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A Friend of Mine

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All art in this fic is by RPD, red_pink_dots

 

CHAPTER 1 – Different

As Long as You Love Me

Although loneliness has always been a friend of mine
I'm leavin' my life in your hands
People say I'm crazy and that I am blind
Risking it all in a glance
And how you got me blind is still a mystery
I can't get you out of my head
I don't care what is written in your history
As long as you're here with me

Lyrics by Martin Carl Sandberg

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

Tony cautiously entered Gibbs’ house and was glad to see he hadn’t left for California yet. On the drive over, he had planned exactly what he was going to say, but now he was in Gibbs’ presence, he was tongue-tied, like a kid on his first date. All he managed to get out was, “Hey.”

 

Gibbs didn’t look up from folding a suit jacket on the dining room table, but he responded with a “Hey” of his own.

 

Tony had discovered through a little snooping that his boss’s destination was Oceanside, California, and that the trip had something to do with DEA agent Luis Mitchell. Apparently Luis’ father was the NIS agent who had lost his life trying to protect Gibbs’ wife and child over twenty years ago. Luis was a nice enough guy, but when Tony had discovered his connection to Gibbs, and saw how protective Gibbs was of his new protégé, he’d felt a stab of jealousy.

 

When Tony stepped a bit closer, Gibbs’ eyes lit on the garment bag he was carrying. “Going somewhere?”

 

“Oh, no.” Tony raised the bag a little higher. “Well, I heard you're headed to California.”

 

“I'm taking a personal day. You're not coming with me,” Gibbs said firmly.

 

Ouch, so that put him in his place. Tony stifled a sigh, seeing that having a conversation with Gibbs was going to be even more difficult than he’d anticipated. “I know. Um, yeah, this. So, this is called a garment bag,” he said, indicating the bag, like Vanna White waving her hand over a desirable piece of merchandise. “And, uh, in light of all the nice new clothes you have, theoretically, what this does when you travel is, it keeps them wrinkle-free. And I had an extra one lying around.”

Gibbs was eying him, waiting for him to get to the point. Of course, he’d known right away that the bag was just an excuse for Tony to come over.

 

There had been a time when Tony didn’t need an excuse to come over any time, day or night. He’d turn up with beer and pizza and they’d watch a game on TV together, or he would hang out in the basement while Gibbs worked on his latest project, or they’d play one-on-one basketball using the old hoop attached the garage out back. Sadly, it hadn’t been that way for a while now.

 

Diving right into what he’d really come over for, Tony tried for casual, but his words spilled out in an ungainly mess. “Iraq... I mean... It was pretty screwed up, right? We ever gonna... talk about it?”

 

So far, Gibbs had rejected every overture Tony had made to discuss what had gone down in Iraq four months ago, about the kid who’d shot him, and about how Tony had executed Budd in a back-alley in Hong Kong, and yes, it might have been sanctioned but it was as sure as hell an act of revenge. And now, with Gibbs blocking him at every turn, and leaving him behind whenever he went out in the field, Tony was concerned he was about to lose his job – and the life he’d built in DC. He wasn’t sure which one mattered more to him, they were so intertwined.

 

Gibbs glowered at him. “No, it's not about Iraq. Where are you, DiNozzo?”

 

“What do you mean? I'm right here, where I always am,” Tony replied, unsure what Gibbs was getting at.

 

Gibbs challenged, “Well, then let me ask you something. Is that what you want?”

 

Tony didn’t even have to think before he answered. “Do I want to be here? Yeah. I wouldn't be if it wasn't what I wanted.” He meant every word, but even so, he had a feeling that Gibbs didn’t believe him.

 

“Years ago, you had a shot at your own team. You turned it down.”

 

Oh, yeah…that. It figured that Gibbs knew about Rota, even though Tony had never told anyone. Jenny, she must have let Gibbs know, probably let him think his second-in-command couldn’t wait to get out of there, would be happy to see the back of him. But that was years ago and Jenny was dead and buried. Now, with Gibbs looking at him as if he thought he’d been stupid to reject the promotion, Tony raised his chin and said, “Yeah, and I stand by my decision.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

He still believed he’d done the right thing, even though it had been eight years since Gibbs had reluctantly returned from Mexico, enticed back by Ziva acting like a damsel in distress. The job offer, and all that was entailed in transferring to Spain, had come at a bad time; Gibbs was barely able to lead his team, and Tony was not only keeping an eye on him, he was stuck in the middle of an undercover op to catch la Grenouille. Jenny had been well aware of all this, and yet she had offered him that lead position in Rota. It was as if she wanted to leave Gibbs hanging in the wind, and expected the man who had once been the best agent NCIS ever had to falter and fail.

 

Tony could have accepted the promotion and left DC, but instead he’d chosen to stick around. Even though Gibbs had been back physically, it was obvious he wasn’t exactly running on all cylinders, mentally. The boss had needed someone to keep an eye on him – that was what Tony had told the director. The real reason he had stayed was because he couldn't bear the thought of leaving Gibbs. It was that simple. They had strong ties – a bond, was how Tony saw it – and the very thought of leaving had made him sick to his stomach.

 

Things hadn’t changed much since then. Today, he still watched Gibbs’ six as resolutely as he had on his first day at NCIS. And, once again, they were in a similar position. This time Gibbs was back at work after nearly four months of leave after being shot while chasing down a terrorist threat in Iraq. Shot by a kid he’d trusted, and liked, and wanted to help. And while Gibbs had lain in a hospital bed, it had fallen upon Tony to hunt down Budd. Which he had. Shot him down, gladly meting out justice and a good dose of revenge, and never losing any sleep over it.

 

Gibbs seemed different these days, and it wasn’t just the fact he was thinner than Tony had ever seen him, and was wearing his hair longer, and was sporting some pretty sharp suits. No way had Gibbs gone out and bought those new clothes himself, although the identity of his personal shopper was still a mystery.

 

Ever since Gibbs had returned from his enforced leave, a couple of weeks early, he had seemed a little off. He was as demanding as ever, and short-tempered, and whenever he spoke, it was brief and to the point. Only… it was all more than usual, more annoyed and curt and cold to everyone around him, especially towards the agents on his team, the ones who had kept everything going smoothly and efficiently as they waited for his return.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

“I’m more scared of him now than I was when I first joined NCIS,” McGee had admitted one evening, when the team members (sans Gibbs) were sitting around a corner table at a local pub.

 

“He’s like Gibbs on steroids,” Abby had said. “I want my Gibbs back!”

 

“Overcompensating. That’s what he’s doing.” Bishop had tilted her head to one side. “I think he’s having trouble getting back to normal.”

 

“C’mon, Bish, normal left the building the minute that kid shot him,” Tony had said dryly. “By the way, which one of you helped create the new stylish Gibbs?” He looked around but the reactions from his teammates told him none of them had been involved.

 

They then theorized a lady friend might have taken him in hand, or maybe Dr. Taft, who seemed to be Gibbs’ best bud these days. McGee put it forward that Gibbs could have walked into Brooks Brothers and bought his own clothes. “They have a service, a personal shopper,” he reasoned.

 

After Tony had finished laughing, he put on a deep voice, and said, “Me Gibbs. You choose me suits.” He shook his head. “Nah, not possible.”

 

“Fornell?” suggested Bishop.

 

Abby had immediately shot her down. “I like Fornell, I do, but the man owns four suits, one for funerals, and the other three are exactly the same make and cut. Plus they’re ten years old. No, the man’s a dinosaur. A veritable stegosaurus, a–”

 

Tony asked something that had been bothering him, “What makes any of you think he has any lady friends? None of the women he’s seen have ever lasted more than a few weeks, not long enough to earn the right to give him a makeover.”

 

McGee pointed at Tony and nodded. “Colonel Mann did turn up again.”

 

“That was last year,” Bishop said, frowning. “Am I missing something?”

 

Abby filled her in. “She was here four years ago, and wove her sticky web around Gibbs, and we thought she’d captured him, but all of a sudden…”

 

“She must have pushed him, asked too many questions or the wrong questions,” Tony explained. “One day she was hanging out in Gibbs’ basement, and next thing we know she was glaring at Gibbs. She retired and married a heart surgeon in Hawaii. She returned briefly a few months back.”

 

“How’d you know who she married?” McGee had asked.

 

“I read it in Stars and Stripes,” Tony said defensively.

 

Abby shook her head and said, “Besides, anybody who knows anything about Gibbs knows you don’t ask him personal questions. Mann-hands was doomed the moment she opened her mouth.”

 

“Mann-hands?” Bish had asked, apparently thinking that nickname was rude.

 

Abby had shrugged. “If the glove fits…”

 

McGee had said as if he was certain, “The boss will never get remarried.”

 

Tony only wished that were true, because if Gibbs got married again, it would ruin everything. If Gibbs was smitten enough, he’d make changes to keep his spouse happy, and leave work at a reasonable time, focus all his energy on her – whoever she was – and the team would be pushed to the sidelines. “One thing’s for sure,” Tony said. “Right now, nobody in their right mind would find the boss date-worthy, with that bad attitude he’s carrying around.”

 

Abby had cast soulful eyes on Tony. “Can’t you talk to him, see what’s going on with him?”

 

“Why me? I’m the last person he’ll talk to,” Tony had protested.

 

She’d slapped him lightly on the arm. “You and Ducky are the only people he’ll talk to.”

 

“Then get Ducky to do it.”

 

Abby had scrunched up her face. “No…. I think it has to be you.”

 

Tony sighed. “It won’t do any good.”

 

“Are you scared of him?” Bishop asked, looking at Tony with interest.

 

“Nooo…. Well…. Okay, maybe a little.” Tony had looked around and took in his friends’ expectant faces. “Fine. Next time there’s an opening, I’ll talk to him. Okay? Satisfied?”

 

“And ask him who chose his suits,” McGee had said.

 

“And why he’s wearing his hair so long,” said Bishop.

 

“You know he won’t tell me,” said Tony, all of a sudden feeling depressed about the whole conversation.

 

Abby had hugged his arm and smiled with satisfaction. “I think he may surprise you, Tony.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The boss had seemed sharp enough during the recent investigation, and yet… Tony had a strong feeling that Gibbs was hiding something, that his determined expression was a front. It wouldn’t be surprising if he was finding it difficult to get through the day, after all he’d been through, and was just being stoic.

 

Most likely it was physical. Gibbs had been favoring the knee that had taken a bullet, and on a couple of occasions Tony had seen him rub his chest with his knuckles and swallow hard, like he had heartburn. Only his expression had sort of frozen up, as if he was riding out a wave of pain. Both times, after a few moments it was business as usual, so Tony had pretended he hadn’t seen anything amiss.

 

Concerned that something serious was going on, Tony was determined to figure out what it was. Problem was, he wasn’t exactly on good terms with Gibbs right now – for reasons unknown to him – and he didn’t want to get his head bitten off, or to come back from lunch and find his stuff dumped on the ground and a stranger sitting at his desk. So a talk with Ducky was in order.

 

Tony wasn’t the only one who had a sense that Gibbs was giving everyone the cold shoulder as a way of making them leave him alone. Ducky had noticed it, too. “Jethro refuses to engage in anything but the briefest of conversations, and those are always about the investigation at hand,” the ME had complained.

 

Agreeing, Tony had replied, “He’s working hard to keep me at arm’s length, Ducky.”

“Although I have not examined Jethro, I believe he may be suffering from PTSD,” the ME had said, his tone cautious. “He won’t talk to me about whatever is bothering him, but I understand that Dr. Taft is keeping a close eye on him, so that should ease your mind a bit.”

 

Hearing that Gibbs’ surgeon was concerned about his patient didn’t console Tony at all. In fact, it suggested there was something to be worried about. “Maybe he isn’t ready to come back. You think he jumped the gun? What am I saying? Of course he did: he’s Gibbs!”

 

“Yes, well, I have known you to do exactly the same thing,” Ducky had retorted.

 

“Okay, I’m guilty of coming back early, but I don’t think I ever came back with a sucky disposition.” Out of habit, Tony had checked behind him to make sure Gibbs hadn’t snuck in and was standing behind him. He was almost disappointed that his boss was nowhere to be seen. Still, he had leaned closer to Ducky and said in a hushed voice, “I heard Dr. Taft has arranged for him to see a therapist.” Ducky had raised an eyebrow at that, and Tony nodded. “Taft set it up, so he’ll have to be the one to drag Gibbs to his appointments.”

 

Gibbs had already been signed off by the NCIS shrink, Dr. Whitten. Tony was used to running rings around the man, who he’d categorize as sincere, yet inadequately prepared to deal with most NCIS agents. He could only imagine what Gibbs’ responses would be to the inkblot test: ‘Looks like blood splatter. (‘And this one?’) Blood splatter. (‘And what about this one?’) Same. Ya done with me yet, Doc?’

 

“There was nothing unusual in the report I received about their sessions,” Ducky related. “Of course there weren’t any details of the specifics behind Dr. Whitten’s evaluation, just the conclusions, and the fact that he had deemed Agent Gibbs equipped to return to the field. I doubt Dr. Taft will be able to coerce Jethro into seeking additional help. When I tried to discuss it with Jethro, he told me he refused to ‘waste any more time on that crap.’”

 

“At least that sounds like the old Gibbs,” Tony had said with a small smile.

 

“Don’t fret, my boy, he just needs time. It will all work out in the end,” Ducky had said with a confident nod.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

Chapter Text

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CHAPTER 2 - Sex Machine

 

Gibbs leaned forward and snarled, “Do you want to be a leader or not?”

 

Seriously annoyed at the way Gibbs was getting in his face, Tony snapped, “You mean, do I want to be you?”

 

Of course he didn’t want to be Gibbs, even if he had been unfailingly committed to the man for the past fifteen years – including all those occasions when Gibbs had been a selfish, closed-off, reckless hard-ass. Tony had always felt there was a connection between them; maybe it was unspoken but it was definitely there. Now that it had soured, he felt like a stand-in who had waited in the wings for years, hoping for a chance at a starring role that never materialized.

 

These feelings he had for Gibbs, the way he was drawn to him even in the worst of times, wasn’t something Tony could easily explain. It wasn’t blind infatuation, not really. He could see Gibbs, with all his faults and foibles. He understood him, how he’d been molded by his upbringing, by the tragic death of his wife and child, and by the battlefield injury that had abruptly caused the end of his career as a Marine. He cared about Gibbs, and maybe, just maybe he had even lost a little bit of his heart to him, but there were still times, like now, when he didn’t like him very much.

 

Tony had been attracted to Gibbs right from the start – damn, those blue eyes – who wouldn’t be? When Gibbs gave you one of those hard looks, stared deeply into your eyes, as if he was diving into your very soul and trying to find out your deep, dark secrets, most people backed away, shaken. Not so with Tony. Nope, the first time he’d met that Gibbs-glare halfway, and had done his level best to see what was hiding in the depths of Gibbs’ eyes, he’d seen them widen a little. Gibbs had barked out a laugh, as if Tony had surprised him – in a good way. Of course, a moment later, that Gibbs-grin was followed up by a slap to the back of Tony’s head, the first of many.

 

Only he didn’t head-slap him any longer, Tony realized, and he wondered what that was all about? And was it a good sign or a bad one? Did Gibbs simply not care anymore?

 

Admittedly, in the early days, he’d followed the man’s every move like some lovesick puppy, had even lusted over him at times. That strong sexual desire had abated somewhat in the past couple of years. Nowadays he could be close enough to Gibbs to smell the distinctive aroma of Douglas fir sawdust that meant he had spent last night working on his boat – and not get a hard-on. Usually.

 

From day one, Tony had known that getting it on with the boss would mean the end of his job. He’d managed to tamp down his desire for Gibbs – at work, anyway. So what if he jerked off to fantasies of being overpowered by a silver-haired, hard-assed, grumpy Marine? It was a deep dark secret between him and his right hand, and it was going to remain that way.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Back in college, they hadn’t named him Sex Machine for nothing – he’d earned it. Tony had made his way through the cheerleaders, the study hall girls, a couple of female professors and the ladies in Admissions before he turned to casual sex with the jocks, the smart kids and the entire debate team. Damn, he’d enjoyed every minute of his time at college – that is, until he got sidelined by a football injury.

 

After college, things changed a bit. Being a rookie on the Peoria PD meant he had little time to get to know anyone, but the few times he was lucky enough to hook up with a guy he liked, he had to be careful not to let anyone on the force get wind of it. Being deep in the closet was stressful, and by the time he was in Philly, Tony had accepted that spending a few hours with a stranger he’d never meet again was the best way to go.

 

Sure, he had a few cop friends, the kind of guys who were good for a beer and a laugh after work, but he never let on he was bi – they’d never understand or accept his lifestyle. Or, at least that’s what Tony believed, and he wasn’t going to risk them finding out, and suffer getting bashed – or worse – by closed-minded bigots.

 

It wasn’t easy, maintaining two different lives, but he got used to it, playing straight at work and boasting of his latest female conquests, and, on the flip side, getting dressed up and heading out of town for a random fuck. There was a clear-cut line between the two lifestyles, which he took care to maintain. He kept his personal life to himself, and nobody was any the wiser.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Tony liked men. He liked having sex with men. There was less pretense than with women, less to prove, and it was good to let someone else be in charge. He liked the physical feeling of men, the hard bodies, broad shoulders and hairy chests, the sheer weight of them. And getting fucked by a man taught him more about how to fuck than any porn he’d ever watched. He knew what a good fuck was, and could turn around and use those awesome moves on any man or woman.

 

It didn’t matter if the guy was beefy or slim, or if he was funny or serious, a street musician or a Wall Street executive – so long as the guy was ready and willing, Tony was good to go. He always focused on the man he was in bed with, and although he preferred being on the receiving end, he was willing to play either top or bottom. Always accommodating, he was happy to dress up, role play, try out a new sex toy, dabble in bondage or accommodate a fetish, if that’s what turned his partner on. Mutual pleasure with no strings attached, that was the DiNozzo way.

 

Tony had dated his share of women, although the first date was often the last. A few of the affairs lasted a couple of weeks before he got antsy and did something stupid that made the girl want to break up with him. Wendy was his first long-term girlfriend, and maybe it was because she was older, and had been his piano teacher, that he didn’t mind when she took charge. At first, their relationship was casual, and fun, but soon Wendy wanted more: to get married, to set up a home together. Although he had some misgivings about their future, Tony was in love with her – and in love with the idea of creating a safe, loving home with someone who loved him back – so they became engaged and set a date.

 

Everything fell apart at the same time. He must have been blind or stupid or something, because he never saw it coming when she broke it off, mere days before the wedding. He was devastated. Not only had Wendy locked him out of her apartment, where he’d been living, but Tony discovered his partner, Danny Price, was involved in money laundering – and worse. Between his fiancée dumping him, and his best friend and partner turning out to be a lying piece of crap, he’d never felt so low. Turned out that not only had Danny been on the take, but he’d been sleeping with Wendy behind his back. Tony wasn’t sure which of them he hated more.

 

If Gibbs hadn’t come along and hired him, and given him a good excuse to get the hell out of Baltimore… he didn’t know what he might have ended up doing. Probably would’ve killed Danny, for starters. Or joined his dad in Monaco, where he was doing the art-connoisseur schtick, and coaxing huge sums of money out of the well-manicured hands of rich widows.

 

Just as Tony reasoned that there were worse places he could be than poolside at the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo while waiting for his broken heart to mend, Gibbs gave him a sideways smile and told him to come to NCIS. And that’s exactly what he did.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

When he first lived in DC, Tony went out with a long line of women who worked around the Navy Yard: Ladies who worked at the visitor center or the Navy Museum, bartenders, restaurant workers, and his favorites, the gals who taught at the trapeze school over on M Street. The encounters were all brief, and he never promised anyone anything. He never brought anyone back to his place, and half his dates never learned his full name. ‘Let’s just have a good time,’ he’d say, with a smile that was as smooth as anything his dad had ever produced.

 

Sometimes he casually dated women who were connected to NCIS, because they were more likely to understand his long workdays and erratic hours. Among them was Paula Cassidy, who always seemed sad even though he did his best to cheer her up; CGIS Agent Abby Borin, who liked to be on top, and expected Tony to be at her place every time they finished a case together without him needing an engraved invitation; and Cassie Yates, whose mind always seemed to be somewhere else – like on what she was going to make for dinner – while he was working really hard to entice an orgasm out of her.

 

Diane Sterling – he found any and every opportunity to have sex with her for over a month before deciding to break it off. This was after she’d left Fornell and before she’d remarried. Tony wasn’t stupid enough to fool around with a married woman, especially one still married to Agent Fornell. But Gibbs had started to send suspicious looks at Tony, and both Tony and Diane knew that if Gibbs (or Fornell) got wind of what they were up to behind closed doors, they’d both be toast. Diane was into BDSM, which brought an interesting twist to the sex, but there was only so much pain Tony could take before calling it quits. As it was, he’d had to keep his shirt on for a week after his final session with her. The problem was, ever since they’d called it quits, every time he ran into Fornell, he pictured Diane ball-busting or flogging him or something. She had assured Tony that Gibbs hadn’t been into that kind of thing, thank God.

 

Jeanne Benoit. Now, Jeanne, he’d really liked. When they’d eventually gotten around to sleeping together it was fun and…nice. He didn’t often get nice. Jeanne was playful and had pretty eyes, and he didn’t have to work so hard at being Tony DiNardo when he was fucking her. Afterwards, it struck Tony that maybe their relationship had worked because he’d known it wasn’t going to go anywhere, and that he would be able to end it without it being his fault, technically. That sort of fucked with his mind for a while.

 

There were some men, too, like Dorney; they went on a date to see a musical and had awkward but sweet sex on Dorney’s rundown couch afterwards. He was such a nice guy, Tony broke it off after the first time because he couldn't stand the thought of getting in any deeper and hurting him later on, which was inevitable.

 

He made the mistake of having sex with Brent Langer – a total jerk, so there was only that one fuck. There’d been some good times with Damon Werth though (nice muscles and incredible stamina but not much going on upstairs). Then Tony met roving agent Chad Dunham, and soon after, Marty Deeks. Those two men could have been brothers, with a trim, muscular build, blue eyes and shaggy dark blond hair. After checking they weren’t related – even though if they had been, it wouldn't have stopped him – Tony asked them if they’d ever consider a threesome next time they were all in the same time zone. The answer was ‘Bring it on, man,’ and their wild weekend was something to remember.

 

There was Ray Cruz, CIRay, who had been an incredible, sensual lover, but was so consumed by guilt – over living a double life, and wanting men more than he did women – Tony found it difficult to look into his dark brown eyes. Ray admitted he went to confession before and after having sex, which was almost too weird for Tony. The last straw was when things got heated in bed, and Ray started mumbling prayers in Latin, keeping tempo with every deep thrust he was hammering into Tony’s ass. Before walking out, Tony gave him the name of a good shrink, saying, “You really need to get your head on straight. And quit fucking around with Ziva’s emotions. Make up your damned mind.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

There were always rumors going around, and office pools, and sly questions from his colleagues, trying to find out who he had slept with the night before. Tony knew he deserved everything they said, because he’d set up this fake lifestyle and had encouraged everyone, even his closest friends, into believing it was real. Sometimes it hurt a bit, the innuendoes, the insults, but he got used to them. It wasn’t like the comments were about him. They were about the fake Tony he projected to the world, the womanizer who couldn’t handle a relationship, the agent who’d been stuck in the same position at work for fourteen years.

 

Ziva had made disparaging comments, and all-too-often made the wrong assumptions. McGee was genuinely curious, even though he did his best to hide it, and Abby acted as if she had every right to know the intimate details of Tony’s dating life. Bishop was different; she would look at him with narrowed eyes, tapping a pen against her bottom lip while her agile brain made calculations as to the odds of Tony having sex with any one of a dozen people at the office. Then she’d smile and nod, as if to say, ‘Ah, now I’ve got it,’ and would go back to work.

 

Gibbs, well, Tony wasn’t sure if he didn’t see or if he didn’t care, though once or twice, he’d caught his boss looking at him speculatively when the subject of his latest conquest came up at work. Gibbs would frown, and stand there staring at him for a long moment before turning away. So long as Tony kept it out of the office, he’d turn a blind eye – that was the inference. Until EJ Barrett came on the scene, that was.

 

The word was that Gibbs had really come down on EJ for distracting his agent. According to Palmer, who’d overheard the whole thing, when Gibbs had ordered EJ to lay off, she’d countered, saying he had no authority over her and Tony’s sex life. EJ had no idea what she’d set in motion that day. Gibbs blocked her at every turn, literally locked her out of MTAC, and made it clear that he would do whatever it took to keep her away from Tony.

 

To Tony it was fascinating because here was Gibbs, acting like the head of a wolf pack and snapping at the interloper every time she got too close to what he considered was his. At one point, Tony had wondered if there was some jealousy on Gibbs’ part, but he knew that was impossible. The boss was just pissing on his territory, hating that some upstart had waltzed in and tried to take over without earning her stripes.

 

Gibbs smirked on and off for several days after EJ left. The thing was, Tony had only slept with her a handful of times, and that was soon after EJ had arrived in DC. They really were friends, and she did understand him, like he’d told Gibbs, and at the time Gibbs was telling her to back the fuck away from his agent, whatever they’d had was already over.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

 

Chapter Text

Untitled

CHAPTER 3 - A Waste of Talent

 

Now, with Gibbs a couple of feet away and glaring at him, Tony was pissed enough to glare right back. “Are you asking if I want to run my own team? I’ve seriously considered it, and I’ve had offers, but I like where I am right now. And I don’t need to be a team leader. I like working for you…” The word ‘like’ seemed so inadequate for what he was feeling. Tony let out a huff of breath, and said, “I love my job, but right now I need some sign from you that we can fix whatever this is, because it seems like you’re trying really hard to push me out of the nest. If you want me gone, just say so.” What was he thinking, putting that idea in Gibbs’ head, saying it aloud? He raised his chin and said firmly, “I thought we were more than colleagues… friends. Look, I deserve to know what the hell is going on, and what your problem is with me.”

 

When those blue eyes, the ones that Tony had fallen for, all those years ago, narrowed in displeasure, he knew he was in deep trouble.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

When he first started working with Gibbs, Tony had a hard-on every time his boss so much as breathed in his direction. He’d had to take a cold shower every day, both before and after work, and sometimes in between. Yeah, he’d had the hots for his boss for years now, but one thing for sure, he’d never wanted to be Gibbs. Tony had been exactly where he wanted to be, by Gibbs’ side – until recently, that was.

 

Now the man barely gave him the time of day, and when he did look at him, it was with a disdainful expression, or maybe it was disappointment, or… was that dislike he was seeing? It was hard to interpret those glares sometimes, but it was clear he was on Gibbs’ shit list. Being left behind when the MCRT was called out on a case, being passed over or outright ignored…. Tony had told himself he could take it, that Gibbs was going through some phase, something to do with his recovery after getting shot. He told himself he would tough it out, and he gave Gibbs considerable leeway. It sure as hell hadn’t been easy though, after years of being his right-hand man. Now he felt like he was a zero ­– and it wasn’t a good feeling to have.

 

Every day Gibbs’ cold front only got chillier, until finally, Tony had had enough. This time he wasn’t going to let it roll off his back. This time he was going to demand to know what the hell was going on, and he wasn’t going to budge until he got an answer.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Despite what Gibbs thought of him, Tony had given serious consideration to offers to run his own team, but whenever an opportunity had arisen at NCIS, or in other law enforcement agencies – and there had been several good job offers the past couple of years – they were always in far-flung locations. The FBI had offered him a great position in Salt Lake City, and if he didn’t like that, they needed someone with his skills in Anchorage, they’d said – but, no way! Besides, working for the Fibbies? Mmm… nope.

 

NCIS had an opening a few months ago in Los Angeles (the traffic, the people, the wildfires, his lungs – not going there!), and even though NCIS was forming another team in New Orleans, Tony couldn't deal with the humidity and bugs and local wildlife. Besides, with Gibbs’ best bud Special Agent Pride in charge, it would be like working with your in-laws. Open positions in NCIS field offices overseas, in Japan and Bahrain, hadn’t enticed him, either.

 

There had been some tempting opportunities from the private sector that came with very lucrative packages, but Tony always found some reason to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ But now things between him and Gibbs had gotten so bad he was reconsidering approaching one of the companies who had tried to hire him in the past. Working as head of intelligence for an international group was starting to look better by the minute, and there was that billion-dollar biometrics company seeking a lead investigator in New York. The job came with a high salary and lots of perks including use of the company jet.

 

But was that what he really wanted? (Well, yeah, free flights on a Lear?) Problem was, Tony was certain he’d regret such a move almost as soon as he made it. He didn’t want to – couldn’t lose – the only family he’d ever known. Okay, so the people he cared about weren’t really his family, but leaving NCIS meant leaving not only Gibbs, but Tim and Delilah, and Abby, Jimmy and Breena, and Ducky, too. Hell, he’d even miss Vance. Sort of.

 

Sure, they’d say they’d visit him, or meet up for holidays – and they would probably mean it – but even now, Tony and his friends rarely had time to catch a beer together, much less a meal. He knew in his heart he wanted to remain where he was, at NCIS. But before he made any rash decision, Tony knew he had to talk to Gibbs. Whatever the problem was, surely they could figure out a way to co-exist.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

When he was a kid, Tony’s parents had, for the most part, ignored or rejected him, and half the time his dad acted like he was an unwelcome bastard at the family reunion. And, unfortunately, sometimes the very people who were supposed to take care of you treated you very, very badly. Some things you never recovered from, not completely, but Tony had proven that if you avoided thinking about them, they had no power over you.

 

After Tony’s mother died, there was a dark, empty feeling in his chest that just wouldn’t go away. He remembered the fear and loneliness that followed him around, and uncertainty about who was going to take care of him now his mom was gone. Time had helped, as did his father’s long absences. He got used to being alone, and learned to count on himself, to take precautions and adapt to all sorts of situations. His father remarried, and remarried again, and Tony used humor and charm to win over the latest young, blond trophy wife when they gathered at family dinners or special occasions, but otherwise, he pretty much kept out of their way.

 

By the time he started high school, Tony was skilled at gauging his father’s moods, and was very good at avoiding getting caught for youthful indiscretions – the usual skipping of classes, borrowing a car for a joyride, some petty thievery, staying out until 2 a.m. with a girl who was supposed to be home by ten (which wouldn't have been such a big deal if her dad hadn’t been a cop). But one can only duck and roll so many times before you’re caught, and even a 15-year-old can get whipped with a belt and sent to his room, bawling like a little kid.

 

That wasn’t so bad, but apparently the penalty for making wife #4 (Janelle, age 27, natural blond, family money) take his side in arguments with Senior was a one-way ticket to a military academy a couple of states away. Out of sight, out of mind. Being ousted from his home turned out to be a good thing; although Tony wouldn't admit it until years later, the discipline at RMA, the supportive teachers, and the strong sports program toned down his attitude and pushed him in the right direction.

 

The only time Tony had outright defied his father was in his choice of college. Coach favored Ohio State, so that’s where Tony decided to go. He fought hard for what he wanted, knowing this was his only chance to escape. He stuck to his guns, and paid for it dearly, because Senior was heavy-handed in those days – but come fall, Tony headed for Ohio with a full sports scholarship and a small loan from his Uncle Clive to tide him over.

 

College was heaven, with girls and guys and sports galore, and when he was initiated into a fraternity and moved into the Alpha Chi Delta house a block from campus, Tony felt like he had finally found a place where he belonged. It was easy to make connections with people of his own age. Most of them had no ulterior motive and accepted him at face value, which took some getting used to. They actually liked him, the Tony DiNozzo he’d constructed, who wasn’t too far from the real thing, just a whole lot better.

 

He didn’t dare show them who he really was, the lonely guy who often wanted to bury his head under his pillows and shut out the world, who stayed up late every night to study, took extra courses to get ahead – the young man who had to go off campus to follow his sexual urges. This Tony let it be known that he didn’t excel at any of his courses. He was a stereotypical jock with a rowdy sense of humor, lots of friends, and turned up at every keg party with a popular girl on his arm. He was, simply, an all-round good guy everyone liked to be around.

 

When he entered the workforce, Tony enjoyed the casual relationships he developed with the cops he worked with in Philly and Baltimore (though for some reason he never got along with the folks in Peoria). He never revealed his true self, or talked about his family, and his police partners, including Danny, accepted Tony as he presented himself.

 

When he was recruited by Gibbs, and became part of his NCIS team, Tony found something he’d never thought existed: the security of a home and people who became his family. These were people he knew he could count on, who would lay down their lives for him, just as he would for them. Tony opened up a bit, slowly, revealed parts of himself to a select few. Ducky had once called Gibbs’ extended team “a clan of non-related people who found strength and an unbreakable bond in numbers.” These days, though, Tony wasn’t so sure about the unbreakable part.

 

Getting a promotion wasn’t one of Tony’s primary goals. It made little difference to him if he was a field agent or a supervisor, so long as he enjoyed his work and could remain close to the people he cared about. Especially Gibbs. Okay, so he still had a thing for the boss. His attraction to the man hadn’t diminished over the years; he was just better at dealing with it, knowing nothing would ever happen between them. Tony didn’t exactly trust Gibbs, but he believed in him (yeah, he was stupid that way), despite Gibbs’ faults. Or he had believed in the boss, until recently.

 

Tony didn’t want to think about what his future might look like if he left NCIS: isolated, lonely, friendless, washing his socks in a basin in the corner of his drab rented room and eating TV dinners while watching pre-Hays Office black-and-white films. Geez, sounded like a repeat of his childhood – and how pitiful was that?

 

If he got booted out of NCIS, it would probably be best if he left DC altogether. No way could he stand living so close to his old stamping grounds with the constant reminders that he’d failed, had been kicked out for his inadequacies. There was a line in a movie – he couldn't remember which one – where a character stated that prisons were full of dummies who wondered how they’d got there. He had nobody but himself to blame for not having much of a life outside work, and because of that, he knew the loss of his teammates would hit him hard.

 

He couldn't take any more of the rejection, the feeling that he didn’t matter to Gibbs any longer. It cut him to the core, and the worst part was he didn’t know what he’d done to deserve such treatment.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

“Day I joined NIS, all I had was a reason,” Gibbs said vehemently. “Things change but the reason stays the same. It's always with me. Never leaves. Shannon and Kelly. Either you got a reason or you don't.”

 

Tony blurted, “Of course I’ve got a reason! It may not be as painful as yours, but… Look, I joined NCIS because it offered me a chance – as cheesy as it may sound – to help people, to make a difference, but I stayed because of you. And you made a difference, taught me, showed me… you made me a better man. You must know that, Boss. Don’t you?”

 

Gibbs was frowning at him as if he didn’t quite believe what he was hearing. “You should’ve taken the job in Rota.”

 

“How could I? You were still recovering from getting blown up. Hell, you couldn’t even keep our names straight; it was obvious you were flying by the seat of your pants. I wasn’t about to leave you hanging, Boss. Besides,” Tony said with a dismissive shrug, “the Rota job was a set-up. The director wanted me to be her point man in Spain, part of her scheme to take down la Grenouille, even though she knew he was running CIA-sanctioned guns to Africa. Jenny would have done anything to get him, including interfering with CIA operations, which we both know can mean you’ll end up buried in the desert somewhere, with the people back home asking, ‘Gee, I wonder whatever happened to good old Tony?’”

 

“She was willing to sacrifice you?” From Gibbs’ angry expression, it looked as though he hadn’t known the full extent of what Jenny had been up to.

 

“Well, yeah. Let’s put it this way, if I hadn’t gotten into the Frog’s limo that day, that would’ve been me fried to a crisp in my car,” Tony reminded him. “Look, it’s old news.” La Grenouille was dead, as was Director Shepard. And he didn’t even think about Jeanne anymore. Not often, anyway. Kort though, he was out there somewhere, probably pulling the wings off flies and planning to take over the world. Him, Tony thought about.

 

Gibbs stared at Tony long enough to make him nervous, before saying, “Tom Morrow… he came sniffing around last week, asking questions about you.”

 

That came out of left field. “Deputy Director Morrow? Am I in trouble?” In reality, Tony liked Morrow. He’d been the director of NCIS during Tony’s first four years working there.

 

Gibbs made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “He thinks he can come in here and poach my people just because he’s Homeland.”

 

Tony couldn't help smiling. “You mean Morrow wants me to work for him? Does the job come with an expense account and a corner office?”

 

“Is that what you want?” Gibbs demanded, an angry flush creeping up his neck.

 

“You gotta admit DHS is a hell of a lot better prospect than the FBI.”

 

“You want to be on the Emergency Response Team? Is that it? Not enough action around here for you, DiNozzo?”

 

“Well no, there isn’t. You keep preventing me from going out in the field,” Tony countered hotly.

 

Gibbs said tersely, “Then next time someone offers you a job, maybe you’d better take it!”

 

Tony said indignantly, “I don’t need your advice. And besides, since when did you become my career counselor?”

 

“Since you won’t take a hint!”

