FEBRUARY 14, 2013: This story was removed for corrections of typos and minor errors and is now re-uploaded.

Gibbs and Tony have been in love with each other from Day 1. Fortunately for us, neither man knows the other is gay. Both have been hiding their secrets. A weekend visit to Stillwater to meet his Dad's new fiancee has Gibbs deciding to test Jackson's revelations, despite the risk if it goes wrong. Gibbs thinks the trust-fund kid is out of his league and Tony believes Gibbs is regretting having hired him.

Just as Tony thinks there may be a chance for him and Gibbs, Fornell turns up with surveillance photos and a video that leaves Tony shattered. As our boys work through their false assumptions about each other, other factors enter their lives as a result of the joint-undercover op with for Fornell.

Tony and Gibbs have to make decisions that will decide their future with NCIS, Washington, D.C.

Story setting: D.C, Tampa Fl, ends in Hawaii.

Timeline: after Season 2 and weeks leading to and after Season 5 finale, Judgment Day.

Since there is no consistency with the ages of Tony or Gibbs, I have made Tony 34 years old and Gibbs a dozen years older. The story goes AU at the final chapters.. Some light casefic sections, a little bit of undercover work but otherwise remains focused on the developing romance between Gibbs and Tony.

WARNINGS: a bit of Jenny-bashing; explicit sex when the boys finally get it on so if you don't like graphic sex in your stories, please DO NOT READ.
Ends with an HEA, of course.

The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written for my enjoyment and fans of the TV series. I make no money from it and is pure fanfic.

Chapter 1

A lonely, morose Gibbs in his basement; a Tony protecting his Casanova persona with McGee and Ziva; a Shepard deciding DiNozzo is looking real good these days.

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs' bark had Tony jumping in mid-conversation. "Ziva's sex life is not part of your job description." He strode past Tony to his seat.

His senior field agent froze, expecting a head-slap. Or rather, hoping for one. When it didn't come, a puzzled frown replaced Tony's wince. "Yes, boss. I mean, no boss. It isn't." Tony hopped back to his desk and powered up his computer. "And good morning, boss," he added. "And I wasn't digging into Ziva's sex life. I was merely giving her some brotherly advice, some level-headed caution as she ventures into the perilous waters of dating in the bad ol' US of A."

Gibbs looked across the bullpen to his SFA. "'Level-headed' and 'caution' are not the words I'd associate with you and sex, DiNozzo."

McGee sniggered and Ziva smothered a grin. "Hey!" McGee yelped as a paper ball smacked into his temple.

"What, McVirgin? You don't even have a sex life to snigger about."

Gibbs snatched up his phone in mid-ring. "Yeah. Gibbs." He hung up and grabbed his weapon from the side drawer. "Gear up. Dead Marine."

It was a suicide. One that had Gibbs shaking his head, wondering why people even bothered to get married. Surely that step had to count for something. So said a guy who had been married four times, he snorted at himself.

Gibbs had Ziva wrap it up once he saw nothing to suggest foul play. The day progressed without another case but Gibbs was kep busy at MTAC running an op with one of the units in the Middle-East. By the time he emerged, it was close to six and told the team they could call it a day. He heard DiNozzo give a loud hoot and start telling his colleagues about his latest diversion as they headed back to the office.

"Tonight's the night, my dears." Tony said to McGee and Ziva, rubbing his palms together. Been working her this past week and I know - I just know - tonight's the night!" He powered down his computer and got ready to call it a day.

"And I'm sure we'll hear all about it on Monday," Ziva said, rolling her dark eyes.

"I have an idea,' McGee said, going up to them. Gibbs watched them surreptitiously from his cubicle and shook his head. His junior agent still hadn't learnt.

"What idea, McGee?" Tony asked with a lift of his brow.

"Ziva and I were wondering whether to go for drinks and dinner. So...why don't we go with you and you can introduce us to your mystery lady."

"McDork." Tony clapped his hands on McGee's shoulders. "Are you telling me that both you and Ms. David don't have plans on a Friday night? I mean you're what - thirty-three? Two?"

"Three. Ziva's thirty."

"McGee!" Ziva got out from her cubicle. "Don't tell him my personal stuff." She paused. "And how did you know?"

