It was about seven on a summer evening when Gibbs found himself headed out of the NCIS building.
The day had been a long one, but not in the typical sense. No active case meant the team had spent the day mired in the relative inactivity of paperwork—and a lot of it. The summer sun had shone brightly outside, and Gibbs had more than once thrown wadded-up scrap sheets at DiNozzo's head, suddenly feeling an appreciation for weary teachers presiding over near-vacation classrooms.
The day had dragged on and the sun had gone into hiding behind ominous clouds, and when the first rumble of thunder rolled overhead, Gibbs had told his team to scram. That had been a half-hour ago, and his agents had scattered like buckshot, obviously grateful for the rare reprieve.
As Gibbs stepped off the elevator, he was surprised to find a familiar figure standing just inside the glass front doors. Rain hammered the sidewalk outside, and as Gibbs moved closer, he could see flashes of lightning tearing the woolen sky.
So much for beating the storm, Gibbs thought, approaching a Tony so still Gibbs almost wasn't sure it was his senior field agent. But the impeccable suit resting in tailored perfection across tense shoulders was undoubtedly DiNozzo.
"You afraid you're gonna melt?"
Gibbs took no small pleasure in watching the man jump at the teasing words, but the smile dropped immediately as Tony turned and regarded him with something like pain in his eyes. The anguished expression was gone in an instant, but it struck Gibbs doubly hard because he had been expecting the opposite reaction, thanks to his rather brilliant movie reference and the early night off.
Gibbs kicked himself, knowing that in his momentary confusion he had stopped beside his agent just long enough to make it awkward to keep on going without saying anything else. Bastion of social virtue he was not, but even Leroy Jethro Gibbs disliked hurting people he cared about. And he wasn't even sure it had been his comment that had caused that faint spark of pain. And Gibbs was definitely never one to let mysteries lie.
"I've got an umbrella in my desk. I think."
Tony didn't speak. In fact, Gibbs noticed, the agent hadn't even glanced in his direction at the words. The troubled green eyes simply stared out into the evening, watching the tempest work through its tearful tantrum. Gibbs remembered Tony once talking about a baseball player who could see the seams on the ball during a pitch, and he wondered if Tony's sharp eyes could pick out the individual drops making up the torrents of rain dropping fitfully from the skies.
"I don't mind walking in the rain," Tony finally said, just as Gibbs was about to walk away.
And Gibbs figured Tony knew him well enough—and after ten years of working together he damned well should—to know Gibbs' limit on patience. So he knew that Tony had something he wanted to say before Gibbs walked away.
"Your suit might," was all Gibbs said.
"It's just a suit," Tony said, quietly.
"And it's just rain," Gibbs agreed, nodding slowly.
The anguish had returned to Tony's eyes, and Gibbs felt the same emotion taking up residence in his chest as he stared out into the downpour, fighting images of his friend dying in a similar storm so recently. Gibbs stuck his hands in his pockets, worried he might look down and see Franks' blood on them again.
The movements caught Tony's attention and he said, "You should get going, Boss. Before it gets dark out."
Gibbs gave a half-smile, unsurprised Tony could so easily read him—and had so subtly offered that kind suggestion. Gibbs almost took him up on it, not wanting the reminder that it could easily have been Tony dying in his arms that rainy night. At least Franks had passed knowing how Gibbs felt about him. If Tony had gasped his last breath wondering if Gibbs was still pissed at him about EJ…
"I used to like the rain," Gibbs said, speaking mostly to cut off those morbid thoughts.
"I've always hated it," Tony said, the vehemence in his tone taking Gibbs slightly by surprise.
Gibbs shot a sideways glance at him, thinking back to his earlier qualification that he didn't mind walking in the rain. "Kate?"
Tony still stared straight ahead, not even looking at Gibbs' reflection in the glass doors. "She continued a trend," he said after a moment, the cryptic comment hanging between them until Tony broke the silence. "Every time I put that damned black band on my badge, I think of her. We've lost others since her—Paula, Jenny, now Franks—but it's always her face that I see first."
