McGee was the first one who saw the two of them together. While he had given Tony a good-natured ribbing when Tony told him about the sublime delicatessens in his neighborhood and how the treats there were far better than anything McGee could get at his supermarket, saying that Tony was just seduced into believing they were better because they were more expensive, for his anniversary with Delilah McGee had made the trip to Tony's part of town and sampled and bought many goodies there for the party. Ever since then, fueled by Delilah's and his own enthusiasm, McGee made his way over there every now and then to get some treats for them both.
It was on one of those days that McGee spotted the familiar figure of Tony walking along the street, shopping bag in one hand and the hand of someone else in the other. Curious and confused, McGee followed them at a discreet distance to see what the hell was going on. The two visited a couple of deli's, Tony feeding small treats of sausage, cheese and little stuffed tomatoes to the other person, before the two at last ended up at an ice cream parlor, where Tony ordered two small cones, and they sat on the bench outside the parlor to enjoy their treat. The looks Tony gave the other person could only be described as adoring. McGee was fascinated, not just by the care and protection and joy Tony was exhibiting, but at the person Tony was with. Watching them from across the street as they sat in the sunshine and enjoyed the ice cream, McGee wondered to himself about exactly what he was seeing.
Tony with a small, blond-haired boy, maybe two years old.
As Bishop and Jake exited the sauna and headed for the pool at the luxury spa after having cooled off in the ice bath, she suddenly spotted a familiar figure. Was that Tony? And who was he with? Her eyes widening in incredulity, she watched from her perch at the side of the pool as Tony played with a two-year-old, the blond curls plastered against the boy's head by the water, inflatable wings attached to his arms. This spa catered to adults - something Tony had specifically mentioned when he had recommended the place to her months ago - and was not usually open to kids, but she knew Tony well enough to know that he could charm his way into anything. And the boy, she had to admit the longer she watched from her hidden corner, was very well behaved. The child was quiet and almost serene, chuckled softly while Tony swung him around in the water, and looked up at Tony adoringly every single moment.
When Abby caught sight of Tony at the cinema, she almost rushed over to him to greet and tease him. This was a matinee, and a children's movie, and while Tony loved his movies, this was unusual for him. But before she could set a foot in his direction, a small voice sounded.
"Wanna sit here. See better."
"Okay, come here, bud."
And before she could move, Tony lifted a very young boy from the seat next to him into his lap, and put his arms around the boy to stop him from falling. The boy relaxed into Tony's hold immediately, leaning back against him, obviously completely relaxed and trusting in Tony's loose grip. Abby watched as Tony leaned forward and started whispering conspiratorially into the boy's ear, and the blond hair shifted beneath Tony's breath, and the boy's body shuddered in chuckles with whatever it was Tony was whispering to him. Abby sat close but out of sight, thinking that she would have to step in at some point during the movie to help calm the child when Tony's patience ran out, but to her surprise, the boy spent the entire movie sitting quietly on Tony's lap, completely engrossed in the images on the screen and the soft commentary Tony kept whispering into the boy's ear. When the movie was over, Abby threw one last wistful look at Tony and the boy, then left unseen.
Jimmy, Breena and Ducky were already seated at the dreadful fast food place with Victoria Elizabeth when they saw Tony arrive with a small boy in tow. Jimmy wanted to go over to greet his friend, but Ducky - or Grand-Ducky as he'd been assured the little girl would call him once she mastered the art of speech - held Jimmy back, and the three of them just studied the senior agent while he stepped up to the counter and ordered for the both of them. Surprised when Tony took the boy into his arms, settled him on one hip, and they discussed food choices, and even more surprised when Tony ordered the child-friendly option for the boy, Ducky and Jimmy just stared as Tony patiently sat across from the child and fed him the parts of their order that actually weren't that bad for the boy - the same as Breena was doing with Victoria - and how adoringly the boy looked up at Tony while eating pieces of lettuce and tomato without complaint as long as Tony held them patiently out for him on a fork. Almost hiding when Tony and the boy passed them on the way out, Ducky and Jimmy glanced at each other in question, but - like the others - chose to remain silent about what they had seen.