 

A hint about what? That he should leave? Yeah, he got that hint loud and clear. “Then maybe you should speak up, in plain words, so I understand exactly what you’re getting at, because I gotta tell you, Boss, I don’t know what you want out of me any more. You‘re pissed that Morrow might want me to work for him, yet here you are, shoving me into his arms. Which is it with you?” Tony paused, then asked, “What happened to us? We used to work so well together. I knew what you wanted before you even said a word. But now… now you’re like a stranger, and a mean one, at that.” He shook his head in bemusement.

 

Gibbs stood before Tony, lips compressed in a taut, unforgiving line, narrowed eyes looking at him as if he were prey. He seemed ready to burst and having a hard time holding back whatever was on his mind, but still, he said nothing.

 

Tony shook his head, but he wasn’t done yet. “I gotta tell you, Boss, not everyone’s cut out to be a leader, taking on all the responsibility, taking the blame whenever things go south.” He snorted. “Hell, look at you. You’ve refused multiple offers to climb the ladder. I mean, why aren’t you sitting in the fancy office upstairs, running the whole show?”

 

Gibbs made a derogatory sound. “Hell, I never wanted that!”

 

“Exactly! You like the investigations, solving peoples’ problems. You like working with a small unit of people you can trust, who anticipate your every move, who do your bidding without ever questioning you.” Tony paused as a thought struck him. “Except, me and McGee… these days, we’re used to making our own decisions. We managed to deal while you were on sick leave, and Bishop and Carney stepped up when I was running down Budd.”

 

With Gibbs on medical leave, Tony had shared running the MCRT with McGee, answering to Director Vance. They’d been ordered not to stress Gibbs with any work-related news. Despite being busy, they had all taken time to drop in on Gibbs while he was recuperating, to sit and talk to him (a one-sided conversation), to mow his lawn or bring him groceries. Gibbs had begrudgingly thanked them, but it was clear he’d resented them being there, hated that he was sidelined.

 

With Bishop, and Dale Carney, a seasoned agent they had borrowed from another team, things had run smoothly at NCIS, for the most part. Carney was old school, wore his hair in a flat-top crew cut, wrote everything down in small notepads with a stubby pencil, and was known to say, “Just need the facts.” He was fifty, with a lot of field experience. He might not run as fast as the younger agents, but he could tell when a suspect was bullshitting them in two seconds flat, kept the most thorough case notes ever, and was as tough as Gibbs.

 

One good thing had come from working together while Gibbs was recuperating: Tony and McGee had become more attuned to each other. They didn’t snipe at each other like they used to, instead treating each other like equals, and work had seemed positively civilized without the specter of Gibbs always hovering in the background.

 

“I trust you to be able to think for yourselves, and work as a team,” Gibbs allowed.

 

Tony asked, “Then why are you trying to make me quit? You’ve had enough of me, that’s obvious. Are you planning to replace me with a pliable little probie who hangs on every word you speak, who follows everything you do, right or wrong, and chases after you like you’re the closest thing to God?” He shook his head. “Man, to think that’s what I used to do.”

 

Gibbs quickly countered, “You’ve got it all wrong, DiNozzo!”

 

“Have I? Then explain why you’re trying to push me out! You betting on whether I’ll quit before you get the balls to fire me?”

 

“I’m not…! God damn it, I’m not firing you, DiNozzo!” Gibbs shouted.

 

“Well, you could’ve fooled me!” Tony frowned at his boss, trying to figure out what the fuck his problem was. Whatever was going on in the dark recesses of Gibbs’ mind was not revealed in his expression; he seemed more pissed off than anything. If this wasn’t about Gibbs being tired of him, it had to be about Iraq. Tony said slowly, “Oh… I get it. Iraq. You were stuck in a hospital bed while I was going after Budd. Yeah…you can’t stand that you weren’t front and center to capture him, and you’re triple-pissed that I killed that fucker who got little kids to do his dirty work, and, what’s more, that I did it without any help from you. Must’ve made you feel pretty useless,” Tony said, not caring that it was a pretty low blow.

 

“I don’t care who killed him,” Gibbs said from between clenched teeth, his eyes flashing with anger, annoyance… something else. “You and your CIA pal, you did all the grunt work, tracking him down. You deserved the kill.”

 

Tony studied Gibbs for a minute. The man looked his age, with tired eyes and lines on his face from stress and pain. His knee still hurt, Tony could tell, even though he did his damnedest to hide it. Constant pain was enough to grind some men down, make them mean and irrational. “Ever since you were hurt…you’ve changed. You treat me like you don’t even know me at times. Just tell me, are you tired of me?” Gibbs gave an abrupt shake of his head, but Tony thought he was getting closer to the truth. He said thoughtfully, “Maybe we’ve become too… familiar with each other. It has been 14 years, after all.” Tony gave a crooked smile, and said, in an attempt at humor, “Time we got a divorce, don’t you think? You got to admit we both deserve a medal; this relationship has lasted longer than all your marriages combined.”

 

“I’m your boss, DiNozzo, not…” Gibbs didn’t finish the sentence, and he looked uncomfortable.

 

Tony felt disheartened. “I saw the way you worked with Mitchell… You liked mentoring him, and that’s good. As much as we’d like things to stay the same, we can’t stop the world from changing. It’s time you teamed up with some younger people,” he said, nodding as if he agreed with what he was saying. “I’m getting too old for you, right? I am 44, after all, practically retirement age,” he said sarcastically.

 

And if he was aging, so was Gibbs, who was breaching the mandatory field agent retirement age this year. With a forced laugh, Tony said, “You don’t have to worry though. I hear SecNav has given you a special dispensation, so you can work here until you drop.” He mused, “You know, I heard the FBI has raised the agency head’s retirement age to 65. Looks like if I play my cards right and make a move to a supervisory position, I’ll have a good 20 years of crime-fighting ahead of me! Just think of that.”

 

“You are not going to the FBI,” Gibbs declared, seemingly alarmed at that idea.

 

“Why not? A minute ago you were willing to send me off to Homeland!”

 

“The FBI is by-the-book. You’ll hate it. It’ll suck the life out of you before the year is out. You’ll get bored and do something stupid, and Fornell sure as hell isn’t going to be on your six to pull you out of whatever trouble you get into.” Gibbs scowled, and said, as if this was his final word, “They’ll waste your talents.”

 

“Wow, you admit I have some worthwhile talents? Funny, because apparently I’m not good enough to remain at NCIS. Good enough for Homeland, though.” He crossed his arms and asked, “Why, all of a sudden, are you trying to get rid of me?”

 

“I’m not, I’m…” Gibbs started. “You’ve got it all wrong.”

 

Tony raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Have I? Because I’ve been getting that vibe from you, loud and clear, for weeks now. But, you know what? I’m going to make this easy for you, Gibbs. You don’t have the right to rule my life, to tell me what to do, or to question my motives. Not anymore, you don’t! Because I’ve had enough! I quit! There, that make you happy?”

 

◊ • ◊

 

Note: [… you’ll end up buried in the desert somewhere, with the people back home asking, ‘Gee, I wonder whatever happened to good old Tony?’”] is a reference to a line in Dances with Wolves (1990)

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

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CHAPTER 4 - An Insane Move

 

Instead of accepting that he’d finally driven his second-in-command to quit, Gibbs poked a finger in the center of Tony’s chest, and shouted, “The hell you will! You work for me until I say otherwise, DiNozzo!”

 

Tony lost his cool and slapped Gibbs’ hand away. “You can’t have it both ways, Gibbs!” He leaned in and raised his voice, almost shouting, “Ever since I took out Budd, and Teague and I decimated what was left of The Calling, the CIA has been calling every week to offer me a job. Yeah, that’s right, and I never told you, or anyone! At least someone thinks I have some value other than being their personal punching bag!”

 

“Those CIA boys’ll tear you to pieces,” Gibbs sneered and turned away.

 

Before Gibbs had taken a step, Tony grabbed his arm and made him face him. He was worked up, and he was probably going to say something he’d regret later, but this was his one chance to get it all out. “You’re a piece of work, Gibbs. You can’t even find it in yourself to shake my hand and say, ‘Good job, Tony! I’m glad you blew away the piece of shit, Budd, who not only brainwashed some dumb kid I was stupid enough to trust – even though DiNozzo warned me not to trust him – but got him to shoot me down in the middle of the street, and set off a bomb that killed a dozen people including your best friend, Dorney!’ And how about, ‘You did such a spanking fine job working with the CIA they’re falling over themselves trying to recruit you! I’m fucking happy for you.’ Why can’t you say that? Are you too fucking proud, or is it just good old Gibbs-arrogance? Or don't you care? I mean, do you even have any feelings, other than this anger that’s eating away at you like poison? For once, can’t you just tell me the truth?”

 

Gibbs grabbed Tony’s arms and propelled him back until he thumped against a wall. Getting in Tony’s face, he ground out, “You think I don’t feel every agent’s death as much as you do? You think Dorneget getting blown into so many pieces they couldn't find all of him didn’t tear me apart? You think the responsibility doesn’t weigh on me? Damn it, Tony, I’m not forcing you out! And, what the fuck, I can’t believe you’re even considering spending the rest of your career at the FBI!”

 

“Then what the hell is this all about?” Tony demanded, thoroughly confused. For starters, Gibbs had just called him ‘Tony,’ which he rarely did. And second, hadn’t Gibbs made it obvious he wanted him out of sight, out of mind?

 

“You’re better than that! I want you to do something for yourself, not follow in the footsteps of someone like me. I’m… worn out… fuck, I don’t know what I am anymore. Getting shot… it changed things.” Gibbs shook his head, unable to explain whatever it was that was going on in his mind. “Everything’s changed,” he said.

 

Gibbs was right up against him, pressing hard, as if he was using sheer physicality to force Tony to understand. It was impossible to ignore the hard thigh, the faint scent of sawdust, and the intense blue eyes, but somehow Tony swallowed hard and asked, “So your answer is to leave me behind on every case? To refuse to work with me?”

 

“I… I can’t work with you, see you every day… not after…”

 

“You can’t work with me? Why not? What have I done?” Tony asked plaintively.

 

Gibbs gripped Tony’s arms even tighter, and met his eyes with a pained expression. “Ever since I was shot… everything’s different. I don’t have the strength to carry the past around with me any longer. I just can’t.”

 

“It’s okay, we all have things we carry around with us,” Tony said, not quite understanding what was really troubling the older man.

 

“No, it isn’t okay… because I have to… Look, I don’t want you to go, but I can’t hold you back anymore,” Gibbs said, shaking his head. His grip on Tony’s arms relaxed, but he didn’t release him.

 

“It’s my choice, Gibbs. It always has been. I don’t want to go, but I can’t take you shutting me out all the time.” Tony tried to get out of Gibbs’ grip, away from him, so he could think, because being so close was unsettling, to say the least. But moving Gibbs was like trying to move a boulder. “Let me go,” he said, breathing heavily from Gibbs’ proximity.

 

But instead of backing off, or allowing Tony to slip away, Gibbs tightened his grip again. Gibbs was looking intently into his eyes, seeking something, and Tony swallowed, trying desperately to think of something halfway intelligent to say, when all he could think was how much he wanted to grab Gibbs’ face between his hands and kiss him hard. Only that was not an option, he reminded himself. Never would be.

 

Gibbs pressed closer, and whispered, “Tony,” and something deep inside Tony swelled and grew and, horrified, he realized that not only was he getting turned on, but apparently, from the way Gibbs was now staring at his mouth, and considering what felt an awful lot like Gibbs’ dick pressing into his thigh, it was mutual. Holy shit, what was going on here?

 

“You don’t get it,” Gibbs said with a deep sigh.

 

No, he didn’t get it, but just the same, Tony was willing to listen, if only he could get his brain online. “Then… um… tell me. I’m not going anywhere. Besides, we’re both adults here and I think I can handle whatever it is.”

 

Instead of nodding in agreement, or backing off, or telling Tony what was at the root of his recent behavior, Gibbs gently took his face in his hands. He angled his head, slightly. And he got a lot closer. Until their mouths were almost touching. And then they were. And he kissed him, thoroughly.

 

And then Gibbs parted Tony’s lips with his tongue and moaned into his mouth, and that’s when Tony’s brain caught up with things. He would have gasped except Gibbs’ tongue was invading his mouth, and he probably should have protested, but Gibbs’ hands were roaming all over his body, and he really should have pushed him away, but a callused hand was delving beneath his shirt and stroking his back. It was all so strange, and so sensual, that he didn’t have a chance.

 

Instead of pushing his boss, his supposedly straight-as-a-fucking-arrow boss away, Tony sighed and gave in, knowing he was hopelessly outgunned and could not possibly win. Sliding his arms around Gibbs’ back, with his heart doing its best to pound its way out of his chest, he returned Gibbs’ kiss, eagerly, and with a moan of his own. He knew, deep down, that he’d always wanted this, even if it was an impossibility, an insane move he would never even consider. Only he had dreamed of this, fantasized, and the thing was, no dream could hold a candle to the reality of having Gibbs kiss him with an unexpected hunger while his rough hands stroked his bare skin.

 

Then Gibbs was groping at him, cupping him through his trousers, and damn, his knees almost gave out. Tony hardened instantly, and was unable to stifle a moan. And he groaned again when Gibbs kissed his down the side of his neck, his rough jaw sliding sensuously across the tender skin, his mouth sucking hard enough to leave a mark.

 

Tony gripped Gibbs by the hair and cried hoarsely, “Oh, fuck. Gibbs… that’s good… Gibbs… wait… wait!”

 

Breathing heavily, Gibbs paused only long enough to grunt, “What?” before going back to kissing and sucking Tony’s neck.

 

Tony looked at the ceiling and said barely managed to ask, “Do you… oh God… d’you have a bed we can use?”

 

“Uh, yeah.”

 

“It isn’t a twin, is it?”

 

There was an amused laugh, muffled against his neck. “Not last time I looked.”

 

Tony had to ask. “You ever… do this before?”

 

“Ask me again in an hour.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Considering it was Gibbs’ first time having sex with a man, he was one hell of a lover. He proved to be forceful yet surprisingly considerate, and then just as Tony was getting into the sweet caresses, Bam! Gibbs grabbed his legs and stuck them over his shoulders, and five seconds later, he was pounding Tony into the mattress.

 

If a bed hadn’t been available – after all, Gibbs had said on more than one occasion that he didn’t have a guest room – Tony would have done it on that couch, the floor or anywhere else, for that matter. He didn’t have to though, because Gibbs hauled him up the stairs and straight into the master bedroom. Holy fuck, Gibbs went all caveman when he got aroused.

 

Tony realized it was quite an honor to be allowed to make love in the comfort of Gibbs’ bedroom, considering how the man had forsaken sleeping there in favor of sacking out on the living room couch. Whatever his reason was, it had to be a good one, because that couch was damned uncomfortable. Probably had something to do with bad memories of one or more of his wives.

 

Not that Tony would quantify the rough-and-tumble marathon of sex that followed as making love, exactly. What they did involved a lot of shouting (the good kind you had during outstanding sex), some bondage, which was a huge surprise (apparently Gibbs had a large leather belt collection and wasn’t afraid to use it), screaming (when Gibbs edged Tony for what seemed like hours), and several orgasms (until Tony was so wrung out he lay there limply and cried from exhaustion). Or maybe the tears were because it finally hit him that the thing he hadn’t even known he’d been looking for had been right under his nose all this time.

 

It was around 0300 when Tony came out of the bathroom after taking a piss and giving himself a cursory wipe with a washcloth. A glance in the mirror had alerted him to the fact that Gibbs had given him hickeys all over his torso as well as his neck. Great, now he’d have to wear a shirt and tie for several days.

 

Tony turned on a nightlight in the bathroom and left the door slightly ajar, so he could gather his clothes from where they’d been strewn about, without tripping over something. Time to leave, while Gibbs was still asleep. He smiled at how quickly both he and Gibbs had stripped the moment they’d entered the room, but that smile faded when he realized he didn’t want to sneak out before dawn, as was his habit.

 

This whole thing had been the result of high emotions during their heated argument, and now that high was gone, it was time to go. It had been fun though, and a novel experience, getting fucked by someone he’d always felt an affinity for. Gibbs had certainly been enthusiastic; it was as if all their personal issues hadn’t even existed. Only they did. They weren’t going to go away just because Gibbs had fucked him. More than once.

 

The no-strings-attached code he lived by had suddenly, and without warning, become hopelessly tangled. He should leave. Only he really didn’t want to, and he wasn’t sure why. Well, obviously, the sex had been good, great actually, and there was always the hope Gibbs would get it up again so they could have another go-round before dawn – but it was more than that. He’d been lusting after his boss for years, and now he’d finally had sex with him, he wanted more. A lot more.

 

Gibbs grunted and flung his arm over the side of the bed where Tony had been sleeping. His eyes opened and he said in a scratchy voice, “Get your ass back in bed, DiNozzo.”

 

Tony didn’t even think. He just dropped his bundle of clothes on the floor and crawled back into bed. Gibbs spooned up behind him, smelling of sweat and cum. Tony had known Gibbs had lost weight after being shot, and he was lean but strong, and it looked like he’d been working on his upper body. Tony wondered if weights were part of his physical therapy, and if he had any workout equipment at home. Probably sanded his boat and lifted gallon cans of paint down in his basement, he thought with a smile.

 

Tony turned his head a little and whispered, “When’s your flight?”

 

“Not until 0900. Be back in two days.” Gibbs kissed the back of Tony’s neck, licking and sucking a little before moving on, as if he were sampling him. “Then we’ll have the whole weekend.” He kissed and sucked, and did so again. Then out of nowhere, he whispered in Tony’s ear, “You still with Zoe?”

 

Tony froze. “Zoe?” Shit, he hadn’t even thought about her. And now he’d cheated on her, something he’d never done before – with anyone. Except for that one time he'd had sex in a limo (okay, it was twice), and that didn't count as cheating. Did it?

 

Gibbs’ arm tightened around Tony’s waist like a band of steel. “Is she what you want?”

 

No, I want you, thought Tony. “I thought so. But now… I think we both know it’s over,” he said, and it was the truth.

 

“Is it? For you?”

 

“Yeah, it is.” Tony turned his head and was a little surprised to see a possessive gleam in Gibbs’ eyes.

 

“Good.” Gibbs bit his shoulder, as if to punctuate his word.

 

Tony yelled and jabbed Gibbs with an elbow because it damned well hurt, but when Gibbs licked the sore spot, Tony’s cock hardened without warning. Gibbs’ hand slid across his hip and squeezed his balls, lightly at first, and then with increasing pressure until Tony whimpered.

 

Gibbs located the tube of lube and pushed Tony onto his back. A moment later, two slicked-up fingers were inserted in Tony’s ass, twisting and jabbing at his prostate, and when Gibbs added a third finger, Tony was breathing hard and pushing back to get more. Gibbs nipped at Tony’s ear and said, “We’ll need more condoms. Extra lube.”

 

“Okay… sure, no problem… You want me to go to the store now and…” He gripped Gibbs’ shoulders, digging in while crying, “Oh God… there! Fuck! Don’t stop!” It was really hard to think with Gibbs’ fingers buried deep inside him, finger-fucking him and like he was, but it struck him that Gibbs wanted more of this, apparently on a regular basis. No matter how good that made him feel, a whole mountain of problems began to mount up and threatened to overwhelm him. Nobody could know about this. He could just imagine the jokes, the gossip, stories about how he’d fucked his way through the NCIS personnel, and it would reach Vance’s ears, and SecNav’s, and he’d lose his job, and even worse, Gibbs would be fired, and… and he wasn’t even sure if he forgave Gibbs for the way he’d treated him for the past few weeks.

 

Oh God, he never thought he’d be saying these words… “Wait… wait! We need to talk.”

 

Gibbs grunted but wasn’t about to halt the proceedings. Apparently he was on a roll. He slid his cock back and forth against Tony’s, and tweaked one nipple while kissing him roughly. What could Tony do but return the kiss, while taking hold of Gibbs’ cock, dark red and thick and leaking, along with his own, and pump them together until Gibbs was moaning into his mouth? How hot was that? All his senses were in overload and he was shaking with need, so Tony begged, “Fuck me, please, now!”

 

Gibbs hastily pushed Tony’s knees towards his chest, and penetrated him in one long thrust until he bottomed out. He started to move, slowly at first, and then with more force, grinding and thrusting, fucking Tony with everything he had, never breaking eye contact. Gibbs groaned, thrusting at double-time, panting, “Tony! So good… fuck… so good…” He stiffened and came before slowly sinking on top of Tony with a long, drawn-out sigh.

 

Tony’s climax left him gasping for air, but with a big smile. Gibbs’ face was buried in his neck, his body draped across his. He was heavy but Tony welcomed the weight, and before he fell asleep he patted Gibbs’ ass and whispered, “You’re pretty fucking good yourself.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

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CHAPTER 5 - The Past

 

“Are you… hard again?” Tony asked, groaning in disbelief. “I can’t take it, not tonight.” A glance at the clock told him it was 0430.

 

“Sure you can.”

 

“Gibbs!” Tony pushed at the man, letting him know he was serious. “Look, you can’t spend weeks being an asshole to me, almost making me quit my job, and think that having a few rounds of sex will make everything all right.”

 

“I don’t think sex will make up for me being an ass towards you.”

 

“You sure about that?”

 

Gibbs sighed. “Tony… I know I have a lot to make up for. I was an asshole.”

 

Wow, that was almost as good as hearing Gibbs say he was sorry. Tony wasn’t about to let him off too easily though. “Yeah, you were.”

 

“I still am. I get it. Look… this huge roadblock was sitting right in front of me, and I couldn’t stop thinking of you, and you’d walk into work with this smile on your face that told everyone in the whole fucking office you got laid, and I knew it wasn’t some girl from the gym. I knew, and it made me so fucking angry.”

 

Tony sat up and gaped at Gibbs. The sheet was barely covering him below the waist, and it was apparent his cock was at half-mast. Not wanting the distraction, he forced himself to look up at Gibbs’ face. “You knew what, exactly?”

 

“That you were cooking the story up. Hell, I’ve known you were into dick since… I don’t know when. That isn’t the point.”

 

“You knew? How? Oh God, is it that obvious?” Inside, Tony was panicking. If Gibbs could tell, did that mean other people knew he was into men? Shit, he wasn’t prepared to deal with the fallout, not now, not ever.

 

Gibbs sat up and faced Tony. “It was a couple days after I got home from the hospital, and you came over… I had to lean on you to get to the head.”

 

“Yeah, and you practically snapped my head off for giving you a shoulder to lean on,” Tony said. “Did it hurt your pride so much to accept a little bit of help?”

 

Gibbs shrugged. “Sort of. But there was… something else.”

 

“Then what was going on? Talk to me,” Tony urged. He knew it would be hard, if not impossible, to corner Gibbs and convince him to talk any time in the future, so they may as well do this now and get it over with.

 

After a long pause, Gibbs said, “You were so close. I could smell you.”

 

Tony smiled. “I hope I smelled good. Was it the cologne by Zegna?”

 

“No, it wasn’t some damned cologne! I could smell someone else on you,” Gibbs said, his voice low and angry. “Damn it!”

 

Tony was taken aback by Gibbs’ intensity. He thought back… he’d had a quickie at lunchtime and had gone straight to Gibbs’ place after work. “Oh… yeah. I didn’t have time to shower before I came over.” He thought he’d cleaned up thoroughly enough in the men’s room. Guess not. What could he say? He wasn’t ashamed, and what he’d done sure as hell was none of Gibbs’ business.

 

“Who was it?”

 

Tony sighed and flopped back on his pillow. “You probably won’t believe this, but I don’t kiss and tell.” Yeah, he could have lied, and given Gibbs a name, but the older man would be able to tell he was lying, and that would be the end of this… whatever this was. Casual sex on a regular basis? He couldn't call it friends with benefits if he wasn’t sure they even were friends.

 

“You don’t, huh?”

 

“Okay, so sometimes I talk about my dates, but… most of my exploits are exaggerated, a little, and if I sleep with anyone I really care about, well, I don’t talk about them at all,” Tony explained, zipping his lips with an exaggerated gesture.

 

Gibbs was still for a minute, then said, “That’s fair.”

 

“Friends are off-limits,” he said, glad that Gibbs was willing to drop his line of questioning. He was sort of hovering though, which wasn’t a good sign.

 

Gibbs raised an eyebrow. “You had lunchtime sex with a friend?”

 

Tony played with the edge of the sheet and reluctantly said, “No, not a friend. I knew him.”

 

“Okay, so tell me who it was.”

 

“You really don’t want to know,” Tony insisted.

 

“I want to know,” Gibbs said stubbornly.

 

“Yeah, well, you know what? You don’t have that right,” Tony said, getting annoyed.

 

“Don’t I?” Gibbs asked, looking slightly wounded.

 

“Why would you?”

 

Now Gibbs was frowning. “Because of this. Us.”

 

“There is no ‘us.’ Okay, so there is an ‘us’ right now, like tonight, but whatever I did before, that’s my own business, just like your sex partners are your business,” Tony reasoned, wondering who Gibbs had brought to this bed before him.

 

“Is that all this is to you? Another hot fuck to boast about?” Gibbs asked dryly.

 

“Of course not! I’d never talk about us! Look, I’ve had a good time, great, even. And what we just did, it’s boast-worthy, for sure. But everything we did is private, entirely between us alone.” Tony smiled a little. “There has to be a rule for this, like ‘What happens in Gibbs’ bedroom stays in Gibbs’ bedroom,’ right? Rule 69?”

 

“Think that one’s been taken.” Gibbs smirked. “It was hot. The fucking. And the kissing.”

 

Tony’s smile grew wider. “And the fingers up my ass. You’re really good, Boss.”

 

“Don’t call me Boss,” Gibbs said with a slight scowl.

 

“Sorry, sort of slipped out. But you were good, you are. You sure you haven’t done it before?”

 

“I have had sex before, DiNozzo.”

 

“You know what I mean. Fucked a guy. You’re strong and sort of… pushy… but I like it. That’s why I like getting fucked, having sex with men rather than women.” Tony sighed. “I think I’m gonna give it up.”

 

Raising his eyebrows, Gibbs asked, “Give up sex?”

 

With a laugh, Tony said, “No, I was thinking… give up having sex with women. It’s nice enough but it usually seems too… comfortable.” He didn’t ask Gibbs if he preferred men or women since this was his first gay experience and he’d have to compare everyone against him. He might ask it another time, if they ever did this again.

 

“It sure is different,” Gibbs said.

 

“And you have certainly been enthusiastic,” Tony said with a smile.

 

“It’s not about what sex you are, where you stick your dick. It’s… how you feel,” Gibbs said, lowering his head a little, as if he was bashful, talking about such feelings. “About each other.”

 

“Love the one you’re with?” Tony asked.

 

“No. Because it’s you. You’re the only one. I’d never do this with any other man.”

 

Tony’s face heated up. He hadn’t expected that. “Wow, well, thanks. I never thought… I mean, I’ve had some hot dreams, but I never believed any of this would be possible,” Tony revealed. “Plus, seeing you naked, I’m blown away. Your ass is so fucking tight, and your cock is…just the right fit…”

 

“You’re not so bad yourself,” Gibbs said, sounding embarrassed. “I’ve always known you had a great butt, but holding it… You look really good. I mean it, Tony.”

 

“Thanks,” Tony replied, grinning. He’d done his best to keep in shape in the year since he’d run a triathlon, but it had been tough to keep the weight off. He’d been watching what he ate, and had kept up with the biking, and it kept him trim.

 

He leaned forward and pinned Gibbs to the bed, angling his head to get the perfect fit, playing with his tongue, nipping his bottom lip, and when Gibbs made little sounds of satisfaction, that went straight to Tony’s cock. Tony wanted him so badly, his cock, squashed between them, was hardening, getting ready for another round.

 

Gibbs held him securely in his arms, then rolled them both so Tony was on the bottom, kissing him the entire time. Tony pushed and tried to roll back, wanting to be on top, but their legs were tangled together and it appeared that Gibbs wasn’t about to give him an inch. It was so good, being held like this, and Gibbs was kissing him deeply, his hands caressing his hair, his face, like he couldn't get enough of him, and Tony thought this must be what it’s like to make love, to be loved, and he let the feeling wash over him.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The sky outside was just beginning to lighten. “It was Agah Bayar,” Tony said in a quiet voice. “He’s the one I had … lunch with, that day I came around to see if you needed anything.” Bayar was the last man he’d had sex with – before Gibbs – and the difference between them was indisputable.

 

The arms dealer – Tony had had sex with him twice – had been just as brutal as one would expect, yet he’d given Tony the most intense orgasms ever in the back of his limousine, which is why he’d slunk back for a second round the very next day. And then, soon after Gibbs was home from the hospital, Tony had run into Bayar again, and the man apologized for being hard on Tony last time they’d met, and wanted to make it up to him. Maybe a long lunch? Tony, like a horny idiot, agreed, and although Bayar was true to his word, with the sex being more subdued than before, it had left Tony feeling dirty. That was not a feeling he was used to, and he didn’t like it. At the time, it was enough to make him swear off sex with arms dealers, men of power, strangers, and anyone who came equipped with a dick.

 

Tony had gone back to work without anyone noticing he’d been gone longer than usual, and afterwards he went over to Gibbs’ house to see what he could do for him. Gibbs had been a prickly bastard, snarling he didn’t need help (which he obviously did, if only to ensure he didn’t fall on his face on the short trip from his lumpy couch to the ground-floor bathroom), so Tony hadn’t stayed long.

 

That night he and Zoe shared a pizza and watched a sappy romantic movie together, and, as he was feeling unusually sentimental, Tony asked her if she wanted to get serious about their relationship.

 

He didn’t plan on asking her; it just seemed the thing to do at the time. Maybe it was because he’d let Bayar fuck him like that, and afterwards he’d felt really bad about himself. All the times he’d had sex, he’d never felt that dirty after it. Or maybe it was because of the way Gibbs had pushed him aside when all he’d been doing was trying to lend a helping hand. Gibbs had really hurt his feelings, and although Tony would normally shrug it off, this time it felt different, like it was the final straw. No matter what the reason, he’d asked Zoe if she wanted to be serious about them, knowing that the next logical step would be to get engaged ­– and married.

 

Tony had expected questions about living arrangements, and their future and kids and all that stuff, but Zoe barely glanced up when she responded, “Sure, Spider.” A second later she was asking him about an NCIS investigation that the ATF had an interest in. That was Zoe, always mixing pleasure with business.

 

“You had lunch with Bayar,” Gibbs repeated.

 

“Yeah. Big guy. Smooth talker. Turkish arms dealer?”

 

“I know who he is.” Gibbs ground out.

 

Tony could tell Gibbs was infuriated by the slight twitch going on at the corner of his mouth, and he readied himself to get a reaming. But Gibbs surprised Tony by turning to him, taking his face in both hands, and kissing him long and hard. When Tony came up for air, feeling decidedly dizzy and with a satisfied smile on his face, Gibbs said, “Thank you.”

 

“For what?” Tony asked, blinking and wondering if he’d missed something.

 

“For telling me.”

 

Tony figured he’d better get the whole thing off his chest while Gibbs was in a good mood. “I’d had sex with him before, but after the second time, I swore off him. He was sort of… aggressive.” He took Gibbs’ hand when he saw him frowning. “I wasn’t coerced or anything. I’m not some fainting virgin, Gibbs. That day I ran into Bayar on the street, he was… persistent, said he wanted to make up for the previous time… But none of it matters. It won’t happen again.”

 

Gibbs squeezed his hand and said, “Yeah, I know. And not just with him.”

 

Tony pulled his hand away. “I’ve had sex with half of DC, and most of them men! What makes you think that’s gonna change?”

 

Gibbs explained carefully, “Tony, that’s in your past. It won’t be happening again.”

 

“Oh, it won’t?” At first Tony was annoyed and maybe a bit angry at Gibbs for being so presumptuous. He was like a bulldozer at times, taking charge as if he was the only one who knew the right way, expecting others to follow him without question. But then Tony understood that it wasn’t arrogance at all. This was Gibbs cutting through all of his protests, all the crap, because he truly believed that Tony’s longtime practice of sleeping around was over.

 

“Nope,” said Gibbs.

 

Tony asked, “How can you be so sure?”

 

“Because I know you. And I trust you,” Gibbs said matter-of-factly, looking straight into his eyes. “And you’re gonna be way too busy having sex with me to even think of anyone else.”

 

“You trust me? I don’t think you should do that. Hell, even I don’t trust me.” Desperate to find something else to talk about, Tony averted his gaze, ran his hand over the rumpled sheets on the bed and asked, “Are these new? These sheets are really nice, high thread count, and the mattress is firm, just how I like it for sex.”

 

“I bought them a few months ago. I figured I’d try sleeping up here again,” Gibbs said with a small shrug. “Didn’t have a good reason to, not until now.”

 

“I remember you burning everything after Stephanie divorced you,” Tony said with a small smile. He’d started at NCIS soon after Gibbs’ divorce, and although Stephanie had been the one to file, she was bitter as hell and kept calling Gibbs to harass him. He heard Gibbs chuckle, so he looked up and met his eyes. “That mean you’re going to have a bonfire when… this ends?”

 

Gibbs kept eye contact with Tony when he said, “Not gonna happen.”

 

“Really?” Tony sent Gibbs a skeptical look. Gibbs’ forceful way of speaking, the way he was looking at him, with such focus, as if he was the only person in the world, was a definite turn-on. How the hell he was going to prevent his cock from springing to attention every time Gibbs growled an order while at work, he didn’t know.

 

“This is going to work.”

 

“I think you’re placing your money on the wrong horse, Gibbs.”

 

Gibbs let out a sigh and slid closer to Tony. He pulled him into his warm, solid arms and kissed his forehead, then placed a gentle kiss on his lips. “No, I’ve got the right horse. You’re never gonna leave me. You know why?”

 

Tony shook his head.

 

“Because you love me,” said Gibbs.

 

Tony was sure Gibbs was setting him up for a fall. “You seem pretty sure of yourself.”

 

“I’m sure of you,” Gibbs replied.

 

“I don’t… love you.” For some reason, Tony found that very hard to say.

 

With a shrug, Gibbs said, “That’s something you’re gonna have to figure out on your own.”

 

“What does love have to do with any of this? This was sex. I mean, it was fun and everything, but that’s all it was,” Tony protested. He felt distinctly uncomfortable and was thinking this might be a good time to leave.

 

Gibbs gave Tony a lingering kiss, and then another one, deeper and insistent, his hands exploring in a way that left Tony practically panting with need. Somehow he found himself lying on the bed with Gibbs on top of him, which he decided wasn’t such a bad position to be in.

 

Gibbs pulled back a little and smiled fondly at him. “I’ve gotta tell you, Tony, I’ve been fucking crazy in love with you since the first moment I saw you.”

 

“You have?”

 

Gibbs nodded. “You were running down the street after me, in those tight jeans, yelling at me, and then you caught me… Just sayin’, you’re not the only one who has fantasies.” Gibbs smiled and kissed Tony again, this time with barely contained passion, as if he’d been holding back and couldn't bear to wait any longer.

 

Tony kissed him back, stifling a sob that came out of nowhere. He put everything he had into that kiss until he was drifting in sensation and there was nothing else in the world but the two of them.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

1a_afom_banner_plain

CHAPTER 6 - Breakup

 

Gibbs put his hands behind his head, lazily looking at Tony. “Hmmm.”

 

“What?”

 

“You up for another round? I don’t leave for an hour.”

 

Tony, still reeling from Gibbs’ acceptance of his admission about sleeping with Bayar, stared for a long moment before gathering his wits together. “Um, I’m really sore. I mean… you’re not exactly… small, you know.” He might protest a bit but he’d never say no. As if Gibbs didn’t know that.

 

Gibbs gave his cock, already half erect, a couple of lazy strokes and casually suggested, in a deep velvety voice that Tony would swear he’d never have thought would come out of Gibbs’ mouth, “You could fuck me, if you want.”

 

After closing his mouth, Tony cleared his throat and made certain he’d heard right. “I can… fuck you?”

 

“Yeah, but don’t take all night about it.”

 

“On it!” Of course, the thought of being able to fuck Gibbs gave Tony a raging hard-on. He nervously asked Gibbs to get on all fours, ass in the air, and was so eager to mount his boss he squeezed out too much lube. It was dripping down Gibbs’ ass and thighs, so they were slipping around for a few minutes before Gibbs made an impatient sound.

 

Remembering that was his first time, Tony gave Jethro, his lover (that’s how he was thinking of him now: Jethro, his lover) a pillow for under his chest, and started working his fingers, one at a time, into his hole. By the time he had inserted three fingers, and had stretched him pretty well (damn, he was tight), Jethro was moaning loudly. Tony took hold of his hard-as-fuck cock, got lined up, and ever-so-slowly entered the older man. The first couple of inches proved to be difficult, and Jethro grunted and swore, but after taking a deep breath he growled at Tony to move. Like Tony was going to say no?

 

Topping Jethro was one hell of a ride, and this time it was Jethro groaning with every thrust, gripping the headboard and crying out, “Fuck! Fuck!” as he came in ropey streams of cum, shooting all over the sheets. Tony soon followed suit, shaking through his climax, panting into Jethro’s neck until he collapsed on top of him.

