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"And I just want to say again that by becoming a part of HealthCorps you haven't just made a great business decision. You've joined a family."

The audience exploded with applause and whistles, several bass hoo-ahs punctuating the enthusiasm. Niemeyer smiled and accepted his due for a good twenty seconds, then he held up his hands. As the group calmed he leaned forward, forearms resting on the podium. He was a good-looking man, silver-fox gray but with an unlined face, and as he glanced from side to side you could practically feel the energy of the audience whoosh towards him.

"You know, my advisors tell me to say that. But the truth is, we're better than family. Don't get me wrong. Family is great. People who love you, who are there for you no matter what. Who doesn't want that? But we've all had our days when you say to yourself 'you can't choose your family,' right? Days when your brother-in-law gets drunk and decides he just has to water the rose bushes in front of city hall the organic way. Days when mom decides she's going to mortgage the house so she can pay a matchmaker to find you the perfect bride. Days when little sis 'borrows' the new car and wrecks it on the way back home."

"Am I wrong?"

Heads all over the room changed from nods to shakes. The schmuck to his left yelled out, "Hell no!" loud enough that Tony wondered if his earwig was going to squeal with feedback and blow his cover. But then Niemeyer chuckled into the mike, and he realized that nobody in the room would hear it if it did.

"Look around you. Are these the kind of people who are going to pull that kind of crap? I say no. Every one of you is here because you want to build a better life for yourself. And that's why HealthCorps is better than family. We're the family you choose."

If Tony had thought the room exploded before, this time it was like being at ground zero of Mount St. Helens. He scrambled to his feet, following the lead of the rest of his table. Within a second, the whole audience was standing. He half-expected them to break out foam fingers and start the wave.

"Enjoy the meal!" Niemeyer yelled into the microphone, still barely audible over the clapping, and then left the stage. He shook hands with the group of men at the head table, then took his seat. Another speaker took the podium, but Tony kept his eyes on Niemeyer. There was something about the man that pinged his radar. Something besides the criminal. Tony couldn't put his finger on it. Not just yet.

"Man, Gary knows how to work a room," the schmuck to his left said. He nudged Tony's arm with his elbow. "This your first convention?"

"It sure is," Tony squinted at the guy's name tag, "Scott. Is everybody always this...enthusiastic?"

Scott grinned, showing off his perfect white veneers. Guy had a good dentist. "I know, it's a little overwhelming at first. But you'll get used to it. How long have you been with the company?"

"Had my two-month anniversary last Tuesday." At least, that's what Abby had managed to wriggle out of the paperwork for him. "Hit the ground running, and I haven't looked back yet."

"Good, good. That's the kind of attitude that'll take you all the way." Scott leaned forward, looking past Tony, but the guy to Tony's right was in conversation with the guy to his right. "So who brought you in?"

"Joe Franklin. You know him?"

"Franklin, yeah. He's a good guy, though I haven't talked to him in a while. Is he here?"

"No, he couldn't make it." Kind of hard to attend a convention after repainting your apartment in brain-matter gray. "Last minute thing, apparently."

"Huh. Too bad, because let me tell you, the stuff you get out of these seminars? Worth a hundred times what we're paying for them."

"That much," Tony murmured, but Scott only grinned and nodded, saving him from having to cover for his sarcasm. One of the red-coated waiters stepped forward, reaching between them to set a salad plate in front of Tony.

"So," the guy to his right said just as the waiter presented him with a salad of his own, blocking the guy's name tag. Not that seeing it again would help anyway; Tony had tried to make it out earlier, but couldn't tell if the chickenscratch was 'Carl' or 'Charles' or maybe even 'Carlysle'. "You don't look military. Lawyer, am I right?"

"Heh. No, no, not quite that bad. Accountant." Tony waited; at this point they usually either wrinkled their noses or asked for tax advice. This guy was a nose-wrinkler, which was just fine with him. "Not really my choice. Did four years of ROTC only to blow out my knee the week before graduation."

"That's too bad." Carl-dude shook his head, then shook it again. He rubbed at the insignia ring on his finger, then reached for his water glass. "Tough break, man. I can't imagine life without the Corps."

"So what's all this?" Tony twirled his finger, indicating the room.

Carl chuckled. "Don't get me wrong. The Corps has my heart. But it pays beans for blood, if you know what I mean."

"Sure, sure."

Carl picked up his fork, and Tony followed his lead, chewing the watery Romaine slowly as he gazed around the room. There had to be three hundred seated at the tables, mostly men, mostly former military or reserves. Even though nobody was in uniform, it wasn't hard to make that assessment. The collective posture of the room was straight enough to level a new pool table--one for competition play. Hard to believe all these tough-guy types were wetting themselves for the opportunity to sell shakes and protein bars out of their living rooms. Niemeyer knew more than how to work a room, that was for sure.

"Heads up, Tony," Gibbs murmured in his ear.

Sure enough, Niemeyer was only a few feet away, shaking hands with a man at the table to Tony's right. He was all smiles, right shoulder dipped and head cocked in a perfectly attentive stance. He patted the man on the upper arm, then moved on to Tony's table, holding out his hand to a guy three seats over. Martin by the nametag. He didn't talk to him longer than a few seconds, but Martin was grinning ear to ear afterwards.

"Carmine! So good to see you here again!"

Carmine. So that was chickenscratch dude.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Carmine said. "I hear there's something special in the new product line."

Niemeyer patted Carmine's shoulder. "Of course there is. And you'll find out tomorrow, just like everybody else."

They chuckled together, and then Niemeyer was turning, hand already out. "Well, hello! A new face, wonderful!"

"Anthony DeNiro--no relation. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Niemeyer."

Niemeyer had a firm handshake. A firm handshake that lingered as he smiled down at Tony. "Please, call me Gary. How's the company treating you so far, Anthony?"

"Fantastic, Gary." Tony put on his best company smile. "In fact, I've got some great ideas for how we could break into even more markets, if you're interested in hearing them."

"I wish I had the time." Niemeyer had finally let go of Tony's hand, but he brought his left hand up. Instead of a shoulder-pat, though, he settled it at the base of Tony's neck, fingers creeping high on Tony's collar. He smiled again, bold gaze flicking down to Tony's lips before returning to Tony's eyes. "I really do. But with the convention, it's just impossible right now. You understand?"

