Title: His Senior Agent
Author: djmicheals
Beta: tinlizzie82
Rating: R for sex
Category: Romance, Angst
Genre: I tried on my Slasher hat.
Pairing: Anthony DiNozzo/James Palmer, eventual Anthony DiNozzo/Jethro Gibbs
Spoilers: Nada, This is cross posted a lot of places including my lj ..
Disclaimer: These characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warnings: There is a little bit of M/M sex in here.
Summary: There was something different about Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo.

Gibbs crept down the hall towards the bedroom, peered around the door, and drew up short. He couldn't believe what he saw before him.

xxxxxxx

There was something different about Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. Gibbs knew it in his gut. It had begun developing over the winter. Nothing blatantly came out and screamed WRONG, just little things were different. He still teased McGee and in a lesser way Palmer and he still verbally sparred with Ziva. But it was gentler, without the barbs or pointed-ness, almost like it was when Kate was still with them. He didn't get defensive or antagonistic. He still endured Abby's assaults - hugs - and returned them but what bothered Abby was that now he initiated them. Tony still listened to Ducky's tales but Gibbs had actually seen him drawing the older man out, encouraging a story, something he had never done before. He came in on time, left on time, and actually worked in the middle. No paperclips being thrown, no rubber band wars or paper ball fights, no super gluing McGee to anything, no movie references or stories. Hell, even other staff members had noticed. He wasn't as distracting as he usually was, in fact he was distracted. And at times his eyes would have a far away look in them as if he was trying to figure something out.

Each member of the team had come to Gibbs with their concerns about Tony. That there was something … off. Abby about the hugging first, Tim about the lack of practical jokes, Ziva about the missed opportunities to correct her English, Ducky about the requests for stories. The only one that hadn't spoken to Gibbs was Palmer. They each had tried to talk to him individually and get him to open up but they had had no luck. Seven months later and nothing was resolved. Yesterday Ducky had called Gibbs down to Autopsy and spoke at length about the fact that Tony seemed to have lost a good 25 pounds. Everyone had noticed that he was slimmer in his face and his suits fit him a little looser. And that was another thing, he was wearing suits all of the time, no jeans, not even his favorite designer ones that showcased his ass. That, combined with the distractedness and flat out un-Tony-like behavior, prompted Ducky to be worried enough to want to have a full physical and if that turned up nothing, a psych eval.

Gibbs pulled Tony into the elevator at the end of the day after McGee and Ziva had left and gave him the chance to talk. He waited patiently staring at the younger man but to no avail, Tony just looked right back at him and the silence grew for ten minutes. Gibbs finally barked at him to talk but Tony cocked his head to the side and drew his eyebrows together perplexed. Exasperated, Gibbs forced the issue. He demanded to know what was going on with Tony, why he was distracted, not fighting with Ziva or McGee, his lost weight, and why the hell he was wearing suits all of the time. Tony seemed genuinely confused about their concerns, denying anything. He claimed to be feeling the best he had in his life and that there was nothing wrong.

And either Tony was telling the truth or DiNozzo had gotten very, very good at lying to him.

Which was why Gibbs ended up tailing his Senior Agent on a Friday night and subsequently staking out his apartment. Tony went to a boutique called Scentsable Solutions that apparently sold candles, oils, and a lot of that aromatherapy and feng shui crap judging from the displays and signs in the window. Gibbs never went for any of that mumbo jumbo and but wasn't much surprised that Tony did. After that Tony went to the supermarket, the dry cleaners, and the video store before heading home. And never left. He didn't come out of the building again Friday night, all day Saturday, or Saturday night.

And that was how Gibbs ended up here at 4:30 Sunday morning after picking the lock to an apartment he had the key to last summer. Thinking that somehow Tony had evaded him; when there was a muffled thump coming from the bedroom. Gibbs paused long enough to let his eyes adjust to the light and took in the changes to the living room. The thump came again. He checked his weapon. Gibbs crept down the hall towards the bedroom, peered around the door, and drew up short dropping his gun to the floor with a slight thud. He couldn't believe what he saw before him. And for the life of him he couldn't look away. He was mesmerized.

Tony was sprawled out on the bed in a boneless heap, candle light flickering over his sweat covered skin, with a lazy smile on his face looking stoned out of his mind, the very image of wanton debauchery. Each muscle was sculpted and well defined, the rock hard body a testament to where those 25 pounds went. Above him, his lover sunk into him fully, pulled out to the very tip and then slammed back in to the hilt, swiveled his hips, and repeated the action over and over. Judging by the sounds coming out of Tony, he was hitting his prostate on every stroke. Tony chanted his lover's name over and over like a mantra, finally throwing back his head and yelling as his orgasm took over. His lover's actions grew more frenzied and completely lacking in finesse until, suddenly, the man froze, roared out his release, and collapsed on top of Tony. They petted each other and murmured soft words between them.

When it was over Gibbs slowly backed out the door, crept quietly down the hall, and out the door in stunned silence. The thoughts chased each other in his head around and around for the remainder of the day and well into the next morning. Tony was gay. Tony was bi. Tony was involved with a man. Tony was in a relationship… with another man. Tony was in a relationship with *another* man. The images and words were imprinted on his mind and he was sick.

It was not until he was getting ready for work in the wee hours of Monday morning that he realized that he had left his weapon and where he had left it. Gibbs headed into work with a great deal of trepidation. He wasn't sure how to face Tony. He stepped off the elevator and was relieved to find himself alone. As he sat down at his desk, Gibbs noticed that his gun drawer was slightly ajar. Opening it the rest of the way revealed a note. He picked it up and heard a ting. There under the note was his gun and a bright, shiny new key.

Gibbs,

Next time try ringing the bell first, bang really, really hard, and then use the key. You might want to check your sights to make sure you didn't damage them when you dropped your gun. Don't forget I have tomorrow off.

Tony

Gibbs wasn't sure if he was pleased that he didn't have to face Tony or pissed off that it had to wait another day. But the one thing that bothered him the most was something he couldn't quite pin down.

Was he upset that Jimmy Palmer was the man sleeping with his Senior Agent or was it because Tony was HIS Senior Agent.

CHAPTER 2

CRFO is Contingency Response Field Office – main headquarters of CRT for NCIS

CRT is Contingency Response Team - basically SWAT team for NCIS

FLETC is Federal Law Enforcement Training Center

They never had that talk. Tony came back to work on Tuesday and Gibb never mentioned it. EVER. Business as usual, except for Gibbs' behavior. And *that* was what the others noticed. Because along with Tony acting un-Tony, now Gibbs was acting waaay un-Gibbs. If you didn't know what you were looking for you wouldn't find it. The team knew better. Ducky called it introspective, Abby called it hinky; Ziva said it was…. unusual, Tim said he was being nice, no one asked Jimmy, and Tony still wasn't talking about anything at all unless it was work. The marked change in the way Gibbs treated Tony - more distant, professional even - upset everyone's balance. Even the team dynamic had changed. Now it was Ziva or McGee that accompanied Gibbs, not Tony. The strangest part was that Tony didn't even complain about it.

Team Gibbs was on edge. They still solved the cases but the careful way Gibbs was treating DiNozzo, and vice versa, was wearing on them. Something had to give.

Spring was just hitting its stride when Tony left.

xxxxxxxxxxxx

Ever since Gibbs found out that Tony was bisexual, things hadn't been the same. Whenever Tony looked up he would catch Gibbs staring at him. Sometimes the look was like he was this giant puzzle that had to be figured out but at other times it was one of betrayal. He got how Gibbs might be confused; he'd been there once himself. When you're 17 discovering that you liked the quarterback just as much as the head cheerleader was pretty confusing too.

The bewildered look he understood, it was the other one he didn't. How the hell was his sexual preference betraying Gibbs? The whole military don't ask don't tell thing, yeah, but he wasn't asked, he didn't tell, and in fact *he* was the victim of B&E. If Gibbs was having such a hard time of it maybe he should have given a little thought to what he would find before he picked the lock and barged in.

And if it wasn't the whole gay thing than it was Jim. What did he think that Tony had corrupted Jimmy? What Gibbs didn't know, and never bothered to find out, was the difference between Jimmy at work, and Jim in private. At work Jimmy was a nervous, fumbling, geeky looking kid who worked in autopsy and had a warped sense of humor and a shoe fetish. Jimmy was like Dr. Jekyll. Although maybe it should be Mr. Hyde because away from work he was the complete opposite of the mild mannered Dr. Jekyll. But Jimmy was going to be a doctor soon so, UGH, never mind. Shit he was even rambling in his thoughts.

Jim was fun. Charming, funny, charismatic, smart, flexible, and holy hell was he ever HOT. The first time he saw Jim at a club he nearly dropped his drink. They had first gotten together back when Gibbs was on his whole Mexican safari. Shit, he came on to Tony and he laid out the ground rules. He didn't want anything from Tony other than the obvious. It was casual, whenever either one of them had an itch and the other was available. Jim was 10 years younger than Tony, but was no kid. He didn't want any entanglements and was only after the sex. And the sex was the best he had ever had, male or female. But there was no way in hell that Tony would tell Gibbs that. If he wanted to think of Tony as the guy that corrupted a poor, naive kid like little Jimmy Palmer, whatever.

So maybe the note wasn't the best way to handle it but it was all he could think of at the time that didn't involve going over there and beating the snot out of Gibbs, or die trying. He was pissed. Christ. Jim was a man who knew the human body inside and out and wasn't above using that knowledge, and a few yoga positions, to turn you into a satiated pile of goo. If there was a fast way to come down from a mind blowing sexual high, it had to be seeing your straight as an arrow Marine boss leaving *your* bedroom and figuring out he had been watching you get turned into the afore mentioned pile. If Tony had thought it was a mirage, well then the scent of wood shavings and coffee, the snick of the front door, and the loaded Sig on the floor was a dead give away. A gun that didn't even have the safety on! It had to be pure luck that it hadn't gone off when Gibbs dropped it. That was how Tony knew just how much Gibbs was bothered by his discovery. In the 8 years that Tony had worked for Gibbs he had never dropped his weapon. He had had it knocked out of his hand during fights, given it up when the situation required it, but he had never dropped it. In fact there was a specially hellish punishment for someone who dropped their weapon on Team Gibbs, strictly enforced by the man himself.

Maybe a break would help him decide what he wanted to do with his life. Gibbs would never fire him for his sexual orientation but it seemed obvious that he was uncomfortable about Tony being the one out in the field watching his six. It wasn't something you can unlearn, that the man you trust watching your ass in the field likes taking it up the ass. He was at the point of quitting but didn't want to leave 8 years into a career he was passionate about. The Director's offer was just the thing to help him sort it out. He was asked to temporarily fill in as Senior Agent in charge of a CRT at the CRFO. He would be stationed out of FLETC for at least 2 months, possibly longer. It didn't take much thought, he jumped at the chance. He needed to get away. Tony had already been paying all of his bills electronically for years, so it was really just a matter of telling the team that he was leaving. He talked to Jim about it over coffee and desert. Theirs was a friendship he cherished because there was no bull. They weighed the pros and cons and Tony needing peace of mind was the deciding factor.

If they had just *asked* him and been serious about it; no snide, snarky comments; no put downs, just asked him openly and honestly his decision might have been different. But they never did because maybe they would have to drop their own facades and change their own perceptions. If they had, any one of them, he would have told them that he got tired of the mask. That he woke up one morning to find that it just didn't fit anymore and it was so exhausting to put it on. He wasn't having a crisis of faith, no sudden spiritual awakening, no midlife crisis; he was just plain tired. He had worked at NCIS for over 8 years and had been on call 24/7 for most of that time with little or no break and medical leave did not count. Tony had been stabbed, shot, blown up twice, kidnapped twice, drugged and left for dead, and gotten the plague. And each of those were still fairly normal days.

He had tried to talk to each of the team about leaving but he had no luck. Gibbs would not be alone with him, and Tony would not push that boundary. Tim and Ziva were taking their lead from Gibbs. Ducky got called away to deal with his mother at the care center. Abby just looked at him with mournful eyes and begged him to 'fix it.' His 'I'm leaving Abbs' was met with 'okay' and that was it. She didn't comprehend or maybe even want to comprehend that he meant he was *really* leaving. He cleaned out his refrigerator, gave his plants to the neighbor to care for, packed up his desk, and diverted his mail to the office to the attention of one Leon Vance.

So he left. And they were shocked.

CHAPTER 3

By the time that Abby realized that he meant he was *leaving*, it was the next morning and Tony was long gone. When she told him, Gibbs was out the door and down the flight of stairs with Ziva, Tim, and Abby hot on his heels. By the time that Ducky had registered the swoosh of the Autopsy doors opening Gibbs had Jimmy pinned up against the cadaver bay, demanding answers to the drawn out question "Where. Is. He?"

And for once the young man didn't stammer when he answered, he stood tall, glared Gibbs straight in the eye and quietly replied, just above a whisper so that the others wouldn't hear, "As of last night Tony was in Atlanta, do you plan on picking *that* lock too? Really Gibbs, if you weren't prepared for what you saw then you shouldn't have broken in. I asked him, I made the rules, and he didn't deserve the way you treated him when you found out. You homophobic son of a bitch."

