He sat quietly in the passenger seat, staring out the window at the bright lights of the city and his own reflection as the car raced down the empty streets of DC towards Alexandria. He rested his head on the glass, feeling the coolness on his forehead. The events from earlier that night swirled in his head, making him sick.

Well, it wasn't just what happened making him sick. The concussion wasn't severe but he'd knocked his head on the pavement pretty hard when he landed. He'd been given something to curb the nausea but it was beginning to wear off. His ribs ached where the bullet hit the vest and that moment was playing back in his head over and over and over again.

Now that he remembered exactly what happened, he couldn't hide behind his usual defenses and pretend everything was all right. Rachel Cranston was right about his tendency for nervous response. If he weren't so tired that even his brain was refusing to cooperate, he'd probably be talking a blue streak right now.

"Ya still doing all right there?"

He nodded and gulped down the lump in his throat, his forehead and hair rubbing against the glass as he did so. "Yeah."

He glanced over to the driver seat. The man sitting there, driving them at a speed a lot slower than usual towards their destination, was the epitome of stoic. That quietly simmering anger and worry that was barely visible in the tense face would've made most people nervous, but not him.

No, he knew the anger was for him and not towards him, and he took comfort in that.

The man spared a look, taking his eyes off the road for a brief second. He knew the man didn't believe him. He wouldn't have either, but what else could he say?

He stared out the window again. They'd just gotten off the bridge, and he could barely make out the darkened outlines of the Pentagon. Another fifteen minutes of driving in silence found them turning off the main road and onto a quiet residential street.

Pulling into the driveway, the man shut off the engine and looked towards him. "Stay there. I'll come around."


"No buts, DiNozzo. Your balance is still all shot to hell." Gibbs glared at him, daring him to try getting out of the car on his own.

"It's no big deal," Tony whined. "Not the worst I've had."

"Jesus Christ, DiNozzo!" Gibbs barked.

"Alright, alright!" Tony threw his hands up.

"Come on, careful." Gibbs quickly went over to Tony's side, yanking the door open, and helped him slide out of the car. "There."

Gibbs hooked one arm around Tony's waist and swung one of Tony's arms over his shoulders, taking some of the weight as they made their way carefully into the house through the kitchen door into the living room. Gibbs eased Tony onto the couch then went back outside to the car to grab their bags.

"I messed up, Boss," Tony said in almost a whisper when Gibbs reappeared from the kitchen with a couple of Tylenol and a glass of water. "I should've checked. I should've known."

"Tony, there was no way you could've known that the text wasn't from Barrett." Gibbs shoved the glass of water into Tony's hands, and glared until he took the pills and washed them down with water.

"But I should've thought of the fact that Cade might be innocent. I assumed that he was guilty the moment they gave me that photograph." Tony stared into his glass, still half-full—or half-empty, it was that kind of a night. "He would still be alive if—"

"Stop, Tony." Gibbs knelt down in front of Tony and cupped Tony's face with both hands, forcing the younger man to look at him. "Stop."

Tony stared at Gibbs, but his gaze was not entirely focused. Gibbs ran his thumbs over Tony's cheeks, forcing Tony pay attention to him.

"It wasn't your fault. You couldn't have known about Stratton. None of us did," Gibbs said slowly, like he was talking to a child, and stared at Tony until Tony nodded and acknowledged his words. "He tried to kill you and frame you for Cade's murder. You are not responsible here, Tony. He is."

"What about EJ?" The corner of Tony's eyes tightened as he remembered the gunshots from earlier. "I used her to get to Cade, and now she's missing. She could be dead!"

"Or she could still be alive. They never found her body, remember?" Gibbs let one hand reach behind Tony's head, carding through his hair before pulling him into a hug with a kiss to his temple. Gibbs could feel Tony surrender, his body going limp in Gibbs' arms as he buried his face into the older man's neck. "Come on, DiNozzo. Let's get you in bed and resting."

Gibbs stood, holding out a hand to steady the younger man as he got up from the couch. They made their way up stairs, and then Gibbs pushed Tony in the direction of the master bedroom.

It wasn't until Tony had been stripped down to boxers and tucked into bed, and his breathing had evened out, that Gibbs finally allowed himself to relax for the first time in two weeks.

He changed into some sweats and stripped off his polo leaving only the t-shirt before settling himself next to Tony on the bed, leaning back against the headboard. Tony wriggled closer, pressing his nose to Gibbs' side and throwing an arm around Gibbs' waist, as if sensing the older man's presence even deep in slumber. Gibbs wrapped an arm around Tony, gently brushing his fingers through Tony's hair as he thought about the past four months.

He was busy putting the finishing touches on the carvings he'd been working on. The body of the piece had been easy enough, but the decorations had taken up most of the time. This was a project that had a deadline, likely sooner rather than later, so he'd been working non-stop for the past few weeks, knowing that he was running against the clock.

A squeak of the floor above him followed by the door latching jolted him out of his woodworking headspace. He closed his eyes and listened, relaxing as he recognized the footsteps over squeaky floors.


He tossed the carving tool onto the worktable and dusted himself off with a rag before taking off the safety goggles. He got up from the chair, took down two clean jars from the shelf and poured some bourbon into each, just as the younger man came slowly down the stairs.

Gibbs held out a jar to Tony, not saying a word as the younger man took the drink from his hand. Then he went around the table to drag his chair over and sat down.

He didn't know what to expect, with Tony here in his basement, again. It hadn't ended well the last time they'd had a conversation like this. "Something on your mind?"

