Baltimore, MD – August, 2001

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs was enraged, angry past the point of rational thinking. A vein in his forehead throbbed in time to the beating of his heart and his eyes were black with fury. As he stalked across the crime scene, the other police officers, federal agents and technicians scurried out of his way. Whether they knew his reputation or not, all could see an impending explosion and all strove to be far away when it hit.

For his part, Gibbs didn't notice any of this activity. Quite frankly, he didn't care about any of these people. They were instantly dismissed as irrelevant, intent as he was on the green-eyed young officer idly swinging his legs as he propped inside the ambulance, being checked for injuries. When Gibbs caught sight of the younger man's casual smirk, his gaze darkened even more. Righteous anger, overlaid by an unexpected layer of fear, fueled his remaining steps.

Reaching the officer, he hauled him to his feet, not noticing the instinctive care with which he handled the damaged body. Looking him over, Gibbs was relieved to see that no blood had been spilled, though glimpses through the open shirt showed bruises already forming.

"Dammit, Dinozzo!!" he bellowed. "Nobody – nobody – dies for me, get it?! If you ever pull a stunt like that again, I will have you busted so far down the chain you won't even be able to write parking tickets!"

Gibbs could tell that the younger man still did not realize the depth of his anger. This would just not do. Gibbs intended to make sure that Dinozzo understood that his actions today were unacceptable. In that curious moment of reckoning, in which events unfold in the mind's eye in a flash, Gibbs recalled the past few days.

He had been called to Baltimore after a serial killer murdered four citizens and two Navy sailors. Forced to share the investigation with the local police department, Gibbs had found himself saddled with a cocky, lighthearted detective.

No one was more surprised than him when he found this detective to be a natural-born investigator. He and Dinozzo had clicked as partners, unexpectedly filling the gaps and differences between them to create an enormously successful duo. Gibbs had a half-formed idea of making the younger man a job offer when they closed the case, but was still reserving judgment. He knew the officer's skills were top-notch, but wanted to evaluate his character a little more. While he saw that Dinozzo was tenacious and dedicated, he also knew that it took a certain fortitude of character to work with Gibbs on a daily basis. He wanted to make sure the younger man could handle the constant pressure before adding him to his team.

After only a few days working together, they had broken the case, chasing the suspect to an abandoned pier. The inevitable shootout had occurred, and Gibbs expected to bring in the suspect's body.

He had not, however, expected there to be a partner, an oversight for which he would long kick himself. As they were approaching the suspect's hiding place, he had heard Dinozzo yell out his name and then found himself sprawled on the ground with 165 pounds of pure muscle lying on top of him.

Grunting with exertion and more than a little trepidation, Gibbs sidled out from under the silent detective. Firing once in the general direction of the shooter, he was relieved when the other officials gave the all-clear. He tried to calmly check for wounds, but found to his great consternation that his hands were shaking – not so that anyone else would notice, but Gibbs knew the tremble was there.

Full-blown worry was not an emotion with which Gibbs was familiar. While he always worried for his agents each time they left the office, he was unaccustomed to the razor-edged butterfly fluttering in his stomach. How Dinozzo had so rapidly become important to the older man was a mystery Gibbs was loath to examine.

As his hands traveled over the other's body, worry was quickly replaced by relief when Dinozzo let out a loud cough and pulled himself into a tight ball. Gibbs ripped open the vest, grateful beyond measure to see the small bullet held fast in the Kevlar. As he watched Dinozzo breath through the pain, relief was short-lived, rapidly consumed by fury.

As Dinozzo was surrounded by paramedics and Gibbs was reluctantly drawn back into the scene fury remained, white-hot and unrelenting. He had never – would never – ask another to die for him. That Dinozzo had taken the bullet, had willingly stepped into its path for Gibbs, was a responsibility he did not want. Dinozzo had no right to assume that role, had no right to sacrifice all his potential just for Gibbs. He had been struck from the beginning by Dinozzo's sheer life-force, and would not tolerate being the cause of its diminishing.

With that thought in mind, Gibbs was hurled back into the moment. He remained frozen in a bizarre embrace with Dinozzo, each standing nose-to-nose and refusing to back down.

Seeing that continued grin of insolence on the other's face only served to feed Gibbs' rapidly escalating ire. He did not want Dinozzo to be so cavalier about his own life. So, intending to put enough fear into Dinozzo to override his seemingly natural tendency for self-sacrifice, Gibbs moved dangerously close to the other man.

Gazing hard into Dinozzo's eyes, Gibbs unleashed 'The Stare' – a practiced look he used on suspects, weak-kneed soldiers, more than one divorce attorney and a small handful of superior officers. The Stare consisted of a long, unblinking gaze filled with all the rage, disappointment and intimidation he could muster. It was, quite frankly, a look designed to reduce the recipient to a quivering mass of flesh. Thus far, it had yet to fail him.