"What? Oh. I didn't peek at your personal records. Abs told me when you guys were heading out for your birthday dinner last month."

"Your birthday dinner and you didn't invite me?" Tony jumped on that, feigning hurt. "That, Ms. David, is an unforgivable slight. We're colleagues. Close colleagues. Team members who rely on each other day after day. Often, until the wee hours of the morning. Birthdays, weddings, barmitzvahs - we're an integral part. How could you not tell us? Not include us?"

"Tony's right, Ziva." McGee said.

Gibbs looked at the ex-Mossad agent. Ziva had the grace to look uncomfortable. He'd known it was her birthday, of course. She hadn't invited him either nor had he been expecting to be. Abby's birthday was the one he observed. No, that wasn't entirely true. There was one other person whose life he followed closely but he wasn't going there. Not today. Thinking about DiNozzo on a Friday guaranteed a depressing weekend. The raised voices got him looking up again. What now? There were days when it sounded like he'd hired a trio of five year-olds.

"No. No way." Tony was saying. "You are not coming with me."

"C'mon, Tony." McGee cajoled. "It'll be fun."

"And it'll save you having to tell us about it on Monday." Ziva added.

"Hey!" Gibbs yelled, coming up behind them and giving McGee a head-slap. Tony braced himself for his and still winced when it came then he froze. Instead of just a hard, fast slap like he normally got, Tony distinctly felt Gibbs' fingers linger on his hair. There was just a momentary pause then a featherlight caress down the nape of his neck. It was unmistakable. And unsettling. "Get outta here unless you want to stay back and work some cold cases." Gibbs growled, breaking Tony's daze.

Scooting back to his desk, Tony fished out his backpack from under the table. He shrugged it on then gave Gibbs a wave. "Bye, boss. See ya on Monday." If they didn't get called out over the weekend, that is. They weren't on call but despite what his team thought, Tony hoped they did get called out on a case. It would, as Ziva was likely to point out, save him from having to brag about his latest conquest. Some days - and there were more of these lately - he wanted to give it up and come out to the team but the years as a closeted cop in Philly and Baltimore weren't easy to shake off.

There was also the fear of Gibbs' reaction. The boss had never made a homophobic remark in the five years Tony had worked under him but that didn't mean he'd be okay with his SFA being gay.

"Tony!" Ziva called after him. "Just one drink and we'll leave you two alone."

"Yeah, Tony." McGee added. "Hold the elevator! We're coming!"

The elevator doors opened just as Tony reached it and he zipped inside, slapping the button and closing the doors in McGee's and Ziva's faces. The two agents burst out laughing and sauntered back to the bullpen still snickering as they reached it.

"Wanna tell me what's so funny?" Gibbs asked.

"Tony, boss." McGee stifled another laugh. "He's been going on about these women for as long as I've been here but we've never met a single one of them."

"So," Ziva piped in. "We suspect they don't exist."

"Or rather, we want Tony to think we think they don't exist."

Gibbs looked up at that remark, looked as if he was going to ask something then shook his head and resumed checking the file he'd been reading.

"We've been suggesting going out on group dates just to see his reaction," Ziva added.

"But he never agrees," McGee added. "Always giving one excuse or another - we'll cramp his style, we'll spook his date -"

"Can't say I disagree with him." Gibbs murmured, closing the file and powering down his computer. He'd head home, too. Pick up some Chinese on the way.

"No, boss, we don't," McGee said. "Want to cramp his style, I mean."

"We just want him to think we really want to meet his 'dates'." Ziva made quote marks for "date". Gibbs' brow lifted enquiring. "We don't think there are any dates. We think it's all an act."

"So...what?" Gibbs asked. "You think he just goes home and watches his movies all night while pretending he's got a date?"

McGee hesitated before he replied. "Well, uh...not exactly." He glanced at Gibbs. "He probably goes trawling for pickups at one bar or another. One night stands. Tony doesn't date date. He just does short-term hookups."

Ziva gave a sniff. "Women look for more than just one night stands, contrary to what Tony believes. I bet he goes home alone more times than he lets on."