Gibbs glanced over to Tony as the younger man settled in the other chair. Tony looked tired and worn out. He had had a rough couple of weeks, one of which had involved arresting his old captain for murdering his former partner. It was bad enough that Price had broke that trust with Tony all those years ago, he didn't need someone else from his past to betray him. Anyone in the military and law enforcement would know that partnerships were sacred. It was hard-earned trust and respect, forged in fire and never to be broken.

Tony said nothing. There was tension around his eyes. Knowing the Port-to-Port Killer had been in the building had everyone worried about the safety of their friends and families and co-workers, and he knew that it was bugging the hell out of Tony.

Seconds passed, minutes, and they sat there, sipping, not talking. Gibbs quietly observed Tony, watching the other man shift, loosening the tie, the collar, and carefully swallowed down his own desires with his bourbon, like a bitter pill.

He'd be lying to himself if he said he wasn't jealous. He'd had feelings for Tony for too long. He'd tried to convince himself that he couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't. While he knew Tony wasn't exactly straight as an arrow, there was a whole boatload of other reasons why they could not get involved.

But that never stopped him from seeing red every time Tony became involved with someone new. It'd been the reason why their conversation last time had gone completely to shit. The bastard in him had reared his head, and he'd chewed Tony out for talking about her. He knew he shouldn't blame the man. He would've done the same thing in Tony's place; he could see the appeal.

But, God! He'd lashed out, in a fit of jealous rage, all because he was too much of a selfish bastard to think that maybe this was good for Tony, that maybe this was what Tony needed.

"You can say it, you know." Tony's voice broke the self-loathing trance Gibbs was in.

"Say what?" Gibbs frowned.

"Say 'I told you so,'" Tony said sarcastically, his head low.

"Why would I want to say that?" Gibbs was confused.

"Today, at the crime scene, it made me realize that you were right," said Tony as he raised his head, a sad little smile hanging at the corners of his lips. "There really is no room for a relationship at work."

"Ah, hell. Tony, I didn't mean to be so hard on you last—"

"Let me finish," Tony interrupted Gibbs. "Please."

Gibbs arched an eyebrow, waiting.

"EJ and I, we're good together. We have similar interests; we both understand what it takes to be an NCIS agent. She's fun, exciting." Tony looked back down to his drink, avoiding Gibbs' eyes. "We're equals."

Gibbs didn't want to listen to Tony talk about Barrett, but he forced himself to. He owed him that much to listen to him when he needed to talk.

"But today, out there, it made me realize that even with all of that, as long as there is a possibility of us working together, we wouldn't work."

Tony looked back up at Gibbs, his eyes sad and desolate, and Gibbs had to bite down on his own tongue to not make a remark or to step over and give the younger man a hug.

"She doesn't trust me, not like you do." Tony said, almost dismissively, like it wasn't a big deal. Only, it was, and Gibbs knew just how important that "trust" was for Tony, whether it was professional or personal.

Gibbs reconsidered that hug, but decided against it at the end. He didn't want to make Tony uncomfortable. Instead, he leaned over and wrapped his palm over Tony's jaw, his fingers curled over the side of Tony's neck and gave him a light squeeze.

"I'm glad," Gibbs paused, chewing over his words briefly before continuing. "I'm glad that you felt my trust in you, and I'm glad that I still have your trust."

Gibbs spoke clearly, their gaze locked only inches apart, and he felt his heart skip a beat when he saw Tony's eyes light up.

"Me too, Boss."

Gibbs gave Tony a gentle pat on the face before letting him go, and sat back into his chair with a barely-there smile.

"So what now?" Gibbs tossed back the last bit of his bourbon and opened the bottle for a refill. He held up the bottle in askance, but Tony shook his head.

"I'm good," Tony said, playing with his almost empty jar. "I went over to her place earlier. We talked, and decided that we're gonna take a break." Tony sighed. "The thing is, she couldn't understand what I meant when I told her about the whole trust thing."

Gibbs gave a soft snort as he took a sip. "It goes both ways, DiNozzo."

"You saying I don't trust her either?" Tony was taken aback.

"No. What I meant was that trust is both earned and given. You work to earn her trust, but it would always be hers to give. If she couldn't understand that, then there is nothing you could do."

"Yeah, I guess."

"Glad you came." Gibbs patted Tony on the shoulder. "Come on, it's late. You wanna crash here?"

"Nah, I'm gonna head out." Tony gave him a small smile, shaking his head lightly.

"Ya sure? Mike's not gonna get here til tomorrow morning. You can have the couch tonight if ya want."

"Franks is coming?"

"Yep. Need his insights on this case."

"That bad, huh?" Tony sighed, bringing a hand up to scratch the back of his head.

"Looks like." Gibbs sighed as well, finishing his drink.

And then, everything had gone to hell.

He stood there in the middle of the street as heavy rain poured, drenching him. There were lights and sirens all around but he couldn't hear or see them. He couldn't feel the cold either. All he could feel was the rage and anger that was burning in his veins as he swore revenge.

He knew it was inevitable—Mike was terminal. Gibbs knew that he'd rather go out in the blaze of glory than die slowly in a hospital, but Mike had been his mentor! The man had given him his second chance at life, given him his revenge. He was sure that if he hadn't met Mike, he wouldn't be standing here right now.

Tony had walked up to him with an umbrella, shielding him temporarily from the rain as he rattled off some information. He knew Tony was worried about him, but he couldn't bring himself to tell Tony that he was okay because he wasn't. He couldn't muster up the courage to admit that he wasn't okay either. So, there in the rain, he stood.

None of them left the Yard that night.

He'd buried it all down, turning the anger he'd felt into motivation to keep him going.