And in that brief second the reason Tony left struck him; before he heard Abby's strangled gasp of "Gibbs", before he turned and saw her horrified look, because - damn it - Abby can read lips, before Gibbs turned back to Jimmy and stared at each other for an eternity where no one else in the room made a sound; before Gibbs released him and fled the room chasing after Abby. Gibbs realized that his attitude, his behavior implied that he couldn't trust Tony and that he was disgusted by him.

Even in the most normal of families the navigation of familial relationships can be tricky minefield at best on a good day and the all you can do is pray that you don't blow yourself up. This family group Gibbs had was comprised of misfits all brilliant in their own field. Abby was an unparalleled forensic scientist and filled in the role of daughter and younger sister. She could actually kill someone without leaving a trace of evidence if the thought of committing murder didn't make her squeamish. Tim was the younger brother who just happened to be an award winning and successful author. He discovered he loved his day job as a cop even though the benefits and pay were less in a year than what he made in a month selling his books and the drawbacks were too numerous to list but he would never even think about quitting. Ziva was the adopted problem child, an assassin who had never failed a mission nor been caught. She was turning over a new leaf with a new career, a new country, and a new home. Ducky was their doting uncle. The top of his field as a forensic pathologist, he talked to his patients and afforded them the kindest, gentlest, greatest of dignity in their last moments. Tony filled in the role of the older brother. He was a top notch investigator with definite profiling skills and horrific intuitive leaps and a normally gentle nature. Tony was everything Gibbs never knew he wanted until he saw someone else have it.

But the real tricky thing in this family was how to tell your 'daughter' that you were in love with her 'brother' and had been carrying that torch for 8 years and not have the others find out first. A brother about whom there was no trace, no hint that he was a little more bent than straight or might even be a little receptive and welcome an inquiry into the angle of the bend. Because while there was flirting, and make no mistake that there was because Tony was a natural flirt and flirted with everything that moved, Gibbs watched him and had never seen him show any real intent to follow through with the flirting, either male or female, until that fateful day in Tony's apartment.

How do you tell your daughter that the reason that her brother left is not because you are homophobic but because you were trying to wrap your mind around the fact that you may, *may*, have had a chance with him or that the betrayal you were feeling was because all this time he had never indicated to you that he was anything other than a 100% heterosexual male. And while you never said anything to him either, he should have come to you, and really, Palmer? Jimmy Palmer is nobody's, *nobody's*, ideal picture of the male species. Jimmy is goofy, stutters, he is a wimp, nerd, bookworm. Tony is the complete opposite. He has classic features, hard body, an athlete; Tony is everything that a man should be. And really, how the hell if Tony really is gay or bisexual or whatever; how the hell could he prefer Jimmy over you? And isn't that the real betrayal; how could Tony not choose you?

By the time that he caught her, Abby was halfway out the parking garage door. Gibbs latched onto her arm and swung her around and started in surprise. Tears were streaming down her face. Abby lashed out at him verbally and physically with a shocked Ziva and Tim standing helplessly by watching Gibbs absorb the punishment. A passing probationary agent was startled to witness the tears and the hysterics and the anger and went for help. By the time he returned, Abby was cradled in Gibbs' arms sobbing over and over that she wanted him back and since he caused it, Gibbs had to fix it. The agents that responded for the cry for help quickly came to the conclusion that Tony was gone and dispersed rapidly. It was much better for everyone else for Abby to shatter and for Gibbs and the remainder of his team to pick up the pieces.

In a sudden epiphany Gibbs realized that Tony had somehow replaced Gibbs as number one in her heart and she was more worried about Tony's feelings and mental state than she was his. And while right now there was no winner in this situation, it hurt to discover that Abby would not side with him. So very carefully he chose his words and tried to explain what happened, using sign when he didn't want to or couldn't speak aloud the feelings that were in his heart, promising to do everything to bring Tony back. It was uncomfortable as hell and he would have rather chewed his arm off than talk about it to his team, here at the Agency especially, but it was necessary that he make her understand. Gibbs knew that if he could get Abby to understand that he was surprised at the information and not biased, only then would he have an ally in a war he wanted so very badly to win.

From then on people were kind and gentle with a broken Abby and hurt Tim and Ziva but fierce in their dealings with Gibbs.

A week turned into a month, then two, then four, then six, and then a year. They had all changed in the months since Tony left. All of them would make their way to Tony's apartment at one time or another during the week and just sit outside and wait; hoping that today would be the day that Tony came home.

Jimmy wasn't afraid of and was now very scornful of Gibbs. He spoke or communicated in some way with Tony every week or so, sometimes more often, but kept it to himself. None of the team members had ever asked him that question and he'd be damned if he volunteered the information. He kept his friend abreast of the goings on in DC, the fact that Gibbs was actively trying to get in contact with Tony, but never mentioned the events that led up to Tony leaving his home. Gibbs' behavior towards Tony was unforgivable in Jimmy's eyes but he would not hurt his friend further by speaking of it.

Ducky was ever the peacemaker trying to right the wrongs but Gibbs would not tell him what the issue was and somewhere young Mr. Palmer had grown a backbone of pure steel. Whatever Jethro had done to run Tony off - Ducky was certain the blame lied squarely with him based upon the reactions of Abby and Jimmy - must have been horrendous and he was almost afraid to find out. While he was certain that the two young men kept in touch, he was hesitant to ask Jimmy outright. Ducky made sure to end each day with a request that *if* Jimmy heard from Tony to please let him know that Ducky was thinking of him and missed spending time with him. When Ducky got his first letter at home from Tony, he was pleasantly surprised even though it was a brief 'Miss you like crazy Ducky' with some news of his goings on and no return address. Each successive one came from a different post mark and were generally short and to the point. Ducky would always cherish the photographs that his young friend sent him of his home country along with a new tea set. He would not betray Tony's trust any more than Jimmy would, besides by the time Ducky received them, Tony was long gone from wherever he mailed the letter.

Gibbs was so ashamed of his actions and manner towards Tony and disconsolate that he may never have the chance to repair the damage and apologize. He hoped like hell he would have a chance to explain that he was jealous of Jimmy and not abhorrent of his lifestyle. At one time agents changed on his team like he changed his shirt but Tony had always been the one constant. He was able to admit to himself that he had taken it for granted that Tony would stick no matter what however he treated the younger man. He refused to transfer Tim out to another team and lose another one.

Tim was sad that Tony left but he had rapidly figured out the lay of the land since that day due to the fact that he accompanied Abby to one of her clubs one night and saw Jimmy with a friend. He was ashamed of Gibbs and hurt for his friend. Tim would have transferred out but Gibbs refused. Tim was also afraid that if he had transferred and Tony came back, Tim would have missed him. If there was anything that he had learned from Tony it was to question something if it didn't feel right even if it meant questioning Gibbs himself. And Tim desperately wanted the chance to apologize for ignoring what he had been taught by blindly following Gibbs' lead even when it didn't feel right to him.

Abby was sad and hurt that Gibbs could run Tony off after all they had been through to keep him and couldn't figure out why Tony hadn't he called, emailed, texted, or im'd her, she was still his friend. She finally realized that her past actions and reactions by always putting Gibbs in front of Tony would color his reasoning. Why would he put himself in the position of forcing Abby to choose between them when historically Tony had always come out the loser. But she *knew* about his alternative lifestyle and had no problems with it and was appalled that Tony felt so badly for so long that he finally left, and she could not forgive Gibbs for making him feel that way and them for following Gibbs' lead. Because Abby knew that Tony would never come back unless he was wanted to and it would take a long time to earn his trust back, if ever.

Ziva wasn't sure what the problem was but while she missed Tony, the stress in the bullpen was more bearable with him gone. The year before Tony left was a terrible strain on all of them. She did not want a different leader and decided that Tony must have done something terrible for Gibbs to treat him differently all of a sudden but she could not figure out what that was. She sensed a change in the attitudes of everyone else around her towards Gibbs and knew that it was because of Tony abrupt departure. But what puzzled her more was that Abby, who had always sided with him no matter what, was not forgiving Gibbs.

They followed Tony's progress from Atlanta to Seattle to Boston to LA and back to Atlanta always one step behind him as he crisscrossed the country and on more than one occasion the globe. By the time they heard he was in one place he was gone again off to another.

It wasn't until the sixth month Tim made a discovery talking to Vance's secretary. It seemed that the Director directly chose Tony's assignments based upon where the need was most. Team problems, man down, stuck on a case just call Director Vance and he will send DiNozzo. The only catch was that when he was there Tony led, if he made a recommendation; you followed it long after he was gone or you didn't have a job. Some of the assignments were classified undercover operations but most were not. Reports came directly to Vance and were given to her to file upon completion of his assignment. Tony was a fixer and damn good at it.

But where ever he went, he left with glowing praises from the people there. It wasn't even the position he was originally sent to do but one made up for him - and his assistant. They made a striking pair and there was rampant speculation that they were lovers. If you wanted Tony you went through Claire Ferrari. She ran the show. If Claire said jump you said how high because if you didn't work with her and give her what she wanted with little or no attitude; Tony would be gone and so would you.

Tim reported this to the team when they were all gathered at lunch that day. Gibbs was even more aggravated. He did not want to have to ask Vance for Tony's whereabouts; even though it was probably no secret that Tony had not kept in contact with any of them. But more upsetting was the idea that if he were involved with this woman than there was probably a snow ball's chance in hell of Gibbs getting what he wanted, Anthony DiNozzo.

On a random Tuesday night when there was too much paperwork to complete in a day, Tim came back to work after dinner. Sitting there in his desk he thought over the past year and the changes they had gone through in the last nine. He missed Tony, they all did and his desk remained unused as though Gibbs thought he would appear through Abby's voodoo majik. Tim had no idea how long he sat there just staring at Tony's desk, shoulders tense, with a melancholic look on his face. He had no idea that he had been watched for several long minutes from the balcony. If he had, Tim might have schooled his features to hide his thoughts and the moment would have been missed. His head popped up and eyes scanned around at the word "Probie," spoken in that teasing voice he sometimes heard in his happiest of dreams from before when it was Tim and Tony and Kate.

He shot out of his chair knocking it over but couldn't stop the slump of his shoulders in relief, the bubble of happiness that consumed him and burst forth in a childish whoop of happiness, or the smile that threatened to split his entire face open at the sight of his friend coming down from the balcony; shooting him a cocky wink.

Tony looked great, tanned and with sun bleached hair. He had regained the weight he had lost and filled out. He looked happy. In the split second that it took him to process everything, Tim realized that this was the Tony that he had met all those years ago in Norfolk and had worked with up until the minute Kate was killed and he had missed him.

Tony ushered a beautiful woman down the stairs before Tim reached them, almost bowling Tony over, and pulled him into a bruising hug with a heartfelt "You're back! You've been gone for soo long. I missed you." And they both knew it wasn't just the past year he was talking about.

Claire ushered Tony towards the elevator and out the door. Tony asked Tim if he would like to go with them and he jumped on the chance. Tim followed closely, afraid to let their car even get out of his sight even though he knew their destination and traveled it just as easily as he did the route to his own home.

When they got to Tony's, Tim was amazed. There making themselves at home on Tony's couch and recliner were two men with an empty pizza box and several empty bottles of beer on the coffee table between them. They were easily comfortable in Tony's home and Tim could tell that they had been there before. He was reminded that there was much about Tony's life he did not know.

Tony introduced Tim to his team: Brant Whittaker, Mikal Barba, and course Claire Ferrari.

Claire had a melodic voice in a slow Southern drawl that Tim pegged as coming from Georgia. Her warm caramel colored skin, big brown eyes, long flowing hair, shapely figure and flawless complexion could have made her a beauty queen in a former life. In her 3 inch stilettos, she came slightly above Tony's shoulders.

Brant was a hulking man with a Midwestern accent to his deep voice, buzzed blond hair, brown eyes, and a medium complexion. He was easily as tall and as broad as Tony but his thick neck, stocky build, and stance made Tim sure he had a military background.

Mikal was lithe and slightly shorter than Tony with light brown, messy hair, green eyes, glasses, and a harsh New York accent.

They turned back to the game when Jimmy came out of the bathroom. He greeted Tony with a hug and a kiss pressed to his forehead and a "Welcome home, I missed you." In that split second everything slid into place for Tim. He now knew for a fact that the reason that Tony left was because Gibbs had found out Tony and Jimmy were in a relationship and abused Tony for it. Tim also knew that whatever *had* been between Tony and Jimmy was over and had turned into a solid friendship with more, like he and Abby. They were still Jimmy and Tony, two of his best friends.

When he noticed Tim, Jimmy stiffened up and withdrew. Tim learned a lot from the master over the years about deflecting humor so without hesitation he flung open his arms and yelled, "JIMMY! What about me?" The room filled with laughter as a chuckling Jimmy gave Tim and hug and kiss and said that he missed Tim too.

Claire ordered more pizza and they settled in laughing and talking and watching the game. Around 11:00 Claire noticed that Brant fell asleep on the couch and Mikal in the chair. It was a combination of too little sleep, too much beer, and a feeling of safety and comfort that did them in. Shortly after, Claire and Jimmy left.

