Actions

Work Header

Imprinted

Chapter Text

Monday morning. Tony took a moment to roll his neck, easing the tension in his shoulders, before plastering a smile on his face and stepping out of the elevator and into the bullpen. He strolled to his desk, dropping his backpack into a drawer and himself into a seat.

'Morning, McGee,' he offered casually to the only other member of the team currently at their desk. The jacket on the back of the chair of the desk opposite told him Gibbs was in the building somewhere, which meant that, unless Gibbs had come in stupidly early, Tony was late, at least by the odd preconceptions his stern boss held. His only consolation was that Ziva was even later. 'How was the weekend? Your elf lord get any hot pixel-on-pixel action?'

Tim glared at Tony. 'Like I'd tell you! Anyway, what do you want to know about my weekend for? It looks as though you got plenty of action yourself.' He lifted his chin, indicating the bruise on the side of Tony's neck.

Tony hung onto the wince that threatened to escape. 'Yeah, you should have seen her. Tall, blonde, and a yoga instructor. The things she could do with her legs–'

'I don't want to know!' Tim protested.

'But Tim, how will you ever know what you're missing if I don't let you in on just how... flexible... some women are? I mean, it's not like you're going to find out first-hand, is it?' Tony riposted.

'Find out what?' Ziva asked, coming around the corner of their half-height dividers into the space the team claimed for their own.

'Tony was just trying to tell me about a yoga instructor he met,' Tim scowled.

Ziva gave Tony a searching look, shaking her head when she spotted his hickey. 'Either she's a vampire and she was very hungry, or she has a future sucking melons through straws. Or maybe it was just Tony's vacuum cleaner...' She gave a wicked smile.

'It's golf balls, Ziva,' Tony said, flushing. 'Sucking golf balls through a hosepipe.'

'I don't care if it's baseballs through a drainpipe. I don't want to hear!' Tim said fiercely, turning his attention firmly to his monitor.

Ziva and Tony looked at him in surprise for a moment, before Tony spoke up again. 'How about the time I dated twin acrobats from the Moscow State Circus?'

'Tony!' Ziva threw a pen at him, which bounced off his chest.

The banter eased the knot in Tony's chest, and with a more genuine laugh, he turned on his PC and settled down to work. He barely noticed the knot unravel when Gibbs strode to his desk, carrying a large cup of coffee, and sat down with a scowl and a snapped 'You're late,' at Tony and Ziva.

'Won't happen again, boss,' Tony reassured him, eyes flicking quickly over the older man and checking for signs of harm, before turning back to his monitor, confident that Gibbs was in much the same condition as when he'd seen him last.

'Damn right it won't,' Gibbs said, pulling a stack of paperwork out of a drawer.

For an hour, the team worked in silence before the ringing of Gibbs' phone made everyone jump. Tony quickly flicked from a website advertising weekend breaks in Panama City to a work screen as Gibbs pushed his chair back abruptly and stood.

'Grab your gear, people. We've got a case.' Gibbs strode towards the elevator, leaving his team scrambling to catch up. In the van, he filled them in on the details. 'Dead petty officer, Melissa Jameson, twenty-three. Found about an hour ago in a dumpster at the back of the Dirty Eight bar and pool hall, by a member of staff putting out the trash. LEOs called us when they found her ID.'

'Why is it always the petty officers?' Tony asked, shutting up again at Gibbs' glare.

They beat Ducky and Palmer to the scene by a good fifteen minutes, by which time Tony had finished taking photographs and was sketching the scene, Ziva was dusting for prints and Tim was inside the Dirty Eight, looking at the security footage from the two working cameras outside the bar. Gibbs was making himself unpopular with the two LEOs on scene, but since he still had half a cup of the tar he called coffee, Tony wasn't worried.

'Oh dear,' Ducky said mildly, looking at the battered face of the corpse. 'It would seem that someone took rather an objection to you.' Delicately, he slid a probe into her side. 'How could anyone simply throw you away like this? Don't you worry, though, my dear. I'm confident we'll soon find whoever did this terrible thing to you. Mister Palmer, if you could bring the gurney over?'

'What have you got for me, Ducky?' Gibbs asked, finished with the LEOs for now.

'Just one moment, Jethro.' Ducky withdrew the probe and looked at the temperature it recorded. 'I'd say she was killed around eight to ten hours ago, probably by blunt force trauma to the head or neck. Of course, that depends entirely on what Miss Jameson has to tell me when we get her back to base.'

'Understood. Keep me informed.' Gibbs strode off.

'When do I not?' Ducky said reprovingly to his retreating back. 'Well, come along Mister Palmer. Help me get this poor woman loaded up and ready to go.'

'Tony!' Gibbs barked. The man in question jumped, then turned around with an expression of forced patience.

'Yes, boss?'

'Go through the dumpster. Bag anything suspicious. Ziva, go talk to the staff.'

Tony sighed. 'Yes, boss.' He knew from long experience that when Gibbs was in this mood, it was better just to get on with whatever task he assigned, no matter how unpleasant. Once the body had been lifted out of the dumpster and bagged, Tony climbed in and began searching, breathing shallowly through his mouth when the smell threatened to make him gag.

Tim pounded on the side of the dumpster, making Tony jump all over again. 'How's it going?'

'Don't do that, Probie!' Tony snapped. 'Or I swear I'll put a dye pack in your chair and tell everyone it's your time of the month!'

'That bad, huh?' Tim sympathized, not at all bothered by Tony's threat.

'I don't think my dry cleaner's ever going to forgive me for these stains,' Tony scowled. 'There's nothing here but bottles and cans. Anything on the security cameras?'

Tim shook his head. 'Half the external cameras don't work, and the vic was never inside. There's an ATM about a block away. It's possible I could get a shot of a car off its camera, but there's nothing to say whoever dumped her came from that direction.'

'We might as well head back and see what Ducky and Abby can tell us,' Tony said, climbing out of the dumpster and brushing futilely at the marks on his trousers.

'It's not a fashion parade, DiNozzo!'

Tony closed his eyes briefly. 'No, boss. Nothing in the dumpster but cans and bottles.'

Gibbs grunted. Somehow he'd acquired another large cup of coffee; steam was still curling from the hole in the lid. 'Back in the van. And don't get that mess on the seats.'

'No, boss.' Plastering on his game face, Tony followed the others back to the van. Clearly, it was going to be one of those days.

'What have you got for me?' Gibbs asked. The team had been back at the Yard for less than two hours.

Tony was first to his feet. 'Petty Officer Third Class Melissa Jameson got back a week ago from a long deployment on the USS Ronald Reagan, where she was an IT systems technician. She was staying in quarters on base, due to ship out again in another three days. Parents are John and Martha, got an address for them. Only child, no boyfriend that I've found so far.'

'Cell phone records show calls to her parents, couple of friends from high school. But get this: over the past week, Melissa's been placing a dozen calls a day to the same number,' Tim continued. 'It's the home phone of Lieutenant Amy Rogers, who's also on leave from the USS Ronald Reagan. She was only stationed on board for just over six weeks, should be back at the naval base on Monday.'

'Good work, McGee,' Gibbs said. 'Ziva, get clearance to search Melissa's quarters on base and aboard ship. Tim, see what you can find out about Lieutenant Rogers. DiNozzo, with me.'

'On your six, boss,' Tony said, glumly following Gibbs to the elevator.

As the elevator descended, Tony could feel Gibbs watching him. 'What?'

'I was just wondering what's up with you today,' Gibbs said. 'You seem a little out of sorts.'

'I'm not the only one,' Tony muttered, then sighed and spoke up. 'I don't know, boss. I guess I'm feeling a little... itchy. Something about this case bothers me.'

'Murder always bothers me,' Gibbs said.

Tony scowled as the elevator doors opened and Gibbs led the way to Abby's lab.

'Gibbs! Where's my Caf-Pow?' Abby demanded, turning off her music.

'Later. What have you got for me?' Gibbs frowned at her computer screen.

'The prints Ziva lifted are still running. No hits so far. But the bloodwork Ducky sent through... I gotta tell you, boss, I'm very excited!' Abby bounced up and down, a gleeful smile spread across her face. 'I never thought I'd get the chance to see something like this!'

'Like what, Abs?' Gibbs asked.

'The first time I ran the bloodwork, there was something hinky about the results,' Abby explained.

'Drugs?' Tony leaned against the doorway, watching his favorite scientist, so excited she was practically vibrating.

'No! Nothing like that. But there was definitely something off, and the way it was off rang a few bells. So I ran another set of tests. They aren't ones we normally do; they're looking for evidence of neurotransmitter levels and things like that, which is hard to do because, you know, there's that whole blood-brain barrier thing going on,' Abby gesticulated wildly and started pacing. 'But there are tests you can do, and I did them and there's no doubt about it, none whatsoever. I ran the tests twice!'

'No doubt about what, Abs?'

Tony could tell Gibbs was having to work hard to curb his impatience.

'Our vic was imprinted!' Abby said triumphantly. There was a pause as both men looked at her. 'Imprinted! Have you any idea how rare that is?'

'Uh, Abbs... I hate to ask, but what do you mean by imprinted?' Tony asked.

'Oh! Right, I forget not everyone reads back issues of science journals for fun,' Abby smiled. 'Basically, about twenty years ago a couple of scientists, Ronald Potts and Philip Childs, did a study on couples. They only looked at couples where both partners were obsessive about each other, I mean, we're talking seriously obsessed here. Not abusive, or anything like that, but totally focused on each other. They found that in a small number of cases, these couples had altered brain chemistry and it turned out that every single pair had fallen in love at first sight. Well, not even that, but they had this zing when they first met and it didn't matter whether one or both was in a pre-existing relationship, even if it was very loving and going well, or if the couples were two men or two women or a man or a woman; regardless of previous sexual orientation, they ended up together.'

'Breathe, Abby,' Gibbs warned. Abby flashed him a smile and continued talking a mile a minute.

'Potts and Childs did a whole range of experiments and they found out that these couples reacted very badly to being kept apart, to their partner being hurt or threatened with pain, and most interesting of all was that they lost the capacity for sexual arousal outside of their partner. You can do an experiment where you show explicit images to people while they're hooked up to monitors and even if their brains don't get turned on, their bodies do to a certain extent. So you can show a straight woman lesbian porn and she'll still get wet, right?'

Tony grinned. 'Sounds like my kind of experiment!' He ignored the glare Gibbs sent his way.

'But these couples only got physically aroused by images of their partner, even if there was nothing erotic or explicit about the photographs. So they came up with this term, imprinted. These couples were imprinted on each other to the exclusion of everyone else in the whole world. Isn't that incredible?'

Gibbs blinked. 'So what does that mean for our victim?'

Abby pouted. 'Isn't it obvious? There's someone out there who's imprinted on our dead petty officer.'

Gibbs frowned. 'Did those scientists of yours find out what happens when one half of these imprinted couples dies?'

'Oh! It's not pretty,' Abby confided. 'They're, like, a mess, even more so than a regular person when their partner dies. They're prone to irrational behavior, seeking revenge if there's any hint of blame on someone else for their soul mate's death.'

'Soul mate, Abs?' Tony queried, joking to cover his deepening unease.

'How else would you describe it, Tony?' Abby retorted. 'Two people, fated to be together, to love only each other for the rest of their lives?'

'I don't care if they're soul mates or ships passing in the night. We've potentially got someone out there who's homicidal right now, and I'm betting I know who it is. Come on, DiNozzo. Abby, keep up the good work and I'll bring you a Caf-Pow later.'

Tony stood aside to let Gibbs pass, then followed him back to the elevator. 'Lieutenant Rogers?' he asked as they headed back up to the bullpen.

Gibbs nodded. 'A dozen calls a day sure sounds like obsessive to me, wouldn't you say?'

Tony winced. 'Could just be a bad break-up,' he offered, but even to his own ears, his tone lacked conviction.

'Either way, we need to get a hold of the Lieutenant,' Gibbs said.

'We're cleared to go search Jameson's quarters,' Ziva said as they returned to their desks. 'They've been secured.'

'Take McGee with you,' Gibbs said.

The young man in question looked up in surprise. 'Me, boss?'

'Yes, you, boss,' Gibbs growled. 'I need Lieutenant Rogers' address and anything else you've found out about her.'

'Okay, uh... Let me see...' Tim shuffled through a handful of papers and pulled one out. 'Here's the address; it should take about forty minutes to get there.' Gibbs snatched it from him, glanced at it and passed it to Tony. 'Lieutenant Rodgers is twenty nine, been married for six years, no kids. Her husband, Mark, is eight years older, got a couple of priors for brawling when he was in his early twenties, nothing major, works in the shipyard as a crane operator.'

'Put out a BOLO on his car,' Gibbs said, holstering his gun and pulling on his jacket. 'And keep in touch.'

'You think he had something to do with this?' Ziva asked, sharp eyes darting between Gibbs and Tony.

'I've got a gut feeling.' Gibbs swept out of the bullpen with Tony in his wake.

Gibbs drove even faster than usual, but Tony didn't protest; not when his own gut feeling was telling him to hurry. Grim-faced, they parked in front of a two storey gray-painted clapboard house. It was small, only separated from its identical neighbors by a few feet on each side. Tony got out of the car and jogged up the steps to the front door, not questioning the instinct that had him unsnapping his holster for quick access to his gun. Behind him, Gibbs did the same.

Tony stood to one side of the door, while Gibbs rapped sharply on the frame. After a pause, he knocked again, following up with, 'NCIS! Open up!'

There was a muffled thud from somewhere inside, and a woman cried out in pain. It was enough to have them both unholster their guns. Tony nodded to Gibbs, who tried the door handle. When the door didn't open, Tony stepped back and kicked the door hard. The cheap plastic buckled enough for the door to bounce open and after a quick look, Tony rushed inside, gun at the ready.

He took in the room at a glance. The door opened straight onto the living room. A door at the back stood ajar, presumably leading to the kitchen, while against the left-hand wall were stairs leading up. There was no one there. 'Clear.'

While Tony covered the kitchen door, Gibbs moved towards the stairs, glancing quickly up to make sure no one was lurking at the top.

'Boss, here.' Tony nodded towards the kitchen door. A smear of something red was just visible on the blue linoleum. 'Blood.'

Gibbs nodded, and together they stepped cautiously towards the door. This time Tony pushed it open and Gibbs glanced inside, then stepped in. 'Clear.'

Tony followed the blood smeared on the floor. It led to another door; this one clearly to the basement. That door was ajar too, and Tony eased it open.

A muffled curse came from below. 'Bitch! You fucking whore bitch!' It was a man's voice, filled with rage and disgust. The whimpers that followed were just as clearly female. Tony trod carefully, easing his weight onto each step, trying not to let a creak betray his presence. He knew Gibbs was right behind him, the older man cat-silent.

Tony peeked around the corner. The basement had a bare cement floor, had a chest freezer and a washing machine along the back wall, cupboards and a tool rack on the far wall. Kneeling on the floor with his back to the stairs was a man, bare to the waist and with his jeans pushed down around his thighs. Deep scratches were gouged across his broad shoulders and upper arms, one of which was drawn back preparatory to a punch.

'Freeze! NCIS!' Tony said loudly. When the arm twitched, he stepped forward and pressed his gun to the back of the man's neck. 'I said freeze!' That close, he could see over the man's shoulder to the slight figure curled on the floor. Lieutenant Rogers lay on her side, arms over her face. She was naked, her body a mass of bruises and bite-marks. Blood was smeared over her thighs and there was a small pool of it drying into a stain on the rough floor.

Tony sucked in a sharp breath. 'Boss, we need an ambulance,' he said quietly. Gibbs came fully into the basement and covered him as, with one hand, Tony retrieved his handcuffs and cuffed the upraised arm, keeping his gun firmly in place. He pulled the man's arm down and secured the other arm, then lifted the man up and back, away from the woman on the floor.

The man snarled as Tony pushed him into the corner, seeming not to notice the scrape of concrete against his bare ass. He had scratches on his face, his chest, but Tony was willing to bet the blood smeared across his groin and staining the top of his jeans wasn't his.

'Don't give me a reason to shoot you,' Tony warned, keeping his gun trained on the man. 'Because right now I really want to and if you push it, I might forget just how much of a pain the paperwork is.'

'She's a fucking whore!' the man spat. 'A lying, cheating cunt of a faggot bitch whore!'

'That's enough,' Gibbs snapped icily. He holstered his gun and pulled out his cell phone. Tersely he called in the need for an ambulance, then phoned Tim, ordering him and Ziva to get to the house as soon as possible to process the scene, both calls taking under a minute to make.

As he stuffed the phone back into his pocket, the woman suddenly launched herself up off the floor. Fingers hooked into claws, she struck at her husband's face, shrieking wildly.

'Shit!' Tony fumbled his gun back into its holster and joined Gibbs in pulling her off. She struggled furiously against them as her husband, blood trickling down his face, swore at her, then laughed.

'She's still dead! No matter what, she's still dead and you'll never stick your lying face in her cunt again!'

The woman howled in anguish, then collapsed, sobbing, against Tony. He held her awkwardly while Gibbs took off his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders.

'Take her upstairs, DiNozzo. I'll see to things here.'

Tony nodded. 'Come on, Amy. Let's get you upstairs before the ambulance gets here.' He half carried her up the stairs, through the kitchen and into the living room, where he wrapped her in the throw from the back of the couch before letting her curl up again on the cushions. She cried until the ambulance arrived, sobs dying to a heartbreaking keen that didn't let up, even as the paramedics took a quick look at her before enlisting Tony's help to get her into the ambulance.

'Wait here a minute, guys,' Tony said. 'I need a quick word with my boss.' The paramedics waited unhappily as Tony jogged back up the steps and into the house.

Gibbs was still in the basement, watching Mark Rogers with cold, predatory intent, like a snake watching a mouse. Tony suppressed a shiver.

'I was going to stay with Lieutenant Rogers,' Tony said. 'Want a hand getting him into the car first?'

Gibbs nodded sharply. 'ETA from Tim is five minutes at the most. Ziva's driving.'

Tony winced. 'Make that three, then. All right, on your feet.' He moved to the man's side, careful not to come directly between him and Gibbs. With a hand under Mark's bicep, Tony pulled him, unresisting, to his feet. With a look of disgust, Tony pulled up his jeans and buttoned them, fighting a wave of revulsion at the sight of the blood smeared across the man's flaccid penis.

'I really hate people like you,' he said conversationally as he pushed the man up the stairs. 'But that doesn't matter. What matters is that Gibbs hates people like you even more. In fact, he's incredibly pissed. I know that doesn't mean anything to you now; you're still full of adrenaline and anger, but trust me, you do not want Gibbs pissed at you. Did I mention he used to be a sniper?'

Tony chattered his way through the house and out the front door, keeping a grip on the man's arm to make sure he didn't accidentally fall down the stairs or try to run. When he was safely in the back seat of the car, seat-belt buckled, doors locked, Tony looked at Gibbs, who was standing at the bottom of the steps looking easily as pissed as Tony had warned.

'You going to be okay getting him back, boss?'

'Why wouldn't I be, DiNozzo? Stay with the Lieutenant, get a statement when you can. Find out what the heck happened.'

'I think I can guess,' Tony said sourly.

'Don't guess, Tony.'

'Yes, boss.' He climbed into the back of the ambulance and perched precariously opposite the gurney on which the Lieutenant was still crying softly, rocking forwards and back. The paramedic slammed the doors and as the ambulance pulled away, Tony could just make out a squeal of brakes, the characteristic sound of Ziva's parking.

It was hours before he got back to the Yard. Ducky had turned up at the hospital to collect the rape kit and talk to the attending doctor about Lieutenant Rogers' injuries. While he was waiting to see the doctor, he sat outside the examination room with Tony on the hard plastic chairs that were stationed intermittently down the hallway.

'How is she?' Ducky asked gently.

Tony shook his head. 'She's stopped crying, but I think it's going to be a long time before she's okay. They've scheduled a psych consult for later; I have to wait for them to clear it before I can try to get a statement.'

Ducky shook his head. 'It's a terrible thing, Anthony. Terrible.' He sighed. 'And how about you? How are you holding up?'

Tony shrugged. 'Something about this whole case... I don't know. It bothers me.' He frowned, trying to dislodge the thought.

'I'm sure whatever is bothering you will come clear soon enough, Anthony. It looks as though you had a good weekend, at any rate,' Ducky said, indicated Tony's neck in an abrupt change of subject.

With a grimace, Tony said, 'Yeah, not so much, Ducky.'

'Oh?'

His attention still mostly on trying to figure out what was niggling at him about the case, Tony answered Ducky's gentle query without thinking. 'She was great. Hot, knew what she wanted, but when she started on my neck... I guess I just wasn't interested. Not my type.'

'And just how long has it been since you've been interested?'

'I don't know. A year, maybe?' Tony's head whipped round, a flush staining his cheeks as he stared at Ducky in horror. 'Shit! I can't believe I said that!'

Ducky patted Tony on the knee. 'My dear boy, it hasn't escaped my notice that the tales of your exploits are more designed to amuse and entertain. Unless you have a time machine I'm unaware of, or have found some means of doing away with the need for sleep altogether, I long ago concluded there simply aren't enough hours in the day for all your reported assignations to be true. Not with all the hours you put in at work. But don't worry; your secret is safe with me.'

Tony groaned and dropped his head into his hands. From behind them, his voice came, muffled. 'I don't know what's wrong with me, Ducky! I meet these beautiful women, stunning, funny, smart. It's an honor to worship them, to make love to them. And we flirt and we kiss and then... Nothing happens!'

Ducky waited until it became clear Tony wasn't going to elaborate on his own. 'What do you mean by nothing happens, Anthony?'

Tony looked up and glared. 'I mean nothing! Bupkiss! Squat! Little Anthony isn't coming out to play! They leave me cold and I don't know why. I'd get it checked out, but you know me and doctors. I hate going to see them at the best of times and this is just embarrassing.'

Ducky paused, obviously searching for the right words. 'Anthony, this kind of thing can happen to anyone. The hours you work, the pressure you're under, the frequency with which you are injured... Something has to give. None of us are immune to the effects of stress and exhaustion. It could be as simple as your needing a vacation.'

Tony scowled. 'It doesn't seem to matter. Ducky, I've always worked long hours. Work hard, play hard. This... it's something different.'

'Hmm... May I ask, when was the last time you achieved an erection?'

'Ducky!' Tony hissed. 'I am not talking about this here!'

'We are far less likely to be interrupted by one of your colleagues here than at work,' Ducky said reprovingly.

'Gah!' Tony scrubbed the palms of his hands over his face. 'God... Last week. Thursday. Okay?'

'And do you masturbate?'

Tony flushed again. 'Yes.'

'Regularly?'

'Not as often as when I hit puberty, but three or four times a week,' Tony admitted, staring at the floor and trying to pretend he wasn't having this conversation.

Ducky nodded. 'And may I ask, of whom do you think when you do so?'

'You know what, I think that's our doctor. You should talk with him.' Tony sprang to his feet, talking rapidly. 'Doc! Meet Doctor Mallard, our ME. How's Lieutenant Rogers doing?'

The doctor looked at him oddly, but put out his hand. 'Doctor Mallard, I'm Doctor Heigel.'

Ducky shook his hand. 'Call me Ducky. Is there somewhere a little more private that we can go? I believe I have a little information that may help shed some light on the poor Lieutenant's condition.'

'Follow me,' Dr Heigel turned and walked back the way he'd come.

Tony caught the glance Ducky threw his way as he passed and hid a wince. It promised more embarrassing questions as soon as Ducky caught him alone in autopsy. He knew from experience that staying out of the ME's way only worked for so long and then he'd have to face Ducky's disapproval as well. For some reason, avoiding medical issues made him cross. Almost as cross as it made his boss. And speaking of the devil...

He pulled his ringing cell phone out of his pocket and looked at the display, then hit a button and put the phone to his ear. 'Hey, boss! How's our dirtbag-de-jour doing?'

A couple of hours later, Tony was finally allowed in to see the Lieutenant. She was clean and dressed in a hospital gown. Gauze was taped to her neck covering one particularly vicious bite mark; the edge of another dressing was just visible at the neck of the gown. Her bruises were turning a spectacular shade of purple and her eyes were red and swollen where they weren't black, but at least she wasn't crying. Tony smiled sympathetically as he took a seat beside the bed and settled in to begin the delicate task of taking her statement.

It was past seven pm by the time Tony stopped off on the way back to pick up Chinese takeout for the team. He didn't know whether or not they were still in the office, since the prime suspect was in custody, but he had a good few hours' work ahead of him and the food would always be good cold for lunch tomorrow.

The only one left at his desk was Gibbs. Tony dropped a couple of the cartons on the desk in front of him.

'Thanks. Got that statement?' Gibbs looked up and Tony felt the weight of his gaze, assessing, calculating. With the rest of the team gone, he didn't bother trying to hide his mood behind his customary mask of smiles and jokes.

'Yeah, I got it. I'll have it typed up for you in an hour. Did you get a confession?' Tony moved over to his own desk and perched on the edge. Fishing out a carton of mu shu pork, he leaned back and snagged a fork out of his top drawer.

'Uh huh. Didn't even try to hide what he did,' Gibbs confirmed. 'Autopsy puts cause of death as a broken neck. Some of the trauma to the face is post mortem.'

'So, what, he punched her a few times, broke her neck, then hit her some more?' Tony said around a mouthful of food.

'That's about it. Came home from work early and found her in bed with his wife and snapped.' Gibbs shook his head. 'God, what a mess.'

'That ties in with what the wife said. He caught them in bed, knocked her out; when she woke up, she was locked in the trunk of the car with the dead body of her girlfriend. I think she was in there for something like up to eight hours before he dumped the body. Even if they hadn't been imprinted on each other, that kind of thing would be enough to drive anyone crazy.'

'I'm guessing he took her back home and set about teaching her a lesson.'

'Yeah.' Tony stared into the carton for a moment, then closed it and dropped it back into the bag, his appetite gone. 'The worst part of it is that Lieutenant Rogers thought she was going out of her mind. I mean, she's happily married, she's straight. Sure, she's spent most of her career in the navy stateside and her husband wasn't too keen on her being deployed at sea, but it was only a short stint and then she was due back here. Then after a couple of days on board ship, she meets this petty officer, this female petty officer, and all of a sudden she can't stop thinking about her, can't stop wanting to be with her. And the petty officer feels the same way, hates that Amy's married. She was a little less straight, I think.'

He sighed, shoulders slumping tiredly, ran a hand through his hair. 'You meet someone and bam, your world's turned upside down. Almost thirty years of heterosexuality just blown away. Marriage dead, even if your husband doesn't know yet; career in jeopardy. This imprinting thing is... I don't even have the words to describe it.' He pushed himself off the desk and went around it, settling into his seat to begin typing up Lieutenant Rogers' statement.

Gibbs watched him for a few long seconds. 'I can't imagine what it's like, to have who you think you are overturned by a random act of biology.'

'I guess the closest thing would be a mother seeing her baby for the first time,' Tony said, typing away.

'Not something I'd have thought you'd know anything about,' Gibbs snapped.

Shocked, Tony looked up in time to see Gibbs striding out of the bullpen. He forced down the hurt. 'Probably didn't mean it the way it sounded,' he muttered to himself. But he wouldn't put it past Gibbs to know all about Tony's mother; the man could put most TV psychics to shame when it came to knowing about things he shouldn't.

Gibbs still hadn't returned by the time Tony had typed up the statement. Assuming he'd gone home, Tony filed the statement and printed a hard copy which he put on his bosses desk. He took a minute to put the takeout into the fridge in the break room and pour a mug of coffee that, by now, resembled tar. Briefly he wondered if, a hundred years ago, the Navy would have used it for caulking seams, or whatever it was they did with pitch, but his smile only lasted until the first sip hit his tastebuds. With a grimace, he went back to his desk and made a start on his report.

Tony put down the case file, stretched and yawned widely. He glanced at his watch; it was after eleven. His report was finished and he'd reviewed those submitted by Tim and Ziva, watched the footage from Gibbs' interrogation of Mark Rogers, read over Ducky's autopsy report and Abby's forensic findings. Together with the medical information, the photographs and, later in the week, the results of the rape kit, they had a water-tight case. Murder, assault and battery, rape, and all because of one man's reaction to something biological, something neither woman had control over.

A thought crossed his mind and he frowned, wondering just how much control imprinted people had over their actions. Surely they had some choice, some restraint, or they'd be no better than animals in heat. He needed more information. Tony opened a web browser and opened up a link provided by Abby. First up was an article in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, in which Potts and Childs discussed their study and its findings. It took a while to read through; he kept having to stop and look up some of the long, technical terms, although some were familiar thanks to a career filled with autopsy reports.

'What are you still doing here, DiNozzo?'

Tony yelped and nearly fell out of his chair. 'Boss! I thought you'd gone home.'

Gibbs stared at him. 'I could say the same to you.'

'I had a few things to take care of,' Tony said. 'My report and the lieutenant's statement are on your desk.'

'So why aren't you at home?'

'Research?' Tony offered.

Gibbs came round the desk and stood behind Tony, bending to look at the screen. 'Looks more like Abby or Ducky's kind of thing.'

Tony relaxed a fraction under the weight of the warm hand pressing down on his shoulder. 'Yeah, the link was in Abby's report.'

'The imprinting thing.'

'I thought if I looked into it I could maybe get a handle on how this happened, what's going to happen to Amy Rogers now Melissa's dead and her husband's going to jail.'

'People cheat on their spouses every single day, DiNozzo. Doesn't have to be anything special about it at all.' Gibbs squeezed Tony's shoulder, then straightened up and moved away.

Tony shivered at the loss of contact. 'I know there doesn't have to be, I was a cop for long enough. I dealt with my share of domestic cases. But this time there is something special about it and I just want to understand.'

'Fine, research it to your heart's content. But not now. It's almost midnight, so go home, get some sleep.'

Tony summoned the energy for a cheeky grin. 'Only if you do, boss.'

'Why, you need tucking in?' Gibbs said drily, going to his desk to collect his jacket.

'Yup,' Tony said, enjoying the momentary shock that flitted over the older man's face. 'But I don't think you have quite the... attributes... for it.' He gestured with his hands, miming the curve of breasts and hips.

'I'm sure you have no shortage of willing volunteers,' Gibbs said.

'None whatsoever, boss.' Tony stood, collected his backpack and powered down his PC. 'See you in the morning.' Despite his fatigue, he jogged down the stairs rather than taking the elevator to the parking garage with Gibbs. Sometimes, when he was tired, when he'd had a long day and an unsettling case, being in close proximity to Gibbs was difficult to take and Tony worked hard at not looking too closely why.

Chapter Text

Over the next couple of weeks, Tony managed to avoid being alone with Ducky, had an insight into a cold case that cracked it wide open, and managed to track down just about everything ever published on the phenomenon of imprinted couples. When he could understand what the publications were talking about, amongst the blizzard of medical jargon, the greek or latinate words, talk of neurotransmitters and areas of the brain, what he discovered simply raised more questions than it answered. He did, however, find out that Philip Childs was currently working at Hackensack University Medical Center in Oradell, New Jersey, roughly two hundred and fifty miles away.

It was time for a road trip.

'We're off rotation this weekend, right?' Tony asked. It was Thursday morning, and Tim and Ziva were away from their desks.

Gibbs looked up from the paperwork on his desk. 'Yeah, DiNozzo. Why, you got plans?'

'Thought I might take off for a couple of days, head up the coast, see a couple of frat buddies, that sort of thing,' Tony said easily, leaning back in his chair.

'Uh huh.' Gibbs sounded unconvinced. 'And?'

'What makes you think there's an and in there, boss?' Tony knew his smile was showing too many teeth, knew Gibbs saw right through it. He sighed and let it fade. 'Okay, okay. One of the guys who did the initial research into imprinting works up at Hackensack U. Thought I'd give him a call, see if he could spare an hour.' He shifted uncomfortably in his seat under Gibbs' scrutiny, until at last the lead agent spoke.

'Want company?'

Tony blinked in surprise. 'Uh... Sure. I was going to drive up Friday night, find a motel. That's if this guy's free on Saturday. Plenty of time after that for sightseeing, maybe call into the Big Apple.'

'Make the call. I'll bring a bag in with me tomorrow,' Gibbs said, then turned back to his paperwork, the whole thing settled as far as he was concerned.

Tony recovered from his surprise and called the number, catching Dr Childs at his desk. 'Doctor Childs, this is Special Agent Tony DiNozzo of NCIS... Naval Criminal Investigative Service. We had a case a couple of weeks back involving a couple of women who had imprinted on each other... Yes, I'm certain. Our forensic scientist ran the bloodwork twice... Abby Sciuto... Yes, that Sciuto... Yeah, she's great all right... Oh, right, sorry. I was wondering if my boss and I could come up and talk with you about imprinting and what that means for the people who are imprinted... I know it's short notice, but I was hoping for this weekend? We're off rotation, so we shouldn't get called in... Saturday lunch, perfect... Okay, I can find that. Thank you, Doctor Childs... I'll see what test results I'm allowed to bring with me. Thanks.'

Tony scribbled down an address and beamed across at Gibbs. 'Looks like we're good to go, boss,' he said exuberantly, pocketing the address just as Ziva came around the corner.

'Go where?' she asked suspiciously.

Not missing a beat, Tony lied, 'The Empire. It's a little movie theater from the forties, still got an organ and everything. It's showing an all-day run of Soviet propaganda films this Saturday. Starts with the legendary Battleship Potemkin, released in nineteen twenty five, directed by the great Sergei Eisenstein. It's a classic.'

'And Gibbs is going with you?' Ziva looked skeptical. 'Voluntarily?'

'No, Ziva,' Tony said. 'I was going to tranq him from five hundred yards away, then tie him up and drag him along in chains.'

Ziva's jaw dropped. 'I do not believe that, Tony! Where are you going?'

'Drop it, Ziva,' Gibbs warned, waiting a beat before continuing. 'And DiNozzo?'

'Yeah, boss?'

'If you could make a shot like that, I wouldn't be riding your ass about your target scores. Make the time, do some shooting. You too, Ziva,' he added as the agent smiled smugly at Tony. 'Yours are worse, and you don't want me to have to motivate you.'

Tony grimaced. 'Will do, boss. I think I'm still sufficiently motivated from last time.'

Ziva settled at her desk and waited until Gibbs had gone in search of coffee before asking, 'How exactly does Gibbs provide motivation?'

'Ah... it involved my favorite hat and Kate's PDA,' Tony admitted. 'Didn't need telling again. With you, it'd probably involve your favorite knife, or maybe that really warm winter coat you practically live in.'

'Ouch,' Ziva pouted. 'I think I will go to the shooting range this weekend.'

'Good plan.'

'How about you? Do you have plans for the weekend?' Ziva asked. The innocence in her tone was entirely false.

Tony was saved from having to answer by the ringing of his phone. 'DiNozzo.' He listened for a few seconds, then asked, 'Where? Okay, keep the scene clear. We'll be there in twenty.'

'A case?'

'Someone dumped a ship's laundry bag by the side of the freeway. When a cleanup crew opened it, there was a severed foot inside,' Tony explained, pushing himself away from his desk and standing. 'Get Probie and meet me at the van; I'll find Gibbs.'

'No need.' The man himself strolled round the corner holding a large cup of coffee. 'What's up?'

'The game's afoot.' Tony grabbed his backpack. 'Literally.'

Gibbs tossed him the keys to the van. 'Okay, then. Lead on, Sherlock.'

Ziva put her phone down and followed them, reaching the elevator just as the doors opened and McGee shot out.

'Be right there, boss!' he called, dashing to his desk.

'Hurry up, McGee,' Gibbs said, exchanging glances with Tony as they struggled not to laugh at his haste.

'Do you think he's Watson?' Tony asked teasingly as they got into the elevator. 'I guess that'd make you Mycroft, boss.' Then his face fell. 'Ziva would have to be Irene Adler, though, and that's all kinds of wrong.' He shuddered, then hunched his shoulders as Gibbs cuffed the back of his head.

'Enough, DiNozzo.'

The doors opened again and they headed out into the parking garage. 'Yes boss, thank you boss,' Tony grinned happily. His smile widened when the door to the level burst open and McGee raced to catch them up.

'C'mon, McGoo! Hurry, hurry, places to go, body parts to see!' Tony climbed into the driver's seat and started the van. Gibbs got the passenger seat, leaving the two junior members of the team to climb into the back.

As he pulled out of the garage, Tony could hear Ziva quietly asking, 'Who is Irene Adler?' and he grinned.

The foot turned out to belong to Daryl Andersen, an enlisted seaman. He was an eighteen year old who had only been with the Navy a few months and had a reputation for goofing off and practical jokes. On a forty eight hour pass, he and a couple of friends had got stupidly drunk and decided to go bungee jumping off of one of the cranes in the dockyard.

'It just goes to show, steel cable's no substitute for elastic rope,' Tony winced as they looked at what was left of the young man. His body had fallen between two stacks of containers; it had take a dog team to track him down. His friends, faced with a severed foot, had run, which Gibbs had taken as a personal insult.

'Boss, it's not like there was anything they could have done,' Tony said as they stared through the one-way glass at the young man crying in the interrogation room. 'Ducky says the fall killed him instantly.'

'That's not the point, Tony,' Gibbs scowled. 'You don't leave a man behind. They should have called for help.'

'Yeah, I get it.' Tony sighed. 'It's just so damn pointless.'

'Stupidity often is.' Gibbs turned away from the window. 'Come on, we've got paperwork to finish up and I have to go tell a woman that her son is dead because he was an idiot.'

'Did we find out how they got into the shipyard?' Tony asked.

'McGee found security footage of them getting over the fence. Seems they've been having trouble with the alarm systems in that area and it's just luck those kids picked that spot. They've got a guard on it now 'til it's fixed.'

'Hell of a way to find a weak spot.'

'Yeah.'

Tony could just imagine Gibbs' blistering indictment of the shipyard's lax maintenance. In his opinion, they deserved every scathing word.

'So what happens now?' Tim asked, typing up his report with a rattle of keys.

'A couple of sailors get busted, a family mourns, a few people down at the shipyard get a reprimand,' Tony said, leaning back in his chair. 'And for everyone else, life goes on.'

'Wow, that's... depressing,' Tim admitted.

'That's why you've got to make the most of it, Probie. Get out, live a little.'

'I'm sure that's what Daryl Andersen thought he was doing,' Ziva said, quelling the conversation.

Gibbs stood. 'Go home when you've finished up those reports.' He strode out of the bullpen without looking back.

'Where–' Tim began, only to be cut off by Tony.

'Notify the mother. Come on, Probie, finish up soon and we can see if Abby wants to come out for beer and a pizza.'

'Uh, I'm not sure...'

'Oh, come on, McGoo! Ziva's coming, right?' Tony turned a winning smile on the agent.

She raised an eyebrow. 'Are you paying?'

Tony shrugged. 'No, but I'll buy the first round.'

Ziva eyed him suspiciously, then shrugged. 'All right, but no pepperoni.'

'All right! Fifteen minutes and we're out of here.' Tony beamed. 'Well? What're you waiting for, Probie? Call Abby!'

Tim rolled his eyes but picked up the phone and dialed. From what Tony could hear of the conversation – including the part where Tim winced and held the phone away from his ear, Abby's squeal carrying easily to Tony – Abby was on for a team night too. And with that in mind, he printed off his report, dropped a copy on Gibbs' desk, and took the elevator down to Autopsy.

'Hey, Palmer! We're off out for beer and pizza in a few. You coming?'

Jimmy blinked and thought for a moment. 'There were a few things I wanted to do this evening, but.... I could come for an hour?'

'Good man!' Tony slapped him on the arm. 'Ten minutes. Is Ducky around?'

'In his office,' Jimmy said.

Tony nodded and headed back. The tables were clear; one of the steel drawers, he knew, held the unfortunate Daryl Andersen and his severed foot, but he pushed that knowledge to the back of his mind, holding firmly to his smile.

'Hey, Ducky! How's it going?' He leaned against the doorframe as the older man lifted his head and regarded him with a steady gaze.

'Can I assume you have finally sought me out to conclude our conversation from the other week, or should I merely point out that you already have my report on Mr Andersen?'

Tony's smile slipped. 'There's nothing more to say.' He shrugged. 'Actually, I came down to invite you along for pizza and beer. Everyone needed a little cheering up after today.'

'Anthony, my dear boy, there is considerably more to say. I would like to take some blood samples. There are tests that can reveal if your problem has some physical basis. There are a number of conditions that can cause it and it would be unwise to rule them out without checking in case it is merely a symptom of something more serious.'

'Ducky, are you coming out with us or not? That's all I need to know. Because we're leaving in–' Tony checked his watch, 'eight minutes.'

The ME looked at him until Tony had to drop his eyes. 'Come in and shut the door, Anthony. Give me five of those minutes and I will come along with you, at least for a little while.'

Tony's shoulders slumped. 'All right, Ducky, you win.' He came fully into the room, closing the door behind him and taking a seat on the only other chair in the small, crowded room.

'Roll up your sleeve.' Ducky wasted no time in retrieving a needle and four small glass tubes from a drawer. He swabbed the inside of Tony's elbow with a sterile wipe, then tore open the package and pulled out the needle. 'You'll feel just a little scratch,' he murmured, sliding the needle into a vein.

Each of the tubes in turn fitted onto the needle and filled with blood. Less than a minute later, Ducky held a cotton ball to the tiny wound and withdrew the needle. 'Keep pressure on it while I take care of these.'

Tony did as he was told and watched in silence as Ducky capped the needle and dropped it into a sharps bin before carefully labeling the vials and putting them into a plastic bag.

'I'm sure Abigail could run the tests here, but since I'm assuming you'd rather no one else knew, I'll send these to a friend of mine over at Bethesda. The results should be back by the end of next week,' Ducky informed him.

Tony nodded. 'Thanks, Ducky. It's not that I don't appreciate it, it's just...'

'Personal? Embarrassing? My dear boy, I do understand. And while I don't think you necessarily have anything about which to be concerned, it would be remiss of me not to check out the possibilities. In the meantime, if you need to talk...'

'I know where you are, yes. Thanks. Are we done?' Tony lifted the cotton ball and checked his arm; it had stopped bleeding, so he dropped the ball into the wastebin.

'No, not there,' Ducky tutted. 'It needs to go into hazardous waste. Regulations, my dear boy, regulations.'

'Sorry.' Tony fished it back out and looked around, handing it to Ducky when the older man held out his hand with a sigh of impatience.

'Have you ever considered that maybe you're ready for more than a series of random encounters with virtual strangers?' Ducky asked.

'The big C?' Tony shuddered. 'Wash your mouth out!'