Closure. He remembered the conversation he had with Rachel Cranston about that.

He didn't find his closure until after Mike's funeral.

It was a small service, just the team and Mike's daughter-in-law and granddaughter. The sky was overcast, looking almost like rain even though the forecast said otherwise. His team stood next to Leyla and Amira while he served as one of the pallbearers. He should be used to it, but he felt himself jump to the twenty-one-gun salute.

Leyla didn't cry, but Gibbs could see the unshed tears in her eyes as he held her close and told her that he'd arranged for them to come live in DC. He wanted them close; they were his last connections to Mike. Amira held onto the hem of Leyla's skirt through the entire service, far too young to understand what was really happening.

They'd gathered, after the burial service, at Gibbs' house. Abby and Tony had volunteered to taken care of the food and drinks, and they'd spent the rest of the afternoon and evening swapping stories about Mike, doing their best to honor his memories.

The reality didn't hit home until everyone had left, leaving just him and Tony, who'd insisted he stay and help tidy up the place. Gibbs went down to the basement after Tony volunteered to take out the garbage. He stood there and stared at the big empty space that Mike's coffin had occupied for the past five months. He felt the suppressed anger come surging back like a tsunami and found himself shaking, his hands clenching and unclenching. He gasped for breath as he tried not to break down right then and there.

Gibbs hadn't felt so out of control in a long time. Not since Shannon and Kelly had died.

A pair of arms came around his side, wrapping themselves over his stomach and chest, and pulled his body back gently into the warm, solid heat of another. Gibbs would've probably fallen on his knees if it wasn't for those strong, firm arms, much like his own, holding him tight and secure against the other man's warmth.

Tony's arms were unfaltering and unmoving; an assuring comfort as Gibbs slowly worked through his emotions—the anger, the sorrow, the guilt. Tony was with him every step of the way, until his shaking slowly subsided.

He turned in Tony's arms, expecting to see… he wasn't sure what he'd expected to see, but it wasn't the gentle compassion mixed up with pain and sorrow in those green eyes, blurry because of the moisture in his own.

"Ssh…" Tony's hands were gentle, as they stroked his back, smoothing down his hair. "It's okay. I'm here."

Tony's soft word banished the last of his guilt and anger, broke down the wall that caged him. Tony held him tight as he sobbed into Tony's shoulder, his own hands clutching at the back of Tony's shirt.

He should feel embarrassed, crying like this in front of his senior field agent, but he didn't. It felt right, somehow. It was Tony. He trusted Tony.

"Tony…" Gibbs' voice was broken as he spoke. He wanted to apologize to Tony but he just couldn't find the right words. He loosened his grip on Tony's shirt, bringing one hand to touch the little wet spot where his face had been buried. "I'm sorry…"

"Nothing to be sorry about. You needed it." Tony said quietly, and Gibbs could hear the relief, tinged with just a sliver of delight and worry, in Tony's voice. "I've got your six, Boss. I'm just glad that I could be here for you, like you've always done for me."

Tony straightened up and released Gibbs from his hold. "Glad that you still trust me enough to let me help you."

Gibbs missed the contact and the younger man's warmth as soon as Tony let go of him. He looked into Tony's eyes, his hand on Tony's shoulder with a light squeeze. "Always, Tony. You'll always have my trust."

The other man smiled shyly, but he didn't look away. There was something about the intensity in that man's eyes that, despite Gibbs' reluctance, drew him close.

"Gosh, I think we better go upstairs and do something manly before we both turn into saps," Tony said after a long moment.

Gibbs chuckled, for the first time since that fateful night in the rain, and gave Tony a solid pat on the shoulder. "Speak for yourself. Come on, let's go."

"Yeah." Tony sighed, pulling away completely. "I better get going, too. It's getting late."

They made their way up the stairs, through the kitchen, dining room and living room to the front hall. Gibbs watched as Tony went to the door, took his jacket off the hook and put it on. As he followed behind Tony, he thought about Mike, thought about all the near misses they had over the years, thought about what Tony meant to him.

His body moved before he was aware of it, and then his arms were wrapped around Tony's shoulders and waist, tugging the younger man back gently. He shouldn't have done that, but he couldn't control himself, his need to touch, to feel too strong to reign in.

"Stay," Gibbs heard himself whisper shakily and hesitantly into Tony's ear. "Stay the night."

His heart sank as he felt Tony tense up in his arms. Forcing himself to release the younger man, he pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes, turning away. He let out a long, shaky breath. He'd gone and messed it up again. Fucking fantastic.

"Ah, hell. Shouldn't have done that," Gibbs muttered under his breath as he rubbed his face with one hand. He had his back to the door, shoulders slumped and his head hung low. "Christ! What the hell is wrong with me?"


"You need to leave." Leave and let him continue to wallow in self-pity alone, Gibbs thought glumly. "Now. Just go—"

"Jethro." He gasped softly, Tony's body heat branding his back as Tony called him by name, standing almost too close.

A million things ran through his mind but he couldn't focus on any of them except for the presence of the man behind him. A hand tugged at him by his shoulder. "Jethro, look at me."

He turned, grudgingly, at Tony's insistence. "Tony, I—"

Tony pressed two fingers to Gibbs' lips, his tone firm but gentle. "When were you going to tell me? Hmm? You were never going to tell me, were you?"

Gibbs scowled at Tony, refusing to admit that Tony was right.

"You could've saved us both a lot of time and trouble, if you'd have just admitted it sooner, you know." Tony sighed, a smirk playing at his lips. "How long has this been going on?"

"…A while," Gibbs spit out reluctantly.