Gibbs' smile hovered on his lips as he gave his head a small shake. "Have you both got eyes?"

McGee frowned. "Boss?"

"DiNozzo's a good-looking guy. A very good-looking guy."

"Oh, that's not -" Ziva stopped abruptly. She was about to say looks weren't enough and that if it was aWll Tony could offer a woman then it was no wonder he was still single but something in Gibbs' expression made her stop.

"Not what?" Gibbs asked.

"Um...uh..." McGee looked at Ziva. "Not what, Ziva?"

"Not what Tony would like us doing - talking about his personal life behind his back," Ziva rattled off quickly as she returned to her desk. "I'll see you on Monday, Gibbs, if we don't get called in." She grabbed her bag and rushed out of the bullpen.

McGee frowned after her. "Err...I've got to go, too," he said hurriedly and took off in the opposite direction."

Gibbs shook his head and slammed his drawer shut after retrieving his weapon.

Alone in his basement, Gibbs switched on the TV and ate his chow mein, half-listening to the news. He'd brought the TV down a couple of weeks ago when he realized he hardly spent any time in the living room. On the nights the he got to come home early, he didn't even bother going up to his bedroom to sleep. He'd shower then come down to the basement to eat his dinner, work on the boat and fall asleep on the couch. Some nights he didn't even make it to the couch, falling asleep under the boat because he had been sitting on the floor, propped up against it as he sipped his bourbon and let the thoughts come, too tired of fighting them.

Not healthy, he knew, but hell, he'd been through worse. Much worse. When he'd lost Shannon and Kelly, he'd felt as if his chest had been sliced open and his heart ripped out. And he hadn't even been in love with Shannon. They'd loved each other deeply but they'd never been in love with one another. Not that anyone knew that. That little detail - and the other - was something he'd kept to himself and Shannon. As far as Shannon knew, the boy she'd married had loved her, even if it was as a best friend. She was as practical as she was warm and generous. Gibbs had considered himself lucky to have had her in his life. If their sex life wasn't as exciting and active as it should have been, Shannon never complained. She'd shown him it was possible to love deeply even if it wasn't the passionate, erotic love between a man and a woman. He'd treasure her for that, always.

No one at NCIS even knew about Shannon and his daughter. As far as everyone was concerned, he'd been married three times and that was all they were going to know.

Gibbs supposed he'd tell Ducky one of these days. He might even talk to him about Tony. He gave a self-deprecatory snort and smacked his near-empty carton down on the coffee table. Anthony DiNozzo. His very own bĂȘte noir. The young man drove Gibbs crazy - in every bad way. DiNozzo's antics often exasperated him - the man just didn't know when to quit. That period when he was out of commission, almost dying from the plague, had been Gibbs' worst nightmare. It had taken him a long time but he'd eventually acknowledged that the thought of losing DiNozzo scared him even more than if he had to relive his girls' deaths. That had sent him down a spiral of guilt and shame and if he'd been a bastard before, he was doubly so those weeks DiNozzo was in hospital. Thankfully, everyone else was as anxious about DiNozzo's recovery and Gibbs' surliness those days had been accepted and understood as natural.

When DiNozzo recovered, Gibbs had been relieved beyond words and literally so. There was no way he'd ever tell DiNozzo what it meant to him when he heard his SFA had beaten the dreaded disease and would recover. Gibbs suspected Ducky knew there was more than met the eye where DiNozzo and he were concerned but the M.E. was never one to pry so all that came Gibbs' way were a couple of enquiring glances. Which Gibbs always ignored, of course. He'd almost given himself away earlier this evening. Those head-slaps had to stop if they were now tempting him beyond his endurance. For that split second, he'd allowed his fingertips to caress DiNozzo's hair and it had taken every ounce of self-control to pull back. Damn. He really had to pull back and do it fast before other people started noticing.

He felt unusually morose tonight and switched off the TV, preferring silence with his bourbon. Probably a midlife crisis, nasty as the thought was. Then again, weren't those victims supposed to find their careers dissatisfying along with the rest of their lives? Weren't they supposed to be wanting to take off and do crazy stuff like go round the world on a Harley with an eighteen year-old chick hugging them from behind? Maybe it was a midlife crisis after all because going around the world on a Harley sounded like a pretty good idea. He could do without the clinging female, though.

