Thereâ€™s an entire population of people in Tonyâ€™s neighborhood that think heâ€™s marriedâ€”they smile indulgently when he gets one of those calls in the middle of a grocery run, while heâ€™s picking up take-out, while heâ€™s out getting his dry-cleaning. He canâ€™t even begin to imagine what kind of totally fucked up marriage theyâ€™re visualizing for him, since he always answers, â€œYeah, Boss,â€ and says, â€œOn it, Boss,â€ and â€œI swear to God that wasnâ€™t my fault, Boss.â€ Although, Tony can admit, if he substitutes a term of endearment for â€œBoss,â€ this would sound like some conversations heâ€™s overheard from his frat brothersâ€”hidden away in a corner of a bar, trying not to sound whipped.
Theyâ€™re crawling through ductwork when Kate decides to start one of her irrelevant and agonizing conversations about feelings. Tony canâ€™t decide if his knees and elbows hurt more, or the thought of talking to Kate about his childhood disappointments, that time his nanny forgot to pick him up from school.
â€œYou mean youâ€™ve never thought about it?â€ Kate presses. Her voices echoes around the metalwork.
Tony feels something sharp and unfriendly stabbing into his thigh. He doesnâ€™t get paid enough for this.
â€œNo, Kate,â€ he says through gritted teeth. â€œI have never thought about it.â€
â€œYou mean to tell meâ€”â€ she huffs, kicks something away, and it clatters as it bounces away â€œâ€”youâ€™ve never thought about how your desperate need for Gibbsâ€™ approval is sort of, I donâ€™t know.â€
Tony contorts himself enough to look over his shoulderâ€”itâ€™s a really unflattering angle for them both, he knows, so he resists the urge to say anything about how she really needs to start exfoliating more. â€œI do not have a desperate need for Gibbsâ€™ approval,â€ he retorts.
Kate grins at him, face bright with sweat beneath her bangs. They stick to her face and he sees freckles on her cheek, and Tony remembers all over again that he adores her. â€œDonâ€™t lie to yourself, Tony, admitting the problem is the first step toward solving it.â€
â€œI donâ€™t have a problem,â€ he mutters, and turns back, elbowing his way forward. He can smell the sick-sweet smell of rotting food up ahead, but none of the acrid, stomach-churning burn of decomposing flesh. There has to be a body here somewhere, and theyâ€™re running out of ventilation to check. â€œGibbs and I have a special understanding.â€
Kate snorts. â€œOkay,â€ she allows, voice dry.
Tony whips his flashlight around, points it right in her eye. â€œKate!â€
â€œTony!â€ She shields her eyes.
â€œUh, guys?â€ McGee says, voice crackling over the walkie-talkies. â€œThe cadaver dogs are going nuts over a sector about twenty yards to your leftâ€”might want to check it out.â€ In the background, they can hear Gibbs say, â€œMight?â€ and McGee stutters, â€œUhâ€”by which I mean, you should check that out immediately, as quickly as possible. Right now.â€
Tony can feel Kate rolling her eyes with him.
â€œIâ€™m just saying,â€ Kate tells him, nearly six hours later, getting her wrist bandaged while Tony gets checked for a concussion, â€œthat maybe your special understanding with Gibbs is a little more special than you think.â€
Tony points at her, head tilted back so the EMT can check his eyes. â€œYou go to hell, Kate.â€
Gibbs takes Tony back to his house, puts him to bed and leaves him a glass of water, leaves the light on low and shuts the blinds tightly, drawing the curtains. Tony used to wonder which of the ex-wives had left the house decorated in soft greens and blues and tans until he realized that Gibbs probably doesnâ€™t even know anymore.
â€œThanks, Boss,â€ Tony croaks, putting a hand on his forehead.
â€œGo to sleep, DiNozzo,â€ Gibbs tells him, and shuts the bedroom door.
In the morning, Tony wakes up sore and blurry but better, and he finds Gibbs sanding away at his boat in the basement at just past six. He watches from the steps for nearly ten minutes before Gibbs turns around and says, â€œIf youâ€™re just going to stand there, you might as well start another pot of coffee,â€ so Tony doesâ€”because he meant it when he said he and Gibbs have a special understanding: Tony understands that Gibbs takes what he wants, and gives Tony what he needs. Itâ€™s only unfortunate that the two donâ€™t intersect the way Tony wants as well.