 

When he awoke the early morning light was streaming in, and Jethro was gone.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

After dashing home to shower and change into fresh clothes, Tony broke the speed limit in order to get to work on time. Since Gibbs was out of the office for two days, and he was in charge, he could have arrived ten minutes after the rest of the team and nobody would have cared. But Tony was a bit of a stickler about being in early, so he was glad to see that Bishop and McGee were right behind him. Their borrowed agent, Dale Carney, hurried in, carrying a tray of coffees and pastries.

 

Tony sent Bishop and Carney out to double-check some witness statements from a previous case that needed to be wrapped up, so it was just him and McGee at their desks most of that day.

 

Tony had trouble concentrating on the boring tasks in front of him. He thought about Gibbs flying to California, knowing only that the trip had something to do with DEA Agent Luis Mitchell’s late father. And he reflected on the things Gibbs (Jethro) had said to him last night, including that he was crazy in love with him. He was still reeling from that. And he thought about how Gibbs had been so sure that he was in love with him, too; but was he? He tried really hard to suppress his memories of the things they’d done in bed (like being tied to the headboard with Jethro’s heavy leather belt while Jethro bit his ass; or Jethro’s ass muscles clenching around his cock as he shuddered and came) – because it sure didn’t take much for his cock to start twitching.

 

McGee kept sending curious looks at him, which he studiously ignored. As if he couldn’t feel his eyes upon him. Finally, Tony had had enough. “You trying to melt me with the Vulcan death glare or something?”

 

“It’s a Vulcan death grip, not a glare,” McGee corrected. “Unless it’s from Gibbs, and then I guess it’s okay to call it a death stare.”

 

Tony looked up from his screen and waited.

 

“Oh. Sorry. Only… you’ve been kind of quiet and your face…”

 

“What about my face?” Tony asked, worrying that he had something on it.

 

“Earlier, you were sort of flushed, and when I checked to see if you were okay a few minutes later, you were back to normal. Then it happened again…” McGee asked hesitantly, “You all right, Tony?”

 

Tony felt his face getting hot under McGee’s stare, but he smiled as effortlessly as possible and said, “Must be the allergy medication I took this morning. Doesn’t seem to agree with me.”

 

Now Tim seemed truly concerned. “You should see Ducky. Allergy medications, and their interactions with other meds can cause a drop in blood pressure and–”

 

Tony rose abruptly. “You’re right, and I’m going to head down to Ducky right now. Why don’t you take a break? Maybe even a long lunch. You deserve it.” The minute those words were out of his mouth, Tony’s brain replayed a video of himself sucking on Agah Bayar’s sizeable dick in the back of his limo during one of his long lunches, and his face grew even hotter. He waved a hand at McGee and headed for the stairs before the agent could call in the paramedics.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Never intending to see Ducky, Tony walked into Abby’s lab without any specific purpose. He just needed a break and thought he might be able to relax for half an hour on the soft couch she kept in the back office. He’d had barely two hours sleep last night, and was already fading.

“What’s wrong?” were the first words out of Abby’s mouth.

 

Tony slumped on the couch and sighed. “I’m thinking of breaking up with Zoe.”

 

“Oh no, you can’t break up with her,” Abby protested. She sat beside Tony and gave him a big hug. “You’re such a great couple, both smart and good-looking, with cute nicknames for each other…”

 

Tony rested his head on the back of the couch and closed his eyes. It was nice that everyone cared enough to be worried about his health, his future and even his love life, but right now he really needed to be left alone. He wasn’t breaking up with Zoe because of last night, because of finally having sex with Jethro, he told himself. It was time, and he’d been avoiding talking to her about it.

 

To Abby he said, “I’m surprised it’s lasted as long as it has. We don’t get much time together with our schedules, and I the bloom is definitely off the roses. We can still be friends,” he said. Zoe wasn’t one to hold a grudge and they’d been friends and colleagues a lot longer than lovers, he reasoned.

 

“Friends? Whatever you do, don’t tell her that! It’s the last thing any girl getting dumped wants to hear,” Abby said, concerned. “Oh! What about Senior? Tony, he’s going to be so disappointed. He was expecting grandkids, and he told me he was sure Zoe was the one, and–”

 

Opening his eyes, Tony asked, “Wait a minute! Grandkids? Why have you been talking to my father? Never mind. I don’t want to know.” He waved his hand to indicate this discussion wasn’t going any further, and closed his eyes again.

 

Abby retreated into the lab, and it wasn’t long before he heard McBusybody’s voice talking with her in low tones. Tony knew they were talking about him, but he couldn't be bothered to do anything about it.

 

He didn’t like the idea of Abby being chummy with his dad, and he definitely didn’t like the idea she’d been talking to Senior about his relationship with Zoe. Who knew what they were scheming?

 

Senior had been around more than usual the past few months. He’d tried to take Zoe out to lunch, and had apparently dropped by her apartment a few times. She lived all the way out in North Bethesda, so Senior’s excuse that he was ‘just passing by’ just didn’t cut it.

 

Zoe had told him his dad had come by a couple of times, and she’d made the excuse she’d been too busy with work to go out with him. She’d apologized to Tony but he’d assured her the apology wasn’t necessary. Zoe had asked him what his dad wanted with her, and seemed put off by Senior’s pushy personality.

 

What could Tony tell her except Senior thought he could manipulate his son’s future? “He wants me to settle down with you, and expects us to buy a house big enough so he can move in,” he’d joked. It was probably close to the truth though.

 

But now Tony pushed those thoughts aside. He didn’t want to think about Zoe, or his father. Instead, he focused on what Jethro had told him last night, that he’d loved him since he’d first seen him. Yeah, that made Tony feel warm and fuzzy deep inside, even though he didn’t understand where Gibbs’ surprise confession was coming from. It had been quite the revelation, because even though Gibbs had occasionally shown an exasperated sort of affection for him, there had never been any indication he cared for him. Loved him. Like crazy. That’s what he’d said. God, it was all too much to deal with, and he was so tired…

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Jethro came in, smiling in a predatory way. The lab was cast in darkness; Abby was gone and they were alone. Tony tried to speak but although his lips moved, he couldn't make himself be heard. Jethro reached out and ran a hand over Tony’s hair, then pulled his head forward, unzipping himself at the same time. His cock, huge and erect, dripping with pre-cum, was pushed against Tony’s lips, Jethro encouraging him to open his mouth wide to accommodate its girth and length. God, it was big, too big, and tasted salty and bitter. Tony didn’t like people putting things in his mouth at the best of times, but all of a sudden he found himself eager to suck on the head.

 

Jethro gently held Tony’s head while guiding him to take in his cock, one slow inch at a time. It was too much, Tony thought, but he wrapped a hand around the base of the cock and did his best to relax his throat. He swallowed convulsively, gagging a bit, but instead of pulling out, Jethro started fucking his mouth in small, barely controlled thrusts. Tony could hear Jethro breathing hard through his nose, making soft noises every time Tony sucked a little harder and explored him with his tongue even though his vision was graying out from lack of oxygen. Just when he started to lose consciousness and thought that this was one hell of a way to die, Jethro grabbed a fistful of his hair and thrust deeper, crying out as he came down Tony’s throat.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

A loud ringing startled Tony awake. Fuck, it was his phone. He coughed a couple of times and licked his lips, but there was no trace of Jethro’s taste to be found. He was at work. Must have fallen asleep. The phone rang insistently. He sat up, disoriented, and saw Abby was in the lab, working on something, and daylight streaming through the windows. Jethro… Gibbs… shit, it had been a dream. He tried to shake it off but his cock was hard, pushing against the confines of the dress pants he’d worn that day. While pressing on the bulge in his pants, willing his hard-on to diminish, he pulled out his phone and answered the call. “DiNozzo,” he said, trying to sound fully awake.

 

“Tony, I’m glad I reached you,” a female voice said.

 

It took him a second to recognize her voice. “Hey, Joanna,” he said. It wasn’t great timing but he was always happy to hear from CIA officer Teague, with whom he’d partnered to track down Budd, the head of the Calling. Budd had not only been the piece of crap behind the deaths of hundreds of people, but he’d also been behind the bombing that had killed Ned Dorneget, Joanna Teague’s son.

 

“Don’t worry, this isn’t business,” Joanna assured him. “I’ve been going through Ned’s belongings and I found some things I think his friends might like to have. If you could give them to McGee and the others…”

 

“That’s really good of you. Of course I’ll do it,” Tony replied, feeling sadness over Dorney’s death sweep over him. “It must be difficult, going through his stuff. Do you… need any help?”

 

“You’re sweet, Tony, but no, I’m done. There is one thing though. Ned left something for you, with a note, and he made a request I take you out to lunch and give it to you.”

 

Tony sniffed and took a moment to collect himself. “Okay, I can do it tomorrow, if we don’t catch a case. I can’t be out of the office too long though. Gibbs is away until late tomorrow, and I have to at least give the appearance of keeping an eye on things.”

 

“Is Baccarat good for you, Thursday at one?” Joanna asked.

 

Baccarat was his favorite restaurant, and he’d gone there once with Dorney, who’d loved it. It was styled after a French casino of the same name, and had James Bond memorabilia on the walls, as well as Bond-themed food and drinks. “I’ll be there. I’m looking forward to it.”

 

After Tony disconnected the call he left the forensics lab and went straight to the restroom to splash water on his face. At least his erection had gone down. What disturbed him more than having a dream at work, in which he was being choked to the point of passing out by Gibbs’ big cock (when neither of them had actually sucked on the other’s cock yet), was that he’d thought of Gibbs as Jethro throughout the whole thing. Calling the boss by his first name (actually his middle name) seemed intimate and suggested a closeness he wasn’t quite comfortable with, even if they had had one hell of a marathon of sex just last night. Still, no matter what name Tony called him, the thought of death by Jethro’s cock was rather alarming.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

It was surprising that his relationship with Zoe had lasted for as long as it had. Of course they had a history, and their relationship was based upon that special kind of closeness that came with being fellow cops. They’d worked together when they were both on the Philadelphia PD, and yes, they’d slept together – but nothing serious. After reuniting recently, they picked up where they’d left off. What he and Zoe had was good, and not demanding; he didn’t have to work too hard at it, and neither did she. They were comfortable but not… passionate.

 

Their sex life had been on the wane recently. Thinking back, Tony realized they hadn’t slept together since… had it really been a week? She hadn’t said anything, or made any move to stay over, either. But then, neither had he.

 

Being familiar with someone and having sex on the side because it was convenient wasn’t working for him. Tony didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but this wasn’t it.

 

Maybe it was because he was getting older, but Tony had started thinking about what kind of person constituted the right kind of partner for him. He wanted someone who cared about and understood him, who was loyal and truthful, someone he could count on, who’d take care of him when he got hurt, comfort him if he was troubled. Someone he could talk to, real discussions, not just shop talk. He wanted someone he cared about, above all else, someone he could be himself with, who wouldn't judge him too harshly when he messed up.

 

He laughed bitterly at that. As if there was anyone like that in the world, much less anyone who might care about him enough to actually stick with him, no matter what. Lately he’d wondered if he’d end up alone; it wouldn't surprise him if he did.

 

Besides, committed relationships were nothing but trouble. He knew this for a fact, having witnessed the downfall of several of his own father’s marriages. How quickly they went from ‘in love forever’ to hating each other’s guts and heading straight for the divorce courts. Being responsible for someone else’s happiness was a tough job, and besides, marriage was an outdated institution. If anyone believed that happily-ever-after was a reality, well, they were delusional. As soon as you lost respect for each other and said things with the sole intention of hurting the one you’re supposed to love, the whole thing only had one way to go: downhill. Not to mention all the legal, financial and emotional crap that came with divorce.

 

Tony idly wondered if a long-term relationship with a man would have a better chance of success than it would with a woman. Either way, he was enough of a realist to know that romantic love and being together forever with either sex was unlikely to be on his agenda.

 

Naturally, getting married to a woman would please his dad no end. Considering Senior had been married and divorced a handful of times – was he up to number six now? – it was weird that he expected his son to settle down and have a bunch of kids, and a house in the ‘burbs that came with an SUV, a dog and a whopping great mortgage. Just thinking about that scenario made Tony shudder.

 

He was going to have to have a conversation with Zoe. Maybe he’d say something like, “Hey, we’ve had a good run, but I think it’s time, don’t you?” Or, “It’s for the best. You deserve someone who’ll settle down with you… and we both know that isn’t going to be me.” Splitting up was the best move for both of them; surely she would see that. Even if Zoe wanted out of their companionable alliance, chances were she’d act affronted at being rejected, and there’d be one doozey of a fight. He’d have to be sympathetic but firm. Dig in his heels. Walk away with dignity.

 

Tony sighed. He should have stuck to one-night stands with random strangers, he thought, shaking his head. So much easier.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The break-up did not go well at all, and yes, they had a fight, and yes, he yelled back, and damn it, maybe they should have broken up earlier if the result was fireworks in bed.

 

They tumbled into her bedroom, not stopping to turn on the lights, stripping hurriedly, kissing and wrestling to see who’d end up on top. Only, just before they consummated their break-up, Tony realized he couldn't go through with it. He envisioned Jethro, shaking his head in disappointment and turning his back on him. Tony pushed Zoe off him and cried, “I can’t! I can’t do this…” He scrambled out of bed, falling on his ass in his haste.

 

Zoe demanded, “What the hell is going on with you?” She flipped on the light on her nightstand, and for the first time that night, she saw Tony’s naked body. There was no way she could miss seeing the love bites Gibbs had marked him with, including the deep one on his shoulder that was turning a nasty shade of purple. It didn’t help any that the bruises on his hips were made by rather large hands, and there were some questionable marks adorning his ass.

 

“What the fuck? Who did that to you? Are those bite marks? And what is… Oh my God!” Zoe yelled before punching Tony in the gut and pushing him out of her bedroom.

 

Tony apologized through her locked bedroom door, and he felt like the worst kind of person imaginable when she opened it (briefly) to toss his clothes in his face, and she asked through tears, “Why did you even start with me if you always go back to men? You know I want to have kids before it’s too late! Now you’ve ruined everything!”

 

Years ago, when they were both a bit drunk, he had admitted to her that he was drawn to men. At the time it had seemed like a bright idea, because it meant she had no need to be jealous over any women he flirted with. Tony’s reasoning was that he was more likely to look twice at a guy, not at a girl. But it had backfired and Zoe had freaked out, saying, “Great, so now I not only have women as competition, but men, too!”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 


Tony slunk out of Zoe’s apartment, and beat himself up all the way home. Only, he realized that his actions, pulling back from having one last fuck with her, had been because he’d felt it would be disloyal to Jethro. Even though Tony had cheated on Zoe by sleeping with his boss. And yet his brain was telling him he couldn't sleep with his girlfriend because he belonged with Jethro now. How twisted was that?

 

It was another night of little-to-no sleep. In the morning Tony had to dab a bit of concealer, aptly named Night Out, under his eyes to disguise the dark circles before going to work.

 

Bishop called in sick, and they didn’t get any new cases, so Tony gave Dale Carney some busy work to do. A couple of their cases were heading to court and they needed to make sure all the evidence as well as accompanying paperwork was in order.

 

When Tony looked up he caught McGee frowning at him, openly concerned over his appearance. Apparently wearing your best-fitting designer suit and a crimson tie, and a few dabs of Night Out under your eyes didn’t hide the fact you were a mess.

 

Finally, it was time to leave for his meeting with Joanna Teague. As Tony rose from his desk, holstering his firearm, he told McGee he had a business meeting to attend, and he’d be back in a couple of hours.

 

McGee was quick and blocked Tony before he could escape. “You’d tell me if there’s anything I can do, right?”

 

“I’m just going to a lunch meeting.”

 

“You can’t hide from me, Tony.”

 

“I’m fine, McMother. Haven’t slept well the past couple of nights, that’s all. Some personal stuff. Not a big deal.”

 

“Well… okay. If you want, we could maybe watch a movie marathon on TV this weekend. Your choice,” McGee generously offered.

 

“Thanks, Tim,” Tony replied sincerely. “But I think I’m going to take it easy and get caught up on sleep. Raincheck though, so long as we don’t have to watch all 79 episodes of the original Star Trek again. How about Twilight Zone?”

 

McGee smiled, and agreed. “When is the boss coming back?”

 

“Flight arrives at 1700,” Tony said. He intended to be on his way home just about the time Gibbs was picking his luggage up off the carousel.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

Untitled

CHAPTER 7 - The Pin-up

 

The interior of Baccarat Restaurant was so dark Tony had to stand just inside the door to wait for his eyes to adjust. This kind of place was a favorite of politicians, perfect for making deals in shadowy corners. He joined Joanna, who rose from a blue velvet chair at a gold table to give him a hug, and as soon as they sat, a server came over bearing a tray with two martinis upon it.

 

“I thought you might like the Vesper Martini,” Joanna said, smiling. “It uses gin and vodka, and Kina Lillet instead of vermouth, and is garnished with lemon peel. Try it.”

 

Tony sipped at the drink. It was very good, though he really shouldn't be sipping cocktails on a workday. But, on the other hand, he was the kind of guy who spent the occasional lunch hour sucking dick in a rich and powerful man’s limo, so what the hell.

 

After some small talk and ordering Bond-themed food, Joanna slid a large carrier bag towards Tony. “A few things of my son’s, for you to give to his friends. Some photos from work parties, a couple of books, hand-held computer games…”

 

Tony thanked her for the thoughtful gesture, but Joanna pushed the thanks away. “Here, this is for you,” she said, placing a small black velvet box and a sealed envelope in front of Tony. “I don’t know what’s in it, or what Ned wrote, but your name’s on it.”

 

Tony hesitated, unsure if he was expected to open it now, or in the privacy of his home, but Joanna indicated he should open it while they waited for their meal to arrive. Inside the envelope was a single sheet of paper. Tony read it and then handed it to Joanna. It was hand-written, and said, “I saw these in Germany and immediately thought of you. I’ll bet you have the right kind of shirts for it. You can flash them while impressing the girls (or boys) with speaking lines from a Bond movie.”

 

Inside the box was a pair of platinum cufflinks. Each had two wings spread out horizontally, with the Aston Martin logo in the center. “Wow, iconic James Bond.” Tony laughed, and tried not to tear up, but he was really touched by Dorney’s gift. He said so to Ned’s mother, and they held hands for a moment, thinking about their friend and son’s death until their food arrived.

 

“I’m glad you killed Budd,” Joanna said fiercely.

 

“I probably shouldn't admit this, but I was aiming for leg and hit him in the balls.” And then another to the chest, Tony thought, right in his slimy black heart.

 

“He’s dead. End of story,” Joanna said with a small smile. “I’m glad it was you that took him out.”

 

“If you CIA agents ran a little faster, it could have been your kill,” Tony teased.

 

“As I recall, I was a little busy, buying you a genuine Hong Kong silk tie.”

 

They talked some more over a lunch of Casino Royale cranberry-glazed lamb, and after sharing a slice of sinfully good chocolate cake covered in golden jimmies (the Goldfinger Fudge Cake) and another martini, Joanna said to Tony, “I had another reason to see you, Tony, away from the watchful eyes of your colleagues. You see, I have a proposition for you…”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

No new cases came in that afternoon so Tony gathered his things and approached the elevator just after five. Just as he pushed the down button, the door slid open with a ding and Gibbs strode out. “You’re back early,” Tony said, quickly standing to the side so he didn’t get run down. He chided himself for not leaving five minutes earlier.

 

The first thing out of Gibbs’ mouth was, “You look like crap, DiNozzo.”

 

“Nice to see you, too, Boss.” Out of nowhere came the image of him grappling in bed with the boss. Something must have shown on his face because Gibbs was looking at him with narrowed eyes. Tony plastered a smile on his face.

 

Gibbs frowned. “You leaving?”

 

“Going home,” Tony replied, entering the elevator.

 

Gibbs held the door and asked, “Come over tonight?”

 

“Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea…” Tony looked around, but the few people remaining in the office were well out of earshot.

 

Still holding the elevator door open, Gibbs leaned forward and said in a low voice, “I want to talk.”

 

Tony asked incredulously, “You’re proposing to talk?” It was easy making fun of him, even though the other night Gibbs had talked, and he’d said some things that Tony still hadn’t had time to process.

 

Gibbs shrugged and said, “Yeah, although I wouldn't say no to doing something a bit more… fun… How ‘bout I cook you a steak, just like you like ‘em?”

 

Tony raised an eyebrow and asked in a mocking tone, “Agent Gibbs, are you trying to bribe me?”

 

Grinning, Gibbs said, “If that’s what it takes. I’ve been… thinking about you… about the other night. A lot.”

 

Shaking his head ruefully, Tony asked, “What am I going to do with you?”

 

“Whatever you wanna do with me, I’ll be home in an hour.” Gibbs grinned and released the elevator door.

 

As he got in his car, Tony considered heading home for a shower and change of clothes, but home was in the opposite direction of Gibbs’ place. Tony had a change of clothes and some toiletries in his go-bag, so he drove straight to Gibbs’ house.

 

He always kept two or three gym bags in his car. One contained a change of work clothes; another was packed with casual clothing, things he could layer. Both had a few toiletries in them. The third bag was more of a catch-all of things ‘you never know when you might need.’ That one had emergency flares, rope, zip-ties, power bars and water, spare socks and gym shoes, ammo and a couple of knives, a Leatherman multi-tool, a fire starter, solar cell-phone charger and a medical supply kit. He made a mental note to add condoms and lube to his bag of supplies.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

After he’d had a shower and dressed in jeans, a black tee and an olive-green sweater, Tony went downstairs. It felt odd being alone in Gibbs’ home, but he located a beer and pulled a book on Naval heroes from the bookcase in the living room. After leafing through the book, and being unable to concentrate, he decided to check out the basement before Gibbs got home.

 

The motorboat Gibbs was currently working on was coming along. Its 19-foot hull was complete, sanded smooth and ready for the first coat of shellac, from the looks of it. Gibbs had told him it was modeled after a toy boat he and his dad had made together when he was a kid. That version had been called the Chickadee, which was his mother’s nickname.

 

This was the first motorized boat he’d ever known Gibbs to build, but the craftsmanship was just as elegant and beautiful as any of his sailboats. A full-size original 1940s barrelback motorboat went for $150,000 or more these days, so no wonder Gibbs was building one himself, at a fraction of the cost. Maybe, once it was finished, and it was time to get the boat out of the basement, Gibbs would finally let him in on the big secret of how he did it.

 

Tony was about to go back upstairs when he noticed a poster taped to the wall behind the workbench, half-hidden behind a cardboard box full of rolled-up paper plans. It was a large picture of a hopped-up old car, and although Tony wasn’t into hot rods, he recognized it as a black cherry coupe from the 1930s. He leaned closer to read the detailed description printed on the lower left-hand corner. Yep, it was a five-window 1932 Ford with a custom dual-inlet carburetor scoop, custom-made rippled headers, and plenty of chrome. If this was what Gibbs planned on building next, he wouldn't mind working on it with him, he thought with a smile.

 

To see the rest of the poster, Tony pushed the box off to the side and was surprised to reveal a large cutout photo taped on top of the car poster. It was a photo of a bare-chested man reclining, braced on one elbow, wearing black tri shorts.

 

After doing a double-take, Tony stepped backwards, reeling in shock. Holy crap! That was him in the photo! From the triathlon. Abby had taken it when he was recovering from the grueling event. And it was in Gibbs’ basement. A half-naked picture of him, his expression one of happiness overcoming his exhaustion. It took him back to the incredible sense of achievement he’d felt for simply finishing the course. Only… this picture of him was hanging in Gibbs’ basement, as though he was a pin-up, a sex object. Gibbs had hung this up where he could see it while he worked on his bait? Why? Tony just couldn't process it. He needed air, to get out.

 

Tony clambered up the basement stairs and rounded the corner into the kitchen, only to collide with Gibbs. He must have just arrived home. Gibbs grabbed Tony, steadying him, but Tony shook him off, all of a sudden angry, the kind of angry often described as steam coming out of your ears, or ready to blow – that kind of violent, harsh, seething anger. He pointed in the direction of the basement and demanded, “What the hell is that down there?”

 

“What’re you talking about?”

 

“Don’t give me that! You have a photo of me down there, hanging over your fucking workbench, Gibbs!”

 

“Oh, yeah… well…” Gibbs rubbed the back of his head and said, “Like you said, we both have fantasies.”

 

“Are you kidding me? I look like Mark Spitz without the medals! I’m half-naked, and that’s me, and it’s so… wrong! How the fuck long have you had that up on your wall?”

 

Gibbs’ face scrunched up as if he were thinking hard about his answer, but Tony could tell he was stalling. “Maybe… a few months?”

 

“A few months? You’ve been staring at my body for months?” Gibbs shrugged, but he didn’t look like he was sorry, not at all, which made Tony demand, “It’s been longer than that, hasn’t it? When did Abby give it to you, and why the hell would she do that in the first place?”

 

“Look, let’s calm down. Take a seat and I’ll tell you all about it,” Gibbs said in an even tone. He tried to take Tony’s arm to guide him towards a kitchen chair but Tony sidestepped him and stalked into the living room, still fuming. He could hear Gibbs following him, and swore if he touched him he’d punch him in the face. After a few deep breaths, he calmed down a little, and indicated Gibbs should be the one to sit. He needed to move around, to be taller than Gibbs.

 

Gibbs sat on the couch, his expression neutral. “Tony, sit.”

 

Ignoring the directive, Tony stopped his pacing and stood over him, and said, in a deceptively cool and collected voice, “Abby gave you the photo.”

 

“She showed me her photos after the triathlon. I said how much I liked that one.” Gibbs gave him a small smile. “You were so satisfied, so happy… it made me happy, and happy for you. So she offered to get me a copy. I was thinking something for my wallet, and she turned up with a fucking huge enlargement.”

 

Hearing Gibbs say he was happy was unusual, for starters, and being the reason for that rarely expressed emotion made Tony flush with pleasure. However, he was not pleased that Abby would give Gibbs a blown-up picture of himself without first asking. It took him back to the time, years ago, when Kate and Abby had put their heads together and doctored a photo of him to look like a cowboy coming out of a gay leather bar with another man.

 

Everyone who had seen it had thought it was hysterically funny, except for him – and Gibbs. Gibbs had been royally pissed. He had made McGee run a tracer through all the NCIS computers to seek the image and eradicate it. And he’d barely talked to Kate for weeks afterwards.

 

The picture Abby had given Gibbs might not be a fake, and she had only given it to Gibbs, as far as he knew, but she had crossed a line just the same. He was going to have a serious talk with her.

 

“Don’t take it out on her,” Gibbs said. “It was my idea, asking for a print of it. I’ll take it down.”

 

Tony frowned at Gibbs. “When did she make that enlargement for you?”

 

Gibbs sighed and admitted, “Soon after the race.”

 

“That means you’ve been leering at me for a whole year!”

 

Instead of seeming at all remorseful, Gibbs looked up at Tony, who was now hovering over him in an intimidating manner, and grinned. “I’ve been leering at you for far longer than that, DiNozzo.”

 

“What the hell does that mean?”

 

“C’mon, you’ve been driving me crazy since day one.”

 

Tony stared at Gibbs for a moment. “Crazy how?”

 

“Hell, you were always chasing some girl for a phone number or bending over in your tight trousers and showing me your ass. You think it was easy working beside you day in, day out, wanting to get you in bed the whole time? Knowing I couldn't? I had to tell myself you were off-limits and to suck it up,” Gibbs said, a bit defiantly.

 

“My ass? In bed?” How had he missed Gibbs getting all hot and bothered over him like that? “So that first time, when I tackled you, the way your knee pressed against my balls… that was on purpose?”

 

Gibbs chuckled. “Yeah. I figured I might get punched for my troubles, but it was worth a try.”

 

Tony’s anger had died down, but now he was feeling somewhat aggressive, and Gibbs-who-was-now-Jethro, seated on the couch, was there for the taking. Time to teach him a lesson, Tony thought. Moving closer, Tony straddled him, his knees sinking into the couch cushions, and smiled wickedly. “I’m not gonna hit you, but I am gonna make you pay,” he said in a low, sultry voice.

 

Jethro tipped his head back and asked, “You’re going to punish me?”

 

Tony grabbed a fistful of Jethro’s silver hair and growled, “Damn right I am.” Jethro was staring at his mouth, and he licked his lips, and that’s when Tony descended upon him. He kissed him long and deep, and Jethro’s tongue battled with his, while his hands slid under Tony’s shirt and caressed his back. Tony gently bit Jethro’s bottom lip, and when Jethro moaned, Tony’s cock surged to attention. Breaking the kiss, he said breathlessly, “Fuck, you do something to me, Jethro Gibbs.”

 

“Something good?”

 

“Come to bed and I’ll show you.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

They lay entwined, with Tony pressed up against Jethro’s side, Jethro’s arm behind him, holding him while sweat and cum drying on their bellies and thighs.

 

Tony yawned and Jethro asked, “I wear you out?”

 

Tony smiled. “Yeah, but I haven’t had any sleep the last couple of nights, between you and Zoe.” Oops, he hadn’t meant to say that. Before Jethro could ask, he explained, “I broke up with her last night.”

 

Jethro nodded in understanding. “You fight?”

 

“Yeah. It was time, but just the same, I didn’t want to hurt her. It got… sort of intense.”

 

Jethro turned his head and stared at him. “You have sex?”

 

Tony met his eyes, surprised. “No. We started to get into it but… I stopped. And I left.”

 

“Huh.”

 

“It’s the truth!”

 

“I believe you. But it’s over,” Jethro said, making sure.

 

“Yes, it is,” Tony said unhappily. “The thing is, I knew she wanted kids, but I got the feeling she just wanted me as a sperm donor.”

 

“And you don’t want kids?”

 

Everyone knew his fear of children, and how, no matter how hard he tried, he could never get on the same wavelength as kids. Okay, all that was somewhat exaggerated. He wasn’t scared of kids, just didn’t like the way they often said what was on their mind. It was disconcerting. Tony was quiet for a while. “Kids aren’t exactly on my scorecard. You see…” He turned to face Jethro, to tell him a secret that only two people, both doctors, knew. “…those meds they gave me to zap the y pestis buggers outta my body? Seems they left me sterile.”

 

Jethro seemed sympathetic. “Tony…”

 

“Hey, it’s okay,” Tony said with a shrug. “It really is. I know some people would give anything to have a child, like Jimmy and Breena, but I’m just not wired that way. Might have something to do with my upbringing. Or maybe it’s in the genes. I mean, look at my father. He sure as hell didn’t want any kids, and then he goes and gets saddled with me.” He said brightly, “Good news is, I never have to worry about getting anyone pregnant.”

 

Jethro kissed him gently, lovingly, and Tony thought that he could get used to this. He slid his hand across Jethro’s chest, liking the feeling of his wiry, muscular body. “Mmm. Nice. Need sleep.”

 

“You still mad at me?”

 

Tony opened one eye and looked at Jethro. “Wha–?”

 

“For making you into a pin-up poster.”

 

“Oh, yeah, sort of. Just… ask next time,” Tony mumbled. He snuggled against Jethro’s warm body and smiled. They still had tomorrow to get through but then they’d have the weekend together; that would be nice. Except, he had to tell him about his meeting with Joanna Teague, and the real reason she’d wanted to see him. It wasn’t going to be an easy conversation. But now Jethro was stroking his hair, and Tony relaxed with a sigh. Felt good. Mmm. Talk could wait.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Friday morning dawned way too early and bright, as far as Tony was concerned. He left while Jethro was in the shower, headed home and got ready for another day at work.

 

When Jethro – Gibbs, now they were at work – arrived with a tray of coffees and donuts, he stopped last at Tony’s desk and hovered until Tony gave him his full attention. Gibbs said, under his breath, “You didn’t say good-bye.”

 

“What? Oh, well, you were in the shower,” Tony whispered.

 

“Next time, say something,” Gibbs suggested.

 

“Sure thing, Boss.” Nobody was looking their way so Tony winked, and found it amusing that the tips of Gibbs’ ears turned pink.

 

They got a call later in the afternoon to look into a possible kidnapping in Rock Creek Park. A female Navy Lieutenant who had access to a lot of highly classified information was missing. For the first time in weeks, instead of ignoring Tony in favor of one of the other agents, Gibbs barked, “DiNozzo, you, too,” as he walked past his desk. Getting to sit shotgun next to the boss as he drove at a high speed towards the park made Tony smile. Boy, he’d missed this.

 

Bishop accompanied them so there wasn’t any chance for personal talk, but that was fine with Tony. He had a lot on his mind and wasn’t in the mood for small talk. Besides, he’d had three nights in a row of less than stellar sleep, and he was dog-tired.

 

Turned out the missing lieutenant hadn’t been kidnapped at all. She’d been exploring off the trail, tripped, and fell down a hill and landed in a rocky ravine, unconscious. She regained consciousness just as the NCIS agents came on the scene, and they worked with park rangers to rescue her.

 

“Lucky to only have a sprained ankle,” said Bishop, as they got in their car.

 

“Luck depends on your perspective,” Tony pointed out. “Falling down the hill wasn’t exactly a stroke of luck.”

 

“She could have been killed, and wasn’t, so in my book that means she’s lucky,” Bishop insisted.

 

“Survival has nothing to do with luck,” Gibbs said, adding his two cents. “It’s based on your actions, not by some random chance. She walked on uneven ground and tripped. That was ill-advised but not unlucky.”

 

Tony nodded. “Like someone wise once said, ‘Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.’”

 

Bishop threw up her hands. “You two are so cynical!”

 

Tony grinned and glanced sideways at Gibbs. He said in an undertone, “’Course, if you let us finish the paperwork on Monday, we can leave at a reasonable time today, and someone might get lucky. Just sayin’.”

 

Gibbs turned to stare at Tony in disbelief, but when he faced the road ahead again, Tony caught him smirking.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

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CHAPTER 8 - Boating

 

Tony arrived at Jethro’s house just as the steaks were starting to sizzle. He knew he had to tell Jethro about his lunch with Joanna Teague and her offer sometime, but he held off, afraid it would ruin their evening together. It could wait, he thought.

 

As they sat beside each other on the couch, eating their cowboy-style steak and potato dinner, just as they had a dozen times before, Tony asked Jethro, “Is this a date?”

 

After some thought, Jethro said, “That’s good for me. Depends on you.”

 

“I’m good…for now. But if we’re going to keep doing this…”

 

“This? Sitting on my couch, eating steak?”

 

Tony gave Jethro a sideways glance. Was he being dense on purpose? “Is this how our Friday night date is going to look from now on? Eating in, and watching TV as foreplay, before going upstairs for some hot gay sex?”

 

Jethro made a small choking noise. Once he’d recovered he said, “Sounds like a good date to me.”

 

Tony elbowed him. “That all you have to say?”

 

After taking a swig of his beer, Jethro wiped his mouth and scratched his jaw. “You need something more?”

 

“Well, yeah. That would be nice. I mean, what’re we doing? Am I only a fuck-buddy to you? Someone whose picture you hang in the basement so you can jerk off to it? What’s going on with us? The sex… it’s hot… like really hot, and it’s with you… but… Is there an end game here?”

 

Jethro looked a bit hurt. “You really think I only see you as a sex object?”

 

Tony shrugged and felt his face flush. “No, I guess not. See, the thing is, I need to know where we stand, what to expect. I need to know what you expect from me.”

 

Jethro took both of their plates and set them on the coffee table. He cleared his throat before looking into Tony’s eyes and saying, “You are the man I love. I’m not into making speeches, but you have to know this is big for me. I never thought you’d be with me, like this. It’s hard to believe, even now. And even though it isn’t easy for you to say the words – yeah, I can see you struggling with it – I know you have feelings for me.”

 

Tony started to make an excuse for not responding in kind when Jethro said he loved him, but the words wouldn’t come.

 

Jethro shushed him. “You don’t have to say it.”

 

He felt guilty not saying those three important words. He did have feelings for Jethro, but he didn’t know how to express them. In the end, Tony said, with a tentative smile, “I… enjoy being with you. I really like the physical stuff, the sex. You know I’ve been with a lot of people, like, a lot, but I’ve never felt anything like the way I feel when I’m with you… And I don’t even know how to explain it, but sometimes when you’re holding me, or you’re fucking me, my heart is beating so hard I can’t hear anything else, and it sort of hurts inside, in my chest, and I think I’m gonna have a fucking heart attack. It’s kind of scary.” Jethro nodded seriously, apparently understanding, so Tony continued, “Can we just keep doing what we’re doing? For now?”

 

Jethro nodded and kissed Tony on the forehead, and then they were kissing for real, and Tony’s heart did that thing when it pounded out of his chest, and he wondered, just for a moment, if maybe that pain he felt could possibly be love.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Even though he could have happily stayed in bed all day – after all, it was Saturday – Jethro was up, dressed, and making pancakes before 0800. Tony was lying on top of the sheets, sleepily playing with his half-hard cock when Jethro flung the bedroom door open, saying, “If you want pancakes, how about you help–”

 

Tony laughed at Jethro’s surprised expression when he saw him jacking himself, but two seconds later, Jethro grabbed his ankles and pulled him swiftly to the end of the bed. Tony shouted, “Hey!” but that’s about all he got out before Jethro parted his legs, leaned over and swallowed half the length of his suddenly hard cock. Tony gasped, “Fuck!”