"A while as in…what, a month? A few months? A year? More than a year?" Tony's eyes widened, causing Gibbs to look away to the side, his face flushed. Tony glared at him. "Why didn't you just tell me?"

Gibbs turned away, strode over to the couch and threw himself in it. "Rule twelve, I'm your boss, I'm too old for you, I'm a man… take your pick, there are plenty of 'em."

"Excuses, excuses," Tony said as he plopped himself down on the couch next to Gibbs. He sat close so the entire side of his body was pressed up against Gibbs.

"You were with Jeanne, and then there was EJ…"

"Jethro, you listen to me and you listen well." Tony sat up and reached over to palm Gibbs' face, forcing Gibbs to face him. "Yes, I've had other relationships, but you've always had a place in my heart."

Tony leaned closer. "How could you not see it? Did you think the team was the only reason I passed on Rota?"

Gibbs didn't answer.

"You stupid, stubborn man." Tony let out a soft snort. "And here I thought you weren't interested. God knows I've given you enough signals."

"What about Barrett?" Gibbs had to know.

"I told you; we were good together. We had fun, but she and I wanted different things. We were never that serious to begin with." Tony sighed. "Plus, you were always there in the back of my mind. I thought being with EJ would change that, but…" Tony shrugged. "Anyways. That's all in the past. Right now, I have something more important to do."

"And that is?"

"This." Tony brought Gibbs' head closer and closed the last bit of distance between them.

Tony's lips were warm and gentle, the kiss was almost chaste, and it was as if Tony was trying to reassure them both. The kiss was so much better than Gibbs could've imagined, and he felt lost in it, wanting more.

They ended up cuddling in bed, doing nothing more than a few kisses, and yet, it felt more intimate to Gibbs than any of his previous relationships besides Shannon.

Tony woke to the sound of rain. Looked like the weatherman was wrong after all, he thought. The dull ache on the side of his head and the left side of his ribcage where the bullet had hit the vest was still there, but it wasn't as bad as before.

The room was quiet, almost completely silent, save the sound of rain hitting the roof and sides of the house. He could tell by the dim light that it was barely dawn. Gibbs was still asleep, but Tony knew that his lover would wake soon, like he always did.

Tony turned his head slightly, his eyes focusing through the remnants of sleep to observe his lover, something he rarely got to do since the man would always be up before he would. Gibbs had wrapped his arms and legs around Tony, like Tony was a giant teddy bear. The man's head was next to Tony's, and his breath tickled the hair behind Tony's ear.

Tony never used to like being cuddled. With other people it had always felt like he was suffocating, but not with Gibbs. Tony'd found out after they first got together that Gibbs would unconsciously wrap himself around his bedmate when he felt threatened or worried. Instead of feeling trapped, though, Tony had always felt safe surrounded by Gibbs. Warm and comforting—better than a blanket, Tony smiled as he thought to himself.

Gibbs stirred briefly, blowing out a deep breath before sinking back into sleep, his breathing slow and even. The man looked unguarded when asleep. The lack of a frown and tension around his eyes made him look slightly younger than his years.

Life with Gibbs was, for the lack of a better word, interesting. The man was different at home—more relaxed, less quiet, and a bit of a goof sometimes. It was good. It was easy. It was what Tony'd been looking for all these year but never quite found. He never had to hide who he was behind a mask when they were alone together.

The true challenge came when SecNav recruited him for the assignment that ended with Cade dead, EJ missing, and him in a hospital. He was glad that he made the right call telling Gibbs.

"Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo?" Tony had just stepped out of the coffee shop a block away from the Navy Yard when a man approached him.

"Yes?" Tony asked as he observed the man, who was dressed in a plain dark suit and sunglasses. The earpiece spiraling out from under the suit jacket told Tony that the man was part of a security detail.

"Secretary Jarvis would like a word," The man said, his face devoid of emotion.

"The SecNav wants to talk to me? Here?" Tony frowned. "What's this about?"

"If you would follow me, Secretary Jarvis would like to discuss the matter privately." The man motioned Tony towards the town car that was parked in the near by parking lot. "Please."

Tony sighed as he followed the man and got into the car when the door opened.

Gibbs was going to kill him for being late, lover or not.

"Mr. Secretary," Tony greeted.

"Agent DiNozzo," Jarvis greeted back, looking up briefly from an opened folder in Tony's direction.

"You wanted to see me, Sir?"

"Yes, Agent DiNozzo." Jarvis closed the folder he was reading from and fixed Tony with a stare. "There is an urgent matter that needs to be resolved quickly. You came highly recommended, as you have the undercover experiences and skills necessary for this assignment."

"Uhm, thank you. Sir."

"This would be a career making assignment for you, but it is highly classified—need to know and eyes only. I need to know that you are committed to this assignment before I give you any further information." Jarvis took off his glasses, cleaning them with his tie. "Go back and think about it. We'll meet in a couple of days, and you can give me your decision then."

Tony nodded, unsure of what to say. A solo, classified mission sounded on one hand completely sketchy and risky, but on the other hand exactly like the kind of challenge Tony'd always enjoyed.

Which would be why Tony accepted the assignment when SecNav's security guy "escorted" him to their second meeting.

"Gibbs?" Tony let himself into the house. Gibbs had given him a backup key awhile back after the older man had reinstalled a new lock on his door. Gibbs had caught up with him at the shooting range earlier, but he couldn't say much, given how sensitive the information was. He'd promised Gibbs to tell him over dinner.

"In the kitchen," Gibbs voice came from the back of the house.

Tony hung up his jacket next to Gibbs' before making his way to find the other man. "Smells good. What's cooking?"