And so Gibbs was the last one to meet - if not know about - the little boy who had taken over Tony's life at least one weekend a month. Gibbs answered his phone when it rang.
"DiNozzo. We got a case?"
"No, Boss. I…"
Waiting for a few seconds, but not getting anything more, Gibbs let out a deep breath.
"Spit it out, DiNozzo."
"Boss, I… Can I ask you a favor?"
Blinking in confusion, Gibbs took another deep breath. Tony rarely asked for anything for himself, so what was this about? But Gibbs certainly wasn't about to refuse.
"Sure, DiNozzo. What do you need?"
Gibbs heard Tony swallow on the other end of the line, and in his mind's eye he clearly saw the younger man gathering his resolve.
"I've got people at my apartment fixing the plumbing, and… well, there's a lot of stuff and noise around and I don't want… And I've got… someone important… here… and…"
Another long silence on the line. Then Tony's voice again, pleading.
"Gibbs? Can we… can we come to your place?"
For a second, Gibbs froze. Tony wanted to bring someone important to his place? Did he think that he could have a date at Gibbs' place? But no, that wasn't Tony, not these days. The man wouldn't bring someone who's pants he wanted to get into to Gibbs' house. And then Gibbs thought back to what he knew. The boy. A little flustered and apprehensive, Gibbs cleared his throat.
"Of course, Tony. Come on over whenever."
"Thank you, Boss."
When Tony hung up, Gibbs stared at the phone for a few seconds. He wasn't sure how he felt about Tony showing up with a child, a little boy, but he was sure that was what was going to happen.
About an hour later, Gibbs heard Tony's car pull up in the driveway, and watched as Tony got out of his car, grabbed a large bag from the backseat on the driver's side, and then went over to the passenger's side to get a small boy from the car seat in the back. Gibbs stared as Tony made his way over to his front door, the blond-haired boy settled snugly on his hip, the bag in Tony's other hand, the boy glancing up at Tony's face the entire time as Tony softly spoke to him. Contrary to normal visits, Tony actually knocked on Gibbs' door.
"Come on in, DiNozzo."
Tony's smile was warm but uncertain.
Putting the bag and the boy down, Tony straightened up and tugged his casual sweater down over his jeans.
Watching the boy grab Tony's leg and hide behind it, Gibbs gave his best impression of a genuine smile.
"And who's this?"
Tony studied Gibbs' face for a moment, and right there and then, he knew that Gibbs already knew. It shouldn't be a surprise, but still… Putting his hand on the boy's head and coaxing him out from behind his leg, Tony addressed the boy first.
"Steven, this is Leroy Jethro Gibbs. You can call him Gibbs."
The small blond boy, almost three now, looked around Tony's leg at the grey-haired, stern man staring down at him, and relaxed minutely.
"What do you say, Steven?"
Tony smiled down at the boy, trying to reassure him, but Steven took to Gibbs like most children did. He scooted out from behind Tony's leg, and held out one small hand towards the older man.
Gibbs shook the boy's hand, not surprised at the lack of words coming from the boy, and actually quite liking it. Gibbs and Tony stared at each other for a moment, then Tony picked up the bag again, grabbed the boy's hand, and led him to the living room. Peering into the bag, Tony took out some toy trains and set them on the floor, Steven immediately settling down next to them and starting to move the trains around on the floor. Even as Tony settled on the floor near to the boy, he looked up apologetically at Gibbs.
"I'm sorry, Boss, but those guys had sharp tools and cutting equipment and were making a lot of noise, and I couldn't have him around that all day…"
"Not a problem, DiNozzo. Drink?"
"Ehm… Thanks, Boss. Tea, if you have it. Or coffee… Coffee is good too."
"And for him?"
"I've got juice packets in the bag."