 

Somehow, Jethro knew exactly what to do, how much pressure to apply and when to suck. And that thing he did with his tongue just behind the head of Tony’s cock made his toes curl. By the time Jethro had finished with him, Tony barely had the energy to lift his head, and he could smell burning pancakes, but nothing could wipe the big grin off his face.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

After they’d cleaned the breakfast dishes, Jethro asked, “You want to go boating?”

 

“Can we swim?” Tony asked hopefully.

 

“Sure.”

 

“I don’t have any trunks with me,” Tony said, thinking they’d have to go by his condo to pick up some stuff.

 

“Borrow mine.”

 

“Oooh, sexy, I can get in your pants,” Tony said with a purring sound. He kissed an amused Jethro on the corner of his mouth and ran upstairs to find swim trunks and towels.

 

Jethro drove them to a local marina, where he borrowed a friend’s boat. It was an 18-foot fiberglass bay boat with a canopy, and came equipped with fishing gear. They headed south on the Potomac and took a tributary where there were marshes and abundant wildlife. It was quite beautiful, with all the colorful autumn leaves, and a brilliant blue sky overhead.

 

Still, every now and then, Tony would remember he had to come clean with Jethro, and tell him about Joanna Teague’s offer. He was torn as to whether or not to take her up on the proposition she had put forward. He was intrigued by it, really wanted to accept her offer, but this thing he had with Jethro, this incredibly sexy affair, was fresh and new, and he didn’t want to lose their momentum. Their romance felt fragile, and he did not want to be the one who rocked the boat, much less sink it, before their relationship had a chance to find its feet.

 

Shaking off his preoccupation with his ‘should I or shouldn’t I?’ thoughts, Tony made a point to enjoy the day, and to be present. It could wait, he told himself. ‘Love the one you’re with’ came to mind, and that made him smile. Jethro caught him smiling, and smiled back, a big, beautiful smile that was directed at him, and man, did that ever make his heart ache with happiness.

 

Although it was the beginning of October, it was quite warm, so Jethro guided the boat over to a clear, shady bit of shoreline. They swam in the cold water, and then ate the simple picnic Jethro had packed: rolls, corned beef, cheese, pickles, and bottled lemonade.

 

Afterwards, when they were relaxing on the large towels Tony had brought along, Jethro looked at him sideways and said, “You look good. Better than any pin-up. Just saying.”

 

“Must be the fashionable shorts,” Tony said, stroking the swim trunks made of a retro fabric.

 

“Quite the thing when I bought them,” Jethro said, indicating the similar pair he wore.

 

“Pre-war?”

 

“You’d better not be thinking of any world war,” Jethro replied with an exaggerated frown.

 

Tony had done some subtle ogling of his partner, as well, ever since he’d taken off his shirt. There were plenty of scars, on his chest and one knee in particular, but being able to look freely at his lover’s body in the light of day was a novel experience. “You’re not so bad yourself,” Tony said while sending an appreciative look at Jethro’s chest and shoulders. The guy was lean, but he sure had nice shoulders and muscular arms, and his abdomen was well-toned. “Who needs a gym when you’ve got a boat to build in the basement?”

 

With a scoff, Jethro mumbled something about being held together with staples and rods. Tony’s response was a shrug. “It’s what’s inside that counts, but I gotta say the outside sure turns me on, too.”

 

After Jethro’s embarrassed flush had died down, he suggested, “Let’s walk.” There was a rough path along the river, just wide enough for the two of them. After they’d gone a little way, Jethro said, “You know you can talk to me.”

 

“You have something specific in mind?”

 

“You had a meeting with Teague.”

 

“How did you know…?”

 

“She called Vance to ask if she could borrow you,” Jethro said, sounding suspicious.

 

“Damn it, he shouldn't have said anything. It’s nobody’s business but my own.”

 

Jethro raised an eyebrow. “It’s my business if my second-in-command takes off to work with the CIA! You had a meeting with her?”

 

“She gave me some of Ned’s things, for me and McGee, and some other people he’d worked with,” Tony replied, annoyed at the inference they’d been up to something underhanded. “She’s a really nice lady… when she isn’t interrogating a suspect in the back of an unmarked van.”

 

“You want to tell me what she really wanted?”

 

Tony sighed and said, “Jethro, please. We’re having a nice afternoon. Let’s not ruin it, okay?”

 

“She hired you, is that it? Were you gonna tell me, or sneak out in the night?”

 

“That’s not fair,” Tony protested. “I wouldn't do that to you. And I was going to talk to you about it tonight.”

 

“Your plans to go off on some covert CIA op? Or is she looking to make you her partner?” Jethro retorted, sounding more than a bit annoyed.

 

Tony wasn’t sure whether or not to laugh, as Jethro was way off base. “What exactly did Vance tell you?”

 

“That Officer Teague wanted you to work with her on a special assignment for a few weeks.”

 

“Okay, first of all, that’s not entirely accurate,” Tony said. Jethro watched him intently as he waited for an explanation. “Fine. While you were away, I had lunch with Joanna. We went to that neat James Bond restaurant…”

 

Jethro’s eyes narrowed slightly. “You sleeping with her?”

 

“God, no!” Although he’d slept with her son, that one time.

 

“You’re heading back to Hong Kong?”

 

Tony held up his hands. “Stop! This is getting bent out of shape.” He inhaled deeply and explained, “Teague put my name forward for a position. Homeland and several agencies in the intelligence community feel there’s a need to have easy access to trained undercover agents. They want to develop small units of agents who can jump into any undercover situation at a moment’s notice. You know, a corrupt agency office, a homegrown terrorist outfit, that kind of thing. Smaller agencies either don’t have the manpower or ability to focus or train such a specialized force. So that’s where we come in.”

 

“We?” Jethro asked.

 

“Uh, yeah. I’ve been chosen to head the four-person committee that’s going to design the whole thing: the training, choosing the agents, how to coordinate the requests for the units, and so on.”

 

Jethro appeared impressed, but Tony caught a flicker of something in his eyes – disappointment? – before his expression became neutral. “So you’ve decided.”

 

“Look, I wanted to discuss it with you, but I wasn’t sure how you’d take it. And I don’t like leaving right now. We’ve just started…” Tony made a motion with his hand, from Jethro to himself, indicating they were tied to each other.

 

Gibbs sighed. “How long is this gonna take?”

 

“Six weeks?” Tony said, then kicked himself for making it sound like a question. He wasn’t asking for Gibbs’ permission, but he did work for him, and he’d be an agent down. “I’ll be back in mid-November, around the 14th. McGee and Bishop can step up, and you’ve got Dale Carney as backup.” It was at that moment that he realized he had already made a decision. He wanted this job, badly, but he still needed to get Jethro’s acceptance, if not his approval.

 

“Six weeks?”

 

Jethro was struggling with this news. Tony took his hand and said lightly, “Time will fly.”

 

Jethro slowly shook his head. “I doubt it.”

 

“It’s not the other side of the world. Maybe we can swing a visit or weekend or something.” Tony moved closer. He wasn’t accustomed to being public with affection, but there was nobody around, and besides, he really needed to be close Jethro right now. “If you don’t want me to go… I can tell them no.”

 

“I wouldn’t ask that of you,” Jethro said gruffly.

 

“I don’t want to leave you.”

 

Jethro’s hold on his hand tightened. “No, you need to do this, Tony.”

 

“You know you mean more to me than any job.”

 

Jethro shook his head, denying it. “I don’t want you to regret it if you miss this opportunity, and I know you would.”

 

“Just… tell me this isn’t going to change what we have going here. I know we’re not committed or even in a relationship, but I feel close to you and…”

 

“It may not have been long, but we are definitely in a relationship,” Jethro said with certainty. He smiled crookedly and pulled Tony into a kiss, a move so unexpected that Tony fell against him, and they ended up sinking into the tall grass, still locked in an embrace.

 

When they finally got up, Tony took a moment to brush bits of vegetation off himself and then off Jethro, making sure to fondle his ass while he was at it. Jethro grabbed him in a bear hug, and they laughed and kissed. This was so good, standing in the sunshine, being loved by Jethro, Tony didn’t want to go home.

 

All of a sudden they heard the sound of someone laughing, and Tony quickly looked around. They spotted two young women in kayaks passing by on the far side of the river. It was obvious they’d seen them kissing, and had enjoyed the sight. He waved to them and they waved back, still giggling as they paddled away.

 

Jethro smirked and said, “Guess that’s our first public outing.”

 

Reaching for a bit of grass stuck in Jethro’s hair, Tony said, “If only everyone was that accepting.” He smiled at Jethro. “You want to fish for a while? Or, I can watch while you fish for our dinner.”

 

“So, you think you’re gonna laze around while I do all the hard work?”

 

Tony made a show out of mulling it over and finally nodded. “Yup.”

 

Jethro stood there with a funny expression on his face, and when Tony asked, “What?” Jethro shook his head and took hold of Tony’s hand. He never let it go for the entire walk back to the spot where they’d left their things and the boat.

 

“You want to tell me what’s on your mind?” Tony prodded.

 

“Just… I love you,” Jethro said softly.

 

Although Tony couldn't reply with the same words, he said, “Boy, am I ever gonna miss you while I’m away. But I’ll always remember this day, so thank you for it.”

 

Jethro’s response was to break out into a grin.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

That night, after returning home – to Jethro’s home – a bit sunburned and tired, but happy, they put together a meal of the freshly caught fish they’d brought home, seasoned rice, and slices of an apple pie they’d purchased at a roadside farm stand just outside Alexandria. They’d bought bread, honey and eggs from the stand, as well as a couple of cuts of homegrown beef. At the last minute, Jethro had grabbed a bottle of shagbark hickory syrup, saying, “For pancakes. Breakfast.”

 

After clearing up the remains of their dinner, the two men headed to bed, and made love. Jethro undressed Tony, and Tony returned the favor. They showered together, washing each other’s body with care. Once in bed, Jethro was sweet, kissing Tony slowly, tenderly, caressing his chest, his thighs, his balls, stroking his hair and sucking wetly on his nipples and murmuring things like, “Jesus, I love your skin, so fucking soft, tastes so good,” and “I’m never gonna let you go,” and even, “Love you so much, more every day,” until Tony was a pile of mush.

 

In return, he sucked on Jethro’s nipples and rubbed that spot behind his balls, loving to hear him moan, to see him quiver with need. Tony said in a rough voice, “I’m so fucking hard because of you,” and “I want you to come inside me,” and, “I’m scared.”

 

Jethro, who was occupied with sucking on Tony’s balls at the time, paused long enough to ask, “Of what?”

 

“That this won’t be enough,” Tony whispered. To which Jethro kissed him, deeply, with such passion Tony was left shaking like a leaf.

 

And when Jethro pulled Tony’s legs up over his shoulders and slid into him, hot and strong, and fucked him for what felt like forever, Tony breathed, “Fuck, I’m yours,” and came with a long, drawn-out moan.

 

Sunday morning, Jethro brought up two cups of coffee, and they remained in bed, simply enjoying being close to each other. Tony sighed with happiness.

 

“When do you leave?” Jethro asked.

 

Reality hit him with a resounding thud. “I didn’t say I was going,” Tony reminded him.

 

Jethro snorted. “You’ll take the damned job if I have to drag you all the way to whatever secret CIA facility this thing is being held at.”

 

Tony laughed. “It’s at an old state police training camp in New York State.”

 

“Now owned by the CIA,” Jethro said, with a nod.

 

“Jesus, it’s not CIA, Jethro! Monday. I need to give them an answer Monday morning. They’re sending a helicopter to pick me up, if I agree, that afternoon.”

 

“A helicopter?”

 

“Yeah. Did I ever tell you about this cartoon where these owls–”

 

Jethro interrupted. “Like I said, CIA. Where, exactly is this secret camp?”

 

Tony glared at Jethro. “It isn’t secret. Just… not well known. We’re going to be working out of an old police barracks at Hope Lake, in New York. It isn’t far from the city, according to Teague.”

 

“Never heard of it,” Jethro said curtly.

 

Tony shrugged. Neither had he, and the barracks wasn’t on any map he could find.

 

“Tell me more about it. This unit you’re overseeing.”

 

“Okay. This is for all the smaller agencies, so they can have access to undercover units. Any agency that needs them can apply,” Tony said. “The agents will be trained and ready for insertion, and that will allow each agency to concentrate on the logistics of their operation. And the CIA is not funding it. Funds were put aside after 9/11 and a framework was developed, but it never took off because all efforts were being put into anti-terrorist measures. The financials are overseen by a cross-agency committee, separate from us.”

 

“What’s this undercover group called?” Jethro asked.

 

“The Special Mission Undercover Team,” Tony replied.

 

It took a moment, but Gibbs slowly turned his head and the moment he caught Tony’s gaze, he started laughing. “Special Mission Undercover…?”

 

“Team,” Tony supplied, joining in the laughter.

 

“What’d they call you in college? Sex Machine? So they’re putting Sex Machine in charge of a special unit with the acronym SMUT?”

 

Laughing, Tony agreed, “I know, made just for me, or what?” It appeared the decision had been made, and Jethro had accepted his going, so he felt good about it.

 

After their laughter had abated, they made out for a while, and then parted with a sigh. Jethro held Tony in his arms, occasionally stroking his arm. “So, if tomorrow’s your last day at home, how about we have a barbecue? Just a few steaks, some burgers out back. Invite the team over. A little party for you.”

 

How casually Jethro had spoken, making out this was his home, too. “You’d do that for me?”

 

“It’s for all of us.” Jethro smiled a wicked little smile. “And you can tell them all about SMUT.”

 

“Don’t get me started again. My sides are still aching.” Tony loved seeing Jethro’s playful side, but he smiled ruefully. “Only… we’re not telling anyone about us, right? ‘Cause I don’t want that. I’m not ready to come out, not to them,” he said firmly.

 

“I’m on the same page.” Jethro kissed Tony one more time and said, “This is our time. I get that. Maybe you can give me some SMUT pointers? ‘Cause I think my undercover abilities are a little rusty.”

 

Tony groped at Jethro under the sheets, and gave his balls a light squeeze. “Oh, I think you’re doing just fine under the covers, my man.”

 

Jethro groaned over Tony’s feeble joke, and then he groaned louder when Tony stuck a finger in his butt and wiggled it around.

 

“You making fun of me, old man?”

 

“Hey, I’m not the one who falls asleep every time after we fuck,” Jethro teased.

 

Assisted by a dollop of lube, Tony inserted a second finger, and then a third, and started finger-fucking Jethro while jacking him off, loving the way the older man closed his eyes and started to pant. “First rule… of undercover work… is to take on the role… make it yours, draw on your feelings,” Tony said, speaking in time to each thrust of his fingers. Jethro pulled his head down for a sloppy kiss, and Tony made sure to keep up the slow, driving motion with his fingers, even while adding a fourth.

 

Jethro grabbed his shoulders and shuddered. “I’m gonna cum…”

 

“Oh, no you don’t. Because I’m gonna fuck you for real. . . I’m so fucking hard. . . you don’t get to cum until I do… got that?” Jethro barely had time to nod before Tony penetrated him. Jethro rose to meet him, crying out his name, and saying, “Please, Tony… please…” and he shot his load just as Tony shuddered and came in hot pulses deep inside him.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

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CHAPTER 9 - BBQ and Big Choices

 

“Well, nobody seems to have anything better to do this afternoon, so it looks like we’re having a party,” Tony declared with a bright smile as soon as Jethro came in the door carrying groceries.

 

Jethro gave him a smile and a quick kiss, and handed him the bags. “Got plenty of food. Someone bringing beer?”

 

“All set. Jimmy’s making a dessert, the others are doing sides…” He’d called McGee, Bishop, Palmer, Abby and Ducky, and told them to bring their significant others. He would have included Dale Carney but he had already mentioned he was busy. Everyone jumped at the chance of coming to Gibbs’ party. “Yeah, I know, when’s the last time Gibbs had a backyard barbecue?” Tony had said to more than one of his friends when they’d expressed their surprise. The answer was never, at least not in the time Tony had been at NCIS.

 

Ducky said he’ll love to attend. “I do remember a sit-down dinner at Jethro’s home, some years ago. In fact, it was just prior to you joining us, Anthony. As I recall, Jethro and Stephanie had words, and the lady had a breakdown in the living room after cocktails, and by dessert she had announced she wanted a divorce.” He tutted and shook his head. “She threw the lemon mousse in Jethro’s face and rushed out. I don’t believe I ever saw her again.”

 

The guests arrived late that afternoon with food in hand and smiles upon their faces. Tony made sure there was music (light jazz), and he’d strung up some small lights and paper lanterns (that Jethro had pulled out of the attic) between the trees. Abby brought home-brewed beer she had made that wasn’t too bad, and Jimmy and Breena Palmer provided a chocolate layer cake, because, Jimmy said, they had an intuition that this was a special occasion. The casserole dish Delilah carried in her lap as she wheeled into the back yard smelled delicious. Ellie brought veggies and dip, potato salad, and enough beer to please a football team.

 

Gibbs cooked steak and ribs for the meat-eaters, and veggie kebobs for those who did not. They all sat around a long picnic table that Gibbs had built (of course he had), and enjoyed eating, drinking and talking about non-work-related subjects as the afternoon turned into evening.

 

Tony didn’t know what to expect from his friends and colleagues when he told them about the position he’d accepted, so it was with some trepidation that, after the first course was over, he stood up and said he had an announcement. He told them he’d been chosen to head the development of the Special Mission Undercover Team, briefly describing the project, and everyone congratulated him with an enthusiasm he hadn’t envisioned.

 

Things got a bit emotional because Abby was very concerned that he might not want to return, but Gibbs assured them if Tony didn’t return in six weeks, as scheduled, “I will personally hunt him down and bring him back.” Tony pretended to be alarmed when Gibbs glowered at him in warning, but when nobody was looking Tony gave him a wink and a quick smile.

 

The brightest moment, in Tony’s eyes, occurred a good five minutes after his announcement, when all of a sudden McGee spat out his beer, started coughing and laughing at the same time, having only just realized that Tony’s unit’s name was SMUT. “The whole thing… you’re pulling our leg!”

 

Gibbs quickly dispelled any notion this was a joke by standing and raising a glass to congratulate Tony. “I’m proud of you, DiNozzo,” he said, and everyone toasted and nodded in agreement. But then Gibbs surprised everyone, including Tony, by saying, “Seeing as we’re all together, I want to apologize to Tony for the way I’ve been treating him the past few weeks. I was acting like an ass, ignoring him and bypassing him as if he meant nothing to me, when, in fact, it’s the opposite. I hated being laid up, and not being able to get to the head by myself, and all that crap. And I hated I couldn’t be there to kill Budd myself. I felt pretty useless, and every time someone brought me food or cleaned up my house, or told me it would take time to heal, my mood just got worse.” Ducky started to interject something, but Gibbs motioned for him to wait. He placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder and looked down at him where he was seated. “You’ve always been there for me, Tony, and I’ve treated you badly. I’m sorry. I am very sorry.”

 

Tony, blinking hard to keep tears at bay because Gibbs was opening up and admitting all this, and apologizing, in front of everyone, stood up, and Gibbs hugged him tight and all-too briefly. They grinned at each other until Gibbs abruptly asked, “Who wants a cold one?” and headed inside for more beer.

 

“Wow!” said Bishop. “That was… unusual – but great. Really great, and you deserved that apology, Tony.”

 

Everyone started talking about how much Gibbs had changed, how he’d been a cold bastard, “but it looks like he’s thawing out,” said McGee.

 

It was Jimmy who said, “At least he isn’t wearing one of those black suits today. He looks like an undertaker when he wears them.”

 

Ducky looked around the table and asked, “What I would like to know is, who encouraged Jethro to buy those depressing suits in the first place, and to grow his hair long? So unlike him.”

 

Breena quickly said, “It wasn’t Jimmy. If he’d dressed Gibbs it would have been in Argyle sweaters and overpriced shoes.” She looked thoughtfully at Tony, who quickly denied having anything to do with Gibbs’ recent choice of work clothes.

 

“No way! At least he’s wearing his Sears best today,” Tony pointed out. What he didn’t say was that he had picked out the pale blue shirt and fitted jeans for his lover to wear to the barbecue. The longer hair – he wasn’t sure he liked it, but he’d leave the choice whether or not to cut it up to Jethro. He, in turn, sent an inquisitive glance at Bishop, sitting beside Delilah at the end of the table.

 

Bishop held up her hands. “Don’t look at me! I have enough trouble choosing my own work clothes. If I had my way, I’d be in PJs all day. Abby? You’re into black. Did you convince the boss to dress like a blackbird?”

 

“Not me! He’s a silver fox and if I dressed him in black, it would be tight black jeans and a black shirt, not those loose suits he’s been wearing.” She looked around the table and shrugged. “Maybe it was Dr. Taft? Gibbs sort of listens to him.”

 

Tim shook his head. “Taft is no stylist. He’d have put Gibbs in scrubs. We talked about this before, and decided it can’t be Fornell, so who’s left?”

 

Tony noticed that Delilah had been keeping mighty quiet throughout this conversation. Suddenly suspicious, he pointed his finger at her and cried out in a quavering, high-pitched voice, “It’s her, she’s the witch!”

 

To everyone’s surprise, Delilah slammed her hand on the table and just about shouted, “Oh, for God’s sake, yes, it was me!”

 

“Delilah!” Tim chastised. “You never told me!”

 

She didn’t back down. “You people have been making fun of Agent Gibbs’ clothes for years, and it was obvious he’d lost a ton of weight after getting shot, so I brought him a few choices, and that’s what he liked. He chose his own clothes.”

 

Bishop asked, “But what about his hair?”

 

Gibbs appeared at that time, and placed a metal tub containing assorted imported brews on ice in the middle of the picnic table. He ignored the sudden halt to the conversation, took a beer for himself, popped the top and took a long swig. They all watched him in silence. Gibbs asked, “I miss anything?”

 

“No, Boss,” several of the team members said at the same time. Gibbs snorted and moved over to his Genesis four-burner gas grill with its flash tube ignition, warming rack and flame-stabilizing grids (Tony had read the 40-page guidebook it had come with one day when he was waiting for Gibbs to come home), and started to close it down.

 

With a warning glance at the people gathered around the table, Delilah hissed, “And you’ve never changed your hairstyle, any of you?” She rolled her eyes and sighed. “I don’t know about you, but right now I’m ready for a nice big piece of chocolate cake.”

 

Trying hard not to laugh, Tony raised his beer. “To good friends,” he toasted and everyone joined in.

 

It was when they were cleaning off the picnic table that Tony found himself alone with Abby and McGee. The others had gone inside and were in the kitchen, out of earshot.

 

It was Abby who got straight to the point. “Who is Gibbs seeing, Tony?”

 

“What?”

 

“Gibbs. Who is he seeing?” Abby placed her hands on her hips. “All of a sudden he isn’t wearing those awful suits – sorry, Tim, but Delilah’s choice stunk – and he’s back to his polos and Sears pants. There has to be someone influencing him.”

 

Tim let Abby’s insult about Delilah’s taste pass by without a fight. “Tony, tell her Gibbs doesn’t have a girlfriend.”

 

For a moment, Tony stared at Tim, his heart pounding in alarm that somehow he had discovered that he was sleeping with Jethro. Tony swallowed and slowly said, “As I’m not in charge of Gibbs’ love life, I’d hardly know. However…” He raised a finger. “We all know the man has been dealing with some serious challenges. He narrowly escaped death, and the surgery on his knee, and his recovery has been difficult. So if he buys a couple of new suits we don’t like, that’s his business.”

 

Tim turned to Abby and said, “See? Now, will you leave it alone?” To Tony he explained, “She’s been coming up with theories about everyone Gibbs might be dating, but there’s no evidence of it, and after everything he’s been through, I’m sure he goes straight to bed as soon as he gets home.”

 

Tony choked a bit, recovered, and said, “I have to agree with McRealist here. Sorry, Abs.”

 

But Abby wasn’t buying it. “I’ve seen him smiling. He even smiled at you, Tony! And that was the nicest apology ever, and we all know he never apologizes. I guess I shouldn't be griping about Gibbs being happy, because he’s been walking around with a cloud hovering over him ever since he came back, and I don’t like to see him sad.”

 

“He hasn’t smiled at you yet?” Tony asked, wondering if that was what was really bugging her.

 

Abby waved the question away. “It’s not that. Something’s different, just in the past few days. He’s got this… aura about him.”

 

“C’mon, Abby,” Tim said dismissively.

 

“It’s true! I’ve seen it! Tony, help me out. You’ve slept with everyone in the Yard. Can you think of anyone Gibbs might be dating, maybe some poor lady you dumped?”

 

“Abby! I don’t dump anyone… except I did break up with Zoe,” Tony admitted. Both Abby and Tim made sounds of disappointment. “Everyone I go out with knows it’s short term.”

 

“Just sex, you mean,” Abby commented raising one eyebrow. “It was way more than that with Zoe, Tony.”

 

Tony shrugged. “It didn’t work out. Besides, as if Gibbs would be interested in anyone I dated. Completely different set of preferences.” He wasn’t going to reveal just how badly his breakup with Zoe had gone, or about her expectation of having children with him. Right now he had to steer the conversation away from the idea that Gibbs had a lover. Or a girlfriend. “Gibbs isn’t like that. He’s a long-term kinda guy.”

 

Tim scoffed, “Yeah, and you really think Gibbs would be interested in the baggy bunnies, or any of the baristas, or Metro cops, or ZNN reporters Tony has had ‘just sex’ with?”

 

Tony caught himself standing there like a fish gasping for water. “Metro cops? Really, McGee?”

 

His face coloring, Tim quickly covered his mouth with both hands. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

 

Of course, Abby picked up on Tim’s slip-up right away. With a grin, she said gleefully to Tony, “I knew you were all hot for Detective McCadden, but I wasn’t sure you actually took that leap.”

 

“You told me you didn’t sleep with McCadden,” McGee accused.

 

Being snarky, Tony retorted, “Just like you didn’t sleep with Mrs. Fornell?”

 

“She wasn’t married to Fornell then! And it was before she remarried and became Mrs. Sterling.”

 

Abby’s eyes darted from Tim to Tony and back again, apparently fascinated by the train wreck occurring right in front of her.

 

“You know what Fornell and Gibbs would do to you if they ever found out you’d slept with their ex?” Tony asked, being mean.

 

“What would they do?” asked Abby, all wide-eyed.

 

“All I know is there wouldn't be much left of Timmy here after they were done with him,” Tony said.

 

Tim prodded Tony’s chest with a finger. “Like you didn’t think it was worth taking the risk, Tony? Yeah, she told me how she got her lovers down on their knees, begging for it, and how you were so obedient, and took it so well…”

 

“Diane would never tattle on anyone! It sounds like you’re describing yourself, McBeggingBoy.”

 

“Yeah, well, she told me about one guy who loved to be tied up so she could do all those things to him, and I know she was talking about you, Tony!”

 

“What things? You took what so well?” Abby asked frantically.

 

Tony gave Tim a slight push and leaned into his space. “She make you cry, Timmy? When she paddled your balls?”

 

“No? No! Besides, we both know how much you liked it when I spanked yours, Tony!”

 

“Tim!” Tony said, alarmed.

 

All of a sudden Tim went pale and stepped back.

 

Tony tried to lick his lips but his mouth had gone dry.

 

Abby stood stock-still for all of five seconds before squealing and jumping up and down, and grabbing both Tony and Tim, and hugging them and kissing their cheeks while crying, “I can’t believe you two didn’t tell me! This is so great, so right and… Oh! Does Delilah know? What were you thinking?” She punched Tony’s arm.

 

“Ow! Abby! What was that for?”

 

“For corrupting our Timmy here, enticing him into your sex games, and–”

 

Tony snorted. “Hardly corrupted him. He was ready for it, believe me. All it took was a couple of hugs and some sucking on his earlobe, and he was all over me like I’d been rolling in Nutter Butters.”

 

“Tony! Cut it out!” Tim shouted.

 

“Why? You can pretend you didn’t enjoy yourself, if that suits you, but I don’t regret a minute of it. Okay, so you were fresh-off-the-boat innocent, but you have to admit it was fun while it lasted. Remember sneaking into closets at work for blowjobs, and fucking ‘til we dropped every night? And what about playing those video games, huh? Remember? Tell Abby what the winner got as a prize. Go on…”

 

Tim shuffled his feet but when Abby crossed her arms and glared at him, he gave in. “Fine, the winner chose who’d be on top, and… which toy they wanted to use, and who’d get spanked… that kind of thing. Hey, it wasn’t my fault Tony sucked at Rocket Boy and BattlePlanet XX and kept losing!”

 

Abby shook her head. “Really? I knew you were naive, Tim, but if you think Tony can’t beat you at those games, you’re deluding yourself.” She turned to Tony with a puzzled expression. “Wait a minute, this fling you two had… it took place when, exactly?”

 

McGee’s eyes widened. “You mean you wanted…?”

 

Tony shifted his weight and scratched the back of his head. “We got together… the first day McProbie came to work at NCIS?”

 

Abby slowly turned on McGee. “You two were playing games at the same time you were sleeping in my coffin?” she asked with a dangerous glint in her eye.

 

Tony stepped in. “No, we quit after a few days – a week at the most – right, Tim? McNervous here was getting antsy because Gibbs was giving us the side-eye. He was afraid he’d be sent back to Norfolk, so we… broke up,” Tony finished with a grin. “Admit it, we had a good time. And then he got brave and asked you about your tattoos, Abs.”

 

Tim sighed heavily. “Please promise me this won’t go any further than the three of us. Please, Abby?”

 

She agreed, and because Tim didn’t quite trust her he made them all link pinkies and swear not to say a word. Tony felt foolish, because of the pinkie promise thing, but he figured if it meant they’d remain in the closet, he would deal with it. Abby swore never to mention any of this. Tim sighed in relief and they did one big hug, and then gathered the rest of the plates and trash and headed inside.

 

They were approaching the patio door when Abby put her hand on Tony’s arm and stopped him. “I just know Gibbs is having sex with someone, and I’m going to find out who it is. You will tell me if you hear anything, won’t you, Tony?”

 

“Sure. Scout’s honor.” Tony was glad he was leaving the next day for New York State, and hoped that by the time he was back, shortly before Thanksgiving, this crazy idea of Abby’s would have blown over.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

That night, Jethro took Tony up to bed earlier than usual. They made love so tenderly Tony felt his heart swell with an emotion he wasn’t prepared to identify, although it might have been fear. Or maybe anxiety. Or not. He was getting in too deep. It was too comfortable. But he was feeling good about himself, and about them together, and that was something he couldn't remember ever feeling before.

 

Afterwards, when Tony pushed Jethro’s long hair back off his forehead, Jethro said, “I’ll get it cut in the morning.”

 

“I sort of like it.”

 

“It isn’t me. Did McGee really sleep in Abby’s coffin?”

 

“You heard that?” Tony was a little alarmed because, if so, it was likely he’d heard the entire conversation between him and Abby and McGee. Oh shit, that meant Jethro knew he’d slept with his ex-wife, as did McGee. Tony rolled off Jethro and extricated himself from his arms. “Did you hear everything?”

 

“I sure got an earful.” Jethro chuckled. “So, Diane did her ball-busting on you two willing victims, huh?”

 

At least he was laughing. “What is it with the ball torture?” Tony asked, wincing at the memory. “I couldn't make out if she was taking her own issues out on me, or if she got off on it because she loved being dominant. Sure, there was pleasure as well as pain… but… she didn’t ever do that to you, did she?”

 

Jethro gave a hearty laugh. “No, but I’ll wager Fornell got the wrong end of her little whip thing, the one that looks like a little fly swatter, a lot.”

 

“Oh please, don’t! I cannot un-see that.” Tony slapped his palms over his eyes. “Can we change the subject?”

 

“Sure. Did Diane show you a good time?”

 

Lowering his hands, Tony saw Jethro had a dangerous glint in his eye. “Are you mad I had sex with your ex?”

 

Jethro thought for a moment and shook his head. “Nah, it wasn’t my business, not then. But it is now. If she ever touches you again, I’m going to be very unhappy, because that woman has a mean streak, and I’ll bet she marked you up so bad you could hardly move the next day. I don’t like anyone hurting you, Tony.”

 

Tony nodded, embarrassed.

 

“Except me, and if I have to bring out a flogger to teach you a lesson, you can be damned sure it isn’t some puny thing that’s only good for slapping your balls.”

 

“You wouldn’t!”

 

“Try me,” Jethro said in a husky voice.

 

“You’re making me all hot and bothered, Jethro,” Tony said with a coy smile.

 

“And there won’t be any sex. Not with anyone but me. Understand?”

 

“Yes, sir. Loud and clear… only… now my dick’s fucking hard,” Tony groaned.

 

Jethro released a great sigh. “I suppose you want me to do something about it? All right, fine, if I have to.” He put on a show of reluctance until Tony straddled him and started rubbing his erect cock alongside Jethro’s. “No peace,” Jethro grumbled. “What’m I gonna do with you?”

 

“Uh, hold me down and fuck me?”

Jethro accepted the invitation, and held Tony down and fucked him hard enough to make him scream. Their second go-round was slower, more about exploration, seeing what each other liked, their sensitive spots. After they’d both climaxed and collapsed in a messy heap, Tony was in heaven because Jethro snuggled up behind him and held him close until they fell asleep.

 

All too soon it was Monday morning. Tony came down for breakfast and found Jethro reading the paper and sipping on a large black coffee. He took a deep breath and announced, “I’m going to tell Teague I accept her offer.”

 

Jethro nodded and went back to reading the paper. He turned a page and perused the articles, eventually looking up to find out why Tony was still standing there. “Got something on your mind?”

 

“Um, yeah. I have to go pack some things, back at my place, but I wanted to thank you for… for everything.”

 

“Uh-huh.” Jethro watched Tony but said nothing more.

 

“I want to tell you the joke about the owls I didn’t get to finish… um… So, there are these two owls sitting on a branch, the moon hanging over them, and one of them asks, “What would you do it you were a millionaire?” And the other one replies, ‘I’d have my mice delivered by helicopter.’”

 

Jethro’s eyes narrowed, and his lip quirked a little.

 

“See, the thing is, if someone offered me a million dollars right now, there’s nothing in the world I can think of that I’d want to buy. Right now I’m…” Tony paused. “I’ve been trying to find the right word to describe how I feel, and last night it came to me. When I’m with you, I’m happy and eager and probably more than a little bit horny… but more than that, I’m content.” He cleared his throat and said, “Just wanted to say that. I’ll come by the office before I leave for New York though.” Tony could see that Jethro wasn’t going to respond, so he nodded good-bye and headed for the front door, swallowing his disappointment. He’d hope for a hug and a good-bye kiss.

 

Tony was just opening the front door – which took longer than usual to do because, for some reason, Jethro had recently started locking it, and the lock was new and stiff – when Jethro came up behind him, wrapped his arms around his middle, and kissed his neck.

 

“I love you, Tony,” Jethro murmured into his ear.

 

Tony held Jethro’s hands tight to his stomach. He nodded.

 

“I’m gonna miss you.”

 

Tony nodded once more.

 

“Turn around.”

 

“I can’t,” he whispered.

 

“Why not?”

 

Tony shrugged and sniffed. “I don’t want you to see me cry.”

 

“Aw, Tony. We’ll talk on the phone. You can tell me all about the great job you’re doing. But I’ll still miss this, holding you,” Jethro said softly. He kissed the side of Tony’s neck.

 

“Jethro… If you want, you can leave the poster of me up in your basement,” Tony offered.

 

“Thanks. I intended to.”

 

Tony turned around to give Jethro one last kiss. It was brief and painful, and felt as though someone was squeezing his heart.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

Chapter Text

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CHAPTER 10 - Communication

 

Director Vance called Tony into his office to give him a pep talk of sorts, though Tony understood it was a ‘don’t embarrass NCIS’ talk. Vance even went so far as to say he was proud one of his agents had been asked to lead the SMUT development team, as was SecNav Sarah Porter. Although the development was being overseen by Deputy Director Morrow of Homeland, Vance assured Tony that if they needed anything NCIS could provide, all he had to do was ask.

 

Everyone was busy at work, but Tony ran down to say good-bye to everyone. Ducky joined them in the bull pen and reminded Tony he was hosting Thanksgiving dinner at his house. The whole team would be present, and Ducky expected to see Tony there as well. “Wouldn’t miss it,” Tony said. He got a few hugs and handshakes, and some ribbing about being in charge of organizing SMUT. Gibbs shook his hand and gave him a pat on the back.

 

And then, a short time later, with his friends and colleagues watching from a safe distance, Tony boarded the helicopter provided, not by the CIA, as Jethro had suggested, but by Deputy Director Morrow. As the helo rose in altitude, Tony saw Abby waving a large white handkerchief far below, with Jethro standing by her side. They got smaller and smaller until they were nothing but tiny specks in the distance.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

“How’d your undercover gig go?” Tony teased. He had been emailing his friends when he got a chance, but he was glad to get a phone call from Tim at the end of the day. Taking a seat on his bed, and glad he had a room to himself, he said, “If you need to brush up on your acting skills, I can recommend a great place called Camp SMUT on the shores of beautiful Hope Lake.”

