Disclaimer: Don't own NCIS - don't even have ownership of the season six box set. Although, in my defense it hasn't been released in my country yet and it is on pre-order!

A/N: Just a quick one shot with tags to Season seven: Patriot Down. I hope that I have made it before the finale airs - different time zones mean that it is 1.50am where I am currently! Hope you enjoy...


2.45am


Tony opens his eyes, gritty. He blinks, swallows dryly, smacks his lips together. There it is again, a faint knocking sound. Immediately he is alert. Rolls off the sofa and onto his feet. Stretches out the kinks, glances at his watch - 2.45am.

His eyes dart around the empty living room as he tries to piece together the earlier part of the evening – taking in the neatly packed gun-cleaning kit, two empty coffee mugs.

Sniffs the air: the smell of gun solvent mingles with the soft scent of vanilla and something more musky, more… images come flooding back to him: desperate kisses, skin against skin, dark hair and teasing eyes. A small smile darts across his features, slipping just as silently away.

Scratching his bare chest, he shuffles towards the door, the knocking more persistent this time. Stubs his toe, swears loudly under his breath. He doesn't know where his shirt is, doesn't much care. He already knows who is waiting on the other side, and why. Doesn't mean he has to like it.

Opening the door, he squints under the glare of the bright passage light. Just as he expected: Gibbs. A bit more facial hair than when he left for Mexico a few days prior – but Gibbs, none the less.

The man in question glances down at his senior agent's state of undress, clears his throat. Tony follows his eyes, nonchalantly fastens the buttons.

"Don't look too surprised to see me?" his boss responds, drily.

"Expected as much, after we got your call," Tony counters. "How do we know we can trust this Dean character? He's already killed one of our own. What's to stop him from killing again?"

"Revenge unifies even the strangest of bedfellows," a husky voice intones from behind Tony.

"What? I didn't get that one wrong did I?" Ziva asks, stepping out of the bedroom. She is dressed in camo pants, black vest and boots, her hair tied back in a plait – service pistol strapped to her thigh. She drops her heavy rucksack onto the floor.

Gibbs nods his greeting, continues: "And we have something he doesn't – insider knowledge."

With this, he steps aside, revealing his companion silent in the shadows – ex-corporal and more recent ex-mercenary – Damon Werth.

"Damon," Ziva smiles affectionately. Slipping past Tony, she leans forward, hand on Damon's shoulder and gently brushes her lips against his cheek.

Seething, Tony marches into the kitchen. "Coffee?"

Gibbs checks the time, nods his affirmative. "Called in a few favors with some old friends – Got a Blackhawk waiting to take us across the border. Have some time though," he adds.

Following Tony, he takes a mug from the cupboard and fills his mug.

Seeing his T-shirt discarded behind the sofa, Tony pulls it over his head, sinks into the chair.

Huddled around the table, Ziva pulls out the folded satellite image from her back pocket, smoothes it out. "My sources say that this is where we need to be," she says, pointing to a spot on the blurry image. "Target was on the move, but has been static for the past 48 hours. I think it's our best bet."

Werth nods. "Come in from here?" his finger marks a trail. Gibbs nods slowly. "It's a possibility. Ziver, what's on this side here?"

From his position on the sofa, Tony watches the three plan their mission, uncharacteristically silent. He finally realizes how those women must feel – the countless wives left behind as their husbands go off to fight an unseen enemy. The possibility of them returning home in a body bag fresh on their minds, every time the phone rings; every time there is a knock on their door. It's hell – this unknown.

Glancing at his watch again, Gibbs places his empty mug on the table. "Time," he mentions quietly to Ziva. She looks across to where Tony sits head down, hands clasped, elbows on his knees, her eyes questioning. Having her superior's affirmation, she moves across the floor, before crouching down in front of Tony, her hands resting lightly on his knees.

He rests forehead on hers, whispered words caress the air.

Werth and Gibbs look away - trying to give the impression of privacy – mirrored frowns etched on their faces. For the ex-corporal, it's a shard of jealousy. For Gibbs, it's partly aggravation that his growing suspicion of rule tampering has been confirmed in a less that subtle way, and partly guilt. This mission may very well have the same fate he had rescued her from less than a year ago. Glancing over at Tony and Ziva, oblivious to them standing there, he again questions the logic, the sanity of his actions.

Tony softly kisses the top of Ziva's head. She stands, wraps her arms around his neck, pulling him close, as he nuzzles her belly. "I'll be back," she breathes against the top of his hair. Gently tugging his head back, she stares into his eyes. "You hear me. I will be back." Searching her eyes, he nods.

Turning quickly, before he notices the tears gathering in her eyes, she pushes past Werth and Gibbs standing in the hallway. Picks up her rucksack, heaves it over one shoulder, swinging the spare ammo belt over her other. Neither man offers to help. A woman like Ziva doesn't much appreciate the act of chivalry, and where they are going, what they have planned – there's not much room for it, either.

The three walk towards the front door.

"It should be me." Tony's voice is controlled, calm, but the clenched fists at his sides belie his tone.

As one, they turn, stare at him.

"My team. My family. I should be the one going with you. Not him."

Ziva steps forward, mouth open to reassure him. But it is Werth who talks first. "No, you shouldn't."

Tony clenches his jaw, fists furl and unfurl. Again Ziva tries to move towards him, but Gibbs pulls her back. "Gibbs?" she asks her eyebrows furrowed, but the only response is a sharp shake of his head.

Werth walks over to Tony. "You were a cop right? Serve and protect?" Tony nods petulantly – not entirely sure where he is going with this, but figures he will give him leeway.

"I'm a good shot, steady hand. Have killed before," Tony assures him…them…himself.

"Don't dispute that. But you kill because you have to – we kill because we need to. There's a difference. You are a good man, Tony." He clasps Tony's shoulder.

Gibbs interjects: "Need someone I can trust here. It's clear that those close to me, those I love, are being picked off one-by-one. Be easier heading into what we are heading to, knowing you are here."

Tony sighs, nods resigned. Werth is right. Gibbs is right. Damn them.

Gibbs looks apologetically at his watch: "Sorry Tony, we got to go."

Ziva and Tony's eyes meet. No words are shared, none need to be said. Each already knowing. They nod in understanding.

She blows him a kiss, turns cheekily smacking the side of her hip as she sashays down the hallway towards the stairs. He watches, chuckles lightly, amazed at how she is still able to do that, with the heavy rucksack weighing her down.

"You can count on me to keep them safe," he yells to their retreating backs.

Werth stops briefly, turns, acknowledging: "And you me."