"Meatloaf. Get the butter and cream from the fridge?" Gibbs asked as he scooped out the potatoes from boiling water before putting the green beans in. "And set the table."

"You want one?" Tony held up a beer as he rummaged around the fridge for the elusive carton of cream.

"Sure," Gibbs said as he slid the loaf pan out of the oven.

"So, what is it that Jarvis wants from you?" Gibbs asked, scooping out a second helping of mashed potato to go with more meatloaf. He passed Tony the bowl when the younger man held out his hand.

"Mole hunt." Tony said simply as he refilled his plate. He knew Gibbs was worried. After that whole debacle with Le Grenouille, everyone was a bit more wary of the upper echelon. Gibbs had made him promise then that if he was ever involved in an undercover op again, he'd at least let Gibbs know. "Someone within the organization is selling top secret information to God-knows-who, and they suspected Cade. My mission is to 'deal with the problem ASAP'."

"Cade?" Gibbs frowned.

"Yeah." Tony sighed. "Jarvis didn't want anyone on the team to know about this. It's strictly need-to-know."

"I know." Gibbs nodded. "I'll keep an eye on it from my end. Vance seems to think something is fishy, and I want you to be careful, keep me in the loop."

"I will." Tony looked over to Gibbs. It wasn't just his boss talking, but also his lover. "You're not mad that I took on that assignment without talking to you first?"

"Tony, I can't force you to not do things you think is right to do, and I would never do that. It is your decision, and it'd be a good career move," Gibbs said, his eyes fixed on Tony. "But I appreciate you telling me this. All I ask, is that you watch your six when I couldn't be there to watch it for you."

"Got it."

Tony spent rest of the summer tracking down leads, trying to find Cade. Cade had gone dark shortly before he was due back at the Bremerton office. No one had seen or heard from him since. Tony knew it would be a challenge to find him—the man had genius level intelligence and enough experience as an agent to anticipate their every move. He knew that the only person who might know where Cade was would be EJ. Except EJ was nowhere to be found. So he went looking.

Meanwhile, Ducky had found out about EJ removing the chip that was embedded in Levin's arm. When Gibbs briefed Tony about Levin and Wright, Tony's gut told him that all of it had to be connected to EJ and Cade somehow.

He caught up with EJ in South Carolina six weeks later. She was good at hiding her trail, but he was better. He was hesitant to believe what EJ told him about Levin and Wright—in fact, he wasn't sure what to believe anymore—but he didn't have a choice. EJ had been his only lead. After finding out that someone was trying to kill them both, he brought her back to DC, to Gibbs' place knowing they'd at least be safe there.

He hadn't gone to Gibbs' place in over two weeks, and he'd missed the house more than he missed his own apartment. He could literally feel the tension from the past two weeks of chasing leads and playing spy games bleed out of him as soon as he step foot in the house.

Gibbs wasn't surprised at all coming home to EJ and him standing in his living room. Gibbs didn't comment on his absence for the past two weeks, or EJ's presence as he asked Gibbs for help. The man merely nodded, fixing Tony briefly with a look that spoke of relief but also longing. He knew that Gibbs had missed him when Gibbs told him to make dinner. The older man had fallen in love with his Spaghetti Bolognese; they'd have it for dinner about once a week, when they managed to find the time to cook.

"So, you and Gibbs are together now?" EJ had asked him when he brought down a pillow and a blanket for her to sleep on Gibbs' couch.

"What?" Tony gawked at EJ, trying to play dumb.

"Oh, come on. Don't give me that, I've got eyes. You cook for him! And the looks? It was pretty obvious, you know."

Tony didn't want to respond. Given the history between he and EJ, Tony hadn't wanted her to find out about the fledgling relationship between he and Gibbs. That discussion of the case over dinner had him flashing back to that talk he had with Gibbs about trust and EJ. He sighed. "What do you want me to say?"

"Nothing. I didn't mean anything by that. I was just wondering." EJ shrugged. "I'm not jealous or anything, just… curious."

"Yeah, well, when your ex-girlfriend asks you about your current secret lover, wouldn't you freak out a bit?" Tony tried to remain calm as he addressed EJ's comment, but his thoughts came out more heated than he'd intended. "Sorry. Didn't mean to sound so hostile."

"So? You and Gibbs?" EJ tilted her head with her eyebrows slightly raised.

"It's none of your business." Tony handed her the pillow and blanket. "Nothing to talk about."

"How did we end up like this, Tony?" EJ took the bedding and tossed it in a heap on the couch. "We were good together."

"We were," Tony said, turning away. "It just wasn't enough. Good night, EJ. Rest well. We've had a long day."

Tony didn't wait for EJ's response, didn't care either. He never resented EJ, but he knew EJ didn't get it—and probably never would—when Gibbs talked about trust being something you had to earn.

The tension that reappeared in his shoulders while talking to EJ melted away again when he got into bed and a pair of strong arms came around his torso to pull him back against Gibbs' solid body. It hadn't taken him long to dive into the deepest and most restful sleep he'd had in the past two weeks.

Gibbs stirred again, but this time his eyes blinked open as he drew in a deeper breath. Tony felt the arms around him tighten and a kiss on his shoulder.

"Good morning." Tony smiled, wriggling over to his side so they were face to face.

"G'mornin'," Gibbs said, his voice still gravely from sleep. "Why are you up so early? You're supposed to be resting."

"Couldn't sleep." Tony leaned in to capture Gibbs in a soft kiss. "Thought you'd be up soon anyways so there's no point in trying."