Minutes later, Gibbs returned with two steaming mugs, coffee for him and tea for Tony, and sat down on the couch to watch the younger man play with the boy. For over an hour, Tony patiently followed Steven's orders to drive first this train and then that one, moving them around in figures of eight while the boy followed them with his own train, the two babbling at each other quietly. Gibbs had seldom seen Tony this relaxed and easy, and his initial fear that having a child in his house again would bring up painful memories was assuaged by the boy being so very different from his daughter. Kelly had been vibrant and full of noise and laughter, whereas this boy was serious and quiet, his intelligent eyes taking in his surroundings while seemingly not paying attention to them. Gibbs smirked to himself. That was something the boy must have learned from Tony. When at last Tony took out his laptop and started it playing Thomas the Tank Engine on a continuous loop, Steven's eyes glued to the screen with a juice box in hand, Tony sat down on the couch beside Gibbs.
"So… this is your godson?"
Tony glanced at his with a smirk of his own.
"You know, Gibbs, someday you're gonna let me in on the secret of how you always know everything."
"Someday, Anthony, you'll probably know all my secrets."
Tony stared at him for a moment, then visibly shrugged that comment off. Gibbs motioned to the boy with his refreshed coffee.
"Yeah. Remember my cousin Crispian?"
"The one who inherited your millions from your uncle Clive?"
"That's the one. He has an illegitimate brother, Daniel. Apparently, Crispian's father had a little… but that's not important right now. When I went to England to meet the family a couple of years ago, I met Daniel too, and we hit it off. I kept in touch with him and his wife, Deborah, and we got kinda close, even though we didn't see much of each other. When Deborah found out she was pregnant, they both really wanted me to be the godfather, and I couldn't say no. Then, just over a year ago, Daniel got offered a transfer here to DC by his company, and he and Deborah decided to come here. Ever since then, I've been seeing a lot of them, and of my godson, and he stays with me at least one weekend a month so his mom and dad can have some time to themselves and I can spend time with him."
Gibbs just nodded. This confirmed everything he already knew. Tony was quiet for a moment before he spoke again.
"I really love him, Boss. I mean, I… I'm never gonna have kids of my own, and Steven just… I love him."
"Why wouldn't you have kids, DiNozzo? You've still got time."
"No, that's not… That's not it. It's just not gonna happen."
"You never know what's…"
Tony spoke over him.
"Not gonna happen, Boss. That's not in my future."
Gibbs swallowed at the certainty he heard in Tony's voice, wondering what it was about, how Tony could be so sure of this. Gibbs stayed his usual quiet self.
"Over the years, well… I've faced some truths about myself. Spoke to Daniel and Deborah about it a lot. They don't mind. They support me."
Gibbs frowned, but again stayed silent. But his usual tactic didn't seem to be working, because Tony stayed silent after that too, just watched Steven watching the laptop, smiling when the boy babbled at the screen. After long moments, Gibbs broke the silence.
"I support you too, Tony. Whatever it is."
Tony turned to him for a moment with a soft smile.
"Thanks, Boss. Even if you don't know what you're talking about."
Tony's smile took the sting out of his words.
The remainder of the day was spent playing with Steven. The boy seemed fascinated by his trains, whether they were playing with them on the floor or whether they were shown on the screen of the laptop, and Gibbs smiled at the gentle quietness of the boy as he drove his trains around the hardwood floors. When Tony finally got the call in the late afternoon that the plumbers were done, he smiled at Gibbs.
"Well, I guess that's us going back home. Thanks for letting us stay, Boss. We'll get out of your hair now."
Gibbs nodded, but felt an odd pang of loss in his chest as he watched Tony pack up the trains and other toys, and grab Steven to settle the boy on his hip again, preparing to leave.
"He like boats too? Or just trains?"
For a moment, Tony seemed confused, then he smiled.
"We like boats too, don't we, Steven?"
Looking up at Tony seriously, Steven nodded.
"Boat good, Uncle Tony."
