got access to one account, maybe he wouldn’t get them all. Anyway, the first account was a college fund. The money could only be used for education, or there were penalties. The second trust, I had access to when I turned twenty-five.”

“So you had access to that one before we ever met.”

“True. The day I had access, I bought my red Corvette, then I upgraded my apartment.”

“Bought the baby grand?”

“No, that was my mother’s. She was a very talented pianist. There’s still enough left from that fund to build a small cabin and a barn. The third account, I’ll have access when I’m thirty.”

Gibbs smiled and nodded. “Your mother was a very smart lady. If your Dad glommed onto the trust when you turned twenty-five, then hopefully you’d wise up and keep him from getting the next trust.”

“Exactly. And each trust fund has a little more money in it. The college fund had about fifty thousand dollars. The age twenty-five fund had two hundred and fifty thousand. The trust that becomes available when I’m thirty has five hundred thousand.”

“Not bad. And there are two more trusts?” Gibbs asked as he stoked the fire.

“Yeah. There is another that I can access when I turn fifty-five. That one has two and a half million dollars. The last one has a million dollars that I can access when I get married, or when I turn sixty-five if I remain single.”

“Sounds like you’re all set. For life. Why work?”

Tipping his head back slightly, Tony laughed. “Well, if we build a new cabin and barn here, the cost will drain that account.”

“You’d rather build a cabin and barn than retire early?”

“Yes, Jethro. My dream car was the Corvette. I was looking for another dream, and I’d like to make Kelly’s dream of having a cabin with running water and electricity, along with a barn for a horse or two, come true for her before she goes away to college. Not to mention, I like taking the bad guys off the street as much as you do.”

“What are you going to do with the five hundred thousand when you’re thirty?”

“I thought we could take a few really cool vacations, wherever you want to go. Maybe we can go to Italy and visit Rome. I speak fluent Italian. Maybe I’ll retire when I’m fifty-four.”

“A year before your two million dollar account is available?”

“You’ll be sixty-seven then. Mandatory retirement. Unless you want to retire earlier. I think we can make it on our savings and your social security for a little while.”

“You see us together that long?”

Sitting up straight, Tony stared into Gibbs’ eyes. “Don’t you?” Reaching out, he placed his hand over Jethro’s. “We’re good together. I’ve never been happier. This feels right. Don’t you feel the same way?”

Placing a hand behind Tony’s neck, Gibbs pulled him close and kissed him. “Yes, this definitely feels right.”

Back in DC, they contracted an architect to design a cabin, a barn, and a shower house with sinks and toilets. Gibbs had some ideas about the barn and wanted to build that himself, so they were able to build a large storage building for boats, cars and other projects.

“I promised to build the barn for Kelly myself, so I’d really like to honor that.”

“And with that large storage building and workshop, you can build your boats out there instead of in the basement,” teased Tony.

Gibbs asked Kelly to join them at the cabin for Father’s Day and she agreed. Her eyes grew wide as they pulled up to the original cabin, and she saw the new cabin, the new storage building, along with the pasture and riding ring.

“Oh my God! When did you guys do all this? This is fantastic,” she said as she ran over to the pasture, eyeing the three horses happily munching on hay. “Whose horses are these? Are they ours?”

Gibbs called after her. “Almost. They’re here on a trial basis. If you like them we can buy them. And I promise to build you a barn. We’ll winter the horses with Phil next door so he can keep an eye on them.” Racing back, she gave him a firm hug. “It was all Tony’s idea,” he said.

After hugging her father, she gave Tony a huge hug and a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you. Really. I wish I could say more, but honestly, this is my dream come true. I can’t thank you enough. Now I can host Becca and other friends for the weekend sometimes!”

Over the next couple of months, Gibbs and Tony worked on purchasing all the lumber they needed for the barn and started putting sections of the walls together inside the large storage building. By early August, they recruited some of the neighbors to come over and assist in the barn raising. Together, the crew got the walls put in place, and got the roof on all in one day. Gibbs and Tony then worked on finishing out the inside of the barn.

They took off a few days around Kelly’s birthday in August and surprised her, not only with the finished barn, but a horse trailer, two more horses, and enough saddles and bridles that all the horses could be ridden at the same time. Tony and Gibbs had also built several jumps and had them set up in the riding ring.

“It is perfect!” she exclaimed.

The cabin was built with a large bedroom in the loft, and two additional bedrooms with bunk beds in the lower level, along with two sofa-beds in the living room downstairs. The cabin had a kitchenette with running water and was only a few feet from the facilities in the shower house. There was plenty of room for Kelly to host slumber parties, and they even invited Fornell and Emily out to visit now and then.

~~~***~~~***~~~

Despite the occasional squabbles that develop in any long-term relationship, Tony and Gibbs felt their relationship was solid, both at work and at home. As a team, they had the highest solve rate in all of NCIS. They often had a probie, although most of them didn’t last long with Gibbs.

Eventually, Kate Todd came to work with them and fit in well with the team. A few months later, they took on a rookie named Timothy McGee, and Tony was officially promoted to senior field agent. As Tony had purchased another Corvette by then, the pair drove to work separately and kept their relationship private.

~~~***~~~***~~~

One Friday evening in the spring of 2004, when Kelly was away at college, Gibbs cooked up a steak in the fireplace and they sat down to watch a movie. After the movie ended, Gibbs took Tony’s hand into his own and led him outside under the stars.

“I want to ask you something.”

“And you have to ask me outside?” Wrapping his arms around his body, Tony did his best to keep warm on the chilly night. Gibbs had thought ahead and reached for the jackets he had set outside.