Tony knows better than to hope that Gibbs doesnâ€™t knowâ€”but heâ€™s grateful that nobodyâ€™s made him talk about his feelings or seek counseling or find a new job or gotten punched in the mouth for being kind of a queer. Tonyâ€™s too smart to lie to himself about how he feels, but that means heâ€™s smart enough to know that whatever he feels for Gibbs probably isnâ€™t all that healthy. Tony knows better than to waste time trying to convince himself otherwise.
Thereâ€™s a not-at-all thin line between admiration and infatuation, and Tony knows where he falls on that divide. He wakes up sometimes, slick with sweat, from dreams of Gibbs and his hands and the edges of desks, the smooth sides of carsâ€”and itâ€™s always about what Gibbs wants, what Tony can give him. Because the thing is that Tony sometimes stays up nights wondering how to make Gibbs happy, how to earn a â€œgood work,â€ and even Tony knows thereâ€™s something dangerous about that.
Itâ€™s not that bad, Tony knows, in the grand scheme of things. Things will get better. Inevitably, Gibbs will marry again, some tough-as-nails redhead who will think she likes Gibbs for his â€œsecond â€˜bâ€™ is for â€˜bastardâ€™â€ and Tony will drift out of the NCIS into another government agency. There are a lot to choose from: CIA, NSA, FBIâ€”he could ask to work in the basement, check to see if Mulder and Scully are real, although every time he follows that line of thought he remembers Scully is a hot redhead and gets irrationally pissed all over again. While Tony is restocking his extensive collection of mini-Post-It notes through flagrant thievery, heâ€™s sure he and Kate and Abby will abuse the interoffice messaging systems and she will tell him all about Gibbsâ€™ fourth divorce. Because there will be a fourth divorce, just as surely as there will be a fourth marriage. Tony doesnâ€™t blame any of Gibbsâ€™ wives for leaving himâ€”he kind of knows what itâ€™s like to be married to the jackass. But just like Gibbsâ€™ marriages never last, Tony never stays. Neither of them are any good at playing for keepsâ€”not when it really matters. At least, Tony likes to console himself, heâ€™s not chased out of his jobs with baseball bats and golf clubs, left bleeding and sullen and being stitched up by Ducky in the autopsy bay at four in the afternoon on a Tuesday.
Tonyâ€™s in the corner greengrocer filling a paper sack with apples, their skin so shiny, waxy green that his mouth is watering. He buys four Granny Smiths for their bite on the tongue and three lush, round and blushing-pink Fujis. He adds to the bag two Galas, for their friendliness, and grabs one Red Delicious so it doesnâ€™t feel left out. Tonyâ€™s counting out wrinkled, cloth-soft dollar bills when his cell phone goes, and he doesnâ€™t even miss a beat before rearranging the bag and his money to press his phone to his ear. Itâ€™s Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., so he says, â€œYeah, Boss?â€ and feels something sick and warm and guilty-good coil in his stomach when the old man running the register smiles and gives him back 25 cents in change.
â€œWeâ€™ve got a dead Lieutenant Commander in aâ€”some kind of he-she bar in DuPont,â€ Gibbs barks, and rattles off a street address.
Tony pockets the quarter and waves, stepping out onto the street toward his car. Heâ€™d have ended up bringing the apples to work anyway, and they would have lived on his desk until everybody snuck one and he found himself left with the Red Delicious. Tony knows that when it happens he wonâ€™t mind.
â€œIs there parking at this tranny bar?â€ Tony asks, ducking into the driverâ€™s seat. The flower lady is giving him a raised eyebrowâ€”the same one sheâ€™d given him two months ago when Tony had been arguing loudly that he didnâ€™t know anything about wedding dresses.
â€œDiNozzoâ€”I swear to God,â€ Gibbs promises.
â€œOkay, okay,â€ Tony soothes, digs out his car keys. â€œIâ€™ll be there in half an hour.â€
â€œGood,â€ Gibbs says, and hangs up.
Tony folds his phone away, and waves weakly at the flower lady, the bakery owner whoâ€™s smirking at him through her display windowâ€”the greengrocer whoâ€™s ducked out to sweep his corner. Yeah, Tony thinks turning the ignition, while he doesnâ€™t know what kind of sick, crazy marriage theyâ€™ve imagined for him, whatever it is theyâ€™re probably at least half accurate.