"C'mere." Gibbs sighed, rolling backwards and tugging Tony to plaster over his side. He thumbed the red bruise on Tony's head where it made contact with the ground. "How's your head?"

Tony thought briefly about downplaying the pain but then he knew Gibbs would just see right through him as always. "Still have a bit of a headache, and my ribs hurt. I'll be fine."

Gibbs searched his eyes for a moment before he kissed Tony on the forehead and then on the lips again. "Okay."

He turned his head and squinted at the clock. "It's been four hours. You want another Tylenol?"

"I want to say no, but my ribs won't let me." Tony winced as he accidently jostled his bruised ribs.

"Stay," Gibbs instructed, pulling away, and rolled out of bed. Tony watched as his lover went into the bathroom and returned with a glass of water and pills. Shaking out one, he offered it to Tony along with the glass.

Tony took the pill and washed it down with the glass of water. "I need to go," he said as he gave the glass back to Gibbs. "I can get there on my own. I'm not dizzy anymore."

"Ya sure?" Gibbs didn't look convinced, but he let Tony get up and out of bed on his own regardless.

Tony made his way into the master bath, relieved himself then decided to brush his teeth as well after washing his hands. Gibbs followed him into the bathroom, doing the same.

"Okay, back to bed," Gibbs decreed. Tony wanted to argue but he stopped himself after Gibbs got under the covers after him. "What? Ya think I'm gonna leave you all alone in bed?" Gibbs teased.

"Well…" Tony shrugged.

"C'mere." Gibbs pulled Tony back into his arms. "Sleep. Rest if you can't. I'll wake you for breakfast later."

Tony stretched himself out so he was comfortably plastered over Gibbs' side once again, with his head nestled in the small space between Gibbs' neck and shoulder.

"Okay," he yawned.

His memories from the alley were still fuzzy. He did, however, remember watching as Cade and EJ went down, and then feeling the impact as the bullet struck his vest.

EJ had left Gibbs' house before dawn. A note with her neat handwriting sat on top of the pillow and neatly folded blanket. She wrote that she was going to find a safe place and lay low until she could establish contact with Cade.

He didn't hear from her again.

He ran any and every lead he had on Cade and EJ and came up empty. It was like Cade had evaporated into thin air. He had hoped that EJ would have better luck tracking Cade down, but she had disappeared as well.

Finally, he decided to surface, to see what he could shake loose. After that, things happened rather quickly.

Cade contacted Abby yesterday, out of the blue, looking for help. Tony knew something was hinky but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He'd thought that EJ would've found him and tried to bring him in, but then why would he call Abby for help?

Abby tried to back trace the cell phone for Cade's location, but the phone had been a dead end. It was a burn phone and they found it in a dumpster behind the George Washington University Library.

Early evening, he got a text, from yet another burn phone. All it had was an address of a café in Georgetown, and a message telling him to meet EJ and Cade in the alley behind the café at 2100.

He'd wondered briefly why EJ hadn't just called him at NCIS—why use a burn phone?—but he'd shrugged it off, thinking that maybe EJ was being careful to not leave a trail.

Gibbs had been in MTAC all afternoon, and all of his calls had been diverted to voicemail. Tony left him a message, told him about the text and the location. He'd told Gibbs not to worry, that he'd call if he needed help.

He knew something was wrong the moment he saw the surprised looks on both EJ's and Cade's faces. He watched as the bullet that came out of nowhere struck Cade, like time had slowed down and the whole scene was playing back in slow motion. As soon as EJ was shot too, he whipped his head around in the direction of the shooter, completely out of reflex.

It was a man he didn't recognize. He tried to aim as adrenaline rushed in his bloodstream, his fight-or-flight response blaring. But before he could pull the trigger and take the shot, the other man fired, without hesitation and the bullet hit him in the left chest.

The bullet knocked the wind out of him, sent him twisting and falling to the ground. The last thing he remembered was thanking his foresight for making him wear that vest.

Gibbs was going to be so pissed if he died on him.

Carding his fingers through Tony's sun-bleached brown strands, Gibbs breathed in deep, his lover's scent filling his nostrils, before letting it out slowly.

Tony had fallen back asleep a while ago. His body was warm, limp and pliant against Gibbs' side, and Gibbs had never felt so relieved in his life.

He knew something was wrong when he came out of that meeting in MTAC later than he'd have liked. His gut had been churning all evening. A quick look at his phone, he noticed that Tony had tried to call him three times only to get his voicemail. He punched the code to listen to Tony's message, but all the younger man had said was he'd be out chasing a lead, and he might've found EJ and Cade.

Turning his face slightly to look at his injured lover, Gibbs couldn't help thanking every deity he knew for protecting Tony.

"Hey, Boss." Tony's voice was hesitant, coming from the speaker of his cell phone. "I just got a text from EJ. Looks like she's found Cade. She's going to go meet him at 2100 behind Café Treble," Tony rattled off an address in Georgetown. "I'll be back as soon as I have Cade in custody."

Gibbs frowned. It was past 2230, and Tony hadn't checked in yet. It was odd for Tony to not check in with him for something like this. The rest of the team had gone home already; there was very little they could do without Cade or EJ. Gibbs looked around the bullpen, then flipped his phone open again, autodialing Tony's cell.

"You've reached Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. I'm either chasing the bad guy, making the bad guy squeal, too drunk to answer, or the phone's not on me. Leave a message and I'll call you back." Gibbs rolled his eyes when Tony's voicemail picked up the call.

"DiNozzo, where the hell are you?" Gibbs demanded. "Get your ass back here."

Hanging up the call, Gibbs stared at it for a brief moment before pressing four for McGee. He picked up his badge, weapon and spare clip with the phone wedged between his ear and shoulder. "McGee!"

