Draft


Draft: The depth of water a boat can travel over without hitting bottom.

***

Jethro Gibbs stormed out of the club, knowing that DiNozzo and Todd were close on his heels. He was furious--frustrated because they were getting farther away from solving the case. And it didn't help matters any that, yet again, he'd looked over and seen DiNozzo chatting with a pretty woman when he should have been working.

He waited until they had reached the car before he stopped and turned. He saw Kate pause, one hand on the door handle, then she moved back a half-step when she saw that he was focusing on Tony.

Tony just grinned, waiting.

“You want to tell me what that was about, DiNozzo?”

“Trying to get the description of the car the kids were driving, Boss.”

“And did you?” Jethro knew the answer--he could see it in Tony's eyes.

Sure enough, the good cheer vanished, and Tony shook his head, still half-smiling ruefully. “She couldn't remember.”

“So you thought you'd ask her to dinner just in case she remembers something later?”

There was a flash of temper, gone so quickly that Jethro knew he wasn't meant to see it. He could feel Kate tense, but ignored her. This was nothing she'd step into the middle of. “She invited me, Boss,” Tony began.

“And you accepted in order to pump her for information?” He didn't try to disguise the meaning of his words, and he smiled, not feeling at all pleased, when he saw that his words had scored their hit.

“She might remember something,” Tony said, shrugging casually. “It isn't like I was cruising her for a date.”

Hauling in the urge to reach out and slug something--the car, Tony--Jethro stepped away. “Could have fooled me,” he said, then walked around to the driver's side of the car and got in. There was a bit of shuffling on the other side, and Kate, who'd been standing by the rear door, climbed into the passenger seat beside him.

Jethro said nothing on the drive back to headquarters.

***

The wooden ribs of the boat were smooth and familiar; the smell of sawdust made him want to close his eyes and simply let himself relax. Jethro ran his hand along one rib, testing the grains for the slightest burr. There were none; he didn't expect there to be.

As the basement door opened, he glanced up and saw Tony walk down the stairs. Jethro tensed and tried to pretend he was concentrating on his boat. Tony sat down on his usual seat on the tenth step up from the floor.

For a long moment, neither of them spoke. Jethro wondered if he was even going to get the conversation he very sincerely did not want to have. He turned to go back to work, but just when his fingers touched the plane, Tony said, “We're gonna find those kids.”

Jethro didn't respond. He knew they'd find out who had killed Private Richardson. That hadn't ever been an issue. Even if it took days or even weeks longer than he wanted it to--they would find the person or people responsible.

When Tony didn't speak, Jethro finally nodded his agreement. He picked up the plane, turned it over in his hands. He wished Tony would go and leave him to his boat. Let him try to escape his thoughts by smoothing down the wood of ribs when, ironically, he could neither control nor smooth down any other part of his life.

“You didn't know this guy, did you?”

Surprised, Jethro looked up. “No. I didn't know him.”

Tony shrugged, leaning slightly away from the railing. His body language said relaxed, friendly, but his face was closed off. “I just thought,” Tony said. “You're extra focused. Like you get when it's personal.”

Jethro glared. “They're all personal,” he snapped.

“Well, when they're Marines, yeah,” Tony said, giving him a very brief smile. “But this kid was Navy. Usually you don't get all gung-ho about Navy victims.” Tony must have seen Jethro opening his mouth to argue, as he continued quickly, “I'm not saying you don't get just as pissed off. I'm just saying, it's obvious when it's… you know…” He shrugged. “…family.”

He wasn't surprised to hear Tony say it. He'd never tried to hide how he felt. You couldn't be a Marine and not feel something more when it was one of your own. He was a bit surprised to get called on it.

Even if he was a million miles away from what was really wrong.

He thought he might escape the heart-to-heart, when Tony asked, “So then, what is it?”

“What is what, DiNozzo?” He set the plane against the next rib, wanting to get back to work. He ought to simply order the other man out, but he knew the chance of being obeyed was slim. Probably 'none'.