 

“I’ll pass on that, thanks. The investigation went okay, but it would have been better if Bishop hadn’t been glaring at me all the time.”

 

“What’d you do? Hide all her snacks?”

 

Tim proceeded to relate to Tony how Ellie had been planning a special anniversary trip – and he’d mistakenly spilled the beans to Jake. Now he was in the doghouse and he didn’t know what to do. “I’ve apologized to her a dozen times, and I got her tickets refunded,” Tim moaned.

 

“Buy her flowers. She loves lilies, but not the ones with a lot of perfume,” Tony suggested. “Tell Marcia down at Fourth Street Floral who they’re for and she’ll set you up.”

 

“Okay, thanks. I’ll do that.” Tim started relating the details of their latest case so Tony settled back in bed to listen. There was a creepy murder where the body was embalmed and vacuum-sealed and kept in the killers’ spare bedroom. “They would have gotten away with it, too, if Major Newton hadn’t run into them and thought there was something off about Mrs. Hudson.”

 

That led to a conversation about Maj. Newton, who Tony had found overly obsessive. “He never let anything go.”

 

Tim replied, “Guess it paid off in this case, even though he was killed for his trouble. So, who’s on your SMUT committee? Or is it all top secret?”

 

“Just don’t go blabbing about anything I tell you,” Tony warned. McGee insisted he’d keep mum, so Tony said, “There are four of us committee members. Deputy Director Morrow is overseeing the whole thing, but he’s not involved in any of the decisions. We’ll present the entire program to him once we’ve got all the moving parts in the bag.”

 

“Who is ‘we’?”

 

“Well, you know Dorney’s mother, Joanna Teague. She’s real smart, and tough, and can steer any discussion that goes too far off the rails. There’s Rob Cox, ex-bouncer, ex-army, ex-Los Angeles detective, and current strategy consultant for the DOJ. Good guy, has solid ideas. And then we have former paramilitary operations officer for the CIA, who is currently an FBI undercover specialist, Milo Garcia…”

 

McGee interrupted, “Wait a minute, you’re working for Milo Garcia? The man’s a legend and he’s only… forty-two? He infiltrated the Corlesi family, and handled sensitive jobs for the attorney general’s office and–”

 

“I know who he is, McBiography, and just to be clear, I’m the designated chairman of this development committee. Teague, Cox and Garcia are working with me,” Tony said bluntly. He told McGee a bit about their progress in creating the parameters the SMUT unit would be working under, but didn’t admit that although he was kept busy, he missed his friends. “Can you believe they don’t deliver pizza out here!” he complained.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The last thing Tony did every night was to call Jethro. He’d sit in a comfortable chair by the big window in his bedroom, where there was a lovely view of the lake during daylight hours. Their conversations were mostly one-sided, as expected. He was working on his boat; progress was slow but steady. Yes, he was keeping an eye on Tony’s pin-up. His side of the dialog dried up as soon as he’d made a couple of observations about their latest case, and there was a rather long stretch of silence.

 

Tony ventured to ask, “How’re you doing, health-wise?”

 

“Getting there.”

 

“You been talking to Taft or anyone?”

 

“Nah. I like to listen to your yabba yabba.”

 

Okay, so if Jethro wanted to listen to Tony talk, that’s what Tony would do. He talked about how he and his colleagues were staying in a large stone house overlooking the three-mile-long Hope Lake, and its history; how the owners had run a hunting and fishing camp on the property a hundred years ago; how beautiful the large lake was; how the nearest town was so small there were no stoplights; how much he liked the people he was working with.

 

Jethro made a comment about old houses, and said how he hadn’t seen much of New York State, although he’d gone to the races at Saratoga once with Diane. He commiserated with Tony being stuck in a small town, but it was good he was kept busy with the SMUT project, and working with some first-rate people. He even knew Milo Garcia from an op they were in together, in Paraguay, years ago.

 

As usual, before he hung up, Jethro said in a soft voice, “Love you, Tony,” and Tony replied, “Miss you, Jethro.” In bed that night, listening to the soft hooting of an owl and the whisper of the wind through the pines, he felt very much alone.

 

A few days later, Tony received an email from Abby containing a photo of Gibbs she’d taken recently. She wrote, ‘Yay! We have our Gibbs back!’ and when Tony saw the photo, he knew why. There was Gibbs, wearing a polo shirt, with his silver hair cut short, Marine-style. He was smiling a little, and one eyebrow was slightly arched, as if he was questioning why Abby was taking his picture. Tony printed it out and kept it by his bedside, and the last thing he did before turning the light out, was to whisper, “Night, Jethro. Miss you.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

“Tony, you’ll never believe this! Guess who’s riding shotgun with Gibbs?”

 

“Hello to you, too, McNewsboy,” Tony replied, holding the phone to his ear while sitting in his rapidly cooling car outside the Barrel of Hope. The other committee members were already in the pub, or what passed for a pub way out here in the boonies. Not only did Barrel of Hope have a bar, but it also had an attached pizzeria that made a halfway decent pie. Maybe he could convince them to deliver.

 

Almost two weeks had passed since they’d arrived in the small town of Hope Lake Village, New York, and this was the first time Tony and his colleagues had left the camp for beer and pizza.

 

“Oh. Hi,” McGee said absently. “They’ve been going out together, like partners!”

 

“You should see the set-up here. The four of us have been brainstorming in a room literally covered in white-boards and a state-of-the-art computer system which makes me think Gibbs may have been right about this being a CIA front–”

 

“Tony, are you listening to me? Everyone’s been placing bets on how long it’ll take before Gibbs head-slaps him…”

 

“Head-slaps who?”

 

“Gibbs’ new partner. Guess! Go on. Bet you’ll never get it, not in a million years.”

 

“Okay, I’ll bite. Male. Someone I know? Probably older because I can’t see Gibbs tolerating a probie riding along with him. You wouldn’t be all up in arms if it wasn’t someone out of the ordinary, which could mean he’s a person of authority. Not Fornell because they’ve teamed up before, so that’s nothing new. Not Morrow because he’d never play second fiddle to anyone. So… I’ll say, Director Vance.” There was silence. “Tim, you still there?”

 

“How did you do that?” McGee practically whined.

 

“Simple deduction, my dear McWatson. How’re things going back in NCIS-land without me?”

 

“We’re doing fine without you,” McGee said, sounding a bit pissed off.

 

“So tell me the latest gossip! I miss hearing who’s doing who around the water cooler.”

 

McGee related some gossip from around the Yard, including how their temp agent, Dale Carney, had solved a murder case in one hour flat. “He remembered a similar case he’d worked on twenty years ago, and one of the people they’d interviewed at the time matched the description of a guy we had in custody. Only he’s twenty years older, of course. But he nailed it!”

 

“Good for Dale. How’s Gibbs?” Tony asked. “Apart from being tolerant with Vance.”

 

“He’s acting sort of… different.”

 

That didn’t sound good. “How different?”

 

“It’s hard to pinpoint. Like… he was going out for a drink after work with Fornell, and he invited Ellie and me along. On the way out, we shared the elevator with a couple of the baggy bunnies, and he invited them to join us.”

 

“No! Charlene and Minnow?” They had both been in charge of the evidence locker for as long as he could remember, and they took their responsibilities seriously. Everyone at NCIS knew it wasn’t in their best interest to annoy the women, or else their evidence just might get temporarily misplaced. Tony was happy to say he’d always been on their good side and, for some reason, they adored Gibbs. Go figure.

 

“Yeah, and there was karaoke, and Ellie and the other women got up and sang These Boots are Made for Walking. Gibbs loved it! Not that he joined in or anything, but I definitely saw his foot tapping. What does it all mean?”

 

“Uh, that the world as we know it is imploding?” What did it mean, though? That Gibbs was lonely? That he simply wanted to get out and have some fun? Was he pulling their leg? It was a bit odd, as McGee had pointed out. Tony would have to ask Gibbs about it when he phoned him.

 

As soon as McGee finished, Tony wrapped up the conversation saying he was getting cold and was expected for dinner.

 

Tony joined his colleagues inside the pub. Rob and Milo, along with Joanna, were seated at a table in the rear, all three positioned on the far side of the table so they faced the door. He tried not to laugh at their instinctive way of protecting themselves. “You guys expecting company?” he asked, purposely taking a seat with his back to the door.

 

Garcia shrugged. “It’s the man who doesn’t have eyes at the back of his head who ends up eating dirt.”

 

“Wow, that’s so deep, I’ll have to mull it over while I look at the menu,” Tony said nonchalantly, and turned his attention to the menu. “I’m just gonna trust that the three of you are watching my back. Who’s up for sausage and pepperoni with extra cheese? Let’s order.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The four committee members were staying in the VIP accommodations on the grounds of the state police training camp. The six-bedroom house – mansion was a more appropriate term – built of stone and local timbers in the late 1800s, was known as The Stone House. It was set back half a mile from the main road, with a good view of Hope Lake.

 

When the state bought the land in the 50s, it came with several buildings. In addition to The Stone House, there was a large clapboard building right on the main road that served as the barracks for a handful of state police officers. Ever since the state police offices had been relocated to a town forty miles to the east, only a few officers manned the Hope Lake Village post. The grounds were still used for training by the state police, National Guard, Forest Service and other law enforcement agencies.

 

One reason this remote location had been chosen for the SMUT project, Tony was told, was that there was a dormitory building that would serve the twenty-four recruits who would join them soon. It could potentially house a hundred people, and came with a big kitchen and a rec room. There was also a building with a gym adjacent to an outdoor gun range.

 

The four SMUT development team members were the only ones sleeping in The Stone House, and they had the luxury of a cook preparing and serving them dinner in a well-appointed dining room on the ground floor. There was a large TV in a wood-paneled game room on the ground floor that featured a heavy mahogany pool table – not that there was much downtime to enjoy it. They worked long hours, and when they wrapped up for the day Tony often retired to his room to unwind. As the days turned into weeks, he missed NCIS, and he missed Gibbs more than he could say.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The committee had accomplished quite a bit in the first two weeks; tomorrow the candidates for the SMUT program were arriving. Two dozen test bunnies, Tony called them. Teague was in charge of the recruits, but they’d all had a hand in choosing them. Just sifting through a couple hundred applicants had been a big job, but it had been decided that working with a small group initially would be the best way to test the program.

 

The recruits came from several agencies, and across law enforcement, so they got a good cross-section of people. All of them were experienced at handling crime scenes and knew investigative procedures; some already had strong undercover skills, some none at all. They were not fresh out of FLETC; ages ranged from a 22-year-old to a few candidates in their late forties. Most of them were looking for more from their careers, seeking something exciting as well as rewarding. SMUT promised them a chance to work at a potentially dangerous job, where they would never know what short-term assignment they would get next.

 

Part of the undercover program was to train the candidates to drop into a character quickly. The SMUT agents might only be undercover for a few hours, or, at the most, a few days. The unit’s purpose was narrow: to perform brief infiltrations wherein they’d gather the intel needed, and then get out quickly.

 

Once the recruits arrived and were settled in their quarters, it was down to business. All four of the committee members related their good and bad experiences in the field to their students, and taught them undercover techniques that just might save their lives. Garcia and Tony had done several deep undercover missions, but all four of them had done short stints as well. Teague admitted she wasn’t skilled at improvising, but Tony never had trouble dropping into just about any type of character.

 

Tony got along with the recruits, and related tales of his undercover exploits, including his time working for the Macaluso family, and the ‘buck naked bust’ in Baltimore in which he’d infiltrated a nudist colony, which was “very Peter Sellers, carrying a guitar in front of me at all times,” he’d said.

 

“But you’ve got to remember that all it takes is one small slip and you, and others, could be put in danger. You, and those around you could get killed,” Tony warned his audience. “You need to be confident, and I don’t care if you’re scared shitless, you’re going to have to find a way to act confident. Practice helps. My job is to train you for short assignments, and if you make the cut, you’ll go on to FLETC afterwards and learn – or refresh what you already know – about surveillance, risk management, the legalities and prosecutorial guidelines and all that fun stuff.” He held up a batch of index cards he’d prepared with some scenarios and character guidelines. “Now, who wants to try their hand at being a bag lady who wanders into a bank that’s being robbed?”

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Tony was having trouble sleeping. Usually, he dropped off as soon as his head hit the pillow, but tonight his mind wouldn’t stop running through all the things they had yet to accomplish. Knowing that he wasn’t going to fall asleep anytime soon, Tony opened his laptop and replied to an email from Bishop. He kept it light, writing to her about Hope Lake, and how he’d jogged along the shore path this morning. Although the temperature had been brisk, it had been refreshing.

 

‘The town is compact, okay it’s small, and just as you enter Main Street, you’re out the other side of town where there’s a sign is telling you Next Gas 40 Miles. They have a transistor radio on the shelf in the diner, next to those little boxes of corn flakes – yes, a real radio with an antenna so long it nearly pokes out the waitress’s eye every time she walks past it. I know, and there we were, thinking Gibbs was the only person on Earth who actually listened to one. You’d love some of the characters who signed up for this program. Our oldest probie is about forty-five, and he’s a nice-looking man, father of three, wears a brown suit he must have got at Sears (Yeah, I know), but what’s great is he’s been a cop since he was twenty-one, and as fast as you can snap your fingers, he can change into this tired salesman with a ‘I’ve seen the world and I don’t like it’ vibe going on. I’ve seen him transform from his everyday persona to a sad sack of an old man shuffling along the sidewalk in search of his next drink. People never cease to amaze me.’

 

Since the day Tony had arrived at the camp, Abby had sent him photos, keeping a diary of sorts, to give him a view of what he was missing back home. There had been a few videos, too, and the one he’d received that day had featured Gibbs at his desk, doing his best to ignore Abby’s pleas of “Gibbs! Gibbs! Gibbs! Say something to Tony.” Eventually, Gibbs looked up, straight into the lens, and Tony’s heart did an odd sort of flip-flop, because this was his Jethro looking straight at him, his lips twitching as he tried to hold back a smile. At Abby’s encouragement to speak, Gibbs growled, “Get your ass back here as soon as you’ve finished foolin’ around, DiNozzo.” And then he softened his words with a quick wink and a barely audible, “Miss you.”

 

Tony was glad he’d viewed the video in private, because his cheeks heated up in a blush, and he started to get all hot and bothered. Until recently, he hadn’t realized what a huge turn-on Jethro’s voice was when it got all low like that. Now, like Pavlov’s dog, his cock seemed to be conditioned to harden in response to Gibbs’ every growl.

 

After playing the video two more times (okay, so it was four times, and yes, he had his cock in his hand while he watched), Tony leaned back in the desk chair and phones Jethro. He’d called him several times since he had arrived, but any conversations they’d had were brief because one or the other had been called off for something important. Or else Jethro didn’t pick up. Or Tony missed his call and found a brief message left on his voicemail: “It’s me. Call me.” He’d emailed Jethro a few times, but Jethro’s responses had been far too short to be satisfying. It was as if he found writing an agonizing task.

 

It was late, but Jethro picked up on the first ring. “Hey.”

 

“Hey. You working on the boat?” Tony asked, more than happy they’d finally connected and weren’t likely to be interrupted.

 

“Yeah. It’s coming along. Got most of the hull done.”

 

“Good. Everything okay at work?”

 

“You mean Abby and McGee haven’t been filling you in on the latest?” Jethro asked sarcastically.

 

“And Ellie and Ducky, and Palmer, and even that cute girl at the coffee cart. They text or call or email me with surprising regularity,” Tony replied with a smile.

 

Jethro snorted.

 

Tony ventured to ask, “So… you got time to talk?”

 

“Wait.” Tony heard the sound of Jethro climbing the basement stairs, and then what might have been him settling on the couch in the living room. “Okay now.”

 

Tony waited but Jethro didn’t say anything more. “So,” Tony said.

 

“Yeah, so talk.”

 

“Oh, silly me, I thought this was going to be a two-way conversation,” Tony said.

 

Jethro sighed. “Okay.”

 

“Okay.” Jesus, this was like pulling teeth. “I heard you and Fornell enjoyed some karaoke… with McGee and Ellie? The baggy bunnies were fun?”

 

Jethro snorted but didn’t reply. Just as Tony was about to say something not very nice, Jethro cleared his throat and – finally – spoke. “You get the video thing Abs took on her phone?”

 

“Oh yeah! It was like you were talking right to me. Only without the ability to head-slap me,” Tony said, rubbing the back of his head.

 

“That was the point. Only it wasn’t your head I was thinking of slapping,” Jethro said, his voice deepening.

 

What? “What?” Tony asked, not quite believing what he thought Jethro was insinuating. He heard a small metal sound, as if… “Are you unzipping your pants, Jethro?” Tony asked slowly.

 

“Yep, and if you’re not doing the same thing in ten seconds, I’m gonna assume you have company and don’t want to…”

 

Tony’s pants were off and he was on the bed in the prescribed ten seconds, phone by his side with earbuds in place. He was panting a bit when he said, “Okay. I’m ready now.”

 

Jethro chuckled. “You sure about that? ‘Cause if you’re not, I can go back to what I was doing–”

 

“Don’t you fucking dare!” Tony squirmed a bit, got his pillows stacked up behind him and sighed when he was comfortable. “Okay. I’m ready for you.”

 

“You think I’m gonna reach through the phone lines and stroke your dick or something?”

 

“Well, that would be nice, like really nice, but… I’m holding my cock and I gotta tell you, it seems very excited to hear your voice. Maybe you can growl a bit because that really turns me on, Jethro.”

 

“You know what turns me on? The way you say my name.”

 

Tony could hear the unmistakable sound of Jethro jacking himself off. He licked his lips and asked, “Are you going slow, Jethro? I like slow.”

 

“Yeah, real slow. Using some of that lube you left here, the kind that smells like wood.”

 

Tony laughed. “Woody’s Wood Lube.” He reached for his own citrus-scented lube and slicked himself up. Lying back, he closed his eyes, gave his dick a few firm strokes, so good, hot and silky, bucking a little into his own hand, moaning, “Jethro…Jethro…yeah, there… Oh, yeah…”

 

Jethro’s voice was in his ear, whispering, “I’m there with you, my hand on your cock. You feel me? You’re so fucking hard…”

 

“God yes. I’m sliding my hand up and down yours, pumping, my thumb’s over the head, rubbing in circles, oh fuck, stroke me harder.”

 

“I can do harder,” Jethro said, panting.

 

“Yeah, like that…” They went on talking dirty to each other until, with a gasp, Tony came, shuddering through his release, crying out, “Jethro!” while in his ears he heard Jethro breathing heavily and grunting, “Fuck! Fuck, Tony!” as he came.

 

Time passed, and eventually Tony moaned and said softly, “We have to do this again… I won’t stop thinking of you until we do… Tomorrow night?”

 

Somehow, he could tell Jethro was smiling when he said, “It’s a date. Sure beats karaoke. Sweet dreams, lover boy. I love you.”

 

“Mmm,” Tony replied before hanging up.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Abby did a video call early one morning, just as Tony stepped from the shower after his sunrise run. She leaned forward and did her best to peer below the edge of her screen, exclaiming, “Oooh, what are you not wearing, Tony? Are you planning on running the triathlon again next year? You’re looking washboardy, from what I can see. Is washboardy even a word?”

 

“It is now. I’m wearing a towel, and no, no plans on competing again,” Tony countered. He pulled on a bathrobe and sat at the desk to talk with her via his laptop. “Tell me everything that’s going on,” he invited. He really missed being away from his NCIS family. Although Tony spent work hours in the company of his SMUT colleagues, it just wasn’t the same as being with friends.

 

After the committee had finished for the day – and they often worked a couple more hours after dinner – Cox and Garcia usually went off to call their wives. Sometimes they joined Joanna and Tony in a game of pool in the richly paneled billiards room, but they tended to retire early.

 

Tony had walked down to the police barracks a few times, and played cards with the state police stationed there. There were usually four or five guys bunking on-site, and of those, a couple might be on call on any given night. Like Tony, they were looking for something to pass the time. He’d gone bowling with them, bringing his SMUT colleagues along for fun on one bitterly cold night. Teague had proven to be the best at the sport. That wasn’t a surprise, as Dorney had told Tony his mother had taught him how to bowl – and he’d been very good at the game.

 

Tony listened to Abby recounting the harrowing time she’d experienced at Celodyne Pharmaceuticals, using broad hand gestures to illustrate how she’d outsmarted the ‘bad guys.’ As usual, they ended up talking about Gibbs. “I even followed him a few times,” Abby admitted. “Just to see if he was meeting anyone, you know, like a girlfriend, but… um… he went straight home and down in the basement, as far as I could tell. So my sleuthing didn’t get me very far.”

 

“You mean he caught you peeking in the windows? Really, Abby, you know the man has a sixth sense about that kind of thing,” Tony said, rolling his eyes. “If he finds out you…”

 

“Well….” Abby said, scrunching up her face.

 

“He caught you at it,” Tony said, shaking his head in disappointment.

 

“Okay, so he caught me looking into one of those little basement windows. He didn’t believe me when I said I was checking for termites,” Abby said, twisting a long pigtail and giving Tony one of her ‘I’m not at all sorry but if I smile you’re sure to forgive me because I’m so cute’ smiles.

 

“Noooo, really?”

 

“It doesn’t matter anymore because… I don’t think Gibbs is still seeing whoever he was seeing.”

 

“Why’d you think that?” Tony asked cautiously.

 

“You know that week before you left? He’d stopped being Agent Grouchypants, and was actually smiling – just a little private smile – when he thought nobody was looking. It was obvious he was seeing her at that point. But then he stopped smiling so much, and now, he’s sinking back into grouch mode. The weird thing is, sometimes in the morning, he’s in a good mood, but it always wears off by the afternoon. Even Ducky has noticed it.”

 

“So you don’t think he’s getting laid at night and by the end of the day he’s missing her?” Tony asked. He had good reason to believe that Jethro’s good-mood-mornings were the result of jerking off long-distance on most of their nightly phone calls. Luckily his room at The Stone House was at the far end of the corridor, away from the other committee members. He’d taken to muffling his groans in a pillow if things got too intense when having phone sex with his lover.

 

“…..and when I went back and tried to sneak in, I found he’d locked the door on me! I don’t understand why Gibbs would do that!”

 

“Because you snake in without an invitation?” Tony asked.

 

“But the previous time I was there, he showed me his latest boat in the basement. Oh, and I saw he’d stuck the big photo of you up next to the hot rod poster. How funny is that? Maybe he thinks you’re a hot rod, too?”

 

“What? I’m no hot rod!”

 

“Okay, you’re a hot bod,” Abby said with a giggle. “I’m sorry I didn’t ask you if I could blow that photo up, Tony, but it was for Gibbs, and I didn’t think it mattered. It’s not like he thinks of you as a pin-up or anything.”

 

Really, Abs? Then why do you think he asked for a copy of that photo? “Ha ha, no, definitely not. Look, I have to do some paperwork and turn in, so talk again soon, Abs! Night!”

 

“Night, Tony! Love you!”

 

“Love you too,” he replied. The second Tony disconnected, he realized he’d told Abby he loved her. It was nothing new, and it had slipped off his lips naturally. So why couldn't he say those same words to Jethro?

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

Untitled

CHAPTER 11 - The Recruits

 

It was always good to talk to Ducky, and this time Tony heard all the inside scoop about an investigative club the ME belonged to, called The Sherlocks, and the case they were involved in. According to Ducky, McGee was dealing well with his new position as Gibbs’ second, “although, I must say, dear boy, that he doesn’t quite possess your instinct and ability to see the entire picture.” Abby was still recovering from “being instrumental in sending poor Seaman Hayes to prison for sixteen years, despite the hair analysis test at that time being deeply flawed, unbeknownst to her,” and “Eleanor appears to be having issues with that husband of hers, but she still manages to be a strong member of Gibbs’ team.”

 

“And what about Gibbs?” Tony asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

 

“Ah,” Ducky replied as if that was a difficult subject.

 

“Okay, spill, Ducky. What’s going on?” Tony asked, doing his best to disguise a niggling feeling of worry.

 

“His demeanor is somewhat cantankerous, though at times I believe I see signs of melancholy in his expression. Both Abigail and Eleanor have made attempts to visit Jethro at home, and I gather Abigail had the door shut in her face for being rather too inquisitive; Eleanor took a more subtle approach and located Jethro in the basement. He was, as usual, working on a boat. She told me that he denied being lonely or sad, but he has refused numerous invitations to join the team for dinner or drinks. Dr. Taft has also visited Jethro in his underground lair, but I fear he must have overstepped his bounds because Jethro grew quite angry with him and told him to leave.”

 

“Wow, first of all, that’s quite a report, Special Agent Mallard,” Tony said. “One thing though, what exactly did Taft say to Gibbs?” It took quite a bit to get Jethro to blow his top, so whatever was said, he must have hit a sore spot.

 

“Dr. Taft came to me this morning, troubled. He confessed to having made light of the fact Jethro had not been laid – his words, not mine – for too long a time, and insisted Jethro go bar-hopping with him as his wing-man. Jethro refused. Taft insisted, saying some unkind things about Jethro’s past relationships in the hope it would spur him to accompany him.”

 

“No, he didn’t!”

 

“I’m afraid so, my boy. It escalated to the point where Jethro threatened to throw a punch, and Taft threatened to have Jethro removed from duty pending a psychiatric evaluation.”

 

Shit, that was not good. And why hadn’t Jethro told him about it? “What happened? Pistols at dawn?”

 

“The incident occurred only yesterday. Today Jethro was at work as usual, and kept his emotions close to the vest,” Ducky said. “Being badgered and cornered, especially where feelings or personal matters are concerned, would upset anyone. People tend to think that Jethro is lacking emotions just because he doesn’t wear them on his sleeve.”

 

“They shouldn't underestimate him,” Tony said, shaking his head.

 

Ducky continued, “After my little chat with Dr. Taft, I am confident that in the future he will know better than to poke the bear. He has since apologized to Jethro. Taft went back to his house this evening, in fact.”

 

“Oh yeah? And how did Jethro take it?” Not well, he was sure.

 

“Jethro told him to keep out of his head and his personal business, and then shut the door in his face,” Ducky said, chuckling.

 

After he’d finished his call with Ducky, Tony sat back and had a good, long laugh, picturing Gibbs slamming the door in a surprised Taft’s face. Oh, how he wished he had been there to see it. But then he thought about Jethro, preferring to spend time in his basement rather than go out and socialize. Nothing new with that, but he would feel better if Jethro went out with a colleague, just for a meal. Maybe with Fornell.

 

Was Jethro lonely, or simply finding the construction of his new boat more interesting than mixing with friends and coworkers? Tony had the feeling that it was a bit of both. He hoped Jethro wasn’t drinking too much, or working on the boat half the night. He would have a talk with him, make sure he was sleeping in their bed, not on the couch. Jethro did not like answering questions about himself, but at least Tony knew he was better qualified than anyone else to handle the man.

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

“Am I what?” Jethro asked over the line.

 

“Are you lonely? You know, because when your partner leaves town for a few weeks you hole up in your basement to work on your boat, and drink booze and stare at the pin-up of his half-naked body,” Tony said carelessly.

 

“Jesus. You’ve been talking to Taft?” Jethro said angrily.

 

“Fuck no! Why would I talk to him? I admire the guy for his skills, because he saved your life, for which I’ll be forever grateful, but I find his constantly jokey manner… annoying,” Tony admitted. “And anyone can tell he’s not a happy guy underneath all those wisecracks.”

 

“Ducky,” Jethro said. Tony could picture him nodding, knowing who’d ratted him out.

 

Tony asked, “So, did you actually toss Taft off the front porch, or did you just slam the door in his face?”

 

After a moment of silence, a slightly sheepish Jethro said, “I shut it firmly.”

 

“Uh-huh. Is ‘firmly’ a euphemism for slammed?”

 

“The guy was in my face! He was in my basement! And he seemed to think my life was going down the fucking toilet! Can you believe he wanted to hold my hand while I picked up some woman at a bar and took her home? Of course I booted him out. What the hell d’you expect me to do?”

 

“Hey, I probably would have shown him the door, too.”

 

Jethro sighed deeply. “I want you home,” he said, sounding defeated.

 

“I’ll be back soon, in a few weeks,” Tony said, concerned about the way Jethro sounded. “Are you okay? And don’t give me any bullshit ‘fine.’”

 

“Tony…”

 

“What’s going on, Jethro?”

 

“I’m just… I hate that you’re there and I’m not. I want…”

 

“Tell me. I’ll do whatever you want,” Tony promised.

 

“When you’re done there, move in with me.”

 

Tony didn’t know what to say. The idea of being with Jethro both at home and work was his life’s desire, but in reality, being with him 24/7? Sounded like a recipe for disaster. And as far as Jethro was concerned, how long would he be able to stand him before the relationship soured? “Oh, Jethro…”

 

“Fuck. Forget it.”

 

“No, no! I love that you’re asking me.” It had been less of a request and more of an order, but it was the offer than counted.

 

“But you won’t consider it?”

 

Tony sighed, suddenly finding himself on very insecure ground. Oh hell, he was crazy about Jethro, and what did he have to lose? “How about… We give it a trial run? Maybe through the end of December?”

 

Immediately Jethro bargained, “Six months. Until May.”

 

“Okay. But are you sure?”

 

“You can retreat to your own place when I get too grouchy for you.”

 

“You never get too grouchy for me. I like Grouchy Gibbs,” Tony said, smiling.

 

“It’s settled then. You agree,” Jethro said, sounding satisfied.

 

Tony’s heart was pounding as he replied, “I agree.”

 

“Damn, I love you,” Jethro said.

 

Tony could picture him grinning. He wished he could see it. Next time, they’d have to do a video call. It would entail giving Jethro step-by-step instructions on linking up through his laptop, which he rarely used, and although it was sure to be an exercise in frustration, seeing Jethro’s handsome face as they talked would make it all worthwhile.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

“… and Marsden, Blake and Howe look the most promising, and… Tony, are you listening?” Joanna asked.

 

Tony belatedly realized she was talking to him. They were seated next to each other in the library, with folders and notes spread all over the coffee table. “Oh, sorry, mind was drifting a bit. How about we start the scenarios tomorrow, see how they do under real-world situations? I want to gauge how they interact with each other, and who’s best at improvising,” Tony suggested.

 

Joanna placed a hand on Tony’s arm. “Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah, sure. Okay, I’m sort of missing my team, and friends…”

 

“And Gibbs?” she asked gently.

 

“Oh yes, I definitely miss being ignored – or barked at,” Tony said dryly, hoping she wasn’t implying what he thought she was indirectly saying.

 

Joanna searched his face for a moment. “Ned was always telling me what a good friend you were. You listened to him when he needed to talk things out.”

 

Tony shrugged. “He was a good man.”

 

“I want you to know… if you need someone to talk to, I’m here.”

 

“Thanks, Joanna. Dorney loved you so much, and I understand why.” Joanna gave him a quick hug and suggested they head over to the barracks, where the dozen remaining recruits were waiting. They’d whittled the applicants down by half over the last couple of weeks, a process that had involved some hard decisions.

 

Tony liked several of the promising candidates, and a couple of them caught his eye for a more personal reason. One of the young men, Wilder Jones, was an athletic looking man in his late twenties who had just completed the FBI training course. With a buff body, long blond hair, and a full-lipped mouth that screamed ‘made for giving blow jobs,’ Tony was immediately captivated by him. He knew he had to obey his own Rule #21 (Look but don’t touch) but damn it, it wasn’t so easy to keep slutty thoughts out of his head.

 

Tony spent time training Wilder and found he was smart and inventive, but the committee wasn’t sold on the idea he could look enough like the common man to merge undetected into a crowd. After Wilder donned some nondescript, baggy clothing, and worked with Garcia on his body language, it seemed as though he might actually fit in.

 

Whenever Tony was in his presence, Wilder acted shy, but then Tony caught the recruit watching him intently when he returned from his early morning run, all worn out and sweaty. There was no doubt the young man was interested in him in a sexual way. It was tempting to follow through and sneak off into some dark corner to fuck the guy, but Tony reminded himself it was a bad idea, on so many levels. After that, he kept their conversations brief and professional. Wilder, unfortunately, did not make the cut, and Tony was sorry to see him leave.

 

There were other temptations, but the one that Tony lusted after the most was a burly police detective with fifteen years on the force, whose big hands looked like they could snap someone’s neck with next-to-no effort. Detective Costas had dark eyes framed by the thickest eyelashes Tony had ever seen on a man. He gave Tony big grin whenever he spoke to him, and even gave him one of those allover perusals while adjusting himself. Now, this man, Tony thought, would not be on the receiving end.

 

Still, Tony drew a line at fucking, or being fucked, by recruits. It was unprofessional, he reminded himself. Plus, he had a boyfriend at home. A boyfriend he was going to move in with as soon as this was over.

 

One of the recruits Tony favored stood out for a completely different reason: Alice Brown, age thirty-nine, was a longtime patrol officer out of Brooklyn. She was widowed, with grown kids, and had a pleasant yet forgettable face. As he’d pointed out to the committee in their last meeting, “She stands out because she doesn’t stand out. I’ll bet that if Alice was the bank teller who cashed your check today, you’d never be able to pick her out of a lineup tomorrow. She’s bright, and even though her background doesn’t suggest it, she’s ambitious.”

 

“In undercover, that’s a good thing, blending in,” Garcia said, nodding. He was a good-looking man, but there was little about his appearance that stood out, except maybe his sharp, analyzing eyes.

 

“Why hasn’t she raised above patrol?” asked Cox, crossing his beefy arms across his chest.

 

Teague said thoughtfully, “Alice has been taking care of her aging mother, dealing with a deadbeat husband – both now deceased – and her children… Tony, doesn’t she have two kids?”

 

“Margie, nineteen, and Brandon, eighteen, both moved out and living nearby,” Tony said without needing to open Alice Brown’s folder.

 

Joanna continued, “All of those anchors in her life are now out of the way, so she’s free to focus on what she really wants to do: undercover work.”

 

They went on to talk about the positive features of the rest of the recruits, and made final decisions about who to cut, based upon a grading system they’d worked out. First, they’d hone their skills, then run scenarios, and then they would take them in small groups to the nearest city to see how they fared in real-life situations. Tony was looking forward to that part of the program.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

“Tony, didn’t hear from you last night,” Jethro said over the phone.

 

“Yeah, well, I was a bit busy. We took the recruits into the city and put them in situations, undercover, so we could observe.”

 

“It go well?” Jethro asked warily, as if he already knew the answer.

 

“No. No, it didn’t.”

 

“Talk to me.”

 

Tony was seated at the big kitchen table with a cup of steaming near-black coffee in front of him. It was early and he was the first one up. He hadn’t been able to get much sleep last night and now he really needed a lift from the caffeine. He sighed and told Jethro about the previous day’s activities, the fiasco. It was a miracle nobody had been killed, and he said as much.

 

They’d divided the twelve recruits, the best and brightest, into four units. Tony, Cox, Teague and Garcia were acting as monitors for each three-person unit. The idea was to give them fictitious backgrounds, drop them into a crowded situation, and see which unit was able to achieve their goal. In this case, they had to cozy up to someone and use their back-story to extract information from that person. Not an address or bank account, just some personal story the subject wouldn’t normally reveal. One recruit was the primary, the other two acted as on-scene support.

 

“We just wanted to get them used to dropping into their undercover persona really fast, to get what they came for, and to be extracted safely. On my team, the first one up was Alice. You should see her, Jethro. She takes on the voice, body language and story of a character faster, better than anyone I’ve ever seen. She plays a totally believable tired mom who works two jobs and is just happy to be out of the house. The transformation is unbelievable.”

 

“What happened?” asked Jethro.

 

“We were at the bus station. At first it seemed like Alice was doing okay, getting real close to a woman with a kid, who looked like she was in some sort of trouble. But then this man came out of nowhere and started pushing the woman around, and Alice intervened. She got his arm behind his back, but he got free and punched her in the face.” Tony ran a hand through his hair and stared miserably into his coffee cup. “It wasn’t Alice’s fault. She did nothing wrong. The guy was a loose cannon. I was responsible for her, for all three of them, and I didn’t move fast enough. I lost control of the situation and…”

 

“How is she?” Jethro asked, sounding concerned.

 

It took a moment for Tony to get the words out. “Black eye, sprained wrist. I think I was more shaken than she was.”

 

“So she’s okay. That’s good.”

 

Tony erupted. “No, it’s not good! Nothing about this is good! I never should have taken them out in the field without more practice. Maybe a smaller crowd. I knew the bus station was going to be tough to control. I knew it but I wanted this to work, for everyone, and I took a risk with one of my people and… Jesus, I fucked up.”

 

“Yeah, you fucked up. But now you know. So move on.”

 

“Don’t you fucking tell me to…! Fuck!” Tony knocked his coffee cup off the table with a sweep of his hand.

 

“Tony! DiNozzo!”

 

“I can’t talk about this now. I have to go,” Tony said, his voice tight. As he hung up, he heard Jethro saying, “Call me later.”