'Mind over matter, Anthony. Stranger things have happened.' Ducky patted him on the shoulder. 'You could always try asking out the person you fantasize about. I'm assuming it is a real person and someone you know, rather than an actress or a model, yes?'

Tony felt himself blushing. 'Trust me on this, Ducky, I really can't.'

'What's the worst that can happen, other than her saying no? And with your charm, my boy, I can't see anyone turning you down for long. Unless she's married?'

'Not married, no, but there are a lot worse things than saying no. Take my word for it.' Tony shuddered.

'Are you sure? I remember there was this one time, back in nineteen sixty-eight, or was it sixty-seven, and I desperately wanted to ask out a beautiful young woman. Lesley was her name, long auburn hair and a smile that lit up the room. Well, I–'

'Ducky! Time's up, gotta go. Grab your coat.' Tony stood and opened the door. 'Beer and pizza wait for no man!'

The ME shook his head and sighed, then reached for his coat and followed him out.

The beer proved to be a success; the small group crowding into a booth at the back of the bar and ordering a couple of pitchers to start with. Tony waited until the pizzas had been delivered before slipping out and calling Gibbs.

'It's me, boss. How'd it go? ... Uh huh, reports are all on your desk... Well, actually, I was wondering if you wanted to join us for beer and pizza. Even Ducky's here with us for a little while... You sure? Because I was going to save you a slice of the meat supreme. Extra pepperoni, extra ham, extra bacon... Just half an hour. The team needs this... Okay, thanks.' He slid his phone into his pocket with a sigh; Gibbs had, as usual, hung up without saying goodbye.

Tony wandered back to the table and managed to rescue two slices of the meat supreme pizza.

'Is everything okay?' Tim asked from across the table, where he was seated between Abby and Ziva.

Tony nodded. 'Gibbs should be here in ten.'

Abby bounced in her seat. 'Gibbs is actually joining us? Goody! What did you have to do, threaten to burn his boat?'

Tony laughed and shook his head. 'Save him a slice of pizza, so hands off unless you want to feel his wrath.'

Abby shuddered and gave a delighted squeal. 'Not a chance! The only one who's that brave is you, Tony!'

'And even I'm not that stupid,' Tony agreed, to general laughter.

By the time Gibbs joined them, Jimmy was just leaving, so Gibbs slid into his place, next to Tony. 'That mine?'

'All yours, boss,' Tony said, sliding the plate over, along with a couple of napkins. 'Beer?'

'Yeah, I'll have one,' Gibbs said, and settled in to eat, listening to the chatter around him.

Tony poured him a beer, then rejoined the chatter around the table. He smiled and laughed, offering up jokes and outrageous stories, but his attention was mostly on the man seated beside him. He could feel the tension Gibbs was doing his best to disguise; the booth was small, and with six of them around the table, no matter how hard he tried, he was thigh to thigh, shoulder to shoulder with Gibbs. Not that he minded, but it was a little... distracting.

Ducky was the next to leave, pleading the need to check on his mother and her corgis, followed by Ziva, who had unspecified things to do. Gibbs shifted to give them both a little more room as the booth emptied, but he seemed not to care that his knee still pressed against Tony's, and it was closer to an hour than half an hour by the time he went home, appearing more relaxed by far than when he'd arrived.

Tony watched him go, before turning his attention back to Tim and Abby just as Tim excused himself to go to the men's room.

'So, Tony, what's going on with you and Gibbs?' Abby asked, leaning forwards with a mischievous expression.

Tony choked on his beer. 'Abs, maybe you should lay off the beer, or the caffeine, or something. I have no idea what you mean.'

'There's definitely some weird energy going on between you,' Abby continued blithely. 'I mean, you've always had this connection, which is good, because both of you need it, but it's like it's... more, somehow.'

Pushing his glass away, Tony shrugged uncomfortably. 'I don't know what to say, Abs. As far as I'm aware, things with me and Gibbs are business as usual. He's the boss, I try not to piss him off too much.' As Abby opened her mouth to argue, Tony added, 'So how are things with the McGeek? You letting him sleep over in your coffin?'

Abby reached across the table and thumped him on the shoulder. 'Tony! There's nothing going on there, I swear.'

Tony smirked. Right on cue, Tim appeared, sat back down and asked, 'What did I miss?'

With a laugh and a shake of his head, Tony said, 'Nothing, Probie. Absolutely nothing at all.' Abby narrowed her eyes, but Tony ignored her glare. 'I hate to say it, but I'm going to have to love you and leave you. I'll see you guys tomorrow.' He stood and pulled out his wallet, tossing down some notes. 'That should take care of the bill. Don't do anything I wouldn't, kids.'

'Like that narrows anything down,' Tim scoffed.

Tony kept his smile in place and waited until he was outside before muttering, 'If only you knew, Probie, oh how you'd laugh.'

The atmosphere in the office the next morning was considerably lighter, with Tony and Ziva taking it in turns to tease Tim about how long he'd stayed at the bar with Abby. Even Gibbs had a tiny smile for a couple of the comments. They spent the day doing follow-up work on the Andersen case, but for once, the phones stayed silent and five o'clock rolled around without a new case presenting itself.

'Go home, people,' Gibbs said. 'Enjoy your weekend off.' He shut down his computer and tidied the last of his paperwork away. When he left, for a last coffee run, Tony assumed, Ziva turned to him and Tim in amazement.

'Gibbs is actually leaving on time?'

'It looks like it,' Tim said, standing quickly. 'I'm going now, before he changes his mind or a fresh case comes in. See you Monday, guys.' He hurried off towards the elevator. Ziva blinked, then grabbed her coat and purse and followed.

'Do not spend the entire weekend in bed, Tony,' she called with a grin.

'Not on my own, no,' Tony called back. He took his time closing down his computer and by the time Gibbs returned with a travel mug of coffee and a bag of danishes, Tony was just about ready to go.

'Shall we?' Gibbs asked courteously.

'After you, boss,' Tony smiled. They traveled down in the elevator in companionable silence and out in the parking lot, Tony unlocked his car and waited for Gibbs to grab the bag from his trunk. While Tony drove, Gibbs tuned the radio to a station playing classic rock. After a couple of hours, Tony pulled off the I-295 and into a rest stop.

'I don't know about you, boss, but I'm getting kinda hungry. And I could use some coffee.' Tony turned and smiled at Gibbs. To his surprise, Gibbs looked more relaxed than he'd seen him in a long time.

'Sure, Tony. Could use a bite and a coffee too. Come on.' He unfolded his tall frame from the car and Tony took a moment to admire his easy grace before locking the car and following.

The rest stop was clean, but that was the best that could be said for it. The burgers were dry and the fries greasy. The coffee, though it tasted awful, had enough caffeine in it that Tony could feel himself start to fidget after half a cup.

'Wow, this stuff's got a kick,' he said, blinking.

Gibbs drained his cup and put it back down on the table with a steady hand. 'Hadn't noticed.'

'You know, I'm surprised you don't just get a shunt put in, then you can mainline caffeine to your heart's content. It's not as though you drink it for the taste,' Tony rattled on.

Gibbs snorted. 'Might be an idea at that, but it'd get in the way of apprehending suspects.'

'You could always throw the bag at them?'

'And waste good coffee? Not a chance, DiNozzo.' Gibbs was outright smiling.

Tony leaned forward. 'But that's the point, boss,' he said earnestly. 'It could be terrible coffee and you'd never have to know.'

As Gibbs laughed, Tony sat back and grinned happily. 'You know, I don't think I've ever seen you this cheerful.'

The older man shrugged. 'Been a while since I got away for anything other than work.'

'But this is connected with work, kind of.'

'Yeah, an hour spent talking with this guy tomorrow over lunch, then the weekend's ours. You figure out what you want to do yet?'

It was Tony's turn to shrug. 'I was thinking maybe head into New York, go round the Met, find somewhere to eat, take in a show? You know you can take a bicycle tour of the city? They run it at four am when the traffic's light, go round the fish market, that kind of thing.'

Gibbs shook his head. 'The rest sounds fine to me, Tony, but if you think I'm getting up to cycle around New York at four in the morning, you're out of your mind.'

Tony grinned. 'Didn't say I was going on it, just that it's there. Tourists, huh?'

'Yeah.'

They got more coffee to go and Tony drove the rest of the way without stopping. He found them a Best Western and Gibbs booked them a twin room.

'I can probably put it on expenses,' he said as they carried their bags up. 'But there's no way they'll spring for two rooms.'

Tony blinked in surprise. 'Oh, okay.'

'What, you weren't going to try claiming it? You said yourself it's work-related.' Gibbs said, dropping his bag on the bed closest to the door.

Tony shook his head. 'Didn't even occur to me. Damn, I must be slipping.'

Gibbs grinned. 'Must be, DiNozzo, must be. Tomorrow night's on your own dime, though.'

'Got it.' Tony disappeared into the bathroom to grab a shower, taking a minute under the spray to enjoy the water pounding his shoulders.

'Hello,' he murmured, feeling a familiar sensation. 'Nice of you to join me.' His hand found his hardening erection and, with the water and a little shower gel, he brought himself off, leaning against the tiled wall until his knees steadied and his breathing evened out. He washed quickly, then turned off the shower and dried himself off with one of the too-small white towels provided, missing the luxury of his own thick, soft towels, before pulling on shorts and a t-shirt and leaving the bathroom.

Gibbs took his turn in the bathroom as Tony settled into the queen-sized bed by the window. Instead of turning on the TV, he lay down and listened to the sound of Gibbs taking his own quick shower. The agent came out of the bathroom with a swirl of steam, dressed in sweats and a faded NCIS t-shirt and climbed into the other bed.

'Night, boss,' Tony murmured.

'Night, Tony.' Gibbs turned out the light and Tony fell asleep to a sense of rightness, somewhere deep in his chest, that he very carefully kept from thinking about.

Despite the long drive the previous evening, Tony woke up early. He changed into running shorts and slipped out of the room. After a quick conversation with the desk clerk, he set off on a route that was only a couple of miles long, but fairly easy to follow, and by the time he got back to the hotel, he was wide awake and ready for breakfast.

Gibbs was up and showered when he entered the room. 'Sleep well, boss?' Tony asked cheerfully, rummaging in his bag for a clean set of clothes.

'Surprisingly well. You see anywhere decent for breakfast while you were out?'

'Yeah, actually. Real mom and pop diner. Give me five minutes and I'll be ready to go.' He hurried through the bathroom and emerged, fully dressed and with his hair artfully tousled. Another minute more and his bag was packed.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Gibbs looked up from his book. 'All set?'

Tony nodded. 'Let's go get you some coffee before you turn into an ogre.' He grinned.

The older man raised an eyebrow and stood. 'Careful, DiNozzo. If I turn into an ogre, you'll be first on the menu.'

'You'd eat me over bacon and eggs?' Tony asked, holding the door open.

'Long pig,' Gibbs said with a straight face, strolling past.

Tony gave an exaggerated shudder and followed. They checked out, dropping their bags into the trunk of the car before making the short walk to the diner. Over coffee and toast, bacon and eggs, waffles, Tony charmed the waitress into telling them what there was to do to kill a few hours. Not much, as it turned out, but there was a nature trail, which they managed to not get lost on, finding their way back to the car and then to their appointment with Dr Childs with relative ease.

The address was for a little vegetarian eatery just around the corner from the university medical center. Tony groaned when he saw it and Gibbs looked less than impressed.

'Didn't you check it?' the older man grumbled. 'I hate tofu.'

'It's not like it's called Sprouts 'R' Us, boss,' Tony said, pushing open the door and walking inside. The walls were painted a light green and a border of curling vines had been stenciled around the edges. There were only a dozen small tables, and most were crowded with students. A burly red-haired man in his late forties stood up at one of the tables towards the back of the room.

'Guessing that's our guy,' Gibbs said, threading his way between the tables. 'Doctor Childs? Special Agent Gibbs, and this is Special Agent DiNozzo.'

'Pleasure to meet you,' Dr Childs said, holding out his hand to Gibbs and Tony in turn. They shook and, for all his hand was large, his grip was light. Tony suspected it was probably from years of delicate lab work. Once they were all seated, a waitress came round to take their order.

'Could we have a menu, please?' Tony asked politely.

'Just what's on the board,' the waitress said, unsmiling. With the barest of nods, she indicated the wall to the side of the room. A chalkboard had a meager list of options, scrawled in a barely legible hand. With a wince, Tony ordered the greek salad and, scowling, Gibbs did the same. His scowl deepened when the waitress shook her head sadly at his request for coffee.

'Your heart,' she sniffed, ignoring his glare.

Blithely, the doctor ordered an egg white omelet with roast mixed vegetables with the ease of one who ate there often, then beamed at the agents.

'So, you said you had a case involving an imprinted couple. Did you bring those test results with you?'

'Most people want to know what happened first,' Tony said, pulling a slim file out of his backpack. 'I had to get special permission to show you these.' He handed it over and watched as the doctor opened it and eagerly scanned the pages.

The food had arrived, looking surprisingly appetizing for all its lack of meat and bread, before the doctor looked up again.

'This is wonderful work. You must thank Ms Sciuto; she's incredibly thorough.'

'I know,' Gibbs said drily. 'That's why she was hired.'

'Not many people would have noticed the discrepancy in the initial results, let alone ascribed it any significance. And to be honest, the study that Ron and I did wasn't that widely published.' He closed the file and put it to one side, then tucked into his omelet with evident enjoyment while Tony and Gibbs picked at their salads. 'So, what did happen?' he asked around a mouthful of egg.

Tony glanced at Gibbs before speaking. 'We had a dead petty officer found at the back of a bar. She'd been beaten and her neck was broken. Turns out she met her soul mate while on deployment, but while they were on shore leave, her girlfriend's husband came home early and caught them in bed.'

'That's awful,' the doctor said, frowning. 'What about the girlfriend? Did he...?'

'No, but it was about as bad as it gets short of murder. She's getting help,' Tony said.

Doctor Childs shook his head. 'There's nothing much anyone can do to help.'

'Why?' Gibbs asked. 'What happens when one partner dies?'

'We didn't have any data for that at the time we ran our initial study,' Childs began. 'But I've made a point of keeping in touch with the initial subjects, the ones that were imprinted. Over the last twenty years, six have died or been killed, and of their partners, four have in effect committed suicide.'

'Really?' Tony's eyebrows shot up. 'Boss...'

'How recently had they met?' Childs asked.

'About six weeks prior to the murder,' Gibbs said.

'In that case, that puts the surviving partner at a lower risk of suicide, but even so, there's around a thirty per cent higher risk.' Childs explained. 'For couples who've been imprinted longer than a year, that figure goes up to around ninety per cent.'

'Wow,' Tony said, stunned.

'What did you mean by 'died or been killed'?' Gibbs asked.

'Interestingly, a large proportion of imprinted couples have one or both partners in the armed forces, law enforcement, the emergency services, that kind of thing,' Childs said. 'It's fascinating. I don't have any data on why, but I have a few suppositions I'd love to be able to test. Unfortunately, that's not really my area; it's more sociology or anthropology, I guess, and there's no funding for that kind of research.'

'So what's your theory?' Tony asked.

'I have a couple. It could be that people who are susceptible to imprinting are drawn to careers that are likely to bring them into contact with large numbers of people to maximise their chances of meeting their partner, but in that case, I'd expect to see a lot of teachers, even store clerks, anyone who deals with the public on a daily basis. I suspect there's a link somewhere between the way imprinting works and the things that make for successful soldiers or police.'

'Or sailors,' Gibbs said.

'Absolutely,' Childs agreed. 'I'd say that the mechanism in the brain that has it waiting for imprinting to happen, the state of the brain pre-imprint, is probably close to ideal for people who feel called to protect society in whatever way. There's probably some evolutionary advantage in having the people who keep the wolves from the door be fiercely dedicated to each other.'

'Sounds plausible,' Tony said.

'There's no way of knowing, not without doing a lot more research, and like I said, the funding's all in Alzheimer's research, that kind of thing. No one wants to acknowledge the potential for an overriding biological basis for a tiny incidence of what's most likely to be homosexuality within the armed forces.'

'I can see why,' Gibbs said. 'So most of these imprinted couples are gay?'

'Not all, no, but most. Although that's misleading, I think,' Childs said. 'When we asked them separately about their sexuality pre-imprinting, almost all of them identified as heterosexual. Not many even said they were bisexual, and only a tiny number said they were gay.'

'But they imprinted on members of the same sex, and those relationships were sexual,' Gibbs clarified.

'Yes, which is why it's so fascinating. It really is an anthropologist's dream study, looking into why these men, usually, who are incredibly invested in heteronormativity, ever end up in active homosexual partnerships. I suspect one reason is simply that, in the absence of any other outlet for their sexuality, they turn to the person who is their only source of arousal.'

'So you're saying they go gay for each other, but they have no choice,' Tony queried.

'That's it.' Childs smiled.

'What happens if they can't accept it? Have you had any cases where that's happened?' Tony asked.

Childs shook his head. 'Our study only dealt with existing couples. Short of testing everyone within the armed forces and the emergency services, there's no way we could identify people who're struggling against imprinting. I'm certain there are imprinted people out there who can't accept their fixation on the other person.'

'What do you suppose happens to them?' Tony was leaning forwards in his seat, fascinated by what he was hearing.

'I'd imagine it's the same thing that happens to anyone who suddenly feels drawn to someone they don't want to be attracted to, someone they think it's wrong to be attracted to,' Childs said. 'Only they don't have the option of attempting to subsume that attraction in someone more appropriate. Anger, denial, avoidance, and in extreme cases, violence, murder, suicide. I suppose they can try to be with someone else, but the only sexual arousal they're capable of would be when they imagine they're with the person they're imprinted on.'

'What about reversing the effects of imprinting? Is that possible? What happens if they can't be together, or if one party dies? Does the imprinting stay with you for life, or does it ever go away?' Tony asked.

'I don't know how imprinting works in the first place, so I have no way of knowing if it's possible to reverse. What I've found is that where one person is, say, stationed well away from the other over a long period of time – and we're talking years, here – they gradually regain some capability for sexual arousal by other people. It suggests the imprint is reinforced through physical contact, through touch, sight, sound, smell.

'Where one half of an imprinted couple dies, if their partner survives the initial grieving process, the same thing happens. Over the years, they regain a limited capacity for intimate interaction with other people. But they're always searching, on some level, for what they had. I know of only one case, where one person was killed in an accident right after our study finished, and twelve years later, the surviving imprinted came back to me with his new partner. They'd been assigned to work together – they were detectives – and when I ran the blood tests, it showed they'd imprinted on each other. But that's the only case I know where someone's re-imprinted.' Childs pushed away his empty plate.

'So, doomed to be together or spend the rest of their life searching for their soul mate? It sounds like the plot of a movie. Maybe you should get Hollywood interested; that'd give you the money to do more studies,' Tony said.

'Maybe I should,' Childs agreed.

'So how did you identify these couples in the first place?' Gibbs asked.

'We screened couples firstly through a questionnaire. It takes about fifteen minutes to complete and asks about changes in arousal patterns and so on. And then there's the blood tests; it's pretty much what your Ms Sciuto did.' Childs looked from Gibbs to Tony and back again. 'You know, it's been about eight years since I last dug them out, but would you gentlemen mind filling out the questionnaire for me? It all adds to my sample size, helps me understand this thing a little better.'

Tony snorted. 'We're not imprinted, doctor. We're not even a couple.'

'But you are in law enforcement and unless I'm very mistaken, you're ex-military, right, Agent Gibbs?' Childs said.

'No such thing as an ex-marine,' Gibbs said. 'And DiNozzo worked three police forces before I hired him.'

'All right, then. I have better coffee than they serve here, anyway.' Childs said.

Gibbs looked at Tony, who rolled his eyes, then raised his hand to attract the attention of the surly waitress. 'Check!'

It was only a two minute walk to Childs' office. Buried in a maze of corridors towards the rear of the medical center, the office reminded Tony of Ducky's, its walls lined with filing cabinets and bookshelves overflowing with journals and books. There was room for a chair behind the desk, on which, to one side, sat a pc with twin flat-screen monitors, and on the other side of the desk, for two uncomfortable plastic and metal visitors chairs, on which Tony and Gibbs sat.

'So how do you want to do this?' Tony asked, shifting as he tried to get comfortable on the hard seat. Beside him, Gibbs was still, back ramrod-straight and not a hint of discomfort showing.

'Let me just print you off the questionnaire. If I was conducting my study, this part would be done blind, which is to say you'd each be assigned a number and I wouldn't know who you were until after I'd processed your questionnaire. As it is, my grad students have a lounge just down the hall, which has a little more space and is where the good coffee's kept.' Childs clicked a few times with his mouse then, half-hidden on top of a filing cabinet in the corner of the room, a small printer whirred to life. He retrieved the printouts, fumbled in his drawer for a couple of pens, then handed one to each.

'If you could drop these back in here when you're done, that'd be wonderful. I'll have someone ready to do the blood test by then.'

'Whoa, wait a minute,' Tony said, pausing in the doorway. 'You didn't say you were taking blood too!'

Childs looked at him in surprise. 'But of course! How else can I confirm you're not imprinted?'

Gibbs sighed. 'As long as that's all. Out of curiosity, what would the next stage be, if one of us was imprinted and this was part of your study?'

Childs smiled. 'If, by some remote chance, you turned out to be imprinted, I'd want to do a follow-up interview with you and your imprinted partner. In the study, we ran follow-up tests, measuring brainwaves, which parts of the brain are active during arousal, anger, fear, etcetera, and we also looked at the physiological effects of arousal.'

'Is that where you hooked up people's... parts... and showed them photos?' Tony asked.

'Essentially, yes,' Childs said earnestly. 'But we had such uniform results that we were able to confirm the correlation between restricted arousal to stimuli and the results of the brain tests, which is why we concluded that the blood test is a very accurate way of diagnosing imprinted people. As I said, there's a lot of follow-up work to be done, but there's no funding. Maybe with a change in administration, one that's more likely to work towards repealing the military's policy of 'don't ask, don't tell', that'll change. Until then, I'll keep working on other things.' Childs looked almost forlorn, standing in his cramped office with no prospect of getting back to the research he so clearly loved.

'Okay,' Tony drawled. 'We'll get right on these for you.' He plastered on a smile and led the way back down the corridor to the graduate students' lounge. Decorated in institutional beige and gray, the decor wasn't great, but the chairs were comfy and the coffee was indeed the good stuff. Tony hunted out clean mugs and poured for them both, finding creamer and sweetener for his own in a little basket beside the coffee pot. Gibbs took a seat at one side of the table and grunted his thanks for the coffee.

'I fancy stopping somewhere for a burger after this,' Tony said, taking the chair opposite. 'How about you, boss?'

Gibbs glanced over the top of the paper he was holding at arm's length. 'Sounds good to me.'

Without a word, Tony pulled a narrow case out of his jacket pocket and slid it across the table. Gibbs took it and put on his reading glasses just as Tony read the first set of questions and choked.

'Problem, DiNozzo?' Gibbs asked.

'I, uh... You know, this chair's wobbly. I'll go sit over there.' Tony bolted for the table at the far side of the room, sitting where he could keep an eye on the other man. The last thing he needed was to find Gibbs reading over his shoulder. With a sigh, he uncapped the pen and started filling in the questionnaire.

1. When was the last time you had sexual intercourse?

It took closer to twenty minutes, two cups of coffee each and red faces before they dropped their questionnaires back on Doctor Childs' desk.

'Any problems?'

'Nope,' Tony said, not quite meeting the doctor's eyes.

'Seemed pretty straightforward to me,' Gibbs concurred. He was very carefully not looking at his subordinate.

'Glad to hear it. Would you both roll up your left sleeve, please?' Quickly and professionally, he drew a couple of vials of blood from Gibbs first, then turned his attention to Tony. 'Would you rather I used your other arm?' he asked.

'No, left's fine. Why?' Tony asked.

'It looks as though you've had blood taken pretty recently. I can try a different vein, though.'

'Oh! Yeah, sorry, I forgot. Go ahead, do your vampire thing. Arm'll be fine.' Tony squeezed his hand into a fist a couple of times and Doctor Childs took the blood he needed.

'Something you want to tell me about?' Gibbs asked mildly.

Tony shook his head. 'Nothing to worry about, boss. Ducky just wanted to run some tests, you know how he gets.'

Gibbs shot him a look that Tony knew meant they'd be talking later, or at least, Gibbs would be interrogating him and if he couldn't think of a way to sidetrack the man, he'd better be ready to answer.

'Can I take a number so I can let you know your results?' Childs asked hopefully.

'Sure.' Tony rattled off his cell number. 'You can reach me any time on it.'

'How about you, Special Agent Gibbs?'

'Chances are if you reach Tony, you'll get me,' Gibbs said.

'Okay, then. Thank you for coming all this way to see me,' Childs stood and shook Gibbs' hand, then Tony's.

'Thanks for making the time to talk with us,' Tony said. 'When we get back, I'll have to go see our survivor. Do you mind if I give her your number?'

'Not at all, please do.' With a smile, Doctor Childs ushered them out of his office and they went in search of a second lunch.

Gibbs waited until they had eaten, driven down to the Big Apple, seen all the Degas and Klimt either of them were interested in at the Met, and found an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner before he brought up the topic both men knew was coming.

'So, tests?'

'Yeah, probably just low on iron or something.' Tony smiled. 'I ordered the beef, it'll be fine.'

Gibbs raised an eyebrow and waited.

Tony sighed. 'It's nothing that affects the job, boss, I promise. Scout's honor.'

'I didn't think you were ever in the scouts, DiNozzo,' Gibbs said. Their food arrived at the table, and Tony busied himself with sampling the dishes.

'Let's try this again, shall we?' Gibbs said after a few minutes. 'Are you going to tell me what tests Ducky's running?'

Tony shrugged. 'He said he wanted to take some blood to run some tests, but didn't tell me what they were. That's all. So no, I'm not going to tell you because I don't know. Can we drop this?'

'Why did Ducky think he needed to run tests on you, Tony? Will you tell me that?'

Tony shook his head. 'It's personal and that's all I'm prepared to say. I'm not sick, it's not anything that would interfere with me doing my job to the best of my abilities and Ducky likes to worry.'

Gibbs stared at him for a moment, then sighed, his forehead creasing in a worried frown. 'Tony, you aren't just the job. If there's something wrong, something you want to talk about, you can tell me. You should know that by now.'

Tony barked a surprised laugh. 'You telling me you care about me? Above and beyond the job?'

Gibbs sat back, equally surprised. 'Of course I do! You're my senior agent, you've worked with me longer than anyone. Heck, you've stayed at my house often enough.'

'You know, much as that gives me the warm fuzzies, you don't exactly invite the sharing of personal information. Not unless it means we can't do the job,' Tony said cynically. 'But thanks for letting me stay in your spare room. Really appreciate it. Next time the boiler blows up or the landlord decides to fumigate, I'll be right there. So what did you think of the Mondrian?'

Gibbs gave in and they spent the rest of the meal discussing what they'd seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that afternoon. They followed up their meal with a visit to a quiet little jazz bar and a few drinks, then walked back to their hotel. Another shared room, although this one was paid for by Tony, and once again he fell asleep quickly, lulled by the sound of Gibbs' slow breathing.

Gibbs was up first and while he was in the shower, Tony used the time to take care of his morning wood, jerking off quickly and quietly into a handful of tissues. Still half-asleep, he lobbed the wad of tissues at the wastebin and dozed for a few warm, luxurious minutes until Gibbs emerged in a cloud of steam, scrubbed pink and with a towel wrapped around his hips.

'Up and at 'em, DiNozzo,' Gibbs said with a little smile. 'You missed that bike tour.'

Yawning, Tony stretched lazily and made a rude gesture. 'Not sorry 'bout that,' he said and climbed out of bed. On his way to the bathroom, Gibbs cuffed the back of his head. 'Ow! What was that for?' Tony whined, turning to face the older man.

'You flip me the bird, there are consequences,' Gibbs said mildly. 'Get your ass through the bathroom so we can go find coffee.'

'On it, boss.' Rubbing his head, Tony did as he was told. Mindful of Gibbs' caffeine addiction, he ignored the resurgence of interest from his cock under the warm spray from the shower and was ready to go in under ten minutes. Shortly thereafter they found themselves in another diner having breakfast.

'Got anything planned for today?' Gibbs asked, once he'd finished his first cup of coffee and started on the second.

'I thought about doing some shopping,' Tony said, deadpan. 'It's the perfect opportunity to get you out of those Sears sales specials. There's a great little place only a few blocks from here, proper gentleman's tailor.' As a look of horror crossed the ex-marine's face, Tony couldn't hold in his laughter. 'Sorry boss,' he gasped, wiping his eyes. 'That was too good to pass up!'

Gibbs scowled. 'I take it your plan doesn't involve me having to shoot you, then.'

'Nope,' Tony grinned. 'I did a little checking around and there's a Maritime Museum out at Fort Schuyler. Thought maybe we could head on over and spend a few hours there before we have to drive home.'

'Good thinking,' Gibbs said approvingly.

'Thanks.' Tony beamed, enjoying the rare praise.

It was dark by the time Tony pulled up outside Gibbs' house. Not even slow, heavy traffic had put a dent in his happiness. 'Had a great weekend, boss. Thanks for coming along.'

'No problem,' Gibbs said, opening the car door. 'Been a while since I got away like that.' He hesitated, half out of the car, then looked back. 'Want to come in for a beer?'

Tony thought hard for a few moments then, reluctantly, shook his head. 'I still have a few things to do before work tomorrow. Rain check?'

'Next time, then,' Gibbs said. He shut the door, claimed his bag from the trunk, then jogged up the steps to the front door and went inside.

Chapter Text

Tony drove home to his empty apartment, where he did his laundry and sat on his sofa with a bowl of soup from a can, heated in the microwave, and watched The Maltese Falcon. Lying in his too-large bed on cool Egyptian cotton sheets, trying to sleep, Tony held the memory of that next time promise together with the smiles and dancing eyes of Gibbs' obvious enjoyment over the past couple of days against his sudden loneliness. All too soon, though, his alarm clock blared and it was Monday morning; time to go to work.

Tony made it all the way up to the bullpen before realizing that Little Anthony, having come out to play for the weekend, was clearly back on strike. No morning wood to take care of, and he hadn't had so much as a dirty thought while he'd been trying to get to sleep, let alone an erection, and wasn't that strange, since masturbation was one of his favorite ways to relax. Well, his favorite way to relax by himself. Although given how long it had been since he'd 'relaxed' with anyone else, he figured he should probably give in and put masturbation at the top of his list without any qualification.

Without his usual cheery smile, he dropped his backpack off at his desk, together with his jacket, and checked to make sure they hadn't had a case come in so far. By the time any of the rest of the team arrived, Tony had returned a couple of calls, made an appointment to visit Lieutenant Rogers at Bethesda and picked up coffee and pastries. The morning passed in a blizzard of paperwork and cold case reviews, while Gibbs, looking about as well rested as Tony felt, took his coffee up to his usual Monday morning meeting with the director, then stomped back down and went straight into the elevator.

'What's up with him?' Tim asked once the doors had safely closed behind the grumpy agent.

Tony shrugged. 'Probably just the director rubbing him up the wrong way, as usual.'

'I wonder what he got up to last weekend,' Ziva said from the desk on the other side of him. 'It could be that whatever it was didn't go as he'd planned.'

'Now what makes you say that, Zeevah?' Tony drawled, swinging round in his chair to face her. 'Your own plans go awry?'

'My plans went without a pick up,' Ziva said snippily.

'Without a hitch,' Tony corrected. 'Then why would you assume the boss had any plans, let alone that they went wrong?'

Tim chimed in. 'He's not exactly noted for having a busy social life.'

'You know, when Gibbs is all Monday-morningish, it's probably not wise to pick Monday morning to have a team discussion about his social life,' Tony said, getting to his feet. 'You know how good he is at sneaking up at the worst possible time. I, for one, don't want that headslap.'

'Where are you going?' Ziva asked. 'Gibbs will not be pleased if he returns and you are not at your desk.'

'Say hi to Abby, maybe call in on Ducky,' Tony said. 'At least they won't give me the mother of all headaches.' He gave them a cheery wave and made a beeline for the elevator. When the doors opened on the lab level, he could hear Abby's music pounding away. Respecting his intention not to go looking for a headache, Tony stayed in the elevator and went down to Autopsy instead.

It was quiet inside, but Tony could hear voices coming from Ducky's office, where the door was ajar. One was Gibbs and he didn't sound too happy.

'I trust you to tell me when there's something wrong with one of my team,' Gibbs snapped. Tony winced; he sounded frustrated. As quietly as he could, he made his way closer to the door.

'My dear Jethro, had I any concerns whatsoever about his ability to do his job, I would have told you immediately, but this is absolutely nothing to do with you. As his physician, I have to respect doctor-patient confidentiality.' Ducky sounded equally as frustrated.

'Don't give me that! I want to know what's wrong with Tony!' Gibbs roared.

'Shit!' Tony mouthed, running a hand through his hair. Gibbs was about a minute away from blowing his top and Tony knew exactly who he'd come looking for when that happened. It looked as though that headache was inevitable.

'I don't think there is anything wrong with Anthony,' Ducky said icily. 'And I would appreciate it if you didn't take that tone with me, Jethro. I have my suspicions, but until I get those test results back, I'm not prepared to say anything to anyone. And when I do get the results through, the person I will talk to about them is Anthony because it is his business and not yours. I suggest if you want to know, you ask him directly.'

'Ducky...' Gibbs growled. 'All Tony will say is that it's personal.'

Tony sighed quietly and leaned against the wall. He should have known Gibbs wouldn't leave it alone; it wasn't in his nature.

'I'm rather surprised he said anything at all.'

'Didn't have a choice. Doctor Childs made a comment when he went to take blood,' Gibbs confessed.

'Ah! I take it this would be the same Doctor Childs whose research Abigail found so enthralling?'

Grudgingly, Gibbs admitted it. 'We went up to see him, find out what's in store for Lieutenant Rogers.'

'Not good, I take it?' Ducky's voice was full of sympathy. 'The poor woman. I can't imagine what that must feel like, to have one's entire life thrown into chaos in such a manner.'

'Yeah.'

'So, what, the good doctor is testing you and Anthony to see if you are imprinted? Well, I've always thought you complement each other very well. Better than any of those ex-wives of yours, Jethro.' Ducky mused. 'And Anthony is a fine young man. There's a lot more to him than he lets most people see, but I suspect you are very well aware of that, aren't you?'

'I'm not gay,' Gibbs said sharply.

'Neither was the poor lieutenant,' Ducky said softly. 'Tell me, Jethro, when you engage in a little onanism, whose is the face that springs to mind?'

'That's none of your damn business, Ducky. And it doesn't matter, because I'm not imprinted. Don't you think I'd have noticed, back when I first hired DiNozzo?'

'My dear Jethro, you aren't the most astute when it comes to your emotions.' Tony could have sworn Ducky was smiling.

'Well if I've been blind, so has DiNozzo. It's quite clear he's getting past the goodnight kiss on the cheek stage with all those dates of his,' Gibbs said.

'If you say so, Jethro. Yes, well, as entertaining as this has been, I do actually have work I should be doing. If you don't mind?'

'Shit!' Tony muttered and scampered as quickly and quietly as possible towards the door, before turning and calling, 'Ducky? You around?' just as Gibbs emerged from the office. The older man's eyes narrowed and he glared at Tony. 'So this is where you've been hiding, huh?' Tony asked cheerfully, stepping aside to let Gibbs past. Without breaking stride, Gibbs swatted him hard around the back of the head. 'Ow! What was that for?'

'Don't eavesdrop,' Gibbs said without looking round.

'How does he do that?' Tony asked, rubbing his sore head. He stared resentfully after his boss, then sighed and let his hand fall to his side. He stuck his head round the doorway to Ducky's office. 'Hey, Ducky. Good weekend?'

'Very. Mother was having one of her more lucid spells when I visited and I attended a wonderful concert with a rather charming young coroner called Lucy. It was a local amateur orchestra, but the standard was really very high. They played Brahms and Schubert and you have absolutely no interest in the program, do you, my dear boy?' Ducky said with a sigh. 'Do come in and sit down.'

'I'd better head upstairs before Gibbs really gets mad,' Tony said, then paused. 'You know, if Gibbs ever had imprinted, it would have been on Shannon,' he said softly. 'Just... drop it, okay?'

'As you wish, Anthony. As you wish,' Ducky murmured.

Tony took his headache and went back upstairs.

Gibbs was in a foul mood the rest of the day. If Tony hadn't been there too, he'd never have believed Gibbs had spent the weekend enjoying himself. News of the kidnapping of the daughter of a naval officer came in around four, but by four thirty, the kidnapper was found to be the officer's younger brother, visiting from out of town and wanting to treat his niece to ice cream. In all, it was a relief to escape the oppressive atmosphere in the office when Gibbs let them go for the day.

Four in the morning brought another call: this time, it was a real case. A car found by the side of the road, the interior drenched in blood. The car's plates were registered to Carl Drevitt, a civilian contractor who had worked for the Navy for the past eight years. There was no one at his house, but there were clear signs of a struggle.

It took three long days to unravel a trail of blackmail, compromised accounts and illicit affairs. A significant proportion of the blood in the car belonged to Drevitt's dog, a mastiff called Berkeley; the rest belonged to Drevitt. His boyfriend, a marine, turned up as a John Doe in one of the local hospitals, badly beaten and with a couple of nasty stab wounds. Tony spent a frustrating day interviewing the rest of the company the marine, Pete Levine, was stationed with in case this was a hate crime, only for McGee to uncover a computer trail leading right to a crime syndicate which specialised in government construction work, supplying labor and materials and making sure no unforeseen 'accidents' happened on site.

It meant someone was going to have to go in undercover to the three sites the syndicate was rumored to be involved in at the moment. Worse, it meant working with the FBI. Fornell wasn't happy about NCIS's involvement in what was a long-running FBI investigation. Gibbs wasn't happy about the FBI's insistence on doing things their way, not when it interfered with finding out what had happened to the missing Drevitt.

And Tony definitely wasn't happy. He wasn't happy about working with the Feebs, with Fornell, with going undercover yet again. He wasn't happy because Gibbs wasn't happy and when Gibbs wasn't happy, he made sure everyone else was unhappy with him. But mostly, he wasn't happy because right after a morning spent in the Director's office with Fornell, Gibbs and Vance, he'd made it back to his desk only for his cell phone to ring.

'DiNozzo's House of Pleasure, how may I please you? ... Oh, hi Doctor Childs... No, now's not a great time, but it's about the only time I have, so talk away...' He turned his back on the rest of the office, aware that with the mention of 'doctor', McGee and Ziva were taking an interest in the conversation. 'What? No, that's not possible! Are you sure that's right? ... Hold on a minute, I'm just going to go somewhere more private.' He pushed his chair away from the desk and hurried to the conference room, ignoring his teammates' stares.

Shutting the door behind him and leaning against it, Tony said, 'I'm back. Sorry about that. You're certain we're imprinted? I mean, I've worked with Gibbs for almost six years now, and we're not in any kind of a relationship other than a work one... Physical contact? We have hand to hand training sessions in the gym once a week. Other than that, the only time there's any contact between us is when I mess up and Gibbs slaps the back of my head... Yeah, I suppose I do miss it when he doesn't headslap me... And yeah, I suppose this explains a couple of things about my non-existent love-life. But really?'

He sighed. 'Sorry, thanks for letting me know. What happens if we keep things the way they are? I mean, there's absolutely no sign Gibbs wants anything from me, let alone a relationship... I see. Great... Yeah, I'll talk to Gibbs and get back to you about that interview. We're in the middle of something right now, so it might be a little while before I get back to you... Thanks. You too.'

He ended the call and pocketed his phone, then closed his eyes and banged his head against the door.

'Shit. Just what I need. I couldn't imprint on a beautiful blonde with a big chest and a great ass? Welcome to the wonderful world of celibacy, DiNozzo.' He sighed again, opened the door and went back out into the bullpen.

'What was all that about?' Tim asked as Tony went back to his desk.

'Nothing that concerns you, Probie,' Tony said. 'Has Gibbs come back yet?'

'Not yet. Are you sick?' Tim pushed.

'No, Probie! Drop it.'

'If you're not sick, why the mystery? Why get calls from doctors in the middle of the day?'

'McGee, I swear I will superglue your keyboard to the ceiling! Doctor Childs did the research into imprinting. You remember that case, three weeks ago? I wanted more information, I gave the lieutenant his number so she could talk about it with him. No mystery!' Tony said, exasperated.

'Then why not take the call here?' Ziva asked.

'Oh, for-!' Tony stalked off, heading for the stairs. Behind him, he could hear Tim and Ziva.

'Tony seems very touchy. Do you think he is ill?' Ziva sounded her usual combination of smug and concerned.

'I don't know. Something's up, that's for sure.' Tim, on the other hand, merely sounded thoughtful and that was bad. When McGee got thoughtful, he started digging and Tony really didn't want him digging into this. He barged into the stairwell and clattered down the stairs, coming out by Autopsy.

'Hey Palmer, is Ducky around?' Tony asked, seeing only the young assistant.

'I, uh... He went out for lunch, I think,' Jimmy stuttered. 'Can I help you? I mean, is there anything I can do?'

'Nah, thanks. I just wanted a word. I'll catch him later,' Tony put on his easy smile. He left and went to hang out in Abby's lab instead until Gibbs found him twenty minutes later and, with a slap, dragged him into an undercover operation.

Later didn't happen.

Tony spent a week as a site inspector, all long lunches and bribability. He ended up with plenty of evidence for Fornell's investigation, but then something went wrong. He slipped up, or someone decided they didn't like him or someone recognized him; Tony didn't know which. What he did know was his latest long lunch became a hazy blur and when he woke up again, he was hog-tied and lying on the ground at one of the construction sites, beside the plywood form that was due to be filled with concrete in the morning. It was getting dark, meaning he'd been out for around seven hours, and his ribs felt as though he'd had a good kicking.

'Hey, what's going on?' Tony asked, shaking his head muzzily. 'Why'm I here? What're you doin'?' He slurred his words more than he had to, hoping there was no one behind him to see his half-numb fingers checking out how he was tied. It only took him a moment to figure out that his wrists were bound with plastic cable ties, which meant his ankles were almost certainly tied the same way.

'What's going on is we got a nice place, nice quiet place, where you can take a good long nap, Mister DiNozzo. Who're you working for?' A man he hadn't seen before loomed over him. In his fifties, balding, with heavy jowls and the start of a paunch, he would have been anonymous in a crowd, utterly unremarkable, but for the rage in his eyes. Well, that and the gun he had pointed at Tony's head.