Tony and Tim continued talking throughout the night. It was easy. Tony spoke of his travels and some of his cases. He told how he first met Claire years ago and how things fell into place when they met again. How he felt putting together his own team; choosing Mikal as his electronic guru when the workload got more complicated and adding Brant to pick up the slack when it became too much for him.

Tim talked of how things changed when Tony left and not for the better. He spoke of his request for a transfer and his confused emotions when it was denied. He apologized for his actions and reactions to the situation between Gibbs and Tony and how ashamed he was for turning his back on him and for not being the type of friend Tony had been to him. Tim also expressed how much better Tony looked, how he hadn't realized until this night that the old Tony had disappeared.

They talked about Kate and their best memories of the time 'before'. Tony spoke honestly about the things that led him to this place and time and Tim *listened*. It was with great surprise that they noted the sun was coming over the horizon and the beer was gone. For the first time in a very long time Tim called in sick to work. He left a voicemail for Vance and Gibbs and sent texts to Abby and Ziva then shut his phone off. Tony offered Tim his bed saying he would crash on the floor but... Tim refused. Tim argued that they could share a bed like adults. They had several times in the past when working away on a case and nothing had changed now except for the fact that they had gotten older and Tony's bed was a damned sight better than some no-tell motel. Besides, Tony just wasn't his type; Tim preferred his lovers to have bigger breasts and no penis was a must.

Tim stumbled out of the darkened bedroom just four short hours later feeling completely awake and refreshed. He found Claire and Tony in the kitchen just finishing making breakfast and Brant and Mikal were bussing everything to the table. The men sat down to a leisurely breakfast of pancakes, bacon, sausage, and scrambled eggs while Claire stuck to some yogurt and a bagel, and plenty of rich coffee.

After the remains were put away and the dishes loaded into the dishwasher, Brant and Mikal left telling Tony they would check back with him later. Claire went into Tony's office to finish up some paperwork. Tim and Tony talked for a few minutes more as Tim prepared to leave. He pulled Tony into a warm hug. Suddenly the door opened and there was a shriek and a blur and Tony had an arm full of Abby who was crying and laughing and hanging on for dear life. And Tony was smushed in the between two of the people he loved the most.

At a small noise, Tony looked up and saw Gibbs. They took each other in, noting the scars and stress lines and changes in each other. And Tony smiled at him, big, open and genuine, and somehow Gibbs knew, if he could find a way and the strength to say what needed to be said, and if Tony was willing to give him a chance to discuss things, it could be all right.

CHAPTER FOUR

Six months. Six months Tony had been back in D.C. and Gibbs still had not been able to get him alone and talk to him. Gibbs did think it could be all right. But as much as he wanted to just pretend the year without Tony hadn't happened and the year before it neither, Gibbs knew that they had underlying issues and they just would not go away as evidenced by their non-relationship. Deep down Gibbs knew that if he had just taken the time to talk to Tony when this whole mess began and been non-judgmental and *told* Tony that he wanted to bend the hell out of Rule 12, that this most likely would have been avoided. That what was making this even more frustrating. He couldn't get Tony alone.

It started all the way back on the day he first found out that Tony had come home. He was stunned into inaction and missed his opportunity. Abby's car had broken down at some club the night before and Gibbs had gone to pick her up. She ended up spending the night at his house. In a twist of fate that he would be forever grateful for, Gibbs ended up oversleeping. He checked his voicemail and discovered that Tim left a message saying he would not be in. McGee had been working pretty hard and truly did sound terrible. Gibbs called Ziva to say that he would be there later and for her to start on a cold case. A half hour later, Gibbs loaded Abby into the car. He didn't even think about the route he was taking when Abby screeched for him to stop. Slamming on his brakes and throwing an arm out to brace her he looked for whatever road hazard she saw. Abby pointed to the street and Gibbs saw McGee's Porsche parked outside of Tony's building, and looking up, he saw lights on in Tony's unit. Gibbs whipped into the parking lot and had to catch up with Abby who was out of the vehicle before he even had it in park. They rode the elevator in hopeful silence.

Abby was going to knock when Gibbs noticed the door was not shut tightly. She pushed it open and in front of them saw Tony and Tim in an embrace. Abby ran screaming to Tony crying and laughing and wrapped her arms around both of them. Gibbs stood there observing them quietly. He noticed that Tony looked better, younger somehow. A hit of movement caught his eye and he turned to find a stunningly beautiful woman watching them. As he took her in, he saw the subtle movement as she re-holstered her weapon, gave Gibbs a smile, and turned back down the hall. Tony looked over at that moment and saw him. He smiled big, open and joyous and looked so genuinely happy to see Gibbs that it just took Gibbs' breath away. He walked over and tried to give the younger man a hug but it was awkward to do so around Tim and Abby. Looking into those sparkling green eyes, Gibbs had to clear his throat to rid the lump that had formed before he could utter, "I'm so glad you're home. I missed you." That earned him an even bigger smile and a "Missed you too Gibbs" before all hell broke loose.

A vehement curse from the other room had Tony shoving the younger couple away from him and turning towards the hall. A woman came flying into the room and threw a bag at Tony. As he got a better look at her, Gibbs was surprised not only by how tiny she was but by how she was garbed. The woman was clad only in a slim mid-thigh black skirt and a black lace bra that she threatened to spill out of as she hopped around donning a pair of leopard print pencil thin heels; seemingly not bothered by the three people in the room watching her with wide eyes of amazement. She shrugged into a flattering leopard pattern blouse that flared over her hips; clipped a waist holster with a SIG on to the waist of her skirt, clipped a badge around her neck, fluffed her hair and announced, "Done."

While she was getting prepared, Tony had pulled items from the rucksack and donned them; a flack jacket with loops and holes at the bottom, a pair of boots, and a baseball hat with the NCIS logo on it riddled with several small bullet holes. From the bag he took out some items and attached them to his jacket; a knife, a flare gun and some flares, a mini flashlight, and several clips for the weapon that was holstered on his waistband and last but not least his badge. He was lacing up his boots when she announced she was finished.

"You don't get brownie points for finishing before me ya know."

With a sniff and her nose held high she said in a rather snooty tone of voice, "Then YOU don't get coffee."

Tony glared at her a bit before giving in with a chuckle, "Fine," to which she smiled serenely and nodded her head graciously. Tony opened a closet and pulled a backpack that he shouldered and a messenger bag that he handed off to her. With an order to "Lock the door behind you when you leave," they were gone.

And that was the way it seemed to work. Tony's team would get called out on some assignment or Gibbs' would. Occasionally they would have the same day in the office but if Gibbs was doing paperwork then Tony would be training his team in the gym or vice versa. And Gibbs had the additional irritation of breaking in a new probationary agent. Gibbs had been scheduling training sessions on the spur of the moment in the hope of catching Tony in the gym and sparring with him but something must have been conspiring against him because he was having no luck. Even his usual conference room had failed him. Twice they had been the only ones in the elevator and both times they were interrupted; once by his cell and once by Tony's.

And Gibbs *still* didn't know what the hell Tony and his team did. They weren't a MCRT team as far as he could tell, but they did go out into the field. And that woman, Claire, she wore these crazy shoes and skirts, high dollar fashion, all the time. What the hell did she do that allowed her to dress like she did? Oh, Gibbs had heard the rumors about them sleeping together and maybe that was true if that day in Tony's apartment were any indication; but he hoped that it wasn't. He just didn't see Tony keeping an opening on his team for eye candy and if she were just that why would she be armed to the teeth. Gibbs had faintly seen the outline of a knife in her waistband once when they were in the elevator together; adding that to the gun at her hip and the blade in her garter that flashed through the slit in her skirts and those deadly shoes meant she was a force to be reckoned with. Brant was the muscle of the team, that much was obvious, but he was quick on his feet and no slouch in the brains department. Mikal was a competent agent who was highly competitive and computer genius, high praise coming from McGee. Tony had surrounded himself with extremely capable and *loyal* people, but for what ends?

The longer Gibbs was forced to wait the more his feeling for Tony grew. More than once he caught himself staring over towards Tony. Tony's team was stationed back behind McGee's desk and his desk was kiddy cornered from Gibbs' own. Whenever green eyes met blue from across the room, Gibbs simply could not help the lifting of the corner of his lips and crinkling of his eyes. Gibbs felt like a school girl with a crush.

Their teams interacted well too. From where Gibbs sat, he could see paperclips being thrown, rubber band wars, and paper ball fights. All the things that used to happen with regularity when Tony was on his team, although there had been no super gluing anyone to anything from what he could tell. However Tony was *not* the instigator, Mikal was. A few of the projectiles had been lobbed over the partition to McGee or Ziva to be returned handily. Occasionally Claire and Gibbs' TAD agent would join in. After that initial first volley, whenever they were in office together Ziva and McGee would play with Mikal and Brant. One time McGee threw a paper ball at Tony who caught it mid-air and whipped straight at Gibbs, bouncing it off his forehead. Six junior agents quickly dropped their heads and pretended to work in stunned silence while a hissed "YES!" could be heard coming from the direction of Tony's desk. Gibbs shot the other Senior Agent a twinkling glare with no heat and growled, "Payback's a bitch DiNozzo." The look in Tony's eyes was enough of a challenge for Gibbs.

Gibbs and Tony started to pull each other's pigtails. Little things to tweak the other in gentle fun and to show interest. Tony's coffee was replaced with black sludge when he turned his back to dig something out of the filing cabinet. After returning from the head, Gibbs' reading glasses were missing and in their place on his desk was a folding blind cane. Tony returned from an altercation with a suspect to change out of his destroyed dress shirt only to find a tee shirt bearing the logo 'Marines Rule'. The health food place that Kate so loved delivered Gibbs' lunch order, consisting of a tofu wrap, leafy salad, and prune juice in place of his burrito, refried beans, and coffee the same day Tony received a Boca burger, vegetable sticks, and carrot juice in place of his cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke (*that* led to a shared look across the bullpen and nonverbal gentlemen's agreement on so called healthy food). Gibbs' screen saver became a marquee proclaiming 'I'm such a fan girl. SQUEE!' that was password protected (Tim choked on his coffee and fled when Gibbs asked him what it meant and Mikal pled ignorance, even though his reddened face and ears gave away his lie). Tony found the books 'Boat Building for Dummies' (illustrated with pictures of the actual tools necessary and what planks of wood looked like) and 'Silence is Golden, How to Speak Volumes without Saying a Word' in his locked desk drawer. Little things that were heading on the right path but they still hadn't had time to just *be* together.

Gibbs had come to terms with the fact that he desired Tony and gotten a little - territorial - when it came to him. His participation in the practical jokes was meant as an olive branch that Tony was quick to recognize and accept. It started small enough, without involving their subordinates, that's not to say certain junior agents weren't aware of what was going on, they just pretended to be oblivious and got together later and compared notes. McGee had been on their team for many years and remembered when they all participated in the pranks. He also realized that Gibbs was extremely jealous of anyone who even *looked* crossways at Tony and vice versa. Abby studiously poured over the security tapes, catching the looks of promise between them and the looks of loss towards the other man's desk when he was not seated in it. Claire would harrumph at Tony with a smirk and a knowing look whenever she caught him looking towards Gibbs' desk and was not above teasing him about it when they were alone. Ducky lent a word of encouragement to both men when they came to see him.

The last Friday in July Gibbs' team was on call but had the weekend free if a new case didn't come in. At ten minutes before five, Gibbs walked over to Tony's desk and leaned against it waiting for Tony to get off the phone. He was tired of waiting and nudged the younger man. Tony looked up at Gibbs and smiled. He finished his call and hung up.

Tony's eyes sparkled mischievously, biting his lower lip he asked, "Wanna borrow a book?"

Gibbs snorted out a laugh. "Nope. Dinner, my place in an hour?"

Tony asked if he could bring anything to which Gibbs leaned down and whispered, "Maybe your toothbrush?"

Tony nodded his acceptance and grinned, "And I'll bring the beer."

Gibbs strolled away smirking and whistling… which was promptly cut off by the ringing of his phone and a heartfelt "Fucking shit!" coming from Tony and the banging of his head on his desk. Gibbs agreed and just wanted to shoot somebody. After that, Gibbs' team was on the run and dinner with Tony was takeaway delivered by the man in question. Their case was just wrapping up when Tony's team got called out. It seemed they could not catch a break.

Labor Day weekend Gibbs pulled his team off call for a well deserved break and Abby had planned a picnic at Rock Creek. The entire team was there, even Palmer. Gibbs' jaw dropped in amazement when he spied Tony, Brant, and Mikal walking over to join them. At his look, Tony simply grinned and held up an 8x10 sheet of paper decorated with skulls and crossbones demanding his entire team's presence or else she would kill him and leave no forensic evidence. "Better safe than sorry Gibbs." The only one missing from Tony's team was Claire, she had previous plans. They enjoyed their meal in leisure, the first time in a long time that they were able to just converse and enjoy the beautiful day with their friends.