“You're really pissy, lately.”

“Pissy?” Jethro nearly threw down the plane before stopping himself with an ingrained habit of proper treatment of one's tools. “I'm pissy?”

“Have you had any coffee in the last half hour?” Tony asked, apparently unaware of how close Jethro was to physically hauling him upstairs and throwing him out of the house. “Because I can't think of what else it might be.”

But then he stopped and looked at his boss. Tony's face was serious, and he sat very still, his gaze never faltering.

Like he knew exactly what Jethro was angry about and was only waiting to see if he would say it out loud.

Jethro turned back to the boat and said nothing. He heard Tony stand up, and for a brief moment he hoped it meant he was leaving. But instead he came down the rest of the stairs and walked up behind him. Close enough that he could almost feel him.

“Go home, DiNozzo.” But his words held no heat. He swallowed, intending to say them again and sound like he meant it.

Tony laid his hand on Jethro's back, and, despite himself, he shuddered. “You gonna tell me what's bugging you, or do I get to play Twenty Questions?”

There was no point in responding; it was obvious Tony knew. Perhaps he only thought he knew, Jethro told himself desperately. Maybe he had some or most or nearly all of the details wrong.

But it was clear that he knew enough. One tiny thing that Jethro knew he should have worked harder to hide.

He felt Tony's hand rub lightly, and closed his eyes. He needed to tell him to leave. Hell, he needed to ask him what he thought he was doing, turn around and wait for him to realise his mistake and back off, stammering an apology and making a hurried escape….

He dropped his head forward.

“You're never going to say it, are you?”

“I can't,” Jethro snapped. “It's never--”

“Going to happen, yeah,” Tony said, and his voice was so easy and forgiving that Jethro wondered, insanely, if they were really talking about the same thing. With a hint of stubbornness, he began, “It could if you'd just--”

“No!” He spun, moving away from Tony's hand. “Don't you get it? It is Never. Going. To. Happen.

He didn't have to quote rule and verse, did he? If Tony knew enough for them to be having this conversation at all, he certainly knew the reasons why the answer would always be 'no'. Not just romance between agents, not just the fact he was Tony's boss. Not just the political danger of having a homosexual relationship--the military might quote its Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, but Jethro knew that reality had nothing to do with good intentions. It only took one wrong person to figure things out, and both their careers would be destroyed.

But there were also all the personal reasons. Three failed marriages, which had nothing to do with the women he'd married, but with the man they'd each married. A string of disastrous affairs, both male and female. A sincere, honest description of himself as a bastard--any single reason good enough why the answer would always be 'no'. With all of them together… he didn't understand how Tony could be standing here, looking at him like he was only waiting for the word 'yes'.

“You should go,” He hated how broken he sounded; this would be easier if he could convince Tony, if not himself. He turned away, stared at his boat. Some things in life should be easy, he thought. Why couldn't this be one of them? “This isn't helping anything,” he said, quietly.

Perversely, Tony came closer. Jethro tensed, then froze as he stepped up, pressing against his back and wrapping one arm around his waist. A move more intimate and familiar than anything he had ever done. Jethro brought his own hand up, intending to pull the arm away.

Instead, his fingers curled tightly around Tony's wrist. Jethro didn't speak, just waited for Tony to say something. He knew that nothing that could convince him. He knew the argument they were going to have would end with Tony storming out of here, angry and frustrated and both of them acting polite and distant come morning. It would last only a few hours, then the case would distract them enough to return to what passed for normal.

But Jethro wanted desperately to avoid the fight. He wished--for the barest second, he let himself wish. He could give Tony the answer he seemed to think possible and they could... what? Go upstairs, consummate the relationship, go back to work and pretend nothing had changed? Live the rest of their lives finding moments and hours squeezed in between everything else?

“I can't--” he began, and he could barely hear himself.

He felt Tony lean his head forward, chin coming to rest on Jethro's shoulder. “It's okay,” Tony whispered. “I'll still be here when you can.”

The End