'Hey, hey, hey! No need for anything like that!' Tony said hastily. 'I work for the government, I'm a site inspector. I inspect sites like this one.'

'Your inspection's about to get a whole lot more up close and personal,' Baldy snarled. 'Drop him in.'

'No, wait! What do you want?' Tony asked. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had an awful suspicion he was about to find out what had happened to Drevitt.

'Absolutely nothing.' The man stood back, keeping his gun trained on Tony while two men sliced through his bonds and, before Tony could force his numb limbs to react, rolled him over the edge of the thirty foot drop into the foundations.

Pain. There was pain. But it was somewhere distant, and there was a warm layer of something fuzzy that felt like opiate-based painkiller between him and it. For once, Tony was happy to keep it that way. And rumbling in the background was a sound, a voice, that kept him anchored while everything else drifted. You don't get to die, you hear me? Tony slid back into sleep.

When he next surfaced, the pain was a little closer to the surface, but so was the voice, there, insistent, demanding, and then gone again.

'Boss?' he croaked.

'Tony? Come on, open those eyes. That's it.'

He managed, by some herculean effort, to open his eyes a fraction. 'Hey...' It took a while for his eyes to focus, but it was definitely Gibbs. 'Y'look... like crap...'

'You should talk.' Gibbs was smiling like he'd just won the state lottery. Tony found it disconcerting.

'Why...?'

'Why what, Tony?'

'... smiling...?'

Gibbs reached out a hand and touched his cheek, a remarkably gentle gesture for such a hard man. 'It's good to see you, DiNozzo, that's all.'

'Not going anywhere,' Tony tried to say, but then he was falling down again; sleep tugged at him and without even a token protest he slid under.

Some time later, sleep relaxed its grip and he woke to a veritable symphony of aches and pains. A sharp throbbing punctuated his left shoulder blade, in perfect counterpoint to the rhythm of his right hip. His head provided the bass note, and assorted other hurts over the rest of his body pounded out an atonal melody.

'Ow.'

'Tony! You're awake! Oh my god, let me call the doctor. Gibbs said you woke up but, you know, you've been lying there, so still, and I was so worried, and don't do that again!'

It was Abby. Her words flowed over him, warm and caring, until a white-clad figure entered the room and looked at the monitors before asking him questions.

'How are you feeling, Mister DiNozzo?'

'Hurts.'

'Can you tell me where hurts?'

'Everywhere. Ow.'

'On a scale of one to ten, where one is no pain and ten is the worst pain you've ever been in, what would you say your pain is?'

Tony thought about it for a moment. 'Seven? Eight?'

'Okay, I'll get the nurse in to go through pain management with you in just a minute.'

'What happened?'

The doctor looked at Abby, who was still sitting beside him, clutching a fold of the blanket that covered him, and scowling. 'I think you'd better talk to your colleague about that rather than me,' he said reluctantly. 'You have a severe concussion, fractures to your skull, left scapula and humerus and three ribs and you have severe bruising over a large part of your body. As far as we can tell, there's no damage to your spine, but this is the first time you've really been aware and lucid since you were brought in.'

'How long?' Tony swallowed around the dryness in his mouth and Abby carefully placed a straw between his lips. As the doctor spoke, he sipped at the blessedly cool water in relief.

'Four days.'

Tony let the straw drop back into the cup. 'Well, crap.'

The doctor nodded. 'I'll send in the nurse.'

When he'd gone, Tony took a good look at Abby. She was even paler than usual, her eyes red-rimmed, and under her makeup, he could see dark shadows under her eyes. 'Talk to me, Abs. What happened?'

'You don't remember?'

'Nope, or I wouldn't be asking.'

Abby lifted his hand, sliding her fingers between his until they were clasped together. 'You went off for lunch with some of those scumbags and you didn't check in again afterwards. Fornell said you were probably just busy, but Gibbs didn't buy it. He knew there was something hinky going on. Fornell wouldn't let him go search the sites because he said it'd blow the investigation, so Gibbs had people staking out the sites from a distance and me and Tim were busy tracking cell phones and seeing if we could find out if there were any unusual calling patterns emerging. Then Gibbs got called into a meeting with the director and Fornell and, oh, Tony, he punched Fornell!'

'Wait, what? Gibbs punched Fornell?' Tony exclaimed. 'Is he all right?'

'Bruised jaw.'

'I meant Gibbs.'

'Oh! Right. I suppose so. He got suspended, or rather the director kind of suspended him but only after you were back on-grid. I mean, he didn't want to pull Gibbs before we found you because I guess maybe he thought Gibbs would go do something stupid, like go look round the sites on his own. Anyway, he didn't need to because Ziva spotted activity over at site three, the Defense storage and archive place they're building on Irvine, so Gibbs went over there and Fornell brought a team and they got there just in time to see them push you... push you into the foundations.' Abby took a deep breath, her eyes filling with tears. When she continued, her voice shook. 'Ziva says she thought Gibbs was going to shoot them all! Fornell didn't want to arrest them 'til he knew what was going on, but Gibbs got them as they were coming out. He didn't shoot them, but the Feds have guards on them too in case you didn't... in case Gibbs changed his mind.'

'Hey, hey, don't cry, Abby. I'm good, I'm fine.' Tony squeezed her hand and pain shot up his arm. 'Ow! Damn it!'

'Tony, it was bad,' Abby whispered. 'They had to airlift you out of there and they didn't know if you'd broken your back or if there'd be brain damage and you wouldn't wake up.'

'My head's pretty solid, Abs,' Tony tried to reassure her. 'It'd take a lot more than a little fall to finish me off.' When Abby didn't smile, he knew it really had been that bad, that he'd come a lot closer to dying than he ever wanted. 'So where's Gibbs now?' he asked, changing the subject.

'Oh, he's interrogating those guys,' Abby said, sniffing. 'That's why he asked me to come and sit with you, in case you woke up. He didn't want you on your own.'

'I thought you said he was suspended?'

'As long as Fornell's not in the building, Director Vance isn't about to stop him. You know what Gibbs is like when someone tries to hurt one of his people.'

'I do. I just didn't think...' Tony trailed off, his mind finally getting the better of the painkillers in his system. 'Abby, how exactly is Gibbs?'

'He's scary-focused, aggressive. When he's in with Vorash, the older guy, he looks like he wants to hurt him then kill him then hurt him some more. The rest of the time he's really pissed, but we all are. It never ends well when Fornell wants you to go undercover.'

'Would you say he's more pissed than usual?' Tony asked.

'I guess so. What's this about, Tony? What aren't you telling me?' Abby frowned at him.

'It's just nice to know you all care so much,' Tony lied. 'So who've I missed, who's come to see me while I've been sleeping?'

'They've all been pretty busy and the hospital's been really careful about who they'll let in to see you. There's a couple of guys on the door, one of ours and one of Fornell's, just in case anyone tries to get at you in here. But now you're awake, they'll all want to come and make sure you're going to be all right.'

'Can you ask Ducky to stop by if he's got a minute?' Tony asked.

'Sure. Do you want anything bringing in? Books, magazines, that kind of thing?'

'That'd be great. If someone could stop by my apartment and grab me some clothes, maybe bring me a laptop and some dvds? I hate being stuck in hospital, it drives me crazy.' Tony yawned, then winced. 'I thought the doctor promised me a nurse.'

'Sure.' Abby disentangled their fingers and went to find out, pigtails bobbing with every step.

Tony watched her go, then closed his eyes. He needed to work out how to get Ducky to watch out for Gibbs without telling him they were imprinted, but the pain from his injuries kept distracting him and it was exhausting. Before he could come up with anything, Abby was back, nurse in tow.

'So, let's talk about pain management,' the nurse said. Tony opened his eyes. The nurse was tall, slim, brown-haired – and male.

'When I have a sponge bath, I want a female nurse,' Tony said pitifully. 'No offense, but the only reason to stay in hospital is the pretty nurses giving me sponge baths.' He pouted.

'Tony! You pig!' Abby protested, but she was smiling. Tony knew she used his level of flirting as a measure of how bad he was feeling, knew she'd be reassured, wouldn't see beyond it to how desperate he was for pain relief and sleep: it was worth the effort it cost him.

The nurse laughed. 'Sure, I'll see what I can do. I'm Brian, the staff nurse, and I'll be in charge of making sure your pain's managed properly. Do you have any problems with any types of painkillers?' Behind him, Abby slipped from the room and Tony knew she was going to call Gibbs. By the time she returned, he was asleep again.

The lights were on low when Tony awoke, surfacing from bizarre painkiller-induced dreams to find a shadowy figure sitting in the chair beside the bed.

'Gibbs?' he croaked, and the figure stirred.

'No, my dear boy, it's Ducky. Let me get you some water.'

After a few sips, Tony was able to talk. 'What time is it?'

'Just after nine. Abigail said you wanted to see me, so I thought I'd sit a while and catch up on some of those journals I rarely get time to read.' Ducky smiled. 'It's good to see you awake.'

Tony couldn't quite summon up an answering smile. 'How's Gibbs?'

'Oh, don't worry yourself about Jethro,' Ducky said, surprised. 'He's a tough bird. He's fine. No, it's yourself you need to concentrate on, resting and healing so that you can come back to us soon.'

'No, god, not fine,' Tony said. Sleep still tugged at the edges of his mind, while the resurgence of pain scattered his thoughts every time he tried to collect them. 'You need to watch out for him, Ducky. Promise me.'

'Why? What's wrong with Jethro? Is there a threat to him?' Ducky's face creased with concern and he reached for his cell phone.

'Yeah, me,' Tony choked and to his horror, he felt tears slide down his cheek.

'No, Anthony, I don't believe that. You'd never knowingly hurt Gibbs,' Ducky said, upset by Tony's distress. Without making a fuss, he retrieved a tissue from the box on the bedside table and wiped Tony's cheeks.

'You don't understand, Ducky,' Tony whispered.

'Why don't you enlighten me?'

Tony closed his eyes, shutting out Ducky's look of compassion. He was exhausted already from the pain and words tumbled out before he could think to stop them. 'We imprinted,' he whispered. 'I didn't even know, but we imprinted and I didn't tell him. Ducky, if I'd died...' he broke off, only to feel the ME's warm, dry hand take his own.

'Oh, Anthony, my poor boy,' Ducky said gently. 'I had rather wondered. When did you find out?'

Tony opened his eyes again, meeting Ducky's calm gaze with his own troubled one. 'Had a call from Doctor Childs the day I got roped into Fornell's mess.'

'You never had chance to tell him,' Ducky guessed.

Tony shook his head and looked away, ashamed. 'Wasn't sure I should.'

'Why ever not? Jethro needs to know. It's something that affects him on a fundamental level.'

'You heard him, Ducky. He's not gay, he's not interested. He doesn't need to be tied to me by some freak of biology.' Another tear pooled in the corner of his eye, then slid down over his cheek to vanish into his hairline. Again, Ducky wiped it away.

'I rather think he has no choice in the matter, just as you don't.' He patted Tony's hand. 'It explains your reaction to any threat to the other. Anthony, I won't lie to you: a relationship of any sort with Jethro will not be easy. But you are already well aware of that and you have, in your own way, found a way of dealing with him that is considerably more effective than any of his past three wives. You may be imprinted, but it does not define you, nor does it define your relationship. I trust you won't let Jethro push you away.'

'Haven't done so far,' Tony muttered. 'Sorry, Ducky. I should have said something.'

'Yes, you should, but under the circumstances, it is understandable. Now you must rest. I will return tomorrow and we can talk about this more if you wish.'

Ducky waited until Tony was asleep before he slipped away. He had a house call to make.

Chapter Text

There were no lights visible at Gibbs' house when Ducky pulled up outside and cut the engine, the growl of his Morgan dying away, leaving only the usual sounds of a suburban evening. Ducky got out of the car and climbed the steps to the front door. When he turned the door handle, it opened without resistance. Shaking his head, he stepped inside. As he walked through the house, he flicked on the light in the living room, then the kitchen. The door to the basement was ajar and Ducky could hear music playing, a radio on low. He pushed the door open fully and walked slowly down the stairs.

Gibbs was measuring a board, marking it with a soft pencil. At his elbow, a mason jar had an inch of bourbon in it. Ducky waited until Gibbs had put the board down before he spoke.

'Aren't you going to ask why I'm here?'

'Figured you'd tell me when you're ready.' Gibbs took a sip of his bourbon, then wandered over to a workbench at the side of the room and began rummaging through the items strewn across the top.

'Don't you want to know how Anthony's doing?' Ducky took a couple of steps further into the room.

'I spoke to the hospital an hour ago. If there'd been an emergency, someone would have called.' Gibbs returned to his boat with a handful of wooden pegs and put them beside the board.

'Are you planning on visiting him?' Ducky asked.

'Tomorrow.' Gibbs clamped the board in a vice and retrieved his hand drill.

'You should talk with him, Jethro,' Ducky said softly. 'There are matters you need to discuss.'

'Why, Ducky?' For the first time, Gibbs looked directly at his friend, and Ducky could see the lines that the past few days had etched deeper into the skin at the corner of his eyes and mouth. 'Far as I can tell, all we need to discuss is what the hell went wrong.'

'Jethro...' Ducky stepped forward and put a hand on Gibbs' arm. 'I talked with him this evening. Just prior to going undercover, he received some news.' Uncharacteristically hesitant, he searched for the right words before continuing. 'It was from Doctor Childs.'

A muscle jumped in Gibbs' jaw and Ducky could feel the tension radiating off the agent. 'I don't want to hear it.'

'But–'

'I said I don't want to hear it, Duck.' Gibbs kept his voice low, controlled, but for a moment, Ducky swayed back, away from the threat. He stood his ground, though, his grip firm around Gibbs' forearm, and when he spoke, his voice was firm.

'You imprinted.'

'Damn it! No!' Gibbs exploded, wrenching his arm from the older man's grasp. He snatched the jar, downing his bourbon, then threw the jar at the far wall where it exploded into shards. He ignored them as he started to pace.

'Whether or not you like it, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you have a responsibility to that young man and right now, he needs you,' Ducky snapped, his temper flaring. 'He didn't ask for this any more than you did, and from where I'm standing right now, he's definitely got the worst of this unfortunate turn of events. He, at least, is thinking of the effect of this imprinting on you rather than the rather greater impact on himself.'

Gibbs turned to glare at him. 'What do you mean? Ducky? What impact?'

'Ah, so you do care about Anthony after all,' Ducky said cuttingly. 'I'd suggest you try talking with him about this, but since we both know that talking isn't your strong suit, why don't you use your intellect rather than your temper and try thinking clearly about it.' He turned. 'I'm going to put the kettle on. I suggest you join me.' He walked stiffly up the stairs, the line of his back radiating disapproval.

The coffee had brewed by the time Gibbs came up into the kitchen. Ducky poured him a mug. 'I don't know how you drink this foul muck, especially this late at night,' he said, taking a sip of his tea.

'You made it,' Gibbs pointed out. He took a seat at the kitchen table. 'Kind of hypocritical of you to tell me off for drinking it.'

'Yes, well, rather the coffee than the bourbon. So?' Ducky took the chair opposite.

Gibbs stared into his coffee. 'I kinda figured I was the imprinting kind. Heck, it makes sense of the whole thing with...'

'With Shannon,' Ducky said gently. 'And with the outcome of your subsequent marriages.'

'Yeah.' There was a long pause. 'But Tony? Heck, he's not imprinted, Ducky. From everything Childs said, he wouldn't be interested in... He dates a lot. I'm pretty sure he gets laid regularly.'

'Are you so sure, Jethro?' Ducky asked. 'Our Anthony is very good at making people see what he wants them to.'

'I'm pretty sure he didn't make those hickeys by himself,' Gibbs said sourly.

'No, he didn't. But love-bites are not intercourse, as many teenagers can attest.' Ducky remarked archly. 'When is the last time you could say for certain that Anthony achieved the latter and not merely the former?'

Gibbs thought about it, sipping his coffee. 'Jeanne,' he concluded.

'Which was eighteen months ago, at the very least,' Ducky said.

'But–'

'Anthony is a young man with a very healthy sexual appetite. He craves physical contact; he is one of the most tactile people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. What do you imagine the last eighteen months have been like for him? Practically the only human contact he has, outside of those rather enthusiastic hugs Abigail inflicts upon us all, are the cuffs you so kindly supply to the back of his head. And for some reason, even those have been less forthcoming of late.'

'I couldn't... It wasn't right,' Gibbs said hoarsely. With his hands wrapped around his mug, he gripped so hard his knuckles were white. 'I couldn't touch him, not when it... Not when I... Not when laying a hand on him gets me hard and aching.' His voice cracked on the last phrase, leaving him sounding forlorn, broken.

Ducky reached across the table and covered one of Gibbs' hands with his own. 'Oh, Jethro, I am so sorry. For both of you, suffering alone in silence. I cannot imagine what either of you has gone through. If only you had talked, to me or to each other.'

'How could I, Ducky? I couldn't even talk to myself,' Gibbs said, meeting Ducky's gaze with pain-filled eyes.

'Your suspension is due to end tomorrow, is it not?' Ducky asked, keeping his hand over Gibbs'. When the other man nodded, he continued. 'In that case, I'm placing you on medical leave for at least one week and probably two.'

'Duck–' Gibbs protested, pulling back, but Ducky continued, his voice level, his manner implacable.

'Jethro, your reactions have not been entirely under your control. I cannot in good conscience allow you to continue in the field until you have a greater understanding of this condition and how it affects yourself and Anthony. Use the time wisely; go to him, see if you can't work some of this out. He's as lost as you are, Jethro, and in a very real sense, if he doesn't have you, he doesn't have anyone. And that, my dear boy, is as true now as it was on the day you both met.'

Calmly, Ducky finished his tea as Gibbs sat in silence, as if it were any other social visit, as if he hadn't just turned his friend's world upside down. 'Can you drive?'

Gibbs gave a jerky nod. 'Yeah.' He finished his coffee and stood. 'Let yourself out when you're done.' He switched off the coffee pot.

'I'll handle the paperwork and talk to Leon. You realize this is going to have to go on your medical records,' Ducky said, taking both cups over to the sink and rinsing them out.

Gibbs merely grunted and left the kitchen. Ducky followed, turning out the lights as he went. Gibbs pulled on a light jacket, picked up his keys and by the time Ducky had closed the front door behind them, he was already in his truck. He peeled away from the curb with his customary haste, leaving Ducky standing by the curb.

'Good luck and may the gods smile upon you both,' Ducky murmured as he watched the departing truck, then he climbed into his car and drove home.

It was a little after eight the next morning when the ME arrived in the office. He went straight up to the director's office. 'Good morning, Cynthia. Is Director Vance in his office? I need to speak with him.'

The secretary smiled at him. 'Good morning, Ducky. He has a meeting with Special Agent Gibbs in five minutes, but he's free until then.'

Ducky tapped the edge of the appointments diary that lay open on the desk. 'About that... I think you'll find the meeting is canceled, my dear. May I go on in?'

Cynthia's eyebrows arched in curiosity. 'I'll let him know you're here,' she said and pressed the button on the intercom. 'Doctor Mallard to see you.'

'Send him in.'

Ducky opened the door and went inside, making sure that the door closed behind him.

'What can I do for you, Doctor Mallard?' Vance asked, looking up from the pile of paperwork on his desk. 'Please, take a seat.'

'Good morning, Director,' Ducky said as he sat down. 'I wanted you to know that I have placed Special Agent Gibbs on medical leave for the next week. It's possible that will stretch to two weeks instead.'

Vance leaned forwards. 'What's wrong with Gibbs? The man never gets sick.'

Ducky sighed. 'It's rather a delicate matter, I'm afraid, Leon. Tell me, how much do you recall of the murder of Petty Officer Jameson?'

By the time he had finished, Vance had chewed through three toothpicks and was staring at the ME in horror. 'What am I supposed to do about this? Move DiNozzo to another team? And what the hell do I tell Human Resources?'

'Leon, Anthony and Jethro are not currently engaged in a relationship beyond that of team mates. Whether or not that changes remains to be seen, but they are both very stubborn men and they are having to come to terms with something that alters the very foundations of who they believe themselves to be.' Ducky leaned forwards. 'You cannot ask Anthony to move to another team simply because of something that might happen. Besides, he has always been the only one who can handle Jethro at his worst, or had you not noticed the team's turnover prior to Anthony's arrival? I believe attempting to part them would be disastrous. As we have already seen, Anthony and Jethro have had a lot to deal with after their separation because you promoted Anthony to be an agent afloat.'

Vance winced. 'I didn't know.'

'None of us did, or it would never have happened,' Ducky said gently. 'As for Human Resources, I'm afraid I am unable to help you much. Jethro is already listed on Anthony's paperwork as next of kin for medical purposes. Their status as an imprinted pair should certainly be listed, together with a description of what that means. Given Anthony's propensity for getting into difficult situations and Jethro's protective nature when any member of his team is threatened, I doubt anyone will notice a change in behavior. It could be that now they are aware of their imprinted status, they may react a little more extremely in the face of threats and violence to each other, but it is something that only time will tell. But there should certainly be a note made in their files that one must not be reassigned without the other, and if anyone wishes to send Anthony undercover away from Jethro, I'm afraid I shall have to insist otherwise on medical grounds. '

'So tell me, Ducky, what does it mean for my agents?' Vance asked. 'Put it in its simplest terms.'

'It means that, outside of each other, they are incapable of sustaining an intimate relationship. It means that when one is injured or under threat, the focus of the other will be on rescue and possibly retaliation. And it means that if one is killed, the other is also more likely to die,' Ducky said heavily.

'So what do I tell HR as to why Gibbs is on medical leave?' Vance asked.

'That, my dear director, is up to you. They need the time to work things out between them, to discover what this means for them in terms of their existing relationship as well as in terms of their jobs,' Ducky said. 'And given their stubborn natures and their track record with intimate relationships, I think it's probably better to keep the initial storm out of the office, don't you?'

Vance shook his head. 'I don't know who I feel most sorry for, Gibbs or DiNozzo. But once word gets out, hearts will be breaking all over the east coast.'

'Yes, I dare say there will be a weeping and a wailing and a gnashing of teeth, all right. If you could have someone send the requisite forms down to my office, I'll get Jethro signed off. And it would probably be for the best if I inform the rest of his team. I can at least answer a few of their questions.'

Vance grunted. 'Okay, thanks for letting me know, Ducky.' He looked distinctly unhappy.

The ME left with a sympathetic smile for the harried director. Fornell was waiting impatiently outside Vance's office and as Ducky passed Cynthia's desk, he heard the intercom sound; it was Vance requesting coffee and aspirin. Ducky had the feeling he would also be in need of aspirin before this was over.

'Ah, Timothy, Ziva, may I have a word?' He gestured towards the elevator.

Ziva looked around for Gibbs before standing. 'Of course, Ducky.'

'Sure,' Tim said, following with a frown creasing his forehead. 'What's up?'

'Patience, Timothy,' Ducky said and took them down to Abby's lab, where the goth was bouncing around to the very loud strains of Android Lust, looking happier than she had since Tony had gone missing.

'Hey, Ducky!' she greeted the ME enthusiastically, bouncing over to her keyboard and silencing the music. 'What can I do for you?' As Tim and Ziva moved into the room, her face fell. 'Uh oh, this looks serious. Is it Tony? Is he all right? He was doing better when I left yesterday and the hospital said he was improving–'

'Abigail, calm down,' Ducky said, closing the door behind him. 'I merely wanted to let you know that Special Agent Gibbs will not be coming back into work for the next week and possibly the next two.'

Abby gasped. 'Gibbs is sick? Hurt? Oh my god!'

'Abigail!' The unaccustomed snap in Ducky's voice cut through her babble. 'Jethro is fine, as Anthony will be in due course.'

'Are you sure? Because Tony was worried about him when he woke up in hospital yesterday,' Abby pushed. 'What's going on, Ducky? Don't try to fob us off: I need to know!'

'My dear girl, if you would let me get a word in edgeways, perhaps I could explain,' Ducky said testily. 'Not another word from you until I have finished!' He held up a finger sternly. 'And the same goes for you too, Timothy, Ziva.' He looked from one to the other until they nodded, Abby miming zipping together her lips, for good measure.

'I can't imagine either Anthony or Jethro being desperately happy about my sharing any of this with you, but it affects you too,' Ducky began. 'There may have to be a few changes made to the way in which the team works and there will certainly have to be some allowances made. I suggest if you find that you have any issues with what I'm about to tell you, that you talk them through among yourselves or with me or with Director Vance rather than with anyone else and I most certainly don't want you taking them out on Anthony and Jethro.'

Abby's eyes were huge and she had to keep a hand pressed firmly over her mouth to stop herself from interrupting. Tim and Ziva glanced at each other, clearly concerned.

'Anthony and Jethro have imprinted on each other,' Ducky said. He paused, waiting for the inevitable outburst. It came from Tim.

'But Tony–'

'Yes?' Ducky asked, eyebrows raised.

'He's–'

'What about Tony's women?' Ziva cut in.

'That is an issue you will have to raise with Anthony if you feel you must,' Ducky said. 'The results of the blood tests are quite clear.'

'Why didn't they come to me to run the tests? I can be discreet!' Abby said, her face a picture of wounded innocence.

'Doctor Childs ran the tests and I get the impression that they weren't expecting the results to come back positive,' Ducky said. 'It's no reflection on their faith in you.'

'Gibbs' mysterious redhead?' Tim asked.

'Children, do you really want to spend your time speculating about their relationships with women, past or potential?' Ducky found himself becoming exasperated. 'That has never been anyone's business but theirs and I see no reason why it should be any different now.'

'You're right Ducky,' Tim said. 'Sorry.'

'Never apologize,' Ziva said, jabbing him in the side with her elbow. 'So Gibbs and Tony are... together?'

'No. That's something they will have to work through privately,' Ducky said.

'But what about Rule Twelve?' Tim asked. 'And won't one of them have to move to another team?'

'Again, that's for them to decide, and no, on medical grounds, I would oppose any attempt to transfer either one.'

'I don't understand,' Ziva said. 'If they are supposed to be imprinted, should this not have happened when they first met? They have worked together for years.'

'I have a theory regarding that very question,' Ducky said. 'Please bear in mind I have no way of knowing if it is true. With them both having so many issues surrounding relationships, and with the need for physical contact being satisfied in part by the many headslaps Jethro sees fit to deliver, I suspect their stubborn natures have forced the imprint to develop slowly in certain regards. Looking back, it's clear that from the start, they have shared a very profound connection and I'm not at all certain of how knowing their status as imprinted will change things.'

'You know, it makes sense of Gibbs punching Fornell,' Abby said slowly. 'I mean, they don't always get along, but they've known each other for a long time. And we didn't know Tony was in trouble at that point, not for definite.'

Ducky nodded wearily. 'Yes, yes, it makes sense of so much of their behavior, but they are clearly able to control themselves extremely well for it to have taken so long to reach this point. Still, I expect you to inform me of any changes that you notice, not that I expect many. Anthony has always looked to Gibbs for approval and support, and Gibbs has always been possessive and somewhat indulgent in return.'

'Indulgent?' Tim asked, incredulous.

'If you say so,' Ziva said, doubtfully.

'If you wish to learn more about the condition, I believe Abigail has the research to hand. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must get down to Autopsy before Mister Palmer reports me missing.' With that, Ducky left them to it.

Chapter Text

Tony slept badly after Ducky left, unable to get comfortable. He couldn't lie on his right side because of the throbbing in his hip, nor his left because of his arm and shoulder blade, which also hurt if he lay on his back. His head hurt no matter what. Restless and miserable, sickened by the ball of worry that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in his stomach, he started awake from nightmare after nightmare. The dim light in the room merely created shadows, in which shapes fluttered menacingly, waiting to strike.

The third or fourth time he woke, this time with a cry of pain and alarm, a callused hand brushed his hair back from his forehead.

'Shhh, I got your six, Tony.'

'That you, boss?' Tony asked, shivering as the sweat started to cool on his face and neck.

'Yeah. Been brought to my attention you could use some company,' Gibbs said softly.

'I'll be fine, boss. You don't have to be here,' Tony said, turning his face away. 'Got a guard on the door and everything.'

'I know you'll be fine, DiNozzo,' Gibbs retorted. 'Doesn't mean I should be elsewhere.'

'Ducky told you.'

'Came over and kicked my ass.'

'He shouldn't have,' Tony said, closing his eyes. 'You shouldn't have to...'

'Wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be. One thing at a time, Tony. Right now that's you healing up. Go back to sleep, I'll be here.' Carefully, Gibbs took Tony's hand and held it gently.

'Promise?' Tony whispered.

'Promise.'

True to his word, Gibbs was still there when Tony woke the next morning. In fact, it was his argument with Brian that woke him.

'I need you to leave so that I can see to Tony,' Brian said, sounding exasperated.

'And I said no. I'm staying until he wakes up.'

'Guys?' Tony croaked.

'Good, you're awake,' Brian said briskly. 'Maybe now your boss will let me do my job.'

'Thanks for staying,' Tony said, taking in Gibbs' rumpled appearance. From the shadows under his eyes, he hadn't slept much, if at all. 'You should go home, get a couple hours sleep before you have to go bust chops at the office.'

'Not going into the office today,' Gibbs said. 'Was thinking I'd grab a shower here.'

'I thought you were off suspension?' Tony said, confused, ignoring the nurse who was attempting to check his blood pressure.

'I am,' Gibbs said. 'But Ducky put me straight onto medical leave for at least a week.'

'You? Why?' Tony struggled to sit up, but subsided with a grimace of pain as all his injuries rushed to make themselves felt.

Gibbs found the controls for the bed and raised the head. 'Later.' He avoided looking directly at the younger man.

'Because of the imprint? Because of me? Shit, boss, you should call Ducky. Let me talk to him.' Tony lifted his good arm and would have run his fingers through his hair, but the movement sent a further jolt of pain through his ribs. 'Fuck.'

'Don't.' Gibbs caught his hand. 'Calm down, Tony. We'll talk about it after breakfast.'

Tony subsided. 'Fine, but only if you get some sleep.'

'Deal.' Gibbs glared at Brian. 'Take care of him.'

'That's what I'm trying to do,' Brian sighed. 'The sooner you go, the sooner I can take care of him properly.' He wasn't intimidated in the slightest by the patented Gibbs death-glare. 'Go.'

Gibbs went.

It took close to an hour for Brian to let Gibbs back in the room. Tony was pale, but he was dressed in a clean hospital gown and his shoulder was once again immobilized in a sling, but at least he was off the catheter. The bed had been freshly made around him and on the little wheeled table was a pitcher of water and two trays of breakfast.

'Hey,' Tony said. 'I think we have oatmeal and some fruit salad or toast and some fruit salad. Your pick.'

'I'll have the toast,' Gibbs said. 'Oatmeal always reminds me of wallpaper paste.' He took the chair beside the bed and pulled the table closer to Tony. 'Here.' He handed Tony a spoon.

'Gee, thanks,' Tony said, eyeing the oatmeal with disdain. 'Wallpaper paste sounds so appetizing.' He poked awkwardly at it with the spoon and wrinkled his nose. 'There isn't even any syrup.'

Without saying a word, Gibbs lifted the bowl of fruit salad and carefully poured some of the juice onto the porridge.

Tony stared at him, eyebrows raised. 'Okay, then.'

They ate in silence and when Tony had eaten as much as he could manage and Gibbs had finished the rest, the older man stacked the trays and sat back.

After a minute, Tony said, 'So, we going to talk now?'

Gibbs shrugged.

'What happened with the case?' Tony asked.

'Seems you dated Vorash's daughter a couple months back. She wanted to take things further, was pissed when you turned her down. Guess that's my fault.' Gibbs said.

Tony winced. 'I didn't know.'

'She took her mother's maiden name. They divorced when she was four, wasn't a recent picture of her in his file. And you never got to see his file; Fornell didn't think you'd come across him.'

'Yeah, about that...'

'She was at the restaurant you went to for lunch the day before, spotted you, mouthed off to her boyfriend, who works for–'

'Vorash. Let me guess, he recognized the site foreman that I was having lunch with as one of theirs and called his boss to tell him he was lunching with a fed. God, what a clusterfuck.' Tony grimaced.

'Yeah.'

They sat in awkward silence, until Tony asked, 'So did you really punch Fornell?'

Gibbs looked away, shamefaced. 'Shouldn't have done.'

'Hey, I wish I'd been there to see it,' Tony grinned. 'You think McGee or Abby could get me the footage from the security tapes?'

'If you'd been there to see it, I wouldn't have been so pissed I hit him,' Gibbs said. 'And don't think a fractured skull lets you off headslaps.'

'But boss, if you slap me now, my brain might fall out my ear.' Tony said with his best charming smile.

'That's why I'm saving 'em up for later, DiNozzo.' Gibbs had a glint of triumph in his eye and Tony pouted, secretly relieved the man was sounding more like his normal irascible self. The victory was spoiled, however, by the yawn that forced its way out of Gibbs' mouth.

'Why don't you grab a nap, boss?' Tony asked.

Gibbs glared at him, then yawned again. 'I don't need a nap.'

'Well I do. And since you look like you haven't slept in days and Ducky will have you kicked out of the building if you try to go into work, right now sleeping's about the most productive thing you can do,' Tony pointed out. Irritating but logical, Tony knew it got Gibbs every time. Pointedly, he found the bed controls and lowered himself a little, wriggling until he found a semblance of comfort, then shut his eyes. He heard Gibbs shifting in his chair, then, surprisingly quickly, heard his breathing even out into sleep. Within minutes, Tony had followed him under.

Surprisingly, they both managed to sleep through the breakfast trays being cleared away, but around eleven, the doctor woke Tony to check on his progress and then another nurse wanted to know his lunch choices and then Tim came by with a bag of stuff from his apartment. Gibbs sat in a chair in the corner of the room and glared at everyone. Tony was very glad Tim had the forethought to bring a very large mug of coffee: too much longer without, and Gibbs would turn into that ogre for sure.

'McGoo! Nice of you to swing by,' Tony said cheerily. 'Whatcha bring me?'

Wisely, Tim handed the coffee to Gibbs first, before opening the bag and showing its contents to the bedridden patient. 'Hey boss, Tony. Abby said you wanted some stuff, so...'

'Hitchcock box set? Nice choice. Got anything I can watch it on, or should I just hold the disks up to the light and watch the pretty rainbow reflections?'

'Ass,' Tim said, then shot a worried look at Gibbs. 'I got your portable DVD player. There's a couple of changes of clothes in there too, your razor, that kind of thing. Oh, and I grabbed a few books too. I didn't know what you'd already read, but there's the couple from your nightstand.'

'That's... actually very thoughtful. Thanks,' Tony said, surprised. 'No Playboy?'

Tim glanced over at Gibbs. 'I, uh... I didn't think there was much point,' he said quietly.

For a moment, Tony froze. 'Oh, for– I can still read the damn articles! Tell me, Probie, does the whole damn building know? Did Ducky take out a full-page ad in the Navy Times? You know what, pass me my clothes.'

'What? Why?' Tim clutched the bag.

'I'm going to go find Ducky and kill him. With my cast, if I have to.' Tony struggled to sit up properly, fighting to untuck the blankets with his good hand. 'Ow! Fuck!'

Gibbs moved fast enough that Tim blinked. With one hand he grabbed Tony's wrist and planted his other palm against the center of Tony's chest.

'No.'

'Back off!' Tony said, furious.

'You're staying in bed, Tony. Besides, if anyone gets to kill Ducky, it's me.' Gibbs didn't move. Tony trembled under his hands for a long moment, then sagged back against the pillows and swore.

'Fuck, fuck, fuck.' Red-faced, he stared at the wall, away from Tim. 'What a way to end a fucking career,' he said bitterly. 'Guess you've got a shot at that senior agent position now, McGeek.'

'What the hell are you talking about, Tony?' Gibbs asked, not seeming to realize he still had hold of Tony's wrist.

'Oh, come on, Gibbs! You, me, this whole fucked-up imprint thing? Everyone's going to think I'm taking it up the ass from you and last I checked, the Navy wasn't so hot on that. I know there's the whole don't ask, don't tell thing, but Ducky told! There's no way I can keep my job now.'

'NCIS is a civilian agency, Tony. DADT doesn't apply,' Gibbs said in a low voice that somehow still managed to convey an air of annoyance.

'Yeah? Well it doesn't apply to the police either, but you know what? There are a lot of ways even being suspected of being gay will get you killed on the force.' Tony's laughter contained a shrill note, sounded fake.

Tim cleared his throat. 'Ducky didn't, uh... He didn't tell everyone, just the director and the rest of the team. Me, Ziva, Abby. That's it. And we aren't going to tell anyone. It'd be a shitty thing to do.'

'And he told Vance because...? Come on, Probie! Keep up here,' Tony stared at him, wide-eyed and heading rapidly towards manic. 'Because he's signed the bossman off for at least a week. And the bossman is never off unless he's, you know, actually in hospital or almost dead or recovering from being almost dead. Don't you think people are going to be just a little bit curious?

'Oh, and wait! It gets better! This is going to have to go on Gibbs' medical records. It's going to have to go on my medical records. There's going to be a note somewhere that says, Warning! Can't live without each other! Human Resources is going to have a field day with this. It'll be all round the building by now and all round the entire Yard by the end of the day.'

'That's enough.' Gibbs said firmly. 'Tony, stop. One thing at a time, remember?'

Tony laughed again, only even to his ears, it sounded more like a sob. 'Easy for you to say, boss. Got a house, got a pension, you can always retire again. Me, I have a rental apartment and a collection of nice suits. With this on my file, I'll be lucky to get any job with an agency, even doing filing in Records. Face it, Gibbs. The moment I spilled to Ducky, my career was over. Stupid, stupid, stupid.' He banged his head back against the pillows in frustration.

'I said enough.' Gibbs took a deep breath visibly struggling to hold in his temper. 'Tim, go back to work. I'll see you next week.'

'Okay, sure. I'll, uh... see you later, Tony.' Tim left the bag beside the bed and scuttled out of the room.

Gibbs squeezed Tony's wrist hard, leaning in until only a few inches separated their faces. 'Neither of us is going anywhere, you hear me? We will get through this, Tony, and I'll be damned if I let anyone push you off my team, let alone skulk off into retirement. We've worked together just fine up to now, imprint or no imprint.'

'And what about the next time either of us starts dating?' Tony asked quietly, making no move to free his hand. 'What then? Am I going to flip out over your latest redhead? You keep chasing that happy ending, boss. At some point you'll get lonely enough to try for wife number five. You going to explain to her that you're imprinted on your male subordinate? Or are you just going to blame your limp dick on getting old and have the doc prescribe you viagra?'

With a snarl, Gibbs released Tony and strode to the door. He paused and looked back, his face an expressionless mask over the anger that burned in his eyes.

'With all the women you date, you'd burn through your insurance in a month, DiNozzo. And for the record, I don't need that kind of help.' With that, he was gone.

Unblinking, Tony watched the empty doorway for what seemed like an age, until his eyes burned and he turned his head away. When Brian came in with his next round of meds, Tony took them without question, knowing that while they might ease his physical pain, nothing could take the edge off the hurt inside.

He drifted for a while as the meds worked through his system, paying little attention to the afternoon noise of a busy hospital, not even bothering to retrieve the bag Tim had brought. His thoughts circled, going from his job, to Gibbs, to being imprinted and back to his job again. With each pass, despair cut a little deeper. No matter what Gibbs said, no matter what Tim thought, Tony knew he'd been outed to the whole damn Navy Yard.

Gibbs would get over it; he'd be fine. All he'd have to do would be to glare at anyone who so much as smiled in his general direction and they'd scatter like mice before a cat. He, on the other hand, had no such superpower. Tony knew he was fairly well liked and respected at NCIS. People knew he did a good job, on the whole. But being gay – hell, being gay for Gibbs – changed everything.

The knowing looks, the smirks, the gossip: all of that, he was used to. His constant stream of dates, his stories of his exploits, were designed to give people exactly the right impression. Overgrown frat boy, jock, player. People had a pigeonhole for him and he happily sat in it and cooed. But now... Now, the knowing looks would hold an edge of contempt, disgust, and the smirks would come from people assuming he was Gibbs' bottom-boy.

He'd seen that kind of thing before, in Philly, in Peoria. He'd never liked it, never joined in, but he'd had no reason to step in and stop it. And cops died. Good cops, because requests for backup took just a little too long to process, because in tricky situations, they got sent in first. Nothing blatant, nothing obvious: gay-bashing was illegal after all and these were the guardians of the law. But subtle could get you killed just as fast. And NCIS wasn't the police. For all it was a civilian federal agency, NCIS was military. It was the navy, the marines, and Tony couldn't be 'out and proud', not when he had to deal with them. It would get him killed and worse, it would probably end up getting other people killed too.

He'd have to resign. As soon as he could get to a computer, he'd email the director. Or he could call, if he could find his phone. Yeah, that'd be quicker.

He turned his head, reached out and fumbled with the drawer of his nightstand. His phone was probably in there somewhere. He swore: the angle was all wrong for him to grab the handle and pull without needing him to sit up properly, which hadn't gone so well last time he'd tried. Who designed these things anyway?

'Want a hand with that?'

Tony's head jerked up. 'Fornell,' he said coldly to the man in the doorway. 'What're you doing here? Not that it isn't nice to have visitors, but you don't strike me as the grapes and flowers type.'

'Just making sure you're back in the land of the living, DiNozzo.'

'I can feel the love already.'

The FBI agent strolled into the room, hands in his pockets, taking in Tony's appearance. 'You've looked better,' he said, coming to stand near the bed. 'Doctor says you're on the mend.'

'Sure, that's me, indestructa-boy. Look, Fornell, what do you want?' He could see the faded remains of a bruise on the man's jawline and felt a surge of satisfaction. That had to have been where Gibbs hit him.

'I'm hurt,' Fornell protested. 'I can't simply want to know how you're doing?'

'Excuse me for being rude, but no. Every time you come around, I seem to end up getting injured, so forgive me if I'm not entirely happy to see you.'

Fornell took the chair the bed. 'I had a meeting this morning to discuss the case. With Director Vance. Agent Gibbs was supposed to be there, but he didn't show.'

Tony regarded the Fed warily. 'And?'

'And I think I owe you an apology for not filling you in on the rest of the investigation.'

After a moment, Tony became aware that his jaw had dropped and snapped his mouth shut with a click of teeth. 'Who are you really? Because you're not the Fornell I've come to know and mistrust so very dearly.'

At that, the Fed smiled. 'You could always come work for me. That way you'd get to know and mistrust me on a much deeper level.'

