Disclaimer – Some of these are mine. It's not hard to spot the ones that don't belong to me.

AN – This is set in the same Universe as Trial and Tribulations and The Job Offer. The undercover operation and the Baltimore characters featured in those stories. This will be a long story. The draft is about 20,000 words and I'll aim to post as regularly as life allows.

Despite his promise, Gibbs didn't make it to Mike Dyer's funeral. A dead sailor in Georgetown saw to that, but he drove at breakneck speeds, even for him, to make it to the cemetery as the mourners were dispersing.

As he exited the car he scanned the crowd, looking for DiNozzo, his eyes narrowed as he spotted the lone figure, standing apart under the oak tree, his face impassive as he cradled his injured arm inside against his chest. He watched as few people, including the Baltimore Homicide Captain Bob Hawkins stopped for a word, but most of the mourners, mindful of the pending board of enquiry, looked pointedly away. Gibbs sighed, he'd been afraid of that.

"He's an idiot," Gibbs turned to see Laurel Dyer looking at DiNozzo with a mixture of affection and exasperation. "Can't you talk to him?"

"What do you want me to say?" Gibbs asked mildly.

"Agent Gibbs, I'm pregnant, not stupid," Laurel fixed him with a level look which reminded Gibbs fondly of Shannon. "We both know Tony wasn't the one who took an unauthorised cell into an undercover operation. He shouldn't be taking the blame for Mike's death. This board of enquiry could end his career."

"You tried telling him that?"

"Oh, I've tried," She shook her head. "He says he wants the children to remember their father as a good man. He won't listen to me."

"What makes you think he'll listen to me?"

"You think he accepted your job offer because of your charming personality?" Laurel raised a brow. "Tony's a really great guy, Agent Gibbs. Except, for criminals and FBI Agents he likes everybody. But it takes a lot to earn his respect. For some reason, he thinks pretty highly of you."

"Only' pretty' highly?"Gibbs smiled.

"What Tony really needs is someone who understands him," Laurel was deadly serious. "If you can be that guy Agent Gibbs, he'll walk through fire for you."

Gibbs frowned as he made his way over to where the younger man stood. DiNozzo was a good Detective. Better than he realised. In a year or so and he'd be a fine senior field Agent. Gibbs would jump through whatever hoops Morrow required to secure his transfer. But he'd never been one to coddle his Agents. He wasn't about to start with DiNozzo.

"Gibbs," Tony greeted him without turning, keeping his expression carefully schooled."Slow day in DC?"

Giving him a sideways look Gibbs eyes narrowed as he took in the dark circles under the Italian's eyes, not to mention the way his suit jacket hung more loosely off his tall frame.

"Got an early mark," He observed blandly. "Dead sailor. Turned out he died of natural causes."

"It happens sometimes."DiNozzo nodded.

"I missed lunch," Gibbs said after they had stood there a while. "You want to go grab a Pizza, or something?"

"I should probably show my face at the house." Tony said, obviously not relishing the idea.

Gibbs didn't blame him. The younger man had already endured more than his share of dark looks and muttered comments for one day. The ex-marine scrubbed at his face, the younger man would be no good to NCIS or anyone else, if he let his grief consume him.

Gibbs knew what that could be like.

"I'm buying," He pressed. "Pepperoni, Sausage and extra cheese, right?"

"You memorise all of my food preferences?" Tony looked curiously at him. "Because that's pretty long list."

"You want Pizza or not?"

"Actually there's this little hole in the wall place down by the harbour. Makes the best burgers you ever tasted. Mike and I always used to go there when we were in the neighbourhood," Tony suggested, wistfully. "You'll like it. They use real steak."

"You bring your car?"Gibbs agreed.

"No, I caught a ride with the Captain." Tony looked around only to realise the cemetery was deserted, all the other cars long gone. He shrugged, the pale thin planes of his face looking angular and gaunt. "I guess he figures I'm your problem now."

"Damn straight." Gibbs agreed.

The morning of the board of enquiry the day dawned sunny and warm. It was a day spending time with friends and loved one. Ball games in the park, late afternoon cook outs, not for ending the law enforcement career of one of the most promising investigators Gibbs had ever worked with.

A guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion. To protect his dead partner's reputation DiNozzo had already admitted liability going in. What they were doing now was damage limitation, so that the younger man wouldn't loose his badge for something he hadn't actually done. Across the room, DiNozzo looked like he was facing a firing squad.

"That poor boy," Mallard murmured. "Of course, all this unpleasantness could be avoided if you simply told them that Detective Dyer was the one at fault."

"Not going to happen, Duck." Gibbs was resolute. He didn't agree with DiNozzo's methods but he had to admire his motives. He wasn't about to do an end run around him before they had even got started. "Besides, if everything goes according to plan, I won't have to."

"Jethro, I do hope you're not about to do something rash." Mallard frowned.

"I guess we're about to find out," Gibbs grinned tightly, as he rose to greet a tall blonde man in a dark suit. "Watson, glad you could make it."

"Anything for you, Gunny," Watson looked across the room at DiNozzo. "That him?"

"That's him." Gibbs agreed.

"You sure you want to call in your marker for him?" Watson asked sceptically as he looked at the dark haired figure. "Kid looks kind of scrawny to me."

"He's had a rough couple of weeks," Gibbs excused him. "You remember what I needed?"

"Sure do, LJ."

"Really?" Gibbs grinned dangerously. "Because you seem to have forgotten what I said I'd do the next time you called me LJ?"

"As I recall, you said you'd kick my ass," Watson was unconcerned, as he reached into his jacket and produced a large manila envelope. "Everything you need is in here. You need me to go through it again?"

"No, I got it," Gibbs nodded his thanks, as he tucked the papers away. "Think it'll be enough?"

"That's some of my best work, it'll do the job," Watson assured him. "What do you plan on telling the kid?"

"Need to know," Gibbs paused. "He doesn't."

Watson raised a brow at that. Gibbs could hardly blame him. He was putting his own career on the line to pull DiNozzo's ass out of the fire And he'd called in some long standing debts to pull all this together at such short notice. He knew Watson was curious. He also knew he wouldn't ask.

Truth be told Gibbs had no intention of making DiNozzo feel beholden to him. The Italian had been clear all along that he was prepared to accept whatever consequences the board handed down. Gibbs respected that. If he was going to earn DiNozzo's loyalty he wanted to do it the old fashioned way.

"Gibbs," Captain Bob Hawkins appeared at his shoulder. "We're ready to get started."

"Can you give me a minute?" Gibbs tilted his head in the direction of the Italian.

DiNozzo didn't react as he came to stand beside him at the window. For a moment, Gibbs simply stood there, letting his solid presence lend support.

"Gibbs," DiNozzo swallowed hard. "This was my choice, my decision, I can't ask you to do this."

"You didn't," Gibbs reminded him. DiNozzo had been his choice, long before all this mess started. He wasn't about to let him go now. Reaching out he gave his shoulder a firm squeeze. "You know what to do."

"Yes sir." DiNozzo visibly straightened his shoulders.

Gibbs shook his head slightly. The ex-marine's dislike of being called "Sir" was widely known. Sooner or later, all his people called him Boss. Like an over eager puppy it had taken Langer less than a day. To date the older and more mature Burley had held out the longest, taking two weeks and a shootout in an alley.

He figured DiNozzo would be a learning curve all by himself.