And with that thought came the alternative - Tony's arms around him, hugging him so close they were like one body, instead of two. See the world on a Harley with DiNozzo? Hell, he'd crawl on his knees if it meant having DiNozzo to grow old with. He glanced at the boat he'd been building. Sail the seven seas with him? Huh. Sun, sea, surf and DiNozzo? That would be out of this world. Until the bikini babes started walking by. Then it'd just be sun, sea, surf and DiNozzo's retreating back. Still, lazy days laying nude on the beach...

Lose those fantasies, Marine, he told himself. DiNozzo was, he'd bet, right this minute in bed and inside some female whose name he wouldn't even remember when he got home. Gibbs recalled the number of times he'd heard DiNozzo bragging about the woman - women - he'd bedded over the weekend and that he could never could recall their names. To Ziva's disgust. Gibbs had to chuckle over that. Both she and McGee were so easy to bait and DiNozzo never failed to do so.

Thinking about the man he could never have only served to increase Gibbs' ambivalent mood. By the time he strode into the bullpen on Monday, it had soured considerably.

Monday morning

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs barked as he rounded the corner into the bullpen. "Leave the narration of your weekend orgy to after hours. Gas up. Dead Marine." He tossed the keys to Tony. "Shot his wife, two other men then turned the gun on himself."

The three team members scrambled to get out of the bullpen before Gibbs but, as usual, he beat them to the elevator. Ziva smirked at Tony and McGee was throwing him side glances. Gibbs counted silently and sure enough, on the count of three, DiNozzo whipped out his phone, tabbed a few times then showed it to McGee who took one look and tried to grab the phone.

"Tony! Give me that!" McGee made another attempt to snatch the phone but Tony held it up and away. Ziva craned her neck to see what was displayed. Tony tabbed the buttons again and showed it this time to Ziva, resulting in an ear-splitting shriek from her.

The scuffle that ensued was brought to an abrupt halt by Gibbs' whistle just as the elevator came to a halt and the doors opened. "One more idiotic display from any one of you and you're all grounded for the rest of the week!" He stalked out of the elevator, leaving DiNozzo to go down to get the car. It was only when he was out in the lobby that he realized neither Ziva nor McGee had exited the elevator with him. Suppressing a growl, he waited at the kerb for the car. Another sedan pulled up and Gibbs reached for the car door when he saw who was inside. He held the door open and Jenny Shepard, the current director of NCIS stepped out. She broke out into a smile when she saw him.

"Just leaving?" she asked.

Gibbs tilted his head in reply, smiling back at his boss. "Car's right behind you."

Shepard turned her head to look just as Tony got out of the car. "DiNozzo's looking more appealing by the day." She murmured.

"He's much younger than you, Jenny," Gibbs said softly, smile still in place.

"And your point is?" she asked smoothly. "DiNozzo." She placed her hand on Tony's arm lightly as the younger man came up to them.

"Good morning, Director. Love that cut." Tony glanced at Shepard's hair. "Pixie suits you."

Gibbs rolled his eyes.

"Now why can't your boss pick up some tips from you about what to say to a woman?" Jenny smiled sweetly at Tony.

"Haul ass, DiNozzo!" Gibbs growled as he moved towards the car. He got in the driver's seat and watched Shepard say something to DiNozzo then saw him respond with a nod and one of those brilliant smiles of his. "What did she want?" he asked Tony when the latter got in.

"Wants me to escort her to the fundraiser tomorrow." Tony answered. "She said you couldn't make it and she wanted an agent to be present, talk to the media. Good PR and all that...stuff you don't do...too well." He glanced at Gibbs and held on tightly to the oh-shit handle as Gibbs took a corner at Mach speed.

"Guess you're the right choice." Gibbs muttered, lips tight. "Surprised she didn't ask you first."

"Yeah, boss. Public Relations are two words that I wouldn't associate with Jethro Gibbs." Tony flashed him a grin which was quickly erased by the glare it earned. Tony looked behind him and saw McGee make a zip-up gesture across his lips while Ziva gave him her version of the Gibbs Death Glare.