"Hey, sure. I shouldn't have bothered you."

"It's not a bother at all. I love to see enthusiasm. Remember that, Anthony." Niemeyer winked, squeezed Tony's shoulder, and then turned to Scott before Tony had a chance to think up another gambit.

Yeah, that was definitely some charm.

Tony let out a slow breath as Niemeyer moved on. The man was a powerhouse, but Tony had charm of his own, and he was pretty damn sure Niemeyer was going to be open to him using it. He just needed to figure out how to get the man's attention long enough to find an opening; he hadn't even rated a look-back when Niemeyer moved onto the next table. Focused, very focused, which was probably why Niemeyer had had such success with this weird little company in such a short time.

That, and whatever the hell they were putting into those power bars that made people crave them like cocaine.

"Your chicken, sir."

Tony blinked at the plate hovering in front of his face--a plate with a well-pounded chicken breast covered in a mysterious white sauce. "I asked for the steak."

"Are you sure, sir? The chicken is very good tonight."

Tony rolled his eyes and finally looked up. McGee's smile was as bland as the chicken on the plate he was proffering, but despite that he looked good. The bow tie looked a little small, like it was from the junior's section, and red wasn't really his color, but the red jacket-white shirt-black vest combo fit him like it was tailored, really accentuating how much weight he'd lost in the past few years. A glimmer of an idea sparked in the back of Tony's brain.

"I really wanted the steak," he said. He leaned back, offering up a small, private smile as he touched McGee's elbow. "I don't want to cause a problem, but I'm pretty sure that's what I ordered."

"Our numbers are really tight on the steak--" McGee raised an eyebrow as Tony gripped his arm hard for a second. "But I'll see what I can do."

Tony nodded, just barely a lift of his chin, but it was enough to get the message across: doing good, just follow my lead. Then he smiled and slid his hand down to McGee's wrist. "I really appreciate that. Thank you."

"Of course, sir." McGee set the chicken down in front of Carmine. He stepped back to finish serving the rest of the table, leaving Tony with a clear view of the next table over.

Niemeyer was staring at him, eyebrow raised. Tony raised his water glass, lifting it in a small toast before he brought it to his lips. Niemeyer nodded, then went back to his schmoozing.

Scott leaned in close enough to whisper. "You totally ordered the chicken, didn't you?"

Tony winked at him. "Let's just say that when I want something, I'm determined to get it."

Scott chuckled and went back to his own steak.

"Don't go overboard, DiNozzo," Gibbs murmured. "You just need to get the information, not take over the whole company."

Tony set his water glass down, then leaned forward far enough that he could get the attention of everybody at the table. "So, tell me. How do I get some one-on-one time with Gary? I tell you, he's going to love my ideas."


Tony hung out the privacy sign, flipped the restraining latch on the door, and then headed straight for the bed and flopped onto his back with a big sigh. He pulled off the heavy black frames, twirling the earpiece between the fingers of his left hand while he rubbed at the bridge of his nose with his right. Why couldn't this have been a nice, easy operation? Maybe one as an undercover gun runner, one where he had to watch every word for fear of getting one of the guns in his back. He was pretty sure his ears were going to start bleeding if he heard another word about free samples or golden opportunities. And this was just the opening night get-together; tomorrow, the real fun started with back-to-back seminars all day long.

"Hey, easy with the Spin-O-Vision," Abby yelped.

"Whoops." Tony set the spy glasses on the nightstand on his left, then propped himself up on his elbow so he was face-to-lens. "Sorry, Abs."

"That's okay. It was kind of cool, anyway."

Tony snorted. He could just picture Abby in front of the big screen in her lab, spinning on one of her spinny stools in an effort to recreate the effect. "Where's Gibbs?"

"Coffee break. He said to start without him. Oh, and if anybody decides to beat you up or anything, I'm supposed to send in the cavalry."

"And when you say cavalry, you mean McWaitstaff, right? Able to clog arteries in a single room delivery." Not that he didn't appreciate the fact that McGee wasn't too far away. But if things went down like they had way back when with the dead assassin duo, he really hoped Gibbs and Ziva would be there for him, too. Not that Niemeyer seemed like the type who was into big scary knives, but then again, he'd been wrong about people before. "Oh, and tell McGee my steak was cold. I expect more out of him, you know. They call it the service industry for a reason."

"Tell him yourself," Gibbs said. Must have been a quick coffee run. "He'll be by to double check your equipment as soon as he's done busing dessert."

Tony laughed. Yeah, okay, maybe attending all-day meetings on how to talk the local gym into letting you set up a product demo booth wasn't the worst thing he could be doing. He wondered if the probie was going to get permanent dishpan hands out of this assignment. "So do you have anything for me?"

"I've done every test I can think of on the stuff we found in Franklin's apartment," Abby said. "They've packed about every health food additive I can think of into the shakes and meal replacement bars. Guarana, CoQ10, stevia, magnolia extract, inositol, garlic, glutamine. You name it, it's in there."

Tony scooted up until he was leaning against the headboard. "So, what does that mean, exactly? Is one of those our magic ingredient?"

"No. That's what I'm saying, Tony. All of this stuff is legal. I mean, who knows if you get some weird high going on when you combine all that. But as far as the FDA goes, this stuff is all on the books."

"So what was Franklin talking about in his note? 'They're using the stuff.' What stuff?" Tony sighed. "You'd think he could have taken the time to be a little more specific in the last thing he ever wrote."

"I don't think he was exactly thinking right at the time, Tony. What with the whole suicide thing."

Tony sighed. "And Ducky's sure it was a suicide?"

"As sure as Ducky can be." Which was pretty damn sure, without any evidence to indicate otherwise. "Maybe he should have been taking some of his own St. John's Wort. Tox screens were all clean, though."

"So we still don't know why he offed himself."

"Could have something to do with the fact that his sixteen-year-old nephew ODed on heroin last week," Gibbs said mildly. Gibbs being that mild usually meant he was confident about his conclusion. "Ziva interviewed the sister this morning. She was barely coherent enough to get anything out of, but Franklin and the boy were close. And she was completely convinced that her son had no history of drug use."