Smiling down at the boy, Tony raised his eyes to Gibbs again, then swallowed at the look in the blue eyes he'd never seen so open before. Gibbs quirked his lips.
"Come back tomorrow? Go sailing?"
Holding Gibbs' eyes for a long moment, then looking back down at Steven and up to Gibbs again, Tony nodded.
"Love to, Boss."
Steven didn't mind the life-jacket at all, found it quite fascinating in fact, and listened carefully and seriously to the instructions Gibbs and Tony gave him all day. The three of them sailed all Sunday, and Steven seemed to like the boat as much as his trains, even though Tony distracted him with them for an hour or two in the afternoon when the sailing became too tedious for the boy and Gibbs just sailed the boat on his own while Tony and Steven played. Gibbs smiled as he watched the younger man first sit and then lay down on the deck, driving around trains with infinite patience, making train noises and talking to the little boy.
After they had docked and driven back to Gibbs' place, Gibbs studied Tony as the man settled the boy on his hip again, grabbing the bag which held his toys and drinks.
"Wanna stay for dinner, Tony?"
Tony seemed torn for a moment, but then shook his head.
"I gotta get him back to his parents, Gibbs. But thanks. And thanks for today."
"No problem. Any time you want, just let me know."
Tony brought Steven back to Daniel and Deborah, and they persuaded him to have dinner with them as the boy fell asleep almost the moment he was back in his mother's arms. After Deborah had put Steven in his bed, she joined her two men in the kitchen, where they were enjoying a beer before dinner.
"I don't know, Daniel…"
"Tony, you know I love you, but this is insane. You gotta do something…"
Deborah leaned down and kissed Tony's temple before she checked the oven for their dinner and grabbed a beer for herself.
"You know Daniel is right, Tony. You have to do something. You love him. You can't stay in this limbo forever."
"No, Tony. Just… No. You deserve to be happy too. And if that means you have to leave, then so be it. But I still think you should just tell him. This weekend just proves..."
Tony interrupted her.
"It proves nothing, except that he has a soft spot for kids. I've always known that."
"He asked you to come sailing with him."
"He just wanted to please Steven. He doesn't think I can keep him happy the entire weekend."
"Bullshit, Tony! If, as you say, he's known about this all along, he knows that you know how to take care of our son. It wasn't an attempt to distract Steven, he wanted you there."
"I don't know, Daniel. I don't think so. He was just trying to help me."
"Even if that is true, why would he do that? He's a bastard - your own words - so why would he suddenly have this change of heart? Why would he…"
"Dan! There's no way, alright? He'd never forgive me if I made a play for him."
"Don't play, Tony. Be serious."
"Tony, you know I love you. We love you. Steven loves you. Why wouldn't he love you?"
Tony swallowed another sip of his beer.
"Because he's Gibbs. He may like me, he me care for me… but he can't even admit to that, let alone… Let's just eat, okay? Forget about this stuff."
With a sigh, Deborah and Daniel glanced at each other before she took their dinner out of the oven and served it.
Gibbs looked at his boat again as he sipped from his bourbon. The Chickadee was a different kind of boat than he had been building all these years, but still… a boat was a boat. Tony loved boats. Especially boats in Gibbs' basement. One day, Gibbs would have to tell Tony how he got them out of there. Gibbs smiled. Yeah, Anthony would know all of his secrets one day, Gibbs hadn't been lying about that. But still… he sighed.
Could he let go? Could he truly forget about his past and focus on his future? Could Tony be part of that? Gibbs doubted it.
Looking around the bullpen just to make sure, Tony again noted the absence of Tim and Bishop, who were down in Autopsy with Ducky and Jimmy. In a way, he was glad for it. In another way, he was worried about it. Was this when he was going to say something he shouldn't?
"You got Steven this weekend?"
Surprised, Tony nodded before he could think about it.
"Yeah, I'm picking him up when I leave here tonight. So whenever you wanna let me go…"
"Then go now, DiNozzo."
