- Character Bashing
- Canon Divergent
Tony stood, beer in hand, watching as the kids chased a soccer ball around the grassy area they’d chosen for their picnic. Tali was in the middle of the group, mixing it up with kids nearly twice her size and—he wasn’t being modest at all—holding her own.
He’d been surprised by the invitation to the annual JAG 4th of July picnic, but he shouldn’t have been. Luke had told him that AJ and Francesca were routinely invited, and they all tried to attend if Luke wasn’t on deployment. Tony hadn’t figured that the invitation would extend to him, but he hadn’t even considered saying no.
There were many familiar faces from his time with NCIS, and he’d already had conversations with key JAG personnel, including General Cresswell, who was retiring and had arranged to have Commander Rabb recalled as the next JAG.
Tony and Harm had always gotten along well, despite a bit of a rocky beginning. They’d talked about increasing the level of cooperation between their two offices, as well as leveraging skills and personnel to make their jobs easier. Tony hadn’t expected to be networking at a JAG barbeque, but he’d take it.
Besides, Harm’s kids were great, though he suspected that Mac had something to do with that.
Tony glanced over to find Gibbs standing beside him, his own half-finished beer dangling from his fingers, watching the kids go at it. He hadn’t been surprised that Gibbs had been invited, more that the man had actually agreed to attend. He thought maybe Meg and AJ had cajoled him out of his basement, but he was’t going to ask.
“Yeah, I’m good,” Tony said. “Why?”
“You’re just standing here, not being social,” Gibbs said. “Thought I’d check.”
“Ah,” Tony said. “I think I’m all socialed out for a bit. Seems like I’m the belle of the ball today.”
Gibbs snorted. “Almost as popular as your daughter.”
“And wasn’t that a shock?” Tony asked. “Who knew my daughter was going to turn into the ultimate social butterfly?”
“Everyone who knows her,” Luke said as he joined them. “She’s a bossy little thing, that’s for sure.”
“She gets that from her mother,” Tony said darkly.
“But she’s so sweet while she’s doing it that you think it was your idea,” Luke said.
“That’s all her father,” Gibbs said. “He could talk a fox out of his fur coat in the interrogation room.”
“I have no doubt,” Luke said.
“It’s a shame he never wanted to be a lawyer,” AJ said as he stepped up beside Luke. “I could have used someone with his skills in the courtroom.”
“Ugh,” Tony said. “Never had the patience for law school. Too many people bullshitting in one room gives me hives.”
All three men laughed out loud.
“Plus, I like puzzles,” Tony said, turning more serious. “I like figuring out a case. I don’t want someone handing me the answers, so all that’s left is arguing the right or wrong of it.”
“I’m sure you’re aware, since you ran across them often enough in the field, but my people were never satisfied with the answers anyone fed them,” AJ said.
“Oh, we’re aware,” Gibbs said. “Gives me the red-ass every time I think of it.”
Tony laughed. “There isn’t much that doesn’t, Boss.”
“True,” Gibbs said with a sly smile.
“I guess we’ve all got things we’re supremely good at,” Luke said. “I’d make a lousy lawyer. I got no patience for hours of research and blah, blah, blah all the time.”
It was AJ’s turn to snort. “I think we all know this about you. If it moves, shoot it. If it doesn’t, paint it green.”
“Yeah, well, you used to be me,” Luke said. “I still can’t believe you became a lawyer after your tours with the SEALs were done.”
“There’s a war of a different kind in the courtroom,” AJ said. “Battles fought and won based on research and your own cunning. Nothing like winning, no matter the battlefield.”
“Amen to that,” Tony said.
They lapsed into silence as they watched the wives corral the kids to the picnic tables and get them organized for lunch. Tony noticed that Ellie was right there in the thick of things, helping serve the kids and making sure they had whatever they needed. It made him smile fondly to see her taking such an active role with the kids. With Tali, most of all.
The three women in his life were thick as thieves most days. Ellie was frequently at his house, and there wasn’t a day that went by where he didn’t feel just a little spike of pride when he found her huddled with Meg over the stove, concocting some culinary experiment, or sitting with Tali coloring Disney Princesses. She’d very quickly found a place in his heart, right beside Tali and Meg, and he knew he didn’t want to be parted from her for anything.