Tony twisted his lips, turning the pieces over in his head until they fitted into a after-school-special scenario, prime-time clear. "So somehow the kid finds Franklin's stash, shoots up out of curiosity... No, he wouldn't shoot up, not if he was a first timer. He pulled a Pulp Fiction, didn't he?"

"A what?"

Abby laughed. "You've really got to get with the times, Gibbs. You're right, Tony. The ME's report said he died of a heart attack induced by the uncut heroin he snorted."

"No handy dandy adrenaline shot for him," Tony murmured. "So Franklin's torn up with guilt, decides he can't take it anymore, but before he goes, decides he wants to take Niemeyer down with him. But he's got no evidence, not anymore, thus the Da Vinci Code note."

"You almost sound like you've done this detective thing before, DiNozzo."

Tony grinned. "Thanks, boss." A knock sounded on the door. "Anything else? I think my McDelivery is here."

"Just one more thing." Gibbs paused. "Watch your back, Tony."

"I always do." He flipped the glasses so the camera was upside down (Abby was sure to love that), then climbed off the bed. Sure enough, McGee was the one at the door, still in the precious little waiter's vest, still with his precious little glower. "You know," he said as McGee pushed the catering trolley into the room, "this just never gets old."

"Speak for yourself," McGee muttered.

"What, are you too good for a little blue-collar work, McPrivileged?" Tony circled around behind McGee so he could watch over his shoulder as he picked up the spy glasses and started to fuss with them.

"No, I am not," McGee said in that long-suffering way of his. Could anyone blame Tony for needing to draw that out of him all the time? "And you're one to talk, Mr. Born-with-a-Silver-Spoon."

"You'd be surprised how not-tasty silver can be." Tony pressed in closer as McGee started doing something to the frames with a widdle-bitty screwdriver. "Something wrong? Abby didn't say anything about problems with the feed."

"You had a screw loose." McGee turned his head just enough to show off his smug smile. "Why am I not surprised?"

"That was almost funny, McGiggles. Did you order a sense of humor from ACME while you were out?"

"No, but I think your package just came in. How-To Guide for Recovering Assholes, wasn't it?" McGee was still smiling as he turned all the way around. They were crowded close together, and it had just occurred to Tony that he was the one who needed to back away, when McGee brought his hands up and slid the glasses onto Tony's face. "There. How's that?"

Tony frowned. The left earpiece sat cockeyed a quarter inch above the cartilage, and his hair was rucked up weird under the right. McGee pushed past him while Tony pulled the glasses off and resettled them. They did fit better, actually. Not that he was going to admit that. He slid them off again and tossed them back onto the nightstand, then turned to see what McGee was up to--which was something involving a laptop that he'd pulled out from under the skirt of the trolley. Tony ignored the boring geek stuff and sauntered over to the cart, drawn by the chrome-domed plate on top. It was probably hiding more of McGee's electronic stuff, but just maybe...

"Oh, yes!" Not electronic stuff, unless there was a wire hiding in the giant chocolate chip cookie that took up most of the plate. Probably wasn't one in the vanilla ice cream melting all over the cookie, either. "This almost makes up for my cold steak."

"That's mine, DiNozzo. Don't touch it." McGee very stupidly didn't look away from his laptop, though, so Tony grabbed the spoon and dug in. "And what was the deal with the chicken-steak thing, anyway? Because if that was code for something, I totally didn't get it."

"Nodda code," Tony mumbled around his mouthful. The vanilla and chocolate and brown-sugar sweetness was hardly highbrow, but it couldn't be beat in his book. "I was just trying to lay a foundation for something. Besides, the chicken looked really pasty. I can't believe I paid thirty-five bucks for that."

"You didn't pay anything for it, NCIS did. And laying a foundation for what?"

"Something that probably won't be an issue. Just keep following my lead, and we'll be fine." The ice cream was almost completely melted, soaking into the warm cookie for a perfect blend of flavors. If it sat any longer, though, it'd be nothing but mush dissolving in warm milk, which was the only reason Tony ate quickly.

"I think you should really tell me what you have in-- Hey!" McGee dumped the laptop on the bed, the most careless Tony had ever seen him be with computer equipment, and snatched the spoon out of Tony's hand. "I told you that's mine!"

"It was getting all nasty waiting for you. I was doing you a favor."

McGee frowned at him around the spoon in his mouth. The same spoon that had been in Tony's mouth thirty seconds ago. That was...gross. Yeah, gross, and not at all something else that Tony absolutely wasn't going to think about, not unless he absolutely had to, and only for purposes of the op. But it wasn't going to come down to that. Niemeyer might be a slippery fish, but Tony would figure out a way to get to him. A different way than the one he'd already thought of.

"You're not getting any more," McGee said, and Tony realized he'd been fixated on the damn spoon, watching each time he scooped up the drippy dessert from the plate and brought it up to his mouth.

"You should feel sorry for me," Tony said slowly, although his heart wasn't in the argument. He tried to look away when McGee started running his index finger through the soupy ice cream and then licking it off, but it was useless. Didn't really matter, anyway. He'd already been caught out as far as he was going to get caught. "I'm the one who has to sit through hours of 'How to UpSell the UnWilling' and 'MLM: Make Life Matter' tomorrow. Come on, McGee. Do me a favor, shoot me now."

"Tempting." The spoon clattered onto the empty plate, then McGee replaced the cover without much care. "You know, it's really not that bad. You could probably learn a lot tomorrow, if you just keep an open mind."

"Learn what? How to push a dozen cases of Vitasnacks onto little old ladies living off Social Security?"

"It's not like that," McGee grumbled as he picked up the laptop again. "Not the good direct sales programs, anyway."

"Oh, I'm getting the picture now." Tony held up his index finger. He could practically scent the blood in the water. The fear on the wind. "So what are you in, Amway? Pampered Chef? Ooh, I know! Mary Kay, right? Do their products help you keep that lovely feminine glow?"

McGee rolled his eyes. "I don't sell anything. Successful writer, remember?"

"Uh-huh. So why the impassioned defense?"

"It's not a big deal. My mom's been into several different companies over the years, and she loves it."

Tony snorted. "Nice. So how much money has she lost?"