"Yeah, Boss?" McGee sounded confused. "Is…something wrong?"

"Meet me at the corner of M Street and Wisconsin Northwest," Gibbs said as he hit the call button for the elevator. "Now, McGee!"

"On it, Boss." McGee said quickly, as if sensing the tension in Gibbs' voice.

It was normally a fifteen-minute drive, on a good day, but with the late hours and lack of traffic, Gibbs made it in ten. He parked the car on the street and began searching for the alleyway Tony had mentioned.

Gibbs felt his heart stop when he saw Tony lying prone on the ground, not moving. He ran over, crouching with his gun drawn, and knelt down next to Tony. The warmth and the steady pulse told him that his lover was alive, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

"Tony?" Gibbs gave Tony a good shake on the shoulders. "Wake up, Tony."

His phone rang. "Gibbs."

"Boss, where are you?"

"Alley, behind Café Treble." Gibbs replied then disconnected the call as he reached a hand under Tony's torso, feeling for any indication of injuries. He felt the knot in his gut loosen when his finger came in contact with the bullet that was lodged in the vest.

There was no sign of Cade or EJ, or anyone else for that matter. Gibbs began dialing for emergency services as he waited for McGee. "911, what's your emergency?"

"I have a federal agent who's been shot. He was wearing a vest but he's unconscious. I need EMT on scene as well as Metro PD," Gibbs said calmly to dispatch. "I'm located in an alley off of the southeast corner of Wisconsin and M Street."

"Sir, can I get your name please?"

"Boss?" McGee shouted from the entrance of the alley, and Gibbs waved him over. "What happened?"

"I don't know," Gibbs said, covering the phone. "Tony's been shot. Call Ziva, get her down here."


"Yes. Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Naval Criminal Investigative Service."

"EMT is on route, Agent Gibbs. Metro's been notified, they're sending two cars to your location."

Gibbs disconnected the call and, with hesitation, ran his hand over the back of Tony's head gently before getting up to face McGee.

"Begin canvassing the area. I want you and Ziva to search every inch of this place."

"Got it."

A groan from Tony had Gibbs kneeling down next to the younger man immediately. "Boss?"

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs offered his hand when it became clear that Tony was trying to get up. "Hey! Take it easy."

"What happened?" Tony hissed when his movements jostled his ribcage.

"Stay still!" Gibbs pushed Tony gently down on the ground before unzipping Tony's jacket. "You've been shot. The bullet hit your vest, so no major damage." Gibbs thumbed the bruise that was beginning to surface on the side of Tony's head. "But you're gonna be bruised for a few days."

"Lovely." Tony winced when Gibbs' thumb stroked a tender spot. "I think I hit my head, too."

Gibbs was about to say something when the sirens sounded from the entrance of the alley. McGee quickly went to bring the EMT over.

"Special Agent Gibbs?" Gibbs nodded. "My name is Marcus. And this is?"

"Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo," Tony said weakly.

"Still got a sense of humor. That's good." Marcus smiled as he began his preliminary exam. "Okay, let's see. The bullet struck your vest, didn't perforate," Marcus ripped the vest off of Tony then pressed his fingers to Tony's ribcage, "and the bones didn't feel broken. You'll be bruised for a few days, but that'll heal on its own."

"He hit his head, too," Gibbs commented, arching a brow and daring Tony to say otherwise.

Marcus whipped out a flashlight and shone it in Tony's eyes. "The pupils are a bit sluggish. We should get him to a hospital for a check up, make sure there isn't anything else more serious."

"I don't…" Tony's protest trailed off when Gibbs glared at him.

"Unit 314, come in, please. Unit 314," Marcus spoke into his walkie talkie.

"Unit 314, go."

"John, can you bring the stretcher over? We need transport to the hospital."

"'kay, be right over."

Metro police arrived as the EMTs began loading Tony into the ambulance, Ziva right behind them. Gibbs briefed the junior agents before hopping into the ambulance to accompany Tony to the ER.

"Tony, what happened?" Gibbs asked after he was finally allowed into the treatment room to talk to Tony. They'd been there for the past hour with the doctor running a bunch of tests on Tony, and the nurses had very politely kicked Gibbs out to the waiting area.

Tony looked down at his own hands before looking back up at Gibbs. "I don't know."

"What do you mean 'you don't know'?" asked Gibbs, frowning.

"I can't remember." Gibbs could see the uncertainty and the worry in Tony's eyes, as well as the underlying fear. "I can't remember what happened."

Gibbs' phone went off, and the nurses glared at him, pointing to the "no cellphone" sign on the wall.

"It's McGee," Gibbs glanced at his phone before silencing the call for now. He ran his hand over Tony's hair, then down, cupping his face. "I'll be right back," Gibbs whispered, as he leaned in to kiss Tony gently when the nurses weren't watching. "Be good."

Walking out of the ER, Gibbs stood near the entrance and dialed back to McGee. "Report, McGee."

"Boss!" McGee jumped at the terse tone of Gibbs' voice. "Uhm. Ziva and I are done with the scene, everything bagged and tagged. Metro PD swept the area, but they didn't find anything or anyone else. We found brass, two rounds that matched the caliber of Tony's Sig. And blood."

"Tony's not wounded." Gibbs told him. "Get those to Abby. I want to know whose gun those rounds belong to, and whose blood it was."

"On it."

"Call me back as soon as you know," Gibbs sighed, bringing his hand up to rub his face. This had not been a good night. "And keep it quiet."

"Got it, Boss."