After the meal, Tony and Jimmy became engaged in a heated discussion, over movies of all things, and James Bond in particular. Conversation stopped in amazement as no one on team Gibbs had never seen this side of their relationship. They soon were in each other's personal space arguing loudly over their respective sides. It ended with, of all things, Jim flicking Tony on the forehead and calling him an idiot. Abby clapped her hands over her mouth, eyes wide, as Tony tackled Jim to the ground. Both Ducky and Ziva stood prepared to intervene as Tony and Jim rolled around on the ground, struggling for dominance.

Gibbs looked sick and continued to watch, unable to look away, feelings of anger and hurt and jealousy coming to the surface. Gibbs was a man of action and few words. He didn't talk about his feelings, he just wasn't that guy. So how did someone who wasn't that guy become him, at least to a degree? Now that Tony was back, seeing him interact with Palmer made the green eyed monster return and caused him to reevaluate all those promises he made to himself to talk to Tony and take it slow. FUCK.

Gibbs was fairly certain that he could keep Tony satisfied if he could just *get* him; age and experience does have its benefits over youth and flexibility. He wanted nothing more than to drag Tony off by his hair somewhere and claim him body and soul and wasn't above stamping a tattoo on Tony's forehead and ass that read 'Property of LJ Gibbs'. But kidnapping was a felony and Fornell would cackle his damn fool head off when he arrested Jethro. Not only would Abby and Tim help in the search, they would lead the way, pointing him out with a big bright spotlight for taking Tony away from them after all of this time. That was unless Abby made good on her threat by helping Tim kill him and leaving no evidence, which was really the more likely option now that he thought about it. Killing Palmer was out because then Ducky would have his head for disposing of the young man that Ducky had been so meticulously training all these years. And you don't piss off your only friend and ally especially when he can perform an autopsy on a live patient without as much as a grimace.

As he stood there watching, he slowly took notice that there was nothing sexual in their play. Gibbs realized the two men rolling around on the deck were simply good friends horsing around. Tony's two team members weren't bothered and Tim didn't seem to be too surprised. Brant and Mikal looked on seemingly bored and passed a bag of chips between them.

Brant held up his drink and asked Mikal "Beer?"

Mikal accepted with a nod, "Thanks."

Mikal offered Tim the bag of chips and commented, "'Claire's gonna be pissed if Tony ruins that outfit after she got him all dressed up so nice and purty."

At this comment Tony's head popped up with a grin, "Hey, I resemble that remark."

Jim took advantage of his distraction and pinned Tony to the ground with his right hand heavy on Tony's chest, pointing an imaginary sword at him with a flick of his wrist, "Surrender!"

Tony cried out "Nev-ah."

In a combination move, Tony rolled out to the left while using his right arm to pull Jim's right wrist. Jim landed hard with a loud "'Oof."

Tony escaped and nimbly leapt to his feet. He ran towards the picnic table, picked up his backpack, and pulled out ammunition, water balloons, and landed one squarely to the back of Jim's head. Soon all of the young people were running, dodging, and getting each other soaked and laughing.

Abby's indignant screech of "TONY!" came instantaneously as she was bombed with ice cold balloon.

Tony quickly offered an apology and an excuse, "Sorry Abbs. Take it like a man Probie. Shame on you for ducking behind Abby like that."

Abby's yelled even louder, "TIMOTHY MCGEE"

Tony's laughter followed as Tim grumbled, "Thanks a lot Tony."

There was a seemingly endless supply of balloons and water was readily available. Ducky was watching them with an amused smile on his face and clucked, "Children."

Gibbs turned to say something to his friend when he was hit square in the chest with an ice cold balloon. Only one person would dare, "DiNozzo, your ass is mine."

"Yeah, yeah, promises, promises." Sparkling blue eyes met mischievous green and the air sizzled.

With just a hint of a smirk the gauntlet was thrown down, "'I don't think you can catch me Gunny."

And he was off with peal of laughter and fresh ammunition. Gibbs deliberately walked over to the table, put two empty balloons in his pocket, and filled two more from Abby's water jug.

Gibbs was stopped by Ducky, "Jethro."

He looked up questioningly, "Duck?"

Ducky smiled at his old friend. It had been quite some time since he had last seen that particular light in his eyes. He doled out a bit of advice as he polished his glasses, "Do remember that there are families with young children running about. You wouldn't want to have to explain anything *personal* to an irate parent… or the police. I'll keep an eye on the other children."

Gibbs nodded his thanks and stole off. Tracking his quarry was actually pretty hard to do. There were young children running about everywhere. The dense tree cover ensured plenty of places to hide. An enterprising pair of twin boys came to Gibbs' assistance. They had seen Tony duck and hide, for $5 they would narc him out. Gibbs gave the pair a $10 bill, got the location, and thanked them. Once he was out of sight, they gleefully waved three $10 bills and ran back to their parents.

Carefully he snuck into the tree line and crept slowly towards Tony. Gibbs was right upon him when Tony turned around abruptly, yanked Gibbs forward by his shirt, and stole a kiss.

Quietly, with seriousness blazing out of his eyes, Tony asked in a husky voice "Now that you caught me Gunny, what are you going to do with me?"

They stood there for a long minute saying nothing. Gibbs reached up, ghosting his thumb over Tony's lips and across his cheek. Tony closed his eyes, sighing, and leaned into the caress. Gibbs stepped closer, running his lips over the strong jaw, nibbling up to his ear, before breathing into it.

"Keep you."

CHAPTER FIVE

Very gently almost as to not startle him, Gibbs pulled back slightly looking into Tony's eyes before leaning forward to continue, just an echo of Tony's kiss. It was soft and gentle and filled with promise. They moved closer intent on continuing their exploration when they were interrupted.

"Gibbs! Gibbs! Where are you? Anthony David DiNozzo!"

Abby sounded equal parts worried equal parts pissed off. Neither man wanted to be caught out like they were, even if it was Abby. Practical jokes were one thing but this was entirely different. Tony picked up his two remaining balloons and squeezed one in his hair dribbling water down his neck. He passed the other to Gibbs who popped his close to his thigh letting the water run down his leg.

Gibbs called out to Abby that they were coming. Donning their public facades they stepped out of the woods and jogged over to her. Abby critically eyed them both before pinning Tony, "Your phone rang. Mikal picked it up. It was Claire. You have a case." It was unusually succinct and her entire demeanor held no warmth as she spun around and stalked back towards the others.

The trio made their way back to the rest of the group in silence. Every attempt made to speak with Abby was returned in single word answers and Tony let it go. Gibbs and Tony exchanged glances but neither could pin down one reason she was so pissed. Sometimes it was the little things with Abby.

Gibbs questioned Tony, "Thought you had the weekend off."

Tony sighed, "We were supposed to."

As they arrived Tony's phone started ringing, its personalized ringtone for Claire making the members of Gibbs' team angry, irritated, and uncomfortable. The trouble with having a genius on your team, Tony discovered, is if you say something can't be done he would go out of his way to prove you wrong. One undercover op, leave your personal phone out, and suddenly you have a new custom ringtone that is *locked* and you can't change it. Mikal had recorded Claire's verbal lashing, saved only the part where Tony's name was screeched, and then he and Brant voiced over it to hassle their boss a little. The first time Tony heard it, he dropped his cup of coffee and whipped around to see where she was, which had the 'boys' supporting each other while laughing helplessly. The resulting personalization was pretty funny, if you knew it for the joke it was and, after just over a year, he wasn't bothered by it and never even gave it much thought at all. The thing was Team Gibbs didn't know that it was a joke.

'{Claire's voice} Anthony David DiNozzo! {Brant & Mikal} cat calls {Brant} Uh-ho Boss. Your *wife* is calling and she sounds pissed. {Mikal} Boss! Your *wife* is on the phone, man! {Brant & Mikal} hoots of laughter'

Brant tossed Tony the phone and shot his boss a quizzical look, but Tony just shrugged his shoulders. "Claire? No. What?"

The screeching tone was audible to everyone, but not the words. Ducky quietly got his attention, "Anthony?"

Tony turned to back and gave a smile that didn't quite make it to his eyes. "Don't worry Duck."

Turning his full attention to the call, Tony's voice took on a serious tone as he walked off a bit. He started shooting off rapid fire questions. Both of his agents jumped up, grabbed their things, and said their thanks to everyone, all the while paying close attention to Tony's end of the conversation. The change from relaxed and at play to deadly and dangerous was made in a single breath. Eavesdropping shamelessly, Ziva suddenly sat up straighter and gasped.

Gibbs approached and called softly to get her attention, "'What is it Ziver?"

"Something has happened. They are leaving now. She is getting a COD from Atlanta and will meet them at sea. He told her to keep an eye out and arm up before leaving and to not let anyone hassle her. If she has any problems she is to let him know immediately. They will be waiting for her."

Tony snapped his phone shut to Brant's question, "Where we going Boss?'

The group waited anxiously for his terse answer, "Land of sun and sand."

The real answer for the rest of the group was Mikal's muttered, "Fuck, I hate Africa."

They started towards their vehicle only to be stopped by Abby. She ran to Tony and enveloped him in a hug, tears streaming down her face, "'I'm sorry. I love you. Don't get dead."

Tony gathered her close and pressed a kiss to the side of her forehead. With a searching look straight at Gibbs as he spoke, "I have a lot to come back for. I love you." With a satisfied half smile at Gibbs' nod, Tony pulled back from the embrace, gave one more kiss to Abby's forehead, he was gone.

The resulting weeks were tense and the atmosphere in the bullpen steadily deteriorated. Agency wide, staff members were aware of that something was going on with the Washington MCRT but no one knew what. This time everyone from Ducky to Abby to Ziva was short tempered. It was down to either venting their frustrations and worry on each other or hapless criminals, the other teams almost felt sorry for any perpetrator that Gibbs' team went after, almost. They were highly motivated to solve their cases because, if for some reason Tony needed them, they wanted to be available. The team's last contact with Tony was at the picnic. Gibbs' daily questions to the Director were met with no new news and the slamming of the door to Vance's office got louder and more violent each day.

Vance would not give out the details of the mission, but one night after no word from the team in over six weeks Vance stood on the balcony looking down. Taking in Gibbs' haggard appearance as he stared off into space towards Tony's desk he had a moment of sympathy and told him that the situation was not good. A valuable asset had been lost and if it couldn't be retrieved then it was to be destroyed. The last time they had contact with the team was before they went after it, they had landed in the hot zone safely, as safely as you can get in an unsecured war zone anyway, and started on their mission. Tony was supposed to make contact when it had been recovered or destroyed. The US was not making enquiries because there had been no chatter about Americans being captured and no one wanted to give away their presence. Vance felt it wouldn't be much longer, Tony was the best and his team was hand chosen and trained. They would complete the mission one way or another.

In a rare moment of brutal honesty with the full team present, Gibbs broke down in Autopsy and answered Ducky's question on how he was holding up. Silent tears coursed down his face. "I've never been on this side of it Duck. I was always the one going off to war when I was in the Marines and then off on missions in my earlier days here at NCIS. Shannon, Kelly, Dianne, Karen, Stephanie, even Jenny were always the ones that stayed behind. And I swear Duck, whenever they would say anything about me going, and every one of them did at one time or another, I would get so pissed that they weren't supporting me. I was doing my job protecting them - risking my life for my country - and here they were safe at home bitching about how hard they had it. I never had to wait… I never knew how *hard* it was... with not a single word… the not *knowing*. I owe them ALL an apology, a thousand apologies."

Gibbs' voice caught, "I can't sleep, can't eat, all these questions running around in my head over and over. Every day I come in thinking, wondering if today is the day that we get the news that Tony is dead? Every night I'm half relieved, half angry because there was no news. Every day I lose more and more hope. I'm a soldier Duck; I know the risks and the chances of him coming home now after so long without contact. And I keep questioning with no answer. Tony… I know deep in my heart he would have found some way to contact us, if he was still alive, knowing we were here waiting. He would have. Tony hates, *hates*, to make anyone worry about him, especially Abby. Did he die thinking it was okay and no one would care? That no one *loved* him? Did it happen the day he set foot on their soil or was it yesterday? Was he deep in country or did it happen when he was so close he could see home? Was anyone there comfort him, to hold his hand and tell him it was okay to go? Did anyone tell him to fight and hang on, to come home to me? Was he given a proper burial or was he dumped like some piece of garbage? Was he cold? You know that he had trouble keeping warm since he had the plague. Was it over mercifully quick or painfully drawn out? Did he die calling my name? Could I have saved him if I had been there? And worst of all is was he afraid, was he alone, Duck?"

Gibbs voiced the questions that they each had thought. Everyone looked at Gibbs, stricken and thinking the same thing; there was something so wrong in the world at the sight of their normally stoic soldier crying. The silence in the room was broken by the harsh jangling of Gibbs' phone. When he made for the stairs, Ducky grabbed his arm and led him to the elevator. They were a family and all would support him no matter what the news. They would celebrate together or grieve together.