"None, okay? In fact, she's made enough that she could have paid for my school, if I hadn't had a free ride. That's how I got the car in high school. Oh, and for the record, it gives her a huge sense of fulfillment and empowerment."

Tony held up both hands. "Easy, easy. I'm glad she's the go-getter." It wasn't that surprising that she was one of the success stories, now that he thought about it. Tim and Sarah McGee were both overachieving overachievers; he couldn't imagine their parents being slackers. Tony inched his way over to the bed and sat down next to McGee--close enough that he couldn't get off a good punch without telegraphing it minutes ahead of time. "So why didn't you say anything in the briefing? Coulda used some expert advice, you know."

McGee closed the laptop with a sigh and slid it back under the tablecloth. "I'm not an expert. It's not like I ever went to any of her seminars or anything. I just heard the..."

"Heh. You were going to say party line, weren't you?"

" lingo a lot," McGee finished with a twist of his lips. "Do you always have to assume the worst about everything?"

"Only when I'm doing my job." Tony slapped him on the chest. "So come on, you've got to have some insight. What's going to get me in good?"

"Don't look down your nose at everybody here, for starters."

Tony just gave McGee the look. It wasn't quite a Gibbs look, but he'd been getting better at it, and Tim finally sighed.

"Yeah, I know you know what you're doing undercover. It's just...even if the guys at the top are dirty, it doesn't mean that the people under them are. Or that they're idiots for trying to change their lives."

Tony raised an eyebrow. "You got a lot a crap over the years for what your mom did, didn't you?"

McGee snorted. "No, I got crap for being a geek. She got crap for what she did. From her sisters, mostly, but our neighbors always kind of looked down their noses, too. Even when they were buying stuff from her."

"Okay. No looking down my nose, check." That got a smile. Tony nudged McGee with his shoulder. "So, come on. I need to stand out if I'm going to get anywhere near Niemeyer."

"I told you, I don't really know that much." But then he sighed, giving into Tony like he always did. "I did notice that their website sucks. It's just the catalog, and you can't even order anything online. They need landing pages for their associates. And it's stupid not to have some kind of lead referral system set up. They're losing tons of potential customers because of that."

Tony laughed. "Yeah, you haven't been thinking about this at all."

"Hey, if you don't want my help..." McGee started to stand, but Tony caught his shoulder and drew him back down to the bed.

"I didn't say that, did I? Now start over. Using words in English."


"Oh, yes," Tony purred. He strode down the hallway like a SMAU locked on target, determined to get to the raspberry cheese danish before anyone thought about giving it a covetous glance. He had to brush a few shoulders with his own as he passed by the coffee table, but he was unstoppable, a man in motion, a soldier on a mission. He scooped it up without anyone even getting close--and the first bite was everything he dreamed it would be.

"Mmmm, yes, baby," he moaned, and took another huge bite.

"Easy there, DiNozzo," Gibbs said in his ear. "We want to gather intelligence on these people, not send them stampeding because of your lack of manners."

Tony managed to swallow the huge bite in his mouth, then smiled at the guy across the room who'd been staring at him. He didn't know what the big deal was; he'd spent enough time in ships' messes to know how sailors and Marines ate. Apparently, once they graduated to health-food sales-nut they got snooty or something. Tony scrubbed his tongue over his front teeth, cleaning off the stray clumps of gooey cheese as he retreated behind one of the wide columns that stood between the hall and the atrium. At least there he'd be able to finish his breakfast without offending anyone else.

He'd just stuffed in the rest of the danish when a hand landed on the back of his neck. Tony choked. Literally choked, crumbs fighting for control of his airway. He coughed a couple times and cleared his throat, returning to the land of the breathing only to hear Gibbs chuckling, the bastard.

"Sorry about that," Niemeyer said, patting Tony helpfully on the back. "I just wanted to say hello, not kill you."

"Not a problem," Tony wheezed out. He brushed at his mouth, hoping to hell he didn't have crumbs in his nose or raspberry smeared across his cheek after that little display. "I'm not usually so jumpy."

Niemeyer arched an eyebrow. "Maybe it's all that sugar you just put in your system."

Tony winced. Stupid. He should have gone for the power bars like everyone else had been. "Yeah. I know. I've been meaning to cut down, really."

"One meal at a time, that's all anybody can do." Niemeyer's hand had never left the zone between Tony's shoulder blades after he'd stopped patting, and now he slid it over to squeeze Tony's shoulder. "Besides, you can't be eating too badly, from the way you look." He winked and stepped back, hand slipping away just a fraction too slowly. "Enjoy the seminar."

"I will," Tony called out, only a couple seconds slow, but Niemeyer was already schmoozing the next group he'd encountered. The guy was slick. Super slick, and he always seemed to catch Tony flat-footed. Opportunity would open up, and then snap closed before Tony could capitalize. Frustrating, very frustrating. He was going to have to put his foot on the gas pretty soon, or the seminar would be over before he even managed to get the guy to slip him a business card.

"That was some smooth undercover work there, DiNozzo," Gibbs murmured, still sounding amused. Tony just grunted in response. Amused was better than pissed, but not by a lot. "What do you call that technique again?"

"Yeah, yeah," Tony muttered under his breath. He swiped at his face one more time, straightened his collar, and put on the old DiNozzo swagger. It was fuel-injection time.

Niemeyer was still mingling in the corridor, back to the breakfast spread as he talked with a group of about ten. Tony took a moment, but it wasn't hard to spot his quarry, not when he was helpfully draped in the standard bright red hotel jacket. McGee was perfectly positioned, too, and if Tony was a superstitious guy he'd say that the stars were aligning for this plan.

He knew he was in Niemeyer's line of sight as he walked down the hall, but he resisted the urge to check to see if he'd captured his attention. McGee was oblivious, of course, focused on stacking fresh coffee cups on the beverage table.

"They must be working you to the bone," Tony said, voice pitched low and seductive. Nearly choking to death had leant it a raspiness that would have made his own toes curl. McGee's body seemed to register the tone before his brain did, ears pinking as his head shot up.

"Can I help you, sir?" The cup in McGee's hand clattered against its mates before he let go and turned to face Tony fully. His eyes were a bit too wide, darting to look over Tony's shoulder.