Gibbs shifted uncomfortably, sensing from that look on Tony's face earlier that his was a deeper pain—buried like a stubborn sliver—that went beyond Franks, beyond Kate and Paula and Jenny. It wasn't the first time Gibbs had seen Tony react strongly to strong thunderstorms, but his grief-veiled mind had let that detail slip earlier when he made the teasing comment.
"Come on," Gibbs said, looking out into the storm. "I wanna show you something."
The surprise was evident on Tony's face, but Gibbs could also see him debating, weighing his need to run away and hide after such a personal confession against his boss' odd statement. He knew Tony could appreciate both wanting and not wanting to be alone after losing someone, and Gibbs appreciated the empathy even if he wasn't entirely comfortable being on the receiving end of it.
Tony nodded then, and he followed Gibbs back into the building, toward the stairs. Neither spoke as they climbed higher and higher, but Tony did shoot a questioning look at his boss when Gibbs ignored the door to the top floor and headed for the roof instead.
"You gonna throw me off?" Tony asked as they stepped out into the driving rain. "I know you're pissed about EJ, but…"
The words were cut off as Tony ran after Gibbs, wondering if his boss had lost his mind.
And then he rounded one of the giant air-conditioning units for the large building and found himself staring at what looked like a bus shelter.
"Yeah, it's a bus shelter," Gibbs said, reaching out and grabbing Tony's sleeve, hauling him inside. There was even a bench in there. Gibbs sat, ran a hand through his rain-soaked hair, and flashed a rare grin at Tony. "Story is that Mike bet a couple of hotshot Marine chopper pilots they couldn't get this thing up here and park it in this exact spot."
Tony looked up at the ceiling of the shelter, eyed the unremarkable placement of it on the roof. He laughed. "Franks just wanted them to do his heavy lifting."
Gibbs looked over, knowing there was pride in his eyes and hoping like hell Tony saw it.
"How did I not know this was up here?" Tony asked, still looking around, incredulous.
"Only us old-timers know about it," Gibbs said. "We make it a point not to tell the probies. Until they're ready."
Tony looked so genuinely delighted that Gibbs wondered if anyone had ever "given" him anything so special. It reminded Gibbs of the first Christmas that Tony had worked at NCIS, when Gibbs had dropped the slim, flat gift box on the kid's desk. Tony still carried that knife—and Gibbs still carried the memory of Tony's almost shy smile that night upon receiving the unexpected gift. Gibbs no longer had the bottle of bourbon Tony had given him that night. But that was okay—he was pretty sure they had finished it off together.
"I'm honored, Gibbs," Tony said sincerely. But then his eyes went wide and he asked, "You're not retiring again, are you?"
Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Nope. You're gonna have to put up with me for a while longer." He heard Tony breathe a huge sigh of relief at that, but he couldn't help adding, "Unless you change your mind about Rota."
Tony was still shaking his head when Gibbs got up the courage to look over at him.
"I meant what I said the other day," Tony said. "I don't want to leave a good thing."
Gibbs studied Tony's face for a moment before asking, "That mean you don't regret not taking Rota all those years back?"
Tony just stared at him for a moment before turning his eyes back out to the storm raging around them. "I like it up here, Boss. I do," Tony said, but Gibbs got the feeling watching the storm still had him unsettled for reasons unknown. "But I think this is more a conversation for your basement. Or at least, we should've raided Ducky's scotch for this."
Gibbs reached under the bench, pulled out a paper bag and set it on the seat between them. Tony heard the telltale clinking of glass inside and he smiled all the way through pouring the drinks.
Tony held up his glass. "To Mike Franks, genius."
Gibbs tapped his glass to Tony's. "And friend."
Tony nodded and downed half the drink in one gulp. "So how did you know?" he asked, not sounding like he really wanted to know the answer. "About Rota?"
Gibbs smiled at the memory, even though it was of another lost friend. "Jenny left a file on her desk one day. Made a point of telling me what was in it wasn't any of my business. Then she left the room."
Gibbs couldn't find any emotion in that one word so he turned and watched Tony's face. "She had her moments."
Tony must have felt the probing gaze because he sighed and said, "I asked her to keep that between us."
Gibbs looked down at the drink in his hand and then back out at the storm. "Not much use being mad at a dead woman."