Prepared to laugh off the latest offer, the automatic rejection somehow died in Tony's throat. 'You know, I always figured you only kept offering me a job to piss Gibbs off,' he said diffidently, picking at the blanket with his good hand.

'That'd be a bonus, sure,' Fornell shrugged. 'But I wouldn't offer if I didn't think you'd make a damn good agent.'

'I, uh...' Tony cleared his throat. 'I'll keep that in mind.'

Fornell's eyes narrowed. 'What's up, Tony?'

'Besides a few fractured bones and a concussion?' Tony asked flippantly.

'Cut the crap. You always turn me down, DiNozzo. I know what you think of me and the FBI, so if you're not telling me to get lost, there has to be something wrong. Talk to me.'

'What is it with everyone wanting to talk?' Tony said. 'Why does there have to be anything more than me being injured and in pain and stuck in a damn hospital bed yet again because an op went south?'

'Maybe because I know you better than that,' Fornell said. 'Just like I know Gibbs. He hates meetings, sure, but he doesn't arbitrarily miss them.'

'Are you sure about that?' Tony dredged up his best inane smile.

Fornell wasn't fooled. 'I suppose you're aware he punched me out? In front of the director. In all the years I've known the man, he's had far greater reason to hit me than one of his agents going off-grid for a couple of hours and up to then, he's never lost it.'

'The man's under a lot of pressure,' Tony said glibly. 'Probably just needs a vacation.'

'As I understand it, he's on one now. Enforced medical leave.'

Tony gave a one-shouldered shrug. 'So?'

'I thought he'd be here,' Fornell said. 'He took your getting hurt very personally. Why is that, Tony?'

Tony remained silent.

'You and Gibbs... I've heard rumors. The way you leap to defend him, the way you take everything he dishes out and come back for more...'

'What're you saying, Fornell?' Tony's eyes were icy and his fidgeting had stilled. Focused on the agent, he was tense, ready for whatever unpleasantness the man was about to hand out.

Fornell leaned in. 'I've heard of imprinting, DiNozzo. I have five imprinted people in my division,' he said quietly.

Tony shivered. 'I don't know what– Wait, you said five?'

'Sacks lost his partner three years back.'

The breath whooshed from Tony's lungs as though he'd been hit. For the second time that afternoon, he found himself gaping at Fornell. After a few moments, he recovered somewhat. 'Well, shit.'

'Yeah.' Fornell poured him some water from the pitcher on the table and sat in silence while Tony sipped at it.

Eventually, Tony regained his composure. 'So, how did you...?'

'I figured you and Gibbs knew. It's one of those interesting little pieces of research that's an open secret in certain areas of law enforcement, such as the Bureau. As far as I'm aware, there aren't any official policies in place, there's no acknowledgement of imprinting, but unofficially, it's been used to help keep pairs from being split up and to try to lower the suicide rate among the bereaved. It's fascinating stuff.' Fornell sat back again. 'Of course, I hadn't counted on you both being quite so stubborn and slow to figure out it applied to you. Most pairs find they can't keep their hands off each other.'

'None so blind as them that will not see,' Tony said softly, staring into his plastic beaker. Abruptly, he drained it and put it back on the table. 'So you're offering me a job because I'll fit right in with your freakshow?'

'That's about the size of it. We might not have a sense of humor, Agent DiNozzo, but we're pretty good on equal opportunities. Think about it.' Fornell stood and put his hand on the drawer handle. 'Want this opened?'

Tony shook his head. 'I'm good, thanks.' He waited until the federal agent was almost out of the door before adding, 'Fornell? I'll keep it in mind.'

Fornell nodded, then left Tony. Alone again, his thoughts returned to their circling, but this time he had a tiny scrap of hope. At least if it came to the worst, he'd still have a job.

Gibbs stayed away for the rest of the day. Ducky called by after work and wasn't too happy to find Tony on his own, but Tony didn't feel up to arguing with him, couldn't fight him over telling Vance, at least, not when it came down to the very bottom line, so he turned his face away and lay there, mute, until Abby bounced through the door and rescued them from the strained silence. Even Ziva swung by, but the weight of her assessing gaze made Tony's skin crawl. In the end, he pretended he was falling asleep, just to get them to leave. And then it was just him and the elephant in the corner of the room, but the elephant was pissed. Trunk upraised, it menaced him with its tusks, lifted a foot to stamp on him, to crush him into bloody paste. He could feel it pressing down on his chest, an impossible weight–

With a hoarse cry, Tony came awake. The pressure on his chest was real; he couldn't breathe. Tiny sips of air slid into the very tops of his lungs, but oh, god, it hurt–

'Get the damn doctor in here!'

That was Gibbs, his bellow familiar and carrying as only an ex-Gunnery Sergeant's voice could do. Running feet heralded the arrival of doctors, nurses, people crowding around his bed, lowering the head, putting a mask over his nose and mouth. His gown was pulled open, a stethoscope pressed to one side of his chest then the other and all the while, behind their words, Tony could feel Gibbs, staring at him, willing him to stay alive. Something pushed at his side, pushed into his side, and then air rushed into his lung and, oh sweet baby Jesus and all the blessed saints, he could breathe again. He gulped in air, feeling his heart rate slow from its frantic pounding, and the voices around him finally made sense.

'Pneumothorax, collapsed lung. Sometimes, especially after trauma to the chest, it can just happen. He should be fine now. We'll keep him on oxygen overnight, but his pulse-ox doesn't look too bad. It shouldn't happen again.'

Tony stared up at the ceiling, blinking every now and again, until one by one, the medical staff left. When they'd gone, Gibbs sat beside him once more. After a while, he took Tony's hand. Tony didn't look at him, but he didn't move his hand away either. And then, between one blink and the next, it was morning.

Gibbs spent most of the next few days in Tony's room. By unspoken agreement, they didn't bring up the subject of imprinting again. The next time Ducky came by to see Tony, Gibbs marched him out into the corridor and had a short heated discussion over his telling the team and the director. Keeping his voice low so that Tony's bat-like hearing had trouble making out the words, Gibbs was furious when he returned, but Ducky looked completely unapologetic, so Tony figured Gibbs had lost that round.

His painful, shuffling trips to the bathroom got a little less painful, a little less shuffling. Gibbs helped without being asked, made sure that Tony was all set before he retreated back into the hospital room to let him get on with his business. It was nothing that he hadn't done for Tony before, nothing that Tony hadn't done for him in turn when circumstances dictated, but at the same time, it was utterly different; new, strange, embarrassing. Tony suspected that they only got through it at all because they didn't talk about it, didn't talk about anything.

They still weren't talking when the hospital discharged him into Gibbs' care and Gibbs took him home and installed him in the guest room. The trip wore him out, but Abby was there to be reassured and thanked for bringing what amounted to a substantial number of his things over from his apartment and McGee was there, looking supremely uncomfortable, because he'd helped, and Ziva had filled the refrigerator with casseroles and lasagne, so he had to thank her too and promise to eat some soon, soon, when he was due his next lot of pain pills.

Ducky was there too, in the background, watching and watching and finally, gently, clearing the rest of the team out of the room, including Gibbs. He shut the door behind him and Tony's ears rang with the sudden silence and he breathed a sigh of relief and finally started to relax.

Gibbs' spare room had white walls and a brown carpet. The furniture wasn't new, but it was solid, the wood rich and gleaming in the evening sunlight that slanted through the window. The sheets were his own, the cotton smooth and cool around him, and the comforter was a deep blue that complemented the frame of the bed. It seemed as though he had every spare pillow Gibbs possessed, in addition to the ones from his own bed. Tony let them cushion his aching bones and tried not to think about the future.

Chapter Text

Gibbs noticed that Ducky waited until the rest of the team had left before approaching him. Things had been strained between them since Tim's visit in the hospital. Hell, since Ducky had forced him to face the truth. Gibbs hated knowing he was imprinted, but he hated more that he'd run away from the truth for such a long time.

'Get you a drink?' he offered, making the first move.

'I'd love one,' the ME said, crossing the room to sit on the couch. He waited quietly until Gibbs had put a glass into his hand. 'Thank you, Jethro.'

Gibbs poured himself a glass of bourbon and sat in one of the two armchairs. They sipped their drinks until Ducky finally cracked.

'How are things between you and Anthony? I can't help but notice that things are a little...'

'Messed up?'

'I was going to say awkward.'

Gibbs frowned. 'What do you expect? It's not like either of us asked for this.'

'No, I suppose not. But does it have to be the end of the world?' Ducky asked.

Gibbs felt his scowl deepen. 'You tell me, Duck. You told Vance, you told the team. God knows what's gone on our records, but I doubt it's a secret round the Yard by now.'

'I did what I had to, Jethro. I turn a blind eye to a lot of things, but not this. It's too important. It would be criminally negligent of me to allow this to go unrecorded.' Ducky sighed. 'Jethro, I regret the strain this has placed upon our friendship, but as your friend and Anthony's physician, this had to be done. Would you have expected me to ignore it if either of you had developed diabetes? Kidney disease?'

'But this isn't a disease, Ducky. You can't treat it, you can't cure it,' Gibbs argued.

'No, it's not. But is it so very terrible to make a life with Anthony?' Ducky asked.

Draining his glass, Gibbs poured himself another and didn't answer. 'You letting me get back to work next week?'

'About that...' Ducky began.

'I'm not going to like this, am I?'

'I doubt it. Director Vance wants you and Anthony to talk to someone. In a professional capacity,' Ducky said.

'No,' Gibbs said firmly. 'Not just no, hell no.'

Ducky sighed in exasperation. 'Jethro, Director Vance will not let me sign you off until you and Tony agree to at least six sessions of counseling. Together. If you wish to return to work any time soon, you are going to have to concede this point.' When Gibbs merely glared at him, Ducky added, 'He wanted you to undergo six sessions before your return to work, with at least another six afterwards. Be thankful I managed to talk him out of that.'

A vein pulsed in Gibbs' temple, but he capitulated with a last ferocious scowl. 'Fine. Set it up. But you tell Tony.'

'I'll arrange the first appointment for as soon as possible,' the ME beamed. 'And I'll do the paperwork so that you can return to work on Monday.' Leaving Gibbs in the living room, he trotted up the stairs to the guest room where Tony was ensconced in bed, the various injured parts of him supported by every spare pillow Gibbs owned.

Gibbs moved to the bottom of the stairs so that he could hear the fireworks. He heard Ducky speak, braced himself, and then the explosion came.

'Vance is sending us to couples counseling?' Tony's voice rose, clearly audible downstairs. 'We're not even a couple! He's crazy.' There was a pause and Gibbs could hear his friend's low tones, soothing but firm. 'Look, Ducky, it isn't that I don't appreciate everything that you've done for us, because I do, really. But a shrink? Counseling? With Gibbs? There's no way that could possibly end well.'

Gibbs climbed the stairs carefully as Ducky talked, avoiding the couple that squeaked. He could have fixed them, but this way he always knew when someone was trying to sneak upstairs: useful in a house where the front door was rarely locked. He stopped a couple of feet away from the guest bedroom and leaned against the wall.

'What have I got to lose? Oh, how about the few shreds I have left of my sanity, not to mention the tatters of my dignity and self-respect.' Tony sounded far more bitter than Gibbs had suspected and it made him wince.

'You could do with talking this through with someone,' Ducky said. 'Don't keep it bottled up. It will only eat away at you and make the whole situation far worse.'

'Like I could really open up with Gibbs there?' Tony asked, incredulous. 'Yeah, I can just see him being supportive when I tell a goddamn shrink that for the last year I've only had an erection on the days he's headslapped me. Or how about the last time I managed to jerk off and actually felt some relief was when we took that road trip up to New Jersey to see Doctor Childs because I could hear Gibbs moving around in the other room and just knowing he was close by made me come so hard I saw stars.'

Tony made a choked sound that was suspiciously close to a sob, but as Ducky drew in a sharp breath, he continued, quiet now, but sounding just as bitter and angry, just as desolate.

'Let's not go there, shall we? Because we both know that Gibbs is never going to give in to this fucking imprint. He doesn't want to want me, he doesn't want me in his life and I don't blame him. This whole freakish thing is a violation. It's a rape of who we are at the most basic level. So what if I'm never going to have a relationship with anyone else? It's not like I was ever going to be anyone's idea of happily-ever-after anyway.'

Gibbs felt as though Tony had punched him in the gut. He couldn't draw air into his lungs and his knees wouldn't hold him steady. If he hadn't already been leaning against the wall, he would have fallen to the floor.

'Maybe when I can get out of this fucking bed without help I'll give Abby a call, get her to drive me over to see the nuns. They should have some great advice about living a life of celibacy, right?' Tony continued.

'Anthony...' Ducky's voice trailed away.

'Maybe it's God's way of telling me to be a monk. You think there's an order with designer robes?' When the ME remained silent, Tony sighed. He sounded utterly exhausted. 'Ducky, Gibbs is my boss, that's all. He's probably the best damn boss I've ever had and I'd hate to lose that. Hell, no one else I've ever worked for would've put me up in their spare room and made sure I didn't kill myself trying to take a shower. I have a home in NCIS, and that's more than I've ever had before. I'll go to the damn sessions if it's the only way I can get back to work, but don't expect me to talk about any of this in them. I've put too much into working here just to lose it all over some freak accident of biology. If anyone can beat an imprint, it's Gibbs, and I hope he manages it. He doesn't deserve any of this.'

'Neither do you, dear boy. Neither do you,' Ducky said, his voice thick with emotion. He cleared his throat. 'Very well, Anthony, get through it as best you can. But I want you to know that you can always talk to me instead and I promise not a word of what you say will pass my lips.'

Gibbs managed to stagger away from the guest bedroom and back down the stairs. He didn't think he'd made any noise to give away his eavesdropping, but he couldn't tell for certain and right now, he didn't much care. He collapsed into a chair in the living room and buried his face in his hands with a groan.

What the hell was he meant to do now? Half of him wanted to march back upstairs and wrap Tony in a hug so tight he'd never feel alone again. The other half wanted to punch the wall and shout in rage at being forced into lov– into caring so much about his senior agent, his colleague.

He jumped when a hand landed on his shoulder, but before he'd got more than a move into disabling his attacker, he let go and dropped back into the chair, releasing the ME, who rubbed his wrist.

'I take it by your uncharacteristic lack of awareness of your surroundings that you overheard Anthony?' Ducky said grimly, taking a seat on the sofa.

Gibbs looked away under the weight of his friend's disapproval. 'Guess it wouldn't do any good to say no, would it?'

'Not in the slightest. I suppose the only question is what you intend to do about it.'

Gibbs remained silent.

'Jethro, the situation as it stands is intolerable. I understand you're suffering too, but that young man needs your help. It isn't like you not to face up to a problem. Be a man.'

Gibbs huffed a mirthless laugh. 'That is the problem, Ducky. I'm a man, and so is DiNozzo. And some problems are better off buried.'

'If I have to get up and come over there and start headslapping you I'm going to be very annoyed. Life is very often far shorter than it should be and chances for happiness come along infrequently. For goodness sake, have you learned nothing?' There weren't many times that Ducky got genuinely angry with Gibbs, but this was clearly one. 'I never pegged you for a bigot.'

'You know me better than that, Ducky,' Gibbs protested. 'I have no problem with other people's sexuality. Who they choose to sleep with and how, as long as it's adult, consensual and safe, is none of my damn business.' Gibbs glared back at the older man. 'This thing might be adult but it sure as hell isn't consensual.'

'So you consented to fall in love with your wives?' Ducky asked. 'Or was it simply more acceptable because you weren't actively aware of the neurochemical processes involved? Love isn't some mystical happening, Jethro; there's no Cupid shooting arrows into your unsuspecting heart. It's a perfectly natural biological occurrence. Imprinting is merely one extreme of the same phenomenon.'

Leaning forward, the ME argued, 'Have you thought about what you gain by imprinting? No? In Anthony, you have someone who won't leave you, won't cheat on you, won't find you too much like hard work. He doesn't care that the hours you both work are ridiculous. He's unswervingly loyal, to say nothing of extremely intelligent and fun to be around. All the times you've been looking for someone to spend the rest of your life with, and he's right here.'

Gibbs jerked back, astonished. 'But he hasn't got a choice!'

Ducky snapped, 'Of course he does! People live with heartbreak every single day as you would do well to remember. If he truly wanted nothing to do with you, he would already be gone. He'd find some way to survive, just as you have both been doing for the past eighteen months.' His tone softening, he continued.

'Tell me, honestly, Jethro: what is it that bothers you so very much about the thought of a relationship with Anthony? Is it truly that you are both men and neither of you had contemplated that kind of a relationship before? Or is it because, in Anthony, you have the one person who will never leave you, never stop loving you, and who has very nearly died so many times since you met him? Because if you refuse him out of the fear of being left alone as you were when Shannon died, then you don't deserve him or anyone else.'

Shocked into silence, Gibbs remained seated as his friend got up and left.

It took a thump and loud swearing from upstairs to bring Gibbs back to himself. The shadows in the room meant that at least an hour had passed since Ducky had left and he really should have checked on Tony by now. Pushing himself to his feet, Gibbs felt old, aching in muscles that had been tense for far too long and in bones that had broken and healed long ago. The deepest ache of all was in his heart.

He climbed the stairs and found Tony holding onto the doorframe with his good hand. He was pale and sweat stood out on his forehead; he looked as though he was about to throw up. 'Going somewhere?' Gibbs asked mildly.

'Have to take a leak, boss,' Tony managed. 'Give me a minute and I'll be fine.'

Gibbs slid his shoulder under Tony's good arm and wrapped a hand carefully around his waist. 'I've got you.' This close, he could smell Tony's usual clean masculine scent overlaid with the thin, sour notes of sweat and pain.

His subordinate tensed at the contact, then winced and relaxed a little, letting Gibbs take his weight. 'Everything's stiffened up,' he said after a moment. 'And sitting up makes my ribs hurt like a mother. Forget standing: my hip's never going to forgive me.'

'I thought that was just bruised?' Gibbs said, inching Tony down the corridor.

Tony took a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other. 'Yeah, well, the bruising goes down to the bone.'

'Ow.'

In silence, Gibbs helped Tony into the bathroom. 'You going to be okay?'

'Been pissing by myself for a whole bunch of years now,' Tony said drily. 'I'll yell if I fall over.'

Gibbs retreated and closed the door behind him, then leaned against the door to wait, trying not to listen to the noises that slipped under the door. When it opened, he took his place at Tony's side again and helped him back to bed.

'Time for your pain pills,' he said. 'I'll get you something to eat with them.' Tony didn't argue, which told him how much the younger man was hurting. He went down into the kitchen and opened his fridge. Inside, the shelves were filled with dishes covered in tin foil, courtesy of Ziva. He pulled out the one on the top shelf and peeled back the foil.

'Lasagne,' he grunted. With a spoon, he carved out a portion and put it on a plate, then slid it into the microwave to heat. While it warmed through, he dished up a second plate and swapped them over. Rooting around, he found a tray that he hadn't used since his second wife left. He loaded it up with the plates and flatware, then filled a glass with milk and put it and a bottle of beer on. Carefully, he carried the tray up to the spare room.

Pale-faced, Tony was lying back against the pile of pillows, his eyes closed. The shadows under his eyes were so dark they looked like bruises. He looked fragile and that wasn't something Gibbs ever wanted to think about his senior agent.

'Going to stand in the doorway all evening?' Tony asked without opening his eyes.

Gibbs gave himself a quick mental shake. 'Lasagne okay?' He crossed the room and put the tray down on the nightstand. With the care he usually reserved for dealing with children and the most vulnerable of victims, he slid an arm around Tony's shoulders and helped him sit up, ignoring the way the younger man's hiss of pain made his own stomach hurt. He rearranged the pillows to support Tony's back, then let him relax.

'Thanks,' Tony said tiredly. He waited patiently while Gibbs lifted off his own dinner and the glass of milk, then placed the tray across a pillow on his knees. 'That for me?' He nodded towards the beer, a hint of his usual mischief briefly sparkling in his eyes.

Gibbs picked up the bottle and took it and his plate over to the armchair. 'Not a chance, DiNozzo. You need the calcium. Plus it should help cushion your stomach against those pills.'

'I thought that was what the food was for,' Tony said, making a face.

'Nope, that's so Ziva doesn't get her feelings hurt,' Gibbs said, straight-faced.

'Ouch! Don't want to see Ziva with hurt feelings,' Tony grimaced. 'Right now, I'm not sure I'd live through it.'

'Then you'd better eat up.' Gibbs suited his actions to his words and tucked into Ziva's cooking. Tony picked at his food, but eventually managed to eat most of it. Gibbs took the tray and stacked his plate on it too, then handed Tony his pills.

'I hate this,' Tony said quietly. He still sounded exhausted and Gibbs could see how few reserves he had left.

'I know. Won't be like this forever,' Gibbs said as Tony tossed the tablets into his mouth. He handed over the glass of milk and watched Tony drink it down, then pull a face. He put it on the tray, then helped Tony to lie down. When Tony was settled, he picked up the tray and went to take it downstairs.

'Didn't mean the pills,' Tony whispered as Gibbs reached the door.

He stopped and half-turned. 'I know.' He cleared his throat. 'Sleep, Tony. You need anything, call.'

The next few days, Gibbs fell into a pattern that revolved around Tony. Making sure he ate and took his pills, helping him to the bathroom and back as the bruising on his hip slowly turned from black to purple, sitting in the armchair in the corner of the room while he slept until he couldn't stand being so close and retreated to the basement, where he worked on the boat until the need to check up on Tony grew too great and forced him back up to the spare room.

He slept at odd times, restless in his bed down the hallway from Tony, but unwilling to give in to the urge to get up and walk that dark expanse of carpet, to slip into the room and take comfort from the sight of his agent, asleep in his spare bed, until a whimper cut through the stillness of the night and he had the excuse of checking on him, making sure he was okay. Gibbs figured that Tony didn't need to know he slept better sitting in the damn chair anyway.

He ignored the voice in the back of his head that whispered how much better he'd sleep in the same bed.

Ducky came by every day to check on Tony's progress, making encouraging noises about his increasing mobility. On Sunday afternoon, after spending half an hour with Tony, he cornered Gibbs in the kitchen.

'He's looking better,' Ducky said, accepting the proffered cup of tea. 'Thank you, Jethro.' He took a seat at the table and helped himself to a biscuit from the shortbread Gibbs had put onto a small plate. 'I'm pleased with his progress. His first physiotherapy appointment is tomorrow afternoon, at the hospital. You should take him.'

'I thought I was going back to work tomorrow,' Gibbs frowned. He sat down across from Ducky with his cup of coffee.

'You are, but I think Director Vance is planning to be lenient with your schedule, both for the physiotherapy and for you both to attend counseling sessions. The first one is scheduled for Thursday, three thirty pm.'

'I could have someone take Tony instead. I'm going to have more than enough to catch up on.'

Ducky fixed him with a steely gaze. 'Anthony is going to need help with the exercises he will have to do in order to regain full mobility in his shoulder, otherwise he's at risk of permanent weakness and disability. You need to help him, Jethro, unless you want to have to find another senior field agent.'

'You never mentioned a permanent disability,' Gibbs said, startled. 'I thought Tony was going to be all right.'

'Yes, well, these things are usually straightforward, but it will take work to ensure that it remains so,' the ME said. 'No one else is so well placed to help Anthony and, to be honest, I doubt he will accept help from anyone else. If all else fails, he will at least respond to your ordering him to cooperate.'

'Fine,' Gibbs snapped. 'Anything else?'

'Have you talked with him yet?' As his friend remained stubbornly mute, Ducky set his cup down firmly on the table. 'Jethro, you cannot simply expect things to continue as they have done.'

'Try me.' Gibbs drained his mug, then got up and poured himself another coffee. 'If that's all, I'll be downstairs.' He retreated to the basement and his boat, hanging on to his anger and trying not to let doubt creep in that his old friend might just be right.

The next morning, Gibbs left for work a little later than usual, having spent an extra twenty minutes ensuring Tony didn't slip and fall in the shower, was dressed in comfortable sweats and a t-shirt, had eaten breakfast and taken his first set of pills and was ensconced on the couch with the TV remote. It meant that he ran into the heavy rush-hour traffic he normally tried to avoid on his drive into work, and by the time he emerged into the bullpen, coffee in hand, his temper was at a decent simmer.

'Report,' he snapped as he rounded the dividers. Tim was seated at his desk, typing away at something or other and Ziva was reading through what appeared to be a cold case file.

'Boss! Good to see you!' Tim beamed, his face falling when he noticed Gibbs' stormy expression. 'Uh... Not much to report. We've been on cold cases since you were signed off.'

'How is Tony?' Ziva asked anxiously. 'He is getting better, yes?'

'He'll be back to his usual cheery self in no time,' Gibbs said. 'Now tell me what happened with Vorash.'

'He still hasn't talked,' Ziva said, scowling. 'I have not been allowed to question him. But two of his men have given up substantial details of his operation. I believe Agent Fornell has been working on bringing the other members of his organization to justice.'

'The director wanted to see you when you got in,' Tim said.

Gibbs eyed the pile of paperwork stacked in his in-tray with evident distaste. 'Anything else I should know about, McGee?'

'No boss. Well, Abby wanted to know when you were here.'

'I'll see her later,' Gibbs said. Coffee still in hand, he jogged up the stairs to MTAC and the director's office without spilling a drop and entered the office without knocking.

'You wanted to see me?'

'Sit down, Special Agent Gibbs,' Director Vance said coolly. He pulled a fresh toothpick out of the box on his desk and popped it into the corner of his mouth.

'I've got a lot of paperwork to catch up on,' Gibbs said, taking a seat in front of the director's desk. 'Can we make this quick?'

Vance eyed him critically. 'How're you doing? And how's DiNozzo?'

'He's getting better; Ducky wants me to take him to physio this afternoon. I'm pissed that I have a stack of papers this high that I have to go through,' Gibbs said and took a sip of his coffee. 'What's this about, Leon?'

'All right, Jethro.' The director leaned forward. 'I talked to Ducky. I did some research. I'm not happy letting you back in the field until you get this thing with DiNozzo sorted.'

Gibbs stared at the director. 'That's none of your damn business.'

Leon nodded. 'I know. But as I see it, if you and DiNozzo don't quit pussyfooting around, sooner or later there's going to be one hell of a blow-up. I can't afford for that to happen in the field. You know as well as I do, better than I do probably, if you end up distracted, someone's going to get killed. I don't want that on your conscience. I don't want it on my conscience. Get it sorted.'

With a glare, Gibbs said, 'Let me get this straight, Leon. You're ordering me to take my senior field agent to bed. My very male, very straight senior field agent.'

Leon raised his eyes to the ceiling and thought for a moment, then looked Gibbs in the eye. 'Yes. Get over yourself. Be happy. Just don't screw this one up or I'll have both of you benched until DiNozzo's ready to retire, understand?'

'Since when did my sex life become everybody's business but mine?' Gibbs growled.

'Since it became a medical condition that could get two of my best agents killed. Not to mention the collateral damage I'm certain you'll wind up inflicting on the rest of us. You're off the Vorash case completely. Agent Fornell should be by tomorrow to wrap up NCIS's involvement.'

'And what about Carl Drevitt?' Gibbs asked. 'He's still missing.'

Vance winced. 'Between us and the FBI, we've had teams going over all three sites with ground penetrating radar. Got a couple of possible hits. The Feds have been doing the digging; should have something for us soon.'

Gibbs scowled. 'So, what, my team's on cold cases indefinitely?'

'For now, yes. Look,' Vance leaned forwards, clasping his hands together on top of the desk, 'I know we've had our differences, Jethro, but you're a hell of an agent. So's DiNozzo and you know how much it pains me to have to say it. Work it out. I need you back on your game and I don't want to lose either of you.'

'What do you mean? Leon? Why would you lose either of us?' Gibbs asked sharply. He stood abruptly, looming over the director.

'You work best together. If you can't do that, tell me, can you honestly say DiNozzo would stay?' Leon asked softly. 'Don't leave it too long, Gibbs. That boy knows how to walk.'

The agent stared at Leon, face seemingly carved from granite. 'We done?'

'Not quite. I think Cynthia has some paperwork you'll need to sign. And Jethro, I know you're not happy about this, but try not to take it out on the rest of the office, okay? I appreciate how you're feeling and if you need to talk...'

'I very much doubt that.,' Gibbs said. He turned and stalked out of the office, stopping at Cynthia's desk to take the proffered papers with a glower that she ignored.

'If you could let me have those back some time today or tomorrow, that'd be great,' she said with a professional smile that remained unwavering in the face of his bad temper.

Gibbs grunted and strode out, down the steps and, dropping the papers on top of his in-tray, went straight to the elevator. His back crawled, between his shoulder blades, under the weight of all the eyes watching him. He wanted to turn and shout at them, not a freak show, tell them to get back to work, but only two pairs of eyes belonged to his team and they knew better than to stare. He escaped into the elevator with relief. As he turned to face the doors, he noticed heads turning away, one or two people red-faced as he caught them watching him.

He really needed a coffee.

Armed with his customary strong coffee and a Caf-Pow, Gibbs entered Abby's lab. The wild strains of Gogol Bordello echoed off the concrete walls, the tall goth bouncing between her computers and various pieces of equipment. Stealthily, Gibbs slunk around the lab behind Abby, ducking out of sight as she glanced round suspiciously. When she turned back to her laptop, Gibbs stood, grinning as she let out a yelp and stepped back, turning off the music.

'Gibbs! You scared me!'

He handed over her Caf-Pow and let her hug him. 'Missed you too,' he said.

'I thought you'd abandoned me,' Abby pouted. 'You've been back all morning and you haven't come to see me.'

'Been kinda busy, Abs. Lot to catch up on,' Gibbs said, moving away. 'How've things been while I've been away?'

'No one brings me Caf-Pow when you and Tony aren't here and there's no one to growl or make sure I go home before midnight or eat properly. It's like half my family went on vacation and left me behind.'

Her expression was so woeful that Gibbs laughed. 'Hardly a vacation, Abs. And you've been over to visit, you've seen how Tony's doing.'

'It's still not the same.' She slurped her overly-caffeinated drink through the large straw, making a noise almost as rude as when she squeezed Bert, her farting stuffed hippo.

'No, it's not. But I'm back now and Tony will be in before you know it. Probably long before he should be, at that, so don't get too used to missing him,' Gibbs warned. He dropped a kiss on top of her head, avoiding a pigtail to the eye, and left her to it.

It took him twenty minutes to sort out the paperwork that had accumulated on his desk in his absence. Not to work through it, just to put it into appropriate piles: junk, delegate, look at later, urgent. There wasn't much in the urgent pile, which he took as a good sign. Unfortunately, right on top of that pile was the bunch of papers from Director Vance. Reluctantly, Gibbs picked them up and read through them.

'Son of a–' Gibbs slammed them down on the desk. When Tim and Ziva looked over, alarmed, Gibbs scowled ferociously and stood. 'I'm going home. DiNozzo's got physio this afternoon.' His junior agents exchanged worried glances. Gibbs ignored them and stalked out of the office, only remembering when the elevator doors slid closed that he'd left his coffee on his desk. It was the perfect end to his first morning back.

Chapter Text

Tony was dozing in front of a rerun of The Importance of Being Earnest when a brisk knock at the door startled him awake. He reached under the cushion for his gun. Criminals didn't usually knock, but there was a first time for everything.

'Come in,' he called, keeping a hand on his gun as the front door opened. From where he was stretched out on the couch, he could see into the entry hall. As the door closed again, he sighed and relaxed, putting the gun back under the cushion.

Agent Sacks came into the living room and looked around, taking in the solid furniture and the comfortable, masculine colors. 'DiNozzo,' he nodded, taking a seat in one of the armchairs.

Tony gave him a hard stare. 'Agent Sacks. You visiting for a reason, or just come to torment me while I can't do anything about it?'

Sacks shrugged. He didn't look any happier to be there than Tony was to see him. 'Seems we have a little more in common than I thought.'

With an eye roll, Tony said, 'Fornell.'

'He wasn't quite what I was thinking of, no,' Sacks cracked a tiny smile. 'But he said he'd talked with you about imprinting.'

Tony sighed. 'Does the whole world know? Maybe I should just change my name, dye my hair and move to Tasmania. They might not have caught the news.' He slung his good arm over his eyes. 'So, Fornell sent you to talk to me about joining the FBI. I wouldn't have thought you'd want me there. Tell me, does he get a free toaster oven with every ten imprinted people he collects?'

'Just because I don't like you doesn't mean I don't think you shouldn't be able to go to work without being harassed,' Sack said. 'But no, I'm not here to persuade you to join us.'

Tony moved his arm so he could see the agent. 'What, then?'

Sacks shifted uncomfortably, looking away, then back again. 'I figured you might appreciate hearing from someone who's been in the same boat.'

Tony dropped his arm and sat up properly. 'You fought it,' he said, his voice flat.

'I did.'

'Fornell said your partner died.'

Sacks nodded.

Tony sighed. 'Shit.'

'Yeah.'

They sat in an awkward silence for a while before Tony sighed again. 'Okay, what happened? I take it you got together in the end?'

'We'd seen each other around; I was always aware of him when we were in the same room, but I ignored it.'

'You weren't gay before then?'

'No, not so much as comparing dicks in the locker room in high school.'

'Wow, a Kinsey nought? That's got to have been tough. So how did you...?'

Sacks flushed. 'We worked a bad case together and a bunch of us went out for a few beers. We were the last ones to leave, I offered him my couch for the night. That's about as far as we got before, well, I don't remember which one of us made a move, but we ended up in bed.'

'What did you do?' Tony asked, intrigued. 'I don't mean in bed, because that kind of thing, no offense, but I'd only want to know details if you were a really hot lesbian.'

'None taken. Don't worry, I have no intention of sharing. Well, not much, anyway. I woke up in the morning with a sore ass and a hangover and I freaked out,' Sacks said, with a humorless laugh. 'I yelled at Mark until he pointed out I was hard enough to pound nails. Then he touched my face and I came all over him and that set him off. When we could speak again, he told me that if we could have some of the best orgasms of our lives without even getting to the sex, we'd be really stupid not to, you know, actually have sex.'

'He was gay, then?' Tony asked.

'More open-minded, I think. Maybe bi. We didn't really talk about it.'

'Did you get to the having sex bit?'

'Hell, yeah! Stayed in bed the whole damn weekend and never looked back,' Sacks said. A look of satisfaction flashed across his face, quickly chased away by a deep sadness.

'How did you find out you were imprinted?'

'We, uh... we lost track of time,' Sacks said, flushing again. 'Phones were off, didn't check email, completely out of reach. So Monday morning, Fornell came looking to see what happened, had to pick the lock to get in and found me with my dick up Mark's ass. When he came into the bedroom, I thought he was some kind of threat, was going to take Mark away from me. I threatened to shoot him if he didn't back off.'

Tony gaped at Sacks for a long moment before blinking rapidly, then throwing back his head and laughing. 'God, I wish I'd seen Fornell's face!'

After a moment more, Sacks joined in. 'Yeah, it was kinda funny, in retrospect.'

'He made you get tested.'

'Mhm. Got us a week of medical leave to get the initial hit out of our systems, made sure we'd got food in the place and by the time we got back to work, he'd had Mark transferred to my team and taken care of all the paperwork.'

'That's... really thoughtful of him,' Tony said.

Sacks nodded and they sat in silence for a while. This time, it wasn't nearly so awkward.

'How do you cope?' Tony asked eventually. 'Without Mark?'

The agent's face grew solemn, the lines at the corners of his mouth deepening. 'I get up, I go to work, I spend time with friends. Some day, maybe I'll meet someone else I can imprint on, but if I don't, I can't see myself caring.'

'It doesn't bother you to be alone?'

'Of course it does. But I had something incredible while it lasted and there's no way I'm going to waste what we had by regretting that it happened,' Sacks said.

'Doctor Childs said the suicide rate's high for survivors.'

'Jeez, don't sugar coat it, will you?' Sacks looked down at the carpet. 'There are days when I'd rather be dead, but if there's an afterlife, I wouldn't get to spend it with Mark anyway because it'd take just about the whole of eternity for him to get over being pissed at me. And I figure if I'm here, I can keep on doing my best to make a difference, make sure people don't get away with murder. I can make a difference for the ones left behind.'

'Like you,' Tony said softly.

'Like me,' Sacks agreed roughly. He cleared his throat. 'Fornell didn't say who you imprinted on, but it's pretty obvious and I really don't envy you. For what it's worth, if you can get past this bit, if you can both stop fighting it, I think you and Gibbs would be... out of this world.'

It was Tony's turn to clear his throat. 'Yeah, well, I don't think that's going to happen any time soon, Sacks. Thanks for stopping by. It, uh... I appreciate it.'

'Hope you're back on your feet soon, DiNozzo.' Sacks got to his feet. 'I'll see myself out.' He headed into the hallway and paused as the door opened. 'Special Agent Gibbs,' he said, nodding to the older man.

'Agent Sacks,' Gibbs said coolly. He watched as the fed left before heading into the living room. 'What did he want?'

Tony shrugged. 'Just came by for a chat, you know how it is. I think deep down he really likes me.'

'Yeah, like Ziva likes anything pink and frilly,' Gibbs said.

'I know it's your house and all, but what're you doing back? I thought you'd at least make it a whole morning before getting kicked out of work.'

'Got to have some lunch before your physio appointment, Tony,' Gibbs said, moving into the kitchen.

Tony hauled himself to his feet and limped after the older man. 'I'm capable of making myself a sandwich, boss. See? Not stuck in bed any more. I can walk and use one hand at least.'

'It was either feed you or sit going through a bunch of budget forms, DiNozzo,' Gibbs said, exasperated. He pulled a loaf of bread out of the bread bin and stuck four slices into the toaster, then fished cheese, tomatoes, cold meat and mayo out of the fridge. He lined the ingredients up on the worktop, washed the tomatoes and sliced them with quick, economical movements.

'I guess anything's better than budget forms, huh?' Tony lowered himself onto one of the kitchen chairs and watched the older man work.

'Got it in one,' Gibbs said.

Tony fought down a wave of hurt that was unexpectedly strong. 'You know, I'm really not that hungry,' he said lightly. 'It's not like I'm doing a lot to work up an appetite.'

'It'll be ready in a minute. Might as well eat it.' Gibbs buttered the toast and assembled two sandwiches, cutting them in half and putting them onto side plates. 'Here.' He slid one in front of Tony.

'Thanks,' Tony muttered, eyeing the sandwich with distaste.

'Something wrong with it?' Gibbs said with a raised eyebrow. He took a bite of his own, watching Tony the whole time.

Tony picked up his sandwich and ate slowly. It was delicious, but with each bite he took, his throat threatened to close up and in the end, he could only manage half of it. He pushed the plate away. 'I'm done,' he said, ignoring Gibbs' eagle-eyed scrutiny. 'Going to go get changed.'

Slowly, he made his way through the house and up the stairs to the guest room. After a rest, he summoned up his willpower and swapped the sweatpants for a pair of loose jeans. He sat down in the chair to rest again, feeling the sweat prickle along his sides and across his forehead as he closed his eyes and tried to breath normally. Since when was getting dressed such hard work?

'You ready?' Gibbs voice came from the doorway.

'Just have to put on my shoes,' Tony said, dismayed by the weariness he could hear in his voice. He heard a faint rustle, then a hand touched his calf. He opened his eyes to see Gibbs kneeling before him, trainer in hand. 'You know, I could have sworn those pills didn't make me hallucinate.'

'Funny. Lift your foot.' Gibbs avoided looking up at him, concentrating on getting the shoe on his foot and the laces tied. When both shoes were on and fastened, he stood easily, with the lithe grace that Tony knew the older man still possessed, yet somehow managed to surprise him every damn time.

Gibbs held out a hand. 'Up and at 'em, Tony.' His voice was lower than usual, husky, and Tony found himself blushing.

'Yes, boss.' He hesitated a moment longer, then took Gibbs hand, feeling the hard palm, the calluses that came from using a gun, which matched the ones on his own hands, and the ones that came from woodworking, which he'd never had, and let the older man help him to his feet.

Although Gibbs let go in favor of an arm under his good elbow as they made their way, slow and careful, down the stairs, out of the house and into the car, the feel of that hand in his kept him going throughout the torture session the hospital cunningly disguised as physio. And the feel of Gibbs' warm, strong hand stayed with him as he cleaned off the pain and sweat later and retreated back to bed.

When Gibbs drifted into the guest room in the middle of the night, Tony woke briefly, and it was that hand again that smoothed the hair off his forehead and sent him back down into a blessedly dream-free sleep.

The next morning, Tony got himself up and into the bathroom without help, but washing his hair without getting his cast wet or lifting his good arm over his head without being sharply reminded of his cracked ribs was beyond his help. By the time he was out and dressed, though, Gibbs was impatiently waiting to check on him.

'You okay?'

Tony nodded. 'Think I'll catch up on a few movies. Got some quality couch-sitting to do.'

'Fine. Don't forget to take your pills. Need anything, you call.'

With that, Gibbs was out of the door and gone. Tony drifted into the kitchen, gathered together a bowl of cereal and a mug of coffee and then transported them, one at a time, into the living room, where he dug out a DVD and the remotes for the player and the tv, then settled onto the couch.

By the time Tony had the movie ready to play, his cereal was soggy. His head felt itchy; he hadn't managed to wash his hair in three days and it was driving him crazy. He was bored with being injured.

'Must be on the mend,' he muttered to himself. 'Too restless to stay on the couch, still too achy to go for a walk. Great.'

If he was honest, his feeling out of sorts wasn't all to do with his convalescence. It wasn't even mostly to do with it. No, he was feeling grumpy because, after having had Gibbs' attention for most of the past week, he was on his own. Not that he missed the other man's company! Still, the couch had grown lumps overnight. The coffee was tar. The film was boring and pretentious.

Tony sighed. 'They could just have shot me,' he grumbled.

Half way through 'The Wilmslow Boy', Tony's phone rang. 'DiNozzo,' he answered. 'Who? Oh, hi there, Doctor Childs. Sorry I didn't get back to you.' He leaned back against the couch, suddenly tired. 'No, I can talk. I'm not in work...' He laughed wearily. 'No, the case didn't go too well. Got a broken shoulder blade, broken arm, a few cracked ribs. I'll be fine... Staying with my boss, he's got it covered... He knows... No, I can't say either of us is happy about it... No, I don't know when we'll be able to get up to Oradell. It'll probably be a while... Thanks anyway... You too.'

He hung up and tossed the phone onto the coffee table, then stared blankly at the television. 'What a mess,' he murmured. 'What an utter fucking mess.'

Tony woke from his doze with a start, automatically reaching for his gun before a throaty laugh stopped him.

