Title: The Path Less Followed
Fandom: Criminal Minds, NCIS
Category: Slice of Life, Romance, Family
Pairings: Aaron Hotchner/Tony DiNozzo, David Rossi/Carolyn Baker Rossi
Characters: Tony DiNozzo, David Rossi, Aaron Hotchner, Jethro Gibbs
Spoilers: Episode NCIS Requiem
Summary: After Tony saves Gibbs and Maddie Tyler from drowning, the after-effects were devastating to Tony. Because of his exposure to y pestis his lungs couldn’t take the cold and he developed issues that made it impossible for him to go back out in the field. Now he had some decisions to make about the new direction his life was going to take and right there at his side was David Rossi, the man who had become his father. Tony knew he was going to be okay.
Tags: Slight Angst, Family, Romance, AU-Canon Divergent, Episode Tag, Life-changing health issues.
Beta: DarkJediQueen, AngelicInsanity
David Rossi walked towards the hospital room and stopped to lean in the doorway a moment to get himself under control. When he got the call that Tony was there and being treated for his lung issues thankfully the team had not been out on a case. David didn’t often wear his emotions on his sleeve, but when it came to Tony he could sometimes be unreasonable.
Swallowing hard and settling himself he walked into the room with Tony watching him as he moved.
“Hey Uncle.” Tony looked pale and he was breathing harder than he should be, but Dr. Pitt had warned him of what was going on. Tony would need a few more breathing treatments as well as steroids to get him back to a hundred percent.
“How are you feeling, and don’t lie to me.” Dave gave Tony his best ‘Dad’ stare which always made Tony wither a little until he told Dave the truth.
“Not my best.”
“Can you tell me what happened? Or should I wait for a day or two?”
Tony took a deep sigh and looked towards the wall opposite him.
“Gibbs drove the car he and Maddie were in off the pier. He didn’t wait for backup, and when we got there, things got a little dicey. Ziva, McGee, and two officers apprehended the bad guys while I jumped into the water to see what I could do. I got Maddie out first, then went back for Gibbs.
“Look, I know it was probably stupid, but there was no time to waste.” Tony frowned, took a deep labored breath before he started to cough.
“Figlio, I get it. I really do. But, I think this is a wake-up call that you can’t do this kind of stuff anymore. I know Dr. Pitt talked to you and he’s concerned for your health.”
Tony sighed as he leaned back making Dave wonder what was going through his mind.
“Yeah. I know. He’s not releasing me back in the field. He wants me on a strict diet and exercise regimen for the next few months.” Tony paused as a deep hacking cough overcame him. “Who knew diet could affect your breathing.” The pout on Tony’s face had Dave chuckling despite the serious situation.
“Why don’t you come home, Tony. Stay with me for a while. Your room is always there, you know that.”
Tony looked thoughtful for a few moments, but before he was about to speak when a nurse came in pulling some equipment with her. Tony groaned as he scrunched up his nose like he was smelling something off-putting.
“Now, you’ve been a good patient so far, Tony. You know you have two more of these today.”
“I’ll go. But, I’m serious, Tone. I’d like you to stay with me while you recover.”
Tony nodded before the nurse handed him the nebulizer. Sitting fully up, he held the bottom while he breathed in the medication. Dave took another deep breath before he left. He knew that even though Tony acted heroically, this was going to change his life and the man was going to have a hard time getting through it. Dave wanted to be there for him like he had been since Dave brought Tony with him to live at the age of ten.
Getting home about an hour later Dave checked his fridge and his pasta drawer made a list of things he needed and called up the local grocery store that delivered. He went to Tony’s room to make sure everything was clean. He stripped the bed and washed the sheets while he put a new set on.
Dave had a team of maid’s that came in once a week to do a thorough cleaning, but there were things he liked to do himself. After he finished up he made sure that all of the movie channels on his cable service were up to date.
Pouring himself a finger of scotch, Dave went to his study and sat in his favorite chair. Carolyn was at a conference, he needed to tell her what was going on with Tony, but it would have to wait until later that night.