Tony leaned in, smile plastered on his face. "Just play along," he whispered.

McGee nodded. "Of course, sir. Whatever I can do to help you out."

Tony laughed. "You don't have to be so formal with me..." He let his gaze drop, taking a wandering route before touching base on McGee's name badge. "...Timothy."

For a second, Tony thought McGee wasn't going to go along with it, his Adam's apple bobbing down, but then he licked his lips and smiled. "Less formal, huh? I think I can handle that." He bit his lip, and looked down, not quite pulling off Tony's earlier skeevy scope-out before he looked up again, almost coy. "You never did say if there was something I could do for you, Anthony. Or should I call you Tony?"

And, holy shit, Tony hadn't been expecting McGee to actually pull off flirtatious, but he was working it, his almost-there smile hinting at things unsaid, eyebrows perched in faux-innocence.

"Uh." Tony cleared his throat. "Yeah. Yeah, I'd definitely say there's something you can do for me." He risked a glance over his shoulder. The hallway had started to clear out as people headed to the seminar rooms. Niemeyer was standing in front of a set of open double doors. He met Tony's gaze, but only for a second before he turned and went inside. Not the room Tony was slated for, unfortunately.

"Later," he told McGee, squeezing his forearm quickly, and then headed for Niemeyer's room. He'd never been shy about crashing a party. Unfortunately, the biggest, burliest dude Tony had seen yet at this jarhead convention stepped in front of him.

"This is a meeting for executive reps only," he said, polite and gentle despite the way he settled his meathooks over his giant biceps.

"Oh, whoops." Tony grinned up at him. "I thought this was Grant II. Obviously I missed Roman Numeral Day in kindergarten."

The guy jutted his chin out. Amazing he still had that much flexibility considering the girth of his neck. "Across the hall. Better hurry or you'll miss the introduction games."

"Right." Tony plastered on a smile and turned himself around. The guy at the door of Grant II handed him a pair of pink plastic straws on his way in. He stared down at them for a second, then stuck them in his pocket and made his way to an empty chair. "How is this my life?" he muttered, and ignored the sound of Gibbs laughing.





Tony jerked awake, blinking as he realized the lights were back up and the slide show was over. He looked to either side of him; Jeff-the-might-be-okay guy was smirking down at his notebook, but Marty-who-had-a-stick-up-his-ass was judging him with a sideways glare and a sneer. Like it was Tony's fault that PowerPoint was designed by the devil in an effort to bore the world straight to hell.

"Get your spiel ready," Gibbs said. "They're starting on your left."

Tony worked his head from side to side, trying to get rid of the kink that had started sometime in the middle of the night last night--the hotel pillows were way too thick--and surreptitiously brought his hand to his mouth to check for drool. He kept one ear open to the other guys in the room talking, but so far nobody was anywhere close to McGee's genius ideas. He quickly reviewed the main points in his head, just to make sure he didn't start babbling about the internet's pipes or peeing on the power cord or something--but he was feeling pretty confident. McGoogle had actually been pretty helpful.

It wasn't much longer before Jeff was totally up to give his three cents of input. Tony golf-clapped along with everyone else when he finished, then waited for the presenter dude in charge of the room to give him the look to start talking. The guy seemed to think that eyebrow acting was an acceptable substitute for verbal communication.

"Right," Tony said after he judged the angle of the left eyebrow to be signalling 'green light' rather than 'hold on'. "So, I was thinking, wouldn't it be cool if everyone had their own landing page on the website?"

"Already doing that," Jeff said softly. "It was in the presentation."

"Heh. Yeah, I'm just joking with you guys." Nobody so much as smiled. Tough room. He tugged at his tie, smiled at now-impatient presenter dude--Corey?--and opened his mouth. "I can't help but notice this place is a little thin on representatives of the female persuasion."

Seats sighed and pants rustled as something like half the room shifted uncomfortably.

"What are you saying?" Corey asked, and there was more than a little warning in his voice. "We're always open to anyone who wants to sell for us."

Tony held up a hand. "Hey, I'm not implying anything." Open to anyone they might be, but it was pretty obvious that the old-boy network was thriving as well here as it did in the services. Tony knew better than to stick his hand in that mess. Besides, he had his own working theory as to why Niemeyer might be encouraging an all-male party. But right now he had to run some kind of play, and he wasn't McGee. He had to work with what he knew. "I'm just saying. Soccer moms."

"Soccer moms?" Corey blinked like they were two foreign words. "Nice thought, but that market's pretty well cornered already."

"Which is why we need to make inroads, right?" Tony caught Jeff nodding in his peripheral vision. "Listen. What I see right now is a room full of fit, good-looking guys. Who better to market a product to bored housewives looking for a little spice in their lives?"

Marty snorted. "We're not gigolos, dude."

"You're right. Because we're not the product." Tony was warming to the idea now, getting his feet under him, and he let those feet move him out into the center of the room, drawing eyes to himself. "The product is the product. What we are is the hot, sexy model on the hood of the car. Now, we all know that what's under the hood of a classic Mustang is an amazing piece of engineering, but it doesn't hurt to draw the eye with a little extra embellishment."

Corey uncrossed his arms and put his hands on his hips. "You're saying sex sells."

Tony held up a finger. "I'm saying seduction sells. You've just got to transfer her interest from you to the product."

"I don't know," Marty said. "They don't really go for the hardcore health stuff."

"Are you kidding? Sure they do." Tony looked Marty up and down, in the disdainful way, not in the scoping a cute guy way he'd used on McGee earlier, and wow, not the time for those thoughts. "Let me guess. Every woman you've talked to has turned her nose up at some ex-Marine coming in, flexing his muscles, telling her how she really needs a bunch of amino acids if she wants to make any progress on the weights. Am I right?"

Marty frowned at him and didn't answer.

"Come on, guys! You can't all be single and hopeless with the ladies." That drew a few chuckles. "Here's what you gotta do: Stop selling the product."

"Okay, I think we're ready for you, Marty," Corey said, waving his pointer somewhat frantically in Marty's direction.