Looking surprised by that, Tony said, "I'm not mad." He sipped slowly. "Maybe a little surprised you never mentioned it."
Gibbs sat back against the bench, his eyes still on the lightning in the distance. "Almost said something plenty of times." He paused, hearing the unspoken question. "Was afraid I'd wring your damned neck for making such a bonehead decision."
He saw Tony flinch and knew he'd screwed up even before hearing Tony's subtly wounded tone.
"You would have wanted me to go?"
"You should have taken the promotion," Gibbs said firmly, pretending not to see Tony's shoulders slump. "And you would have. If you had been thinking about your career."
Tony glanced at the nearly full bottle between them. "Got any more bags under there?" he joked. He smiled a little at Gibbs' half-power glare and answered the unspoken question. "I was thinking about my career. I told EJ it was like playing for the varsity team, and I meant that. I think I still have a lot to learn from you." The honest, heartfelt statement had Tony's cheeks going pink. He grumbled, self-depreciatively, "You're the Jim Tressel to my Troy Smith."
Gibbs smiled at Tony's reference to the Ohio State football program, but he could feel his friend's tension so he joked back, "Before or after Tressel got canned for rules violations?"
Tony grinned, his tense shoulders loosening. "Technically, he retired. And I'd say it's more like while he was breaking the rules—but before he got caught." The connection of the statement to his own situation suddenly registered, and Tony winced. "Speaking of breaking rules… and EJ… Did you always know she was SecNav's niece?"
Gibbs gave him a look.
"Of course you did," Tony said softly, looking out into the rain. The tension was back in his posture. There were puddles forming on the rooftop, and it didn't seem like the downpour was going to let up anytime soon. "That's why you told me sleeping with her was a bad idea."
There was no response to that, but Tony knew Gibbs well enough to read his silence. Gibbs waited until Tony realized that it was a guilty silence, though, and he was about to speak when soft words cut him off.
Gibbs looked over at Tony with a raised eyebrow.
"I get it, really I do," Tony said, sounding tired. "If I'd been following Rule 12, I wouldn't have put you in that awkward position."
Gibbs shrugged. It was over and done with now. "You break it off with her?" Gibbs asked before he could stop himself. Who Tony dated really wasn't any of his business, especially now that EJ was no longer an agent working just across the divider.
Tony frowned hard, but he didn't seem to be angry. "It's…" He shook his head.
"Complicated?" Gibbs offered, feeling extremely relieved he hadn't pissed Tony off with the question. He suddenly got an unpleasant glimpse of what Tony must have felt like, walking down those basement stairs and wondering if his boss, his mentor, his friend was angry with him. Gibbs smiled faintly; Tony had always had a hell of a lot of guts. The kid hadn't backed down when he had been a young Baltimore detective dealing with a seasoned federal agent, and the man beside him now apparently still didn't know the meaning of "quit."
"Confusing," Tony said, honestly. "We left it kind of hanging, and I haven't heard from her in a while. I don't really know what's going on."
Gibbs glanced at the drink in Tony's hand, the way his agent was staring into it with troubled eyes, and he felt a pang of sympathy because he was still thinking of their basement conversation and how Tony had talked about EJ being easy to be with. And Gibbs knew exactly how nice it was to have someone to talk to after the long days and sometimes heartbreaking nights that came with their job.
He sipped his own drink, realizing what a bastard he'd been for making Tony feel guilty over one of the few good relationships in his life. Tony had come to him seeking his blessing, and Gibbs had given him a lecture instead. He felt pride swirl in with his guilt, though, as he remembered how Tony had stood up to him that night over his right to a personal life, even after he must have realized no blessing was forthcoming.
Gibbs didn't spend too much time thinking about why he had withheld it—mostly because that would involve admitting to being afraid EJ would somehow lure Tony away from his team. But still he felt guilty, knowing from the way Tony was chewing on his lower lip that he missed EJ's calming presence. And she certainly was just that, Gibbs noted, because he had noticed that Tony had been shedding his silly personas lately in favor of letting show the competent, capable investigator he had always been.
Gibbs had known for a while now that Tony needed someone he could settle down with and be himself around, and he was left wondering why he had been so blind and stubborn when that person finally came along.