'Hey sleepyhead!' Abby came over to the couch and gave him a surprisingly gentle hug.

Tony returned the hug with his good arm, then pulled back, wiping a hand over his face to surreptitiously check for drool. 'Hey Abs. Didn't anyone ever teach you not to sneak up on people?'

With a grin, the goth replied, 'Nope! In fact, if you think about it, Gibbs has been teaching me to sneak up on people ever since I started working for NCIS.'

Tony rolled his eyes. 'Another case of do as I say, not as I do. What're you doing here? Shouldn't you be running tests and analyzing evidence?'

'Lunch break. Gibbs said it'd be okay to come over. And since it's lunch time, come into the kitchen and let me fix you something.' She held out a hand expectantly.

'I'm fine, Abby. I can get myself something when I'm hungry,' Tony said, ignoring it.

Abby pouted. 'I know that, silly. But I'm hungry and since I'm making lunch for me, I might as well make some for you too. Come on!' She held out her hand again and Tony took it, standing more easily than he had in a while.

'I suppose since you put it that way...' He followed her into the kitchen and watched her root around in the fridge and the cupboards.

'I knew you'd see sense.'

Abby chattered away as she made a pasta salad and took it through to the living room, talking about cases and evidence and the need for rigorous scientific methods. She avoided mentioning Gibbs or asking about imprinting until, after they'd eaten and worn out by her avoidance, Tony put his hand on her arm and she lapsed into silence, staring at him with big, compassionate eyes.

'Abs. It's okay. You can ask.'

'Oh, thank goodness! Because I didn't want to upset you or offend you and you've been through so much and it really can't be easy, being stuck with the bossman, not that he's not great and all, but–'

'Abs! Before I change my mind!' Tony squeezed her arm gently to show he didn't mean it and she smiled, snuggling carefully into his side.

'What's it like, being imprinted?'

Tony wrapped his arm around her shoulders and kissed her hair. 'It's hard. Neither of us wants this, Abs. It's like my body's holding me hostage. Unless I give in and think of Gibbs, it won't perform.'

'He is a fox, though. I mean, it could have been some ugly sailor, or an overweight LEO,' Abby pointed out.

'I'd rather poke out my eyes,' Tony shuddered. 'Small mercies, huh?' He sighed. 'You know, I gotta say, I'm not feeling all that thankful. It could have been a really hot female agent with assets out to here.' He lifted his hand off her shoulder and gestured.

Abby snorted and thumped his leg. 'Ass!'

'Ow! Don't beat up on the injured guy!' Tony protested, and just like that, the mood lightened and they spent twenty minutes giggling together. When Abby had to go back to work, Tony gave her a one-armed hug and kissed her cheek. 'Thanks for stopping by, Abs. It was good to see you.'

'Any time, Tony.' She returned the hug, making him wince as his ribs creaked, then she was gone. Somehow, the rest of the afternoon wasn't so bad.

***

Gibbs glared at the offending paperwork that hadn't magically done itself overnight. With that in mind, he picked up his delegate pile and dropped it on Tim's desk.

'What's this?' Tim asked, looking up into Gibbs' scowling face.

'What does it look like, McGee?' came the sardonic reply.

Tim gulped and looked down again. 'Uh... It looks like...' he flipped through the pile, 'a bunch of requisition forms?'

'Full marks for observation,' Gibbs said, returning to his desk. At least he had a fresh cup of coffee to keep him going while he worked his way through the rest of the paperwork.

'Doesn't Tony normally do these?' Tim asked.

'Do you see DiNozzo anywhere? No? Well now you do them,' Gibbs said firmly.

Tim opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again and stared at the stack of forms. 'On it, boss,' he said glumly.

Gibbs took a sip of his coffee and settled down to tackle the top of his urgent pile. It was one of the things Cynthia had given him yesterday. Change of Next of Kin. After that were forms for medical proxy and legal power of attorney. He left blank the form for notification of a relationship within the agency. 'None of your damn business,' he muttered gruffly.

The final set of forms all pertained to his benefits: pension, armed forces pension, life assurance, death in service payment. He'd filled them in before, each time he'd married and the association deepened the frown on his forehead. Tony had been right; somewhere, deep down, Gibbs was looking for happy-ever-after, wanted to grow old with someone special. The forms spread out in front of him made him painfully aware that would never happen, now. One last dream shot down in flames. His chest ached and his head throbbed.

Gibbs wanted to go down to the gym and pound the crap out of a punching bag, but he was afraid that once he started, he wouldn't stop until either the bag or his knuckles were broken.

'He might as well get something out of this whole damn mess,' he scowled.

Gibbs signed the forms.

A morning of paperwork and an afternoon of sifting through cold case files didn't improve his temper any. Neither did going home to a house where his senior field agent looked far too right in his home, seated on the couch watching the TV. Gibbs rang for takeout, dropped a twenty on the table, then retreated to the basement to work on his boat, grateful that Tony had taken one look at him and kept quiet. Then again, the man had always known what he needed, known instinctively how to handle him. Tony had great instincts.

Instinct, hah! And wasn't that the joke! With a bitter smile, Gibbs forced himself to concentrate on his boat, on the simple repetitive tasks that slowly shaped and smoothed and created his boat, his dream, that brought her to life.

A while later, he looked up to find Tony sitting on a step with a pizza box balanced on his knee.

'Hungry?' Tony asked, opening the lid.

As the scent of cheese and tomato, of cooked meat and onion reached him, Gibbs realized, to his surprise, that he was.

'Thanks.' He brushed his hands on his jeans, leaving pale dusty streaks on the worn denim, then took a slice. 'Want to eat upstairs?'

Tony shook his head. 'I'm good here.' He shifted a little and grimaced. 'At least for a little while,' he added, taking his own slice of pizza. As Gibbs finished one slice and reached for another, Tony said, 'Boat's coming along nicely. You ever going to sail her?'

Gibbs shrugged. 'Maybe.'

They ate quietly, companionably, until Tony said, 'I know she's not finished, but she's still beautiful.' His voice held a note of satisfaction and approval, as well as the unspoken assurance that of course Gibbs had done a good job, that it simply wasn't possible for him to do a bad one.

Surprised by the unexpected compliment, Gibbs smiled. 'Yeah, she is.' He finished the last of the pizza and wiped his hands on his jeans again, then stroked one of the boat's ribs. When he looked at Tony, the young man was watching Gibbs' hand with a curious expression on his face. 'Tony?'

'Yes, boss?' Tony looked up, his green eyes, darker than usual, meeting Gibbs' blue eyes, and for a moment, the air crackled between them, electric.

Gibbs felt a jolt of arousal slam through him so hard he couldn't breathe.

Tony gasped, then winced, the sharp intake of breath jolting his abused ribs. He stood, holding the pizza box strategically in front of him. Clearing his throat, he said, 'Going to go upstairs before my ass goes to sleep. You ever think about putting a comfy chair down here?' Without waiting for an answer, he turned and fled upstairs, leaving Gibbs, winded, hard, gripping the rib of the boat to stay upright and feeling as though he'd been blindsided by a truck.

He hid in the basement until Tony was in bed, then spent the night in his own room, dozing and waking, dreaming of tanned skin and a brilliant smile. Resolutely, he stayed there until, rising early, he finally gave in to the urge to check on the younger man. Entirely unfairly, Tony was sound asleep, a faint smile curving the corners of his lips.

Gibbs took a cold shower and tried not to think.

***

Tim came over to visit on Wednesday lunchtime. He brought sandwiches from the deli Tony liked and issues of Playboy and Maxim. 'This is from Ziva,' he said, handing over a padded brown envelope.

'You open it?' Tony said.

Tim shook his head. 'She threatened to break my fingers.'

'That's what I like about her,' Tony said, wedging the envelope between his thighs and using his good hand to tear it open. 'She has a threat for every occasion.' He peeked inside the envelope.

Tim sat down on the couch next to Tony. 'So what is it? A DVD?'

'Probie! You squeezed it, didn't you,' Tony said, delighted. 'Just like Christmas, huh?'

Tim flushed. 'Ziva didn't say anything about not shaking it.'

'Good man! For that, you can go fetch coffee. And a couple of plates.'

'Tony–'

'What? The sooner you go get stuff, the sooner we can eat. And I don't know about you, but I'm hungry.' Tony raised his eyebrows and stared at Tim until the junior agent flushed again and stood up. When he'd left the room, Tony pulled the DVD out of the envelope and groaned.

Total Marine Mayhem! was emblazoned across the front, half-covering the photo of two marines, their chests bare and BDUs unbuttoned, snarling and holding their guns very suggestively. Tony shook his head and dropped the DVD on the coffee table just as Tim returned. He fixed the young man with a glare.

'Gay porn, McGee? I'm surprised Ziva didn't just order the whole Marines Gone Wild series. Oh, wait, then Gibbs would have to kill her.'

Tim choked and nearly tripped over his feet. 'Tony, I didn't know what it was, I swear!'

'Relax, Probie. When you get back to the office, you can help me get payback.' Tony took one of the sandwiches and put it on a plate, then balanced the plate on his knee.

Gingerly, Tim picked up the DVD by one corner, and studied it, blushing at the sight of the photo on the back, which showed a marine sergeant giving one-on-one gun instruction to a recruit. A naked recruit. He dropped it back on the table. 'That's just...'

'Ah ah!' Tony admonished. 'Just remember, our gay servicemen and women deserve just as much respect as all those straight jarheards. Besides, I want you to find me something along the lines of Mossad Mommas or Hebrew Hotties. Gotta be something like that out there somewhere.'

Tim grinned. 'Delivered to her desk?'

Tony nodded. 'If they have any posters, get a couple of those too,' he added.

'You don't think this is escalating a little much?' Tim asked, worriedly.

'Nope! Ziva knows this means war,' Tony said happily. 'She misses me.'

Tim groaned. 'Fine. But I'm using your credit card.'

With a mischievous grin, Tony said, 'Use Gibbs'.' At Tim's look of utter horror, he burst out laughing, then pressed his hand to his side. 'Ow, ow, ow! You're too easy, you know that?'

'You're an ass, you know that?' Tim said, good-naturedly.

'Every time, McGullible, every time.'

***

Ducky came by after work and checked Tony over, nodding to himself over the younger man's progress. 'We'll have you back at your desk in no time.' He made Tony go through his shoulder exercises with Gibbs helping, quelling any thought Gibbs might have had of protesting with one well-timed look over the rims of his glasses. By the end, Tony's shoulder, arm and ribs had to be aching horribly, but he wasn't white and trembling, like the sessions earlier in the week.

'You know, you're doing remarkably well,' Ducky said after Gibbs had retreated to the kitchen. 'Don't overdo it, though, or you'll only set yourself back.'

'Thanks, Duck,' Tony said. 'I know I'm on the mend when I'd rather do physio than watch daytime TV.'

'Yes, I agree,' Ducky said, smiling fondly at the younger man. 'I always think that with so many channels available, there should be something worth watching, but there so rarely is. I find a good book or a journal far more gripping. If you like, I can bring a selection over.'

About to offer a polite denial, Tony paused. 'Actually, that'd be great, thanks.'

'Anything in particular you're interested in?'

'Surprise me,' Tony grinned.

'Is there anything else I can help you with?' Ducky asked.

'Actually, there is,' Tony grimaced, embarrassed. 'I need to wash my hair and with one arm in plaster...'

'Say no more, my dear boy, say no more.' Ducky nodded to himself. 'Go on up to the bathroom and I'll be with you in just a minute.' As Tony left the room, Ducky headed for the kitchen.

'I need to borrow a chair, Jethro,' he said, putting a hand on the back of one of the kitchen chairs. 'I'll bring it down when I'm done.'

Gibbs' eyes narrowed. 'What for?'

'Tony needs a hand. I'm providing it,' Ducky said with uncharacteristic brevity. He lifted the chair, only to have Gibbs take it from him.

'I'll carry it.'

'Really, Jethro, I routinely lift and carry dead bodies. I hardly think a chair is going to overtax my strength.' Ducky glared at him over his glasses.

Gibbs held onto the chair and raised his eyebrows.

With a sigh, the ME conceded defeat. 'In that case, do you have a jug I can use?'

'The bottom cupboard on the left.' Gibbs watched as he retrieved it, then followed him upstairs to where Tony was waiting, seated on the side of the bath, stripped to the waist, and the sight made Gibbs pause and close his eyes momentarily. The bruising that bloomed across his side and down his back was fading, but they were still a technicolor reminder of how badly injured Tony had been.

'If you'll allow me?' Ducky said firmly, taking the chair from him and setting it in front of the sink, with the back up against the lip of the sink. 'Anthony, if you wouldn't mind sitting here? I've washed mother's hair on numerous occasions, although the time she thought I was her hairdresser was rather unsettling.' He chattered on, getting Tony settled and leaning back so that his head was over the bowl of the sink, ignoring the way the younger man had tensed up at the sight of his boss and ignoring the way Gibbs was gripping the doorframe so tightly he half expected to see fingermarks in the wood.

With the ease of practice, Ducky filled the jug from the bath taps and tested the water, then carefully wet Tony's hair. As Ducky rubbed the shampoo into a lather, Tony groaned.

'That feels incredible! It's been driving me crazy.'

'You should have said something,' Gibbs said hoarsely.

'No offense,' Tony said, keeping his eyes shut, 'but I figured the last thing you'd want is to have to touch me.'

'Don't be an idiot, DiNozzo,' Gibbs snapped. 'You need help with anything – anything – you tell me. There's a reason you're staying at my house.'

'Beyond you secretly lusting after my widescreen TV?' Tony teased, then flushed. 'Seriously, boss, this goes above and beyond the call of duty.'

Gibbs growled. 'Ducky.'

The ME looked at him for a moment, assessingly, then stepped aside. He took Gibbs' place in the doorway and watched as the ex-marine refilled the jug, then, cupping one hand across Tony's forehead to stop the suds getting in his eyes, he gently rinsed the younger man's hair. The gesture was surprisingly intimate, protective, and Ducky had the sudden sense that he was intruding.

Tony was quiet until Gibbs had finished and carefully toweled off the excess. Then he sat forwards and took the towel. 'You get a lot of practice at that too?' he asked, rubbing the towel over his head.

'Used to,' Gibbs said flatly. 'I'll take the chair down.'

Tony paused. 'I didn't mean–'

'I know.' Gibbs waited for him to stand and move aside, then picked up the chair and left the bathroom.

Taking in the slump of Tony's shoulders, Ducky shook his head. 'Come along, Anthony. I'll help you on with a fresh t-shirt. I don't want you catching cold on top of everything else.'

Tony followed him into the guest bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed as Ducky carefully guided the t-shirt up and over the cast on his arm. 'I need to go home, Ducky. I can't stay here. It's like things are fine one moment, then the next we're heading straight into the Twilight Zone. I can't sit around waiting for, I don't know, the sky to fall in!'

Ducky patted Tony's shoulder, then sat beside him. 'You can't go home if you can't wash your own hair. And whether you like it or not, things with Jethro will change, although I suspect the sky will remain in the heavens. I could be wrong, but I am very hopeful that you will find some way past this.'

Tony looked at him sharply, his eyes anguished. 'I don't know, Ducky. What if... what if we can't? How do I go back to work? Everyone knows about me and Gibbs, and there isn't even a 'me and Gibbs' for them to know about!'

'You go back to work the way you have every time you've been injured, with your head held high. You have the backing not only of myself and the rest of the team, but also of Director Vance. If anyone has any problem whatsoever with either of you, or the situation in which you find yourselves, they will have a long line of people to answer to,' Ducky said determinedly. 'Don't ever think that you are alone in this, Anthony, because you aren't.'

'But what if Gibbs can't work with me?' Tony whispered.

'Then he's a bigger fool than I ever imagined.'

Chapter Text

Gibbs slept poorly again. Ducky's visit had left him unsettled. He wanted to be angry, to lash out at the person responsible for turning his world upside down, for calling into question everything he thought he knew about himself, about his marriage to Shannon, about why his subsequent marriages failed. If they hadn't almost certainly imprinted on each other that day at the station in Stillwater, would they have been attracted to each other? Would they have fallen in love, regardless? Married? Raised the most amazing little girl for those eight precious years?

Gibbs hated not knowing the answer to those questions. But his anger, dependable, useable, something he could use to rebuild his defences, wouldn't come. The pain in Tony's eyes, his expectation that of course he wasn't worth Gibbs' time and attention, his love, cut to the bone. No, not to the bone: to the heart.

He tried getting angry with the case that had brought imprinting to their attention in the first place, with Abby for digging further, with Doctor Childs for doing the research in the first place, but he kept seeing Petty Officer Jameson's battered face and Lieutenant Rogers' anguished cries rang in his ears and his anger failed him. They were all victims. It wasn't Doctor Childs' fault for researching the phenomenon, any more than it was Abby's fault for being interested in that research; her passion for science was what made her such an incredible asset to NCIS.

Giving in to his restlessness, he rose and ghosted silently down the hallway, pausing in the doorway to the guest bedroom. Tony lay curled on one side, facing the door. His face was pale, his hair standing up at odd angles and falling dark across his brow. He looked young, vulnerable, surprisingly innocent. At that moment, Gibbs wanted nothing more than to keep him safe, to take care of him and protect him from the world. Then Tony stirred, sighed, and Gibbs fled to the basement, where he rolled himself in an old blanket and lay underneath the boat until dawn filtered through the high windows and it was time to face another day.

Feeling snappy and out of sorts, he made coffee and pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, then went upstairs to fetch Tony. He was in the bathroom and Gibbs could hear him muttering from outside. He rapped on the door. 'Breakfast's ready, DiNozzo.' He paused, then added, 'Need a hand?'

The muttering stopped and a moment later the door opened. Tony had shaving foam spread over half his face and neck and was bleeding from a couple of nicks on his jaw. He had a towel wrapped around his hips, but otherwise, he was completely naked. He scowled at Gibbs.

Gibbs cleared his throat, his mouth suddenly dry. 'Well?'

Tony's shoulders slumped in defeat. 'Sure, why not? I might as well be completely useless. Just call me Blanche. On second thoughts, that would make you Baby Jane and you singing Daddy? Wrong like you wouldn't believe. Forget I said anything.'

'Tony, it would be my pleasure to forget everything you just said.' Gibbs followed Tony into the bathroom. He stood behind the younger man, locking eyes with him in the mirror. Through the material of his worn cotton t-shirt, he could feel the heat that radiated off Tony's bare back. Delicately he shaved Tony, stroking the razor down his cheek, up his throat, along his jawline, rinsing the razor off after each pass.

By the time he had finished, wiping the last of the soap off Tony's face with a washcloth, he was rock hard and so was Tony, judging by the flush that spread across his face and chest, across the back of his neck.

'Anything else?' Gibbs asked. His voice came out low, husky, and Tony swayed back towards him instinctively, his eyes falling half-closed. Gibbs stood there, frozen, watching in the mirror, as Tony licked his lips. Then, with a start, Tony's eyes snapped open and he leaned forwards, gripping the edge of the sink with his good hand.

'No, no, I'm fine. Uh... Shouldn't you be getting ready for work, boss?'

The spell broken, Gibbs stepped back. 'Yeah. Breakfast is getting cold.'

'Be right there.' Tony's brilliant green eyes held his in the mirror for a moment longer, then Tony looked down. As he drained the sink, Gibbs forced himself to turn and leave.

Breakfast was awkward. They ate without conversation, avoiding looking at each other. When they were done, Gibbs quickly washed the dishes and left them to dry on the side while he went to shower and change into his work clothes. He was just pulling on his shorts when he heard a crash from downstairs. Heart in his mouth, he raced downstairs, unable to banish the image of Tony, unable to breathe as his lung collapsed.

'Tony!' He ran into the kitchen, only to come to a halt at the sight of the younger man down on one knee, forehead creased in frustration, as he picked up shards of crockery and tossed them into the sink.

'I thought I'd dry the dishes. You know, the host cooks and cleans, the least the guest can do is dry and put away, right?' Tony said conversationally, his eyes fixed on the pieces he was picking up. 'But no, it seems as though all I can do is attempt to dry and smash. What good am I, Gibbs, if I can't even dry the fucking breakfast plates?' His voice had risen to a shout by the time he looked up, taking in Gibbs' lack of attire, then his tone changed to concern. 'Shit, boss! Don't move.'

Gibbs glanced down. There were bits of pottery all around his feet. 'Well, damn.'

Stiffly, Tony stood up and grabbed one of the kitchen chairs. 'Sit,' he said, placing it right behind Gibbs.

The ex-marine did as he was told, lifting his feet one at a time to let Tony check them out. By some miracle, there were only a couple of small pieces of pottery in one foot and they brushed out easily. Tony fetched antiseptic and cotton wool and, most importantly, sneakers. Gibbs let him dab over the tiny cuts, but took the sneakers from him and put them on himself. He went to stand, but hesitated. Tony was close; he reached out a hand and gently squeezed the back of the young man's neck.

'You aren't a guest, DiNozzo.'

Tony shivered. 'Then what am I, boss?'

'You're–' It was on the tip of his tongue to say more, so much more, but instead Gibbs cleared his throat. 'You're making me late.' With one last squeeze, he let go, squashing the flash of pain he felt at seeing the hurt Tony couldn't quite hide.

Gibbs made quick work of clearing up the broken plate, making Tony go and sit on the couch while he did so. Then he put away the rest of the crockery and hurried upstairs to finish getting dressed. As he was leaving, he paused in the hallway. Tony was flicking through channels, desultorily.

'DiNozzo?'

'Yeah boss?' Tony looked round slowly, his face an attempt at his usual affable mask.

'You're a damn fine agent who got thrown off a thirty-foot drop. Cut yourself some slack.'

After a moment, Tony nodded. A little of the spirit had returned to his eyes, but his expression was still guarded. 'Got it, boss.'

'I'll pick you up at three.'

Tony rolled his eyes. 'Can't we just say we went to a private counselor?'

Gibbs sighed. 'Sure we can.' He waited a beat as Tony began to relax in relief. 'If you want to be benched until you're as grey as I am.'

Tony groaned. 'Then you might as well just shoot me now, boss, because much as I hate being shrunk, I hate this more.'

'Suck it up, DiNozzo. I need you back on my team.'

As Gibbs walked out of the door, he heard Tony shout, 'Hey! Don't you get benched too?'

'I'd like to see Leon try,' Gibbs muttered as he shut the door and strode to his truck. It was after eight thirty by the time he pulled into the parking garage; too late to get coffee. He reached his desk, noting both McGee and Ziva glancing surreptitiously at him over the stack of cold cases on their desks. He grinned.

'McGee,' he snapped. 'Coffee.'

'On it, boss,' Tim said in unconscious imitation of Tony. He hurried off, leaving Gibbs to settle behind his desk.

'Something I can help you with, Officer David?' Gibbs raised an eyebrow and stared at the Israeli, who stared back at him.

'I was wondering how Tony is doing,' she said, refusing to be intimidated.

'Sore. Cranky. Go visit this lunchtime and you can see for yourself,' Gibbs said.

'I am not sure Tony would appreciate that,' Ziva began, but Gibbs cut her short.

'He's your partner. Go see him.' As she blushed, he turned his attention to the paperwork that had appeared in his in-tray overnight.

McGee seemed on edge, Gibbs noted. After he returned with coffee, he kept glancing up.

'Expecting a visitor?'

Tim looked over at Gibbs, quickly schooling his expression, but Gibbs spotted the brief flash of guilt. 'No, boss.' He paid more attention to his work after that, although Gibbs caught him looking up a couple more times.

Gibbs was about to go in search of more coffee when he discovered why his agent was looking so shifty. The mail came round, and with it a parcel for Ziva. It was a large padded envelope; Ziva took it with a frown.

'I did not order anything,' she said, puzzled.

'It's been screened,' the mail clerk shrugged.

'Here.' Gibbs crossed to Ziva's desk and took the parcel. 'You know the rules. It goes down to Abby.'

'Er...' McGee got to his feet.

'Unless there's something you want to say, McGee?' He stared at the agent, who shifted from one foot to another, then sighed.

'I, uh... I ordered it,' Tim confessed, coloring.

Gibbs tossed the envelope to him. 'Well?'

Tim opened his mouth to object, then thought better of it. Blushing furiously, he tore open the envelope and pulled out the contents. A white folded piece of paper was wrapped around something.

'Let's see,' Gibbs said, hiding his amusement. Having spotted the dvd Ziva had sent Tony, he had a good idea what was coming.

Tim extracted a dvd and handed it to Gibbs.

'Kosher Queens?' Gibbs eyed the two brunettes kissing on the cover, then turned it over. He shook his head at the sight of the 'milchic kitchen' displayed on the back. 'Here.' He handed it to Ziva, who scowled. Turning his attention to his other agent again, he raised an eyebrow.

With a sigh, Tim handed over the piece of paper.

Gibbs unfolded it. Sure enough, it was the poster that went with the dvd. He cast an experienced eye over it, then handed it to Ziva. 'If I remember that seminar on harassment, you can put it up but we can't.'

'I don't want to put it up,' Ziva said, wrinkling her nose in distaste. 'And as I recall, you did not attend that seminar.'

'Nope,' Gibbs agreed. 'Don't have to go if you're working an active case. Which as you may notice, we don't have right now. And the next seminar is on cultural and racial sensitivity and it's on Monday. So if you want to go to it, by all means, sit around watching porn and pinning nude posters to your wall.' He watched, satisfied, as their eyes widened in alarm and they hurried to get back to work. Chances were they wouldn't break one of their cold cases by Monday morning, but extra motivation never hurt.

Feeling a little less out of sorts, Gibbs went to get coffee.

Lunch time sent Ziva to visit Tony, after a pointed stare from Gibbs, and brought Ducky to his desk. 'I haven't forgotten,' Gibbs said.

'Actually, I was on my way out for a spot of lunch and I wondered if you cared to join me,' the ME said.

'Got a lot to catch up on,' Gibbs said, looking over the piles of paper and folders that cluttered his desktop. Most of them were cold case files, but he saw no need to point that out.

'Coffee, then?' Ducky asked. 'Jethro...'

Gibbs sighed. 'Make it quick.' He got to his feet and lifted his jacket off the back of his chair. Together, they headed for the elevator. Gibbs glared at a couple of junior agents from another team when his keen ears caught Tony's name, then glared harder when one of the two agents coughed and turned red.

'I suppose you didn't ask me to lunch for the company,' Gibbs said as the ME set a leisurely pace through the lunchtime crowd.

'Your company is always welcome, Jethro,' Ducky sad with a hint of reproval in his tone. 'Our friendship has been a little strained of late and I very much regret that.' He glanced sideways at the agent, assessing his mood.

Gibbs remained silent, keeping his eyes front as they walked.

It was a minute before the older man spoke again. His voice was low, earnest. 'Sometimes it is difficult to choose one's course wisely. There appears to be no direction one can take that does not lead to hurting someone else, or oneself. And inaction is something one cannot in all conscience live with.'

Gibbs stopped and scowled at his friend, feeling his anger finally start to rise. 'I don't need a sermon. I have too many people lecturing me on what I should be doing already.'

'I was speaking of myself,' Ducky said sadly. He stared at Gibbs, then sighed. 'What I did was a gross invasion of your privacy.'

'Yes, it was,' Gibbs said grimly.

'I am so very sorry that I have caused you hurt and distress, but where there is a danger to life – both yours and Anthony's – I am compelled to act,' Ducky argued.

'What danger?' Gibbs said, his voice rising. 'How is it going to kill us if we don't fuck? No one ever died from blue balls. You should know that.' He ignored the startled glances he got from a couple of passing pedestrians, focusing instead on the man in front of him. 'Tony told you in confidence when he was hurt and off his head on pain medication. You had no right even telling me, Ducky! None whatsover.' He jabbed at Ducky's chest with a finger, punctuating his tirade. 'But you told Leon and you told my team. You didn't even give us the chance to decide whether or not we wanted anyone to know and now I can't go out and do my damn job until I get over myself and take my senior field agent to bed! Do you know how humiliating that is, Ducky? To be told I can't be trusted to do my job because I won't fuck my male subordinate and I can't fuck anyone else?'

'What do you want me to say, Jethro?' Ducky asked, his temper rising. 'All the evidence suggests that what you and Anthony are fighting is an incredibly primal bond, one that lends itself to violence. How often have you come close to killing someone for hurting him? To dying for him?'

'That's different! It's my job: I'd die for any of my kids and you know that,' Gibbs said angrily.

'But how often has he come close to dying for you, Jethro?' Ducky snapped. 'It's been far too many times! That young man would die for you in an instant and you know it. His upbringing has left him horribly unprepared to deal with the situation you have placed him in.'

'I never asked for this!' Gibbs roared.

'Neither did he! I understand neither of you is comfortable with an intimate physical relationship, but sex isn't everything,' Ducky pushed. 'By refusing to admit this bond is there you are denying him not only the affection and approval he has always sought from you, you're denying him the chance ever to have a meaningful relationship.'

Gibbs glared at Ducky, refusing to back down, but his anger fell away yet again, leaving him exposed, vulnerable, as his friend continued in terse, clipped tones.

'Anthony has had so very little true affection in his life. Put yourself in his shoes. How would you feel if you knew for certain you'd spend the rest of your days alone? Tell me, Jethro, just how easy is it to live a life devoid of all hope?'

With that final volley, Ducky pierced something vital in Gibbs. Turning on his heel, he strode away, then broke into a jog, leaving behind his friend and those terrible, damning words.

***

Ziva returned to the office a little late, and looking equal parts relieved and exasperated. It took her a moment to notice the poster pinned to her divider wall and a moment longer to transfix it with a knife to the throat of one of the women on it. She allowed herself a tiny smile as Tim flinched.

'Seminar, people. Don't make me have to go.' Gibbs didn't look up from the case folder he was reading through, but his air of disapproval was apparent in the tense set of his shoulders and the thin, set line of his mouth.

Ziva sank into her chair gracefully, returning to cross-checking details from interviews in a case from two years ago. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tim glancing repeatedly at their boss with a faint frown, his lips pursed as he always did when he was trying to work out some puzzle. Half an hour later, Gibbs got up from his desk and stalked out of the bullpen.

'What happened?' she hissed at Tim, who put on an air of innocence.

'What do you mean, what happened?'

Ziva pulled the knife out of the poster and stabbed it into the heart of the other woman. She raised an eyebrow.

Tim caved. 'Just after you left, Ducky asked Jethro to lunch and about forty minutes later, Gibbs came back in a foul mood. And he'd showered and put on a clean shirt. I haven't found an excuse to get down to Autopsy, but Abby says Ducky's upset, but won't say why.'

'Oh,' Ziva said thoughtfully. 'Do you think Ducky attempted to have a mouth to mouth with him?'

Tim blinked. 'Er... Do you mean a heart to heart?'

'I mean a talk, yes? Which is the mouth, not an internal organ,' Ziva argued.

'Well, yes, technically, but it's called a heart to heart because it's an intimate talk. Mouth to mouth is the resuscitation technique. And goodness knows, but whatever it was, I don't think it went well,' Tim said.

'Heart, mouth, whatever, I don't care,' Ziva waved her hand.

'How was Tony?'

'Sore. Annoying. He asked why I didn't take him the poster and said he would swap me his dvd for my dvd if I agreed to watch them both with him,' Ziva scowled theatrically, not in the least annoyed. 'I told him I would watch porn with him only on the day he admits I am the superior agent.'

'So he admitted it?'

'I told him it didn't count if he had his fingers crossed,' Ziva laughed.

'You really think he's doing okay?' Tim asked anxiously. 'I mean, I messed up when I went to see him in hospital and he was about as far from okay as I've ever seen him.'

Ziva sighed. 'I think he is doing remarkably well, but no, I don't think he's okay. Were I imprinted on Gibbs, I would probably have shot him by now. He is not an easy man to love.'

'I just... I can't imagine them together,' Tim confessed in a low voice. 'I know they've always had this... connection, I guess, but together? As in... together? I can't get my head around it.'

'I think... neither can they,' Ziva said slowly. 'And that is the problem. Their hearts are too hurt for them to be able to trust.'

'But Tony trusts Gibbs completely, and I know Gibbs trusts Tony more than anyone else,' Tim argued.

'Sure, they trust each other. They just don't trust themselves,' Ziva said, then looked round as the elevator dinged. Gibbs strode out carrying a large cup of coffee and as one, the agents bent their heads to their cold cases, fervently searching for any hint of a clue that could get them out of Monday's seminar.

***

Two thirty rolled around and Gibbs left to pick up Tony. The drive was tense, angry; he couldn't pretend he was taking Tony to physiotherapy and he couldn't take out his frustrations on the road because Tony was in no shape to be thrown around. By the time they reached the clinic, Gibbs' shoulders were so tight he had difficulty helping Tony from the car.

They had a ten minute wait in a floral-scented beige walled waiting room. A man and a woman sat opposite, glaring at each other until they were finally called into one of the therapy rooms.

'Wow, the last time I saw a couple look that mad at each other, it was just before vases started getting thrown,' Tony said, watching after them.

'I know. Ex-girlfriend?' Gibbs asked, despite himself.

'Second step-mom. The golf club-wielding ex-wife?'

'Pretty much.'

The receptionist called them. Gibbs felt a wave of relief that they didn't have to make small talk any more, immediately followed by a sickening lurch as he realized they were going to have to actually talk.

'We could just shoot our way out,' Tony whispered, reading his mind.

The corner of Gibbs' mouth twitched. 'Yeah, but then I'd have to arrest us.'

'I'd rather do time than counseling,' Tony groused, but then they were entering the therapy room and a narrow-faced tall man stood to greet them. The fleeting amusement Gibbs felt died away as he shook the man's hand and took a seat on the two-seater couch.

'Doctor Burlman,' the man said, shaking Tony's good hand. 'Can I get you anything before we start? Water? Coffee?'

Gibbs grunted assent and Tony huffed a tiny laugh.

'I think you just went up a fraction in my boss's estimation,' he said, sliding into an easy charm. 'He takes it black, no sugar, and strong enough to tar roads.'

'I was going to say you should wait until you've tasted it, but it sounds as though you might be the one person who can drink this stuff without spitting it straight back out,' Doctor Burlman said, aiming a smile at both of them. He poured Gibbs a coffee from the pot in the corner of the room and got Tony some water. The drinks handed over, he sat in the single chair opposite the couch.

Gibbs tried the coffee. Strong, bitter, slightly burned: it was still a damn sight better than the swill in the break room. 'It'll do,' he said with a nod.

'Hallelujah! I'll have to tell Rosie,' Doctor Burlman laughed. 'She owes me a twenty; she bet me no one would ever like the stuff.'

'I didn't say I liked it,' Gibbs pointed out.

'But you don't hate it,' Tony said.

'Nope. I've had a lot worse.' Gibbs agreed.

'There's hope, then,' Doctor Burlman said and Gibbs remembered all over again why they were there. He set the coffee down on the side table.

'Don't know about that,' he said drily. If the couch had been a fraction wider, he wouldn't have felt the minute flinch that Tony gave at his words: in turn, he felt as though he'd been kicked in the gut. Suppressing a flinch of his own, he asked, 'So what do we have to do to get out of here?'

Doctor Burlman looked from one to the other, his manner all business. 'You need to be able to talk about your relationship, openly and honestly and you need to be able to at least start to work through the issues that you have.'

'We don't have a relationship,' Tony pointed out. 'Not like that. Gibbs is my boss. We aren't together.'

The doctor nodded. 'Doctor Mallard explained your situation and sent through some information on it, about the study that was done by Potts and Childs. I've read it through and done some research of my own and I think I'm qualified to help you.'

'Help us how? Help us reclaim our brains? Our bodies?' Gibbs asked, his voice tight.

'I'm sorry, no.'

'Then what damn use is this?' he demanded, his voice sounding alien to his own ears. High, tight: he sounded trapped and the realization made him reckless. 'I want my body back!'

'You know, I'm pretty sure the doc doesn't have pods in his back room,' Tony said. 'Right?' He looked questioningly at the tall man.

'No pods,' Doctor Burlman confirmed.

'What?' Gibbs frowned, momentarily diverted.

'Pod-people. Invasion of the Body Snatchers.' Tony grinned.

'What the hell are you on about, DiNozzo?'

'I'm just saying, he doesn't have your real body stuffed in a pod somewhere in his back room, boss,' Tony explained, his smile falling away. 'Just going to have to make do with the one you've got. Me, I'd like a pod-body. No more coughing fits on cold mornings.'

Gibbs frowned. 'Your lungs still bothering you? I thought you were over that.'

'Sometimes if it gets really cold and dry, first thing on a morning it'll make me cough like crazy for about a minute and a half. That's it, I swear,' Tony shifted uncomfortably and Gibbs could feel Tony's leg press against his for a moment before he pulled away.

'You should get that checked out,' Gibbs said, still frowning. 'I'll see if Dr Pitt's free after your next physio appointment.'

'There's no need, really. If all I have is an occasional bout of coughing, I think I can live with it,' Tony said. 'Could have been a whole lot worse.'

'Get it checked anyway.'

Tony rolled his eyes but didn't argue. The conversation died away and Doctor Burlman took the chance to speak. 'You've worked together for a number of years now. How would you characterize the way you interact? Tony? Is Gibbs just your boss, or do you see him as a mentor, a father-figure?'

'Don't you think, if Gibbs really were some kind of father-figure, that would make this whole thing really creepy?' Tony asked, leaning back a little.

Gibbs let out the breath he hadn't known he was holding and grunted in agreement. 'Tony acts like a kid at times, but he sure as heck isn't mine.'

'But you have acted as a mentor and an authority figure since you recruited Anthony,' the doctor said.

'Because I'm the lead agent on the team and I'm his boss,' Gibbs said. 'And I've been doing this job for fifteen years.'

'Do you see the discrepancy in equality as a stumbling block in terms of a potential relationship?' Doctor Burlman asked.

'There is no potential relationship,' Tony said. Gibbs could tell he was beginning to get irritated by the edge that crept into his voice, belying his relaxed posture.

'Why don't you tell me a little about your previous relationships,' Burlman backpedalled.

Tony looked at Gibbs. 'Don't ask me,' he said. 'I'm not the one with all the marriages.'

Gibbs narrowed his eyes at Tony's throwing him to the wolf. 'My first wife was murdered, along with our daughter. I've been divorced three times since then. Apparently Shannon and I were... were imprinted and none of my other wives were the imprinting type,' he said sourly.

'How does it make you feel?'

'How do you think?' Gibbs repressed the urge to get up and leave. He hated being forced to talk to a stranger about things he hadn't willingly talked about in years.

'I'd imagine that I'd feel angry, maybe even betrayed,' Doctor Burlman said. 'But I'm not you.'

'No, you're not.' Gibbs said, stone-faced.

The doctor waited until it became apparent he had nothing further to add before turning his attention back to Tony. 'How about your previous relationships, Tony?'

'Special Agent DiNozzo,' Gibbs said.

'I'm sorry?'

'Don't apologize. It's a sign of weakness,' Tony grinned.

'I'm not sure I follow,' the doctor admitted.

'His friends call him Tony. You expect us to call you Doctor Burlman. He's Special Agent DiNozzo,' Gibbs said.

'And what do you call him?' the doctor asked.

'DiNozzo. Tony. Whatever's appropriate,' Gibbs said.

'And what do you call Special Agent Gibbs?'

'Boss, usually. The bossman if I'm talking about him. Gibbs.'

'You never use his first name?'

'Only my father uses that,' Gibbs grimaced.

The doctor looked from one to the other and sighed. 'You make a great team. I imagine you work incredibly well together.'

Gibbs raised an eyebrow, silently inviting the doctor to explain.

Burlman smiled. 'You realize you've been protecting Special Agent DiNozzo from me from the moment you stepped into my office, yes? With your help, he's managed to avoid answering any of my questions, while appearing open and approachable. And he did a great job of redirecting your emotions when you got frustrated earlier.'

Gibbs looked at Tony, only to find Tony looking at him. Their eyes locked for a long moment and Gibbs found it difficult to breathe. He tore his gaze away, only to find Doctor Burlman watching them, interest and curiosity plain on his face. Angrily, he said, 'We've been working together for years. He's my senior field agent for a damn good reason.'

'So he's good at his job. Excellent, even. Will you let him answer my questions?'

Gibbs could feel Tony's shrug, his shoulder moving against Gibbs' arm. 'If he wants to,' Gibbs conceded.

'What questions would those be?' Tony asked, leaning back and stretching out his legs, giving the appearance of getting comfortable despite the cast on his arm and the pain Gibbs knew he still felt in his shoulder.

'How would you describe your previous relationships?'

Gibbs could feel Tony slide into his frat-boy persona.

'I'm a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy. A few dates, a little fun, everyone walks away with a smile,' Tony said.

'So you've never had a longer-term, more serious relationship? There was never anyone you felt you might be able to live at least some of your life with?' Burlman pressed.

'Not me,' Tony said, skirting the edge of the truth. 'If I'd been someone else, maybe.'

'You never wanted more?'

For a second, Tony's mask slipped. Gibbs felt the younger man's breathing pause, then start again with a hitch. 'Never crossed my mind.'

'But you've been looking for what you lost ever since, Special Agent Gibbs?'

'Maybe. Probably.'

'How was your sex life, at least up until the imprint took effect?'

Gibbs took a deep breath and imagined how it would feel to give in and punch the man. He forced his jaw to unclench and answered. 'Good, when I had the time.'

'Had you been seeing anyone in particular?'

'Not really.'

'So you had a number of partners?'

'Two or three, I guess.'

'Gibbs! You dog!' Tony crowed, then ducked his head, clearly expecting a headslap. He winced as the movement jarring his shoulder.

Gibbs looked sideways at him. 'Channeling Abby, DiNozzo?'

'Something like that,' Tony admitted.

'And how was your sex life, Special Agent DiNozzo?'

Tony grinned. 'No complaints there, Doctor Burlman.'

'So when did you start having problems?'

Tony's grin became fixed. 'About eighteen months ago, maybe? A year, definitely.'

'You haven't had intercourse in a year?' the doctor clarified.

Looking away, Tony didn't answer. Reflexively, Gibbs put a hand on Tony's knee and squeezed. He felt the younger man jump, then relax under his touch. Hastily, he moved his hand back to his own knee.

'How about you?'

'Around a year, I think,' Gibbs confessed, feeling as though the admission had been ripped from the bottom of his soul.

'Were there occasions when you tried to have sex, but couldn't?'

'What the hell kind of a question is that?' Gibbs burst out. 'That's none of your damn business!'

The doctor gave a pained smile. 'You clearly have a lot of anger and resentment built up. I'm trying to find out exactly what that's about and if it's directed at Special Agent DiNozzo.'