But he wasn’t in a rush. Their relationship was moving at a snail’s pace by all outside measures, but they’d both been hurt in the past, so neither of them were willing to rush. Ellie was it for Tony, though, so when he thought she was ready, he’d be making his move. He even had a ring picked out.
Not that anyone knew that, but he figured they suspected. Most of the people he knew were investigators; there was no way they didn’t have at least some idea.
“Come on,” Luke said, slapping the back of his hand on Tony’s chest. “Let’s get in there and get some food before the kids eat it all.”
“They’re not gonna eat it all,” Gibbs pointed out.
“There are teenagers in there,” AJ said. “Of course, they’re going to eat it all.”
Tony chuckled, but dutifully followed the other men over to the food table. He caught Ellie’s eye as he served himself; she winked at him just as Meg wrapped an arm around her and bullied her over to the food table for her own dinner.
It was just a few hours to sunset, and then just a little while later they’d be treated to fireworks over the Capitol. Tony was looking forward to it. He, Tali and Meg hadn’t done much the year before. Meg had made them a nice brisket for dinner, and of course, apple pie for dessert. They’d watched fireworks on TV and gone to bed. This year was shaping up to be much more fun.
Hours later, Tony found himself stretched out on a blanket, looking up at a darkening sky, anticipating the fireworks as the cap to a great day. They’d eaten too much, probably drank more beer than strictly necessary, and had talked and laughed until they were blue in the face.
It had been the best day Tony could remember ever spending.
“What are you thinking about?” Ellie asked, glancing behind her to catch his eye.
Tony sat up and pulled her close, pressing a kiss to the back of her head as she leaned back against him.
“Just thinking about today,” he said quietly. There were JAG families all around them, but most were fussing with their own blankets and chairs, getting ready for the fireworks show, so he figured no one was really paying attention. “This has been—more fun than I thought it would be.”
“It has been a good day, hasn’t it?” she said. “I guess I hadn’t really met many of the JAG team before today. Is that odd?”
“Probably,” Tony said. “I was talking to Cresswell earlier, about working more closely together. Our two offices should be tighter than we are.”
“Why do you think we’re not?”
“Some of it has to do with past leadership at NCIS,” Tony said. “Director Shepard was… less than cooperative with any other Federal agency, no matter who they were. And Vance has just extended those policies. Some of it was Gibbs’ unwillingness to cooperate with anyone, whether it was another agency or LEOs.”
“His reputation on that score seems to precede him everywhere we go,” Ellie said. “Sometimes it’s…”
“Sometime it stymies your investigation,” Tony said. “I know. I had the same problem when I was on Gibbs’ team. I’ve lectured him about playing nice with others, but honestly, it was always my job as SFA to smooth over any issues we encountered.”
“Which is now Tim’s job,” Ellie said.
“And how is he doing with that?” Tony asked, though already knew. He just wanted to hear Ellie’s perspective.
“Not bad,” Ellie said. “He’s at least more diplomatic than Gibbs is.”
Tony chuckled. “True. Gibbs can be a bit of a bull in a china shop. Whoever comes after Tim is going to have to learn that skill, too.”
Ellie turned and looked at him, one eyebrow raised. “Either you’re hinting that Gibbs is going to retire and leave Tim in charge of the MCRT, or you’re hinting that Tim will be getting his own team. Either way, that puts me in line to be SFA. Do you really think I can do it?”
“I think you can do whatever you put your mind to,” Tony said, squeezing her gently. “But I won’t be the one making that call. I have no idea if or when Gibbs will retire, but I do know Vance will expect Tim to step up sooner rather than later. He was angry with me that I waited so long; that’s why he practically forced the SAC job on me. Said I was way past due for it.”
“Well, you were,” Ellie said. “But I’m not sure I’m ready for SFA.”
“You’re not,” Tony said. “At least, not today. But if you want to be SFA one day, you should start looking through the training materials online. And pester Tim to loop you in on some of the paperwork involved. It’ll be good for you to get a preview of what the SFA does.”
“Hmmm,” Ellie said. “Maybe. We’ll see.”