"Hang on, hang on. You're not hearing me. We get them to buy the product, yes." Tony paused as the doors to the room opened and a woman on the waitstaff entered, pushing a cart with water pitchers. Perfect timing. "Here, allow me to demonstrate." He hustled over to her before Corey could protest. "Excuse me, ma'am? Could I borrow a moment of your time?"

Her gaze flicked over his shoulder, to where the rest of the room was waiting, before she pulled up a tired smile for him. "How can I help you, sir?"

"Just come sit over here, please." He leaned in as he pointed in the direction of a chair in the middle of the room. "There's a twenty in it for you if you make it good," he whispered as he glanced down at her name tag, "Eliza." He threw in a wink.

When she blushed, Tony knew he already had it in the bag.


McGee was waiting outside the door of Tony's room, arms crossed over his chest as he stood beside a push cart. Tony's mouth watered at the sight of the domed plate on top of it, and he hustled away from the elevator with his key card already in hand.

"What do we have today? Bread pudding, maybe?" he asked, going for the lid before McGee had the cart all the way through the door. "It's been forever since I had good--"

The plate was empty. Not even licked-clean empty, but never-even-had-a-goodie-on-it empty. "Oh, come on," Tony whined. "How is that a good cover?"

"I was in a hurry." He squatted down and pulled a bundle out from underneath the cart--his usual McGeek Squad kit and kaboodle. "I just finished setting up a secure connection between the hotel observation room, NCIS, and here. We can chat through this baby--" he patted the laptop like Tony used to pat his Mustang, "--now instead of the earwigs."

"Well, why didn't you say so." Tony pulled the thing out of his ear, then tried to shove most of his index finger back in to get at the itch somewhere between his eardrum and his brain that had been nagging at him all day. By the time he gave it up as a lost cause, Tim had the connection up and going. Tony tossed the earwig and glasses onto the nightstand, then sat down on the bed beside Tim. Ziva and Gibbs, clearly in MTAC, filled the screen.

"That was some bullshit you came up with earlier, DiNozzo," Gibbs said with a smile.

"Thanks. I learned from the best," he said--and then realized how that sounded. "My dad, I mean. DiNozzo Sr. Who is the best at bullshitting, not anything else. That would be you, boss."

Gibbs shook his head and brought his coffee cup up to his mouth. Tony really hoped it was to cover a grin, and not because it was some redirection of violent impulses. Although, to be honest, he probably did deserve a headslap for that one. Just to get his brain firing on all cylinders, at the very least.

"So any developments on your end?" he asked.

Ziva's frown said it all before Gibbs sighed. "Nothing yet," he said.

"They are squawky clean," Ziva added.

"Squeaky," Tony and Tim corrected together.

"Whatever." She flapped her hand in a way that could have been dismissal or some secret assassin hand signal--you just never knew with Ziva. "The point is we haven't been able to find anything in their financials."

"Nothing from any of the company," Tony grimaced as the word came to him without trying, "representatives?"

Gibbs shook his head. "My gut says whoever is in the know is here. It's up to you, Tony."

"Right." Like that wasn't any pressure at all. "Anything else I should know?"

"Yeah. Don't do anything stupid."

"Do I ever?" Gibbs frowned at him. "Wait, don't answer that."

Gibbs didn't. He slashed his hand over the front of his throat, and the feed went dark without another word from either of them.

"Well. That was helpful. Not." Tony flopped backwards, arms out to the side as he relaxed into the softness of the bed. He bet there were some great reruns on TV right now. Maybe even some Magnum. Definitely a classic movie or two. He could stretch out, wiggle his toes, order some real room service and watch Clint Eastwood go badass on a punk. That sounded just about perfect.

"You want to tell me what's going on with this 'plan' of yours?" Tim asked, intruding ever so rudely on Tony's fantasy. "Especially since it seems to involve me somehow?"

Tony sighed, then pushed himself back upright, twisting so he could more-or-less face Tim. "Niemeyer's gay."

McGee got that pissy, pressed-together lip-look that he did so well, it must have earned him his first Merit Badge. "Tony, now is not the time for your homophobic jokes."

"Okay, first of all, I'm not a homophobe." McGee looked like he was going to argue, which, considering how they'd flirted this morning, really pissed Tony off. He frowned McGee into silence and waved two fingers in front of his nose. "And second, I never joke when I'm undercover."

"You do sometimes," McGee said petulantly, but then his brow wrinkled. "Wait. How do you know Niemeyer's gay?"

"I'm not going to lay it out in a database for you. I just know, okay?" His gaydar had always been phenomenal--right up to the moment he met one Probie McQuestionable. Tony pushed that old puzzle out of his head; he had other things to focus on right now. "Let's just say he's made it clear to me that I am not unattractive to him."

"Oh." McGee wrinkled his brow and nose both, but it was less of an ew-face and more of a I-don't-get-it face. Tony wasn't sure if that was any less offensive than an ew-face. "So why don't you just seduce him?"

Tony sighed. "McGee, McGee, McGee," he said, punctuating each 'McGee' with a pat to his chest. "I don't want to end up in Niemeyer's bed. I want to use my pretty face to get his attention, make him want to invite me into the inner circle."

"Ah. Got it." McGee raised an eyebrow. "Niemeyer really thinks you have a pretty face?"

Tony thunked him on the chest one more time. Solidly.

"Ow," McGee complained, rubbing at the spot.

"The point, McGiggles, is that I have to get his attention on me long enough that I can sweet-talk him into bringing me in. That's where you come in."

McGee nodded. "More of the same from earlier?"

Tony hesitated. "Along those lines," he hedged.

"What aren't you saying, DiNozzo?"

Tony grinned with all his teeth. "So, hypothetical question. If I were to lay one on you in the middle of a crowded room, would your first instinct be to punch me?"

McGee blinked. "Would I get a little warning first?"

"No, McGee, I'm just going to jump you from behind." Tony rolled his eyes, but he still looked unsure. "Believe me, you'd know it was coming. I've got to set the stage, right?"

McGee nodded slowly. "Then no, I wouldn't punch you."

"That's not exactly a whole-hearted endorsement, there."

McGee sighed. "That wasn't exactly much of explanation, Tony. No, I won't punch you if you kiss me. Yes, I'll go along with whatever lead you give me. Yes, I will do terrible things to all of your electronic devices if this is some elaborate joke."