'Then you should ask,' Gibbs said, scowling. 'I don't resent Tony. I'm not angry at him. It's not his damn fault we're locked into this farce, that now some damn test says we're imprinted, I have to care about him and everything about our relationship, the one we've built up over the years of working together and watching each other's six, is reduced to sex as though we're nothing more than animals. I'm angry about the way my business, my private life, is all over Washington. I resent the way I can't be trusted to do my damn job without seeing you because apparently not wanting to sleep with a member of my team makes me suspect. Since when did showing some restraint become a bad thing?' He glared at the doctor, who who simply nodded sagely.

'Thank you for being honest and sharing that. Special Agent DiNozzo, how does that make you feel? And how do you feel about the whole situation?'

'I guess... Betrayed? Not so much by you, boss,' Tony hastened to add. 'By my body. And Ducky, Director Vance. I feel like some kind of object. Everyone thinks you should be fucking me except you. No one's bothered to ask if I want to be fucked, if I'd rather be the one doing the fucking, or even if I'd rather become a monk than sleep with a man, no offense. Because I liked sex, I really did. And the women I slept with, they enjoyed it too.'

He spoke faster, the words falling over themselves as the hurt he hadn't known ran so deep came spilling out. 'You know, I'm a great lay. A fantastic lay,' Tony said fiercely, addressing his words to the doctor. 'God knows, I've had it made abundantly clear to me over the years that I'm not husband material. But for a good time, I'm the go-to guy. And that's fine. I've never particularly wanted to stick around with one woman, settle down and have that picket fence life.

'You want to know what really bothers me about this whole thing? Fine. It's not that Gibbs is a guy, that he's older than me, that he's my boss. It isn't any of those things.' By now Tony was leaning forward in his chair, his good hand gripping the arm so tightly that his knuckles had gone white. His voice was low, intense and absolutely furious. 'No, it's that with this whole imprint thing, he's supposed to care about me. Soul mates, partners for life. People keep telling me this is some wonderful thing, that it's true love, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like it to me.

'My whole life, I've heard about how people are supposed to love me. I had more love from the damn housekeeper than I've ever had from anyone who was supposed to care. And now I have the ultimate in love? I should have known it'd be the ultimate in life slapping me in the face. So we're imprinted. You know what? I don't care. I've had enough.' Eyes blazing, he turned to Gibbs, who was sitting beside him, astonished.

'I quit. Get yourself another damn field agent. And while you're at it, go find the person you should be imprinted on. I'm sure if you date enough redheads, you'll find her.' Awkwardly he got to his feet and limped to the door. 'I'll get Abby and McGee to get my stuff from your place. Don't worry, you won't have to care about me any more.' He stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.

Doctor Burlman looked at Gibbs. 'How do you feel about that?'

Gibbs stood up, hands clenched into fists at his side, trembling with the effort of not reaching over and snapping the doctor's neck. 'I think we're done,' he said roughly. He slammed out of the office; the ply door hit the wall and bounced back, but he was past it, striding down the corridor and out of the small lobby. He was just in time to see Tony shut the door of a cab, which shot away from the curb almost as though Gibbs himself was driving.

'Sir? You need to make another appointment.' A small, black-haired woman stood at his elbow.

Gibbs assumed she was the Rosie to whom Doctor Burlman owed twenty bucks, opened his mouth to tell her, but found himself snarling instead as a wave of pain crashed over him. 'We won't be needing it,' he choked out, stumbling towards his car. When he reached it, it took him four tries to get his key into the lock, his hands - marine sniper, surgeon-steady hands - betraying him by shaking so hard he dropped the keys to the ground. It was another minute before he could see clearly enough to drive.

Chapter Text

Tony was at his desk, jabbing at his computer keyboard with one hand, when Gibbs came back into the bullpen. He watched surreptitiously from beside the elevator for a minute before going to his desk. Apart from the fierce scowl the younger man wore, he looked all right. Tim and Ziva were alternately casting worried looks at him and attempting to communicate silently, with raised eyebrows and minute shrugs.

'Would you stop it?' Tony said, exasperated, without looking away from his monitor. 'Unless you really want me to include you in reasons why I'm pissed?'

'You, uh... Coffee?' Tim asked, getting to his feet.

'Sure, why not?' Tony growled. 'Because that makes everything better.'

'If you wanted hot chocolate, you had only to say,' Ziva said, keeping her voice light. 'I'm sure Tim can manage that. I will have coffee, thank you.'

Tim flashed her a quick, grateful smile and headed to the elevator, pausing when he caught sight of Gibbs standing there. 'Boss! Hi! I was, uh, just going for...'

Gibbs raised an eyebrow. 'Don't let me stop you,' he said curtly. 'And don't take all afternoon.' He stayed where he was, ignoring the junior agent's surreptitious glances.

Tony sighed. 'I don't want to be mad at you guys, really. Can't you drop it? Just for half an hour so I can get this done.'

'What is it? Maybe I could help,' Ziva offered.

'No, I don't think you can,' Tony said.

'If you dictated, I could type much faster,' Ziva said. 'And if you tell McGee, I will break your good arm.'

Tony stopped his hunt-and-peck one-fingered typing. 'Fine. Dear Director Vance, comma, I resign, comma, effective immediately, full stop. Signed, comma, Anthony DiNozzo. You get all that, Ziva, or do I need to repeat it for you?'

Ziva gaped at him. 'Tony! You cannot resign!'

'Watch me.' Grimly, Tony went back to typing. Having watched and listened long enough, Gibbs let his feet carry him through the bullpen.

'Tony.'

'I'm a little busy, here,' Tony said shortly.

'We need to talk,' Gibbs said, reining in his own temper.

'Because that's working out so well for us,' Tony hissed, finally looking up. His eyes were bright with temper and a dull flush burned high on his cheeks. 'I think I've said everything I need to.'

'Well I haven't,' Gibbs snapped. 'My office, now, DiNozzo.'

'No.' Tony switched from the keyboard to the mouse. Gibbs grabbed his hand.

'I said now.'

They glared at each other, neither man backing down.

'DiNozzo? Can I have a word?' It was Fornell. Reluctantly, Gibbs dragged his gaze from Tony, turning his patented death-glare on the FBI agent instead.

'Now's not a good time.'

'Oh, I think it's the perfect time. I just wanted to ask Tony if he'd made up his mind yet.'

Tony tugged his hand out from under Gibbs'. 'Full medical and dental?' he asked, leaning back in his chair.

'You offered him a job?' Gibbs roared, his temper finally spilling over. He ignored the way heads popped up throughout the bullpen like gophers from their holes as people took note of the brewing argument. 'You get the hell away from my agent, Tobias!' He planted himself between the two men in an attempt to block Tony from the agent's sight, but from the way Fornell merely tilted his head, he suspected Tony had shifted to compensate.

'Full medical and dental,' the Fed confirmed, ignoring the outburst.

'Cover for pre-existing conditions?' Tony asked from behind Gibbs.

'I checked; they want copies of your medical records and a letter from the consultant physician, but they'll cover the long-term consequences to your lungs. Had to go check with their underwriters; it's not every day they get asked to cover a plague survivor,' Fornell said cheerily. 'When do you want to start?'

'Tony's not going anywhere!' Gibbs snapped.

'And why would that be, Jethro?' Fornell turned serious and took a step closer to the enraged ex-marine. 'What possible reason could he have for wanting to stay here?'

Out of the corner of his eye, Gibbs detected a flicker of movement as Tony stood and moved around his desk. Gibbs sidestepped, blocking him in.

'Yeah, Jethro,' Tony drawled, annoyed. 'Why the hell would I want to stay? I quit, remember?'

Gibbs half-turned, catching sight of the younger man, all tall arrogance and fire. He could feel the rush of anger and adrenaline, every muscle tensed up, ready to strike out. Deep inside him, something clenched and twisted, then gave way.

'Because you're mine, damn it!' he bellowed. 'And I'm not letting you go!' He took a step and crowded Tony back against the half-height divider, gripping it on either side of the agent. Tony raised a hand to push him away, but Gibbs pressed home his attack, snaking a leg between Tony's, pushing his hip against the other man's, leaning in hard and kissing him savagely.

'Finally!' he heard dimly from somewhere behind him, but he didn't care because Tony's good arm was wrapped around his neck, tugging him even closer as the younger man returned the kiss, fighting for dominance, thrusting his tongue into Gibbs' mouth.

Biting as much as kissing, the two men came together, bodies pressed together from chest to knee. Gibbs wrapped a hand around the nape of Tony's neck, the other settling to his hip and gripping, fingers digging into muscle. Somewhere in the back of Gibbs' head, he knew this was neither the time nor the place, let alone the person, but then Tony growled and pushed forwards, leaning into Gibbs and rubbing his rock-hard erection against the older man's and Gibbs felt himself thrust back angrily as the last vestiges of his restraint melted away.

'Special Agent Gibbs! What the hell do you think you're doing?'

Gibbs tore his mouth away from Tony's and looked up, over the younger man's shoulder. Director Vance was striding down the stairs, his face thunderous. 'Back off, Leon,' Gibbs snarled, shivering as Tony's breath ghosted over his ear just before he bit down on the older man's neck.

'I told you I want this kept out of the office,' Vance scowled. 'This is inappropriate!'

'And I told you it was none of your damn business.' Gibbs snapped. He found his attention turning inexorably back to the younger man. He dipped his chin, brushing his cheek against Tony's, feeling the faint rasp of afternoon stubble, catching the faded scent of Tony's aftershave, his shampoo, the richer, clean smell of the man himself, trapped in the collar of his sweatshirt. He tuned out Leon's protests in favor of tasting that smooth curve of skin, the graceful curve of muscle and tendon that was Tony's shoulder, his neck. He vaguely registered the ding of the elevator's arrival and a fresh set of voices, but then Tony pulled back just far enough to recapture his mouth and it was Gibbs' turn to growl as he disregarded everything else.

***

'Oh my!' Ducky said, hurrying to the bottom of the stairs. 'I was rather afraid something like this might happen. Director Vance, I do think it might be wise to clear the bullpen, at least until we can persuade Jethro and Anthony to go somewhere a little more private.'

'You want me to clear the bullpen because two of my agents are making out?' Leon's voice rose. 'Gibbs! DiNozzo!' The two men ignored him and kept on kissing savagely. By this time, most of the bullpen had stopped to watch, with expressions ranging from amusement through to disgust.

'I think Ducky's right,' Fornell said, joining them. 'Speaking from experience, they aren't going to listen to reason any time soon.' He turned and looked at them, raising his eyebrows in surprise as Gibbs wrapped an arm around Tony's shoulders, even now careful of his shoulder, and slid his fingers into the younger man's thick hair, kissing him passionately. 'I'm impressed. I didn't think the old man had it in him.'

'This is incredible. I've never had the chance to see an imprint being finalized before!'

'And who the hell are you?' Vance asked, frowning at the man who had followed the ME.

'Doctor Philip Childs. And you are...?' The red-haired scientist held out his hand.

'Leon Vance. I'm the director of this circus.'

'Ah, yes, Doctor Childs came down from New Jersey especially to interview Jethro and Anthony, to advise them on their imprint,' Ducky said. 'If you recall, he and his colleague, Doctor Potts, conducted the initial studies into imprinting.'

A groan caused the four men to look round just as Gibbs swept Tony's desk clear, sending his keyboard clattering to the floor. Tony had managed to push the older man's jacket off his shoulders and was wrestling, one-handed, with the buttons on Gibbs' shirt.

'Oh dear. Leon?' Ducky turned to the director.

'Everyone out, people! Move it!' Leon bellowed at the agents who were standing around watching, mouths agape. 'Go!' Reluctantly, agents began drifting towards the elevator and the stairs.

'Do you think there is the faintest chance we could get them to move?' Ducky asked plaintively. 'I can't imagine either of them will be in the slightest bit happy when they come to their senses.'

'I had no idea it was like this!' Doctor Childs marveled. 'None whatsoever.'

Fornell sighed. 'It isn't usually this bad. Normally pairs make it into the bedroom, or at least into the house, a hotel room, whatever.'

'You've seen this kind of thing before?' Doctor Childs asked excitedly. 'You must tell me all about it!'

Fornell eyed the scientist. 'Your work isn't quite as obscure as you think, Doctor Childs. Doctor Potts has been working for the FBI for the last ten years.'

'Ron? Why? And why wouldn't he tell me?' A wounded look passed across Doctor Childs' face, making him look like a teenager.

'Because we made him sign a confidentiality agreement,' Fornell said. 'Leon, I don't suppose you could turn off the security feed, could you?'

'Oh, god...' Leon turned and jogged up the stairs. 'Get them under cover and out of here! I want them gone!'

As he disappeared into his office, the elevator opened again and Abby shot out, a pile of blankets clutched in her arms. Tim followed with a cardboard box, blushing furiously as he caught sight of Gibbs and Tony moving together on top of Tony's desk.

'I cut the cameras,' Abby called as she trotted towards Tony's desk. 'Come on, McGee! Give me a hand! You too, Ziva!' She dropped the bundle of blankets onto Ziva's desk, picking up the top one and shaking it out. Ziva took the corner Abby held out to her, allowing the taller woman to maneuver her over to the corner of the divider that ran along the side of the desk.

'Tim!' Abby said impatiently, snapping her fingers. 'Hurry up!'

Tim fumbled with the cardboard box, finally getting it open. He reached in and lifted out a metal clamp, which Abby used to secure the blanket to the divider. She stretched the blanket out and clamped it twice more along the length of the divider, then hustled to the other side of the desk, sneaking a quick peek at the two men in passing.

'Wow, the boss really keeps in shape,' Abby said brightly, pulling open the top drawer of the filing cabinet just far enough to clip the blanket to it. She clipped the last corner to the divider behind the cabinet, creating a low tent over Tony's desk and providing at small amount of privacy for the two men locked together in a passionate embrace. Over the top of the blanket, she draped another blanket so that it hung down, hiding Gibbs and Tony from casual view.

Tim turned an even brighter shade of pink as Tony let out a moan from somewhere under the blanket and Gibbs. 'Not helping, Abby,' he said, handing her another clip.

'Can we not simply tranquilize them?' Ziva asked hopefully, wincing as Gibbs let out a low, husky mmmm, yeah.

'I'd rather not if we don't have to,' Ducky said. 'Embarrassing as this is, sedation always carries an element of risk and given Anthony's recent injuries, it simply wouldn't be safe.'

The director came back down the stairs, still scowling. 'You want to explain this? Anyone?'

'Ah, well, we have a theory,' Ducky began, putting a hand on the director's shoulder, turning him so that he wasn't directly facing the blanket-covered cubicle.

'Yes!' Abby bounced over to join them, trailed by Tim and Ziva. 'It's almost certainly something to do with how slowly their imprint developed and how hard they've been fighting it.'

Leon groaned. 'Don't tell me, the harder they fight it, the harder they fall?'

'Something like that,' Doctor Childs said. 'Of course, we have no actual data to support the theory, merely a very little empirical evidence.'

Fornell clapped the director on the arm. 'Take my word for it, Leon. They'll be busy for a week at least.'

'I am not closing my damn bullpen for a week!' Leon said. 'I want them out of here before I have to end up firing them both.'

'That won't be necessary,' Ducky said, hastily. 'One of us will drive them home shortly, though I suggest we adjourn to another room, just for a little while.'

Tim cleared his throat. His cheeks were burning with embarrassment. 'I, uh... Someone should make sure no one comes in while they're, uh...'

'The job's all yours,' Leon said. 'Let me know when they're done. This way, people.' He led the way to the conference room and closed the door behind them. 'What a mess. This is going to be all over the Yard in five minutes flat. God only knows how I'm going to explain not throwing them out on their asses.'

Ziva got a thoughtful look on her face. 'I believe there might be a way. I understand there is a sensitivity training seminar on Monday morning, yes?' At Vance's nod, she grinned wickedly. 'Well, then...'

***

Tony was more angry than he could ever remember being as the cab raced away from the center. He didn't have to look behind him to know that Gibbs was standing on the curb, probably cursing a blue streak, but he didn't care. For once in his life, he was one step ahead of the bossman and he wanted to keep it that way.

For getting him to the Yard in under fifteen minutes, he gave the driver an extra twenty and let his adrenaline rush carry him into the building, through security and up to the bullpen with barely a hint of a limp and with his head held high. 'Just like you said, Ducky,' he muttered as he left the elevator, and the fresh surge of anger over the ME's betrayal let him ignore the stares and whispers that his entrance provoked.

At his desk, he powered on his PC and waited impatiently for it to boot up before opening up a new blank document and beginning to type. He could feel his team mates staring at him. Without looking round, he said, exasperated, 'Would you stop it? Unless you really want me to include you in reasons why I'm pissed?'

'You, uh... Coffee?' Tim asked, getting to his feet.

'Sure, why not?' Tony growled. 'Because that makes everything better.'

'If you wanted hot chocolate, you had only to say,' Ziva said lightly. 'I'm sure Tim can manage that. I will have coffee, thank you.' Hurriedly, Tim got to his feet and headed for the elevator.

Tony sighed. 'I don't want to be mad at you guys, really. Can't you drop it? Just for half an hour so I can get this done.'

'What is it? Maybe I could help,' Ziva offered.

'No, I don't think you can,' Tony said, poking at the keyboard.

'If you dictated, I could type much faster,' Ziva said. 'And if you tell McGee, I will break your good arm.'

With a flash of irritation, Tony stopped his hunt-and-peck one-fingered typing. 'Fine. Dear Director Vance, comma, I resign, comma, effective immediately, full stop. Signed, comma, Anthony DiNozzo. You get all that, Ziva, or do I need to repeat it for you?'

Ziva gasped. 'Tony! You cannot resign!'

'Watch me.' Grimly, Tony went back to typing, steadfastly ignoring Gibbs' approach.

'Tony.'

'I'm a little busy, here,' Tony said shortly.

'We need to talk,' Gibbs said.

'Because that's working out so well for us,' Tony hissed, finally looking up, feeling his face flush with anger as his temper boiled over. 'I think I've said everything I need to.'

'Well I haven't,' Gibbs snapped. 'My office, now, DiNozzo.'

'No.' Tony switched from the keyboard to the mouse, but Gibbs grabbed his hand.

'I said now.'

Tony glared at him, refusing to give in to the urge to tug his hand away and use it to punch the older man. Gibbs glared back at him, refusing to let go. The stalemate was broken by Fornell.

'DiNozzo? Can I have a word?'

Gibbs turned his patented death-glare on the FBI agent. 'Now's not a good time.'

'Oh, I think it's the perfect time. I just wanted to ask Tony if he'd made up his mind yet.'

Tony tugged his hand out from under Gibbs'. 'Full medical and dental?' he asked, leaning back in his chair.

'You offered him a job?' Gibbs roared. 'You get the hell away from my agent, Tobias!' He moved between the two men, but Tony pushed his chair sideways and looked expectantly at the fed.

'Full medical and dental,' Fornell confirmed.

'Cover for pre-existing conditions?' Tony asked.

'I checked; they want copies of your medical records and a letter from the consultant physician, but they'll cover the long-term consequences to your lungs. Had to go check with their underwriters; it's not every day they get asked to cover a plague survivor,' Fornell said cheerily. 'When do you want to start?'

'Tony's not going anywhere!' Gibbs snapped.

'And why would that be, Jethro?' Fornell turned serious and took a step closer to the enraged ex-marine. 'What possible reason could he have for wanting to stay here?'

Tony stood and moved around his desk, frowning as Gibbs sidestepped, blocking him in. 'Yeah, Jethro,' Tony drawled, annoyed. 'Why the hell would I want to stay? I quit, remember?'

Gibbs half-turned, a wild look in his eyes that Tony had never seen before. 'Because you're mine, damn it!' he bellowed. 'And I'm not letting you go!' He took a step and crowded Tony back against the half-height divider, gripping it on either side of the agent, leaving him nowhere to go. Absolutely furious, Tony raised a hand to push him away, but suddenly Gibbs was right up against him, pressing his body against the younger man's and as Tony opened his mouth to protest, outraged, Gibbs closed the last inch of space between them and kissed him hard.

There was a roaring in Tony's ears and he found himself pulling Gibbs closer rather than pushing him away. He kissed Gibbs back, biting at his lips, thrusting his tongue into Gibbs' mouth, making the other man give ground. It was a battle for dominance and Tony threw into it all of his anger, all the hurt and humiliation, all the pain as the last crumbs of Gibbs' affection and regard were systematically destroyed by his rejection and disgust. Tony could feel his lips bruising as Gibbs returned his kisses with bites of his own. He growled and rolled his hips, rubbing his erection against the hard length tenting the older man's slacks and felt Gibbs thrust back.

Gibbs broke the kiss to say something, but the words weren't addressed to him and Tony tuned them out, following instead the scents of coffee and sawdust overlain with hints of sweat, anger, fear. He bit down on Gibbs' neck, tasting salt and something masculine that was all Gibbs and became, with that one taste, as necessary to Tony as breathing. He felt Gibbs shiver and knew it for capitulation: no matter what, Gibbs was his, now and for always.

The older man bent his head and suckled at the point where Tony's shoulder met his neck. Feeling his erection become impossibly hard, Tony pulled away just far enough to reclaim Gibbs' mouth, making him growl in return. They fought through their kisses, oblivious to the rest of the room, but that shiver had given Tony the edge in their battle and it was Gibbs who gave in, wrapping an arm around the younger man's broad shoulders and threading his fingers through Tony's hair, gentling their kisses into something less about hurt and anger and more about rebuilding the connection between them, Gibbs doing his very best to offer wordless reassurance to Tony, to undo some of the damage he'd caused since their road trip, a few short weeks ago.

Tony let his anger slide away into arousal. After a year of nothing but the intermittent company of his own right hand, he needed more, needed to feel bare skin. He hadn't known he'd missed it so much until a wave of desperation swept over him, sending his good hand pushing at Gibbs' jacket, tugging at the buttons on his shirt, a whine rising almost inaudibly in the back of his throat. Gibbs groaned, moving back and taking Tony with him until he bumped into Tony's chair, then swept an arm across the desk, sending the keyboard flying. Wrapping his arm around Gibbs' back, Tony let himself be turned and lowered to the bare wood, pulling the older man down on top of him.

As Gibbs nudged Tony's legs apart, moving between them, he settled his weight on top of Tony and kissed his forehead, his temple, nuzzled his cheek. Tony felt the brush of stubble against his jaw and thrust upwards, rubbing hardness against hardness. His eyes slid shut and blindly he sought Gibbs' mouth with his own. The older man cradled his head, plunging his tongue deep into Tony's mouth, only to withdraw, setting up a give and take that made them both moan. Finally Tony managed to tug Gibbs' shirt out of his slacks, pulling it up, up, and Gibbs broke away just long enough to pull the shirt over his head and tug Tony's sweatshirt up until it was rucked under his armpits, then he settled back down, the incomparable feel of skin on skin drawing a moan from Tony and a low, husky, 'Mmmm, yeah' from the older man.

They moved together, rocking hardness against hardness, the rasp of fabric providing delicious friction. Tony felt Gibbs' chest hair brush over his nipples, turning them into tight, sensitive nubs and making him gasp into Gibbs' mouth. He opened his eyes again to see Gibbs raising his head, gazing at him with those incredible blue eyes passion-dark, his lips swollen and glistening.

'God, Tony!' Gibbs breathed, touching his cheek with a trembling hand, his voice shaking just as much. 'I didn't know. I didn't know.' There was pain and longing and loneliness all mixed up with thick desire: it was as much of an apology as Tony had ever heard from him and it pushed him over the edge. With a soft cry, Tony came, spilling into his shorts like a teenager.

'Gibbs!' he moaned, then 'Jethro,' lower, softer, something closer to forgiveness, and that sent the older man plunging after him. With a grunt, Gibbs stilled, eyes glazing, groin pushed hard against Tony's, and a fresh wave of wet heat spread across Tony, making him shudder. They lay together, sprawled uncomfortably across Tony's desk as their breathing slowed. After a minute, Gibbs sighed, then bent his head and nuzzled clumsily at Tony's ear.

'What say we blow this joint?'

He pulled back as Tony grinned, a brilliant smile that lit up his entire face. 'You watched Spaceballs? Boss!'

'Not boss, not like this.' A slow smile spread across Gibbs' face. 'Come on, DiNozzo. By my reckoning, we've got at least a year to catch up on.'

Tony craned his neck and looked around. 'You do realize we're in the bullpen, right? On my desk? And someone appears to have made us a tent.'

Gibbs said nothing, but the flush creeping up his chest and neck told their own story.

'You're right, we should take this home,' Tony said. He thought he'd hidden his uncertainty, but Gibbs was right there, in his space, and seemingly, he'd always been able to read Tony's mind.

'It's your home for as long as you want it, Tony,' Gibbs said roughly. 'I, uh... I signed all the paperwork.'

Tony frowned. 'I'm not following.'

Briefly Gibbs closed his eyes and when he opened them again, they were lighter, unclouded; free from the guilt and uncertainty that had tormented him for the past month. 'Vance made me change my listed next of kin, who my death in service benefit goes to, all that stuff. It made me think; I'd rather you had the house than one of my ex-wives. I put it in your name too, Tony... Come home with me. Make it your home. Stay with me.'

'How do I know you won't change your mind?' Tony pushed. 'I don't think– I can't make it my home and then leave.'

'I was an asshole. I can't promise I won't be again. Ask my ex-wives.' With a gentleness Tony hadn't known he possessed, Gibbs stroked the hair back from Tony's forehead. 'I don't apologize and I don't ask for second chances.'

Tony shook his head. 'I know, Jethro. Believe me, by now I am fully aware of your less attractive qualities.' He paused, then tugged Gibbs in for a long, slow kiss. When he let go, he smiled. 'It's a good job I'm more the forgiving type.' He waited until Gibbs had stood up as much as the impromptu tent allowed, looking for his shirt, before adding, 'Besides, if I have to go gay, at least I got me a sugar daddy.'

When Gibbs glared at him, he put on his most winsome smile and held out his hand. Gibbs helped him sit up, then tugged down his sweatshirt. 'Still got that change of clothes here?'

'Bottom of the filing cabinet,' Tony said. 'You?'

'In the trunk,' Gibbs said sourly.

'Yeah, well, at least you can zip up your jacket over it,' Tony said, looking down at the wet patch spreading across his jeans. 'My sweatshirt will never cover this.'

Gibbs grunted, but opened the drawer and fished out a pair of sweatpants and handed them to Tony. He went down on one knee and untied Tony's shoelaces, then pulled off his trainers. 'Let's get you changed,' he said, looking up into Tony's green eyes.

Tony's breath caught as he took in Gibbs' expression, expectant, and his posture, on one knee. 'I know you like getting married, but I think this is moving a little too quickly.' As the older man scowled, he leaned back on his good elbow and laughed. 'Okay, you're going to have to give me a hand, unless you want to take down the blanket.'

Gibbs unbuttoned Tony's jeans and unzipped the fly, tugging the denim down his long legs and off, dropping them to pool on the floor. He didn't pause, but stripped off Tony's shorts too, bundling them up and wiping the sticky mess off his abdomen. He dropped the shorts on top of Tony's jeans. 'I'm not proposing, Tony. And if I ever do, it sure as hell won't be after making out in the damn bullpen in front of half the agency.'

Tony winced. 'I never thought I'd say this, but I'm glad I'm on medical leave. You think Vance is going to fire me for this?' He lifted his hips again as Gibbs pulled his clean sweatpants on.

Gibbs looked at him thoughtfully. 'I don't think he can, Tony. Not after Ducky made such a fuss about this going on our records.'

Tony blinked. 'Really? You mean we made out in the bullpen in front of everyone and there's nothing Vance can do about it? Wow!'

Gibbs let one of his rare grins show. 'Pretty sure. Come on, Tony. Ready to face the world?'

'Maybe you should put your jacket on first. And, you know, zip it up?' Tony said, smiling. He couldn't seem to keep the grin from popping back on his face.

Gibbs rolled his eyes, but did as Tony suggested. He ducked out from under the blanket and seconds later, Tony was blinking under the bright lights of the office. Gibbs bundled up the blankets and tossed them to a blushing Tim.

'Hey, McGee, you get that coffee yet?' Tony asked brightly, getting to his feet. One-handed, he scooped up his jeans and shorts, making sure the mess was in the middle, and tucked them under his arm.

'Uh... Director Vance said you have to go home,' Tim said, unable to meet their eyes. 'He said not to come in tomorrow.'

'Ya think, McGee?' Gibbs said drily. 'Don't worry, we're going.'

If anything, Tim's blush deepened. 'Ducky... He wanted someone to drive you.'

Gibbs glared at the unfortunate agent. 'I think I can manage to drive home without getting distracted.'

'I'm just passing on the message, boss,' Tim said, finally meeting Gibbs' eyes.

'You can tell Ducky I'm not an invalid,' Gibbs snapped. 'And tell the director I'll see him on Monday.' He stalked over to the elevator.

As he followed, Tony paused in front of Tim and thumped him gently on the arm. 'Thanks for having our back, Tim,' he said quietly.

The young agent shifted uncomfortably. 'Yeah, well, at least you didn't go all When Harry met Sally.'

Tony grinned. 'Don't you mean When Harry met Harry?'

'So which one of you was faking it?' Tim retorted, finally losing some of his flush.

'Neither of us, McGee,' Gibbs said, holding the elevator. 'Tony.'

'On my way, Jethro,' Tony said, grinning broadly. 'See you Monday, Tim.' He followed Gibbs into the elevator and they rode in companionable silence down to the parking garage. There were several agents hanging around; Tony made a mental note of the couple who turned away, disgust plain on their faces. The rest, though, grinned at Tony and Gibbs as they made their way to Gibbs' car. Someone whistled, someone else applauded, and a couple of lewd comments drifted after them as they climbed into the car.

'That could have gone worse,' Tony said as Gibbs took the seatbelt from him and buckled him in.

'Yeah.' Gibbs pulled out of the parking garage with a little more decorum than usual, but they still reached his house more quickly than the speed limit would suggest. As they parked, Tony looked over at Gibbs, taking in the strong features, so familiar and now his to learn in an entirely new way.

'You realise this doesn't fix everything, right?' he said softly.

'I know,' Gibbs said, glancing over at him. 'But it's a damn good place to start.'

'You know, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship,' Tony said, then allowed his smile to spread over his face until his cheeks ached.

'If you compare our imprint to a hill of beans, you're sleeping on the couch,' Gibbs said, getting out.

Tony scrambled to catch up. 'Wouldn't dream of it, Jethro.' The older man opened the door and waited for him, letting him enter the house first, then closed the door behind them. Together, they were home.

Chapter Text

'What now,' Tony asked, standing in the hallway.

Gibbs put a hand on his good shoulder. 'I'm thinking shower, change of clothes.'

'And then?'

'Then we see where we get to,' Gibbs said, pushing him gently towards the stairs. Carrying his soiled clothes, Tony headed up the stairs and headed for the bathroom, but Gibbs stopped him. 'Other way, Tony.'

Tony did as he was told, looking around as he entered Gibbs' bedroom. The carpet was a mid brown that set off the rich gleam of the wooden furniture. Tony could recognize oak and maple, but a wardrobe made from a rich red wood with insets made of a lighter, white wood caught his eye.

'Like what you see?' Gibbs asked, amused, from right behind him.

'Just wondering what wood that is,' Tony said.

'The wardrobe? Cherry, mostly, but the inlay is apple and the darker line around the main panels is walnut,' Gibbs said. 'Any more questions about the furniture?'

Tony grinned. 'Just one. What thread count are the sheets?'

'Move your ass, DiNozzo,' Gibbs said. 'I want to get out of these shorts before they glue themselves to my short and curlies.'

Tony stepped into the en-suite, dropped his soiled jeans on the floor and started the laborious task of taking off his sweatshirt. 'You do realize your short and curlies are the little hairs at the back of your neck, right?'

'I don't give a damn what you call them, I just don't want them ripped out when I take off my pants,' Gibbs said, following him in and shutting the door behind them. 'Here, let me.' Deftly he pulled the sweatshirt over Tony's head, then maneuvered it gently around the cast on the younger man's arm.

'I can't wait to get that off,' Tony said, scratching the plaster.

'Does that help?' Gibbs set the shower running, then unzipped his jacket.

'Not really.' Tony glanced down at the drying stain at Gibbs' groin and went pink. 'I can't believe we made out like teenagers in the bullpen.'

'Yeah, well, it's been a while,' Gibbs said roughly, unbuttoning his shirt. 'And you were leaving.' He kept his face averted.

'Hey, it's okay,' Tony said, taking a step towards him. It was his turn to put a hand on the older man's shoulder. 'I was pissed.'

'I didn't behave well,' Gibbs admitted. 'I'm–'

'Don't say it,' Tony said, squeezing Gibbs' shoulder. 'I should have told you when I found out instead of leaving it.'

'I'm not sure I would have told me,' Gibbs said.

'Yeah, well, what's done is done,' Tony said. 'Give me a hand?' He lifted a foot and wiggled it.

Gibbs managed a little smile. 'Sure.'

Tony leaned back against the counter top as Gibbs once again went down on one knee and untied Tony's sneakers. Tony pushed his sweatpants down and stepped out of them, hearing the way the other man's breath hitched as he caught sight of Tony's groin, then feeling the brief gust of warm air as Gibbs remembered to breathe out. It brought a resurgence of interest to his dick, which began to stir; it also brought Gibbs back to his feet.

'Tony...'

'Can't shower with this,' Tony said, indicating his cast.

Gibbs looked at him for a long moment, for once his expression open, as naked as Tony's body. Then he sighed and went to fetch a bag and tape from the other bathroom. When he paused again, after wrapping Tony's arm in plastic, Tony looked him over from head to toe.

'Going to get your clothes wet if you shower like that.'

'I'm not sure this is such a good idea,' Gibbs said with a flicker of his eyes towards Tony's burgeoning erection.

Tony sighed, closing his eyes for a second. When he opened them, they showed a hint of the pain he was too tired to hide any more. 'Jethro, I've had a hell of a day, all things considered. And that's on top of a crappy week and a shitty month and a lonely, miserable fucking excuse for a year. I'd really, really like it if you would help me shower because I can't wash my own damn hair. Ignore my dick. Ignore your dick. Just get in the damn shower before I have to call Ducky and ask him to come over and wash my hair for me again.'

'No more freaking out, huh?' Gibbs finished unbuttoning his shirt, then stripped off his slacks and shorts, letting them drop to the floor to join Tony's clothes. The corner of his mouth twitched. 'Were you always this bossy and I didn't notice?'

Tony huffed a poor imitation of a laugh, but he felt a little better anyway. 'You're a bad influence.'

'So I've been told. Come on.' Gibbs stepped into the shower stall, checking the temperature of the water, before holding out a hand to steady Tony as he joined him.

Tony let himself be guided under the spray and closed his eyes letting his head fall back. He sighed again, more deeply, as Gibbs ran careful fingers through his hair, making sure it was wet through before reaching out for the shampoo. It was Gibbs' own and smelled of nothing more than clean and male and apart from the mingled essences of sawdust and coffee that habitually accompanied the older man, it was Tony's favorite scent in the whole world.

Gibbs massaged Tony's scalp, rubbing the shampoo to a rich lather. His strong fingers were careful, especially where Tony'd had hairline fractures. They didn't press too hard, didn't scratch, but left his entire scalp tingling, feeling clean and when he cupped a hand across Tony's forehead and guided his head back under the spray to rinse, Tony couldn't help letting out a moan.

'Good?' Gibbs asked, his voice lower and rougher, amused, on the cusp of arousal.

'You have no idea.' Tony smiled, tension finally leaching out of his back and shoulders with the warmth of the spray and the massage of Gibbs' talented fingers. He let Gibbs cup the nape of his neck, guide his head forwards again until Tony's forehead rested against the curve of the older man's head. Then Gibbs' other hand slid around Tony's waist, holding him close, securely, an embrace that was as intimate as anything they'd gone through this afternoon.

He breathed through his mouth, feeling sore and a little confused, but more than anything, he was tired. 'I don't know how to do this, Jethro,' he said softly.

'Then let me,' Gibbs said as softly, stroking Tony's neck. 'Let me take care of you and we'll work the rest out together.'

Tony drew in a shuddering gulp of air, letting it out in a long, shaky exhalation, turning his head until it was buried as far as possible in the curve of Gibbs' neck, his shoulder. 'You think we can? Without shooting each other?'

'Haven't shot you so far, Tony. Don't see any need to start now.'

Another laugh huffed from the younger man, then something closer to a sob. 'Gibbs–'

'Shh, I've got you.'

'But you never wanted me,' Tony found himself whispering.

'I always wanted you, Tony,' Gibbs said, holding him close. 'From that very first case. Wanted you on my team, on my six.' After a few seconds more, he added, 'Had my head too far up my ass to want you there.'

Tony pulled back, swiping his good hand across his eyes. 'Don't!' He managed a shaky smile. 'Not even thinking about that. Not that you don't have a fine ass. Great, for a guy your age. Really. But the thought of putting my dick there–'

'How about I get you clean?' Gibbs interrupted, grabbing a washcloth and soaping it up.

Tony nodded and lifted his good arm, turned, turned again under the sure strokes of Gibbs' hands. They barely faltered when they reached Tony's groin and in return, Tony ignored the way his cock leapt to attention.

'There's a towel on the shelf,' Gibbs said. 'Go and get dry and I'll be out in a minute.'

Tony went, pretending he hadn't seen the way Gibbs was hard too, couldn't feel Gibbs' eyes watching him through the glass of the shower stall until he closed the bathroom door behind him. By the time he had struggled out of the bag wrapping his arm and into a clean pair of sweats, Gibbs was clean and dry and in a soft, faded pair of jeans and an old NIS t-shirt. Wordlessly, he came into Tony's room and helped him pull a t-shirt over his cast and over his head.

'So what now?' Tony asked.

'Thai?'

Tony stared at him, then shrugged, one-shouldered. 'Fine by me.'

They went down to the living room and Gibbs phoned for takeout as Tony settled himself on the couch and turned the tv to ZNN. With coffee for himself and a mug of milk for the younger man, Gibbs sat down beside him rather than in the armchair. Awkwardly, he put an arm around Tony's shoulders and tugged him sideways.

'Here.'

Tony allowed himself to be arranged until they were both sprawled along the length of the couch, his back to Gibbs' chest, his head on Gibbs' shoulder. 'No offense, Jethro, but I'm feeling kind of like the girl here,' he said, managing something close to levity.

'Tony, no one could ever take you for a girl,' Gibbs said, wrapping his arm around Tony's ribs. They sat in silence as the anchor ran through the day's headlines. After a few minutes, when Tony had relaxed enough to enjoy the company, the press of body against body, Gibbs spoke again. 'I missed this,' he said quietly. 'Every time I got married, I was looking for this. And every time I hoped I'd found it. And by the time you came along, it had been so long since I last had this, I'd forgotten what it was I was missing. I like sex too, don't get me wrong. But this... I haven't had this since I left for that last tour.' His arm tightened momentarily around Tony.

'I never knew you were a snuggler,' Tony said, turning his head so that his cheek lay flat on Gibbs' chest, his head just tucking under Gibbs' chin.

'Never knew it myself until I met Shannon,' Gibbs admitted. 'Never was with anyone else until now.'

'You know, from what everyone's been saying, I had this whole imprint thing down as more hot, wild monkey-love, not snuggling on the couch in front of the tv,' Tony said thoughtfully.

'The rest of it's gone slow,' Gibbs said. 'Why not this?'

'So you think we'll get to the hot, wild monkey-love some time this decade?' Tony asked, feeling a wave of lassitude sweep over him.

'Maybe. Why, you up for some hot, wild monkey-loving?' Gibbs asked. He sounded curious rather than defensive, so Tony stayed where he was and let his eyes slide shut.

'Who knows?' He breathed in deeply, smelling laundry detergent and soap and Gibbs. 'You could always use it to distract me when my arm starts driving me crazy.'

Gibbs smiled against his hair, then kissed the top of his head. 'I'll be sure to do that,' he said, sounding amused and with that, Tony let go, let himself drop into sleep, trusting Gibbs to hold him safe. Some part of him registered the low rumble of Gibbs talking, but there was nothing in his tone to indicate he needed to wake up, pay attention, so he drifted until the rumble came again and a stranger's voice answered. When he shifted, Gibbs' arm tightened protectively around him, reassuring him. No cause for alarm.

It was an hour later that he finally awoke, feeling more rested than he had in a while. He was sprawled across Gibbs, lying between his legs with his cheek resting on the older man's hard chest. He blinked, then tried to sit up. Gibbs rubbed slow circles on his back with one strong, open hand, keeping him in place.

'You hungry?' he asked, his tone amused.

Tony opened his mouth to say no, but his stomach chose that moment to rumble. He laughed instead. 'I guess I am. Didn't mean to squash you, Jethro.'

Gibbs' hand stilled. 'Didn't squash me, Tony. I told you I missed this.' He moved his arm and Tony sat up, brushing at the patch of drool on his t-shirt. Hastily, he looked at Gibbs, expecting to see annoyance, disgust, impatience on the older man's face, something other than the affection and amusement that showed in the little smile, in the twinkle in his eye.

Inwardly, Tony groaned. The twinkle in his eye? How clichéd was that? But he couldn't think of any other way to describe the way Gibbs was looking at him and he was hungry and there were cartons on the coffee table and–

'How did you answer the door if I was asleep on you?' Tony asked, bemused.

'That's easy,' Gibbs said, then paused, his eyes dancing.

Tony groaned. 'Ninja skills? You could tell me but you'd have to kill me special black ops training? Secretly you're from the future and you have a teleporter?'

Gibbs threw back his head and laughed. When his laughter had subsided, he reached out and ruffled Tony's hair. 'Nope, I called the takeaway and told 'em to come straight in.'

'Good thinking,' Tony said approvingly. 'You could have got them to bring forks and a couple of beers while they were at it.' Wordlessly, Gibbs lifted two beers from under the table and handed one to the agent, who took it and grinned. 'You thought of everything.'

They found a channel showing Die Hard and that kept them both amused; Tony at the improvised weapons and sheer mayhem and Gibbs watching Tony watch the movie. Just after nine, there was a knock at the door and for once Gibbs got up to answer.

'Duck. Come to check up on us?' Gibbs held the door open and the ME came into the living room. He looked faintly embarrassed as he stood in the middle of the room, a brown bag in one hand, making no move to take off his coat.

'Good evening, Anthony, Jethro. You caused quite a stir today,' Ducky said, looking at Tony then at Gibbs. He met their eyes without blushing which Tony supposed was a good sign. Probably.