Tony smiled as he grabbed his bag. There was no active case keeping them in the office this weekend, and Tim and Ellie were just checking something on one of their cold cases with Ducky, but still, Tony hadn't expected Gibbs to let him go early. As he turned back to Gibbs to thank him, Tony was fixed in place by the determined stare Gibbs gave him.
"Weather's supposed to be good this weekend. Wanna go sailing again?"
Tony swallowed, then smiled.
"Steven really loved your boat. He can't stop talking about it. So… yeah. If you're ready to have the two of us on board again?"
"Always am, Tony."
Tony tried to ignore the warm flicker in his chest, but he couldn't help the smile that once again crept over his face.
"Show up early, DiNozzo."
With a nod, Tony turned and headed out.
They sailed, they played with trains, and eventually Gibbs even taught Steven to hold a sander and apply it to the Chickadee, right between Tony and Gibbs. Whenever Tony had Steven, they unavoidably made their way over to Gibbs' place at least one day of the weekend. When Gibbs took them outside into the back yard and revealed the jungle gym and swing he'd built out there, Tony's heart almost stopped.
"Gibbs… Jethro… This is amazing."
As they watched Steven happily and quietly swinging away on the jungle gym, Tony tried to hide his emotions. But when Gibbs cupped Tony's neck with his hand and quirked his lips, Tony's heart started pounding again.
"Been spending a lot of time here, Tony. I like it. Boy deserves a treat."
Then Gibbs looked at Tony as if trying to convey something important.
Tony grinned insecurely.
"A swing is not my kind of treat, Boss."
"Wasn't thinking of a swing for you, Tony."
And as Gibbs' fingers dug a little more forcefully into his neck, Tony actually blushed.
Tony answered his phone cheerfully when it rang, but paled almost immediately. Moving over to the windows, he turned his back on the big, orange room and his team and kept his voice down.
McGee and Bishop stared at him in question, but Gibbs' gut clenched. This was bad, this was very bad. He waited for Tony to finish his call and turn around, and knew what he was going to say before Tony said it. Tony threw him a look of desperation.
"Go, DiNozzo. Call me later."
The tears came several hours later, Steven safely asleep upstairs in the guest room, Tony laying down on the couch with his face buried in Gibbs' lap. All Gibbs could do was brush his hand through Tony's hair, quietly muttering.
"Shhh…. shhhh… Tony, we'll figure something out… It'll be okay… Shhh, Anthony, my boy…"
He wasn't even surprised when he ended up with Tony tightly clutching to him, hugging him to within an inch of his life, tears streaming down his face.
"They're dead, Jethro. How can they be dead? What the hell am I going to do now?"
And all Gibbs could do was hold the man equally as tightly, rubbing his hands over Tony's back, speaking softly.
"We'll figure it out, Tony. It's gonna be okay."
When Gibbs finally got Tony upstairs that night, Tony refused to let him go. In the end, Gibbs settled into bed next to Tony, letting the younger man find comfort in his embrace, trying to ignore the tears and desperation that leaked from Tony every single moment.
"Yes, my sweet boy?"
"What am I gonna do? They said… they said that… Jethro…"
"Shhhh, Tony…. Just sleep now, okay? Just sleep."
Grateful when Tony finally cried himself out and fell asleep, Gibbs held him all night.
Gibbs was a silent presence at his back when Tony sat in the lawyer's office. Tony was thankful for it, feeling Gibbs' hold him up, forcing him to keep his backbone straight. That night, he hid into Gibbs' embrace again while Steven slept peacefully in the next room.
"I'm a father now, Gibbs."
"Yes, you are."
"How the hell can I be a father? I'm hardly grown up myself."
"You're grown up, Tony. You'll be a great father."
"How can I be, when I can't even tell the truth?"
"You always tell the truth, Tony… eventually."
"Only to you, Gibbs… Jethro."
"Only when it's important."
"This is important."