“I was thinking maybe we could take a trip up to Massachusetts and stay in a nice bed and breakfast some weekend in June.”

“Kelly should be home then.”

“We’ll get her a hotel room of her own and maybe a connecting room for Jackson so he can spend some time with her.”

“Sure. Sounds like a great family weekend.”

Getting down on one knee, Gibbs took Tony’s hand into his own. “Gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts now. Tony, I’d like for us to get married. If that’s something you’re interested in.”

“You’re asking me to…”

“Marry me. Will you marry me, Tony?”

“But it’s not legal here in DC.”

When Tony sat down in one of the patio chairs, Gibbs sat in the adjoining chair and sighed. “It will be, one day. I like being married. Kelly would love to see us married. If it’s not your thing, I guess I’ll understand, but I would truly like to commit to you. And one day, when it’s legal in DC, we can renew our vows.”

Tony looked Gibbs in the eye. “This isn’t about that million-dollar trust fund I have access to when I get married, is it?”

Gibbs was affronted by the remark and insisted, “No, not at all. I want to marry you, not your damned money!”

“Okay. Just checking. Because I’m not sure what legal hoops we would have to go through…”

“It’s not about the fucking money. Leave the fucking money where it is until you’re sixty-five or whenever you need it. I loved you long before I knew anything about your trust funds. And I would still want to marry you even if you gave away every single penny.”

A smile flashed across Tony’s face, causing his eyes to twinkle. “Okay. I mean, yeah, I want to commit to you too, but Massachusetts? I need to think about that.” Standing up, he added, “I love you, too, Jethro, so it isn’t at all about that. But we don’t live in Massachusetts. If it’s okay, I think I’ll take the weekend on my own to think this over? Maybe I’ll go up to Philly and visit Dean for a couple of days.”

“Yeah, sure. That’s fine.” Gibbs sounded deflated as he began walking toward the house.

Tony grabbed his arm and pulled him back, kissing him. “Seriously. I do love you, Jethro. And I love the idea that maybe we can be married one day. But this, being married in Massachusetts, won’t be recognized here.”

“One day it will be. I know it will be.”

~~~***~~~***~~~

Tony packed a bag the next day and called Dean, asking if he was up for a weekend visit. Dean said the sofa was still available if he wanted it. Tony laughed and said since he had his own car now, he’d be happy to stay at a nearby hotel. After all, he really needed some time alone to think.

He had dinner with Dean’s family, then asked to speak with Dean privately on the patio. The pair stepped outside, taking a six-pack of beer with them, and had a long talk.

“Do you love him?” Dean asked.

“Yeah. And no, I can’t even see myself with anyone else. The point is, the marriage would only be recognized in Massachusetts. And we don’t live in Massachusetts!”

“I think Jethro is right,” said Dean. “Maybe not this year, or next year, but Massachusetts is only the beginning. One day gay marriage will be legal and recognized in every state.”

Focusing on his beer bottle, Tony picked at the label. “But then why not wait until it’s legal in DC?”

“Because you love Jethro and he asked you to do this. Maybe you guys can take a trip to Massachusetts each year on your anniversary until it’s legalized in DC.”

“He did say, whenever it is legal in DC, we can renew our vows there in front of our friends. For now, he only wants his dad and his daughter to come up.”

“If you love him, and he wants to do this, I think that is a good enough reason.”

“Thanks, Dean. That’s what I needed to hear.”

After returning to his hotel, Tony went for a walk to a neighborhood bar and did some more thinking. The next day, he had breakfast with Dean and his wife, then took a spin around Philly alone, seeing the sights, visiting some shops and doing some more thinking.

It was dark on Sunday night by the time he returned home to DC. He’d stopped off for pizza and had the rest of it in a box as he walked into the house. Gibbs was on the sofa reading case files with the television on.

Setting his glasses aside, he asked, “Did you decide anything?”

Tony smiled broadly. “Yes! And the answer is yes. I would love to marry you any time and any place. You set the date, and I will be there.”

Gibbs stood up so quickly that the case files fell to the floor. Ignoring them, he raced over to Tony, embracing him and kissing him. “That is exactly what I wanted to hear! I love you, Skippy. I’d be willing to wait if it wasn’t right for you, but I’m glad something changed your mind this weekend.”

“I had a good talk with Dean. He helped me to see things clearly. And I did a little something for you, too.”

“You brought me leftover pizza. I can see that, DiNozzo.”

Tony set the box down on the table and grinned. “Not that. It’s still a little sore,” he said as he unfastened his jeans and turned around.

Gibbs watched as Tony lowered his boxers to reveal a bandage on his right butt cheek. “What the hell did you do now?”

As Gibbs looked on, Tony carefully peeled away the bandage, to reveal his coffee cup tattoo. Only now, the word ‘Gibbs’’ in darker gray ink and a small gray heart had been added. “Gibbs’ heart. Get it?”

“Only you, DiNozzo. Some people wear their heart on their sleeve, but only you would have one tattooed on your ass.”

“It’s to show you how much I truly love you.”

As he gave Tony a hug, Gibbs said, “Just so long as you don’t go showing it to anyone else. We’re going to keep this between you and me for now. Okay?”

“That was the plan.”

“Make sure to cover up with a towel at the NCIS gym showers.”

“Wouldn’t you just love to see Tim’s reaction if he ever found out?”

“Better Tim than Kate. And we can invite them whenever it’s legal in DC and we renew our vows. I love you too much to keep our marriage a secret forever.”

 

~ The End ~
06/13/2020

© 2020 by Jacie

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