A hush fell over the bullpen and agents stopped what they were doing as they watched Gibbs' team somberly proceed into MTAC. Suddenly it clicked into place for a few of the other Seniors. Tony and his team were missing and had been for weeks. Emails flew across the Yard, across the country, and across globe. The general atmosphere was nervous and fraught with tension. Everyone liked Tony and his team fit in seamlessly with Gibbs' now that the lingering tension between the two leaders was gone. Older agents gave warnings to the younger, newer agents about how crazed Gibbs became when it was one of his own, but it was ten times worse when it was DiNozzo. They whispered tales of Gibbs' team's daring with an Under-Secretary, an FBI/Hammas mole, heads of various agencies, CIA spooks. Warned of the impending apocalypse should anything happen to the younger man. Predicted that the team would not rest until he was brought home, dead or alive. They waited for the news. Would they celebrate his return or mourn his loss with his family?

They filed into MTAC and waited in the stillness with Director Vance. Minutes dragged by, raising tensions until nerves were taut, after ten long minutes the screen flickered to life. SEAL Team 3 aboard the USS Seahawk was on patrol in the Arabian Sea when they picked two males and two females in a life raft. Both males and one of the females were suffering from various injuries and dehydration but the other female passed away from a gunshot wound before she was onboard the ship. The survivors were identified as Brant, Mikal, and Claire; Tony was not with them and they had no idea where he was. There was complete silence as the news sunk in when another call came online. Abby was the first to notice him and yelled his name excitedly. All attention was directed to the other side of the split screen. Tony was aboard the USS Enterprise 100 miles south of the Seahawk. His skin was a dark, even tan and his hair wassun bleached but he looked to be uninjured. Tony indicated only that his mission successful. Then was asked about his team and how soon they could go home. Then Gibbs' team was ushered out of MTAC in order that Tony could give the details of the classified mission.

Vance noticed that Gibbs was only slightly less tense after seeing Tony in MTAC than he was before and called him upstairs. He knew that his top two agents had a history and Gibbs would not relax until Tony was safely in DC. Vance relayed that Tony's team were being flown to Germany before returning to the US. They had recovered the information, the asset was destroyed, and he had gained a package. Arrangements were made for the entire team to be reunited stateside. Thirty-six hours later the three members of Tony's team were ensconced in Bethesda in a single room. Tony spent most of his time there and Vance went to them for the debriefings.

Gibbs had not seen Tony but knew he was in DC. He had received an all too brief email with only the word 'Ramstein' followed by one with 'Home.'

Gibbs' day was shot to hell when he got a case and then they were on the run looking for an abducted child. By the time he got home five days later, Gibbs was worn out, stressed out, and hurting. Vance gave them the next four days to get rested and all he wanted to do was find Tony, but first he needed sleep. It was a testament to how exhausted he was that he didn't notice anything amiss until he got to his bedroom and found Tony crashed out on his bed bare chested, in a pair of sleeping pants. Gibbs tilted his head shaking it to see if the hallucination cleared. When it didn't, he walked over to the side of the bed and knelt down. Gibbs searched the face of the man he thought he would never see again.

Tony opened his eyes and smiled at him. He reached out a hand and wiped the tears Gibbs didn't notice were falling from his eyes, "I told you I had a lot to come home for."

They stared at each other until the silence was broken by Tony. "I came here tonight because after everything that happened I don't want to waste another minute. Are you okay with this? All of it? I can leave. It isn't just me. My team… you think Abby is in your pocket? Nothing happens without these three knowing and approving. Plus I picked up something in Somalia."

Tony rose and took Gibbs' hand. "I'm a package deal Jethro."

They went down the hall towards the second bedroom. There lying in the bed was a small little boy with jet black hair. Gibbs looked at him questioningly. "'What? Who?"

"His name is Samson Anthony. He is the asset Jethro. His dad was a mole for us. He was my cousin and I'm Sam's godfather. He worked his way up a terrorist cell, and downloaded intel to a thumb drive and a microchip. Aidan hid the thumb drive in the teddy bear but put the microchip in Sam's arm. We have enough to detain most of the major players. All I had to do was get it to Vance. Aidan begged me to rescue his family. Esma was killed before we ever got out of the building. Aidan was shot as we were running for the boat we had tied up at the dock. I couldn't leave him, he's *my* family. I couldn't do it Jethro. Aidan and Esma gave their lives to fight against terrorism. Then they looked to me and trusted me to do the right thing. Aidan even had the legal documents giving me sole custody on the drive. I just took him with me, swiped a boat and drove it straight out to the Enterprise. Every time I got out of Sam's line of sight he would cry out for me. Vance wanted to keep his identity a secret in case they came after Sam. As far as anyone but the captain knew my son and I were rescued fleeing the insurgence. That chip and drive had everything; names of informants, moles, dirty heads of State, corrupt politicians here and abroad, the names of the sleepers they have scattered worldwide, bank accounts, the triangle of drugs, guns, and slaves. The entire terrorist organization and their ties into other organizations were on there. This information will save the lives of millions of innocent people."

"My only thought before I landed was coming back home and spending some quality mattress time with you, but then suddenly Aidan says I'm responsible for a two year old and the information was implanted in his arm. I'll understand if you don't want this. Hell, I never wanted this. But I won't turn my back on him; I can't turn my back on him. In the past week I have a panic attack when I think of losing Sam and it isn't just the information."

Gibbs pulled him back down the hall, "I'm too tired tonight to deal with anything and so are you. They'll be up early tomorrow. We can deal with it then. I just can't deal with this now."

When Gibbs stopped at the bedroom doorway, Tony continued past heading towards the stairs. Grabbing the neck of Tony's shirt and yanking back hard, Gibbs demanded "'Where the hell are ya going?"

Tony's looked confused, "Couch?"

Gibbs shoved him through the bedroom door and growled, "Get your ass in that bed, damn it. Does *everything* have to be so damned difficult?"

When it was obvious that Tony was truly confused Gibbs shook his head and blew out a breath. If he was this tired after five days, Tony was stupid tired after weeks. Added to that, he had no backup and no help with the kid. "Tony. Do you remember that day at the park?"

Tony nodded, "It's what kept me going; thinking of coming back to you, home to you."

"Do you remember what you asked me?"

"What were you going to do with me now that you caught me?"

"And what my answer was?"

Understanding lit Tony's eyes, "You said you were going to keep me."

Gibbs nodded, "I meant it. Now let's go to bed. I'm beat."

They shut out the lights and climbed in bed chest to back, with Gibbs embracing Tony. For as tired as he was, sleep was hard to find Gibbs. They had gotten the cart before the horse. Tony was a father; and he wanted to be, what co-father? Gibbs shrugged his shoulders, who the hell knew what it was called? The point was he wanted to be with Tony; good, bad, or otherwise. And the funny thing was it didn't bother Gibbs at all.

Tony was drowsing when Gibbs sat up and started to pull away. "Shit. Tony. You're married. Claire's your wife. I won't be the reason you're unfaithful. I won't be the other… man."

Gibbs was held fast. Tony answered without opening his eyes snuggling in closer, "'We aren't, you won't be. Wasn't real, u/c stint in Peoria. Claire and I have been best of friends since grade school. We lost track of each other after high school and there we are in the same PD and it was like we were never separated. Anyway, someone was killing interracial couples; white male, black female. Beat the hell out of her and single gsw to the temple for him. Chief says DiNozzo take Ferrari. You two are married, congrats, go hit some clubs and find our murderer. Profilers pegged the sub as a white male with a black female issue. Completely bass-ackwards. Little Asian chick's fiancé left her at the alter for a girl from Kenya. Literally, they hopped a plane to Vegas as she was getting ready at the church. She figured the other girl led him astray so it was her fault but he still had to pay. After it was over we both left and lost touch again."

"Right after I finished the job Vance had for me in Atlanta, there was this Serbian running guns. Every time an agent would get close, he would pull up stakes and move. They finally catch up to him in Tucson. Vance meets me in San Diego. Claire is there, she jumped to NCIS after Peoria. Vance introduces Mikal as our tech guy and Brant is posing as our security. Mikal is Claire's cousin, we hung around a lot when we were kids. He went straight from college to NCIS. We do the whole how you been thing. Vance says we go in as a married couple since the other agents were single this might be another way in. I open my mouth and say never again, once was enough. She snipes back that it was no picnic for her either and we fall into our normal pattern when we notice them. The three of them are staring at us. Mikal is pissed that we didn't invite him to the wedding. So we explain. We ended up going in and get the guy; it's like the four of us have worked together for years. Vance asks me if I want a team, I say yes if it's them; they agree. Rest is history. By now it just registers as Claire calling and I'm used to it."

Gibbs was awoken two hours later by the sensation of someone watching him. He found a pair of black eyes staring at him. Seeing that he had only been sleeping for about two hours, Gibbs simply put the youngster in bed with them. Tony roused and they made room, holding on to each other, with Sam between them. Somehow he had gone from a single guy to, hopefully, a family man overnight. That is if Tony would agree.

Gibbs was just drifting off again when Tony struggled to sit up. Gibbs tightened his arm around his waist and refused to allow him up. "I forgot to tell you something. I quit my job."

Gibbs barely even acknowledged but grunted out "Good. Go to sleep."

CHAPTER SIX

Tony was completely unsurprised to find his team had invaded Gibbs' house while they slept. Like clockwork, Sam was up by 7:00 and this day was no different. Careful not to wake Gibbs, they crept down stairs to find Mikal on the couch, Brant on floor in front of the front door of all places, and Claire in the kitchen cooking. Tony set the table. Sam went to wake up the guys and soon his giggles filled the house. By the time Gibbs came down, everyone was sitting down to eat breakfast. He took the empty chair left for him so that Sam was between him and Tony. Brant was on his right and Mikal was on Tony's left, leaving Claire between the two. Breakfast was an unhurried affair with easy camaraderie between them all. Mikal teased Brant about eating all the food and urged Sam to get his first before there was none left. Brant teased Claire about cooking a huge feast of bacon, scrambled eggs, bagels, pancakes, grits, and hash browns and then only having tea and toast. Claire picked on Mikal for refusing the hash browns because they were cooked on the same pan as the grits. All three of them harassed Tony about his new hair color and watched covertly to make sure he was eating.

A good portion of the way through the meal with his cup of coffee half way to his mouth, Gibbs startled as he remembered Tony's declaration. "Did you tell me last night that you quit your job Tony?"

The rattle of silverware hitting china and a chorus of "What!" met his question as all eyes turned to Tony who was cutting Sam's pancake.

He shot a look at Gibbs and sighed before addressing them all.

"I should have told you yesterday but I wanted to get all three of you together. Yes, I quit. I told Vance that I was done fixing and spying. I'm too old to run around playing spy games and make believe, all the cloak and dagger stuff. Besides, I have responsibilities and a family and I can't keep disappearing whenever, to go where ever, for some random reason, even if it is for national security. We had a long talk at Bethesda while you guys were sleeping. I'm tired, not even half as tired as I was when I first left DC, but I am tired. I want to settle in one place, here, and *stay*. I have a family I need to take care of and I want to stay here to do it."

Claire looked concerned, "What will you do, Sweetie?"

"Effective immediately, I've been reassigned to DC and will be starting a new team, the bridge team. Gibbs will still have the lead MCRT team but he has been busy. Five twelve hour days on one case, catching another before the paperwork is even filed on the first one. It's nuts, crime is on the rise and there is no end in sight. My team will be the bridge between the regular teams and Gibbs with the capability of taking on a case that would qualify for the MCRT or a regular case, whatever the need, but will stay here in DC."

Tony continued, "You guys have two weeks of sick leave starting today. When you're done, you each need to meet with Vance and let him know what you decide. You can do anything you want, you have carte blanche. You have the choice of staying on my team here in DC, transferring anywhere in the agency that you want in a different capacity, returning to your old positions, or keeping the position that you have and working with another undercover agent, or even taking on your own assignment independently. OSP in LA just lost an agent and they are looking for someone. I would love to have you stay on my team and work on the investigative side permanently. Whatever you decide, I won't begrudge you."

Claire spoke immediately and smirked, "I'm staying. Where you go, I go. Life is so much more interesting with you in it. Besides, my dad hates you so there is a ton of mileage in that."

Mikal looked thoughtful, "What would I do if I stayed with you? I mean, you know, what would my job be?"

Tony looked incredulously at him, "Mike, man, you have a Masters Intelligence Studies and a Doctorate in Information Technology. What can't you do?"

Mikal glared at his friend, "I've told you before; I'm not a miracle worker Anthony."

"You would keep doing the same thing you did before you joined me, only with me, and Claire. Or talk to Vance, he said he would love to have you here in DC leading the geek squad downstairs."

The other man nodded his head and rubbed his hands gleefully with a wide open smile, "In that case, I'll stay. Besides, I can't wait for Claire's dad to get here and find out you've been in extremely close proximity for over a year with his jewel. The sparks are gonna fly and I want a front row seat, with popcorn. I'll even sell tickets. It'll be better than a cage fight."

Tony snorted out a laugh and Claire excused herself to the bathroom, paling slightly.

Tony watched her go and almost missed Brant's reply.

"That's settled then. Where we gonna live?"

He was still staring thoughtfully at the bathroom door when Gibbs answered Brant's question.

"Tony's place is open. You could stay there until you found something or sublet it from him."

Tony whipped his head around and raised an eyebrow at the other man, "Reeeally?"