"Then tell me."
"I love you."
The silence stretched for long, long moments between them. Eventually, Tony leaned up on his elbows and stared at the man who had been the most important person in his life.
"I love you, Jethro. Dan and Deb wanted me to tell you a long time ago. Things I realized… things I just knew… But… But now there's Steven. I can't… I can't risk him. He's my life now. He's gotta come first. He's everything to me."
Giving a soft smile, Gibbs pulled Tony back to him, tugging Tony's head against his shoulder.
"I know, my sweet boy. I know. Just sleep here, okay? Just sleep now."
Months passed, and Tony found a way to juggle his job and single-fatherhood. But he just couldn't forget those nights when Gibbs had been there for him. Those had been the most painful and the most treasured nights of his life. Whenever he thought of them, he couldn't help but smile and cry at the same time. Steven was doing well, and nothing was more important to him than that.
"This is Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo?"
A soft chuckle came from the other end of the line.
"Hi, Tony. It's Melanie."
Immediately, Tony's cheerful tone turned serious.
"Evertyhing okay, Melanie?"
"Yeah, no problems. It's just… I need to go to the doctor."
"Melanie? You sure everything's okay?"
"Yeah, Tony. I told you about that test I had to get a couple of days ago. The doctor's got the results and wants me to come in this afternoon. If it's a problem, I can tell him I can't come in today…"
"No! No, you should go. Can you drop Steven off here before you have to go?"
"Are you sure, Tony?"
"Of course I'm sure. Can you make it?"
"No problem. We'll be there shortly."
"Okay, thanks, Melanie."
His team was staring at him when he'd finished the call, but Tony only had eyes for Gibbs.
"Please tell me we're gonna be doing cold cases for the rest of the day, Boss?"
"Need the afternoon off, DiNozzo?"
Tony shook his head.
"No. No, I think Steven would like seeing this place. And you."
Tony was on edge until he got the call that Melanie and Steven were downstairs with Security, but finally relaxed when he got into the elevator to meet them down there. They said goodbye to Melanie, stepped onto the elevator, and waited impatiently until they reached the third floor. As soon as the elevator dinged, Steven was pulling at Tony's hand, eager to get out. When the doors opened and Steven's small, high voice sounded through the bullpen, everyone froze to watch.
"Daddy! Daddy! Is uncle Gibbs here?"
Tony tried to keep his son under control, but the little hand slipped from his, and the normally quiet and restrained Steven bolted and ran into the bullpen.
Gibbs spoke softly and gruffly, as was his way, but he couldn't help the smile that escaped him as he saw the little boy running towards him. Scooping him up into his arms, Gibbs hugged Steven tightly and breathed in the smell of the boy that always reminded him of Kelly and of Tony. Abby, Ducky and Jimmy, alerted by McGee, just like McGee himself and Bishop, just about melted when they saw Gibbs hug the little boy.
Tony smiled apologetically, but Gibbs just grinned at him.
"Nothing to be sorry about, Tony."
"Uncle Gibbs! Why don't you hug Daddy like you do when we're at home?"
Tony's cheeks colored, but Gibbs just laughed and motioned Tony towards them so he could pull him into the hug as well. Giving Tony a swift kiss on the cheek, Gibbs smiled.
"I don't know, Steven. I like hugging your Daddy."
The litle boy looked up at him seriously.
"Daddy likes that too."
Tony's blush deepened further.
"Tony and I are taking the afternoon off. Tell the Director if he asks."
And McGee, Bishop and the others stared after Gibbs, still holding the mysterious little boy in his arms, and Tony, following the two of them with a blush and a smile, as they disappeared into the elevator.
Hours later, when Steven was all played out with his trains and put to bed, Tony turned to Gibbs on the couch.
"What's going on? What did you…"
"I love you, Anthony."
For several long moments, Tony just stared at Gibbs.
"What you said… Months… Years… Tony…"
"Take me upstairs, Jethro. We'll figure it out."
And they did.