Hanging up, Gibbs turned to walk back into the ER, but then stopped. He looked down at his phone before taking his wallet out from his back pocket. He fished out a card and dialed the number written on the back.

"Hello?" a sleepy female voice came through the speaker.

"Rachel, it's Gibbs." Gibbs said simply. "I need your help."

Gibbs was flipping pancakes when Tony finally came downstairs, drying his hair with a hand towel.

"Hey." Tony came from behind and wrapped his arms around Gibbs' waist. "Ooh, pancakes."

"Hungry?" Gibbs turned slightly, sparing a hand to thumb over the bruise on the side of Tony's head, which had darkened into a maroon tinged with a sickly yellow. He gave Tony a quick peck on the lips before turning back to lift the last batch of pancakes onto a plate next to a small mound of scrambled eggs and a few strips of crispy bacon.

"Starving." Tony nuzzled Gibbs' neckline.

Gibbs gave a soft snort. "Then go set the table. I'll be done in a minute."

"Nah ah." Tony shook his head, fresh stubbles grazing Gibbs' skin, making it tingle. "Don't wanna. Comfy right here."

"Tony…" Gibbs' voice was one of pure exasperation.

"I'm sorry." Tony said quietly, arms tightening slightly around Gibbs.

"What for?"

"Not bringing backup, for not double checking things," Tony said dejectedly.

"I think last night was punishment enough, don't you think?" Gibbs sighed, turning of the stove and turned to look at his lover. "I'm just glad you're not seriously hurt."

Tony nodded. "So, what do you think is going to happen now?"

"I don't know, to be honest." Gibbs took the two plates of food and two sets of utensils. "Whoever that Stratton was, he wanted you dead to frame you for Cade's murder."

"He even came to the hospital to try and finish the job." Tony frowned as Gibbs led him to the dining table. "I don't know what to make of that."


Tony sighed. "I guess I'm just a bit rattled. I mean, an enemy that I could confront, criminals who I can defend myself from, sure, I have no problems with that. But someone unknown, like Stratton… I just… I don't know. I guess I'm just having a hard time accepting that I'm in a vulnerable position."

"Tony." Gibbs put the plates and utensils down on the table before he pulled Tony into a tight hug. "We'll face it together. Like we always do. You have me to watch your six. There's Abby and McGee and Ziva and Ducky. Hell, even Palmer and Vance. We're all going to be there for you."

"I know," Tony sighed into Gibbs' shirt. The worn sweatshirt was soft to the touch. "I just got this feeling that Stratton is some how connected to the Phantom Eight."

"I wouldn't put it past Latham. Stratton has all the hallmarks of a black ops operative."

"This is going to get messy, isn't it?"

"I hope you're wrong, Tony. I really do." Gibbs sighed. "Come on. Food, then more rest."

"Can I take the couch this time? I think I'm all 'slept out'." Tony winced when Gibbs mentioned rest. He was not as tired as before, and he wanted to do something. Anything. It hadn't even been a day and the sheer possibility of boredom was already driving him up the walls.


Tony gave Gibbs a smile before he began to wolf down his brunch.

The series of urgent knocks at the door woke Tony from his meditation over the answer of 27-down.

He looked over to Gibbs over the edge of his crossword book. "You expecting someone?"

"Nope." Gibbs made a face, but he got up, got his weapon out of a handmade wood box on the bookshelf. It might be rude if it's just his neighbor, but better safe than sorry.

He made his way to the front door, but saw no one outside through the oval. He had just opened the door to double-check when a hand grabbed a leg of his sweats.



"I need your help." The former agent was sitting on the small cement landing, her back leaning against the wall.

"Shit, you're hurt." The corner of Gibbs' eyes tightened at the sight of EJ's blood. "Come on in."

Gibbs helped EJ up and in the door before shutting and locking it.

"Gibbs, who was…" Tony skidded to a stop at the doorway. "EJ!"

"Hey, Tony," EJ said weakly.

"Tony, go get a few towels, and the first aid kit I keep in the bathroom."

"On it."

"What happened to you?" Gibbs asked as Ducky dressed EJ's wound. He'd asked Tony to ask Ducky to come over as soon as possible. It was a through and through, didn't hit any major organs even with the proximity. Ducky had been pretty surprised at the outcome.

"I woke up in that alley, and Cade was dead. I thought Tony was too!" EJ shook her head like she was trying to shake something off. "I knew I had to get out of there. I'd been holing up in a hour-rate hotel across town since last night."

"Hold still, Agent Barrett," Ducky complained. "There. Don't get it wet. Here are some antibiotics. Finish the course. I'd recommend going to a hospital to make sure everything is okay, but under these circumstances…"

"I'll make sure she's safe, Duck."

"Very well then, Jethro."

"Thanks, Duck."

"Anytime, Jethro. I'll show myself out," Ducky said as he made his way to the door. "Best of luck, Agent Barrett. Farewell."

"Thank you, Doctor," EJ said, her expression unreadable. "I'm sorry to trouble you like this, Gibbs."

"Nothing to be sorry about." Gibbs shook his head. "We take care of our own."

"Gibbs? Jack says that he'll be waiting." Tony finished the call and came back into the living room.

"Jack?" EJ looked from Tony to Gibbs then back to Tony.

"My father." Gibbs took his phone back from Tony. "He lives in Stillwater. You'll be safe up there for the time being."

"Gibbs? We gotta go if we want to make it back here at a reasonable time," Tony reminded Gibbs.

"Alright. Let's roll." Gibbs nodded.

His gut clenched as they made their way to the car. This was going to be one hell of a mess, and for the first time in a long time, Gibbs wished that his gut were wrong.