But Gibbs said none of this to Tony, who was back to staring at the storm with unsettled eyes.
"You gonna try to work it out?"
Tony looked surprised by that, and Gibbs didn't blame him, considering they talked about relationships about as much as Abby talked about country music.
"Will you be pissed at me if I say yes?"
Gibbs blamed the alcohol for the fact that he could hear the anxiety in Tony's quiet question, and he felt another twist on the knife known as guilt. "I never should have said no in the first place."
It wasn't an apology—but it was the best Gibbs could do.
"Thank you," Tony said, only slightly stiffly with the formality of it.
They drank in silence for a long while, the tension draining away as they drained their glasses. It was starting to get late, the darkening night sky making a dramatic backdrop for the storm still raging as if it had no plans to ever stop. One jagged jolt of lightning struck nearby, its sizzling tip reaching down as if to dip into the Anacostia, and Gibbs felt himself jump just the tiniest bit as he was reminded again of the storm that had raged on the last night of Mike Franks' life.
"You talked to your dad lately?"
Tony's question pulled Gibbs out of his melancholy thoughts and brought a small smile to his face. "Yeah. He just hired some kid with a freshly printed MBA," Gibbs said, shaking his head, "to be a stock boy."
"Gotta love this economy," Tony said.
Gibbs nodded in agreement. "Kid's been driving my dad nuts talking about price models and marketing strategies and expansion plans. But Dad seems to like him because he doesn't seem to mind listening to all his good ol' days yarns." He smiled, thinking about how nice it was to be keeping in contact with his dad again. "You heard from your father since he got done playing James Bond with us?"
Gibbs kicked himself before even finishing the question. Tony's face went blank as he looked out into the rain, but Gibbs could see the haunted air had returned to his entire being. It was in his posture, his eyes, his voice.
"You know the first date my parents ever went on was to see a James Bond movie?" Tony's eyes were still pained, but he was doing his damnedest to fake a smile. "It was 1963 and they saw 'From Russia With Love.' I don't think my mother quite knew what she was getting into. She loved movies, but she was more a fan of love stories. And horror films, too, oddly. She used to let me stay up with her when he was away on business, and we'd watch scary movies until dawn."
Gibbs inferred the answer to his question from the fact that Tony would rather talk about his dead mother than his living father. Tony's pain was understandable. Gibbs was pretty sure his agent had long ago put to rest his hope for a normal relationship with his father, patching over old wounds with the simple knowledge that some things were just not meant to be. Having those scabs ripped off during his father's recent appearances had to have hurt—but not nearly as much as realizing those things still were not meant to be.
"Sounds fun," Gibbs said. He waited for a response and got nothing, so he added, "Explains your movie addiction."
He flicked a sidelong glance at Tony and saw that he looked even more upset than when asked about his father. Gibbs suddenly realized he had no idea how the woman had died—or how she had lived. He could remember only a few times that Tony had spoken of her, and none was a particularly flattering mention. He realized he had always pictured her as a drunk, and a controlling one at that, and it surprised him how much it warmed him to know that Tony might have had one decent parent. If only for a while.
"What was she like?" he asked, hoping Tony would share more happy memories that would erase the sadness from his eyes. Gibbs, still thinking of Mike, had been soothing himself with memories of his mentor's humorous side, and he hoped the technique might work for Tony, too.
Tony looked out at the storm, emotions flashing through his eyes like the lightning overhead. "She was … fun. A real free spirit. Kind of a hippie—well, as much of one as my father or her very proper English family would let her be." Tony paused, smiled a little. But it faltered quickly.
And Gibbs saw it, even in the darkness descending over them. He shrugged off images of Mike's face that night—so pale in death under the streetlights—and said, "But?"
Tony looked over at him, and Gibbs tried to focus completely on the current conversation. It was hard. But then he remembered Tony's earlier words—"She continued a trend"—and he suddenly knew who had started that trend of bad things being associated with rain. Gibbs was about to suggest they go inside—away from the storm that was bothering them both, really—when Tony started speaking again.
"She had problems," he said, his tone determined.
Gibbs wanted to tell him he didn't have to say anything, but Tony continued on, not giving his boss a chance to speak.