 

He sat there for another ten minutes, going over everything in his head, until Rob Cox came in looking for coffee. Rob fried up eggs and bacon and served up two plates full, one of which he placed in front of Tony. Tony shook his head but Rob insisted, and once Tony started eating, he discovered he was hungry. When he was done, Tony admitted he felt a bit better. It was then that Rob told Tony about how he’d been a supervisor of a group of fresh FBI undercover agents-in-training, and all the mistakes both he and the trainees had made. “So get it into your thick skull you did your best and that you can’t control the unexpected. Learn the lesson and move on.”

 

“Thanks, Rob. For the breakfast, too,” Tony said, appreciating the man taking the time to talk to him.

 

Tony went out for a run, and by the time he’d done the loop around the lake, and had showered and changed, he was due at a committee meeting. Teague assured them Alice was fine, and was itching to move on to the next undercover lesson.

 

After they had finished their business, Tony went to the barracks to see Alice. The bruise on her eye looked bad, and he immediately felt awful, but Alice told him how all her fellow recruits now wanted to take selfies with her. “And now I can show my kids what a badass SMUT gal their mother is,” she said proudly.

 

Tony was glad the recruits were being so supportive, and he made sure that Alice knew he was there for her, too. “Everyone, next time, keep your eyes on your partner’s back. Rule #15: Always work as a team.”

 

“Wait, there are rules?” one of the recruits asked.

 

That made Tony laugh. “Of course there are rules…”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

 

Chapter Text

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CHAPTER 12 - Stupid Moves

 

The first stupid thing Tony did was to make himself a bourbon on the rocks and drink it. The second stupid thing he did was to bundle up against the cold November night air and head over to the police barracks, even though he knew he shouldn’t.

 

The state police quarters had its own kitchen and a small rec room – which is where the guys could usually be found playing cards. Tonight there was only one man there, seated on a ratty old couch, playing a video game. Tony recognized him: State Police Trooper Dorian Gray. He acted surprised to find Dorian there, alone, even though he’d checked on their schedule just that afternoon. That made what he was about to do premeditated, and even though he hated himself, Tony couldn't resist the draw Dorian had on him.

 

When the SMUT committee had first arrived and been given a tour, Tony had been introduced to Trooper Gray. He’d had quoted from the Oscar Wilde classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray. “Your name’s Dorian Gray? ‘The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.’ My father’s favorite quote from the book,” Tony had said with a smile. “I’ll bet you get that all the time.”

 

Trooper Gray had smiled back, and what a smile it was. “Words to live by,” he’d said, amused. The others in the room had stepped out about then, going about their duties, leaving Gray and Tony alone.

 

From the way the trooper had looked right at Tony, it was as if he knew him, and knew exactly what he was thinking. Tony had given Gray a once-over, taking in the dark military cut hair, the broad shoulders and well-muscled chest, all nicely packaged in a fitted gray uniform. Yeah, the man was attractive, and tall, taller than him by a couple of inches. To be honest, Tony’s immediate thought was he wondered what Gray’s cock looked like, if it was uncut and as impressive as the rest of him.

 

Gray’s smile had broadened in response to being checked out, because Tony wasn’t being exactly subtle about his interest.

 

The second it sunk in that they were pretty much leering at each other, Tony did the sensible thing and stepped back. He concentrated on making his expression as neutral as possible. Gray had seemed puzzled by Tony’s withdrawal, and a little disappointed. Tony had gone outside and caught up with the others, hoping the trooper would think he’d read him wrong, and that would be the end of it.

 

But Tony had thought about him most of the day. About his deep brown eyes. Wondering what he’d look like naked, if his balls were big and his thighs hairy. Nothing had triggered this sudden interest, nothing specific. Maybe it was because he hadn’t been laid for weeks, except during phone sex with Jethro, which was really no excuse at all. Even though getting off with Jethro panting in his ear (through his headphones) had been really, really good, it wasn’t the same as feeling rough hands upon you, and the heat of a body pressing against yours, smelling his scent as you licked your way down his chest, feeling him tense and shudder underneath you as he ejaculated, and salty taste of his cum as you licked it off his belly before you surged up for a wet, deep kiss.

 

He needed the real thing, always had, and on a regular basis. It was a release, a brief way of connecting with another human being, without any strings attached. Tony knew if he took this any further, and if Jethro found out, their relationship would be over; he’d never be forgiven. But then Jethro had known what a slut he was, right from the start. It was no secret that Tony DiNozzo would get into anyone’s pants if given half a chance – it was a given. Jethro had known that, going into this relationship. It would hurt him really badly to find out Tony was willing to cheat on him, with so little incentive. Hurting Jethro? Damn, Tony didn’t want to do that. He couldn’t do it, sink so low.

 

But he still wanted to see Dorian. Preferably naked. He was attracted to the guy, and desperately wanted to have sex with him. But just because he wanted something didn’t mean he had to reach out and take it. ‘No’ was in his vocabulary, even though he rarely used the word. Tony sighed. Damn it, it would’ve been so much fucking fun, but it wasn’t going to happen.

 

Still… nothing said a man couldn't dream.

 

When Dorian looked over his shoulder and saw it was Tony, his face lit up and he stood, abandoning his video game. “Hey, DiNozzo! Man, I could do with some company.”

 

The other troopers had been called out and he had been left to hold down the fort. Garcia had mentioned it in passing at lunch, and Tony had taken note.

 

Tony acted surprised. “Oh, so no poker tonight, huh? Not a problem. I should probably make an early night of it.” He had barely made it to the door before Dorian was beside him, his arm out, blocking him.

 

“C’mon, stay. Keep me company.” Dorian smiled sweetly, with the underlying, ‘You know you want it so why fight it?’ coming across loud and clear.

 

Tony hesitated just long enough to make it believable, and agreed. The second he did so, he knew he’d sunk to a new low. “Got anything to drink?”

 

With a beer in hand, Tony declined to play the video game (Killer Kop Kaos) but said, “Sure,” to a game of cards. “Can’t stay long,” he said, knowing this was a stupid (stupid!) thing to do, but he wanted, very badly, to get his fill of Dorian’s big smile, to get a good hit of the man’s magnetism, just something to carry with him back to bed.

 

They talked about sports and local politics, and about how the state police force was run compared to NCIS, as they played. There came a point when Tony could have called it a night and left. Instead, he asked, “You got anything stronger than beer, Trooper Gray?”

 

“I’ll get us shots on the condition you call me Dorian,” he was told.

 

Tony said, “Dorian,” as if trying it on for size, and Dorian’s smile made him dizzy with want. Their fingers met when he reached for the shot glass, and a callused trigger finger rubbed across the back of his hand. He knew Dorian had done it on purpose. He took in Dorian’s interested looks, the way the man laughed at his jokes, the way he clamped a big hand on Tony’s shoulder as he passed by on his way to get them something to snack on. Each small action, every touch was a small triumph for Tony because he had engineered them.

 

In return, he’d smiled knowingly at the trooper, licked his lips when deep in thought over the hand he held, been caught checking out his ass, his crotch, his hands. But every prize comes with a price, as his mother used to say. Was a few minutes of sex with this stranger really worth it? Was he so fucking addicted he couldn't say no? Didn’t he care at all about Jethro, the man who said he loved him?

 

Tony closed his eyes and berated himself, thinking, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t. Think of Jethro. You’re gonna ruin everything, you stupid fucked-up asshole.’ And then he thought, ‘The hell with Jethro! What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,’ and immediately he came back with, ‘You’re a fucking idiot, DiNozzo. Gibbs… Jethro knows everything. One look at your guilty face and he’ll dump you faster than a hot potato.’ But he was already in too deep. Wasn’t he?

 

After a couple of shots, and a few more hands of cards, when Dorian laid his hand on Tony’s, to turn over his cards after a play, Tony trembled with fucking need. Jesus, what the hell was wrong with him? He was a fucking slut, that’s what. Why had he been so stupid, so fucking shit-faced stupid to think he’d be able to remain loyal to one person? What made him want to jump the bones of whatever piece of meat waved his dick in his direction? All it took was for the guy to look at him sideways and he folded. A weak-assed submissive piece of fucking fuck-ass shit, that’s what he was.

 

And why the fuck had Jethro trusted him? ‘I’ve gotta tell you, Tony, I’ve been fucking crazy in love with you since the first moment I saw you.’ That’s what Jethro had said. Why the hell had he said that? It couldn't be true. Couldn’t be. And what had he replied? That he didn’t love him back. He felt something for Jethro, he just didn’t know what, but he’d denied it. And what had Jethro said to him? He’d said Tony loved him, he knew that. He’d been so confident, Tony had half-believed him at that moment. Fuck, he was so confused.

 

Standing abruptly, Tony said loudly, “I’ve gotta head back.”

 

“I’ll walk back with you.”

 

“No! No, I’m good.”

 

Dorian smiled again, and it was killing Tony that not only did the man look good enough to eat, but how was it that a simple smile made him want to undo the trooper’s belt and reach into his pants? Dorian stood close, way too close, and teased, “It’s my professional opinion you’ve had one too many to drink, and I can’t allow you to walk home alone. Why, you might fall into the lake, and I’d never forgive myself.”

 

“Don’t worry. I won’t fall in.” Tony refused to meet Dorian’s eyes. He just grabbed his coat and headed out the door. He could hear Dorian behind him along the dirt drive, walking fast to catch up with him, and then his hand was on his upper arm, tight and possessive and scary as shit, and Tony’s dick got so fucking hard when the grip tightened even more, which was so fucked up.

 

He knew if Dorian entered the house, he’d do things there’d be no turning back from… and he’d lose Jethro forever. If he let Dorian in, they’d go upstairs, and he would willingly strip and bend over, holding onto the bedpost, and beg, ‘fuck me please, just fuck me,’ until the man stuck his dick in his ass and pounded him until he was fucking done.

 

He’d regret it. He’d hate himself for doing it. But he’d do it anyway.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The wind off the lake was chilly, and Tony was frozen by the time they arrived at The Stone House. He stopped at the front door and Dorian released his arm without saying anything. His face was in shadow, but he was watching Tony intently, letting him make the decision all by himself. Tony could tell the man to piss off in that tone his father used, mean and dangerous, or he could do one of those Marine moves Gibbs had taught him, and take the trooper down with a one-two sweep of the legs and a hard push. Instead, he opened the door and they both went inside.

 

It was quiet. Nobody was around. There was a fire going in the room with the pool table, and Dorian dragged him in there. Tony stumbled, and next thing he knew, his coat was off and he was downing a bourbon he didn’t remember pouring himself. Dorian took the glass from him, stuck it somewhere, and relentlessly pressed him against the heavy pool table. He looked Tony up and down with a predatory gleam in his eyes before focusing on his mouth. It was so fucking hot, Tony groaned.

 

Then their lips met, and at first Tony thought it was okay, because it was so fucking good to be held tightly and kissed, hard and sloppy, tongues battling, but Tony couldn't breathe and gave in. Dorian pulled his mouth away with a grunt of satisfaction, as if he’d made a point, as if he’d won something.

 

It was hot, his head was swimming. He was fucking drunk. Not good. But fuck, he was so hard (Dorian’s hand on his crotch) and he thrust into it (then his belt was unbuckled) and it felt so fucking good (his cock exposed, tight grip, jacking him off).

 

There was something wrong about this; Tony mumbled, “Wait. This isn’t right,” but Dorian kept pumping his cock.

 

“I knew you were a bitch,” he said.

 

It was like someone threw a switch. Tony finally found the will, the strength (the balls, Jethro would say) to tear away, and he cried out hoarsely, “No! Hey, I said lay off!”

 

“C’mon, don’t be a wuss,” Dorian said, his hands insistently tugging at Tony’s pants, setting him off-balance.

 

“I’m, um…” Jesus, get it together, DiNozzo! “I can’t do this! I’m in a rela- relationship.”

 

Dorian seemed amused. “What’s the matter, Tony? You ‘fraid your big, bad old lady’ll find out and get mad at you?”

 

That broke through the alcoholic haze. Tony pushed Dorian away, hard enough to make the trooper stagger. “No! No, I’m worried that when I tell my partner about this, this mistake I made, he’s gonna come after you. And he’s no old lady.”

 

“No? You sure about that? ‘Cause you sure weren’t slow about coming on to me,” Dorian said with a smile. “You’re an easy fuck, aren’t you, Tony? You want it so bad you can taste it, and you get all weak whenever I touch you. I can smell your need from six feet away. I know your type. It’s obvious your old man can’t satisfy you, and you came to me, knowing I’m gonna show you a good time.”

 

Tony shook his head and swayed in place. “No, he’s a big bad fucking ex-Marine with a really bad temper. Oh, and he’s a sniper, too, bes’ there is. Jus’ go back to your barracks.”

 

“You telling me what to do?” Dorian asked with a dangerous glint in his eye.

 

“Yeah. Yeah, I am. Piss off.” Tony pulled his pants up and tucked his cock back in, hating that he was half-hard. He had trouble with the zipper but managed to get it zipped.

 

“C’mon, Tony, just a bit of fun,” Dorian enticed, reaching out and rubbing Tony’s erection through his pants. “You feel so good. I know you want it. And besides, you don’t have to tell him. Nobody’ll ever know.”

 

I’ll know. He’ll know. So I can’t. I won’t. And I’m… I’m sorry I made you think we’d be fuckin’ anytime soon. My fault. But it’ll never happen.” Dorian stared, as if he couldn't believe he was being turned down, so Tony walked over to the front door and held it open. Admittedly he wasn’t all that steady, but his voice was strong. “If you speak about this to anyone, I’ll have to tell my old man your name, and then… well, I sure wouldn't wanna be in your shoes. And if you survive, you’ll end up stationed up by the border… and even if I am a really good fuck, it’s not gonna be worth it. I’m not worth it.”

 

For a moment, Tony thought that he was going to have a fight on his hands, but all of a sudden Dorian said regretfully, “Sorry you feel that way.” He walked past Tony and out the front door without another word.

 

Once he’d left, Tony locked it the door, and leaned against it with a great sigh.

 

He was bent over the kitchen sink, rinsing his mouth out, when someone handed him a clean towel. He turned and found it was Joanna. “Uh, thanks.”

 

“You have a good time?” she asked with one eyebrow lifted into an elegant arch.

 

“Up to a point,” Tony admitted, flushing under the CIA agent’s steady gaze. “I drank too much.”

 

Her eyes dropped to Tony’s mouth. “Were you coerced?”

 

“What? No. Not at all.” He really didn’t want to cause Dorian any trouble. “I was acting… stupid.”

 

After a moment, Joanna said, with a smile, “He’s what we used to call a wolf.”

 

Tony was embarrassed that she’d figured out what had been going on. He managed a small smile in reply. “Seems to fit. And, don’t take this the wrong way, but I asked for it. I… really wanted it. But not with him. Took me a while to understand that.”

 

“But you told him ‘No,’” she said, as if ascertaining the facts.

 

Shit, how much of it had she heard, or witnessed? “I did. I… almost didn’t.”

 

She nodded as if she understood. “Can I make you some coffee?”

 

“No, it’ll keep me awake. I need to sleep it off. But thanks.” Tony said good night and slowly went up to bed. After brushing his teeth and drinking a glass of water, Tony placed a plastic trashcan beside his bed, just in case; the bourbon and shots weren’t sitting well in his stomach.

 

He lay in bed for a while but couldn’t sleep. He thought about what a fuck-up he was, how nobody should want him, how his father had been right, all those years ago, to call him a loser. A glance at the clock told him it wasn’t even midnight. Might as well get it over with, he thought, as he reached for his phone. It took a lot of courage to dial the familiar number, but he did it. “Hey, Jethro?”

 

There was a moment of silence before Jethro asked tersely, “What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothin’…”

 

“You’ve been drinking.”

 

How the hell did he figure that out? “Yeah.” Tony played with the edge of the sheet. “I’m not drunk. Not that drunk. I mean I know I’ve drunk, drinked, but…” He paused. “I’m sorry,” he said in a quiet voice.

 

“What’s going on?” Jethro asked cautiously.

 

“I… There was this man.” Tony stopped. He didn’t want to do this but he knew he had to. “I told you, you shouldn't trust me, that I didn’t trust myself. I warned you, Jethro! I’m fucked up and you wouldn't listen to me–”

 

“Hey! Tony, stop. Take it slow. Just… tell me what happened,” Jethro said, sounding unusually calm, and even sort of… nice. “Let me help you.”

 

For some reason, that hit Tony hard and he started to tear up. He tried to blame it on the booze, but he knew it wasn’t that. The Gibbs he knew wasn’t nice, he reminded himself. “Don’t be nice to me,” he whispered. He didn’t deserve it.

 

Jethro snorted softly. “I love you, Tony. You know how much.”

 

“I guess.”

 

“I can hear you’re hurting and I hate to hear that.”

 

“I don’t want to hurt you either but… I need to tell you this,” Tony said, angrily wiping a tear from his cheek.

 

“I’m listening.”

 

Taking a ragged breath, Tony began. “One of the guys here... I came on to him. I kept telling myself not to do it but…”

 

“He a recruit?”

 

“God no, he’s a state trooper. I… we… I drank too much and I could tell he wanted… sex. But I left, walked home, and he followed me. Took my arm, like really tight, and I… something came over me and I know I was being an idiot but I didn’t tell him to let go of me, and I could’ve taken him down, but…” Tony could hear Jethro breathing on the other end of the line, sort of heavy, and he knew this was upsetting him, so he hurried up and finished his confession. “I let him in. He was all over me, and we were kissing. But I thought…” God, this was hard. “I… I told him to get out.”

 

“Did he get out?” Jethro asked, not sounding very nice anymore.

 

“Yeah. He won’t be back,” Tony said, exhausted. “I wanted him, for sex, and I don’t know why. I kept telling myself it was wrong, and I couldn’t do this to you, but then… I wanted it. It was really hard to stop it. But I did. Before anything happened.” Jethro didn’t respond, but he could hear him pacing. “Jethro? What do I do now?” More silence. “Jethro, talk to me! I don’t know what to do.”

 

“When are you coming home?”

 

All of a sudden, Tony was tired, totally drained. “Um, in a week. Monday. I’m… I’m going to go straight home. And… if you decide you don’t want to work with me any longer, I’ll understand,” Tony said, every word hurting his heart a bit more than the last. He had to offer Jethro a way out though. He’d messed up and Jethro shouldn't have to suffer because of that.

 

Jethro asked angrily, “What the hell are you talking about? Home?”

 

“Yeah, to my condo,” Tony replied, not sure why Jethro was mad about that.

 

“Your home is with me! And why the hell wouldn't you think I don’t want to work with you any longer?” Jethro demanded.

 

“I don’t know! Because I was ten seconds away from letting a stranger drill my ass?”

 

“Fuck! Tony, sometimes I just want to slap your head clean off!”

 

“Then do it! You think this doesn’t hurt? That I don’t know I’ve fucked up a good thing, the best thing that ever happened to me? I’m so stupid, and I’ve ruined everything, and…” Tony hiccupped and all of a sudden he leaned over the side of the bed and vomited in the waste can. He slipped out of bed and heaved until there was nothing left, and then just about crawled to the bathroom and washed all the crap out of his mouth and nose, and off his face. He had to pee and his knees felt weak as he stood in front of the toilet. Then he sniffed and blew his nose, and stood staring at his ugly face in the mirror with its red eyes, pink nose and blotchy skin. All of a sudden, everything hit him at once, overwhelmed him, and he crouched down and let it all out, muffling his sobs in the towel until the tears subsided.

 

Once he had cleaned up the waste can – luckily it had a plastic bag in it – and took it down to the large trash can near the back door because it stank too much to leave around, he returned to bed. It was at that point he realized he was lying on his phone. It was still lit up, and he was about to click the button to disconnect when he heard, “Tony, you okay?”

 

“Jethro? I thought you’d have hung up.”

 

“Of course not! I don’t leave anyone hanging.”

 

Tony swallowed and willed the tears threatening to return to go away. He smiled, though, because that was so Jethro. “I’m okay now,” he said quietly.

 

“You listen to me, Tony. I knew when I took you on this wasn’t going to be the smoothest of rides. What I didn’t know was that you were going to quit and run the first time something tough came down the road.”

 

“I’m not quitting–”

 

“Damn right, you’re not! I won’t put up with it. I know you’ve spent all your adult life hopping from one bed to another, but the minute you walked into my house and slept with me, in my bed, that past life of yours was over. It’s done. You did the right thing by telling that man ‘no’–”

 

“I told him my old lady was a Marine sniper,” Tony said.

 

Jethro muttered something unintelligible. “Okay, that’s good,” he said aloud. “And you’d be best to remember that, too. I take care of my own. You want me to come up there?”

 

“No!”

 

“Then you’re gonna behave for the next week. Stay away from the troopers. Keep your eyes on the goal, and finish the job you went up there to do. And when you’re done, you’re coming back here, to our home.”

 

“Your home.”

 

“No. Ours. I want you to live with me.”

 

“So you can keep an eye on me?” asked Tony, being a touch belligerent.

 

“So we can wake up together and I can fuck you every morning when you’re still half asleep, with your hair sticking up and sleep in your eyes.”

 

“Wow, that’s a lovely image,” Tony said with a brittle laugh.

 

“You don’t get it, do you? I love you when you’re at your best. But I really love you when you’re at your worst. And… that sounds more fucked up than it’s supposed to.”

 

Starman, Tony thought. “‘You’re at your very best when things are at their worst.’ Only I’m not feeling at my best right now. I’m feeling pretty stupid, and like I broke something good, for no good reason. There’s no telling what I’ll do next.”

 

“I trust you, Tony. Do you understand that?”

 

“I… I don’t know why,” Tony said, barely able to speak, tears welling up again.

 

“I love you. Always have, always will. Now, you get some rest and call me in the morning.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“I mean that.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Good. Night, Tony. I love you.”

 

“I’m sorry, Jethro. I’m really sorry.”

 

“I still love you.”

 

Tony hung up, wondering how Jethro could still say those words.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

Untitled

CHAPTER 13 - Collapse

 

Tony called Jethro the next morning. He was nervous about the reception he’d get from Jethro, now he’d had time to think about what Tony had done.

 

But Jethro didn’t bring it up, other than to ask him how he was.

 

“I look like crap,” Tony complained.

 

Jethro actually laughed at him, made sure he was able to function, and said he’d talk to him around two.

 

Tony didn’t ask if he was checking on him, because he had every right to do so. “What if you catch a case?”

 

“I will call you,” Jethro promised.

 

Tony and the other committee members were busy all morning, taking their recruits through situations they’d likely encounter in undercover work. They worked on methods of dealing with different types of people, how to deal with difficult situations and how to get out of them in one piece. “Your life is always more important than getting whatever intel you’ve been sent in to retrieve,” Tony said. “If there are others in danger, you’ll need to make a call, but the whole point of practicing these scenarios is to get you so familiar with them, so you won’t get into a tight spot. Now, let’s head over to the gun range and Agents Cox and Garcia will assess your skills and teach you a few moves you may not know.”

 

Tony’s head was killing him, but drinking a DiNozzo Defibrillator (tabasco sauce and lemon in soda water, without the usual shot of gin) that morning, and eating a burger (without the bun) at lunchtime, helped him feel human again. Joanna didn’t say anything but Tony was aware she was checking on him every now and then.

 

Jethro did not call at two, and three o’clock came and went, and he still hadn’t called. He must be on an important case, Tony thought. He had probably changed his mind and didn’t want Tony to live with him, after all. Or work with him.

 

Tony decided to wait for Jethro to call him, rather than chase him down and possibly interrupt him. It wasn’t easy but he concentrated on training his unit, as did Joanna, Cox and Garcia, with theirs. They stopped at five for dinner and gave the recruits the rest of the night off.

 

An hour later, Tony was in the library, staring into the flames of the fire someone had built. He was thinking about how he’d ruined his chances with Jethro, and what a fucked-up ass he’d been, when Garcia came in. One look at his face and Tony knew something was wrong.

 

Garcia asked, “Your phone is off?”

 

Tony glanced at it. “Yeah.” He’d wanted a few minutes of quiet. Shit, that was an hour ago. “What’s the matter?”

 

Garcia said, “An Agent Bishop phoned. Wants you to call right away.”

 

Jumping to his feet, Tony called Ellie back. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Tony, it’s Gibbs. He collapsed in the bullpen earlier today. Luckily, Ducky and Taft were here, and they… they think it’s a heart attack. They took him to the hospital… The word is he’s in stable condition…” If she said anything else, Tony didn’t hear it. Joanna was beside him, taking the phone from his weak hand, talking to Ellie.

 

“Tony. Tony!”

 

The room came back into focus. Joanna had been calling his name. Tony stared blankly at her, and said, “I have to go… I need to be with him. A car…”

 

“I’ll take care of it. Grab whatever you need. We can leave in ten minutes.”

 

He didn’t know what he would have done without her help. The car they were in, manned by a driver he’d never seen before, took them to the closest airfield. They rode in a black, unmarked helicopter all the way to DC, apparently courtesy of Homeland. Tony had no concept of time, couldn't even think straight.

 

When they landed, another car, this one driven by Fornell, rushed them to the hospital. Tony asked about Gibbs’ condition, and the FBI agent replied, “They’re taking care of him. Did a slew of tests. He’s in good hands, the best.”

 

While they were being driven to the hospital, Tony tried calling Bishop for more information, and when that failed, he called McGee, and then Ducky, but the calls went to voicemail. A dozen questions ran through his mind, about Gibbs’ heart and tests, and if this had something to do with him getting shot months ago. And the thought that Jethro might die, and he’d never get to see him again – which scared the shit out of him – and even though Jethro had seemed okay with him on the phone that morning – God, had that only been this morning? – he had to see him to know if he’d really been forgiven.

 

Tony started to take in the conversation going on between Fornell and Teague. The FBI agent was going on about some American doctors who had been taken hostage by a dangerous group led by a General Gadet, in South Sudan. Navy Lieutenant Elizabeth Cortland had been killed, and Agent Burley was already there, “and McGee and Agent Dunham are waiting to get orders from SecNav to join him. It looks like Jeanne Benoit is hitching a ride... Right now they’re all at the hospital, circling Gibbs like vultures.”

 

What’d you say?” Tony asked.

 

“They’re like vultures.”

 

“No, Jeanne…”

 

“The doctor who was taken, Dr. Woods, turns out he’s Jeanne Benoit’s husband,” Fornell said.

 

Tony’s phone rang and he answered it with a brisk, “DiNozzo.”

 

It was Bishop, who updated him that they’d run the tests and it didn’t appear to be a heart attack, which was good. She said, “Look, Tony, Gibbs is doing his damnedest to get out of the hospital, even though Taft is adamant he has to stay until all the test results come back. Maybe you can convince him not to risk his life by checking out. He listens to you, right, Tony?”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

He heard Gibbs yelling before he even reached the door to his room. To Tony, that was a good sign. There was a crash and a nurse came rushing out of the room, the front of her blue scrubs soaked with water. Or, at least Tony hoped it was water.

 

He poked his head in and saw Gibbs propped up in bed. “Hey Boss, I sure hope that wasn’t your piss pot you threw at the nurse.” Gibbs looked so surprised to see him, Tony belatedly thought it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to alarm a man who was hooked up to machines monitoring him for a possible heart attack. He moved closer to the bed, stopping about five feet away, and eyed the machines. He’d read enough of them in his time to see that Gibbs’ heartbeat was fast and his pressure was lowering. “You okay? Your heart?”

 

Gibbs soon got over his shock at seeing Tony. “I’m fine. What the hell are you doing here? Oh hell, did they call you?”

 

Disappointed he wasn’t getting a better welcome, Tony said, “I came because I heard you needed backup, Boss.” Fornell and Teague had paved the way for him to reach Gibbs’ room, and then retreated. On the way down the hall to Gibbs’ room, Tony hadn’t seen any of the team, although he thought he’d heard Abby’s voice in the distance.

 

Gibbs said, “Shit, I missed the two o’clock call.”

 

“Yeah, and I waited, and wasn’t sure about phoning you, and then Bishop phoned, and we took trains, planes and a really neat unmarked helicopter to get here. Is it… um… okay with you that I’m here?”

 

“Of course it is. Get over here.” As soon as Tony was within reach, Jethro grabbed his arm and pulled him down for a kiss, and then a deeper one, which left Tony dizzy and happier than he’d been in weeks. He sat on the edge of the hard hospital bed, thigh nudging Jethro’s, and smiled what must have been a pretty loopy smile, because Jethro asked, “Are you okay?”

 

“I am now,” Tony said, still smiling. He hadn’t eaten much that day, and he’d been tightly wound ever since hearing Gibbs had been rushed to the hospital, and now it was catching up to him. He gripped Jethro’s hands, just trying to hold it all together.

 

Jethro relaxed against the pillows and sighed. He didn’t let go of Tony’s hands. “Breathe, Tony.”

 

Guilt hit Tony hard, now he was with Jethro. “I’m so sorry. So damned sorry…”

 

Jethro squeezed his hands. “We already talked about this, Tony. Move on.”

 

With a nod, Tony agreed. “Then tell me what you did to deserve all this.”

 

Of all things, Jethro smiled, and he assured Tony he really wasn’t dying, and it really wasn’t a heart attack, but the docs still didn’t want him to leave. “You know, tests,” he scoffed.

 

He gave Tony a rundown of the South Sudan situation, and how pissed he was this (making a vague gesture towards his chest) had sidelined him.

 

“But you feel okay?”

 

Jethro shrugged. “Good enough to get out of here.”

 

Tony asked where Bishop and the others were.

 

“Waiting room. Taft kicked them out. I guess my BP went sky high when Abby came in here.”

 

Jethro rubbed his chest with his knuckles, something Tony had seen him do a couple of times before. He had a feeling Jethro didn’t even know he was doing it. “What do you think is the matter with you? Bishop said you collapsed.” Tony jerked his chin in the direction of Jethro’s chest.

 

“How the hell would I know?” Jethro snapped. He quickly apologized. “Sorry. In the bullpen, they were all talking at the same time, fighting about who was going to South Sudan. It was… like being underwater and I couldn't catch my breath. I guess I zoned out.” Jethro shook his head, annoyed. “Fuck, Taft thinks it’s all in my head.”

 

“Like a panic attack? Did I have anything to do with it? I mean, last night, because I told you about what I’d done… Did I cause this?” He’d never forgive himself if he was the one whose stupid actions had caused Jethro to get bent out of shape and end up in the hospital.

 

“Fuck no, and don’t even go there. C’mere,” Jethro said, pulling Tony into his arms.

 

Tony wrapped his arms around Jethro, and rested his head on his chest. He could feel wires under the hospital gown beneath his cheek. He closed his eyes for a moment, just listening to his lover’s heart beating. Jethro stroked his hair, which was nice, but after a while, Tony reluctantly sat up and asked, “What can I do for you? I want to help.”

 

“Then get me out of here.”

 

Tony heard voices out in the hall, and the clomping of big-heeled boots. Jethro tensed and the monitor showed his heart, respiration and pressure were all rising. Tony offered, “You want me to talk to them? Herd them little doggies outta the way?”

 

“Yeah, and tell McGee he has a damned plane to catch. Dunham’s already at the airport, waiting for the green light. They need to be ready to go.”

 

From the sound of things, the whole gang was outside the room. “Okay, I’ll go and talk to him. And Abby. I presume Ducky’s here, and Palmer?” Tony gave Jethro another kiss. “I’ll be back to see you soon. Alone.”

 

Tony’s phone buzzed before he’d even made it to the door. It was SecNav Porter, ascertaining he was at the hospital. “Yes, ma’am.” She inquired how Gibbs was, and once Tony had affirmed that Special Agent Gibbs was alert and in control, and right by his side, he passed the phone to him.

 

Tony could hear her telling Gibbs that NCIS had clearance to go on the rescue mission. Purely humanitarian, she stressed. Gibbs disconnected and handed the phone back to Tony. He looked pale and tired, but his voice was strong when he spoke. “Tell McGee he has lead and to get to the airport now. And tell him to keep his head down.” Tony rose and turned to leave, but Gibbs called after him, “But DiNozzo, you can’t go with him.”

 

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,” Tony promised.

 

“And Tony… Jeanne Benoit’s out there,” Jethro warned. “She’s joining McGee and Dunham.”

 

“I’m sorry… Jeanne? Jeanne who?” Tony replied with a grin.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The moment Abby saw Tony, she shrieked and surged towards him, arms outstretched. No wonder Gibbs’ pressure had gone through the roof when Abby had entered his room.

 

Even though he was prepared for the impact, Abby almost swept him off his feet. Then McGee was talking excitedly in his ear, about the case, and Palmer was hurrying towards him with Ducky by his side, and somewhere in the background, a wan-looking Jeanne Benoit was standing alone, wringing her hands. He almost felt sorry for her. Almost.

 

Ellie Bishop looked from Tony to Jeanne, and raised an eyebrow, apparently having been brought up to speed about his past relationship with her.

 

After Tony had convinced everyone to convene in a waiting room with a door – he had to charm an administrator to get access to it – and Palmer had fetched them a carafe of freshly brewed coffee, they all sat down and talked.

 

Actually, what really happened was Tony sat on an uncomfortable chair and let them talk themselves out while he gave the occasional nod, or made a noise to let them know he was listening. Last, but not least, Jeanne put in her two cents, blaming Gibbs for dredging up “those terrible lies about my father being some kind of criminal. For God’s sake, why won’t you people just let that go?”

 

Glancing at his watch, Tony found that he’d allowed them ten minutes to get it all off their chests. And that had been five minutes too long, as far as he was concerned.

 

He rose to his feet and got their attention. “Okay, everybody, listen up. McGee, we got a call from SecNav, and Operation Rescue the Doctor and his People is a go. Dunham’s already at the airport, waiting on you, so go now, and take Dr. Benoit with you.” He turned to Ellie. “Bishop, Gibbs needs you for research and support back at NCIS. And I appreciate you giving me the heads up about the situation. Abby, Gibbs didn’t have a heart attack, but he just might if you don’t start using the calm voice you use to talk to lost puppies. So tone it way down or you won’t be allowed to see him.”

 

Abby was jumping up and down where she sat, but Tony moved on. “Hey, Palmer, thanks for the coffee. Could you pour a cup-to-go for Gibbs?” He ignored the protest from Ducky, over giving Gibbs coffee, and sound of annoyance from Abby because he wasn’t listening to her and had no right, yada yada. McGee was saying he needed to talk to Gibbs first, which was valid as he was going on a dangerous mission. Tony said he’d get Gibbs to call him when he was in the air.

 

Tony stood and said, “I’m going to have a word with Dr. Taft, and I suggest you all leave immediately. Except you, Ducky. I might need a medical translator. And yes, I’ll let you know what Gibbs’ status is, if Gibbs approves. So go home, folks. Gibbs isn’t going to die anytime soon, and you’re not going to be allowed in to see him, anyway.”

 

Of course, they all erupted at that bit of news, but Tony simply turned his back on them and made his way down the hall to Jethro’s room. He had just opened the door and spotted Jethro sitting up in bed and waiting for him, when Jeanne came up from behind and grabbed his arm.

 

“Tony!” she hissed.

 

He stared at her hand until she got the message and removed it. “Yes?”

 

“You’re coming with us, of course. To South Sudan,” Jeanne said insistently, getting into Tony’s space where he stood in the doorway.

 

“No. I’m not. And please step back. This is a private room.” How could she think he’d go anywhere with her? Out of the corner of his eye, Tony saw his colleagues gathering behind her in the hall. McGee was at the front, Abby clinging to him, listening in on their conversation.

 

“But Agent McGee told me you never miss any away team and I need–”

 

Tony looked past her to McGee, and raised his eyebrows, mouthing ‘away team?’ McGee shrugged. “Dr. Benoit, whatever you need, I’m not the man to give it to you,” Tony said firmly.

 

“Of course you are, Tony…”

 

“You need to address me as Special Agent DiNozzo, ma’am.”

 

Tears formed in Jeanne’s beautiful pale eyes. “But we share a past and… more. It has been really difficult for me, but I forgive you for all the pretense, all the pain you caused. I know it was only so you could get close to me, and that your director ordered you to do it. We belong together, Tony. You know that, I know you do!”

 

Tony found he was not at all moved by her words. “You’re referring to the past where you made a case of accusing me of murder?” he asked sarcastically. “I’d rather forget it, and everything else associated with you, thank you very much. Now, if you don’t leave, you’ll miss the flight. Think of your husband, Dr. Woods.”

 

Jeanne’s soft, sweet expression hardened. “How dare you? After you seduced me to get to my father, and accused him of being an arms dealer… Damn it, Tony, I know it was your job, but you loved me. I know you did and I can tell, in my heart, you still do!”

 

Tony could feel everyone’s eyes on him, and he knew he shouldn’t say what was on his mind, but at that point, he was frustrated and a bit angry, and really didn’t care what any of these people thought. All he wanted was to be alone with Jethro. Jethro must have known what he was about to say, because when Tony turned to look at him, and met his eyes, he gave him a crooked smile and nodded.

 

Tony turned back to his colleagues, and everything just came spilling out of his mouth without any preparation. He said, loudly enough for everyone to hear, “I’m gay, and I’m in a committed relationship with the man I love, and that man, for some unknown reason, tells me he loves me like fucking crazy. And he’s not prone to exaggeration, so I guess I’ll have to accept it’s the truth. Now, have a good trip, everyone, and Tim, watch your back.”