After a few moments of this unrelenting gaze, Dinozzo's eyes narrowed for just a moment. Gibbs was looking for the moment of capitulation, and was exceedingly surprised to find that he could not read the other's gaze.

Then, the most astonishing thing imaginable happened. Dinozzo did not react to The Stare correctly; he didn't stutter, back away in fear, or slide his own eyes shut in resignation. Instead, he did something no one had ever had the courage – or perhaps fool heartedness – to do.

He smiled.

Gibbs stood for a moment, too shocked to react. Then, his mind began to race as his infamous gut gave him a vision of the future. In that same moment, frozen in a tableau of intimacy with the detective, in a moment that seemed to merge past and present, he was not surprised to also gain insight into the future.

In that instant, he saw the upcoming years of his life developing at astonishing speed. He saw the young man gazing back at him becoming a force, perhaps the most important force, in that life, for here was finally a man who would not cow to his moods. This man would be willing to match him, unyielding in the face of Gibbs' wrath, when the need arose. He saw the younger man stand nose-to-nose with him, much as they stood now, bringing that passionate zeal for life into his arguments, making them both the better for his insights. Gibbs saw a man who would refuse to back down in the face of Gibbs' anger. He also saw him play the fool when needed, bringing laughter and light to a dark and consuming job.

He saw long nights hunched over desks, sustained by stale coffee, cold pizza and an unceasing determination to bring justice for the wronged. He saw this man standing by his side in gunfights, always protecting and watching over him. He saw countless days of interviews, searches, crime scene visits, and more, each with the man striding resolutely at his side.

He saw someone who could, and would, equal him on the job, yin to his yang, complementing Gibbs' style with one all his own. He could also see them becoming friends, perhaps forging a relationship that would refuse to be defined by such a simple word. He saw them watching ball games on his sofa, sharing meals at his kitchen table, and even working together in companionable silence on his boat.

He saw a man that would always have his six, just as he had in the gunfight. Just as he had willingly took the bullet meant to end Gibbs' life.

Thankfully, the bullet-proof vest had done its job, resulting only in deep bruises, but no life-threatening injury. That the younger man had worn the vest while diving in front of the bullet in no way lessened Gibbs' respect and appreciation, or his anger. He knew, just as Dinozzo did, that the vests were never foolproof. There was always a risk that it could fail, making Dinozzo's actions even more heroic. Gibbs was humbled that the other man would risk his life for him, even while he struggled with the irrational anger that Dinozzo would commit the same reckless act again if need be. It was a heady combination of fear for the other man's safety coupled with a growing sense of joy at finding one who would become his equal.

In this man standing so implacably before him with that quirky smile firmly in place, Gibbs saw courage, strength, intelligence, and the same relentless dedication to the job that he felt. In short, he saw a partner, in every sense of the word, and found that he wanted this future to be real – needed it in a way he could never have foreseen.

He knew, though, that he would have to let the younger man know how much he admired and appreciated his talents and his guts. How much he even liked him. But, it would not do to tell him that in words. That just wasn't the way Gibbs was programmed. So, coming fully back into the present moment, he did something he knew Dinozzo would understand. For the first – and only – time when Gibbs went toe-to-toe with an adversary, he conceded in the only way he knew how.

Gibbs blinked first.

Three days later, he found himself on a short commuter flight back to DC, taking back with him much more than he planned. He held in one hand the file on Corporal Miller, complete with signed confession. In the other, he held a small, white pharmacy bag containing antibiotics and pain pills. Beside him sat his newly minted field agent, holding his arms protectively over still-aching ribs.

Dinozzo dozed lightly, having already taken one of the pills Gibbs now guarded. It appeared that his new agent did not like to hospitals or taking medication. However, because he needed Dinozzo in good shape for his first day on the job, Gibbs had bullied and threatened him into cooperating. He also made a mental note to himself to make sure his new agent took his meds if ever hurt again. Gibbs was not too worried about that commitment – after all, his agents rarely got hurt. He did not expect to need to follow through on that promise very often, if at all.

As Gibbs found himself winging toward home with new plans for his team, he felt more excited than he had in a long time. So, when Dinozzo's head tilted gently onto his shoulder as the younger man continued to sleep, Gibbs just grinned and allowed it to remain there. A feeling of contentment and peace swept over him like a warm blanket, and for once Gibbs just gave into the feeling. Resting his own head back on his seat, he gave into sleep. Something told him that a monumental shift had just occurred in his life and that, from now on, he was going to need all the rest he could get.

The End