To their surprise, Ducky and Palmer were already at the scene. The police lieutenant met Gibbs and his team at the front door, giving him the rundown.

"Lieutenant Mark Abrams. Metro PD." Abrams nodded at Gibbs.

"Special Agent Jethro Gibbs." Gibbs stepped inside the house, Abrams following. Tony and the other two agents followed and got started, consulting with Ducky and taking the photos.

"Marine lieutenant Matthew Thornton." Abrams told Gibbs. "His wife, Janet, and two army personnel. Other two vics are Sergeant Mason Wilkes and Corporal Gabriel Gaines. Looks like Thornton shot his wife and the two men then blew his brains out. CID's been informed." Abrams peered through the bedroom windows as the Army's Criminal Investigation Command made their way up the path. "And they're here."

"Special Agent Gibbs, Lieutenant Colonel Hollis Mann from the CID." Abrams smiled at the trim blonde as he introduced Gibbs to her. "Special Agent Jethro Gibbs from NCIS."

"Colonel." Gibbs extended his hand which his army counterpart took and held on to just a tad longer than she ought to. At least, in Tony's opinion, as he watched the by play from where he was. The US Army Criminal Investigation Command's Special Agent-in-charge looked just Gibbs' type, too - sharp, attractive, of course, and exuded self-confidence. Not a redhead, though, and everyone knew what a sucker Gibbs was for redheads. Still, the flicker of interest from Gibbs was obvious. Mentally shrugging away his annoyance at yet another contender for Gibbs' attention, Tony started up another line of discussion with Ducky while Ziva continued shooting around them. Tony did his sketches but couldn't help giving covert looks at Gibbs and Mann as they discussed the crime. There being two army personnel among the dead, Mann's M.E. was also there. Gibbs was surprisingly - or perhaps not surprising at all, Tony griped - cheerful about sharing jurisdiction with Mann. Tony had seen his team leader jostle for rights even when it likely belonged to the other agency so the only reason Tony could come up with for Gibbs giving it up so easily was that the Colonel had piqued his boss' interest.

He guessed it could be worse. It could have been a male that caught Gibbs' eye. That would just about drive the stake through his heart. As it was, even if Gibbs were gay - which he definitely was not - brunettes didn't turn him on. Add Rule 12 to that and Tony didn't have a snowball in hell's chance of getting anywhere on Gibbs' romance radar. If the guy even knew what it was to be romantic. Three failed marriages weren't particularly good testimonials...

"DiNozzo!" The familiar yell shook Tony out of his reverie and he hurried over to Gibbs.

"Yeah, boss?" Tony threw another glance at Colonel Mann as she conferred with her team.

"Well? You waiting for an invitation?" Gibbs snapped.

"ToD approximately oh-six-hundred. The wife was blindfolded and handcuffed; so was Gaines. The husband and Wilkes weren't. My guess is the husband shot Wilkes first then the other two before turning the gun on himself. Ducky will be able to confirm details when he gets the bodies back to autopsy and gets the Army CID's report on their guys."

Gibbs left the team to wrap up and he walked Colonel out, seeing her to her car. Tony followed Palmer out with their bodies and felt, again, that twinge of jealousy as Gibbs leaned down to help Mann with her seatbelt. What?! Was she a five year-old that Gibbs needed to help her with that? He saw Mann part her legs just a little as Gibbs adjusted the belt. Enough to look provocative but not too much as to appear slutty.

"Is something wrong, Agent DiNozzo?" Palmer asked.

"What?" Tony turned his attention back to Ducky's assistant.

"You look um...upset." Palmer said. "But I guess you would. It's a nasty scene back in there. Can you give me a hand to get our Marine in the truck? I've got to get back in there for the other body. Mrs. Thornton's."

"Yeah. Sure, Palmer."

They headed back after securing the crime scene. Gibbs didn't return till an hour later.

"Do you only wear Italian designer shoes?" Ziva asked the next morning, as Tony sauntered in.

"New Guccis. Limited edition." Tony told her but without the characteristic smirk and showing off.

"How you can afford them on our pay, is a mystery to me," Ziva remarked, returning to her report but Tony's restrained behavior piqued her interest. Normally, he'd be doing a song and dance just over a new tie, what more a new pair of designer shoes.