 

At that, Tony shut the door on all of them, ignored the shrieks and exclamations coming from the other side of it, and turned to the man in the hospital bed. With a laugh, he said, “Wow! Okay! I can’t believe I said that.” He took a deep breath and rubbed his hands together. “So, Jethro, let’s figure out a way we can get you out of here.”

 

Jethro laughed, which was just about the best sound Tony had ever heard.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

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CHAPTER 14 - Back Home

 

Around midnight, Jethro was finally discharged, and only because he had both Ducky and Tony taking him home and staying with him. Besides, by the time the doctors came in to talk to him, he’d already disconnected all the leads from the various monitors and had dressed in some borrowed scrubs, and was threatening to walk out if they didn’t release him. He’d also drunk a cup of coffee that Palmer had snuck into his room while they were waiting on Taft, and that had perked him up like nothing else could. Taft had given Jethro a lecture, as was expected, and discussed the results they’d received so far with Ducky, but ultimately he signed the release papers.

 

Walking into Jethro’s home (“Our home,” Jethro said.) was the best thing ever, and despite it being after 0100, they sat at the kitchen table eating cereal and holding hands. Tony kept bursting out in laughter, he was so giddy with happiness, and relief that he’d outed himself. Plus he was overly tired, and that brought out the silly in him. Jethro didn’t mind at all, which was a good thing.

 

Ducky, who sat with them, drinking tea, was bemused but offered the two men congratulations. “I certainly did not foresee this,” he admitted. “Although, I am very happy for you.” He soon turned in, sleeping in the guest room on the ground floor. It was small, and had once been a little-used den, but it was somewhere to lay his head.

 

“We still have to face everyone else on the team, now they know we’re together,” Tony said, biting his lip.

 

“Hey, you never said it was me,” Jethro reminded him.

 

“They sure as hell aren’t gonna think I’m shacking up with Agah Bayar!” For some reason that got Jethro laughing, and Tony ended up laughing with him. But that didn’t change the fact that he was going to get inundated with questions, and he had to figure out how to answer them.

 

Tony had talked to Joanna earlier, to thank her and to give her an update on Gibbs’ health. She had gone home to her condo in Silver Spring once she’d dropped Tony off at the hospital. She had business in DC the next morning, and suggested Tony sleep late. They could return to Hope Lake in the afternoon. She’d already called Cox, and he and Garcia were fine with putting the recruits through their paces in the meantime.

 

“You are coming back with me, aren’t you, Tony?” Joanna had asked.

 

He’d assured her he was, and they made arrangements for her to pick him up around two. To Jethro, he’d whined a bit about not being able to be there for him, even though they both knew he’d be fine under Ducky’s watchful eye once Tony had left.

 

Jethro had said, “It’s only one week, Tony. I think we can survive apart for that long.”

 

“And after that…?”

 

“The program will be done. You come home. We’ll be together,” Jethro said, and kissed Tony long and hard to cement the deal.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

For the rest of the night, Tony kept waking up with a start, thinking something was wrong. Each time, he checked that Jethro was still breathing, and his heart was emitting a regular beat, and then settled beside him with a sigh before going back to sleep.

 

They were up and about by ten in the morning, which was late for both of them. As soon as Ducky ascertained Jethro was fine, he left for work. “Dr. Taft will be checking on you midday. I presume you can keep out of trouble until then? Anthony, call 911 if Jethro looks at all out of sorts, and…”

 

After a late breakfast, Jethro and Tony showered and dressed, and made out on the couch while watching the news. “I could do this forever,” Tony said. “Kissing and hugging and all that mushy stuff.” Jethro seemed to agree, from his actions more than from any words.

 

“Jethro?”

 

“Yeah. Right here.”

 

“I… Do you…”

 

“Spit it out,” Jethro growled.

 

“I feel guilty,” Tony confessed. “I don’t know why you’re being so good to me. I keep waiting for you to…”

 

Jethro stared at him. “You’d better not be suggesting I’d kick you out,” he warned in a low voice.

 

“I’d deserve it if you did.”

 

Jethro sighed deeply. “You headed down the wrong path, Tony, but you stopped. You did the right thing in the end.”

 

“But I felt…”

 

“I know what you felt! You’ll probably feel like that again. Look, you’ve had complete freedom to pursue whatever piece of tail that turns you on, for your entire life. Since you were how old?”

 

In a small voice, Tony admitted, “Thirteen maybe. Okay, twelve.”

 

“You’re breaking that habit, and you know why?” Jethro asked.

 

“Because I’ve got you and I don’t need anyone else?”

 

Jethro snorted. “You know that, so what the fuck’s the problem? I love you. I trust you to do the right thing. But make no mistake, Tony, I won’t like it if you do that again.”

 

“You’ll kick me out then,” Tony said, nodding in understanding. There was a sharp slap to the back of his head. “Ow! What was that for?”

 

“I won’t like it. I’ll be angry, and hurt. And after we yell at each other, we’re gonna sit down and talk it through, because I’m not giving up on you. You understand that?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

Tony smiled and they kissed, and they probably would have kissed some more if Jethro’s phone hadn’t rung.

 

Vance called Gibbs with an update on the South Sudan situation and to check on his condition. Bishop called to give him a rundown on the intel she’d gathered, and to see how he was doing. And Taft called to say he was on his way over so he could check on his state of health.

 

Gibbs groaned.

 

Taft was surprised to find Tony present, and expected him to leave the room while he examined Gibbs and discussed the test results. Tony leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, making it clear he wasn’t going anywhere.

 

Dr. Taft was his usual motor-mouth self, but he checked Gibbs over quickly and efficiently, and then went over the results of all the tests with him they’d done at the hospital. The conclusion, as Tony understood it, was that the trouble was being caused by a small piece of scar tissue near Gibbs’ heart. He was in no danger, but accelerated heart rate or undue stress could set if off, and it would then feel like he was having a heart attack.

 

They’d check it again in a week, maybe do a scan. Meanwhile, Gibbs was to take his prescribed medications and rest for two days. After that, he was officially on limited duty for a week. He could engage in light exercise such as walking, but nothing strenuous, Taft instructed. “No car chases, or running or shooting,” he admonished.

 

Tony asked offhandedly, “That mean ixnay on the ex-say?” Taft looked from Tony to Gibbs and back again, his eyes widening. Tony snorted. “Hey, don’t look at me. I’m going out of town for a week,” which confused the doctor even more. Gibbs just chuckled and saw the doctor out.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Tony was at the door, his overnight go-bag packed, waiting for Joanna to pick him up. “Don’t wanna go,” he mumbled into Jethro’s warm neck when they hugged. He sniffed. “Why don’t you smell of wood?”

 

“Haven’t been working on the boat lately.”

 

“Well, maybe you can sand a little, but don’t do anything more strenuous while I’m gone,” Tony warned. “Ixnay on the ex-say.”

 

“I am certainly gonna miss you,” Jethro said, and reached out to squeeze Tony’s ass.

 

“You do that again and I’m going to do something that’ll make your heart rate spike.”

 

“Think you can keep out of trouble for a week?”

 

“I was going to ask you the same question.”

 

Jethro put on an innocent expression. “Who, me?”

 

“I’d stay if it wasn’t for my probie recruits,” Tony confessed. “I really hope this program gets off the ground.”

 

“You’ve done good work, Tony.”

 

They kissed, and Jethro was so passionate, Tony’s heart ached. He put everything he had into that kiss, and when Jethro slid a hand behind his head and held him and kissed him like he was starving, arousal flared in him until he couldn't think of anything but the man in his arms and the intense longing he had for him. Jethro angled his head, and kissed his neck, and sucked and then bit him, just above the collar where everyone would be able to see his mark. Tony knew why he’d done it, and loved that he’d cared enough to do it.

 

Jethro pulled back and inspected his work, then looked up to meet Tony’s eyes. “You don’t know how much I love you.”

 

Tony kissed him, slowly, a good-bye kiss, and thought, ‘Yes, I think I do.’

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Joanna stopped in to say hello to Gibbs before taking Tony away, back to Hope Lake. There was no dark sedan with a silent driver this time, just a rental. Joanna drove like a pro, with focus and intent, as fast as Gibbs ever drove, but a whole hell of a lot more smoothly.

 

Tony phoned Abby from the car on the way to the airport. She had been texting him since last night but he hadn’t responded. He had a brief ‘I’m not discussing my personal business’ conversation with her (which did not go down well), told her Gibbs was resting, per doctor’s orders, and the No Visitors policy was going to be strictly enforced. He agreed to take her out to lunch once he had wrapped up the SMUT program, and they could catch up on things at that time (which mollified her a bit).

 

Bishop called to say McGee, Dunham and Burley (and Jeanne) had arrived in South Sudan and were on the ground there, searching for the missing doctor and his people. There had already been a firefight; none of their people had been hurt. So much for SecNav Porter’s idea the humanitarian visit would go smoothly. Bishop said she’d let him know right away if anything happened.

 

“And keep Gibbs in the loop,” Tony said.

 

“Um… Director Vance has already told me not to bother Gibbs,” she said, somewhat stiffly.

 

Vance must be standing over her shoulder. Copying her stilted way of speaking, Tony replied, “Oh, yes. We always pay strict attention to Vance’s orders.” Bishop was loyal to Gibbs, and would let him know of any new developments, no matter what Vance said.

 

Joanna had arranged for a helicopter, this one white with a red stripe, rather than the unmarked black one, and they were back in cold Hope Lake by mid-afternoon. Once there, it took Tony a while to wrap his head around the routine again, but at least he knew he was on good footing with Jethro, and soon they’d be together again.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

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CHAPTER 15 - Situation Red

 

“We shot a few rebels, got everyone out safely. Doctors reunited, case closed,” said McGee when he called early one morning, a couple of days later. “Man, I hate the Sudan. Hope I never have to go back.”

 

“Sand in your butt crack?” Tony joked. He had just completed running a circuit around the lake and was headed back to The Stone House.

 

“Yeah, and no amount of showering can get it out!”

 

“I hear you did a good job over there, McGee. Glad you made it back safely,” Tony said.

 

“Yeah, well, we could have done with you and Gibbs. Dunham knows his way around but it got pretty hairy at times.”

 

“And now you’re home, with your lovely Delilah,” Tony pointed out.

 

McGee cleared his throat. “Um, Tony?”

 

“Yes, McGee,” Tony said wearily as he walked up a path towards the back door.

 

“What you said, back in the hospital, about you being in a committed relationship… Was that true or were you saying it to get Jeanne off your back? Not that I blame you because, frankly, after spending way too many hours in her company, I’m starting to wonder if her husband took that job in Sudan just to get away from her. She was emitting this stalker vibe, bordering on the obsessive, you know?”

 

“Like Kathy Bates in Misery? Or Wahlberg in Fear?”

 

“More like Cameron Diaz in Vanilla Sky. And you’re not answering my question.”

 

Tony entered the house, quietly so as not to wake anyone. “Yes, I really have a boyfriend, and no, I’m not telling you who it is.”

 

McGee said, “I’m not asking who it is, Tony. It’s just that… You’ve always seemed happy at work, or you have until recently, when Gibbs started leaving you behind or ignoring you altogether. But I’ve had the feeling you’re not as happy as you make out to be. And after you broke up with Zoe I thought… you needed someone, someone who wasn’t her. I know it’s hard for you to commit – I get that – but I have to tell you, it’s worth it, even with all the heartache and sleepless nights. Having that special someone…”

 

“Yeah. Okay, McHeartache. I got it. You’re right.” Heading for the coffee maker, Tony prepared himself a mug while he talked. Joanna walked in, dressed in dark slacks and an expensive-looking turtleneck sweater. She pulled the creamer he liked out of the fridge and left it on the counter while she prepped herself a cup. She pointed to herself and mimicked leaving the kitchen with her fingers, but Tony waved at her to stay.

 

“I’m right? About what? Which part?” McGee asked, sounding surprised.

 

“All of it. I’m just going to say this: this is new to us, but he keeps telling me he… you know… loves me and… he is that special someone,” Tony said. There was a basket of croissants on the large breakfast table, so he took a seat and pulled one apart and ate it while talking to McGee.

 

“Then promise me, when you think of dumping him, or get the notion you’d rather be alone, or you tell yourself you’re not cut out for it – don’t run. This time, give it a chance. Whoever he is, he’s worth it.”

 

Apparently the idea he was with Gibbs had either gone over McGee’s head when Tony had outed himself at the hospital, or else it wasn’t in the realm of being believable. “Wow, I never thought I’d be taking love advice from McRomantic… but I will. And thanks, Tim,” Tony said.

 

“By the way, Abby thinks you made it up, about having a boyfriend, just to get back at Jeanne,” McGee revealed.

 

“Let her think it then. Be back in five days,” Tony said, and hung up.

 

Joanna settled beside him at the table with a bowl of cereal. “So, is everything alright in Tony DiNozzo’s world?”

 

“Yes, it is, and I vow not to make any more stupid mistakes,” Tony said with a firm nod.

 

Patting Tony’s hand, Joanna said, “Good to hear.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Tony talked to Jethro at least once a day. He made sure that he wasn’t overdoing things, and Jethro said he was doing stuff around the house, nothing too strenuous, and was supervising their latest investigation from his desk at work. Just the same, Tony called Ducky just to verify what he said was true.

 

When Jethro phoned in the evening, he entertained a delighted Tony with tales about his stint in the Marines, places he’d visited in France and Eastern Europe, and his exploits as a troublesome teenager in Stillwater. When Tony asked him about this sudden willingness to talk, and where it was coming from, Jethro admitted he’d been told he needed ‘talk therapy.’

 

After recovering from a combination of laughter and choking, Tony asked, “I’m sorry… did you say ‘talk therapy’?”

 

Sounding a bit defensive, Jethro explained, “Taft said it could be with anyone, and I think he meant himself. But why the hell would I want to talk to a shrink when I have you?”

 

“Aw, that’s so sweet,” Tony teased.

 

“If you don’t want to do it…”

 

“Oh, I do! Sounds like a great idea. You know, I think I’ve changed my mind about Dr. Taft, if this wordy version of you is a result of his prescription.” Turned out the talk therapy went both ways. Tony would ask Jethro questions because he was genuinely interested in his lover’s background, and in turn, Jethro asked him about his childhood, his time at Remington Military Academy, and about his early experiences as a rookie cop. Some of their conversations made Tony pretty uncomfortable, but he could tell it was the same for Jethro, so he did his best to answer truthfully.

 

Eventually, the subject of people they’d slept with over the years came up, which led to him relating a story about a man he’d picked up at the bar at the St. Regis.

 

It was soon after he’d started at NCIS. “Ronnie, that was his name. Well-dressed with nice shoes, maybe late forties, thinning blond hair, Ivy League education. He kept blushing. The thing was, it turned out he didn’t want to fuck at all. Are you sure you want to hear this, Jethro?”

 

“Oh go on, I’m all ears,” Jethro had said in such a bored voice that Tony instantly knew he was dying to hear more. “Even though you’re describing him like he’s a suspect.”

 

Tony knew he did that, breaking down his observations about a person into short bites. It was how he remembered things. “So… Ronnie, it turned out, had a foot fetish, and since he had already generously paid for the room, plus provided a bottle of 2008 Dom Perignon, who was I to say no?”

 

“You’d have been foolish to turn it down,” Jethro agreed, in such a way Tony knew he was making fun of him.

 

“After fooling around a bit in the bath – and it was huge–”

 

“The bath?” Jethro interrupted.

 

“Yes… the bath… which was good because Ronnie was not exactly a small man–”

 

“So he was big, too.”

 

“Yes, he was big.”

 

“All over?”

 

“Look, do you want to hear this or not?”

 

“Just asking,” Jethro replied, sounding innocent.

 

Tony waited a moment to ensure Jethro had finished interrupting him. “Ronnie… uh… got down to making love to my toes.”

 

Jethro, on the other end of the line, cleared his throat. “Making love. To your toes.”

 

“Yeah, imagine that,” Tony said with a laugh.

 

“I’m trying to,” Jethro replied. “Exactly how did he do that?”

 

“With his mouth?”

 

“Tony…”

 

“Okay, some sucking was involved. And licking. A little nipping, too, if I remember correctly.”

 

Tony had a clear recollection of it only taking a couple of strokes of his dick (by his hand, not Ronnie’s) to make him cum like a fountain. He’d never encountered anyone with a foot fetish before, and it was an eye-opener. It made him think that maybe Jimmy Palmer and his love of shoes wasn’t so odd after all. Ronnie had departed with a satisfied smirk, leaving Tony splayed out on the bed, wrung out and smiling like he’d just been fucked.

 

Jethro asked, “He made you cum?”

 

“Oh, yeah.”

 

“Did he jack you off?”

 

Tony felt his cheeks coloring up. “No, he stayed below the knee. I did all the work myself, matching my strokes to his sucking.”

 

“He didn’t fuck you?”

 

“Nope. I creamed his face, and after a while, he cleaned up and left.”

 

“He left you there?” Jethro asked, sounding annoyed.

 

“I was feeling real good. It took me a while to recover,” Tony acknowledged, smiling to himself.

 

Jethro was silent for a time, then said, “Tell me another story when I call tomorrow.”

 

Tony held the phone away from his ear and stared at it for a few seconds, then replied, “Sure thing. Tomorrow it is.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Finally, the SMUT recruits finished their course and went through a debriefing. After all, this was a test run and their input on the program was important. The committee members all expressed how pleased and impressed they were with the recruits’ progress, and after a short but rowdy party, and a lot of hugs, a bus took them away. Tony would swear that the recruit he’d lusted after, Detective Costas, had been a little too cozy with him (roaming hands grabbing his ass kind of cozy) when they’d shared a manly hug. All of the recruits were given the opportunity to take additional courses at FLETC and the FBI Academy in Quantico, and the committee would follow up with them in a few weeks.

 

That night, Tony, Cox, Garcia and Teague got everything in order and packed up their paper files. They planned to take a short break and meet in a week. Tony had a big final report to write, but he had until early January to get that in order. At that point, the committee would present their recommendation on how to recruit and train the short-term undercover agents of the proposed SMUT unit for action.

 

The next morning, wanting to look his best for Jethro, Tony dressed in a gray Zegna suit and a $400 shirt with French cuffs along with the Aston Martin cufflinks that had been Dorney’s. He waited for Teague in the foyer of The Stone House, all packed and ready to go. He’d left transport up to her, as she seemed so adept at arranging it.

 

He hadn’t seen Dorian Gray since that night he’d gotten drunk and almost fucked up his chances with Jethro. It had crossed his mind that Teague may have done something about the trooper, maybe had him transferred. Not that it was his fault. Tony accepted he’d instigated the whole thing, purposely letting Dorian see how much he turned him on. “Fucking tease,” Tony muttered to himself.

 

“Sorry,” Joanna said when she appeared, bag in hand. “Commercial flight to DC. No helo this time.”

 

“Damn it, you’ve spoiled me, Officer Teague,” said Tony with a smile. He was eager to see Jethro, who had gone back to work on limited duty a couple of days ago.

 

Joanna hurried out the front door to a rental car. “We may be a little late.”

 

“For what?” Tony asked as he got in the passenger seat.

 

“Didn’t I tell you? Deputy Director Morrow and SecNav are taking us out to lunch.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The Coq au Vinnie, located near the Navy Memorial in DC, was known for its French cuisine. Their fresh seafood was also top-notch, Tony had heard. Apparently Secretary of the Navy Sarah Porter had chosen the place, as she’d had dinner there on several occasions.

 

Parking was tight but Teague found a spot for the car (a CIA company vehicle she’d picked up at the airport), two blocks away. She said, “Of course today’s the day I decide to wear new heels.”

 

“We don’t have to rush,” Tony said amiably. It was a lot warmer in DC than it had been at Hope Lake, and neither of them wore a coat over their suits despite it being just over a week to Thanksgiving. “Nice day for a stroll with my favorite CIA officer. Good to be back.” Of course, he was thinking of Jethro, and how he’d see him in a couple of hours if this lunch didn’t drag on for too long. He had something special planned for bed tonight, if Jethro was up to it.

 

As they approached the restaurant, Tony could see their covered outdoor dining patio out front, surrounded by a tall wrought iron fence and terracotta pots full of chrysanthemums in rich fall colors. There were a few people seated on the patio, enjoying their meal, from the looks of things.

 

“We’re eating outside, al fresco,” Joanna informed him.

 

Immediately, Tony thought that was a bad idea, as it wasn’t as secure as dining inside. But Morrow and Porter traveled with their own security detail, so he had to trust they knew what they were doing. Joanna spotted Porter at the entrance and raised her hand in greeting. It looked like she had just arrived, and her security guy was standing between her and the street, being vigilant.

 

Tony noticed a van with Temple Street Catering on its side pull up in front of the restaurant. It parked in an area clearly marked as a no-parking zone. A sign said Valet Parking Available. A valet hurried over to talk to the driver; it looked like they were disagreeing about something.

 

“Probably about the high price of parking,” Joanna said to Tony with a smile. “That’s why I parked down the street.”

 

SecNav Porter stepped out onto the sidewalk to greet Tony and Joanna, and they shook hands. Morrow joined them. He clapped Tony on the back and started talking to him about SMUT. Tony only listened with half an ear, as he was distracted by the van driver, who was walking away from his vehicle. Was he abandoning it? The driver looked back over his shoulder, seemingly agitated, and instinctively Tony knew something was wrong.

 

One of the security officers – it looked like Morrow and Porter had only brought one man each – took a step towards Tony. Tony knew him. He called out, “Dwayne! Sit red!”

 

Dwayne immediately hustled his charges into the restaurant, calling out, “Situation red, get back! Everyone, get inside, keep going!”

 

Joanna ran to the patio area as the diners rapidly moved inside. Instead of following them, she overturned one of the marble-top tables, glass and silverware flying off, and hunkered behind her makeshift shield, gun drawn.

 

Tony shouted at the valet to take cover; the idiot was standing there with his mouth hanging open. Behind him, he could hear cries of alarm, but they were faint, as if someone had turned the volume down. He kept his eye on the van’s driver as he followed him down the street on foot. Dark hair, five-foot-ten, 190 pounds, medium complexion, maybe twenty years old. Although he called to the driver to halt, he kept going. The young man was walking fast, looking over his shoulder every few paces. He had something in his hand but Tony couldn't make out what it was. All of a sudden the driver took off, running fast down the sidewalk, pushing any pedestrians he encountered out of his way.

 

Tony ran after the driver and when he was close enough, he tackled him. The driver was strong, and knew how to fight. He punched Tony in the head and was on his feet and running again, but Tony caught up with him, and this time delivered a fist to his face. The driver staggered but fought back, and Tony took a couple of hard jabs to his midsection. Whatever was in the driver’s hand, he wasn’t willing to let it go. Tony somehow knew it was important to get it away from him.

 

As they struggled, Tony recognized it as a detonator, the kind with a big red push-button switch on top. The van. It was rigged with explosives. 2750 feet minimum evacuation distance. That was five blocks. And they’d only covered about one block. Tony forced the man to the ground, desperately trying to gain control of the device. Just as he got hold of it, the man yelled and depressed the button.

 

There was a huge whomp of hot air, and an enormous punch, and Tony went flying.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

Untitled

CHAPTER 16 - Just Fine

 

He blinked. And blinked again, trying to clear his eyes. Everything was hazy, pale gray. He inhaled and coughed. Blood in his mouth. Crap. The air smelled odd, bitter. His head hurt, his face. Shit, everything hurt. He tried to sit up but there was a hand on his chest, keeping him in place; all he could make out was a dark figure. He asked what was happening, or he thought he did, but he couldn't hear himself speak. He tried again and only heard a soft whooshing in his ears.

 

The person leaning over him slowly came into focus and he realized he was being asked a question, and he tried to shake his head to say no, he couldn't hear, but he couldn't move it. Something rigid was under his chin, around his neck, choking him. Fuck, one of those collars! Just as he was about to give in to panic the man gave him a confident smile and a hand sign that meant okay.

 

Tony didn’t believe him. What the fuck was okay with this situation? He couldn't move his left arm without agonizing spikes of pain shooting through his shoulder and back, but his right arm seemed okay. He made the tactical hand sign for ‘don’t understand,’ palm out, sweeping from side to side.

 

More people joined them, mouths moving, making urgent motions with their arms like actors in a silent film. He was being lifted and strapped down on a gurney. He was moving, rolling over rough ground, every bump making him cry out in pain. Another face swam into view. Joanna, thank God. He tried to speak, and he saw her lips moving, but he still couldn’t hear anything that made any sense. He was lifted again, and he was sure he was screaming. There were bright overhead lights, a prick in his arm, someone leaning over him. His head hurt so bad he was crying.

 

The lights slowly dimmed and everything went black.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

“I already told you I’m not leaving,” someone said in a hushed tone.

 

Quietly, but adamantly just the same, another person said, “Jethro, you can’t–”

 

“The hell I can’t. He needs me!”

 

Tony slowly opened his eyes. The lights were dim but he could make out Jethro on the other side of the room with Ducky. They were quarreling in whispers, and for some reason, he found that amusing. He licked his lips and his tongue touched something hard, a scab. His bottom lip felt funny. He couldn't move his left arm so he tried his right. It ached but it worked. Raised his hand to find out what was wrong with his mouth. It felt tender, swollen. His fingers encountered bandages. Wrapped around his head. Covered half his face. A hard thing, a patch, over his right eye. Fuck, this was going from bad to worse.

 

He called out but his throat was so dry he barely let out a croak. They were still bickering over who was going to do what. Ducky was telling Jethro that he had to save his energy for later on, and it finally sunk in he could hear again.

 

“Jeth…ro. Fuck, Jethro!” he cried out weakly.

 

Both men turned at the same time and stared in his direction. “Tony?”

 

“Who th’ fuck else?” he asked, having a tough time getting the words out.

 

Jethro stood by the bed and held his hand, and kept saying his name, like he was relieved or surprised he was alive.

 

“Wha’ th’ fuck’s goin’ on?” He sounded fucking drunk. “I’m no’ drunk.”

 

“Take it easy. You’re on meds,” Jethro explained.

 

“Fuck.” He reached out and grabbed a handful of Jethro’s shirt. “I can hear you! I still have ears?”

 

“Yep, two of them.” Jethro said slowly, “You’re gonna be fine. There was an explosion…”

 

Ducky interrupted, “You mustn’t alarm him.”

 

“I got this, Duck.” To Tony, he said in a calm voice, “You have some injuries. Concussion. Your left shoulder is injured. And you’ve got some… scrapes on your face. The doc cleaned up your eye so there’s a bandage over it.”

 

“I didn’t lose my eye?” Tony fumbled around until his fingers encountered the patch he’d noticed before.

 

“It’s intact. Don’t touch it. You’ll be just fine.”

 

Ducky nodded and said, “Exactly, my boy. You’ll be up and about in no time at all.”

 

Jethro glared at Ducky. Tony knew they were both lying, but he wasn’t sure about which part. “Wha’ happ’n? Where ‘m I? Tell me…”

 

“In the hospital,” Ducky said. “There’s nothing to worry about. You are being very well taken care of.”

 

Jethro told Tony what he later found out was a pared-down version of the events that had led up to the explosion outside the Coq au Vinnie three days earlier. He was at a downtown restaurant, got suspicious of a man getting out of a van parked right in front, and when the man ran, he ran after him.

 

“He was holding a detonator. The van was rigged,” Jethro said. Tony must have been staring at him because Jethro asked, “You don’t remember?”

 

“No.” Was that a bad thing?

 

“You warned the man on their security detail, and he got Morrow and Porter to safety before the bomb exploded,” Jethro said, obviously proud. “You saved a lot of lives, Tony.”

 

“Morrow? And Porter? Wha’ they doin’ there?”

 

“You were having lunch with them, and Teague.”

 

“I was? In Hope Lake?” Tony saw the glance Ducky and Jethro shared. He’d said something wrong.

 

“You were in DC. You flew back with Teague. Don’t worry about it now. They’re all good, not injured.”

 

“Okay. Tha’s good.”

 

Tony later learned that several people were hurt, and not just at the restaurant. Glass and shrapnel had been flying everywhere. Anyone standing up bore the brunt of it. Joanna was saved by the marble-top table she had used for cover. They were still chasing down the people responsible for the bomb, which, it turned out, had been intended to kill the Secretary of the Navy. She was unharmed, although very shaken.

 

“Did we get ’im? The driver?”

 

“Yeah. He’s dead, died in the explosion.”

 

“’s good. Wha’ ‘bout me? Wha’ happened?”

 

“You were struggling with the driver when it went off. Bomb squad says it was set off by a timer, and the detonator in his hand was backup. You were thrown forward. Lucky you were as far away as you were, and the van wasn’t packed with explosives.” Jethro stroked the hair off Tony’s forehead, smiling sadly. “You were so fucking lucky.”

 

Tony closed his eyes and mumbled, “Lucky.”

 

He heard Jethro say softly, “That’s right. You go to sleep now. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Despite Jethro being by his side day and night, Tony felt just about as far from being lucky as was possible. Everything hurt, although the sharp jabs of pain became dull throbbing once they got his medication right. They had dug forty-five pieces of shrapnel out of his left shoulder and his back, many of them small, but a couple big enough to cause trouble. That left many smaller fragments embedded deep in his body. The doctor said it would do more harm than good to remove them. Some would work their way out in time. Meanwhile, his left shoulder and back were heavily bandaged, and his arm immobilized to prevent him pulling on the forest of stitches.

 

They had done surgery on his eye to remove a sliver of glass when he was first brought in, and he had to use eye drops and wear an eye patch while it healed. He knew he’d gotten off easy with that injury. The eye surgeon believed he’d make a full recovery. His right hand, wrist and forearm had suffered abrasions that were mild in comparison to the rest of his injuries.

 

But the worst thing was his face. Palmer had likened it to extreme road rash, and said with a big smile, “Sounds like a video game: XXXtreme Road Rash Challenge!” Gibbs head-slapped him for his insensitivity, much to Tony’s amusement. Smiling hurt, but it was worth it.

 

The first time he set eyes on the raw wound that covered most of the left side of his face, Tony threw up. Initially, even Jethro had trouble looking at it when they cleaned it, but just the same, he stood by Tony and held his hand during the procedures. The raw scrape extended from his forehead, down his cheekbone to his jaw. It was red and patchy and oozing stuff where he’d lost skin, and the sight was almost too gross for Abby to look at, which meant it was pretty bad. A nurse applied ointment to it three times a day, then covered it with sterile non-stick gauze, and wrapped it with a bandage that went under his chin and around his forehead, making him look like a mummy.

 

That was McGee’s opinion, anyway. “You look like The Mummy,” he said, a few days after the bombing. “The 1959 version, Christopher Lee.”

 

“Hey, I’m supposed to be the one to ref’rence ol’ movies, McFilmStudies,” Tony griped. He was still confined to bed and on painkillers, and his mouth didn’t seem to want to express what was trying to escape from his brain. They’d all come to visit at the same time, McGee and Delilah, Abby, Palmer, Bishop, Ducky, plus Gibbs – not that he ever seemed to leave. It was against the rules to have so many visitors, but who, among the NCIS employees, ever followed the rules?

 

Abby leaned over Tony with a penlight and tried to inspect his mouth. “Lucky you didn’t lose any teeth in the impact. Did you always land on your head as a kid?”

 

Palmer nodded wisely. “Lucky you didn’t dislocate your jaw. You’d have to have metal plates screwed in and be on a liquid diet for weeks.”

 

“Lucky you have your eyesight, but it’s sort of cool that you look like a pirate with that eye patch,” Bishop said.

 

“Fucking lucky, that’s me,” Tony retorted. He wasn’t in the mood to be made fun of.

 

Delilah mused, “Are there any mummy pirates?”

 

Ducky interjected, “Yes, as a matter of fact, there was a dreadful film, made in 1934, I believe, called The Mummy Ghost Ship. It was about pirates in the Caribbean–”

 

“Fuck all of you,” Tony said, as he accepted a protein shake with a straw from Jethro.

 

“What’s with all the swearing?” Jethro asked.

 

“They’re being mean to me,” Tony replied, chewing on the scab on his lip.

 

Immediately, Jethro tapped Tony’s chin. “Please don’t do that.”

 

Abby stared at Gibbs. “Since when did you start saying please?”

 

Jethro shrugged, and affectionately ran his hand over Tony’s head. “Since I got lucky, I guess.”

 

It took a moment for the innuendo to sink in, and Tony started to laugh. “Fuck, Jethro. Your turn?”

 

As the others caught on, Abby sent a confused look at Tony. “But I thought… You were making it up, about being in a committed relationship…right?”

 

“Was I?”

 

“Of course you were! Weren’t you? You don’t mean… with Gibbs?” She turned to Gibbs, looking upset. “You’re with Tony? You lied to me, both of you! You didn’t tell me! How could you?”

 

Tony said, “Wha’ we did was keep our sex life private, Ms. Busybody.” He looked up at Jethro. “Why’re you sayin’ somethin’ ‘bout it now?”

 

“I figured they can see how I feel about you,” Jethro said. “Besides, they know I’m taking you home with me. McGee has already set up your big TV in the living room, and Bishop organized a gang of helpers and is painting the inside of the house.”

 

“Only your dingy living room, and the kitchen. And the living room. Hall. Stairs. I guess the bedroom, too. But just the big one,” Bishop said innocently.

 

“Palmer helped me decide which of your clothes you’d need, and we took them over. Everything’s neatly hung up in the closet.” Delilah leaned towards Tony and whispered, “You’d better be careful. I think Jimmy has his eye on a pair of your Italian loafers.”

 

Tony glared at Jethro and then at Palmer. “You let them into my condo? They touched my things? Palmer, if you touched any of my Italian leather shoes…”

 

Abby didn’t seem to know what to do with the news that Jethro and Tony were now together. She stood sullenly at the rear of the hospital room with her arms crossed until McGee nudged her with his elbow. “Be happy for them,” he said in an undertone.

 

“You knew?”

 

“I guessed,” McGee admitted.

 

“Of course, with your track record, fucking Tony and all, you would see what was going on,” Abby said spitefully.

 

McGee stood stock still, his mouth open in astonishment. “Abby!”

 

“Or was he fucking you, Timothy McGee? It’s all right for you and Tony to be in the closet, but now he’s made Gibbs gay! Tony, how can you be so selfish? You’re changing everything!”

 

Tony stared at her in disbelief, his face going red, but before he could say anything, Jethro said in a low, dangerous voice, “Get out.”

 

For a moment it looked as though Abby was going to make a major scene, but as everyone was glaring at her, and looking pretty hostile, she ducked her head and headed for the door.

 

Before Abby could escape, Delilah rolled her wheelchair forward, blocking her, and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself. Tony’s your friend. So is Tim. Or they were. They’ll never trust you again, you know. None of us will.” Abby pulled the door open and walked out, but not before Delilah rolled her wheelchair over Abby’s foot.

 

When they’d all gone, Tony was quiet. Jethro hovered, acting protective even though they were alone. Eventually, Tony said, “Sorry you had to hear that. Find out that way.”

 

Jethro sat on the bed, facing him. “I’m sorry we all had to hear it. Not because of you and Tim, but the way she spoke to you.”

 

“I’m still sorry.” Tony could feel the waves of anger coming off Jethro, and it made him feel awful, like it was his fault.

 

“You’re not to blame. I knew about you and McGee, anyway, back when you two were fooling around. I thought it would be best to leave you to get it off your chests,” said Jethro. He leaned forward and kissed Tony on the side of his mouth, careful of his injured lip. “I was so pissed at the both of you though.”

 

Tony gave him a small smile. “You mean you were jealous?”

 

“Damn right I was.”

 

“I need ‘nother kiss.”

 

“I don’t want to mess up your lip.”

 

“Then we’ll have to practice half-mouth kissing until it’s healed,” Tony reasoned.

 

“I dunno. I get the feeling it’s gonna take an awful lot of practice,” Jethro said, shaking his head.

 

Tony smiled happily. “Then we’d better get started.”

 

After they’d tried a few angles, and decided that Jethro could suck on Tony’s top lip just fine, and Tony had full use of his tongue, they spent some time enjoying just being together.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Someone was in his room... not a nurse... The cologne, he recognized immediately. Whatever they'd given him, Tony felt too groggy to do more than open his eyes, just a sliver. With difficulty, he mumbled, "Dad, tha' you?"

 

"Junior... Zoe told me you were in the hospital and… Good Lord, what kind of mess have you gotten yourself into this time?"

 

"'s nothin'," Tony said, and licked his dry lips. "Thirsty."

 

Senior looked around but apparently couldn't see the water jug or the nearby plastic cup with a straw sitting on the rollaway tray, just out of Tony’s reach. He turned back to Tony but immediately averted his eyes. "I… I’ll go get a nurse."

 

"No, there's wa'er... there." Tony tried to sit up enough to reach for the plastic cup, but pain shot tore through his shoulder and back. He stopped mid-action and fell back on his pillow, clenching his teeth to stifle a groan. His father took a step back, and started looking around as if someone would magically come to his rescue. "Don’t want a nurse," Tony said between clenched teeth. If they saw he was in pain, they'd up his dosage. He was willing to tolerate the pain rather than be out of control. He hated that floaty feeling, the tingling in his extremities, and the way it made him say things he really should never say aloud.