Picking up a picture of the three of them just after Tony graduated from Carnegie Mellon with degrees in computer science and psychology, Dave felt a surge of pride. The boy was his son in every way that mattered. Putting DiNozzo Sr. behind bars for the things he had done not only to Tony but as a con man was satisfying in ways Dave could never articulate.
Now Tony was going to have to make some hard choices, but Dave was determined to be there for him just as he had been from the day they had met in a hotel in Hawaii. Tony had been a boon to not only his soul but having the boy healed Carolyn in ways Dave never could. When they lost their son, Dave felt it was the end of everything. But, Tony gave something back to Carolyn, and in the months that they spent getting to know each other they had become a family. Dave and Carolyn reaffirmed their vows after getting full custody of Tony.
Unfortunately, they were not able to adopt. Anthony DiNozzo Senior was steadfast in keeping some rights to his son, but Tony’s social worker was on their side and he could only visit once out of prison, and only supervised. Dave and Carolyn were under no obligation to take Tony to see the man.
Fortunately, he was still in prison. This time evidence was found that he murdered his wife. Dave had nothing to do with that investigation, but it came out while Senior was in prison for his other crimes.
Dave mused on the life he had given Tony and was proud of the man he had become. Now, there was a new direction Tony was going to have to take and Dave would help him every step of the way.
“Hey, Pops.” Tony plopped down in a chair near Dave’s desk and slumped down a little.
“Hey, kiddo. How are you feeling? I know the holidays took a lot out of you.”
Tony plucked at imaginary lint on his jeans as he stared out the window at the snow-covered side yard. He shrugged his shoulders and Dave saved the document he was currently working on and turned his full attention on his son.
“You all right?”
“Abby’s been bugging me on when I’m coming back. Gibbs calls and keeps telling me I need to get my ass back to work, and McGee, well, he’s just McGee.” Tony rolled his eyes and stood up. He had been doing better after a short relapse with pneumonia, but he was fully healed. However it made one thing clear to all of them, Tony was going to have these issues for the rest of his life.
“What did you tell them?”
“What I told them at the Christmas party. I’m not coming back. I put in my resignation, but they won’t believe me. I need…I need to do something Pops, but I don’t know what I want to do.”
Dave leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment. Getting up, he went to a closet in the corner of the room and pulled out something he had held back from Christmas. He wasn’t sure if Tony would be ready, but he thought that now was a good time to give it to him.
“Here. Something I have been waiting to give you.”
Tony took the package and tore into it. His eyes widened when he saw it was the latest version of the Grimes Tech DesignPad. A powerful laptop that could convert into a tablet and had more bells and whistles on it than Tony could ever dream of.
“Wow! This is amazing. But, what the hell do I do with it?”
“Whatever you want. You’ve talked about starting a movie blog, and you’ve also wanted to write about some of the stranger cases you’ve handled. You could get back into software design, maybe do a little game design, I don’t Figlio, but I know you need something, but all you can do is start.”
Tony held the computer to him and frowned a moment, then he was up and out of Dave’s office like a shot. Chuckling to himself, he went back to working on his own latest book when a call came in.
“Don’t tell me…”
“Yeah. we have a case. It’s in Philadelphia. I don’t know if we’ll run into Morris, be ready for that.”
“Okay, I’ll be there shortly.”
“We’ll need to do a quick debrief then we’ll go. I know you didn’t leave on a positive note, but we’ll keep her in check this time. JJ will handle the media and keep it out of her hands. Her Unit Chief has already said we’ll have the lead.”
“All right. I’ll be there soon.” Dave set the phone down as he walked into the sunroom where Carolyn was working on a grant proposal. She looked up at him, but the smile she had on her face fell. “Case?”
“Yeah. It’s in Philly. Aaron is worried we’ll have issues with Jill Morris. I’m hoping we don’t. Her behavior was highly inappropriate last time we were there.”
“Well, you just reiterate you have a family at home and don’t appreciate that kind of attention.”
“Oh, Caro, there is no one that will ever take me away from you. Don’t worry, her UC has her on a short leash. I gotta go, you guys will be okay without me?”