Gibbs just looked back at him, confidently, the corner of his lip upraised. "Yup. Ya never used to be this slow."

"Just giving you an out. Things have changed a little since then."

Gibbs glared and slapped the paper down on the table. Keeping his voice even as to not scare Sam who was watching him warily, he hissed out his reply. "Do I look like I want a damned out?"

Mikal snickered and jumped in before Tony could respond. "Looks to me like you wanna get * busy *. Maybe we should make ourselves scarce and take the kid too so you can have some hot monkey sex."

Gibbs shifted uncomfortably in his chair at the direction the conversation was turning, his shoulders tensing. While he knew that Claire and Mikal were old friends and obviously cared for Tony, he didn't want his sex life the topic of discussion, especially since Tony's team and his were pretty well integrated. It was one thing to poke at Tony's sex life and misadventures with the parade of women in and out of his bed when Tony was his SFA, it was completely another thing to have it discussed when Tony was in *his* bed. And truthfully he was a very private man and didn't want the gossipmongers to have any fuel for their fires.

Brant joined Mikal in snickering. After seeing Tony in a series of short term relationships (mostly one nighters), he was happy that his boss and friend was finally settling down. And Gibbs was a solid man, a good man. He wanted to let them know he was happy for them without sounding all girly so he fell back on the time honored tradition of razzing at Tony.

Tony noticed immediately the change in Jethro and was putting an end to this conversation immediately. If Jethro hadn't been in the room, he would have just told them to lay off. He felt the need to protect Jethro and didn't want him to be unhappy, he always had. But this was different. He had the feeling he needed to take a stand. While he and his team were a family, he wanted to make his own family, a *real* family, with Jethro and Sam

Tony caught Jethro's attention, hoping that almost two years apart wouldn't have ruined eight years of partnership. He flexed his fingers cutting a look at Brant. Gibbs nodded slightly. As Brant opened his mouth to speak, he was thumped. Each team leader doled out hard smacks upside the head to the junior agent seated next to him.

As two men raised their hand to rub their heads a stern warning was issued by a stern eyed Gibbs. "You will not discuss *my* private life, ever, especially in my own house. And if I find myself the topic of discussion at NCIS you will not be welcome here. Got it?"

Tony just a little slower with his smack than Gibbs. He waited a beat so that Mikal's attention was on Brant, but he just about knocked the younger man out of his chair with his head slap. Tony's own warning left no room for doubt, "And you will not *ever* curse, say the word s-e-x, or make any kind of inappropriate comment around our kid. Don't take the fact that we have been friends for granted. I'm carving a line in stone about my family. Don't step across it. There are some things that are private. Our personal life is one of them. This is one rule that will *never* be broken. Understand?"

Both men looked sheepishly at each other, then at Jethro and Tony with Sam between them. They would be fierce in protecting what was theirs.

Brant was the first to respond but looked at both men squarely. "I didn't mean to make it seem like… well to be honest I just wanted to let you know that I'm happy for you Tony and I support you. I just didn't want to sound all, um, girly. Tony, you were there for me and I want you to know that you guys can count on me. I can even watch Sam for you if both of you have to work late."

Rolling his eyes with a sigh Tony asked him, "Brant. If I'm at work, why wouldn't you be working with me?"

"Oh yeah." His face brightened, "Ok if you want like a date night… or something. I'm your guy."

Mikal fidgeted a bit. "Tone, I *never* meant disrespect for your family. Ever. I was just, I don't know. We've been friends for so long that when we aren't at work and I open my mouth stuff just comes out before it gets censored. You know me. Sometimes I don't think about the ramifications of what I'm saying or doing."

Looking directly at Gibbs he continued. "Gibbs. I am sorry if I hurt you. You don't know me, but Claire and Tony are the only family I have. I was born on the wrong side of the blanket. Neither side claims me. I would never do anything to hurt either of them and would die to protect them. You make Tony happy and that makes me happy. I would never in a million years say anything to anyone. Home is home and work is work. Sometimes the lines get blurred a little but they are there. Please accept my apology."

Claire walked back into the room still looking pale, "What's going on? What are you guys talking about?"

Mikal bounced back with an infectious grin, "Hey, Clarice. Me and Brant were naughty. We're sorry and it won't happen again. The dads spanked us."

She looked at him crossly for a moment. "Fine! Don't tell me. And don't call me Clarice. My name is Claire and you know it. Idiot."

Tony leveled glares at the three of them, stopping the impending argument before it got going again. After spending so much time together under high stress situations, they all needed time away to decompress before they killed each other.

"HEY! Shut it. Claire, you are going to my apartment and staying there. It was okay to stay with me when DC was a temp assignment, now it's permanent. Brant and Mikal, you two look for something, NOT with Claire. It's Monday, realtors are open. Make it happen. If you are staying here and working for me you will be moved in to your own place by the end of your sick leave. Everyone goes away, now. Jethro and I spend want to spend the day with Sam."

Once the team had left and the kitchen was cleaned, Jethro collapsed on the corner of the couch. Tony sat next to him with Sam who snuggled on Tony's other side and promptly fell asleep. Jethro waited patiently for Tony to say what was on his mind, absently running his hands through the younger man's hair. After a few starts and stops to gather his thoughts, Tony was ready.

"I have to say this all at once or I'll never say it so bear with me, okay. Just let me get it all out before you say anything and know that I don't want to hurt you but you need to hear it as much as I need to tell it. I promise you that I will do the same for you.

"Before I left I was exhausted. I couldn't play the fool anymore but before I left something happened and it took me a while to figure it out. Once I did get it figured out, then the thing happened with Jimmy and you and it took me a while to figure *IT* out. In fact, I was outside Darfur when I had my epiphany. Timing sucked but I was glad it happened.

"First thing. One of my closest friends was about 6 months younger than me. We became friends freshman year and always kept in touch. Um... 4th of July weekend he called me with some horrible news. His 17 year old daughter was pregnant. She was supposed to start Harvard at semester break. She is wicked smart and was taking early graduation from high school. He and his wife scrimped and saved everything to get a better life for their kids. They got pregnant with her during junior year. His wife quit school, he took on a job at night so he could keep in school during the days, and he was going to be an architect. Then the job market dried up so instead of the $30,000 a year job he was expecting to start in, he ended up working for a landscaping company at $8 an hour doing manual labor. But they made it work and had two more kids. Anyway, the pregnancy wasn't the bad news. They had figured out a way to work it so that his daughter was still going to college and they were taking care of the baby. The bad news was that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. His wife was a stay at home mom; he was the only one with an income. He died before Labor Day. I was at the funeral and Linda came up to me and asked me if I was okay. I know I looked at her like she was nuts. Her husband had just died, she had no job, a pittance of life insurance, mortgage, a grandbaby on the way, one kid in college, one in junior high, and one in elementary and she was worried about me. She explained to me that they had had 18 years together, some good, some bad but they were together. And I was all alone, hooking up whenever I felt the need but not making a connection. And they didn't think my affair with Jimmy was good for either of us long term. I came home to an empty apartment and was working at a job I didn't like much anymore.

"That was when I realized that I couldn't do it, keep up the act. If they could see the real me when we were only together a couple of times a year, then what about everyone on the team who spent at least 12 hours a day with me, a minimum five days a week? So I quit pretending and no one seemed to care. I got some looks but no one asked me about it. I was so tired, Jethro. I had been on call 24/7 for most almost 8 years with little or no break. I had been stabbed, shot, blown up twice, kidnapped twice, drugged and left for dead, and gotten the plague. I had two cars destroyed; the Mustang for the Benoit case and the Trans Am working a lead on a thing for Morrow which you never knew about. I realized I hadn't been home in so long, that I forgot where home was. I just kept thinking about everything I had given up for the job. Wife, family, kids, lover. Jimmy and I were together, or not, since you went to Mexico but it wasn't the same. It was easy, fun, hot and altogether casual. He never wanted anything from me except for sex, but we really talked. We talked a lot about our masks, the faces we put on for the rest of the world.

"See mine started cracking the day Kate died. She was killed by a guy that our country hired to spy for us inside a terrorist organization, that turns out, instead of being a double agent, was playing both sides against each other for his own gain. Then his sister, who initially came to us to protect him and keep us from killing him, was hired as Kate's permanent replacement. And I didn't trust her. Hell, I still don't completely trust her. I can't tell you why either, it is just this niggling feeling I have that she isn't being completely honest with us on something. She's serving two masters and no matter what, her father will win and that just doesn't sit well with me.

"Then there was Sterling. How the hell does someone fired for incompetence get hired by an armed Federal agency in the same job capacity without a background check? It was SO not a shining moment for Jenny. Then came the Benoit debacle. That was so totally screwed. I was so far gone that I let her order me to use sex to get close to Jeanne. I know you said you have and I know Ziva said she has, but it was wrong for me. And truthfully it was the beginning of a bad end to that op for me. Then Jeanne tried to frame me for the murder of her father. Kort took the credit for it, but, to this day, I don't think he was the one who pulled the trigger. Then came LA and Decker, and Jenny died. But with each day I felt you putting more and more distance between us, and I felt like I was getting further from myself.

"The night you came over, Jimmy and I had just had a long discussion about what I was thinking about doing before… well, before. Then afterward you treated me so differently. I could see you watch me. You would look at me like I was a suspect one time, trying to puzzle it together, and then other times you looked at me like I betrayed you. When I left I honestly could only think of a few reasons why you would look at me like I had betrayed you. Either you were upset that I was bi and never told you, you were upset that you had a gay man on your team, or it was the fact that I was sleeping with little Jimmy Palmer and had corrupted him. I thought that you didn't trust me watching your six because after that night you never went anywhere alone with me.

"But through the entire thing, if anyone at any time had asked I would have told them, but no one asked and I didn't feel like I could bring it up on my own. The team had built up such an intricate play; everyone had their own role, had to stand on their marks just so, and said their lines the same way. There was no room for improv. I was about to give up all together and throw in the towel when Vance offered me that job again. This time I took the transfer and was glad to be gone. I wanted to tell you guys, but the only one listening was Jim.

"I traveled everywhere for the job. Paris, Rome, London, Geneva, Cairo, Caracas, you name it. In the last three years I have been around the globe more times than I can even remember.

"But I held on to the hurt until Darfur, three months after I left DC. The case isn't important. What is important is that there was this man and he had the same look of betrayal on his face, the look I had seen on yours. So I asked him why. And he told me that the girl he loved was in love with someone else. I asked if he caught her cheating, he said no they were never together in that way. When I told him I didn't understand, he said it should have been him. The light bulb came on over my head and I started really thinking. Every time I talked to Jim or emailed him, he told me you were still trying to reach me and track me. That Abby had a post it with the number of days I'd been gone on her wall and a map of the world with push pins showing where I'd been. He overheard you tell Ducky that you left a message with other team leaders asking that they notify you if I showed up. Jimmy even said you wouldn't let anyone sit at my desk.

"Why would you do that? Why would you try to get someone back if you were not comfortable with them? Then I thought back to when it was just the two of us, back before Vivian then between Vivian and Kate. We weren't wearing our masks then, we didn't have time. They didn't really come out until the case when we met Kate. We liked each other without them. I remember feeling then like there might have been a spark of something. Once Kate started it was shelved.

"So I take this idea I have, this hope I have, and hold on to it. Then we get a case here in DC. And suddenly there you are in my apartment, again, with the same look of confusion but this time you're hugging me and saying you missed me. I could see it was true. And then there we were again, across the room from each other, and you were staring at me again. But it was different, more like the old looks I used to see. Suddenly you were smiling at me, goofing off, playing practical jokes, and I knew I was right. That picnic in the park, I was so close to dragging you home and saying to hell with it.

"Then came Somalia and my cousin and his wife and now Sam. Now here we are. I want to be with you, raise Sam with you. I know that our issues won't go away and adding a kid in the mix while carving out a space that is just for us will be hard. But I think that we are worth it."

They sat quietly for a while. Jethro had a lot to take in and wanted to make sure that he was equally honest. Just to be on the safe side, he wrapped the arm not playing with Tony's hair around his waist. It probably wasn't needed but Jethro didn't want to take any chances that Tony would get up. He took a deep breath and started.

"Okay. First off I never want to have this particular conversation again. There is a reason I don't talk much and it's because I'm just bad at the emotional stuff so bear with me if I get it wrong. I'm uncomfortable as hell. I sure wish I could just stop there but it isn't right. I prefer action over words, but you need to hear the words and I really, really need to say them.

"I wanted you from the minute I saw you in Baltimore. I fell in love with you somewhere around your sixth month. I assigned you to stake out a possible suspect's house in the dead of winter, no heat in the car because you were on a stakeout, and it turned out that the guy was in Baja. You stormed into the bullpen and lit into me about checking facts and freezing your nuts off for no reason and it just struck me. The year before you left I knew something was wrong but I didn't want to get close enough to you to dig. I never knew you weren't straight. We used to flirt a lot when it was just the two of us and we toned it down when Kate was with us, but you played the field pretty heavily too. I spent years watching you, enough to know that you were a flirt, male or female, it didn't matter.