"She probably would have been diagnosed as bipolar—but neither DiNozzos nor Paddingtons went to psychiatrists. Her family would never even admit she was sick, but they knew. My father knew, too, but his answer was to 'medicate' her with alcohol and expensive things and swanky parties. I always knew something was wrong with her, but I didn't always understand it. We had this gazebo in the backyard, and she always loved the rain." Tony paused, watching the slowing drops drip from the wrung-out sky. He glanced at Gibbs, as if to make sure he was still listening.
Gibbs, who was listening intently, all images of Mike banished to their darkened corner, saw the look and wondered how Tony could believe he could be thinking about anything else other than the pained words.
Tony nodded, as though relieved, and went on. "She would stay in bed for weeks, it seemed, during her down phases, but at the first rumble of thunder, she would be out in that gazebo, waiting for the storm. Downpours always made her happy, and it was like the lightning would bring the sparkle back to her eyes. I always went and watched with her, and sometimes we would talk. Or just sit and watch the storm." He smiled faintly, but his eyes were still full of pain. "One time she even brought out a bag of popcorn and tried to teach me to use chopsticks with it."
"She shoulda tried harder," Gibbs said, thinking more about Tony's debacles with the utensils than how his words might have sounded.
But Tony's smile grew slightly. "Nah, she knew a lost cause when she saw one." The smile slipped and then fell completely as he stared silently at the puddles on the rooftop. He snuck a glance at Gibbs and then looked quickly back at the standing water, now reflecting a pale half-moon as the skies began to clear.
But just because the rain had stopped didn't mean the storm was over, Gibbs realized, sensing there was more Tony wanted to say. Gibbs told himself it was more that gut feeling than curiosity that made him ask the question.
"How did she die, Tony?"
Gibbs saw the question was not unexpected and it made him feel less guilty about using Tony's painful past to help him stop thinking about Mike after this oh-so similar storm.
Tony heaved a heavy sigh and said, "Drowned."
He clammed up after that, but they both knew that short answer wasn't going to fly.
Gibbs waited him out, his investigator's mind turning over and over the few facts he knew. He added in everything he knew about Tony, and it only made his mind spin faster.
Finally, Tony closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and began talking again. "We were at the vacation house in the Hamptons one summer, right after my eighth birthday. I think it was her family's property, because every time my father called it his house, she would give him this funny little look."
Gibbs nodded, unsurprised a young Tony had been that perceptive, even at eight years old.
"It was hot as hell out, and we must have spent entire days either in the pool or in the ocean, swimming, splashing each other, just trying not to melt in the heat. She was a really amazing swimmer; she had even won a national championship during college. She kept trying to correct my form, but I would get bored with it and purposely sink to bottom of the pool, or ride the waves to the shore. And she would pretend to be mad at me and whack me on the head with a kickboard or something." Tony glanced sideways. "You would have liked her, Boss."
Gibbs gave him a mock-glare, but his mind was busy trying to figure out how a champion swimmer ending up dying in a drowning accident.
And then he realized it might not have been an accident.
"And then we would start all over," Tony said, drawing a slow breath. "Some days we would go into town for ice cream, or a movie, or for people-watching. But mostly we stayed in the water."
Gibbs could hear the hesitation and he knew Tony was stalling. He decided to help him out with that.
"Where was your father?"
Tony shrugged. "He would go play golf with his buddies, or have lunches with clients—though now I wonder if that's what they really were. Or he would go meet his mistress at her house up the road." He stopped, rubbed a hand over his face, and sipped his drink. "I only knew because I heard them arguing about it. The night that she died. From what I could hear, she had just found out about it. I don't know what proof she had, but once she made up her mind about something, there was no changing it."
Gibbs realized he wasn't the only one thinking like an investigator, and he couldn't help wondering if DiNozzo Senior had had a hand in his wife's death. Gibbs nearly shuddered at the thought, wondering too how Tony could stand to be around the man if he thought—or even suspected—that his mother's death hadn't been accidental.
"He didn't kill her." Tony was looking at him with just the tiniest glint in his eyes. But then he turned his gaze back to his drink, stared at the nearly empty glass for a moment, and continued, frowning at the bottle as Gibbs refilled the glass. "He left the house in a huff and was on a plane to Miami when … when it happened."