"It's not a joke." Tony rubbed his hand over his eyes. He was starting to get a headache, and the day was a long way from over yet. "I just want to know that you're going to be able to do this."

McGee stared at him for a long moment. Tony wondered when he'd gotten a poker face. "Did you ask Ziva that before you guys went under as a married couple?"

Tony opened his mouth, but McGee shook his head, already knowing the answer. "Let's just do this," McGee said. "Okay?"

Tony ignored the skitter of his pulse and nodded. He grabbed McGee's wrist, turning it over so that he could see the face of his watch. "You think you can clear it to be on bar duty in twenty minutes?"


"You should have seen this guy," Marty said, slapping Tony hard on the shoulder. Hard enough that if he'd had the martini he longed for, it'd be all over the bar in front of him. "He had that girl all over him. I bet she bought an entire case afterwards, just to get your number."

"Well." Tony tossed another peanut into his mouth. "What can I say? Skill and dedication, boys. That's all there is to it."

"Totally showed Corey where to stick his numbers," Jeff said. Tony still wasn't sure how he'd done that, having been asleep during the presentation and all, or why doing so had won him so many fans, but he'd take it.

"Too bad we're not all hot stuff like you, DeNiro," one of the new guys said. Klaus, maybe. Or Klaussen. "I wouldn't mind upping my sales to the ladies, if you know what I mean."

"It's all in the charm." Tony tugged at his cuffs. Still no sign of Niemeyer, and no guarantee he was going to show up. He smiled at his new buddies. "Of course, having the whole package doesn't hurt." He tipped his head from side to side, eying Klaus. "Maybe you should invest in a Carnegie seminar. Just to be safe."

The guys burst out laughing, even Klaus. Marty was so tickled he had to slap him on the back this time. That'd definitely come in handy if needed the Heimlich at any point in his life.

That point nearly came a few minutes later when Niemeyer walked in mid-peanut toss. Tony managed to not choke, but he groaned when he realized that the guy deep in discussion with the boss was Corey-with-the-PowerPoint. Of course he'd have to piss off one of Niemeyer's right hand men.

"What's up?" Jeff asked.

Tony nodded towards Niemeyer's group. "Looks like I might have put my foot in it. One of you couldn't have warned me earlier?"

Marty patted him, almost gently this time. Apparently two gin-and-tonics turned him into a real friendly guy. "I wouldn't worry about it. As long as you're making money for the company, they couldn't care less."

"Yeah, well. I like to aim a little higher." Tony lifted his ginger ale, chasing the straw around the rim for a couple seconds before he gave up and grabbed it with his fingers. "How do you get in good with Gary anyway?"

Klaus shrugged. "Who knows? Most of top management have been with him from the beginning. Every now and then he singles somebody out to work with distribution, but I don't know any of them personally."

"Hmm. I guess I'll have to polish up my smile, then." He flashed his pearly whites. Klaus laughed fakely, clearly not getting it.

"You know, it'd be nice to get some more women into the company," Marty mused beside him. "The scenery gets a little hard on the eyes by the end of the day, if you know what I'm saying."

"My dad used to go to political conventions in the sixties," Klaus said. "He said they'd bring in 'showgirls' in the evenings to keep the boys from getting too rowdy."

"Hell with that," a guy to Jeff's right said. "I came here to learn how to make money, not how to spend it."

The group laughed again; apparently prostitute jokes were always good times. Tony tuned them out as they started sharing stories. Niemeyer's entourage was still deep in conversation at their table, but the man himself was sitting back in his chair, relaxed as he surveyed his domain around him. No better time to make a move than right now.

"Excuse me, boys," Tony said, swiping his peanut-greased hands across his thighs. "Sometimes you just have to look in a different place to find something good."

"What?" Klaus called as Tony moved away. "There's a hooker here?"

Tony ignored him, ignored everything but McGee holed up in the cashier's alcove on the other side of the room, and Niemeyer's presence at the table to his right. He didn't look at Niemeyer; calling attention to himself was one thing, tipping his hand was another. It made him itch, though, not knowing if this was wasted effort, but he had to hope that Niemeyer was as attentive as he seemed.

Tony crowded into the alcove, catching hold of McGee's elbow. "Hey. Got a minute?"

McGee went still, though he didn't startle. He turned around slowly, and by the time he was facing Tony there was a mischievous smile on his lips. "For you? Always."

Tony swallowed. They were playing a game, that was all. A game with life or death stakes, maybe, but that was all part of the job. He'd tell himself to focus on the job and not his fantasies, but the problem was, right now his fantasies were the job. This was a stupid, stupid plan, one he should stop right now. Except now he could just make out Niemeyer in the small mirror behind McGee, staring right at his back.

"Do you need me to check your bill or something?" McGee prompted.

Tony blinked. So much for not getting sidetracked. "Uh, sure. I have a feeling ol' Klaus was adding his screwdrivers to my tab."

McGee rolled his eyes, but he started tapping away at the touch screen. He could probably hack the pentagon through the thing, but Tony wasn't in the mood to wait around for him to do it. He took a step deeper into the alcove, pressing impossibly close. He could smell McGee's aftershave and something slightly floral, plus a kind of stinky combination of nachos, beer, and maybe sloppy joes.

"You still okay with this?" he asked as McGee's shoulder knocked into his chest.

"You still think it's the only way to get to Niemeyer?"

"With just a day left? Afraid so."

McGee nodded. He dropped his hands away from the touch screen and turned around. They were so close their chests were pressed together, faces just inches apart.

"Do whatever you need to do," McGee said. He should have sounded reluctant, or resigned, or grossed out, even. But it sounded more like an order, one more compelling than any Gibbs had ever given.

Tony remembered the glasses just in time. He fumbled them off of his face and stuffed them into his pocket, ignoring the startled squawk that came over his earpiece. Then, before he could second-guess himself, he cupped the back of McGee's neck and drew their heads together. McGee's lips were soft, not chapped like Tony always imagined. Really soft. Tingly, even. Or maybe those were his own lips, buzzing from the contact even after he pulled away.

He wanted to do it again.

"Was Niemeyer looking?" he murmured.