"That night, afterward, I couldn't figure out if I was mad that you were sleeping with Jimmy or if it was that fact that he was sleeping with YOU. I was afraid to be alone with you because I felt so out of control. I thought I would either lay into you for sleeping with Palmer or nail you to the first available surface. See, I always had this idea that eventually you would find this perfect girl and settle down and I would end up the uncle to your kids. And I could deal with losing you to a woman, seeing you with Palmer felt like a betrayal. You picked him over me. I saw you first and you were mine, I just forgot to tell you somewhere along the way. Every time I see someone stand too near you I want to growl. I'm possessive as hell and I want to keep you. I meant it. We are worth it. When I thought I had lost you, that they had your team but not you, I thought it was over and I had missed my chance. The very idea that you died and I couldn't be there with you at the end almost killed me. When you said you quit your job last night I was pretty relieved. I couldn't care if you sold t shirts to tourists in the Mall as long as you stayed with me. I don't want you out there a world away in danger when I'm not watching your six. At least when you're stationed in DC you'll rarely be someplace I can't get to within two hours.

"So I know the answer but because of my past mistakes, I think but I have to ask it anyway. Will you move in with me, live with me, be my lover and my partner, let me raise Sam with you, even knowing that I'm not easy. I have my own house, big yard, a basement with a boat in it, a beat up old truck, and a Charger I'll sometimes let you drive. I like my solitude, hate television and most gadgets, and don't function without my coffee. I'm not much for a conversationalist; don't do flowery words and gestures. I shop at Sears and probably spend in a year what you spend in a month on clothes. The last movie I think I saw was with Harrison Ford on Air Force One, the one where he was the President; before that was the cartoon Beauty and the Beast with Kelly. I don't have a computer at home, I don't have cable, I don't have internet, or a dishwasher. I'm pretty old fashioned, very set in my ways. I hate technology. I'm pretty territorial so you may wake up with my name tattooed on you someday and I don't like people touching you."

After several beats of silence, Tony smiled up at him with a mischievous grin. "Whoo. Tough sell. The coffee thing sounds vaguely familiar. You forgot to mention that you're a sneaky bastard too. I kinda have to live with you since you didn't leave me with many options when you gave my apartment away. "

He sobered, "You do know it works both ways. I have every material thing I need, more even. I'm gonna move all of my shit in here, tv, movies, electronics, bed. I'm not sleeping in yours for many more nights, it has to go. There's a reason God gave us Egyptian cotton and pillow top mattresses. I'm not easy either. I'm moody. I run like it's my religion, and I love fine things. I indulge myself. I'm a hedonist. I can be fairly high maintenance but I'm self aware and take care of myself. I'm really fussy about my clothes and drive to Arlington for the best cleaner in the district. I'll need my own closet and probably half of yours for my clothes. And I get jealous as hell. You're a good looking guy Leroy Jethro Gibbs and you are oblivious to the fact that when you walk into a room heads turn. I won't be the only one with a tattoo. If I so much as see another red head throw herself at you, or a blonde or a brunette, I'll pull her hair out then sic Claire and Abby on her."

Jethro pulled him back against his chest. "There's only one brunette I want and I'm looking at him right now. It's settled. We'll get a truck and start moving your things here tomorrow after we straighten up here. We can put Sam in the guest room across from ours."

As they settled back further into the cushions of the couch, the recent events of the past weeks took their toll and both men fell asleep. And that is how Abby found them several hours later; Jethro with his arms wrapped around Tony, Tony with his arms wrapped around Sam.

A month later looking back Jethro couldn't believe the point he was at after everything. While life was heading in the right direction, things weren't going quite as he had planned. He felt like he was living through the plot of all those fairy tale storybooks; the heroic prince falls in love, faced adversity, and won the heart of the princess (although Tony would definitely not appreciate being cast in that role) so where was his magical ending? The one that comes when the lights go out and the book is closed and does *not* get told to small children. Jethro wanted to know exactly what drove Tony wild, what made him lose control, how fast he could make him come and how long he could be held on the brink. He wanted to know if he could make Tony make those cute little squeaks, moans, and groans that he heard come out of him all those months ago. He wanted to know if the blown pupils and foggy look on his face Tony got when he was stoned on meds was the same look when he was consumed by lust. In all honesty, most of all, he wanted to wipe Dr. James Palmer aka the Autopsy Gremlin right out of Tony's mind, to be a footnote in Tony's vast and checkered past - an afterthought, "Oh, yeah. We dated once." - never to be thought of again would suit him just perfectly. Unfortunately that was not the way of his world. No, crap happened.

His four day break sped by. First his house was turned upside down getting things re-arranged to accommodate Tony and Sam and all of Tony's things. He had a lot of things, some that Jethro didn't even know what they were supposed to do. And he was *picky*. How the hell he had never considered Tony might be gay was a mystery to Jethro after watching Tony literally stand over the movers dictating their every move dealing with the furniture, his absolute nitpickery with his clothing, and his hair care products? Holy shit. Tony wasn't kidding about the closet space and the clothes and clothes boxes and clothes storage bags. He probably had 50 different ties alone and that was an understatement. At least he only had five pairs of shoes, or was it six. Christ.

Most of Jethro's furniture was old and dated, or in some cases non-functioning, it was being given away to make room for Tony's better quality and timeless furniture. It wasn't a case of throwing just to throw; Jethro had to admit that his living room furniture left something to be desired and Tony's was much more comfortable and looked better in the room. And comparing the two beds, forget it, there was none - his was just crap compared to Tony's Egyptian cotton and pillow top mattress. But what he did keep flowed seamlessly with everything of Tony's – everything because nothing of Tony's was tossed except for a few skin magazines. And Jethro had to admit, that it looked fabulous in his house. No that was wrong; their furniture looked great in their house. That would take a little to get used to; their.

Kelly's room was made over into a home office. Jethro had decided to finally let the hurt go. He loved Kelly and always would but it was finally time to move on, part of moving on was cleaning a room held for a little girl that would never come back. The few things of hers that were precious and held real meaning to him were packed away and everything else was taken to a shelter for victims of domestic violence. In his heart, Jethro could never see it become a room for another child, but he had no problem using it for a different purpose, so it became a home office.

The guest room became Sam's room. After sleeping in Tony's bed the first night, Jethro woke the other two members of his family up bright and early the next morning, fed them breakfast and hustled them out the door to some much needed shopping. He would not have his son sleep on cardboard, assuming the boy ever slept in his own bed, when he was sleeping on the most inviting, plushest mattress he had ever been on; including the fancy hotels that he stayed in on any of his honeymoons. In as much as he hated the idea of shopping at an upscale store, not even the twinkle in Tony's eyes deterred him.

Jethro just stood there holding Sam as Tony became a whirling dervish. The highlight of his day came when he got Sam to smile and giggle when, after watching Tony run and jump on bed after bed bouncing up and down, Jethro turned to the shaking his head and said, "Your dad is so silly!" Tony picked out sheets, blankets, and pillows with input from Sam in the choice of color, "Boo." The child ended up with a complete bedroom set plus a flat panel TV with built in DVD player and, much to Jethro's surprise, it wasn't a car bed. Jethro didn't balk at the cost of anything but he did flinch a little and grit his teeth when Tony smirked in his direction as he charmed the sales associate into a free stuffed giraffe for Sam when Tony handed over his Visa.

Then they had a birthday party for Sam, who turned three. Both teams turned out in force including a surprise visit from Director Vance, and the child was inundated with gifts. It was a nice evening out in the yard. Everything from toy trains to an iPod, books and DVD's were unwrapped, and by the end of the evening Sam was chattering up a storm to his dad and 'Jet'. Once he started actually talking to him, Gibbs found that Sam was an intelligent boy with a good grasp of language. He could name colors, his body parts, and count using his fingers. He was leery of strangers and did not talk to the combined team other than to say thank you but he did know the member's names. At one point in the evening when Jimmy tried to get him to talk, Sam looked around in a panic for Tony. Spying Gibbs he ran yelling "Jet, Jet" over and over and leapt into his arms. Gibbs tucked the quivering child under his chin and then spoke to an apologetic Jimmy and everything smoothed out from there. Sam clung to Gibbs for the rest of the night.

The rest of Tony's team was also getting settled. Claire took over Tony's apartment, Brant and Mikal got apartments in the same building as Claire, and they all had their things shipped from LA. They were completely moved in by the time that their sick leave was ended. While they were going back to work after two weeks, Tony was taking two extra weeks to get things straightened with Sam.

Tony's team used the two week time to get current with NCIS agent protocol, procedures, and of course, the paperwork. Jethro was charged with watching the newest team as they settled and he had to admit, they worked well together with his team, doing what they were told to do when they were supposed to do it. They were polite and courteous and followed his team dutifully, each junior agent paired with another. All of Tony's agents were well trained, full fledged agents so it was just a matter of getting them acclimated to the DC office and the way things worked when you stayed in one place and were the ones to finish the paperwork. Still Gibbs felt there was something missing in them and it worried him; not anything specific, they were just off.

As he watched their dynamic one afternoon, he noticed that there was no Senior Agent between them no one took leadership. They deferred to him or McGee but none told the others what to do. It was odd for him to see. The team worked (and worked well) without conferring with each other either at the crime scene or back at the office The only sounds were of the keys clicking and the printers working and it was making Gibbs extremely nervous. Ten minutes after they returned they appeared in front of Gibbs. Mikal handed him a printed report of what they had accomplished thus far including Ducky's and Abby's observations. They each took turns reporting verbally what they saw, what they heard, and their impressions and it was all detailed in the report.

Gibbs was shocked. They had accomplished a great deal without even speaking to each other. Each person had a specific skill set and Tony used it. They all could do the things that the others were better at, but if it wasn't an emergency, they each stuck with what they knew best. Tony had them with ear wigs and mics but after being together under high stress for so long most of their communications were nonverbal using hand gestures. They each carried micro recorders to record their thoughts and impressions of the scene and what they heard, smelt, saw, and felt and they recorded them slightly away from others so that their impressions were not influenced.

It was unnerving for Gibbs and his team, the people who had worked with Tony for years to see the change. They kept expecting the old Tony, 'their' Tony to reappear. Leader Tony was so much different than Gibbs' Senior Agent Tony. It was hard for Gibbs to see that the relationships that worked for him did not completely work for Tony. That is why he was so uneasy. Tony's team worked so differently from what he expected.

Ducky shed new light on the issue. He explained that everyone expected Tony to be like Gibbs and to run his own team like he ran the team when Gibbs was away. And got treated badly. They were all waiting for Gibbs to come back and took it out on him. Tony tried to be himself and was shot down then tried acting like Gibbs to even more ridicule. The entire time he was working an undercover case also. Team Gibbs expected Tony to act a certain way and when that failed, they punished him for it. However Tony's new team only knew him after the revelation as it were and never knew the difference. The Tony that Claire and Mikal knew as kids is really the same Tony that they knew now only older. Brant took his cue from them. To them this was 'normal' Tony behavior. They never met him when he wore the different masks to hide who he really was inside; he never put them on until he became a cop.

The floor was fairly quiet with the exception of an occasional snipe or two coming from DiNozzo's area. The team was finally going back on rotation with the return of Tony from leave. The entire two weeks was spent on cold cases and paperwork as no active cases had come up. Gibbs' team was down training hand to hand combat but he stayed upstairs to sit with Tony's team. The enforced idle time was wearing tempers thin and while he would have loved to send them down to work their edginess off but he had no idea what Tony would want them to do and did not want to step on his toes. The balance between work and home was already going to be tricky and he didn't want to screw it up on Tony's first day back. Gibbs finally had to intervene when it looked like Claire was intent on taking out her cousin with a letter opener. At Gibbs' roar of enough, the entire floor went still. In the silence the ding of the elevator sounded loudly. Tony walked up and stood next to Gibbs unnoticed by either of his team members. When Gibbs demanded to know what the problem was, Claire snarled that Mikal was an ass with no heart so she was going to remove it for him since he didn't use it anyway and Mikal replied that she was just pissy because Prada didn't make maternity clothes. Muted gasps and murmurs came from around the floor.

Gibbs looked at his lover with a smirk, "They're your problem now DiNozzo."

He returned to his desk noting the pissed off look on Tony's face and in his stance. Gibbs watched just as avidly as everyone else, but entirely more openly. There was something else going on more than Tony's displeasure at finding Claire and Mikal mid-spat.

Tony rounded on them, eyes blazing. "What the hell is the matter with you two? You're supposed to be professional agents not a pair of eight year olds. When you are here or anywhere public, you will conduct yourselves with the utmost of professionalism as befitting a Federal Agent or you can find yourselves unemployed."

Tony started with Mikal by giving him the hardest smack he could. "Stop. I don't care who started it. You know better. Get your ass downstairs and jump in with Ziva. I expect you to take her down at least once and don't come back up until you do or until she gets tired of throwing your ass around. Once you are done with that you will report to me. Got it?"

"Yes Tony." Mikal hurried away from his pissed off supervisor with a sinking feeling. He knew there was no way that he would take Ziva down and she would wipe the floor with him; he could already feel the bruises. His only hope was that she was slightly worn out from working with her team mates.

Tony's eyes narrowed as they focused on Claire. "Follow me."