Gibbs capped the bottle, leaving his own glass empty, and used it to tap the bottom of Tony's glass, pushing his hand toward his face.
Tony took the hint and drank, his hand trembling ever so slightly as he lowered the glass. "We watched a storm from the deck that night, watched the lightning flash over the ocean, heard the thunder so close it rattled the windows behind us. The rain was so warm it was like taking a shower with clothes on. She cried through the whole thing. And I didn't know what to do, or what to say." He let out a pent-up breath, staring out into the darkness with eyes awash in anguish. "And then it was over. She wiped her eyes, got up, and told me it was bedtime. It wasn't late, but I just did what I was told, because I didn't want to upset her any more. She tucked me into bed, and when I woke up the next morning, she was gone."
Gibbs thought about that—the many contexts of the word "gone." He felt an odd little spark of hope, wondering if maybe she had just taken off, and he decided he would move mountains to find her, if that was what had happened.
"They found her body the next morning," Tony said, wincing. His eyes snapped open the second he tried to close them, and Gibbs felt sick, hoping like hell that the boy—that Tony—hadn't been the one to find his mother's lifeless body. "I got up early and went looking around the house for her. She liked to run on the beach sometimes before it got too hot, but she usually left a note for me if my father wasn't there. But I knew she was upset so I just went outside, hoping I'd be able to see her from the deck."
Tony stopped, shaking his head. "As soon as I saw the flashing lights, I knew. I just knew. I took off running down the beach, hoping like hell it wasn't her." He drew a shaky breath and downed the last of his drink. "It was her. Her long hair had gotten caught in the pier as her body washed ashore, and the tide had thrown her against the mooring, smashing half her face in. I screamed so loud one of the cops drew his gun on me. But then someone else—another cop—took me back to the house and waited with me until my father got back. It wasn't until later in life that I realized that cop spent almost twelve hours with me, and probably saved me a trip to child services. I wish I knew his name. I only remember he told me to call him 'Skip' and that he was terrible at Battleship."
Tony tried to smile but his mouth wouldn't quite cooperate. "I know," he said. "He probably let me win. It was obvious he had no idea what to do with me, but I was glad he stayed."
Gibbs nodded, figuring he had at least a partial answer as to why Tony had become a cop. But a bigger question still loomed and Gibbs was quite honestly unwilling to ask it. Fortunately, he had taught his agent to anticipate.
"I wish I could say I don't know for sure," Tony said, wearily rubbing at his eyes.
His fingers came away dry, but still Gibbs found himself wanting to take him home and let him get some sleep. Gibbs glanced down at the empty glasses between them and ignored them both. Hauling a drunken Tony up his basement stairs was one thing, dragging him down through NCIS headquarters would be a bit trickier.
So Gibbs just nodded in agreement. "The timing?" he ventured.
Tony nodded. "And the way she cried through the storm, like she knew she'd never see one again. The way she tucked me in and …"
His heart twisting in sympathy, Gibbs finished, quietly, "Told you she loved you."
Tony nodded, looking away. "And the 'no matter what' she added to the end of that." He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "I thought she meant no matter what happened between her and my father. Guess I was wrong."
"I don't need to tell you it wasn't your fault," Gibbs said, allowing some bite into his tone.
"No," Tony said, but Gibbs doubted it had been that simple for him to shrug off the heavy weight of guilt—if he had ever managed it. "And I wasn't the only one who should have known she was capable of it. My father, her family… And I remember overhearing her on the phone with a friend, saying she just wanted to walk east until the ocean was over her head and I don't have to think anymore."
Hearing the pronoun shift in that, Gibbs suddenly realized that he needed to pay closer attention to Tony, especially his quicksilver shifts in mood. Ducky could probably cite exact numbers, but even Gibbs knew that children with a parent who committed suicide were more likely to die that way themselves. Gibbs didn't think Tony would harm himself, but he wasn't willing to bet Tony's life on that. He made a mental note to have a chat with Ducky—a hypothetical one, of course.