'You want anything to drink?' Tony asked politely.

'No, no, I can't stay. I just wanted to let you know that Director Vance is not planning on any reprisals when you return to the office on Monday. He did say that if you, ah... if you can't keep your clothes on in public, in the bullpen, he will personally transfer you both to a two-man post in the middle of nowhere and if NCIS doesn't have any two-man posts in the middle of nowhere, he'll have SecNav create one especially for you,' Ducky said.

Tony smiled. 'Not a problem, Ducky. It was just a one-off thing.'

'Oh! I had thought, after this afternoon–'

'The being half-naked in the bullpen thing,' Tony clarified hastily. 'Not planning on doing that again.'

'What's in the bag?' Gibbs asked. He was still standing in the doorway, leaning casually against the jamb.

'Something I thought you might need at some point.' Ducky handed the bag to his friend, who took it and looked inside.

Gibbs raised an eyebrow. 'Condoms and lube, Ducky?'

Ducky's cheeks pinked but he didn't look away. 'Better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them. And with that in mind, do you need anything else? Groceries? Coffee?'

Tony groaned. 'You've been talking to Fornell, haven't you? God, Duck, we're adults. I think we can take care of ourselves for the next three days without needing emergency food parcels!'

The ME eyed the empty cartons still sitting on the coffee table.

'It was Thai,' Tony protested. 'They use lots of vegetables and no MSG.'

'If you say so, my dear boy.' Ducky didn't sound convinced. 'Don't forget to do your physiotherapy and Jethro, if you aggravate Anthony's injuries, if you hurt him in any way...'

'Don't worry, Duck. I have no intention of hurting him,' Gibbs said, his humor falling away. 'I'm not that much of a bastard.'

'I'm glad to hear it,' the ME said drily. 'Much as it gladdens my heart to see you getting along a little better, I must go. If you need anything, you have only to call.'

Jethro saw him out then returned to the living room, catching Tony mid yawn. He exchanged the brown bag for the cartons littering the coffee table, gathering them up and taking them through to the kitchen. Tony could hear him moving around, putting things in the refrigerator, in the bin. He yawned again and when he opened his eyes, Jethro was standing in front of him, hand outstretched.

'Come on, Tony. Time for bed.'

'It isn't even ten yet,' Tony protested, sounding whiny even to himself.

'You said it yourself: been a hell of a day. I could use an early night.' Gibbs stood there, holding out his hand until Tony gave in and took it with a sigh.

They made their way upstairs, unhurried, but when Tony turned towards the guest bedroom, Gibbs stopped him.

'I know after the way I've behaved, I have no right to ask anything from you, but... Would you join me tonight?' Gibbs asked, uncertainly. 'Just to sleep.' He cleared his throat. 'I'd appreciate your company.'

Tony stared at him. 'Who are you and what have you done with the real Gibbs?' A hand flashed out and Tony hunched in anticipation of a headslap, but the fingers that made contact with his head tapped lightly, then stroked his hair.

Tony shivered. 'Sure,' he croaked. 'Just, er... I'll go brush my teeth.' He couldn't take his eyes off the older man, but then Gibbs nodded and dropped his hand, stepping back and breaking the spell.

'You need a hand, shout.'

'Will do.' Tony blinked, then turned and went to get ready for bed. He didn't bother getting changed; his sweats and t-shirt were clean and comfy enough to sleep in, so after using the bathroom, he found himself hesitating in the hallway outside Gibbs' bedroom.

'You planning on spending the night out there?' Gibbs asked, not looking up from the book he was reading.

Tony took a moment to appreciate the view through the open doorway. Gibbs was sitting up in bed, wearing a gray t-shirt and his reading glasses, the comforter pooled at his waist. A lamp on the bedside table spilled a warm yellow light across Gibbs' chest and arms, leaving his face shadowed, but the silver in his hair gleamed. He looked... distinguished, was the best word Tony could think of. His heartbeat speeded up and despite his fatigue, anticipation grew inside him, heat pooling low in his groin.

'Well?' Gibbs glanced at him over the top of his glasses. Through the hint of a smile, Tony thought he could still see traces of that earlier uncertainty.

'Just wondering what you're reading,' Tony said casually, strolling into the room. He didn't miss the way blue eyes looked him over from head to foot as he walked around the bed. 'Something interesting?'

'Alexander the Great's campaigns,' Gibbs said. 'From the sounds of things, I'd bet Doctor Childs would have included him and Hephaestion in his study.'

Tony lifted the covers and slid under them. 'Really? Wow.'

'Yeah.' Gibbs closed his book and put it on the nightstand beside the lamp. He took off his glasses and laid them on top of his book. He put his hand on the light switch and paused. 'You okay with this?'

'Feels like I should be asking you that,' Tony said. From where he lay, Gibbs looked raw, vulnerable. 'I'm not exactly what you had in mind.'

'No, you're not,' Gibbs said. He flicked off the light and lay down on his side, facing Tony. 'But I'm starting to think you're exactly who I need.'

The admission was blunt, honest, and Tony appreciated what it cost the other man. He wriggled, trying to get comfy, until he heard a sigh.

'Come here,' Gibbs said softly.

Tony felt a hand on his hip. It slid around to the small of his back and tugged him towards the older man.

'Head up.'

Tony lifted his head and felt Gibbs' other arm slide under his neck, then the other man rolled onto his back, pulling Tony with him until he was plastered along Gibbs' side, his head pillowed on Gibbs' shoulder. Reflexively, he brought his knee up to drape across the other man's thighs and relaxed into the hug.

'Better?'

'Much,' Tony said, realizing to his surprise that it was. Inside him, he felt the last of his resistance crumble. Something about being in Gibbs' arms, in his bed, surrounded by the clean masculine scent, with the heat from his body soaking into Tony's chest and legs, made him relax, eased his habitual tension. He felt safe, wanted: loved, for the first time in his adult life. He took a deep breath, inhaling Gibbs' scent.

'Thanks.'

'Any time, Tony.' Gibbs squeezed him gently and Tony knew those weren't empty words. 'Go to sleep. We'll figure the rest out in the morning.'

Lulled by the sounds of slow breathing and Gibbs' rhythmic heartbeat, Tony's eyes drifted shut and he fell asleep.

***

Tim closed his door and headed straight for his bedroom. Stripping quickly, he dived into the shower and scrubbed himself clean. Once dry, he dressed in comfortable trousers and a white cotton turtleneck, then went through to the lounge and poured himself a glass of scotch. He took a sip, then put the glass down and rubbed a hand over his face. As he sat down, a knock at the door made him jump and with a groan he got back up and went to answer it.

'Tim!' Abby flung herself into his arms. 'How are you?' She bounced down the hallway and dropped onto the couch. 'I thought you might need someone to talk to after this afternoon.'

'Hey Abs. Drink?'

'Got any red wine?' She smiled up at Tim, who found a reluctant smile beginning to creep out in answer.

'I'll just go open a bottle.' Tim disappeared into the kitchen, returning a minute later with a generous glass and the bottle of Californian shiraz. He handed Abby the glass and sat down beside her. They sat in companionable silence for a while, sipping their drinks, before he spoke. 'Thanks for stopping by.'

'So how was it?' Abby asked mischievously. 'Were they loud? Did they call out each other's names?'

'Abby! Not helping! Besides, I had my fingers in my ears.' Tim admitted. 'It's not that I have anything against Tony and Gibbs being together, but I really hope I never see them like that again.'

'You did say you couldn't imagine them together, and you have to admit, they were smoking hot!' Abby grinned wickedly over the rim of her glass.

'Don't let Gibbs find out you kept a copy of the security footage,' Tim warned the irrepressible goth. 'It's just...'

'What? You can tell me,' Abby said, patting him on the knee. 'Tell Aunt Abby what the problem is.'

'Apart from there being not enough mind bleach in the whole world to get the sight of them out of my brain?' Tim joked. 'I... I'm half way through a book and Tommy was getting close to the bad guy, well, she's a woman, but there was a definite spark there. Now I have this in my mind, so how do I write Tibbs and Tommy together all of a sudden? How do I not?'

Abby looked at him seriously. 'You remember that Tibbs and Tommy aren't Gibbs and Tony. And I figured you might like a little help getting over the whole thing, so I brought this.' She fished in her handbag and pulled out a USB stick.'

'What's that?' Tim asked.

'Baywatch season one and Six Feet Under. Want to watch an episode?'

'You downloaded Baywatch for me? Wow, you didn't have to,' Tim said, already reaching for a laptop.

'Did you know if you watch the opening credits on a wide screen tv and you set the wrong aspect ratio, they all look clinically obese?' Abby said brightly. 'I was kind of hoping you'd pick Six Feet Under.'

'Six Feet Under it is,' Tim said. 'And I'll check that out some other time.'

They curled up together on the couch and watched the first two episodes, then Abby called a cab. Tim walked her to the door, feeling a lot happier as she planted a kiss on his cheek and smiled up at him.

'Thanks, Abby. I really appreciate it.'

'Any time, Tim. By the way, did you know your fans have been writing Tibbs and Tommy slashfic for ages?' She wiggled her fingers at him and bounced back out of his flat, leaving him standing in the doorway.

Tim groaned and slowly banged his head off the doorpost. He closed the door and locked it. 'Baywatch it is.'

***

Tony woke slowly; warm, secure, he luxuriated in the unaccustomed feeling of arms wrapped around him, of a body pressed against his back and long legs tangled between his. It was early; the light edging in around the curtains was more dawn than mid-morning and he couldn't hear any traffic. He breathed deeply and snuggled back against Gibbs' strong chest, enjoying being held.

Lips pressed themselves to the back of his neck and Tony smiled. 'Sleep well?' Gibbs murmured.

'Mmm, yeah. You?' Tony replied huskily.

'Best I've had in years,' Gibbs said.

Tony shifted again, then froze: pressed against his bottom was the unmistakable feeling of the other man's morning erection.

'That for me?' he asked, trying to keep his voice casual.

'You see anyone else in this bed, Tony?' Gibbs asked, the early hour clearly not inhibiting his ability to be sarcastic.

'Not that I'd noticed,' Tony said.

'Then it's for you.' Tony jumped as Gibbs' hand slid down to his groin, where a matching erection tented his sweats. Gibbs cupped him, then slowly, gently, rubbed his thumb over the head of Tony's cock through the soft jersey fabric of his sweatpants.

'Oh!' Tony breathed, rolling his hips in tiny circles, pushing forward into Gibbs' hand, then back against his hardness. Gibbs kissed his neck again, a slow, open kiss and Tony could feel Gibbs' tongue pressing against his sensitive skin. He moaned as Gibbs rubbed his thumb back and forth. 'I thought we were taking it slow,' he gasped.

'Doesn't feel fast to me,' Gibbs said huskily against Tony's ear, thrusting shallowly against his buttocks. 'Feels very slow. Six years slow. A lifetime slow.'

'Oh god,' Tony whimpered as Gibbs rubbed his palm over Tony's length, up and down, keeping to an agonizingly slow pace. 'We could take it a little quicker.'

'Yeah we could. But we aren't going to. I don't want to hurt you, Tony.'

'I won't break,' Tony grumbled, thrusting a little harder.

'No, you won't. But don't you think you've been hurt enough? I know I can be a bastard, but let me do this. Let me take care of you.' Gibbs kissed Tony's ear, the curve of his jaw, the side of his throat. 'Let me love you, Tony.'

Tony closed his eyes, feeling as much as hearing tiny whimpers fall from his lips. Despite the tension coiling low in his belly, he felt himself relax back against the older man, surrendering to Gibbs' strength and solidity, to his desire.

Gibbs felt his acquiescence and slid his hand up under his t-shirt to rub circles on Tony's belly as he continued to thrust lazily against the younger man. Then his hand moved lower again as he pressed kiss after kiss into the vulnerable skin of Tony's throat, moved under the waistband of his sweatpants to cup Tony's erection again over the thin cotton of his shorts. Tony shuddered convulsively, a cry escaping him as Gibbs' callused hand closed around him and held him, unmoving.

'Please,' Tony whispered. 'Please, Jethro.'

He didn't know what he was asking for, was begging for, but when Gibbs put his lips to his ear and murmured, 'Please what, Tony? What do you want? What can I give you?'

'Please– God, Jethro! Love me! Please love me,' Tony whimpered. 'Love me. Love you, Jethro.' He turned his head as far as he could and Gibbs leaned up and over him so that Tony could reach him, could kiss him back, could let Gibbs' tongue plunge into his mouth, as intoxicating as it had been the day before.

Pulling back, Gibbs said, 'I do, Tony. I love you.'

The words went straight to Tony's cock, which twitched in Gibb's hand and as Gibbs' mouth touched his again, Tony cried out as he spilled into his shorts for the second time in under twenty four hours.

Gibbs thrust once, then again, then he stilled with a hoarse grunt, his groin pressed up against Tony's buttocks and fresh heat bloomed through his sweatpants.

They lay together, breathing heavily, Gibbs somehow staying propped up on one elbow, his forehead against Tony's, then Gibbs kissed his cheek, his temple and slid his hand out of Tony's shorts.

Trying to make light of the unsettling way he'd bared his emotions, his soul, Tony managed a tremulous smile. 'Think we'll ever last long enough to get beyond heavy petting?'

'Probably,' Gibbs said, smiling down at him. 'I mean it.'

Tony's smile fell away. 'Me too, Jethro.'

Gibbs lay back down behind Tony and wrapped him in his arms, tangling one long leg between his. 'I won't let you go again, Tony. I won't ever send you away. I can't promise I won't get my head stuck up my ass again, but I can promise you I won't give up on us. We'll work things out.'

'Okay,' Tony said. 'Okay.'

***

For lunch, Gibbs made sandwiches and soup. Tony joined him at the table in the kitchen. Barefoot, wearing another clean pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, he ate ravenously. Gibbs polished off his own lunch as quickly, then reached over to wipe a drop of soup from the corner of Tony's mouth. The moment his thumb brushed Tony's lips, the younger man felt his head spin as blood rushed south. Instantly hard, he took Gibbs' thumb into his mouth and suckled. Gibbs closed his eyes and groaned; when he opened them again, they were dark with arousal.

With a growl, Gibbs stood and rounded the table, pulling Tony to his feet. Tony's eyes closed of their own volition as Gibbs kissed him, strong and powerful. He felt Gibbs turn him, walk him backwards, his hands on Tony's hips and Tony's one good hand fisted in Gibbs' t-shirt. The kitchen counter bumped into his back and Gibbs leaned into him, pinning him as they explored each others' mouths.

The hands at his hips urged him up and Tony found himself perched on the counter. He took advantage of the situation to wrap his long legs around the older man, digging his heels into the back of Gibbs' thighs. Tony groaned as Gibbs snaked a hand between them and cupped him. He bucked as the older man rubbed the heel of his hand against the head of Tony's cock.

Tony broke their kiss, his head falling back against the cabinets with a thunk. Gibbs kissed his way down Tony's neck, biting down over his jugular. Tony cried out as Gibbs found his nipple and pinched. He moved his hand away from Tony's cock, then thrust. As soon as Tony felt that steel-hard length rubbing up against his own, he felt the old, familiar tension rise and crest with embarrassing swiftness, leaving him shaking in Gibbs' arms. The older man thrust again and came too.

Wrapped together, they inhaled each other's breath, faces rubbing together, cheeks, noses, lips. They traded long, open-mouthed kisses until Gibbs pulled back with a sheepish smile.

'Oops,' Tony said, grinning.

'Didn't mean to get carried away,' Gibbs admitted.

'Me neither,' Tony said. 'I swear I normally last longer than this. Lots longer. I can go hours–'

'I don't want to hear it, Tony,' Gibbs said, extricating himself from Tony's legs.

'Oh.' Tony looked away, feeling self-conscious.

'I didn't mean it like that,' Gibbs said, putting a hand on his shoulder. 'Hey, look at me. I just meant that if you keep on talking about it, we'll end up right back where we started, and I figured the couch has to be more comfy than the kitchen counter.'

'I think I need to wash up and get changed first,' Tony said, sliding off the counter.

'You need a hand?' Gibbs asked.

'Wasn't that what started this?' With a rueful smile, Tony escaped to the bathroom. He stared at himself in the mirror. He didn't look any different: still the same hair, the same teeth, the same chin. But there was something lurking behind his eyes. 'I still don't know how to do this,' he told his reflection. 'How do people do this? Get together and stay, make it work.'

His reflection looked back at him, inscrutable. Tony sighed. 'Wouldn't tell me even if you knew, would you? Bastard.'

He stripped off his sweatpants and shorts and washed quickly, then rinsed out his soiled shorts in the sink. Bundling everything up, he went back to the guest bedroom and found clean clothes, then took himself and his laundry downstairs.

'Here.' He tossed his bundle to Gibbs, who was wearing a fresh pair of faded jeans. 'Kind of hard to wring things out with only one hand.'

Gibbs stuffed them into the washing machine. 'Don't worry about it. I get the feeling we're going to be doing a lot of laundry.'

'Really? You seem very sure of yourself,' Tony said, grinning cheekily.

'You're saying you think you can hold out?' Gibbs asked menacingly, stalking towards Tony.

'Hell yes!' Tony said, retreating. 'No problem. My willpower is legendary. Ask anyone.' He took note of the gleam in Gibbs eyes, and with a snort of laughter, he turned and ran into the living room.

Laughing, Gibbs chased after him and caught him easily, tugging him down to the couch and kissing him thoroughly.

'You know, there's something to be said for taking it slowly,' Tony said as they lay tangled together. He was half lying on top of Gibbs, his hand under his t-shirt, on the bare skin of the older man's stomach. Gibbs had one hand tucked under Tony's t-shirt, palm flat on the small of his back; the other stroked Tony's hair, from the crown of his neck to his nape. Tony felt like arching his back and purring. He settled for rubbing his cheek against the soft cotton covering Gibbs' chest.

'We need to talk about that,' Gibbs said.

Tony felt himself tense up. 'What's to talk about? Things seem pretty fine as they are right now.'

'Yeah, they do.' Gibbs squeezed him gently. 'But we need, I need to know what you're comfortable with, where you draw the line.'

'In bed, you mean?' Tony asked.

'In bed, in the shower, on the couch, in the kitchen...' Gibbs said with a grin.

'Not in the bullpen,' Tony said. 'It's going to be hard enough going back to work without getting a boner every time I walk in the door.'

'With you on that one,' Gibbs said. He kissed Tony's forehead. 'Keep your chin up and you'll be fine. And if anyone has a problem with that, we'll take care of it together.'

'Good to know,' Tony said. He thought for a minute. 'I'm happy with what we're doing. Very happy, as a matter of fact. We haven't even really got naked together yet, apart from in the shower, so I don't know how I'm going to react when we last long enough to get that far. But I'm willing to give it a go, the old college try.'

'Don't sound so enthusiastic,' Gibbs said drily. 'Or I'll have to strip you down, see how it goes.'

Tony felt his cock begin to stir and blushed. 'You know, I don't think that's going to be a problem.' He shifted a little, getting comfortable. 'I'm not comfortable with the idea of you sticking your dick up my ass. Or anything else, for that matter. It kinda freaks me out. I mean, I've seen what comes out of there, Jethro. Why the hell would any sane person want to go anywhere near it?'

Gibbs chuckled. 'You have a point. I'm not real comfortable with the idea myself. There's a lot we can do without going there, but some of it's going to have to wait until you're mended. Tell you what, for now we stick to heavy petting, hand jobs, maybe even try out a blow job or two some time. And if either of us change our minds later, about anything, we work it out. Together.'

'Sounds good to me.' Tony did his best to ignore the way his cock had taken a definite interest in the discussion. 'You keep saying that.'

'What?'

'Together.'

'That's because it's been you and me together since we met,' Gibbs said. 'And when we haven't been together, we've both screwed up, both been the worse for it. So yeah, together.'

Tony nodded. 'Okay, then.' After a while, he asked, 'Movie?'

Gibbs laughed and kissed him. 'Sure, Tony. Go ahead.'

***

Saturday evening, they lay together on the couch, the younger man once again folded in Gibbs' embrace. 'You going to let me up?' Tony asked.

'Why, you got someplace else to be?' Gibbs asked, absently stroking Tony's arm. The TV was on, but Tony couldn't concentrate on the movie, not when Gibbs was right there, wrapped around him, holding him, touching him.

'Nope. Just asking.'

'Then no, I like having you here,' Gibbs said, dropping a kiss on his temple.

'What about Monday?' Tony asked, giving in and lying heavily on Gibbs' chest.

'What about Monday?' Gibbs turned him so that his shoulder fit under Gibbs' arm more comfortably.

'Can't go into work wrapped around each other.'

'Wasn't planning on it,' Gibbs said, dropping another kiss on top of Tony's head.

'You sure?'

Gibbs tapped him lightly on the back of his head, following it up with a caress.

Drunk on touch, Tony lifted his mouth for a kiss and Gibbs obliged, his firm lips pressing against Tony's, softening into long, slow kisses that pulsed between them, lips and tongue joining and exploring in a wonderful, endless give and take.

***

When food became a necessity, when sleep tugged at them, when they had to shower or piss, they separated reluctantly and came together again with a relief that neither hid well. By the time Monday came around, they had progressed to getting naked together, but after years of late-night call outs, they had to pull on at least shorts and t-shirts to sleep in.

'I think we need to do laundry,' Tony said ruefully as he discarded yet another pair of semen-stained shorts.

'I'll put a load on before we leave,' Gibbs said, starting the shower.

'I'm coming in with you?' Tony asked, stepping under the warm spray and turning to let Gibbs join him.

'Vance will want to see the both of us.' Gibbs concentrated on washing Tony's hair for him, making him moan in appreciation.

'You keep doing that and we'll be late,' Tony said, smiling blindly at Gibbs, his eyes closed in protection against the lather the older man was carefully rinsing out.

'Didn't think we'd got past the ten minute mark,' Gibbs said. Tony could hear the answering smile in his voice.

'Speak for yourself! I can hold out much longer,' Tony boasted, then yelped as a hand closed around his semi-hard cock. He shot to full hardness with a speed that left him clinging to Gibbs' shoulder.

'Let me guess, you just don't want to?' Gibbs pumped him steadily, swirling his thumb over the sensitive bundle of nerves at Tony's glans.

'Got it... in one!' Tony gasped. He sought Gibbs' mouth, fastening onto it with his own and sucking on the other man's tongue with his own in time with the sure strokes of Gibbs' hand. Gibbs pressed his thigh between Tony's, insurance against legs that threatened to give way, and his free hand made its way to Tony's buttocks, where he squeezed and kneaded those taut, toned cheeks. Feeling possessed, his body owned completely by Gibbs, Tony let himself be overwhelmed by sensation, coming what felt like mere seconds later, his cry swallowed up by the other man's devouring mouth.

Shaking, Tony let Gibbs hold him, kiss him, until his legs stopped threatening to dump him on his ass. Then he broke the kiss and rested his forehead in the curve of Gibbs' shoulder. 'All right, so the evidence suggests I can't hold out,' he said with a weak laugh.

'Not complaining here,' Gibbs said, stroking the back of Tony's neck. 'Turn around.'

'Why?' Tony asked, nevertheless doing as he was asked.

'I need to wash your back,' Gibbs said, reaching for the shower gel.

'Oh.' Tony leaned his forehead against the tiles instead. 'Did you... you know?'

'Did I what?' The amusement was back.

'Did you come?'

'Nope. I was thinking I might try something a little different, if that's okay with you.'

Tony felt himself tensing up as Gibbs stroked between his buttocks with soapy fingers. 'I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that,' he admitted.

'Not going there, Tony. I don't think that's something to try out in the shower, anyway,' Gibbs said, blanketing Tony's back with his solid chest. He stood with one foot to either side of Tony's and poured a generous dollop of shower gel into his hand. 'I was thinking more along the lines of this.'

Tony felt Gibbs' erection, coated in shower gel, slide against the crease of his buttocks. 'Oh,' he sighed. 'That's nice.' He relaxed again as Gibbs thrust against him. 'That's it?'

'Well, I could always...'

Tony felt Gibbs take himself in hand, guiding his erection lower. When he thrust again, his penis slid down the curve of Tony's ass, and into the shadowed valley between Tony's legs. Instinctively, Tony pressed his legs together more tightly. Gibbs groaned; he felt the low rumble through his back.

'Still not going there,' Gibbs ground out, wrapping an arm around Tony's waist. 'But god, you feel good.' He rolled his hips experimentally and Tony felt the hard length of Gibbs' penis glide between his legs until he was just nudging the back of Tony's ball-sac.

'That's... a little odd,' he admitted. 'But I'm not freaking out, so go for it.' Tony braced himself against the tiles with his good hand as Gibbs pulled back and thrust again and again. His breathing quickly became ragged, then, with a shout, he snapped his hips forward until he was pressed hard against Tony's buttocks, the head of his cock snug against Tony's sac, and came.

The shower was starting to cool as they separated reluctantly. 'Guess we should finish up and get dried, huh?' Tony asked with a grin.

'Yeah, I guess so,' Gibbs agreed, quickly finishing washing Tony's groin and legs.

Tony looked down as his cock gave a tiny twitch. 'Oh no you don't,' he warned it. 'Death by sex may be a great way to go, but I do not want Ducky to have to find my good-looking corpse in the shower.'

Gibbs laughed, then kissed the tip of his nose. 'Go dry off. I'll be right out. We can save death by sex for later in the week.'

Tony did as he was told, toweling himself off one-handed before pulling on his last pair of clean shorts. Gibbs came out of the bathroom, towel wrapped around his lean hips, and Tony couldn't help staring at his trim figure, still all hard muscles without a hint of softness. 'You're gorgeous,' he said without thinking, then blushed as Gibbs laughed.

'I think you need your eyes tested,' the older man teased. 'Now you, on the other hand...' He looked Tony over with an interest and a hunger that took no account of very recent shower sex, nor refractory periods. 'Never paid much attention to men,' Gibbs said softly, coming towards him. 'But you are beautiful, Tony. Don't let anyone ever tell you anything different.'

Tony swallowed. Temporarily wordless, he let the older man take off the plastic bag taped around his cast, then help him dress in t-shirt and jeans, letting the kiss he pressed to Gibbs' cheek do his talking for him.

They drove in early together. The traffic wasn't too bad and Gibbs bought coffee for them both before they went up to the bullpen, which had blessedly few people in it. Tony left his backpack and jacket at his desk while Gibbs waited. There were several envelopes waiting for him. He eyed them curiously, but left them where they were in favor of going to see Director Vance.

'Why do I feel like I'm walking to the gallows?' he asked as he reached the older man's side.

'I've got your six, DiNozzo,' Gibbs said, provoking the ghost of a smile from Tony.

'Let's do this,' he said resolutely and together they turned and walked up the stairs to the director's office.

Chapter Text

Director Vance was in and at his desk. Cynthia grinned at them and waved them through with a gleam in her eye that made Tony nervous.

'You think she saw us on Thursday?' Tony asked as Gibbs rapped on the door.

Pushing it open, Gibbs replied softly, 'You think there's anyone who didn't?'

Vance looked up from the paperwork on his desk. 'Special Agent Gibbs, DiNozzo. Take a seat.'

'Director.' Gibbs sat in one of the two seats in front of the large desk.

Tony followed suit. 'Good morning, Director.'

'You think so? Tell me, DiNozzo, what makes you think this is going to be in any way a good morning?' Vance stared at him.

Tony blinked. 'I just meant–'

'Oh, I know what you meant.' Vance leaned forwards and took a fresh toothpick out of the box on his desk. He tapped one end on the desk, then smiled.

Tony suppressed the urge to lean back; it wasn't a nice smile.

'As a matter of fact, I think it's going to be a good morning.' Vance said, still smiling. 'A great one. Would you like to know why?'

Tony glanced at Gibbs, who was sitting straight-backed and stone-faced. 'Not really, but I'm guessing you're going to enlighten us.'

'You guessed right,' Vance said. 'I spoke with Special Agent Gibbs about your... situation. I told him I didn't want it blowing up in the office.'

'About that...' Tony began, but Vance raised a hand and Tony fell silent.

'I'm not going to fire you, either one of you. I'm not putting a reprimand on your files. In fact, I'm going to pretend you two didn't do your best to get arrested for indecent exposure right in my damn bullpen.' Vance glared at Tony, then at Gibbs.

'What do you want from us, Leon?' Gibbs asked impatiently.

Vance's smile grew into a full shark-toothed grin and Tony's heart sank. 'I'm not going to like this, am I?' he murmured.

'Oh, I hope not, DiNozzo. I really hope not, because trust me when I say I never, ever wanted to see you two getting it on.' The director took a moment to savor the moment before continuing. 'In one hour, there will be a sensitivity training seminar. I'm going to make a statement and you two are going to back me up. If you have to, think of it as putting your undercover skills to good use.'

'I thought this one was on cultural and racial sensitivity,' Gibbs frowned.

'Misdirection, obviously,' Vance said dismissively. 'It's going to be on tolerance towards homosexuality and you two are exhibit A.'

'I'm confused,' Tony said. 'I'm pretty sure there are other gay agents within NCIS. Properly gay, not, you know, imprinted.'

'But they don't try sucking face in the bullpen in the middle of the afternoon,' Vance pointed out drily. 'Since you did, you're my object lesson of how agents should react when faced with behavior that does not meet their expectations of societal norms.'

'You swallow a dictionary for breakfast, Leon?' Gibbs asked.

'Oh, that's from the delightful Ms Sciuto,' Leon grinned. 'She and McGee provided me with stills from the security feed and I have a list of people who really need to work on their idea of tolerance in the workplace.'

'So we have to stand there and be smirked at by everyone in the building?' Gibbs scowled. 'Tony's still on medical leave. He doesn't have to be here.'

'Much as I'd love to leave you to it, I'm going with you, boss,' Tony said. 'Besides, smirks are more my area of expertise.'

Vance shook his head. 'You'll both be there and you'll both tell anyone who asks that you were acting on my orders after some people just don't seem to get the message that homophobia is unacceptable in a civilian agency.'

'You– Wow,' Tony's jaw dropped. 'You're covering for us?'

'After talking with your team, Doctor Mallard, Agent Fornell and Doctor Childs, yes. I think it would be for the best for the agency,' Vance stressed the last word. 'Despite your attitude and behavior, your team are happy to keep working with you. They all have your six and I hope you are both suitably thankful.'

'I'm thankful,' Tony said and looked over at Gibbs. 'Really. Are you thankful, boss? I'm sure he's thankful,' he said, turning back to Vance. 'We're extremely thankful.'

'I'm not that thankful, Tony,' Gibbs said, staring at Vance. 'You think I'm going to be ashamed of my relationship with him? You told me to get over myself and I'd say I've done a good job of that. And now you want me to turn around and say it was all, what, a joke? Something to shake up the office? I won't do that.'

Tony stared at Gibbs. 'Really? Because I'd understand if you wanted to. Say it was a joke. Not that I think it was, not at all. I mean–'

'You're mine, Tony. I won't ever be ashamed of that and I won't hide it,' Gibbs said fiercely.

Tony blinked, then a slow smile spread across his face. 'Gotcha.'

Vance leaned back and smiled thinly. 'You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that, Jethro. And yes, you will, because if you don't, I am going to have to take this further. HR has strict policies in place about workplace romances and about acceptable behavior in the office.

'Now, given your medical condition, which is on your files, you have some leeway,' Vance continued. 'But since I'm guessing you don't want me to have to give a briefing on exactly what imprinting is to everyone in the damn agency, you two were doing me a favor. And if you decided afterwards that you enjoyed it and wanted to take it further, well, you're adults. You can be discreet.'

Gibbs nodded reluctantly. 'We can do discreet.'

'Sure, yes, yeah, we can. Really.' Tony nodded. 'I can be the soul of discretion.'

'I'm certain you will be, both of you,' Vance said. 'I want you to go back to your desks. Make a note of anyone who says anything that could be construed as harassment. Anyone other than you, that is. Give me a list when the seminar starts and I'll take it from there.'

'So just to be clear, you aren't going to punish us for what we did in the bullpen, as long as you can use us to flush out the die-hard gaybashers in the department,' Tony said.

'You have a problem with that, DiNozzo? Gibbs?' Vance asked, eyebrows raised.

'Actually, no. I'd rather work with people who didn't hate my guts for who I happen to be. Well, not more than usual, anyway,' Tony said, remembering the people who had commented offensively and just loud enough to be heard as he and Gibbs had walked through the parking garage on Thursday afternoon. 'And you can put Harry Chase, Ernie Schliemann and Rachel Sousa on that list, although Rachel's probably just mad because I wouldn't put out.'

'She hit on you?' Gibbs asked.

'We went out for sushi one time. Turns out she hates seafood and I don't date women who have a problem saying they'd rather eat someplace else.' Tony took in Gibbs' scowl. 'Hey, it was two years ago! I thought she'd gotten over it.'

'Never underestimate the power of a woman scorned, Tony,' Gibbs said.

'Is that the voice of experience I hear, boss?' Tony grinned cheekily, his smile widening as he watched Gibbs' eyes drop to his mouth.

'Something like that,' Gibbs said, his eyes darkening as the agent licked his lips.

'Uh huh! Take that out of here,' Vance interrupted. 'I will have SecNav send you to the most remote posting he can find if I ever have to see you two getting hot and heavy again. Get out of my office, gentlemen. Now!'

Tony turned his smile on the director. 'Yes, Director. Thank you, Director.' He stood up with something approaching his usual level of bounce and headed out of the office with Gibbs following him. The older man paused in the doorway.

'I know I fucked up. Thanks for not punishing Tony for it.'

Director Vance nodded. 'Don't make me regret it.'

'You know you will.' With a little grin as Vance snorted in amusement, Gibbs closed the door and followed Tony back down into the bullpen.

Apart from the envelopes dropped on it, Tony's desk was clean and tidy. Someone had cleared away the blankets and picked up his keyboard, even pushed his chair back under his desk. 'You know, boss, I reckon we owe the team dinner,' he said, pulling out his chair. 'Oh, shit.'

'What is it?' Gibbs came back round the desk that he hadn't had chance to sit down at.

'Shit, boss. Literally.' Tony stared at his chair in distaste. The seat was streaked with excrement, but it had been tightly wrapped in layers of saran wrap to prevent the smell from getting out. 'That's just nasty.' He made to push his chair back under his desk, but Gibbs stopped him.

'Let me call Abby.' Tight-lipped, Gibbs used the phone on Tim's desk. 'Abby? I need you up in the bullpen. Someone played a rather nasty prank and I want you to make sure nothing's booby trapped.'

Tony winced. 'I guess I should think about that list, huh?'

'You do that,' Gibbs said, just as Tim arrived. 'McGee, get me a copy of the security feed for the bullpen from last Thursday evening until seven thirty this morning.'

'Uh... Sure, on it, boss,' Tim said, momentarily confused. Then he caught sight of Tony's chair and his jaw dropped. 'Wow! Is that–'

'It looks very much like it, doesn't it?' Tony snapped. 'Unless you want to sniff it to make sure?'

'Not really. Give me two minutes,' Tim said, suddenly all business. He shrugged off his jacket and powered on his PC. While it booted, he studied the two men surreptitiously.

'Something you want to say, McGee?' Gibbs asked, not looking up from his desk, which he was inspecting carefully.

'No boss. Well... Actually, yes there is,' Tim said, looking very much as though he'd surprised himself. 'I, uh, I hope you both had a good weekend.'

It was Tony's turn to be surprised. 'Thanks, McGee; we did. At least, I did, and I'm assuming the bossman here did too,' he added with a hint of uncertainty.

Gibbs glanced over at him with a little smile. 'Oh yeah.'

Tony beamed. 'How about you? Get out there and meet a real girl? Or was it more Elf Lord action?'

Tim drew himself up. 'Actually, I did have a date. With a real woman. And before you ask, no, I'm not telling you anything else.'

'Good for you, McRomeo!'

They were interrupted by Abby's arrival, forensics kit in hand. She trotted over to them in her trademark New Rock platform boots. 'What happened?' she called anxiously. 'Is everyone okay?' She dropped the kit on the floor and hugged Tony. 'Are you all right? Tell me you're okay.'

'I'm okay, Abs,' Tony said, returning the hug one-armed. 'And no one else was hurt either. It's just someone's idea of a sick joke.' Gently, he disentangled her from around him. 'Here.' He nodded at the chair.

Abby gasped, a hand flying to cover her mouth. 'Oh my god! Who would do something like that? That's just awful!'

Tony fought the urge to sigh. 'Like I said, just a sick joke.'

Gibbs came over to join them. 'Abby, McGee's on the security feed. We just need you to check if that really is what we think it is and see if there's anything to identify who it came from. And I'd like you to look these over too.' He drew her attention to the envelopes on Tony's desk. 'Don't want to take any chances.'

Abby nodded and drew herself up. 'You can count on me, Gibbs!' she snapped, suddenly all business. 'I'll find out who did this. And then I'll remind them that you don't play mean jokes on friends of someone who can kill you without leaving any traces.'

'Thanks, Abs,' Tony said, moving back to give her room to work. 'Although you should probably leave the threats to Gibbs. It's practically a calling for him. Ow!' He put his hand up to rub the back of his head.

'Get a chair, DiNozzo,' Gibbs said over his shoulder as he stalked back to his desk.

'Yes, boss. On it, boss,' Tony said happily. He glanced around the bullpen, now starting to fill up, then broke into a grin. Whistling an old show tune, he strolled over to another desk and wheeled out the chair that sat behind it.

'Hey, that's Harry's chair,' someone protested. 'You can't take that!'

'Good morning to you too, Paulson. I don't see Harry sitting in it,' Tony said with a casual shrug. 'If he has a problem, he can come tell me when he gets in.'

'You can count on it,' Paulson warned. 'He wasn't too happy about... about last week.'

'He's just jealous my boyfriend's hotter than his,' Tony said with a cheeky grin.

Paulson snorted. 'Better not let him hear you say that.'

'You're only laughing because it's true.' Tony gave one last dazzling smile and swept the chair round the corner of the dividers. He wheeled it over to Tim's desk and sat down in it, leaning back and putting his feet up on the corner of the desk.

'I'd rather you didn't do that,' Tim said without taking his eyes off the screen.

'Why, afraid I'll get gay cooties on your desk?' Tony asked, wriggling as he fished his phone out of his pocket.

'Nope,' Tim said, fast-forwarding through the footage from Thursday evening. There was a thud as Tony landed on the floor: Tim didn't look round. 'Chase has been complaining his chair's broken for a week. I'd just rather you didn't break anything else because Gibbs has been pissed enough about your last set of injuries.'

Tony sat up and rubbed the back of his head. 'Point taken.' He picked himself up and sat down more gingerly this time. Uncharacteristically quiet, he pretended to play tetris on his phone, but when Abby rolled his chair off towards the elevator, the small pile of envelopes on top of the saran wrap, he gave up and went back to his desk. With a care born of years of field experience, he opened each of his desk drawers in turn and checked the contents.

When he'd placed the last item back in the last drawer, he breathed a sigh of relief.

'No more surprises?' Gibbs asked quietly, looking over at him.

'None that I've found,' Tony said, taking in the sight of the other man, his boss, his friend, his lover, at his desk. When Gibbs raised an eyebrow, he managed a half-smile and looked away to turn his PC on. He could feel the other man's eyes on him as he drummed his fingers on the desk while the computer booted up. Tony fidgeted under Gibbs' scrutiny, trying and failing to set up a rhythm on the edge of the desk. He grabbed a pen and notepad out of his desk drawer and wrote down the three names he'd given the director, together with what he could remember of their comments, then tapped the pen against the pad until Tim cleared his throat pointedly.

'You should try cough syrup,' Tony said acerbically. He logged on and brought up his email, quickly sorting through his full inbox. The majority from his time off he set aside to read later; concentrating on those sent after Thursday's incident in the bullpen. Most of them were good-natured, teasing comments about the blow to his head having knocked all the sense out of him. A couple, from women he'd dated, were more explicit, demanding he go out for lunch with them and tell them details. One made him blush, asking for photos.

Awkwardly, he typed brief replies, poking at the keyboard with one finger. He promised lunch but pointing out that he didn't kiss and tell, especially when the person he'd be telling about was Gibbs. Tony murmured under his breath as he typed. 'And if I'm not flexible enough to do that, Gibbs certainly isn't. Is that even anatomically possible?'

'Is what anatomically possible?' Ziva asked.

'Zeevah!' Tony grinned. 'One of the ladies down in Records was wondering if Gibbs and I had tried a particular position yet.'

Ziva moved round Tony's desk and quickly read the email. Her eyes widening, she blushed. 'No, I do not believe that is physically possible, not unless one of you is double-jointed and the other a hermaphroditic acrobat.'

'As far as I'm aware, none of those apply,' Tony said. 'Although if I had to pick, I think I'd go for being double-jointed.'

'So are you back, then?' Ziva eyed him dubiously. 'You are still in a cast.'

'Nope, I'm just visiting,' Tony said sourly. 'They're making me take another week off.'

'At least,' Gibbs put in. 'And it depends on how well your physiotherapy goes.'

'Like I said, another week,' Tony said firmly. 'Any longer and I won't have to worry about coming back because the boredom will have finished me off.'

'In that case, I will make sure there is plenty of paperwork to keep you busy,' Ziva said lightly. 'I would not want you to feel unappreciated.'

Tony pulled a face. 'Good to know.'

'If you don't have anything better to do, I can give you more paperwork too, Ziva,' Gibbs said. 'You have less than an hour to dig up a fresh lead on one of those cold cases.'

'Seminar!' Ziva groaned. 'Shoot me! Please, just a flesh wound. McGee, if you bird me, I will do the same for you.'

'It's wing, Ziva, and if I have to go, you damn well have to go too,' Gibbs said firmly.

Ziva scowled, but returned to her desk and opened a case file, leaving Tony to finish going through his email. With a grimace, Tony printed off the last two and stared at them. He jumped when Gibbs spoke, looking up to find the agent leaning against his desk.

'Got something?' Gibbs asked softly.

'Yeah,' Tony hesitated before handing them over. 'It's not– They aren't pretty.'

'I know.' Gibbs read them, his expression turning flinty. 'Add them to your list. There's no place for people like that in this agency.'

'What is it?' Ziva looked across at them, curiosity shining on her face.

'Couple of death threats, just the usual,' Tony shrugged. 'Well, technically one death threat and one offer to maim that I'm pretty sure I'm going to turn down.'

Ziva gaped at him for a long moment before scowling almost as furiously as Gibbs. 'Give me their names and I will pay them a visit, yes?'

'I'll take care of it,' Gibbs said quietly.