“I’m not pushing you,” Tony said. “I’ve got orders from Vance to be hands-off when it comes to the MCRT. I’m just giving you some advice, a former SFA to a future SFA.”
“You’re not just saying that because—”
Tony waited, but she didn’t finish the thought. “…because you’re my girlfriend? No, I’m not. I saw potential in you long before I saw you as anything more than a teammate. But since I have a serious conflict of interest, I’m not going to get involved in the actual process. If you want advice, I’m happy to give it, but this is ultimately up to you.”
“Thanks, Tony,” she said. “I’ll think about it.”
“That’s all I ask,” Tony said.
He pressed a kiss to her temple, drawing a smile out of her. Tali bounced over to them at that exact moment, dropping down on their blanket, right between Ellie and him. She beamed up at them both, and he could feel her practically vibrating out of her skin.
“Will the fireworks be coming soon?” she asked.
Tony glanced at the sky, then at his watch. The sun had mostly set, and it was nearing nine o’clock. According to the website, the first volley was set for 9:30.
“Soon, sweetie,” Ellie said before Tony could. “The sun has to go down, or else we won’t be able to see the fireworks.”
Tali sighed. “It’s so long.”
Tony chuckled. “It’ll be worth the wait, Tali-girl. I promise. Where are your cousins?”
“They went to the bathroom,” Tali said. “I already went, so Aunt Chessa said I could stay here.”
Tony leaned over and pressed a kiss to her head. “You warm enough, kiddo?”
“Can I have my sweatshirt?” she asked. “And maybe my sweatpants too?”
“Of course,” Ellie said. She reached into the bag behind them and pulled out Tali’s clothes, then helped her into them. “You want a blanket, too, or do you think you’ll be warm enough?”
“I’m okay,” Tali said. “Can I go sit with Livvie?”
Tony glanced over to see Luke and Francesca settling in with the kids on their blanket. “You guys okay with her crashing your blanket?”
“Send her over,” Luke said, smiling. “The more, the merrier.”
“Go on,” Tony said to Tali.
Tali jumped up and ran over to Luke’s blanket, settling in with Olivia. The two girls started chattering away like a couple of BFFs. It made Tony chuckle to see how close they’d gotten in the year since he and Luke had found each other.
“You know, she asked me if I was going to marry you,” Ellie said out of the blue.
“You heard me,” Ellie said. She chuckled, even as she shook her head. “Brave girl. She’d seen us kissing, and wanted to know if that meant that we’d be getting married. She said she’d like it if I was her new Mommy.”
“And how do you feel about that?” Tony asked. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. So much depended on her answer, and he realized that he didn’t even know what it would be.
“About being your wife?” Ellie asked. “Or about being her mother? Or, well, stepmother, really.”
“Either,” Tony said. “Both.”
“I like Tali,” she said. “Well, no, I love her. She’s smart and sweet and entirely captivating. Kinda like her father.”
“Am I?” he asked. He was trying for coy, but figure he missed by a mile.
“I love you, Tony,” she said. “Which I’m sure you’re very well aware of. I say it often enough. Am I ready for an instant family? I have no idea, but it’s not scaring me off.”
“Well, then,” Tony said, smiling as he hugged her closer. “I suppose I should get on that.”
“Yes, please,” Francesca called from her and Luke’s blanket. “We are all ready to find out who won the bet.”
Tony flopped down onto his back just as the first of the fireworks exploded overhead. “I don’t know why I like any of you, honestly.”
“You love me,” Luke called out over the crackle of the fireworks.
“And you love me,” Ellie said, leaning over him. Her blonde hair lit up as the shells exploded overhead.
“I do love you,” Tony said. He reached up and tucked a slice of hair behind her ear, then followed that with a sweet, chaste kiss to her lips. “I love you very much.”
“And I love you, too, little bro,” Tony called out, just in case he hadn’t made that clear.
Contentment swelled inside him as Ellie lay down beside him on the blanket, snuggling into his side. A year and a half ago, his whole life had been upended by the arrival of his daughter. Now, he had a daughter, a brother and a soon-to-be fiancée. Plus, more friends than he knew what to do with.
Life was good. For the first time in a long time, life was very good.