"'There's an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes'. Forrest Gump. 1994." McGee quoted as he stood by Ziva's desk, taking a donut from the bag on her table. "What?" he asked Tony when he caught his senior's surprised expression. "I watch movies, too. And my shoes may not be Guccis but they're good quality nonetheless," he bent down to look at them. "And I keep them so clean and polished you could see..." he trailed off as he caught the direction of Ziva's and Tony's gaze. "...Gibbs' reflection." he muttered. "Good morning, boss!" McGee jerked upright, grinning at Gibbs.

His boss threw him the infamous Gibbs' Look as he stood in front of McGee. Sparing a glance at the unusually quiet Tony, Gibbs continued on to his desk, put his weapon in the drawer and powered up his PC. He threw another surreptitious look at Tony but the younger man was engrossed in a file. He wondered why DiNozzo was so quiet. The other two agents got busy as well and the bullpen stayed that way as the team settled down to work wrapping up their end of yesterday's case.

At mid-morning, they had a visitor. Or rather, Gibbs did.

"Good morning, Special Agent Gibbs." Hollis Mann approached Gibbs desk. Tony's eyes - and the other two agents' - followed her as she glided (Tony was sure she glided) to Gibbs.

"Colonel." Gibbs smiled. "What brings you to my humble abode?"

Ziva looked Tony, waiting for the inevitable quip to be mouthed. When nothing came, she frowned at Tony.

"Thought I'd update you on my end of the investigation." Mann thanked Tony for the chair he pulled up for her. He returned to his desk without a glance at Gibbs or either of his team mates.

"Coffee, Colonel?" Tony asked. "If you aren't as fussy about your brew as Gibbs is -"

"No, thank you. I'm a tea drinker myself. Oriental tea."

"Of course you are." Tony murmured to himself as he returned to his desk, his duty for the day done as far as he was concerned.

"It appears Mrs Thornton isn't the only wife Sergeant Mason Wilkes and Corporal Gabriel Gaines were sexually involved with. They'd been seeing at least a dozen other women married to soldiers and marines who were stationed at one time or another in Iraq or Afghanistan."

"Someone's talking?" Gibbs asked as the team gathered round to listen.

"A search revealed a video taken of them engaging in sex with the women." It was Tony who answered. "There was also a file listing their names and um...a review."

Ziva snorted in disgust. "Men."

Gibbs waited for Tony to make his usual smart-ass comment and was surprised when he remained focused on the Colonel.

"We'll need the names of the marines' wives, of course," Tony said.

"Right here." Colonel Mann handed over a sheet to Gibbs. He glanced through it and passed it to Tony.

"On it, boss." Tony said, before Gibbs even opened his mouth.

"Divide it up between the three of you." Gibbs told them.

"Did you already suspect foul play and briefed your team?" Mann asked him.


"Then why did your agent jump to it so quickly? Interviewing the Marine wives? As if he knew?" Mann tilted her chin at Tony.

"Experience," Gibbs said. "Enough to know when it's not as clearcut as it looks even though the evidence, so far, shows the victims were the only ones at the crime scene. No sign of anyone else."

"So..." Mann propped her chin on her palm and leaned in over Gibbs' table. "Want to discuss the possibilities over dinner?"

Gibbs was tempted to decline but the thought of sitting alone in the basement watching the media coverage on NCIS' fundraising cum promotional event made him think the better of it. "Will have to be an early one. I need to put in a few more hours after dinner to clear some backlog." That would get him home in time to catch some of the coverage. Hard as it would be, it was even harder not to watch Tony as Jenny's escort at a black tie affair.

When Tony drove up to his director's home at six p.m. sharp, her driver was ready and waiting in her car. He stepped up to the front door and rang the bell, hearing it pealing through the foyer. Shepard's Georgetown mansion would likely intimidate another field agent unused to such wealthy surroundings. It merely made Tony nostalgic. Only briefly, though, as the memories of being smothered in Louis XV furniture overrode the pleasant ones.

The door was opened by Shepard's housekeeper but Shepard was already stepping out into the foyer, the picture of elegance in an ankle-length silk jersey off-shoulder sheath.