Carolyn stood and wrapped her arms around Dave and held him close for a moment. A kiss on the cheek was something Dave needed.
“Of course we will, love. Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on Tony. You go, we’ll be fine.”
Dave cupped his wife’s cheek before leaning in and placing a gentle kiss just to the side. He was grateful for every day that she was back in their lives. He knew the special bond she had with Tony and was glad for it. Finally pulling himself away, Dave left after getting his go bag and went to meet his team and hoped for everyone’s sake they kept Morris away from him.
Tony went to his office and booted up the new computer his father had given him. Smiling to himself, Tony would always think of Dave as his father. Dave and Carolyn Rossi gave him the home and stability that he had always craved. It was awful in the way it happened, but Tony could never regret it.
Focusing back on the open computer, Tony played around with it for a while, getting the feel of it before he did anything. The suggestions his father made were things Tony had thought about for a long time but never did anything about it because he was working all of the time. Now, he had more time on his hands than he knew what to do with.
Pulling up a blogging program, Tony smiled and began to create that movie blog he had always talked about doing. He was in the middle of designing it when there was a knock on his door. He looked up to see his Mother there with a plate in her hand.
“You’ve been up here a while. So, I brought you something to eat and some coffee.”
“Oh thank you. You’re a godsend.” Tony made grabby hands motions at the coffee cup while Carolyn laughed at his antics.
“I heard Pops leaving. He get a case?”
“Yes. He has a case in Philadelphia.”
Tony was about to take a sip of the coffee when he stopped halfway to his mouth. His hand shook a little before he set it down on the desk. “I know he’ll be safe, but it always worries me.”
Carolyn stood and grabbed the chair she had been sitting in, placed it closer to Tony, and sat back down. Taking his hands, she held them between hers, letting Tony settle his emotions.
“Your father will be fine, Tonio. You know there is nothing you can do. Just remember, he’s smart and knows what he’s doing.”
Tony wiped his face and sighed. He knew that. He knew his father has been a federal agent since before he was born, but it didn’t stop him from worrying.
“I know, I know…it’s just…”
“Tonio, sweetheart, nothing is going to happen. Now, have your lunch and your coffee and stop worrying.” Carolyn stood and gave Tony a kiss on the forehead. Rubbing the lipstick off she smiled then walked out leaving Tony alone once more.
Getting lost in his new project Tony didn’t hear the doorbell, nor did he hear footsteps on the stairs. He only paid attention when there was a knock on the door. When he looked up, Tony pressed his lips together and glared at the person standing there.
“What are you doing here Gibbs. I told you I would come to you when I was ready, and I am not ready to see you, so please leave.” Tony went back to what he was doing while watching Gibbs out of the corner of his eye. When he saw that Gibbs didn’t leave, but came forward and sat down in the other chair that was in front of his desk, Tony sighed again and closed his computer.
“You’re really not coming back?” Gibbs looked hurt and Tony knew that the man was somehow going to make this all about him and not what was good for Tony.
“No, Gibbs, I’m not. Frankly, the last couple of years have been shit and getting some distance I’ve also gotten some perspective. You know, the first time you head slapped me, I should have gone to HR, but I didn’t because I thought I deserved it somehow. But you know what? I didn’t. I never deserved to be disrespected like that. It only got worse when you came back from Mexico. In fact, it’s my opinion that you should have gone through some serious psych evals before you got your badge back. You still have holes in your memory and it makes you a liability.
“Also, I still think Ziva shouldn’t be on the team. She is a risk, Gibbs. She is a foreign national working cases, often classified, on US soil. That is a recipe for disaster. Who knows what kind of information she’s leaking, because she has zero allegiance to us.
“And, don’t get me started on Shepard and that op I should never have agreed to. Yeah, getting time and distance, I’ve come to see just how toxic that situation is and I am not willing to risk my mental or physical health anymore. I don’t think you really get it, Gibbs. I have daily breathing treatments, steroids, and other medication I have to be on to help me get back to being one-hundred percent. All because I saved you and Maddie from ending up on the bottom of the Potomac. Not once did I get even a thank you from you. So, no I am not coming back. My resignation stays in place.”