Gibbs glanced over and realized Tony was done talking. And that was fine—he had already said much more on the painful subject than Gibbs would ever have imagined. He wanted to say something comforting, but "I'm sorry for your loss" sounded too much like the impersonal apologies he offered to victims' families. So instead, he reached over and gave Tony a squeeze on the shoulder.
Tony found a small smile for him, and for several long moments, they just sat in companionable silence.
With a glance at his watch, Tony was the one to break that silence. But first, he snuck a quick glance at Gibbs, his eyes appraising before sliding away to study the now-clear sky. "Hope it doesn't rain tomorrow," he said softly.
It took Gibbs a moment to figure out why, and he realized he hadn't thought about Mike for a while now. Funny, considering he had planned on getting rip-roaring drunk tonight to keep the pain at bay on this night before his mentor's funeral.
"Mike wouldn't mind," Gibbs said, feeling the ache return to his chest. He was no stranger to grief, but it never ceased to amaze him that losing someone could cause such physical pain.
Tony simply nodded, and Gibbs suddenly realized how quiet it was up on the roof without the pounding rain jackhammering the top of the shelter.
It was silent as a grave.
"Or maybe he would," Gibbs said, mostly to fill the silence. It felt odd that the task should fall to him and not gregarious Tony, but the younger agent wasn't filling the void this time. "He said he always liked rain up until he went to 'Nam and found himself up to his ass in it during monsoon season."
Gibbs waited for a movie reference, waited for Tony to neatly change the subject and steer them away from talking about death.
But Tony just sat quietly, almost as though waiting.
"I made the mistake of complaining about the weather once, processing a scene in a downpour," Gibbs said. He wasn't much for storytelling, but on this night, considering what was to come in the morning, it somehow seemed right. And considering the amount of words—the painful story—Tony had just shared with him, it seemed only fair. "So there I am, trying to bag evidence before it floats away, and I said something about the rain. Mike looks over at me—from where he's sitting bone-dry in the back of the truck—and starts telling me all these stories about the war. He went on and on about the rice paddies, the monsoons, gave me a rather graphic description of jungle rot—the cure for which, so he said, was the jungle juice brewed up by the locals. So finally, after he'd about talked himself blind, he gets out of the truck and walks over to me, and opens an umbrella over my head. I was soaked, tired—you think I run my team into the ground, well, you shoulda worked with him—so I stood up and gave him a piece of my mind. Cussed him out good."
Tony cocked his head, his expression confused.
Gibbs grinned. "It had stopped raining about three Vietnamese hooker stories before that," he said, chuckling lightly. "So I finish yelling at him, and I can't help but ask why the umbrella. He looks at me like I'm something he pulled off the bottom of his boot, and he says, 'Hell, Probie, the way you was complainin' about the rain, I thought maybe that bright hot sun might make you melt.' "
They both grinned, but while the memory was a fond one, Gibbs still felt a stab of pain, knowing Mike was no longer around to harass him. He reached for the bottle again, the sudden overwhelming sorrow nearly choking him.
"Hey," Tony said, his expression thoughtful as he nodded his thanks for the refilled glass Gibbs all but shoved at him. "How come you never called me 'Probie'?"
Gibbs found himself half-smiling—whether from the mock-wounded tone of Tony's question or simply from the change in subject, he wasn't sure—and he thought about it for a moment before answering, "You had previous law enforcement experience when you came to NCIS."
Tony gave him a look, and Gibbs recognized it as the same one his agent had given him after his "retirement" whenever he called Tony "McGee," or called Ziva "Kate."
"Uh, Gibbs, you were an MP before you started working here with Franks," Tony said, sounding slightly concerned.
Gibbs smiled, feeling rather grateful that he wasn't reliving the memories alone tonight. "Which is why I always found it so damned annoying that Mike called me that."
Tony laughed, lifting his glass and clinking it softly against Gibbs'. "To Mike."
After sipping from the glass, Gibbs looked over at Tony with a raised eyebrow. "Cheers to Mike for…?"
"Unapologetically annoying you," Tony replied, still smiling. "I admired his style. I mean, most people—and all things technological—tend to annoy you, but I feel like he and I were the only ones to elevate it to an art."