"Breath-taking, Madame Director." Tony took her slender hand and dropped a light kiss on her fingers.

"Quite the head-turner yourself, DiNozzo." Jenny allowed herself to be charmed. She may want Jethro Gibbs but a woman could never have enough of the charm and gallantry offered by the Tony DiNozzos of the world.

She studied Tony unabashedly as they settled back in her Mercedes S Class.

He flashed her a smile. "New car."

"Yes. Like it?"

"I could get used to it."

"Something tells you are already used to luxury." Shepard only knew that his parents were wealthy. Or they used to be. She'd never had any reason to read his file since he was already in Gibbs' team when she made Director nor had she had much personal contact with him. She'd noticed him, of course. What normal woman wouldn't? The man's looks were eye-catching and he was looking even better lately. "You've also been working out." She gave his torso a once-over. "Noticeable, as diverting as Armani formal wear is on you."

"I've been stepping up on my running." Tony admitted. "And weights."

"And sit ups. Bench presses." Shepard added.

"I plead guilty." Tony flashed her a grin. "But Gibbs does push our limits so we gotta keep in shape or we'd never keep up with him."

Jenny laughed. "True. He does know how to do that."

"And before you know it, you're backed to the wall."

"But you...you find it rewarding working under him?"

Tony contemplated that for a moment. "Never felt like I was subordinate, you know. Even though we are and despite the fact that we all jump when he barks." He grinned. "Because we know his bite is much, much worse. Nah, he yells and bitches and is a right old bastard but I'd take a bullet for him. He's the boss but he's never made us feel less than he is, if you know what I mean."

"Jethro's the best at what he does. NCIS is his life. He should be here tonight but -" Jenny threw up her hands in exasperation.

"I know." Tony smiled wryly. "Not media-friendly. Not PR material."

"God, no." Jenny shuddered. "You, on the other hand, could be our poster-boy. Still young enough but not too young. Seasoned but not hardened to the point of scaring children away. And totally made for the camera." She studied Tony's face, taking in the straight nose with its tilted tip and the chiseled but sensual lips. A face and body she wouldn't mind waking up in the morning to.

"No," Tony said sharply. "No camera."

His abrupt tone caught Shepard by surprise but only momentarily. "Of course. My mistake."

Tony chuckled. "Understandable, Ms. Shepard. Not your habit to hang out with us lowly field agents."

"Watch it, DiNozzo." But she smiled. "You put on your PR cap and I'll handle the camera blackout."

Gibbs switched on the TV and nursed his bourbon. The special coverage on NCIS' event had already started. It was the first time the agency was in the spotlight and it was an expensive exercise getting the public to know who they were and what they did.

Dinner with Hollis Mann had been pleasant but Gibbs could tell Mann was expecting more and somewhat disappointed that nothing more was forthcoming. She didn't press and Gibbs was relieved because what could he say? You're very attractive but you're the wrong gender? I'd fuck you in a heartbeat but it's my senior field agent I want? Could we just be friends because after my last ex, I've sworn off pretending I wanna fuck women?

Huffing in exasperation, Gibbs' eye was caught by Jenny Shepard taking the podium. The news caster was giving a brief report on the agency's program to provide care and support for the families of marines and Navy personnel sent on overseas assignments in high-risk areas. DiNozzo was nowhere to be seen even though the camera panned the roomful of guests. Gibbs nodded in silent appreciation of DiNozzo's survival instincts and the years of training honed into him. Tony, with all his posturing and goofing around, was being very careful never to be caught on camera in a public function. An undercover operative at heart. Gibbs had seen DiNozzo in action as an undercover drug dealer, as a pimp and even a barista, all recorded for case postmortems by the police departments. Each time he was unrecognizable unless you were deliberately searching to uncover him.

This time, going blonde or wearing a buzzcut wasn't really necessary so he'd taken the easier way - made himself scarce when he knew the cameras would be rolling. No doubt, he'd have made sure no photographers snapped his picture either.

A surge of pride went through Gibbs at the thought of how good DiNozzo really was. Why, then, did he put on that office clown act? What did he think he needed to hide?