“Don’t. Not unless you really mean whatever it is you’re going to say.” Tony looked Gibbs in the eye and stared right back at him. He had never backed down from the man, but he had tolerated much too much from him.
“All right. You’re right. I didn’t give you my thanks for saving my life.” Standing up Gibbs took a deep breath, gave Tony a small crooked smile, and nodded once. “Ya’ did good, DiNozzo. I’ll miss you on the team.”
Tony was surprised he got eve that much from the man, but it gave him a small bit of hope that they could still be friends, whatever shape that might be in.
“Tell Abby to stop calling me. I’ll talk to her when I’m ready to and not before. If she tries to hack me in any way, she’ll have the full force of the FBI down on her and it won’t be my doing, it’ll be my father’s. He won’t take kindly to it.”
“I bet. Fine, I’ll tell Abbs to back off. Good luck, DiNozzo.” With that, Gibbs left without any further fight, which surprised Tony. He had figured Gibbs would fight him on this, but thankfully it looked to be that wasn’t the case. Tony didn’t see Gibbs out, he didn’t want this to be harder than it was, but he had to make a stand and a clean break from it all. That was the only way he knew he was going to heal mentally from all of the shit that happened since he first contracted the plague and Kate’s death.
Frankly, if he were to admit to himself, NCIS and the MCRT had not been the same since Gibbs’ memory loss. Even his Father mentioned that it was odd Gibbs had not gone through a thorough psych evaluation to determine if he was mentally stable enough to go back. Tony now realized that he should never have, but he was out now and he needed to figure out just what he wanted to do.
After spending several more hours on the new blog, Tony posted it and smiled. Getting up he went down to see if his mother wanted to go out to dinner.
“Hey, Mom. Want me to take you out on the town? Dinner, maybe a movie and some coffee after?”
“Why Tony Domenico DiNozzo, are you asking me out on a date?” Carolyn smiled as she put the book she was reading down.
“Yes, I am. I want to take my beautiful Mother out on the town. Just the two of us, like we used to do.”
“Oh, sweetheart. That sounds lovely. Let me just get my coat.” Tony smiled as he stood up and walked over to gaze up at the coat of arms his parents had bought for him to put next to the Rossi one. His Uncle Clive had told Tony what it was and once he saw it he knew he had to have it. Both of them hung in the library and were impressive side by side.
An artist friend of his father’s had given them a gift where the two were combined. Two lions with the Paddington and Rossi colors combined to make a striking piece. Tony loved it. It meant that Dave and Carolyn accepted him as one of their own and that changed everything for Tony.
He was pulled out of his musings when his mother threaded her arm with his and placed a quick peck on his cheek.
“I never have said thank you for taking me in. I know I was a handful for so long, but you and Pops, you showed me what it meant to be a real family and I don’t think I’ve ever let you know just how much I appreciate that.”
“Oh, Tonio. There is nothing to thank us for. You show us every day what it is we mean to you. You grew and thrived and there is nothing a parent wants more than to see their child succeed. You’ve done that and you’re brilliant.”
Tony didn’t know what to say so he just leaned over and gave his mother a quick kiss before they headed out for an evening just the two of them.
The party was in full swing and Dave was the perfect charming host. The house and grounds had been ground zero for Tony’s book debut and Dave wasn’t shy about going all out. He splurged for a small band, had a dance floor laid out in the gardens, wine and champagne flowed as did the many appetizers. A buffet was laid out and would be opened up soon after the press questions and announcements.
“Pops, this is too much and you know it.”
“Maybe, but if I can’t indulge my son, then who can I indulge?”
Tony laughed as he hugged his father then started to mingle in the crowd. When he took Aaron’s arm, Dave bristled a little, but he knew that was a relationship the two men had been dancing around for a while.
Aaron and Tony had met just after Aaron had started at the Bureau. The two often went out together as friends because Aaron was still married at the time. Then Aaron’s divorce and the mess that caused, Aaron wasn’t in any position to pursue any type of relationship. Tony had stayed his friend through everything and it made Dave realize just how much love and compassion his son had for others.