Ziva exchanged a long look with him, then nodded. 'Very well. But if you need it...'

Gibbs grunted. 'I'm going for coffee. Let me know if Abby calls.'

Tony watched him go, then banged his head on his desk. 'You know I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself, right?'

'Absolutely,' Ziva agreed, turning her attention back to the case file on her desk. 'But sometimes it is nice to know there are others who have your back.'

Tony looked her, then over at Tim. 'Yeah,' he agreed, his voice rough. He swallowed and stared at the computer screen, blinking until it came back into focus.

Just as Gibbs returned with coffee for himself and Tony, Tim hissed in triumph.

'Got something, McGee?' Gibbs asked, setting the cup down in front of his senior field agent.

'Yeah, boss,' Tim said, typing away. 'Sunday, twenty-one forty, Paul Frederiks. I'm just burning the footage to disk now. I've also got stills of everyone who left a card on Tony's desk too, just in case.'

'Give Tony the names and I want a copy of everything,' Gibbs said. 'And copy Abby in.' He turned to go, but Tony shot to his feet, managing not to pitch onto the floor in the process.

'Jethro?' Tony put a hand out as if to grab the other man's arm, but hesitated.

'Just going to have a word,' Gibbs said. He took Tony's hand and gave it a squeeze. 'With Abby,' he clarified. 'I'll be back before we have to head into the seminar.' He cocked his head. 'You nervous?'

'Me? Why would I be nervous? There's nothing to be nervous of,' Tony babbled. He smiled, convincingly, he hoped.

Gibbs leaned in and spoke softly in his ear. 'Then you won't mind letting go of my hand.'

'Oh, right. Sure.' Hurriedly, Tony let go, but Gibbs squeezed Tony's hand again before letting go in return and striding over to the elevator.

Tony watched him go, then blinked and took a deep breath. He looked round to find his team mates watching. 'What?'

Tim shook his head busying himself with ejecting the CD from his PC, but Ziva regarded him with her customary steady gaze.

'I think... you are good for each other,' she said without any hint of her usual teasing. 'I was unsure; I thought this could cause problems within the team.'

'So what's changed?' Tony challenged, raising his chin.

'Life is too short to spend it alone and miserable,' Ziva said simply, then added mischievously, 'If you two are miserable together, it saves the rest of the world from having to suffer with you. Besides, what's that saying? Misery loves company? I think you will be very happy being unhappy together.'

'Hah, very funny,' Tony snapped, but Ziva's words eased a little of his discomfort. He dropped onto his appropriated chair, only to find himself on the floor again. An unpleasant laugh came to his ears and he looked up to find Harry Chase leaning against Gibbs' desk.

'Did you know your chair's broken?' Tony asked, ignoring the agent's ugly expression. 'That's a lawsuit just waiting to happen. If you go tell Maureen in Human Resources, she'll have a new chair to you in a day or so.' He wheeled the defective chair over to the smaller man.

'No, you keep it, DiNozzo,' Chase sneered. 'I'd hate to catch something off of it.'

'Broken bones aren't usually catching,' Tony said, smiling pleasantly. 'And last I checked, cooties aren't contagious past the fifth grade. Here.' He pushed the chair at the agent.

'Hey, I said I don't want it back! What are you, deaf and stupid?'

'That's a matter of opinion,' Tony said. 'Why, are you running a sweepstake?'

'Don't fuck with me, DiNozzo,' Chase snarled.

'Not if you were the last man on Earth,' Tony said. 'You aren't my type.'

'No, you prefer fucking your boss,' Chase said, his voice low and ugly. 'How's that working out for you?'

'Are you jealous?' Tony studied the agent, taking in the fury and disgust on his florid face. 'Wow, you are! I didn't know you thought of Gibbs like that. You really should have said something, maybe asked him out for a drink.'

'Why, you–' Chase lunged at him, but Tony pushed the chair into him and he went down in a tangle of metal and plastic.

'Oops, sorry about that,' Tony said apologetically. 'Here, let me help you up.' He offered his hand.

'Get away from me, you cocksucking pervert, or I'll break your other fucking arm,' Chase spat.

'Talk about repressed,' Tony tutted, shaking his head. He stepped back just as a strong arm reached past him and hauled the furious agent to his feet.

'I must be hearing things,' Gibbs said conversationally, his hand fisted in the agent's collar. Ignoring the other man's struggles, he continued. 'Because I'm pretty damn certain no one working for this agency is stupid enough to threaten a fellow agent with physical violence. Not in the bullpen, in front of witnesses. Not on camera. I'm pretty sure no one here would treat a fellow agent with anything less than the professional courtesy they deserve. Right, Tony?'

'Right, boss,' Tony agreed, perching on the corner of his desk. He picked up his coffee and took a sip as Tim and Ziva moved to flank him, shooting identical glares at the agent twisting in Gibbs' grasp.

'Fuck you too, Gibbs,' Chase gasped, his cheeks beginning to turn purple.

'You aren't my type either,' Gibbs said. 'Not that it matters what my type is, right Ziva?'

'I would not speculate as to what your type is,' Ziva said gravely. 'It would not be appropriate.'

'How about you, McGee?'

Tim pursed his lips thoughtfully. 'Definitely not my type. Sorry.'

Tony choked on his coffee and shot an incredulous look at the younger agent, who shrugged and did his best to look innocent.

'Looks like you'll have to take your chair and go find a date elsewhere,' Gibbs said. 'Don't bother my team again or I will break both of your arms.'

'What happened to not making threats?' Chase wheezed.

'Oh, that wasn't a threat, Harry. That was a promise,' Gibbs said. He released the agent, who doubled over, coughing and leaning on his chair for support. The chair collapsed under him again and he ended up back on the floor, cursing.

'Take your piece of shit chair and get out of my area,' Gibbs barked. Still coughing, the hapless agent struggled to his feet. With a wordless snarl, he grabbed the chair and marched off.

'Well?' Gibbs eyed his team.

'I was only giving him his chair back,' Tony protested. 'I didn't do anything to provoke him.'

Tim snorted. 'I think just being alive is enough to provoke him.'

'Got that video yet?' Gibbs asked mildly, but it was enough to send Tim scurrying back to his desk.

'Here, boss.' Tim waved the plastic case and Tony snatched it from him. 'Hey!'

Tony ignored him and turned to Gibbs. 'Did Abby find anything?'

'Tests are still running on the chair, but there's no trace of anything suspicious in the cards and she has prints that match the agents on McGee's list.' Gibbs handed over the pile of envelopes, each one now carefully slit open. 'Better read them quickly; seminar's starting in a couple of minutes.'

Tony took the envelopes and stared at them blankly for a moment, before offering them back to the older man. 'You look at them yet?'

'Nope. They're addressed to you,' Gibbs said.

Suppressing the unease that flashed through him, Tony said, 'Would you do the honors? It's a little tricky with only one hand.'

'Okay.' Gibbs took the envelopes back and fished out the first card. Wordlessly, he held it out and Tony took it.

Two teddy bears stood on a hilltop, paw-in-paw. Behind them, the setting sun spread garish orange across the card.

'Congratulations!' Tony muttered, flipping the card open. 'About time, glad you finally saw sense, you belong together, thanks for the floor show, Angela, Nora and Rachel.' He put it down on his desk. 'That wasn't too bad.'

'Here.' Gibbs handed over the next card.

This one showed a white calla lily across a dove gray background and bore the words In Deepest Sympathy across the top. Scowling, Tony flipped it open. 'So sorry you drew the short straw, guess you'll just have to watch more porn when you miss breasts, at least Gibbs has the long legs and great ass, don't forget the coffee or you'll be in big trouble, Gerry, Alan, Ray and Jack.' He looked over at the team who weren't making any effort to hide their laughter. 'Funny, guys, very funny.' With a smile, he placed the card beside the first one.

'Not what I was expecting,' Tony said. 'Okay, then.' He took the third card.

It was a piece of white card with a smooth, shiny finish. Embossed in gold was a cross and Jesus died for our sins. Tony turned it over. 'Hate the sin, not the sinner, I'm praying for your soul. Nice to know, but I'd rather whoever left this one was a little more concerned with their own soul instead.'

'Judge not lest you be judged; why do you see the speck in your brother's eye but not the beam in your own?' Gibbs quoted.

'I never took you for a churchgoer,' Tony said.

'My parents made me go,' Gibbs admitted. 'Want the next one?'

'Why not,' Tony said. 'Go for it.' Gibbs pulled out a folded sheet of paper and Tony frowned. 'That doesn't look promising,' he said as he took it. 'Fags don't belong here, leave before something happens to you, you disgust me, burn in hell. At least it's spelled correctly.' He stared at the paper, then handed it back to Gibbs. 'One for the list, then.'

'Abby's flagged up a couple of the names,' Tim said quietly.

Tony looked at Gibbs. 'I think I'm beginning to understand why Vance is so pissed.'

'He's not the only one,' Gibbs said, his expression grim.

'Now why do I get the feeling you're going to be relieving a few people of their ignorance?' Tony asked.

'Probably because I am,' Gibbs admitted. 'Next up?'

'Sure.' Tony took the card. 'Another condolences. I'm getting the impression people think you're some kind of monster. I'd be offended, but I can see how, from the outside, they might think that.' He grinned at Gibbs when the older man looked at him.

'Going to open that?' Gibbs asked, his tone deceptively mild.

'Sorry to hear you lost your marbles, hope they turn up soon. Failing that, hope you're happy. Maybe Gibbs can lend you some of his. Patrice and Cheryl. Remind me never to buy them flowers again, boss.'

'When did you buy them flowers?' Gibbs asked.

Tony shrugged, lopsided. Flippantly, he said, 'You know me, always up for buying flowers for beautiful women.'

'Tony,' Gibbs said impatiently.

Tony looked away. 'When Patrice's deadbeat husband ran off with the next-door neighbor. And when Cheryl's mom passed. I figured it wouldn't cheer them up, but at least they'd have something pretty to look at.' He hunched when Gibbs' hand moved, then relaxed slowly as Gibbs stroked the back of his head.

'Last one,' Gibbs said and handed him the final card.

'Okay, let's see. Good luck in your new job,' Tony read. He flipped the card open. 'Gibbs' new fuck-toy, hope it includes full medical because your ass is going to need it. No name. Tasteful.' He put it with the anonymous letter and the religious card, piling them on top of his list and Tim's CD.

Gibbs frowned. 'McGee, you got that list from Abby?'

'Just printing it off now,' Tim said, getting up and going to the printer. 'Do you want it, or-?'

'Give it to DiNozzo,' Gibbs said. 'We'd better get moving.'

Tony took the printout and added it to his pile, then picked it up and took a deep breath. 'Show time.'

With an air of gloom, the team headed for the large conference room. Tim and Ziva headed in, while Gibbs and Tony hung back outside waiting for the director.

'So?' Vance asked, joining them.

Tony handed over the pile of papers. 'Frederiks covered my chair in shit; the disk has footage from the security feed. Chase is taking this whole thing as some kind of personal insult, probably because he wants Gibbs.'

'Not me, Tony,' Gibbs said, his eyes darkening. 'You.'

Tony stared at Gibbs for a long moment, uncomprehending. Then his eyes widened in surprise. 'Ew! But he can't stand me. Never has.'

'Because you were never interested in him,' Gibbs said. 'Because you were straight. Now you're not and you're still not interested in him.'

'Oh,' Tony said, frowning.

'The rest?' Vance asked impatiently.

'Right.' Tony blinked, focusing on the director. 'Here, one threatening letter, one hate the sinner tract and a pretty tasteless card. All anonymous, but Abby's provided a list of names and she's flagged up the three responsible.'

Vance looked over the papers, then gave a nod. 'Better get in there, both of you. Clearly some attitudes need adjusting.' He shook his head in disgust. 'Stupid sons of bitches.'

'Yeah.' Gibbs snorted. 'I thought people here were supposed to be smarter than that. Come on, DiNozzo.' Together they entered the room, standing together at the back, close to the doors. A moment later, the director entered, striding to the front and turning to face them. A murmur ran through the assembled agents; Director Vance hadn't attended any of the previous seminars.

Vance surveyed the room. It was packed with every agent not currently working an active case. Glaring at them all, he removed his toothpick. 'I know you hate these seminars. I hate these seminars. I hate having to authorize them and I really hate having to come down here to talk to you all about them. These seminars take time away from what you should all be doing: solving cases.

'I'd love to be able to say we can skip it, go on back to work. But some of you–' Vance aimed his glare at half a dozen people, one at a time, 'don't seem to be getting the message. You are entitled to your own private opinions, no matter how wrong-headed and crazy they are. But each and every one of you works here, for the government. And the government says you keep your opinions to your own free time.

'While you are here, while you are on duty, while you represent my agency, you will think and speak and act with courtesy and tolerance to those around you, whether they are black or white, hispanic or asian, male or female, young or old, civilian or military and most especially whether they are gay or straight. From here on out, if I get any complaints from anyone about any of you, you can consider yourself suspended while you think over just how much you want to continue working here.'

The director paused to let the murmuring subside. 'And because I am so royally pissed about having to keep sending you all to these damn seminars just because a few of you won't learn, I asked Special Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo to do me a favor and make my point for me. I didn't think they'd go that far in pursuit of equal rights in the workplace, but I have to admit, they were damned effective in getting you all to face up to any prejudices you somehow still think it's acceptable to express here in my building.'

A smattering of laughter rippled through the room and Vance allowed himself a tight smile. 'Schliemann, Chase, Sousa. You can all explain to everyone here just why you thought it was acceptable to make derogatory comments to and about Gibbs and DiNozzo while still on my premises, on my time. Ehrlich, Smith – no, Carl, not Peter – why exactly did you think you could and should send hate mail? Threats like that are a federal offense. And Frederiks, you are in a world of shit. Literally. I want you to tell everyone why you thought you could possibly get away with putting crap on DiNozzo's chair when you work for an agency that has some of the best damn forensics experts in the country!'

Vance was practically shouting by the time he finished and he took a deep breath to calm himself before he could continue. 'How stupid are you, people? You're meant to be solving crimes, not committing them! Out there, on the streets, you face a thousand dangers. Agents have got to be able to count on each other. And when you let your stupid-ass, bigoted prejudices interfere with your judgment, you end up getting yourself or someone else killed. Get over it! Learn to deal with it. So not everyone looks the same as you. Not everyone acts the same as you. Not everyone gets turned on by the same things as you. And thank God for that! Because otherwise some of you would have no chance in hell of ever getting laid!' There was a ripple of amusement, but Vance kept on talking.

'Next time someone shakes you out of your comfort zone, next time someone behaves contrary to your expectations of societal norms, take a moment to ask if your knee-jerk reaction is justified. Is it safe, sane, adult and consensual? Because if it is, you keep your prejudice to yourself.'

'You'd have to be insane to kiss Gibbs,' someone called from the back of the room, and a few people sniggered.

'Yeah, well, if you'd learned from the last five seminars on tolerating homosexuality, I wouldn't have had to resort to drastic measures,' Vance shot back. 'Schliemann! Get up here and explain why you called Gibbs and DiNozzo pansy-assed faggots who shouldn't be allowed to work with normal people. And for the record, if you're claiming to be normal you need to take a good long look at yourself because you are sadly deluded.'

It took an hour for the Director to call each and every person who had insulted or threatened Gibbs and Tony up to the front to explain themselves. One by one, red-faced with humiliation and anger, they faced their colleagues while at the back of the room, Tony and Gibbs stood shoulder to shoulder and heard them out.

Chase was the last one called up and he faced the director with a sneer. 'I'm not ashamed of what I said and I don't care if you say you ordered them to do it. Gibbs and DiNozzo are perverts and they're fucking and that's a violation of regulations. As soon as you've finished this farce I'm putting in a complaint.'

'Who're you going to complain to, Harry?' Vance asked, taking the toothpick from the corner of his mouth. 'SecNav? Who do you think authorized this in the first place? Your attitude and verbal abuse is what's in violation of regulations and you are this close to getting yourself suspended.'

Chase snarled. 'Fuck you, Vance, and fuck your lapdogs too! There are other agencies that'd be glad to have me that don't have a bunch of cocksuckers dictating policy to all the normal people.' He turned and pushed his way through the crowd. As he reached the doors, he lunged at Tony, only to end up slammed against the wall in an armlock that was just the right side of breaking his elbow and dislocating his shoulder.

'I warned you, Harry,' Gibbs said mildly, putting a fraction more pressure onto the agent's arm. Chase howled and Gibbs leaned in and whispered in the agent's ear. 'Next time I see you, we won't have an audience. Leave DiNozzo alone.'

Vance snorted in disgust. 'Harry, get your ass out of my agency! You're fired and I sincerely doubt any other government agency is going to want you and your neanderthal attitudes. Gibbs, let him go. And someone get security to escort Mister Chase off the premises.' He waited until Chase had stormed out of the room, followed by Paulson and another of his former team mates, before calling for quiet.

'People, this is your one warning. This is your opportunity to learn, to grow. If any of you think you can't take that opportunity, speak up now and I'll arrange transfers out because the alternative is that you end up like Chase and I have to fire your sorry asses. You want to be intolerant? Save it for the murderers and thieves and rapists and pedophiles we're dedicated to tracking down. Don't bash each other or I will bash you and I have by far the biggest stick in this room. Learn to live together, people, because I'm not doing another one of these damn seminars! Now get out of here and go catch criminals.'

Gibbs and Tony were first through the doors. 'Some days I don't know whether to hate him or admire him,' Tony said with a sigh.

'Leon? He does what he has to,' Gibbs said, stopping at his desk only long enough to pick up his jacket.

'You going for coffee?' Tony asked, eyeing Gibbs' chair speculatively.

'Leave my chair alone, DiNozzo. You won't be needing one,' Gibbs said firmly.

'Oh?'

'I'm taking you home.'

'I'm fine, boss,' Tony protested. 'I can go hang out with Abby. You don't have to babysit me.' He drew himself up, ignoring the ache that spread up his arm and into his shoulder. 'See?'

Gibbs glared at him. 'Tony, the seminar's over. You're on sick leave for a reason and you look like you're about to fall over. I'm taking you home.'

'Lover's tiff?' Ray called. 'Oh wait, you were making out on Vance's orders. So does that mean Tony doesn't get to appreciate your ass, Gibbs?' He laughed, ignoring the glare the older agent shot him.

'You know, it sounds like you're the one who's been doing the appreciating,' Tony said with a smirk. 'Something you want to share, Ray?'

The agent raised his hands in a gesture of placation. 'Hey, I wouldn't dream of poaching on your territory, Tony. And Gibbs is right, you look like shit. You should go home. It's no fun winding you up when you look like a stiff breeze could knock you over.'

'Geez, what is it with you guys?' Tony grumbled. 'I'm back in the office for a couple of hours and you're trying to get rid of me!'

'Yes, well, next time try not nearly dying,' Ziva said. 'It has been quite some morning and if I had the opportunity to go home, I would take it.' She glared at the cold cases piled on her desk.

'Point taken,' Tony sighed. 'Fine. But I'll be back next week so you'd better have something more exciting lined up by then.' He allowed Gibbs to herd him into the elevator, but just before the doors closed, he leaned out.

'Hey guys? For the record, it's an awesome ass!' The doors slid shut to the sound of a headslap. 'Ow!'

#

Tony had been back at work for three weeks, working desk duty for the first two before finally being allowed back out into the field, not that anything exciting had cropped up. It was Friday night and the team was off duty and not on call until Monday morning. Despite Tony's offer of a team night of beer and pizza, Tim had declined, trying and failing miserably to hide his nerves at going out on a date that didn't involve computers. Ziva had turned him down in favor of actually getting to attend synagogue for once. Even Abby was off out bowling with nuns. So Tony and Gibbs ended up at home, sitting on the couch and eating pizza while watching Total Marine Mayhem! over a couple of beers.

Gibbs pointed out sloppy errors that would have gotten raw recruits chewed out and cleaning the head with a toothbrush for a week; when he shouted at the screen for the eighth time, Tony laughed so hard he made his newly-healed ribs ache and ended up clutching at them, saying, 'Ow, ow, ow,' between bouts of laughter. Gibbs had to check them over, which led to checking of a completely different kind, and that led to Ducky walking in on them as they lay in a naked, sweaty heap, limbs entwined, on the couch.

'Oh my, I do apologize,' Ducky said, flustered. He retreated to the hallway as Gibbs and Tony pulled their clothes back on.

'It's safe to come in,' Tony called. 'I'll just go put the kettle on.' He retreated to the kitchen, but he could still hear the low murmur of voices.

'I thought you were busy,' Gibbs said.

'I was going to attend a concert, but thanks to an electrical fault in the hall, it's been canceled. I should have called to let you know,' Ducky replied. 'I won't stay long. Actually, I wanted to see how things are working out for you both.'

'You mean, do I still need my head slapped?' Tony could hear the amusement in Gibbs' voice. 'I hope not.'

'I'm very glad to hear it, Jethro. Anthony looks... Well, if you will forgive an old man a little poetic license, Anthony has blossomed. And if I may say so, you appear far more relaxed.'

'What do you want me to say, Duck? You were right?'

'How about I'm happy?'

Gibbs sighed. 'I am. Happier than I thought I'd ever be, than I thought I'd any right to be.'

'Oh, Jethro, you and Anthony, above all, deserve some happiness in your lives.'

Swallowing past the tightness in his throat, Tony moved away from the door and busied himself with making a cup of tea for Ducky and pouring the last of the coffee for Gibbs, re-entering the living room just in time to hear Ducky ask, 'So you haven't tried anal sex yet? That's a shame; I hear it's quite an experience.'

Gibbs glared at the ME and Tony choked. 'Ducky! You can't say things like that!' Tony spluttered. He handed over the cup of tea and passed Gibbs his coffee. 'Just– No!'

'If you can't discuss it like an adult, how do you expect ever to be able to do the deed, as it were?' Ducky asked, his eyes twinkling.

'I can discuss it,' Tony said defensively. 'But not with you! I– we're–'

'We'll get there in our own good time, Ducky,' Gibbs said warningly. 'And I'm sure you didn't come here just to ask about our sex life.'

Tony moaned and grabbed a cushion. Holding it over his face, he said, 'I could go out. Upstairs. Anywhere away from here.'

Gibbs patted him on the knee. 'You could, but where would the fun be in that?'

'I hate you!'

'I hate you too. Ducky?'

The ME was regarding them with amusement. 'I don't believe I have anything to worry about as far as your sex life is concerned. Or indeed the rest of your relationship. I spoke to Doctor Burlman this afternoon. The details of your sessions with him are, of course, confidential, but he was able to reassure me that you don't need any further counseling. I informed Director Vance and he told me to mention something about a remote posting?'

Gibbs snorted. 'Figures.'

'Oh, I nearly forgot to say, Doctor Childs called just before I left for the evening. He's accepted a job with the FBI, working with his former colleague, Doctor Potts.'

'Really? That's great,' Tony said, emerging from behind his cushion. 'Finally getting to do more research into imprinting, huh? I bet he's in science geek heaven.'

'He did sound rather excited, yes,' Ducky smiled. 'He said he'd email you the latest research, as long as you promise not to show it around.'

'It's not like we're going around telling everyone,' Tony said, picking up his beer. He took a sip and swallowed, before adding, 'And after Vance's seminar, no one cares enough to risk gossiping anyway.'

'Oh, they'll be back to running a pool on who's sleeping with whom in no time, I dare say,' Ducky said.

'They're already betting on who dates that new IT tech first,' Gibbs said.

'Malory? I thought she was seeing Timothy,' Ducky said, surprised.

'McGee's dating the really hot computer geek? Wow, I don't know whether to be amazed or get him a cheerleading squad,' Tony said, grinning.

'Leave him be,' Gibbs said.

'Why? Worried I'll hit on the geek-ess?' Tony asked mischievously.

Gibbs snorted. 'Hardly. I figured you prefered fewer headslaps.'

Tony frowned. 'Not sure I follow you there, Jethro.'

Gibbs smiled. 'If he's busy dating, he's not thinking up new ways to wind you up, which makes you wind me up, which–'

'Which makes you headslap me, I get it. Fine, I won't torment him. Too much.'

Gibbs reached a hand out and tapped the back of Tony's head.

'Okay, okay,' Tony laughed and the other two joined in.

They chatted for a while longer until finally Ducky stood up. 'Pleasant as this has been, it's getting late. I'm afraid I shall have to leave you to it. Enjoy your weekend, won't you? I look forward to seeing you bright and early on Monday.'

'You too, Ducky,' Tony said. 'Thanks for stopping by.'

The ME put on his coat and paused at the door. 'If i may say so, domesticity rather suits you both.'

Gibbs rolled his eyes. 'Good night, Duck.' He closed the door behind the ME and turned to find Tony grinning at him. 'What?'

'I think he just called us whipped,' Tony said.

Gibbs stared at him, eyebrows raised. 'Whipped?' he asked, his tone deceptively silky.

'Absolutely,' Tony said blithely as the older man stalked towards him. 'Completely and utterly. A lost cause.'

Gibbs put one hand on the back of the couch and leaned in. 'You sure about that, DiNozzo?'

Tony licked his lips. 'Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's what he said.' His voice was breathy, his gaze fixed on the other man's mouth.

'Good,' Gibbs murmured, and closed the distance between them. He took Tony's lips in a kiss that was achingly sweet. Distantly, Tony heard a whimper, then realized it came from him. He reached up, running his fingers over the short, soft hairs on the back of Gibbs' head, whimpering again in frustration when the older man refused to deepen the kiss.

At last, Gibbs broke away, his blue eyes dancing with amusement. 'Something you wanted?'

'Bed. Now,' Tony demanded, surging to his feet. He grabbed the other man's wrist and Gibbs let himself be towed towards the door.

'But I was going to clear away the mess,' he said, deadpan.

'Fuck the mess!' Tony growled impatiently. 'No, wait, don't fuck the mess, fuck me. Come on, Jethro! We might be domesticated, but the day you pick a couple of bottles and an empty pizza box over hot wild monkey loving is the day I chain you to the bed until you remember just how awesome I am.' He pulled Gibbs into their bedroom, only stopping when Gibbs tugged back.

'Tony?'

'Yes?'

'Shut up.' Gibbs pulled Tony to him, wrapping his arms around the taller man in a tight embrace, fitting them together from shoulders to knees as he kissed him thoroughly, their mouths hot and greedy. Tony's hands worked their way under his t-shirt, smoothing their way up his back, pulling him even closer. His own moved down to Tony's ass, squeezing and cupping the taut muscle, holding him in place as he rolled his hips forward, rubbing his erection against Tony's.

Tony broke away with a gasp. 'God, you drive me crazy, Jethro!' He bit the side of the other man's neck, pressing his tongue to the smooth flesh and savoring the taste. Gibbs growled and, with one smooth flip, had Tony stretched out under him on the bed.

'Clothes off,' Gibbs rasped, nipping at Tony's jawline. The younger man's hands found the edge of Gibbs' t-shirt and tugged it up until Gibbs had to pull back. Seconds later, they were both naked, clothes flung to the floor. 'Move up,' Gibbs said and Tony scooted up the bed until he was sprawled across the pillows at the top.

'This far enough?' Tony asked, a hint of amusement dancing in his lust-darkened eyes.

'Perfect,' Gibbs said, looking him over. He wet his lips and bent his head, touching the tip of his tongue to the head of Tony's cock.

'Fuck! Jethro!'

Gibbs could hear the surprise in Tony's voice. He looked up at the younger man, wanton, aroused, his for the taking. 'Dreamed about this, Tony. Been thinking about it all day, tasting you, taking you in my mouth, sucking you.'

Tony stared at him for a moment, then he spoke, his voice rough with arousal. 'Then what are you waiting for?'

Gibbs huffed a laugh, his breath making Tony's cock twitch and harden even more. The younger man moaned as Gibbs licked the head of his cock, then wrapped a callused hand around the shaft. Licking his lips, Gibbs ducked his head and took Tony in his mouth, getting used to the way the smooth skin felt against his tongue, the way the heavy flesh filled his mouth. He tightened his lips around the hot shaft and sucked experimentally. With a shout, Tony bucked, driving his cock further into Gibbs' mouth. Hastily, the older man shifted, pinning Tony down with an arm across his toned abdomen, before sucking again.

It was over embarrassingly quickly; Tony whimpered and cried out as Gibbs bobbed up and down, sucking hard. His cock, a shaft of hot steel under velvet, grew impossibly harder, wider, then with one last cry, Tony was coming in spurts into the older man's mouth. Gibbs swallowed, letting the taste wash through him, holding Tony in place as he softened, then giving one last little suck to the tip before letting him go.

'Wow,' Tony breathed, one arm flung across his eyes. 'That was incredible.' He shifted his arm and looked down at Gibbs. 'Was that... Are you okay?'

Gibbs licked his lips and swallowed. 'Yeah, that was... surprisingly hot,' he confessed. 'Could do with a coffee, though.'

Tony laughed and pulled his lover up until they could kiss. 'Doesn't taste too bad,' he teased, going in for another kiss. Above him, Gibbs growled, rolling his hips and thrusting against Tony. The younger man wrapped his arms and legs around Gibbs, holding him tightly and kissing him until the older man thrust hard and stilled, cum spilling warm across Tony's groin.

'You know, blow jobs have one advantage,' Tony said once they had cleaned up and lay tangled together under the comforter.

'What's that?' Gibbs pressed a kiss to Tony's forehead.

'You don't have to worry about the mess,' Tony said with a smile.

'Good point,' Gibbs said. 'Go to sleep.'

Tony yawned and snuggled closer, pillowing his head on the older man's shoulder. 'Mmm. Have to give it a go,' he murmured. And in the morning, Gibbs woke to a spectacular blow job, the sight of Tony's mouth wrapped around his cock sucking enthusiastically enough to send him over the edge. He lay there panting as Tony jerked himself off, needing only a few strokes to follow him into coming.

'I could get used to this early morning rise and shine, spit and polish,' Tony grinned, crawling back up the bed to flop against the pillows. 'Hoorah!'

Gibbs couldn't find it in him to glare. 'If you make any more boot camp jokes, I'm going to have to kill Ziva for giving you that DVD.'

'You don't mean that,' Tony sighed contentedly. 'Besides, it's a great wake up call.'

'Can't argue with you there,' Gibbs agreed and tugged Tony closer. 'Best wake up call ever.'

#

Tony was sitting between Gibbs and Vance, waiting for the jury to return. At the end of the row sat Fornell and a couple of his agents. The courtroom smelled of furniture polish and the stale sweat of inadequate ventilation. 'What's taking them so long?' he muttered, fidgeting in his seat. 'I thought they were ready to bring in their verdict.'

Gibbs laid a hand on Tony's knee, stilling him. 'They're just giving everyone a chance to get back in here,' he said. 'Won't be long now.'

'There's no way he's getting off,' Vance said firmly from Tony's other side. 'Not with all these witnesses.'

'Sure, I know that,' Tony said, trying to sound confident. 'But–'

'But nothing, Tony,' Gibbs said, giving his knee a squeeze. 'He's going down. Here they come.'

One by one, the jury filed back into the room and took their places. It had been a long and complex trial; Vorash's attack on Tony only one of a long list of charges the gangster faced. One by one, each charge was read out as the jury gave their verdict.

Vance hissed in triumph as Vorash was found guilty of the attempted murder of Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. Tony sighed in relief and leaned against Gibbs as the older man's hand tightened on his knee.

'You know it'll be hard to go undercover after this,' Tony said. The case had been high profile, broadcast on the national news as well as the court channel. Tony's testimony hadn't taken long to give, but with his charm and photogenic good looks, he'd made it onto the evening news on several channels. Fan mail was still arriving for him at the NCIS headquarters, much to everyone's amusement.

'Ducky made it very clear neither of you can go undercover without the other. And even then, it's a bad idea,' Vance said.

Gibbs grunted. 'Probably. Come on, DiNozzo.'

'You don't want to wait for the sentencing?' Vance asked.

Gibbs shook his head. 'He's going down. And we have better things to do.' Together, they stood and made their way out of the courtroom, leaving the director behind.

'Did Fornell just wink at you?' Tony asked as they strode out into the cool hallway. 'Because that's just disturbing.'

Gibbs allowed himself a little smile. 'Jealous, DiNozzo?' Together they jogged down the steps and out into the warm afternoon sunshine.

'Nope,' Tony said. 'Just a little freaked out.'

'Another imprinted pair transferred into his team last week,' Gibbs said as they made their way to the car.

'Really? Wow, word must be getting around,' Tony said, climbing in and hastily buckling up.

'They're rolling the blood test out as part of the FBI's standard annual physical,' Gibbs said, pulling out of the parking lot with his usual reckless abandon. 'Childs thinks there's probably more pairs out there.'

'What are they going to do with the results?' Tony asked. 'Transfer them all to Fornell's division?'

Gibbs shook his head. 'I don't know, but at least if anything happens, it'll be on their records, maybe give the agency some leeway in dealing with them.'

'You mean if one gets injured and the other–'

'Hunts down the guilty party and shoots them in the head,' Gibbs said drily. 'Maybe.'

'That's a little extreme,' Tony protested.

Gibbs looked at him for a long moment before turning his eyes back to the road. 'No it isn't,' he said quietly. 'What the hell do you think I'd have done to Vorash if he'd walked away?'

Tony blinked. 'Oh.' They drove in silence for a few minutes before Tony looked around and frowned. 'Jethro, I hate to say it, but this isn't the way back to the Yard.'

'Nope.'

'And we aren't going back to work because...?'

'As I told Vance, we've got better things to do,' Gibbs said impatiently.

'We do?'

'Yeah, Tony, we do.' Gibbs pulled up outside his house. 'Come on, Tony. We have some celebrating to do.'

'Right, okay.' Tony scrambled out of the car and followed his lover into the house. 'What did you have in mind?'

'Go shower,' Gibbs said.

'I had one this morning,' Tony protested. 'What's going on, Jethro?'

Gibbs squeezed Tony's shoulder and kissed him, soft and chaste. 'Trust me?'

'Always,' Tony said. Bemused, he headed upstairs and stripped, hanging up his suit and tie before stuffing the shirt into the laundry hamper. While the shower warmed up, he used the loo and brushed his teeth, then climbed into the shower and washed himself quickly but thoroughly. Dry, with damp hair sticking up in tufts, he ran a hand over his chin and decided to grab a quick shave.

Stepping out into the bedroom, Tony stopped in surprise. Late afternoon sunlight streamed into the room, pooling on the bed, which was covered by two giant towels. Leaning against the headboard, Gibbs was waiting for him, naked.

'Uh, not that I don't appreciate afternoon sex, but the towels have me wondering,' Tony said, crossing the room to sit beside his lover.

'I thought maybe you'd like a back rub, get rid of some of that tension,' Gibbs said gruffly.

Tony glanced over at the bedside table, where a small bottle of oil sat on a saucer. 'And?' he asked quietly, looking back at the older man.

Gibbs held his gaze, but flushed faintly. 'And I was hoping maybe we could try something different.'

Tony's eyebrows raised in surprise. 'You want to fuck me?'

'I want to try, Tony,' Gibbs admitted. 'Between Abby's reference material and Ducky's anatomy lectures, I want to see if I can make it as good for you as people say it can be.'

'Wow, that's a big step.' Tony laughed nervously and ran a hand through his hair, making it stand up even further.

'We don't have to if you don't want to,' Gibbs said earnestly. 'I really do want to give you that back rub. You've been favoring your left shoulder again.'

Tony huffed out a sigh. 'Okay, back rub. And then we'll see. I'll... I do trust you, Jethro. And I've got to admit, I'm a little curious. Well, okay, a lot curious. So... go for it and if I start freaking out, I'll let you know, all right?'

Gibbs nodded and a little of the tension in his shoulders drained away.

'You look like you need that back rub about as much as I do,' Tony said, lying down on his front.

'Maybe later,' Gibbs said, arranging pillows under Tony's chest until he could breathe comfortably without resting his forehead on his arms or suffocating himself on the mattress.

Tony closed his eyes and heard the snick of the bottle cap being opened, then the slick sound of Gibbs rubbing oiled palms together. When they came to rest on his back, he sighed in relief; they were warm, the heat soaking into his tense muscles. Slowly and firmly, Gibbs began to stroke along the major muscle groups, coaxing them to relax, little by little. Tony lost track of time as Gibbs did his best to turn him into a boneless puddle.

At last, Gibbs made him turn over and drink a glass of water. 'Don't want you getting dehydrated,' he said, holding the glass until he was certain Tony had a firm grip on it. 'How do you feel?'

'Mmm, good,' Tony said with a goofy smile. 'You can do that more often.'

Gibbs laughed. 'Whenever you need it, Tony. Ready for more?'

Tony waggled his eyebrows and gave a comical leer. 'Hell, yes!' He looked down at where his cock lay, half-hard on his thigh. It twitched and Gibbs laughed.

'Okay.' He fished lube and a condom out of the drawer and placed them within reach on the bed, then took the empty glass and set it on the bedside table. Tony lay there, an expression of such love and trust on his face that Gibbs had to lean in and close his eyes, kiss Tony until the younger man was fully hard and moaning underneath him.

Drawing back, he opened the lube and squeezed a little onto his fingers. Tony watched, dark-eyed, as Gibbs reached between his legs found Tony's entrance. He circled it gently with one fingertip, then pushed against the muscle. Tony's breathing grew shallower and Gibbs rubbed a circle low on his belly to help him relax again as the fingertip breached the ring of muscle and slid inside.

'Open sesame,' Tony muttered and Gibbs let out a surprised bark of laughter. Tony grinned and the serious atmosphere dissipated. 'Going to get a move on?'

'Just enjoying the view,' Gibbs said, taking hold of Tony's cock as he pushed further inside. It was hotter than he'd expected, tight and so velvet-smooth, the close channel soft around his finger. Tony wriggled his hips and pushed up into Gibbs' fist.

'Please, Jethro,' he whined. 'Do something!'

'I don't want to hurt you,' Gibbs said, but he pulled his finger back and pushed in again, faster this time. 'Feel okay?'

'A little weird,' Tony confessed. 'But keep going.'

Instead, Gibbs pulled out altogether and spread more lube on his fingers. He pushed two against Tony's entrance, pausing as Tony tensed around them, taking deep breaths.

'Want to stop?' Gibbs asked.

'I won't break! Move, damn it!' Tony cursed. 'You waiting for a written invitation?'

Gibbs pushed again and Tony bore down. Gibbs' fingers slid inside Tony as the ring of muscle relaxed. He crooked them, feeling a fingertip brush over a bump. Tony cried out, his hips snapping up. His flagging erection shot back to full hardness.

'Fuck!' Tony gasped. 'Do that again.'

Gibbs obliged and Tony whined, writhing under him, clenching hard around his hand. Gibbs set up a rhythm, fucking Tony with his fingers, caught up in the feel of Tony surrounding his fingers, in the way Tony relaxed again and moved with him, hard and leaking and clearly loving it. The rich golden sunlight gleamed on tanned skin that covered a lean, muscled physique. He looked wanton, debauched, and it suited him. Unable to hold back any longer, Gibbs leaned forward and kissed him, matching the rhythm of his fingers with the tongue he thrust into Tony's mouth.

Tony tugged at Gibbs' ear, making him break off. 'Fuck me, Jethro. Come on,' he moaned breathlessly.

Gibbs pulled his fingers free, wiping them on the towel. He grabbed the condom and tore the packet open, quickly rolling the latex down his shaft. He slicked more lube over it, then took hold of his shaft, positioning the head at Tony's entrance.

'I heard it's easier if we do this with you on your front,' he rasped.

Tony shook his head. 'I want to see you. I need it, I need to kiss you.'

Gibbs nodded and pushed in, startled all over again by the heat surrounding him. Even through the thin barrier, he could feel how Tony's channel gripped him, tighter than anything he'd felt before. He had to stop, take a couple of deep breaths that matched Tony's as he fought to not come there and then. But soon, too soon, Tony was moving under him, urging him on.

'Move, please, God, just do it!' Tony panted. 'Please!'

Gibbs rolled his hips, pushing in all the way, feeling Tony relax around him, squirming at the unexpected fullness. 'Okay?' Gibbs asked one last time.

'Fuck, yes!' Tony grinned up at him, sweat beading on his forehead. 'You feel amazing, so good.'

Gibbs bent his head and kissed the younger man as he pulled back and began to thrust. Tony wrapped one leg around Gibbs' waist, lifted the other until Gibbs slid an arm behind his knee, holding him in place. Open, helpless, Tony arched underneath the older man, panting as Gibbs fucked him harder, faster, until Gibbs hit that spot again and Tony let out a hoarse yell and came. As Tony rippled around him, Gibbs thrust as deep as he could go and, with a shout of his own, he pulsed into the condom.

Panting, Gibbs released Tony's leg and rested, trembling, on his elbows. Sweat dripped from his nose onto Tony's cheek and the younger man made a face.

'You made me get a shower because...?' he asked with a shaky chuckle.

Gibbs huffed a laugh, then groaned as his cock twitched inside his lover. 'Seemed like a good idea at the time,' he said, then proceeded to kiss Tony until at last he had to stop in order to pull out. As Gibbs took hold of the condom and withdrew carefully, Tony winced.

'You okay?' Gibbs asked, wrapping the condom in a tissue and tossing it into the wastebin.

'Never better,' Tony said. 'C'mere.' He held his arms out, but Gibbs shook his head.

'Give me a minute.' On shaky legs, Gibbs made his way to the bathroom where he wet a washcloth and wiped himself down, then rinsed it and took it through to do the same for Tony. When they were both clean, he made Tony move so that he could get rid of the towels, then he lay down beside his lover and pulled the comforter over them.

Tony wriggled until he lay half over Gibbs, a leg flung over the older man's and an arm across his chest. His other shoulder was tucked under Gibbs' arm, his head pillowed on the ex-marine's shoulder.

'You done making me your teddy bear?' Gibbs asked, amused.

'Mm, yeah. You know no one would ever believe me if I told them?' Tony said sleepily.

'What, that I'm your teddy bear?' Gibbs raised an eyebrow but couldn't quite summon his usual glare.

'That you hold me like you're never letting go,' Tony murmured, his eyes sliding shut.

Gibbs kissed his forehead. 'That's because I'm not,' he said softly. 'Never letting you go now I've got you.'

'Mmm.' Tony snuffled, going limp as he fell asleep.

For a while, Gibbs lay there, enjoying the warm weight of his lover draped across him, then he hugged Tony carefully, thanking whatever higher powers were out there that this remarkable, incredible man had been bound to him forever. Right on the edge of sleep, Gibbs thought that he might not have got what he wanted, but thanks to a quirk of biology, he'd been given all that he'd ever need.