He stalked off towards the elevator with Claire right behind him and people fled out of their way.

He hit the emergency stop on the elevator and rounded on her.

He stalked forward as she retreated. "Tony?"

"Personal first because I'm pissed and I might as well get it out of the way. What the hell were you doing letting my kid listen to Lady Gaga? Apparently over –and- over! I'm driving Sam to daycare this morning and we are stopped at a light with the windows rolled down. Suddenly out of nowhere my kid starts blasting out loud and clear 'Russian Roulette is not the same without a gun.' I'm not happy."

"Second. You failed to turn in your fitness release for active duty. I know because I had a lengthy discussion with HR this morning. I've been down there for the last 45 minutes. Now, you have never failed to turn in one after an incident and are always the first one to have your paperwork in. Delores said that you turned in everything except for that and have stalled her since then. She's terrified of Gibbs so waited to bring it up with me. So I am asking you straight. Where is your release Claire?"

Claire looked at the floor then back up at him. She squared her shoulders.

"I don't have one. The doctor won't release me because I'm pregnant. I tried to reason with him saying that I was pregnant when I went on our mission, you knew about it, and no one stopped me. But he wouldn't listen. He kept saying that I needed to take it easy and if he didn't release me for active duty I could work at a desk and do something nice and safe. Besides, women with my condition shouldn't be stressed. My condition. Like I had AIDS or cancer or something. I tried to get a different doctor and apparently there is this rule that says you have to keep your doctor and the doctor that treated the problem has to release the problem. I just want to do my job. Tony, that's why I didn't turn in a release. If I had wanted to be a secretary, I would have gone to school for it. That's why I've been on edge and why I picked a fight with Mikal."

He considered this for a minute. He couldn't decide if he was still pissed at her for fighting or not but he was going to have a word with the doctor AND his supervisor. Failing to release an agent for field duty solely based upon the fact that she was pregnant was a big no-no, in his book it was gender discrimination. The man was messing up his people's lives and only Tony had the right to do that.

"You are going to have to be punished for causing a ruckus up there and for not turning in your release and mostly for not turning to your team leader or acting team leader when you have a problem. You will write a report on the effects of explicit lyrics on young children and how they pertain to law enforcement and the challenge that care givers have in regards to those lyrics. You will then meet with the director of the NCIS daycare program and determine the issues and challenges that they have with the children who have parents in law enforcement."

"Normally I won't mix home with work. If I'm pissed at work I won't let it carry over to our personal lives and vice versa. But since you are going to be a parent, you need to be aware of the issues out there. You have a week to get it straight. Claire I know this is different than what we are used to doing. We won't be living on the edge like we were before. It will be slower. These two weeks are pretty typical of a down period, granted it generally is only for a day or two. If you get the feeling that you need to take out your frustrations on someone then you come see me and we will work on it."

"You know that you can not return to the field without a release from a doctor. If you had come to me or Gibbs with this the minute you got stonewalled, we could have solved it right away. Ducky is the unwritten exception to that rule. He would never clear someone for duty if they weren't fit and he knows the mentality better than some stranger you met at Bethesda. Ducky provides basic first aid to most of the field agents in DC. He does concussion checks, stitches, wraps broken ribs, and provides splints for strains and sprains and he won't hesitate to refer you on to someone else if he thinks you need more than he can provide. The only minor thing he doesn't do is put on casts but he does make a chicken noodle soup that is to die for. Ducky is also both Gibbs' and my personal physician and has signed us out of the hospital more times than I can even remember."

He turned and flipped the switch back on and pushed the button for autopsy. When they arrived, Tony nodded his head towards ME and gave her a gentle shove, "Confession is good for the soul."

Claire let out a sigh and proceeded to fill Ducky in on everything that was going on and the fact that she was having a difficult time getting cleared while Tony stood as a silent sentry. After a few routine checks, Ducky pulled out a form declaring her fit for duty and gave it to Tony. He gave her the name of an OB that he knew and wished her luck. While she got started on her punishment, Tony turned in her paperwork. He then took a trip to see the physician that refused to release her based upon her pregnancy and his supervisor. Tony made it abundantly clear that if he ever had the occasion to treat an NCIS agent he had damn well make sure that the only reason they were being held back was for the specific injury they sought treatment for. By the time he returned to the office Claire was cleared for duty, just in time for both teams to get called out on cases.

God bless Abby. She was still monitoring the security tapes and noticed the looks first, slightly frustrated looks of promise as the two men passed in the hall or elevator. They were like day and night. If one was in the office the other was out, Gibbs had a cold case day then Tony was in Outer Mongolia. Tony was pounding the crap out of the punching bag in the gym then Gibbs was stuck in interrogation. On top of that they had Sam and the normal every day things like laundry and grocery shopping. So she pulled him in to her office and shut and locked the door.

Tony rubbed a hand across his face wearily and dropped onto a stool,

"Shit Abbs, with the way things are going Sam'll be in school before I get laid. We barely have enough energy to pull our clothes off let alone anything else. We've been living together for three months and so far, nothing. No, not nothing but not something either. First we couldn't get Sam to actually *sleep* in his bed. He was fine during the day but when night came, he clung to me crying and tossing a general fit if he was put into his own bed. We tried to let him fall asleep in our bed then move him and that turned out a bust. Can you imagine how it must have looked to him to have two grown, naked, men run into his room with Sigs out when he woke up screaming from a nightmare? We came to a quick understanding that until the kid was ready we wouldn't force it. And I am not having sex in the same bed my kid sleeps in. Then one night a month in we got him in his pj's after his bath, he went into his room to play quietly for a bit, and we didn't hear another word. Looked in, and he was crawled in his bed. Jeth turned on the nightlight, plugged one in the hall, and that's where he's been since then."

"We were just getting into the groove and my fucking pager went off. I swear that once people heard there would be a second MCRT team crime doubled. If we're home together - and that is a big if - we fall in to bed or any soft surface, generally manage a kiss, and then sleep. The spirit is willing but the body is wacked. The new routine is to check the washer, dryer, and dishwasher to see if the other started a load. Then at least we have clean clothes and dishes. Thankfully Sam isn't a picky eater or else we'd be sunk. Ducky ever finds out that all my kid eats and drinks is pizza, Chinese, and Coke and we're screwed. You'll be able to hear the ass chewing from your house."

"I don't know how other couples do it. I mean you got a mom and dad working separate shifts with kids and housework and groceries and laundry and then there's the entire bitch thing about who does what around the house and doesn't do what to whom. Did you know Gibbs drinks out of the carton and puts the empty jug back in the fridge? It's annoying as hell and I don't even care that we swap spit and hopefully someday other body fluids; that shit is disgusting. Tuesday we had this entire OH MY GOD screaming match only we had to whisper because Sam has been waking up with nightmares again and he finally went to sleep and right in the middle I started laughing. Because how fucking ridiculous is it that two grown adults are whipping pillows and each other and snarking back and forth *in whispers* like a couple of high schoolers in history class. And let me tell you, Jethro did*not* appreciate it and I couldn't for the life of me stop laughing. He stomped off to the basement, quietly slammed the door by the way, and I slept in Sam's room because he was so pissed that I was laughing. Turns out that instead of sleeping in a two foot too short bed dodging elbows and knees, I could have slept in our bed because Jethro fell asleep under the boat. I want a day, no scratch that, I want two days. Two days alone with Jethro. And a maid. Nah, just two days the house can fall down around our ears."

Tony's phone beeped. He pulled her into a hug and kissed her forehead. "That was Mikal, he's got a lead. Thanks for the ear."

It was the following Wednesday evening that both men came from separate directions around the corner - Tony from interrogation and Gibbs from evidence. As they walked towards their desks Gibbs noticed the self satisfied smirk.

"What'd you do, make him cry?"

"Yep, pissed his pants too. Owe maintenance for that one. Brant took him down to booking. Claire and Mikal should have their paperwork about finished. Case closed. Gonna finish the paperwork and head home. You?"

"Braxton turned on his girlfriend; they stole the money then set up Walkers. Unrelated, Ziva made a 295 pound sailor that got in her way cry. His CO is filing a grievance with Vance. All that's left is to turn in the paperwork. Abby and Ducky went home around earlier around 1830."

They sat at their respective desks and Tony was the first to check his email and inform his team, "You guys get that done and we have a 4 day weekend."

Gibbs checked and discovered that they too had the next four days off, "Pack it in, when your report is in you can go home. Be back on time on Monday or don't bother."

The members of both teams rushed to get their case reports finished. They were congregated by Tony's desk when his phone rang. Eight sets of shoulders slumped and heads hung. The stress of working for a solid three months and the strain on Tony and Gibbs's relationship was having an affect on all of them.

At Tony's "Hey Abbs", Gibbs made a shooing motion to the group assembled. They were all bright, young, fairly well educated people and there was a mass stampede for the stairs. No one was wanting to be caught in an elevator.

Tony hung up the phone and looked at Gibbs askance, "Did you remember Abby wanting to take Sam to Sesame Street on ice with one of her friends?"

"Nope. I don't think so. Sam doesn't like Sesame Street. Does he? "

"I guess we'll find out tomorrow afternoon. The show's in Baltimore at 1000 and should last just over two hours. She already picked him up at daycare and they are staying with her friend Janie having a slumber party. Said she would call tomorrow after it's over to let us talk to him." Tony had a fond smile and shook his head.

"What."

Tony chuckled, "Couple of days ago I said I wanted some grown up time, two days was all I was asking for. She said we have a few days. She won't bring him home until Saturday."

Somehow Tony beat Jethro home. As he entered the house he was pushed back up against the door and thoroughly kissed. Their exhaustion fell away as they got acquainted with each other. Jethro pushed Tony back, grabbed his wrist and all but drug him up the stairs. He wanted this to be perfect as it could which meant not rutting on the floor or the door or the wall.

Jethro removed Tony's clothing like he was unwrapping a present, taking his time to assess each bit of flesh revealed. The soft skin under his ear was kissed and sucked but he returned to Tony's mouth time after time. Jethro thoroughly mapped out the contours of his mouth, running his tongue across the roof of Tony's mouth in a broad, light swipe; noticing the tremor it caused in the younger man. He slowly took his time; nipping along the jaw line, biting and sucking the tendon at the junction of his neck and shoulder. Each nipple was worked on patiently. Twisted and tweaked, scraped with a blunt fingernail before being laved with his tongue, Jethro gently blew on one nub until it was standing firm and tight then turning his attention to the other side. The sculpted lines of Tony's abs were traced first with a calloused finger, then tongue, open mouthed kisses scattered about. The sharp hip bones were treated to the same. Hands ghosted over heated skin and every gasp, moan, and tensing of muscle was quickly catalogued.

He wanted to do all of this and so very much more…. Later. Right now he just wanted to claim what was his. The dance that they started had been going on for over two years and while he wanted it to last he wasn't fooling himself into thinking it would the first time around.

Tony was panting heavily, twisting up and into Jethro's caresses he fisted both hands in his hair and pulled up hard. He wanted, no needed, to feel Jethro's mouth on his own and that thing he did with his tongue again and took possession of his mouth. Tony shifted so that their erections rubbed against one another, and they both moaned. Tony kept one hand fisted in Jethro's hair while the other scrabbled up and down his back cataloging the movement of muscles. The need in him made itself known and Tony had a moment of clarity that it wasn't going to be long or pretty but it would be damned satisfying. They were both so close already judging from the sounds echoing around the room. He was so close already and from the noises Jethro was making...Tony knew he was vocal in bed, but hearing Jethro… it just pushed him right on a fine ledge.

He had to touch, he just couldn't not touch. With the hand running up Jethro's back on the down stoke, he reached between them and grabbed both of their erections, giving one sharp tug. The older man cried out sharply, hips bucking wildly as his orgasm overtook him before collapsing on Tony. Tony, who had been barely hanging on to sanity himself, the sound of Jethro's hoarse cry, just pushed him right on over the ledge.

After a few minutes where the sound of harsh breaths could be heard, Gibbs felt it when Tony started shaking. Lifting himself up on both elbows Gibbs looked down at his lover. Tony's body was shaking gently, hi lips were pressed together tightly, his eyes screwed shut, and to his consternation, tears were leaking from the corner of his eyes. He gently shifted to the side and raised his hand to tenderly stroke the younger man's cheek.

"Tony?"

Tony shook his head from side to side, raised his hand to dig into his eyes, before rubbing his mouth. And let it loose. His eyes popped open, sparkling, he gasped for air, before peals of laughter erupted from him. Gibbs drew back in aggravation but Tony grabbed his arm and yanked him back down on top of him.

"I'm sorry Jethro." Tony gasped for air and continued to giggle intermittently. "But it's so damned funny. Both of us. Adults. Experienced. Worse than a couple of kids. Couldn't even make it last for more than ten minutes."

"Keep it up funnyman and you'll be sleeping in Sam's room while he's gone at Aunt Abby's."

"No I won't. You love me like crazy."

"No, Tony. What I said was that I love you even though you're crazy."

Gibbs settled back down, pulling Tony back against him, and smiled. It was funny. Kind of. If it hadn't happened to him. If it happened to McGee or the new probie. Even better? Leon.

Then he would laugh.