Dave had noticed a change in the relationship since Tony left NCIS and while a part of him wanted to play protective parent, the other part knew he had to stay out of it.
“They are good for each other and you know it,” Carolyn whispered in Dave’s ear as she threaded her arm with his, sipping some champagne.
“I know, and I trust them, but the dad in me can’t help it.”
Carolyn laughed that deep smoky laugh that Dave loved and smiled as he slowly walked with her on his arm. He looked around once more and saw Aaron cupping Tony’s face with his hands and then bend slightly so the two could kiss.
“Stop being a voyeur.”
“I am not.”
“Oh, mi amore, you are very much watching what it is your son and Aaron are getting up to. Let them have their moment. I’m sure you’ll interrogate them both at some point.”
Dave looked shocked as he placed a hand over his heart, “You wound me, my love.”
Carolyn shook her head and laughed once again.
The noise from the microphone set up on the dance floor had everyone turning and making their way over. Tony hand his hand in Aaron’s as they made their way over. Tony was beckoned to come to stand near the woman holding the mic. Dave stood back beaming with pride.
“Well, I know some of you know why we are here this evening, and I am quite impressed at the turnout. My name is Naomi Markus and I have to say this is the first time I’ve seen Admirals and Generals come out for a book unveiling, but after working with Tony these last few months I can’t say that I’m surprised.
“I have never met someone as affable as Tony DiNozzo Jr. It has been a lot of fun guiding him and helping him to polish his first published work. The fact that this was one of those stories that came from firsthand experience makes this not only intriguing but terrifying. I applaud Tony for his candor and at times humor in a situation, most of us would not know the first thing about how to handle.
“And the in-depth jailhouse interview that Tony himself conducted as part of this book was filled with an intimacy that felt like these two men could have been friends in another life. Not downplaying the horrors that White inflicted on his victims, and making those victims the main story while giving a voice we rarely ever get to hear or see. So, I hope you all will find the time to buy Chained : The Evolution of Jeffrey White by Anthony DiNozzo Jr and read this amazing story.”
Dave felt pride swell his chest as Tony took the mic from Naomi and made his own speech.
“Well, I honestly cannot say that I thought all of you would actually show up to this shindig. And I know a few of you out there are imbibing in the excellent champagne and open bar provided for you all. AJ, please don’t arrest anyone tonight.” Tony joked as he pointed to Admiral Chegwidden. The man just laughed as he toasted Tony. A few more jokes, which made everyone laugh, and Tony became more serious.
Dave had worried when Tony wanted to do the interview with White, but he knew about that connection between killer and hunter all too well. There were killers that Dave himself went and interviewed after he had led the charge, so to speak, on catching them.
“I don’t think I would be standing here talking about this book and how it came about if it wasn’t for the man who raised me. He may not be my biological father, but in every other way he is. Carolyn and David Rossi gave me a home and stability such as I never had before. They helped me contact my mother’s family in England and I have been able to cultivate relationships with them which changed my whole life.
“Everything I’ve done has led me to this moment and with people who love and encourage me every day, I am grateful.” Dave was not too ashamed to wipe his eyes after hearing Tony’s words.
“Now, everyone here tonight will get a copy of the book, but I have set up a donation box that will be used for all of Jeffrey White’s victims’ families. Please find it in your heart to donate to help some of the people that were impacted by this killers actions. Fifty percent of the proceeds will also go into the fund and the money will be distributed. Thank you, and I hope you all have fun tonight.”
Dave walked towards Tony as he once again took Aaron’s hand.
“Don’t. I meant every single word, Pops. If it hadn’t been for you and Mom, I don’t know what my life would have been like and you’ve been there every step of the way for the last six months.”
“You make us proud, Figlio.”
Tony smiled, gave Dave a one-armed hug, then kissed his mother on the cheek. “Go, mingle and schmooze. I know you’re good at schmoozing. I’ve seen you do it enough times.” Tony laughed at the glare Dave gave him, but there was no heat behind it, there never could be. Tony was the light of his life and the son that brought him and Carolyn back together. There was nothing in the world that could ever replace that. Tony walked away with Aaron by his side and Dave knew he was going to be all right.
