Chapter 24:

Tony sighs and pats his stomach, then looks at his two companions. Laurie is in the process of cleaning off the table and Thunder is thumping his tail waiting for Tony to drop some bacon or any offering he might want to contribute. Tony takes the last two slices of bacon and offers them to the wolf who gently takes the meat out of Tony's hand before heading over to the small rug where he finishes off the bacon.

"Did you teach him that or does he just know that you'd look at him funny if he left bacon grease on the floor?"

Laurie smiles at the wolf who is letting himself out of the house through the laundry room and the animal door within. She waits until their companion is outside before answering Tony's question.

"I think he just knows Tony. It's not your typical animal reaction that is certain. He's always been that way though, almost a perfect gentleman."

"Why only almost?"

A strong odor comes wafting in from the laundry room and Tony groans as Laurie laughs, "Silent but deadly strikes again. I wondered if he'd done that; it's about the only time he tends to slink away from the warmth of the house after a snow storm."

She hands him a small can of deodorizing spray and he quickly sprays the laundry room. As he turns back to the kitchen, Laurie is still laughing and Tony sets the spray can on the counter as he captures her in his arms and growls playfully at her, "You laughing at me?"

She peeps at him and nods still giggling at the expression that had crossed his face. He nuzzles her nose and sighs, "I probably would be too, if I hadn't been downwind."

He captures her lips with his, and he leads her back into the living room where the fire is just starting to dwindle. Several hours later, as he leans back against the cushions of the couch and cradles her in his arms, he stares into the dying flames wondering how he's been so lucky. He's found the woman of his dreams and he can acknowledge that yes, she's been part of his dreams for many years now.

The dreams were the one thing that have kept him alive during all the bad times of his life. From the day he'd been left in Maui, to the football game that had ended a promising career. From his probie days in homicide to his first years at NCIS he's had a small dream tucked away in a remote recess of his mind. He searches for that corner now and finds it easily thanks to the woman in his arms.

She's sleeping almost soundly, and he's not about to deny her the chance to sleep. He knows that she sleeps like he does; little or not at all just due to time and circumstances. He strokes the soft skin under his fingertips, liking the way she snuggles closer to him. She's unconsciously seeking his warmth and the reassurance that he's still there. Her hand is splayed out on his chest and he picks it up, rubbing that small scar, the one that will always give her trouble. The one that marks her for what she is; a woman of contrasts as a healer and warrior, a lover and fighter. He clasps that hand in his own, as he pulls the covers up to her shoulders. He rolls out from underneath those same covers, not immediately seeing the pansy eyes flicker then sleepily watch as he adds a fresh log to the fire. He pads down to the bathroom, and returns within minutes to see those same eyes thoughtfully staring into the flames.

"What's going through your mind right now?" He asks as he slips back under the covers and pulls her against him. She snuggles closer, her hand in his as she admits

"I've wanted this for so long, waited for so long that I'm almost afraid that it's still a dream." Her soft words mirroring his own thoughts have him glancing down at her. He brushes her cheek, and she leans into his embrace.

"Not a dream this time, pretty lady. Just you and me, Thunder and a fire glowing softly in the fireplace."

"Hmm...almost an Aspenglow." She says as she glances out the window.

"Aspenglow?"

"One of John Denver's classics. He often wrote about life out here; Aspenglow is one of his best ones, in my humble opinion that is. I think that's why I wanted to settle out here. So that I could see the Aspenglow."

"Don't know if I've ever heard it."

She kisses his lips as she leans across him and pulls out a remote control. That's when he remembers that the storm had knocked out the power the night before and he turns to her in silent question.

"Backup generator." she reminds him gently and he nods as the song begins to play. He notices that she sets the remote to turn off after the song plays, conserving the generator's energy in case they need it again that night. Listening to the lyrics he can imagine why she wants to come up here as the song seems to reflect the emotions in both of their hearts.

As the song ends and the stereo clicks off, they slip back under the covers, talking softly about the song and then about the revelations they've both been discovering over the past few days. Tony sighs in contentment as he feels the warmth of the fire engulf him. Between the fire and the lady in his arms, he hasn't been this relaxed in years. He yawns and blinks sleepily vaguely aware of Thunder's presence when the wolf emerges from the laundry room once again.

Thunder comes back in and lays down beside the drowsy couple. He rests his muzzle under Tony's other hand and the human obliges him with a scratch under his chin. The big white wolf sighs contentedly as he guards his companions while they sleep. He's spent years watching over the woman who is lying peacefully in her lover's arms. Soon, he'll be able to take his leave without wondering if she'll be okay. She's found that lost love, the one he's been waiting to come to her and live with her in her human den/cave.

That one mate who will satisfy his beloved human, who can protect her from her nightmares and loneliness in a way that he no longer can. He can feel the bond strengthening between them, engulfing the two in ways that neither of them will know about. He's ensured that they'll always have a protector when they need it most. Thanks to the female he has progeny that will live on long after he is gone.

He will miss his human friend, but he knows that she will be loved and secure in that love. That she will love this mate as much as she loved him when he was still a human. Richard DiNozzo Thorpe gazes at his brother, the one who protected him when they were both no more than mere cubs. He's wanted to tell them who he is, but it is part of the pact he'd made when he accepted the form he currently occupies. He's allowed to visit his family, to protect them from bodily harm, but he's not allowed to tell them who he is.

He smiles as they curl up in each others arms. Neither of them will question his disappearance when he finally allows himself to go home. He's a wolf today due to his wish to help his beloved humans find each other. He hadn't anticipated it taking so long, but he's content that they've done so and will be there when he wakes up in the morning. Sighing he stares into the flames, eyes closing as the warmth envelops his aging bones.

A soft voice brings him out of his reverie and he smiles as he sees several friends from across the ages come towards him. Once again he denies them the privilege of his presence. He needs a few more days, those two weeks to make sure that the bond is secure and that his brother and his former mate continue to thrive. His youngest pup, Moonstar has already found his way into the house, and is guarding not just the couple but his own form as well. He gives a soft wurf of approval and the two wolves stare into the flames of the fireplace waiting patiently for their friends, their family to wake up.

Aspenglow-by John Denver

See the sunlight through the pine
Taste the warm of winter wine
Dream of softly falling snow
Winter snow Aspenglow

As the winter days unfold
Hearts grow warmer with the cold
Peace of mind is all you know
Winter snow Aspenglow

Aspen is a life to live
See how much there is to give
See how strongly you believe
See how much you may receive

Smiling faces all around
Laughter is the only sound
Memories that can't grow old
Winter snow Aspenglow

Aspen is a life to live
See how much there is to give
See how strongly you believe
See how much you may receive

See the sunlight through the pine
Taste the warm of winter wine
Dream of softly falling snow
Winter snow Aspenglow

Winter snow Aspenglow

a/n: as always the song and lyrics are not mine. I just wish that the song's singer/writer was still alive.