It has been brought to my attention that there are, in fact, other characters in NCIS universe besides the Dynamic Duo. In honor of that shocking information (though sneaking in Tiva all the same), may I present...

Circling Ghosts

It's just that he's never had a sister before.

Not that he often thinks of women in a sibling capacity, this being a colossal mood killer. Agent Todd rates as untouchable, which doesn't hinder Tony from entertaining a few intentions only partially platonic. So his charm, never allowed to stray far, is popped out of its storage mold and handed out in thick slices. A delicacy, experience tells him but she's not biting.

Despite the ego bruise, he likes that.

At first Kate launches polite dissent at his natural closeness. But she'll grow steadily untroubled when he hovers too near, taking the deeper look and readjusting her opinion. Perhaps she understands his need to seek connections, however temporary.

Tony's file must scream deserter because her eyes will track him on days when the fuse is too short. The rivalry for their superior's affection crunches underfoot but soon wears down the grit to a fine sand. Can't build a house on it, he thinks, but some structures can withstand the instability.

Friendship with women isn't a comfort. Normally.

There's no 'will they/won't they' among the coworkers. She won't because she bathes in Secret Service class and he won't because she'd deserve the kind of maturity that he prefers to keep stashed in his back pocket. Which means he can actually have a relationship unburdened by speculation.

It's healthy, in a fantasy-fueling sort of way. Screwing his partner would be the equivalent of being caught pulling her pigtails; not entirely worth the discomfort and parental punishment. He's not afraid of an evening of debauchery. It's the repercussions of morning that scare him.

Fondness means never forcing her into hatred. Kate stays as he dies, which means something. And though ultimately he doesn't leave, some piece of his heart departs. It's cradled in her hands and he won't ask for it back. Everything's blue; her face, her hair, and their prospects. He means to ask her, sometime after the coughing settles and the drugs fade but he can't settle on the question.

He can wait. Because there's time.

Except there isn't and he fails her just enough to become the one who stays.

He likes for them to think he doesn't read.

It makes the sudden bursts of brilliance sound convincingly spontaneous and the desire to impress people remains one of those vices he hasn't quite shaken. But staying current, aside from arming him with topics for the more cranial ladies, allows him to quell his father's disembodied voice, the one that still tells Tony he'll never amount to anything.

There's nothing wrong with knowledge, as long as it suits his purposes. His greatest undercover work isn't immersion into shady criminal worlds, it's hiding the hours of study, the late nights of sifting through data. The written word can't be counted as a friend, but he's willing to register it as a distant cousin, the one who can get into the most exclusive gambling floors and then devise a sound system to beat the house. Useful to know but one mustn't admit a relational tie.

It's reading that makes Tony watch him in a compulsive, nearly destructive manner. It's nighttime surveillance, not for national security but his own. There's only one letter separating dad and dead and for once, he's on the better end of an important distinction.

Never blinking will ensure it stays that way.

Ziva warned him about giving credence to fear.

Investigators follow links, tracing back information for a righteous cause and, looking back on the trail, Tony can cite the three degrees of panic. Counterfeit money had been taped behind a bitter painting that Tony couldn't put out of his mind. Google labeled the scene of mourning as 1893's pride of optimism, Funeral of Firstborn, which then led him to a forum on sudden infant death syndrome.

Sleep is for those lacking vigilance.

Because it's too easy to miss unless every breath is logged and accounted for. The chest rises and falls in tiny strokes, infant lungs unhindered by the weight of Tony's hand. It's midnight and this is assurance. Her presence is as well. The visits have been infrequent but there is no dismay in witnessing impossibilities. She is accepted since, in fairness, his mind likely generated her in the first place. But he believes just enough to ask.

When the sleepy woman comes to claim her lover, Tony is ready to give up his post to another. His son is safe.

Because he's secured the vow of heaven's most qualified guardian angel.