 

"What's wrong with you? Your face?" Apparently Senior had overcome his trepidation and was standing at the bedside, frowning down at him.

 

Tony touched his bandaged face. Only his forehead and chin had gauze taped to them; the rest was exposed and he was well aware it looked raw and ugly. He shouldn't have been surprised, or even hurt, by his father's reaction. Senior had always kept his distance from the injured, sick or otherwise afflicted. Tony knew it was due to fear; he reasoned it was his dad’s way of protecting himself, a basic survival instinct. His mother had scoffed that her husband wouldn’t even help her when she was ill because he was selfish to the core. Tony figured it was probably equal amounts of both. It was just the way he was.

 

"I'm fine, Dad," Tony said with a small laugh. "C’mon, it's not like I've got leprosy. Hey, remember in Ben Hur? ‘Look for them in the Valley of the Lepers!’” A wave of nausea rolled over him and, despite his numb fingers, he managed to snag a plastic basin off the bedside stand. It was the pain medication they’d started this morning. He’d never had it through an IV before, and it wasn’t agreeing with him. "Fuck. Wanna raise the head o’ the bed for me?"

 

Instead of coming to his aid, Senior mumbled some excuse and just about ran for the door – only his way was blocked by a woman in pale pink scrubs, and, right behind her, McGee. Senior was raising his voice, telling them that his son needed help, and demanding to know why wasn't someone taking care of him? He sounded so outraged, Tony wasn't sure if he should laugh or not.

 

McGee pushed his way past Senior as if he wasn’t even there, and went straight to Tony. “What do you need? Water?” He raised the head of the bed and handed Tony the cup and watched as he sipped some water. “Make sure you can keep it down before you have any more.” When Tony was done, McGee refilled the cup and placed it within reach on the rolling overbed tray.

 

The aide in pink checked Tony’s IV and the readouts on the machines monitoring his vitals. She asked Tony a few questions, determined that he felt queasy and unusually thirsty, and left to inform the nurse. Meanwhile, Senior hung out near the door.

 

McGee ignored him while he adjusted Tony’s pillows so he was more comfortable. “Is that okay?”

 

Tony suddenly felt very sleepy. “Mmm. Good. You’re good t’ me, Timmy. My best friend.”

 

McGee snorted. “I should record this for later on, to remind you how you really feel.”

 

Senior, not moving from his position by the exit, said, “You need anything, Junior? I have to go… um… a meeting…”

 

Tony made a dismissive gesture. “Fuck off, old man.”

 

That angered Senior enough he forgot his fear of illness and stepped forwards. “You can’t talk to me like that!”

 

Taking hold of Tim’s hand, Tony smiled. “You always took care of me. Lots of lube, and lotion on my ass, that’s my Tim… I’m getting hard... feel me...”

 

“Tony!” Tim shushed him and glanced over his shoulder. He warned Tony in a low voice, “You’re doing the loopy thing. Watch your mouth.”

 

At that moment, Gibbs strode in carrying a coffee. He passed by Senior with barely a glance, took in what was going on with Tony, and asked, “I can’t leave for ten minutes without you turning your hospital room into a porn show?” He took hold of Tony’s hand and glared at McGee. “You do know he’s taken, right?”

 

McGee was slightly flustered, even though he knew Gibbs was kidding. Jerking a thumb over his shoulder, he said quietly, “Mr. DiNoGood is being his usual useless self. Couldn’t even get Tony a drink of water.”

 

Gibbs turned to glare at Senior, for real this time, but Tony grabbed his sleeve to get his attention and whined, “Jethro.”

 

“I’m right here.”

 

Tony mumbled, “He’s getting’ all cozy with Zoe. Hey, that rhymes! Cozy with Zoe.”

 

“Get some sleep,” Gibbs said gently.

 

Tony blinked at Jethro. “Don’ wan’ him here. Tell ’im to go ’way.”

 

Senior started to approach, but Gibbs barked, “If you don’t leave this room right away, I’m going to have to shoot you!”

 

“That’s outrageous!” Senior declared, but he hastily retreated to the door. He stopped there and demanded, “What’s wrong with his face?”

 

Gibbs met McGee’s eyes, and he sighed. “Injured in the line of duty. Saved a lot of people from a car bomb.”

 

“A bomb! Zoe told me that but… I thought she was exaggerating,” Senior exclaimed. “Junior always did run towards trouble.”

 

Gibbs smiled fondly at Tony and stroked his damp hair off his forehead. “That’s my boy.”

 

Senior pointed at Tony and said loudly, “They need to fix that. His face. It’s… he can’t walk around looking like that!”

 

McGee confronted Senior, scowling at him. “You need to leave, Mr. DiNozzo. Now.”

 

“But that’s my son! I have rights–””

 

McGee shook his head. “You have no rights here. Tony doesn’t want you here, and neither do we.” As Senior started to bluster, McGee said, “You don’t have the faintest idea how brave Tony is, or understand that he helps people every day of his life. You don’t know him by now, I doubt you ever will.”

 

Instead of backing off, Senior moved closer to the bed. “I know he can’t go out looking like that! My God, it’s horrific! Junior, I’m going to get you a lawyer, the best there is, and we’ll get you the money you’re due. They pay well for disfigurement, tens of thousands!”

 

Gibbs had had enough. He left Tony’s side, grabbed Senior by his shirtfront, pushed him across the room and shoved him out the door. “You stay the fuck away from him! And if you so much as make a move towards him, or speak to him, I’m gonna come after you.”

 

“You can’t threaten me!”

 

“I think I just did,” Gibbs said with a sneer, closing the door and leaving Senior to rant about injustice out in the hall. Meanwhile, McGee placed a call to security and had them remove an irate visitor causing a ruckus outside Special Agent DiNozzo’s room.

 

From his bed, Tony mumbled, “I love you guys. I love you, M’Gee, ‘n’ I love you even more, Jethro. Hey, I got ‘n idea!”

 

“Do we really want to hear this?” McGee asked.

 

“Yeah, it’s good! You know wha’ I think? I think we need a threesome…”

 

Gibbs, once again holding Tony’s hand, groused, “Like I said, a porn show.”

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Joanna visited and stayed to chat for a while. She showed Tony a single Aston Martin cufflink, scraped and scarred but intact. “I saw it on the road after they picked you up,” she said and gently placed it in Tony’s palm.

 

“Thank you. The other one?” He had no idea where the other cufflink was. Maybe with the clothes he’d worn that day. He remembered dressing in a good suit for when he finally got home to Jethro, and their flight into DC, but he didn’t have any memory of the time preceding or following the blast.

 

He talked with Joanna a while, although she pretty much carried the conversation. When Tony was too tired to speak and had trouble keeping his eyes open, she pulled out her gun and cleaned it using a kit from her oversized handbag. Before Joanna left she went to the nurse’s station. She soon returned with the other cufflink, in surprisingly good condition. “They had it in an envelope with your watch. Gibbs must have taken your wallet and credentials,” she said.

 

When he came in later, and Tony told him where they had come from, Jethro pocketed the cufflinks and said he’d see if a jeweler could do something about the damaged one.

 

A bunch of the SMUT recruits turned up one morning, bearing fast food and shakes, and stories of their classes at FLETC. They told Tony how Alice Brown had walked into class the first day wearing a gray dress, apron, and carrying a mop, and the Undercover Tactics for Women teacher assumed she was part of the cleaning crew and tried to shoo her out.

 

It was good to see them, but they were tiring.

 

Tony’s fellow committee members came early one morning, and Rob Cox, who was back at the DOJ, said he and Milo Garcia had been working on the final report since Tony was laid up. “Don’t worry, Teague is keeping an eye on us, so we don’t mess it up,” Garcia assured Tony. “Anyway, we’ll leave it for you to polish it up, when you feel better.” When Tony asked Garcia if he was planning on doing more deep undercover work at the FBI, the agent shrugged and revealed they might not be hearing from him for a few months.

 

SecNav Porter came by, as did Deputy Director Morrow, praising Tony to Vance, who had accompanied them. They assured Tony the final report on the organization and implementation of the SMUT unit could wait a few weeks. “Just don’t take too long to recover. NCIS needs more men like you,” Porter said. All three of them left fruit baskets.

 

Fornell brought Starbucks coffees, pastries, and a hip flask of whiskey, and he ribbed Gibbs mercilessly when he confirmed the rumors about him and DiNozzo were true.

 

Gibbs scowled at his friend. “Who told you?”

 

Fornell rubbed his chin and said, “Dr. Taft said something about you two being lucky, and Agent Garcia said he hoped you would be happy a long, long time. Then I ran into a gaggle of your SMUT recruits at Quantico. They wanted to know if they should add Special Agent Gibbs’ name to a card they were sending Tony. And I met these two women who said you called them baggy bunnies – you know them? – they were giggling every time they mentioned Gibbs, so I guess you being together isn’t exactly classified any longer.”

 

Jethro was turning a deep shade of red, so Tony motioned for Fornell to stop teasing him. It was fun to see Jethro blush, though.

 

Tony enjoyed the coffee and a pastry, but both Fornell and Jethro took the flask from his hand before he could even get a sip.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Tony heard later that Ducky and Palmer cornered Abby, and questioned her lack of acceptance of Jethro and Tony’s relationship. They rebuked her for the malicious things she’d said.

 

“I can’t see Tony and McGee forgiving you for outing them like that, even if it happened several years ago,” said Palmer, with a disdainful sniff. “Agent Gibbs was not happy.”

 

“And you spoke of them in such a crude manner,” Ducky said, shaking his head.

 

Abby tried to apologize to McGee and Tony, and then Tony and Gibbs, and assured them she would be totally supportive. Once she took the time to think about the terrible things she’d said, she realized her words were spurred by jealousy, and fear that Gibbs would no longer care about her if he was wrapped up in Tony. She said all that, and more, in emails, texts and messages left on voice-mail to all affected parties – only nobody responded to any of her attempts to contact them.

 

Abby persisted though, and finally, Jethro swore he was going to put a stop to the barrage of “twits and crap.” The very next time she phoned, he picked up.

 

Jethro was in protective mode, and although he listened to her apology, he did little more than grunt a couple of times before telling her if she bothered or hurt Tony in any way, he’d personally make sure she was fired and blackballed from every lab in the country. And then he abruptly hung up on her.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

After being in the hospital for a week, Tony was feeling better and asking when he could go home. They were talking about releasing him the next day, which he was happy about because it was Thanksgiving. But after walking to the toilet and back to his bed all on his own, he suddenly felt drained and complained his left arm was feeling weird.

 

Jethro asked, “How weird?”

 

“I dunno. Pins and needles.” Tony poked at his arm experimentally.

 

“Are the bandages too tight?”

 

“I don’t think so.” Tony lay back on his pillows, panting. “I don’t feel too good.”

 

“You’re really pale.” Concerned, Jethro pressed a button to call a nurse.

 

“Jethro?”

 

“I’m right here.” He took Tony’s hand and gave it a squeeze.

 

“I wanna go home,” Tony whispered before his eyes rolled back and he passed out.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

Chapter Text

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CHAPTER 17 - The Aftermath

 

Emergency surgery revealed that a piece of shrapnel that had been hiding behind a rib had become dislodged, and it had pierced an artery when it moved unexpectedly. The surgeon assured him it was a freak occurrence, and that although some of the pieces they’d left in may move over the years, chances were he’d never even be aware of it. They hadn’t seen this particular piece on the x-ray because it wasn’t metallic.

 

Tony asked, “What was it then?” and the doctor handed him a small glass container like the ones they used in forensics. Tony peered through the glass at the shrapnel. “Oh fuck, that’s gross. I’m gonna puke.”

 

Jethro took the container and squinted at its contents while the nurse handed Tony a plastic basin. Jethro handed it back to the doctor as if it was poisonous. “Get rid of it.”

 

After the medical staff left the room, Tony clutched the basin to his chest, thinking he might still need it. “I know all about IEDs, and all the crap those bombs are filled with, dirty shit like rusty nails and…”

 

“Tony, don’t.”

 

“To think I survived the fucking blast, and didn’t lose any limbs, or my hearing, or sight, and yet this little piece of…” He swallowed hard. “It was in me, and almost killed me. A fucking tooth. What are the odds?”

 

Neither he nor Jethro ever talked about just who the tooth might have belonged to.

 

Two days later, Tony went home – to his and Jethro’s home – with its fresh paint and a couple of new big leafy potted plants, a new rug in grays and blues in the living room. His beautiful big TV was set up to one side of the fireplace, with a selection of his favorite DVDs arranged neatly on the nearby bookshelf. Jethro settled Tony in a new adjustable chair that the people at work had bought for him, and went to make lunch. By the time he returned with grilled cheese sandwiches, Tony had fallen asleep.

 

That night they slept together for the first time in almost four weeks, in their big bed, in their own bedroom, in their own house, in each other’s arms.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

People came and went every day, bringing food (a lot of turkey and leftovers from the Thanksgiving they’d missed), volunteering to do shopping, and offering a helping hand.

 

There were cards and phone calls from SecNav, Morrow and several senators, from the NCIS folks in New Orleans and Los Angeles (and a separate card from Marty Deeks that had a crude joke written inside), as well as from people at NCIS offices around the country and overseas who had met or worked with Tony over the years. Friends and coworkers sent get-well wishes, and dropped off food, books and DVDs they thought Tony would like. If any of them had heard that he was now living with Gibbs, and they were a couple, they gave no indication of it.

 

Dr. Rachel Cranston came by one afternoon, at the same time Dr. Taft was there, and it was dislike at first sight between those two. The resulting verbal skirmish was “like a car wreck in our living room,” as Jethro put it.

 

The two baggy bunnies, Charlene and Minnow, spent time with Tony, amusing him with tales of ‘things that have gone on in the NCIS property room that should never be spoken about’ while he reclined in his comfortable new chair.

 

Abby Borin, Cassie Yates, EJ and others sent get-well cards or phoned. So did some cops Tony had worked with, mostly detectives, and one evening Agah Bayar called. The moment Jethro realized who it was, he took the phone away from Tony, and threatened the arms dealer, “… and I’ll pull your balls out your nose if you ever so much as think of Tony again.” It was pretty impressive.

 

An email came in from CIRay – via an untraceable source – a brief note to say he wished Tony a speedy recovery. Under his name, he wrote a chapter and verse from the Bible. Tony didn’t know what it was, and he did not look it up. He also received an unsigned note card postmarked in Paris, the fancy kind you’d find in a museum gift shop. There was an image of a ballerina painted by Degas on the front, and inside was written, ‘Get off your hairy ass and get well soon.’ He deleted Ray’s email and threw out the anonymous card without showing them to anyone.

 

He didn’t even get a card from Zoe, but he couldn't really blame her.

 

Senior made several attempts to broach what Tony and Tim had taken to calling The Fortress. Gibbs had installed hefty locks on all the doors, and McGee mounted a couple of cameras around the exterior of the house. “See, you can access the whole neighborhood from your laptop,” he told Tony, as he showed him how to switch the view from one camera to the other. “And there’s a panic button here…”

 

“What do I need a panic button for?” Tony asked, amused.

 

“Actually, it’s only a speed dial to Gibbs’ phone,” McGee admitted. “Panic button sounded cooler.”

 

Overhearing the conversation, Gibbs approached. He’d already learned how to access the cameras from his iPad. “We need it to be functional, not cool,” he pointed out to McGee.

 

“It is, Boss. You’ll be able to see when certain… undesirables… approach the house.”

 

Tony said sourly, “I think we need an electrified doormat.” Senior had come by a couple of days ago with a representative from a personal injury law firm at his side. Gibbs had paid no heed to the insistent knocking, but Tony’s father had left several pamphlets and the lawyer had shouted through the door, “… and there will be generous compensation for pain and suffering….”

 

It was McGee who scared Senior off when he snuck in on the heels of the pizza delivery guy a few days later, and tried to talk to Tony while he rested on the couch.

 

“Oh my God! Your face looks worse, Junior! Good, that’s very good. We’ve got a lawyer and he’s going to make us a boatload of money,” Senior said with glee.

 

McGee, who had been paying the pizza guy, grabbed Tony’s father by the belt and scruff of his suit jacket, and hurried him onto the porch, down the steps, and shoved him off the property.

 

Tony managed to get to the window to watch as McGee stood over Senior with his hand on his holstered Sig and growled, “If you ever come back here again, if you so much as show your face, you’d better make sure your affairs are in order before you do. You know why? Because when one of us shoots you down for trespassing, and we’re all willing and able to shoot you on sight, we’re gonna leave your bleeding body in the middle of the road for the garbage truck to roll over – and I am personally going to make sure you’re still alive when it breaks every bone in your sorry body. So unless you want to die in agony, stay the fuck away!”

 

McGee turned his back on the pale and shaking Senior, dusted off his hands, and once inside he locked the door securely. When he was done, Tony gave him a one-armed bear hug and said, “That was fantastic! You’ve become a McGibbs, Timmy!”

 

McGee blushed and said with a shrug, “Saw that scenario played out in a video game, Death Garbage, where the garbage man smooshes people walking in the streets, for points.”

 

Tony laughed. “Of course you did. Love ya, Tim.”

 

Needless to say, Mr. DiNozzo, Sr. never approached Gibbs’ house again.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

The eye patch was gone, and Tony’s vision was good, though he still had to put drops in his eye every day. The bandages on his face and shoulder were less bulky; his medications had been reduced. He saw improvement every day.

 

Tony’s shoulder and back bore the marks where he’d been hit by shrapnel, and the surgeries to remove the worst bits. He knew he’d gotten off lucky, that none of the deadly lumps of metal had hit anything major (he didn’t want to think about the tooth that had almost killed him), but the scars would darken and would be his to bear for life. He couldn't see them unless he twisted and looked in a mirror, and if he slept on his left side, his shoulder was numb by morning. A specialist made him a contoured orthopedic pillow that significantly eased the problem.

 

Now that he didn’t have to wear a sling on his left arm, he could wear a dress shirt with the Aston Martin cufflinks Dorney had left him, newly repaired by a local jeweler. There were still a couple of nicks in the metal of one cufflink, but Tony liked it that way, slightly imperfect.

 

Tony decided to forgive Abby. He didn’t like holding a grudge and thought they needed to talk about what she’d said. Jethro was not of the same mind, but Tony felt he’d eventually come around. As he pointed out to Jethro, even though he would never trust her again, he really didn’t like this friction between them.

 

When Jethro went back to work after a week of babysitting him, Tony invited Abby over. He told her why he and Jethro hadn’t told anyone about their relationship in the first place. It was new and might not work out, and they didn’t want any outside influence, from friends or strangers, while they got to know each other intimately.

 

Abby admitted she’d been jealous, and said she was deeply ashamed of the horrible evil part of her that had reared its ugly head. After she’d finished castigating herself, she apologized, Tony accepted her apology, and they hugged. He knew that in the future he’d always be careful of what he told her.

 

Then Tony said he had a request, something he wanted her to do for him. Abby agreed without knowing what it was, but by that point, Tony figured she would have done just about anything he asked of her.

 

“I want you to count all the marks on my back. Where the shrapnel went in,” Tony said, removing his shirt. He told her to work around the large bandage taped midway down his back on the left side (covering the incision from the recent surgery), and sat on the bed so his back was towards her.

 

There was silence behind him as Abby took in the extent of his injuries. He felt her fingers on his back, lightly touching the skin over his shoulder blade, and then his deltoid, asking softly, “Can you lift your arm?”

 

“Somewhat. I go to physical therapy and do exercises at home.”

 

She hesitated before saying, “I don’t understand. Why do you want me to do this?”

 

“Curiosity, I guess. And, a couple of people have already asked me how many fragments I had in me. I can’t count them myself and I wouldn't ask Jethro.”

 

Abby sat on the bed and started counting the small wounds, speaking aloud. “… fifty-three fifty-four…” Her voice faltered at “fifty-five,” and she grew silent.

 

Tony looked over his shoulder to see why she’d stopped. Tears were streaming down her face. “What’s the matter?”

 

“You could have lost your arm.”

 

“I didn’t.”

 

“Or bled out, or they could have penetrated your lungs–”

 

“That didn’t happen. It’s okay.”

 

She stared at him, her big eyes brimming with tears.

 

“It’s okay, Abby. I’m not permanently disabled. This is nothing compared to what some people have to contend with. The scars don’t bother me.” Okay, so that might not be the entire truth, but he was determined not to be embarrassed or upset over the scars, not even the ones on his face.

 

After they’d had a hug, careful of his healing wounds, Tony asked, “So, how many are there?”

 

“Fifty-five… sixty… I lost count. I’m sorry.” It was clear she was sorry for more than being unable to finish counting his scars.

 

“Close enough,” Tony said with a shrug. “They couldn't remove all the shards, and the doc said it’s best to leave them inside me, unless they cause trouble. But sometimes one of the little buggers comes to the surface and sits right under my skin, poking at me. I can feel one now, like an itch. One little cut and it’ll pop right out.” He’d have to ask Jethro, or Ducky or Palmer to do it for him if he couldn’t reach it. “I’ve been reading up on it. People who survive bombings often have shrapnel bits work their way out years later. I saw a photo of a glass jar one guy keeps on his bookshelf, filled with all the pieces of metal and plastic – even bits of a circuit board from the detonator – that’ve come out of him. Cool, huh?” He elbowed Abby to make her smile, but instead, she started to sob.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

That night after dinner, while Tony sat on a kitchen chair under the glare of the fluorescent light overhead, Jethro laid out the medical kit with its ointment and non-stick gauze squares, tape and disinfectant, and non-latex surgical gloves. Beside it was a bowl of warm water and cotton balls. Jethro did this for him twice a day, cleaned his facial wounds, applied ointment and covered some areas with gauze. Just a few spots needed bandaging now.

 

Tony draped a towel around his neck and raised his face so Jethro could work on him. He’d put on some light jazz before they started. It was better than silence. Jethro liked to concentrate on treating his facial wounds. He took his job seriously. After all the old gauze had been removed, and the wound cleaned, it was time to apply the medicated ointment. It didn’t hurt, except for a couple of tender spots, and Jethro was always careful as he worked.

 

The doctors were talking about plastic surgery down the line, skin grafts, but he wasn’t sure he wanted any. He looked at his face every morning to check on the healing process. Sometimes it wasn’t easy, but he felt he had to do it, as if it was a mental hurdle he needed to vanquish. He couldn't let it get the better of him. Some of his skin would look almost normal, was the general opinion, but in some areas, like his forehead and jaw, the scarring would be what one surgeon called ‘noticeable.’

 

Tony loved to watch Jethro’s eyes, now a deep blue from the same overhead light that backlit his silver hair and made it glow. He loved Jethro’s mouth, so serious, lips compressed in concentration as he worked. He loved Jethro’s skin, scattered with freckles and small scars, his age showing in the creases around his eyes and mouth.

 

Jethro finished applying the ointment and picked up a square of gauze. He turned to Tony but stopped when he saw his expression. “What’s the matter? Did I hurt you?”

 

Tony found his eyes filling with tears. All of a sudden his heart was flooded with strong emotions: love and warmth and a piercing need, and something else, something so close to a physical pain it was almost beautiful. He found it impossible to speak.

 

“What is it?” Jethro looked down at him, into his eyes, concerned. “Tell me. Is this too much?”

 

Swallowing and then taking a breath, Tony smiled through his tears. “I need to tell you…”

 

Jethro cupped Tony’s cheek. “I’m listening.”

 

Tony licked his lips, and looked into Jethro’s eyes, and breathed, “I love you.”

 

For a second Jethro seemed puzzled, and then he smiled, and then he smiled even more. “I know you do. I told you so.”

 

“I love you so much. I knew it all along but I didn’t… I couldn't say it until now, and I’m sorry it took me so long, because I really do fucking love you.” He rose a little and Jethro leaned over, and their mouths met. It wasn’t the most passionate kiss they’d ever shared, but to Tony, this was the most memorable, the most important kiss ever.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • 

 

 

Chapter Text

Untitled

CHAPTER 18 - The Luckiest Man

 

It was early March, six in the evening, and Jethro would be coming home soon. It was still light out, but Tony left the foyer light on before he went upstairs to their bedroom. He had a quick shower and towel-dried his hair.

 

These days, he sported a beard, a neat one that covered the scars along his jaw. The scar that ran from his cheekbone to his forehead had healed well with intensive treatment, and in a certain light it might appear he had freckles; in the bright light of day it was more obvious, rough and discolored. By now he was used to people staring, or avoiding looking at it altogether. Okay, so maybe it was more like he was inured to the curious looks. Sometimes he explained what had caused them, more often he did not.

 

After pulling on socks and tight-fitting shorts, he got into position on the bed and waited. It wasn’t long before he heard the front door open, the clink of keys being dropped into the dish on the table, and Jethro calling out, “Tony? Where are you?”

 

Tony didn’t answer as he turned on one small bedroom light (the one Abby had given them for Christmas, that had what she called ‘a romantic glow’) and settled on their bed to wait. Jethro had forgiven Abby (somewhat) so things were easier between them these days. His own car keys were already in the dish, so Jethro would know he was home.

 

He’d left a beef and noodle casserole in the oven, set on low, as they were sure to be hungry later on. Jethro was walking around downstairs, floorboards occasionally creaking. Tony could tell when he was in kitchen, opening the oven to see what smelled so good, as the oven door had a slight squeak.

 

The basement door opened, and after a few seconds closed. It would be obvious Tony wasn’t down there, with no lights on. Jethro had been working on his boat again, which was great for his mental health, and he hadn’t had any more issues with his heart or the scarring that had caused him trouble. That seemed to annoy Dr. Taft, so Tony mentioned to Jethro he thought the man thrived on his patients’ pain.

 

Jethro was in stealth mode as he climbed the stairs, and Tony wouldn’t have known he was approaching if he hadn’t been expecting him. The bedroom door opened slowly, and Jethro walked in and came to a sudden halt only two feet into the room. He stood still and stared, as well he might.

 

Tony was lying on his side, on top of the covers, his head propped up with one hand. He was wearing nothing but black triathlon shorts and tube socks, and he was getting exactly the reaction he’d hoped for. In his best sultry voice, he said enticingly, “Hey, Navy cop. I hear you like the kinda man you can pin up on your wall.” Tony ran his free hand across his chest, tweaking his own nipples, and slowly trailed his fingers down his stomach, stirring the dark hair that grew there. When his hand reached his shorts, he snapped the waistband, a little too hard – “Ow!” – and tried not to laugh.

 

“If you were my man, I sure as hell wouldn't pin you up. I’d pin you down hard. On the mattress,” Jethro said, his voice rough.

 

“Well, I am your man, and I have expectations, and some serious needs, so how about you climb up here and get yourself some of this?” Tony asked, cupping his package and rubbing himself suggestively, adding a soft moan into the mix.

 

Jethro started to undress, removing his shoes and socks, pants and underwear in record time, but as soon as his jacket came off, Tony pulled him onto the bed. He was still wearing his shirt, one of his trademark polos, and today’s was a maroon color that Tony liked.

 

What’s more, Jethro was wearing a shoulder holster. He’d worn one ever since Tony had told him how sexy he was when wearing it, so when he leaned over for a kiss, the hard holster pressed against Tony’s side.

 

Tony asked, “Hey, is that your gun, or are you just happy to see me?”

 

“Damn!” Jethro quickly got off the bed, stripped off the shoulder holster, and stored the weapon in a gun safe they kept in a bookcase on the far wall. He hurried back to the bed, where Tony greeted him with open arms.

 

“It looks like you are happy to see me,” Tony said with a laugh, taking hold of his lover’s semi-erect cock. Jethro had always hardened up fast. It only took a few strokes and he was groaning.

 

Jethro rolled Tony onto his back and braced his arms on either side of his head. “What you do to me…you have no idea.”

 

“Oh, I think I do, because I feel the same,” Tony said. He looked straight into Jethro’s eyes and said, “I love you. I love you like fucking crazy.” The way Jethro looked at him, with so much love and fucking adoration, it was almost more than Tony could stand. He wondered why he’d thought it would be so hard to say those words, to really mean them. But once he’d actually said them, they were easy to repeat. He held Jethro’s face in his hands and kissed him, lightly at first and then more deeply, murmuring into his mouth, and between kisses, “I love you. I love you, Jethro.”

 

They had a laugh over getting Tony’s shorts off, and Jethro’s shirt got stuck on his ears because he’d forgotten to unbutton the top button. His muffled swearing with the shirt still over his head had Tony rolling with laughter. Finally, they were both naked, breathing hard, and just looking at each other.

 

Jethro stroked Tony’s face, his scarred skin and soft beard, and kissed his cheek and then his mouth. He did that often enough that Tony believed he was trying to get him to associate his past injuries with love. They didn’t bother Tony much, even when people stared at the rough mottled scars on his face. He didn’t tell Jethro that because he loved the way he was so tender, kissing his scars, there and all across his shoulder blade. Those scars on his back, the fifty or sixty of them, now a purple-brown color, were just marks to him, like freckles or skin blemishes.

 

His eye had completely healed, his vision back to 20/10, thank God. Hearing was good, too. The abrasions on his right arm had healed up ages ago, and he’d recovered surprisingly fast from the concussion and bruising from the blast.

 

They had IDd the DC van bomber as a Virginia man named Mayfield Rogers, whose fifteen-year-old brother, Brad, had been involved in The Calling – one of Daniel Budd’s boys. Brad had been killed six months earlier while fleeing NCIS agents; he had taken off on foot and had run directly into traffic. He was hit by a delivery van. The other teens he’d been with had been captured, and were awaiting trial.

 

The ATF had tracked the origin of the explosives to an international arms dealer who had sold them to the now deceased Daniel Budd. They concluded that Mayfield Rogers had worked alone and his motive was revenge. His target had been SecNav Porter, for giving the orders to capture all remaining members of The Calling on US soil, and for being responsible for the death of his brother.

 

In addition to the bomber, who had died at the scene, two innocent people had died as a result of the bomb, and fifteen people injured. The numbers were surprisingly low. Tony had incurred the worst injuries of the survivors. Still, as he told his friends and colleagues when he returned to work in early February, on part-time desk duty, he felt like a very lucky man.

 

“Make love to me,” Tony requested, and Jethro stroked his erection, wringing out pleasure that was almost painful, and then entered him, slowly, kissing his chest, sucking on his nipples. Tony writhed and moaned, hands gripping Jethro’s shoulders, his ass, trying to pull him in deeper, and deeper still, and finally Jethro was thrusting and withdrawing, faster and harder, and God, this was more than he could stand, and he screamed, and came so hard he saw lights. Jethro stiffened, and finally, with a deep groan, shuddered his release.

 

Tony could have remained like this forever, sated, warm, being held in Jethro’s arms after a bout of incredible lovemaking. He sighed happily, rubbing his cheek against Jethro’s chest.

 

Jethro stroked a callused hand down his arm. “You okay?”

 

“Perfect.”

 

“Was there some special occasion?”

 

“You mean because of this?”

 

“Well, it isn’t every night I come home to a pin-up man in my bed,” Jethro said.

 

Tony smiled up at him. “If you’re good, maybe you can expect more surprises like this from now on.”

 

“You’re feeling that energetic, are you?”

 

He had been feeling good for the past few weeks. Physical therapy, swimming regularly, and getting a lot of sleep had all contributed to his wellbeing. “I passed my physical today,” Tony announced proudly. Just two months ago he’d been afraid he’d never pass, but he’d slowly increased his workouts, and had hired a personal trainer to keep him on track. It had been a bit like training for the triathlon, though with a different goal in mind.

 

“That’s great!” Jethro said, giving him a resounding kiss. “How’s the psyche eval going?”

 

Tony shrugged. He was seeing Dr. Cranston, or, as he called her, Dr. Kate’s Sister. “She can see too much. She’s tricky, too.”

 

“Sounds like you’ve finally found a shrink you can’t fool,” Jethro said with a chuckle. After a long silence, he asked, “Is there something else you need to tell me?”

 

“You know I submitted the report for the SMUT unit.” Rob Cox and Joanna Teague had helped him write the final report (Garcia was somewhere, deep undercover), and when it was done, they all gave a big sigh of relief. They were proud of the work they’d done and hoped it would go through. Tony couldn’t help grinning. “They didn’t take long to review it, and we got the call today that it was accepted, as is: the course, the recruitment and implementation plans, the whole package.”

 

“Where’s the champagne?”

 

Tony shrugged. “Maybe a beer with dinner.”

 

“You’re not happy? Okay, what’s the catch?”

 

“Oh, I am happy, I’m thrilled, pleased beyond belief… Only they want me to be the head of the program. To get it up and running in four months,” Tony revealed. He watched Jethro’s face fall as he realized what that meant.

 

“I see. But you want this, don’t you? Really badly?”

 

“I’d love to do it. I feel like it’s my baby. Only… I’m not sure I want to leave NCIS.”

 

Jethro nodded. “You should do it.”

 

Tony got up on one elbow and stared at Jethro. “You want me to take the job?”

 

“Sounds like it’s exactly what you need. Why d’you look so disappointed? You know I’ve been encouraging you to move on, Tony, to take a leadership position.”

 

“You mean you’d be okay with me working long hours at the SMUT training camp up in Hope Lake? To live away from you? Don’t you… want me anymore?” Tony asked, getting upset over Jethro’s lack of understanding about how torn he was about having to make a choice.

 

“I don’t want to get between you and this opportunity,” Jethro said firmly.

 

“You mean you don’t care enough to put up a fight for me?”

 

“Hey, you’re getting all bent out of shape over nothing, Tony.”

 

“It’s not nothing! How can you think that? Fuck!” Tony got out of bed and pulled on his pants. “You know what, you can go fuck yourself, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, because I’m not staying with someone who doesn’t give a fuck about me!”

 

Jethro was out of bed in a second, and grabbed Tony by the upper arms. They struggled a little, but Tony was too upset to put up a real fight.

 

“You finished?” Jethro asked.

 

Tony stared at the floor and said, “Let go of me. Please.”

 

Jethro dropped his hands but he stood between Tony and the door. “You didn’t let me talk.”

 

“Oh, I forgot, Mr. Talk Therapy Man is no longer a functional mute,” Tony said sullenly. “Fine, speak.”

 

“First of all, of course I’d love to work with you for the remainder of my time at NCIS, which, by the way, has been extended to age sixty.”

 

Tony looked up, surprised.

 

Jethro smiled, knowing that had piqued his interest. “When you were hurt, right after you came home, I thought you might need long-term care, so I talked to Vance about retiring early. The SecNav didn’t want me to leave and asked if I’d do consulting. Then you got better. Looked like you were going to come back to work. Sounded good to me but then she and Morrow wanted you to head the SMUT unit…”

 

“Wait a minute! They told you they wanted me to head SMUT?”

 

“That was their plan all along,” Jethro said.

 

“I thought I was just the guy who went in and did the prep work,” Tony said, thrown off balance.

 

“They never made it clear? Didn’t you read the contract you signed?”

 

Tony shrugged. “I dunno. Not the small print.”

 

“Jesus, Tony!”

 

“And you want me to stay on your team?”

 

“Of course I do, but we both know that’s not the best choice.”

 

“But… I don’t want to be five hundred miles away from you! I want to sleep in your bed, and eat breakfast with you, and cook cowboy steaks, and work on your boat and–”

 

Jethro steered Tony back to bed. “It’s too fucking chilly to stand around fighting in my birthday suit.” Once they were under the covers, Jethro spent a while kissing Tony, soothing him and letting him know he’d never abandon him.

 

“What am I supposed to do?” Tony asked, from under a cocoon of blankets.

 

“Are you gonna let me finish now?”

 

“You’re still in talking mode?”

 

“Well, yeah. So, as I was saying, I don’t know if you understand just how much clout you have, since you prevented Porter and Morrow and a whole restaurant of DC bigwigs – hey, did you know the director of the CIA was there, gonna have lunch with you? – from getting blown sky-high. So I did some negotiating on your behalf, and got myself a few more years of leading the MCRT while I was at it.”

 

“You negotiated what for me?”

 

Jethro turned to Tony and grinned. “It just happens that only forty minutes from this house is a recently decommissioned CIA compound, complete with a pistol range, ball field, swimming pool, dorms for fifty people, and a fine kitchen. And, it not only has a helicopter landing pad, but it also has…”

 

Tony knew his mouth was open, so he closed it, swallowed and asked, “A helicopter?”

 

“Give the man a prize! Starting on the first of April… and no, this isn’t some joke… it will become the new SMUT headquarters. The compound is being run by Joanna Teague – who told me about the place being empty – but you will run SMUT.”

 

“Fuck yeah!” Tony extricated himself from the blankets and threw himself on top of Jethro, kissing him hard.

 

“My sentiments exactly,” Jethro said, still grinning. “You know, you once told me if you were a millionaire you’d have your mice delivered by helicopter. Looks like you’re going to have that helicopter.”

 

“And I told you I’d rather have you, because I love you and you love me, and I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

 

“Damn right you are,” agreed Jethro.

 

◊ • ◊ • ◊ • the end ◊ • ◊ • ◊ •