Tony leaned up on his arm and looked down at the still sleeping Aaron. Their relationship had been one of the most epic slow burns in history, according to Tony. They had met when Tony was still in college. He was finishing up at Ohio getting ready to transfer to Carnegie Mellon.
Dave had brought Aaron home with him one night after a bad case to talk him through it. Carolyn was still at the hospital seeing patients. Tony had come down to get a beer before going back to his room and he stopped in his tracks when he saw Aaron. The man was gorgeous even back then.
When Tony found out he was married, he decided that Aaron was going to be his friend and Aaron had no choice. The truth was Tony was struck and in the years that followed he had gone and fallen for the man.
Finally, after years of wanting, he and Aaron were on the same page.
“Morning,” Tony said as Aaron slowly opened his eyes. The night before had been their first time together and Tony was still basking in the glow.
“Morning.” Aaron’s voice was that sexy morning husky that made Tony melt a little as he reached over and brushed some hair away from Aaron’s forehead. The smile he got in return was a dimple popping megawatt smile that Tony never got tired of. The man rarely showed it but when he did you knew something special had happened.
“Last night was amazing, Tone.” Aaron reached up and pulled Tony down so that he could kiss him. “I think I want to do it again.”
Tony laughed as Aaron rolled them over and proceeded to give Tony an encore of the previous evening. After some time, the two of them got out of bed, cleaned up and went downstairs to the kitchen where his mom was making breakfast.
“Well now, you two clean up pretty good. Here, ricotta pancakes, your Dad’s homemade sausage, and some fruit. Eat up. I have a feeling you’re going to need your strength.” Tony almost choked on the sip of coffee he had just taken. He turned to see that Aaron was laughing.
“Hey, I’m used to their humor at my expense, I would think you’d be used to it by now as well.” Aaron took a long drink of coffee smiling the whole time.
“I expect it from Dad, but seriously, Mom.”
Carolyn laughed as she came over and kissed Tony on the cheek. “I tease because I love you, and you look happy which makes me happy.”
“Now, I will leave you two alone. I know you’re Dad has plans.”
“Oh dear god.” Tony rolled his eyes in fake annoyance which made his Mom laugh before she left the room to go find Dave. Tony turned to look at Aaron who was watching him. “What?”
“Tony, I have something to say. I know this year has been a lot of changes for you and including me in your life has been one of them, even if we’ve been skirting this thing between us since we met. I don’t believe this is too soon, I’ve felt this way for a long time, but never knew how to actually say this.
“Tony, I love you. I think I fell years ago, but with everything going on, I didn’t know how to say it. Jack adores you, much to Haley’s annoyance.”
“Aaron.” Tony had to take a moment to get his emotions under control. “I love you too, Aaron. I think I fell for you a long time ago and never thought we’d get here. I was happy being your friend. But, I’m glad you’re here.”
“I’d like you to read through a case. It…has haunted me, and I know you could do it justice if you decided to write about it. Kate deserves her story to be told.”
“Aaron, I’d be honored to see what I can do with the story.”
Aaron turned back to his breakfast and began to eat again leaving Tony to think. He knew some of what the case was and he had been there when Aaron came back from New York, but something in him had broken a little. Losing a friend as he had was never easy. Tony would write the story, he was looking for another project and this looked to be perfect for him.
Thinking, he too turned to his breakfast and already started to make a list of the things he would need for his research. Getting lost in his thought Tony didn’t hear his parents come back in until his father cleared his throat.
“Hey, kiddo. Ready to help us pick out a tree, doing some shopping and maybe lunch?” Tony looked up at his father and smiled.
“Yeah, sounds like the perfect day.” Tony looked around at the family he had made and knew this was real. NCIS had become toxic and leaving, even though the circumstances surrounding his resignation wasn’t something he would want to repeat, Tony knew it was the best decision of his life.
He had a new career that was oddly fulfilling. His movie blog was taking off, and he had found real love. Tony knew that no matter what happened in his life, his parents would always be there for him, guiding him, loving him. His life would only get better, no matter what was thrown at him.