Gibbs thought about that for a moment. "Shut up, DiNozzo," he said, but he was fighting a smile. Tony was right: Mike had always known how to get under his skin, knew all the right buttons to push. And during and after tough cases, Mike had never had a problem using that knowledge to push until Gibbs pushed back, often inciting the explosion so his probie wouldn't take the frustration and heartache home with him. "Hell, I'm gonna miss him," he said, the words riding out on a heavy exhalation.
Gibbs winced, realizing he'd spoken out loud, and he found Tony watching him with sad eyes.
"You two get a chance to talk while he was here?" Tony asked.
"Yeah," Gibbs said, staring down into his drink and thinking about that last conversation in his basement. He could feel Tony watching him and Gibbs was glad he wasn't pushing for details. He didn't want to think about that conversation in detail because then he would have to remember how Mike had seemed so ready to die. Gibbs knew about the lung cancer, but knowing his friend was dying didn't make his death any easier. Suddenly, Gibbs remembered Mike's joke about naked women, and he smiled despite the pain. "I got to laugh with him. One last time."
Tony matched the smile and took a sip of his drink. "Have to hold on to the good times."
"Amen," Gibbs murmured, his thoughts on the funeral in the morning. And then he realized it wasn't the only upcoming burial. "You going to Levin's service on Friday?"
Tony took a slow breath and released it in a rush. "He was an NCIS agent."
Gibbs shot him a glance. "That's not an answer."
"I know," Tony said, chewing on his lip again. "And I know I should go. And I will. I'm just…"
"Worried about running into EJ?" Gibbs finished for him.
Tony frowned hard, looking angry with himself. "It sounds so petty. I should be worried about paying my respects to him, not about what I'll say if I see her."
Gibbs shrugged. "Relationships are complicated enough without throwing funerals in the middle of 'em."
"That's just it—things were never complicated between us. That's what I liked about it." Tony stopped. Shook his head. "Sorry, Boss. I'll shut up about her," he said, his tone sad and defeated in a way Gibbs rarely heard it.
Gibbs glanced over at him, realizing all over again how much Tony missed his girl. "You should call her," he said.
Tony blinked, as if coming out of a long sleep. His eyes were wary, and Gibbs wondered if he even remembered his attempt at an apology earlier.
"I want you to be happy, Tony," he said, downing the rest of his drink. He almost rolled his eyes at the sappy sentiment, but the coming funerals served as vivid reminders that life was too short to hold back such necessary words. He shoved the rest of those words out in a hurry, before he could swallow them. "Hope I didn't do anything to make you think otherwise."
When Gibbs finally looked over, Tony was finishing off the last drops of his own drink.
"I know," he said softly.
It wasn't the most convincing line Tony had ever delivered—and Gibbs had heard a lot of lines over the years—but Gibbs wasn't about to push it. He had said his piece, and it was another matter entirely whether Tony believed him or not. Gibbs hoped he did. But he wasn't entirely sure. They had worked together for a decade, but Tony had spent a lifetime crafting his masks.
"Well, crap," Tony said a moment later, putting a hand to his head and squinting out of the bus shelter into the freshly scrubbed night sky. "Do any actual buses come by here?"
Gibbs smiled, realizing Tony was good and drunk.
"We'll get you home, Tony."
Tony turned to him with guilty eyes. "Screwed up again, Boss."
Gibbs had no idea what Tony was talking about so he just kept quiet.
"I was supposed to be driving your drunk ass home tonight."
It took a moment for Gibbs to understand, and he felt a little dumb when he did, realizing Tony had been waiting for him by those doors earlier. The clever little bastard must have read Gibbs' unease with the impending storm earlier and then used it to get Gibbs talking about Franks. Gibbs wasn't sure talking about his mother's death had been part of Tony's plan, but it was entirely possible. Tony knew him well enough to know there was no better way to distract him than with a mystery.
That he had been so willing to dredge those painful memories—for Gibbs' benefit—left him feeling immensely grateful he had a friend like Tony.
"It's probably for the best," Gibbs said, standing alongside a slightly unsteady Tony. Gibbs knew the extra travel time to Tony's apartment before heading home would be time he wouldn't spend alone, drinking too much in his basement. "Mike woulda been pissed if I'd shown up at his funeral late and hungover."