McGee licked his lips, then tilted his head against Tony's hand, eyes straining to the side. "Can't tell," he said. "Better make sure." He was the one who moved this time, lips parting before Tony could suggest otherwise.

Not that he would have suggested otherwise. Their first kiss had been a gentle, lingering brush of the lips, but this time they were putting on a show. Tony went for deeper, and McGee met him, 100%. This was getting hot, fast, and Tony had forcefully remind himself to back off before things got too happy in his pants.

"That should do it." His voice was raspy, no raspberry danish necessary. He took a calming breath, and then another, reminding himself of the plan. This had been the fun part, after all. "Right. Time for step two."

McGee nodded. He opened his mouth, shook his head, and then nodded again. Tony took a step back, then another, and turned and walked away.

"Glasses, Tony," Ziva said in his ear. He slipped them back on, very desperately not thinking about what the rest of his team knew or had figured out about what had just happened.

He full-out sauntered back to the group waiting at the bar, 'about to get laid' grin firmly on his face. And oh, yeah, he found a wall of perfectly unfriendly backs waiting for him.

"S'up, guys?" he said, slapping Marty on the back. "Anything interesting happen while I was away?"

No one answered. Surprise, surprise. He reached for his all but empty glass of ginger ale, squeezing his arm between a pair of elbows--and Jeff flinched back. Tony blinked, surprised.

"Don't touch me," Jeff growled.

Taking a step back wasn't play-acting. Adrenaline shot through him, speeding the pulse in his throat and making him long for the weight of his gun. He held his hands up, palms forward and placating. He'd expected some kind of reaction, had planned for it, but he really could have done without the reminder of why he never did this. Not anymore.

"It's not contagious, you know," he said, unable to help himself. Jeff paled, but he apparently he wasn't the type to beat up whatever scared him.

Marty sighed, then nodded at the stiff backs of the other guys. "Maybe you should go," he said quietly. His eyes said he was sorry, but that he wasn't about to put his neck out for Tony. "Before you make a scene."

"Right." Tony snorted. "Wouldn't want to do that."

He was careful not to bump into anyone on his way out of the lounge, uncertain if anybody else had witnessed his and McGee's little tete-a-tete and wanted to share their two-thumbs down review. He didn't look back to see if Niemeyer had noticed. Didn't look back to see if McGee was getting any flack. Tim was smart. He'd know to fade into the woodwork, go on break or something.

Tony hoped he would, anyway.

As soon as he was back in his room, he went straight to the closet and pulled his bag out, and then tossed it onto the bed. There really wasn't any reason to throw all of his clothes into it, but hey, he was a method actor. Doing so felt good.

"Gibbs is going to be pissed if you leave," Ziva said.

Tony closed his eyes and took a moment to breathe deeply through his nose. "Relax. This is all part of the con."

"If you say so." She sounded far too subdued. Like when she was concerned about somebody's emotions, and didn't want to say anything directly about it. Tony hated it when she got like that.

"I say so." He rubbed a hand across his face, trying to figure out when this had become so real to him. It wasn't, not at all. In a few hours the plan would come together, Niemeyer would be in custody for whatever it was he'd done, and Tony would be back to being the straight guy. Literally. "Where is Gibbs, by the way?"

"He's on his way over, just in case. I think you worried him with the stunt you pulled."

So much for any hope that they hadn't figured it out. He zipped up his bag, everything packed that he was going to pack. He thought the tip of the tie straggling out the end was an artful touch. "Wish me luck. If this doesn't work the way I think it's going to, Gibbs is going to kill me."

"Mmm, no, I do not think so. Just fire you for scaring him half to death."

Tony snorted. "You're so supportive."

He had his hand on the door when Ziva spoke up again. "Tony. They were wrong. You know that, right? It doesn't matter who you do...whatever you want to do...with. Believe me."

Tony sighed. "Thanks, Ziva," he said softly. "You ready? The show's about to start."

He hadn't quite made up his mind whether to storm the lounge and make that scene Marty was so worried about, or try to slip in quietly and catch Niemeyer's eye. Maybe page Niemeyer to the front desk and hope he showed.

The man himself saved him the trouble. He was standing in the reception area just beyond the bank of elevators, his eyes flicking down to Tony's bag.

"I was looking for you." Niemeyer was frowning. He gripped Tony's upper arm, firmly enough that Tony'd have to work to break free. "You're not leaving us already, are you?"

"Yeah, sorry." Tony let himself sway into Niemeyer, just a bit, and aimed his gaze at his shoes. "I guess I got a little too comfortable. I mean, I know what the odds are, especially with so many military, but..."

"But?" Niemeyer pressed in closer. The guy's breath was fluffing the hairs on his neck. Tony hoped that any goosebumps that sprang up in reaction would be taken as a sign of interest.

"But I thought it might be different, because of, well, you."

Niemeyer relaxed. He didn't quite smile, but his grip loosened, until he was simply cupping Tony's arm. "You give me more credit than I can afford to pay out. I tried, when we were still a small company. But you can't control what everyone thinks, not if you want to make money."

"I know." Tony shook his head. "And that's why I've got to get out of here. I respect what you've accomplished, but it's just not for me. Sorry."

"Don't go, please." Niemeyer clamped down on his arm again. "I'm not going to try to convince you that what you encountered isn't unusual. But we're not all bad. And I guarantee you that the upper echelons are very accepting."

"That's great," Tony said. "But that really doesn't help me much, does it? I mean, word is going to get around to the other guys. Tomorrow isn't going to be fun, I know that from experience."

"I like you, Anthony. And not just because you're beautiful." Niemeyer's gaze dropped to Tony's lips for a second before he smiled knowingly. "I like your spirit and your honesty. You're a thinker, and you're not afraid to go after what you want. Am I right?"

Oh, the irony. Tony smiled as best as he could in the face of it. "I'm a big fan of flattery, too."

Niemeyer smiled slowly. "It's not flattery." He let go of Tony's arm and took a step back. He rubbed at his mouth, eyes unfocused like he was contemplating something heavy. "You're right, though. You don't fit in with this group. But what if I told you there's a better opportunity, something more suited to your goals?"

Tony raised both eyebrows. "I'm listening."

"Like I said before, those of us at the heart of the company are a much different group. But we can't handle all of the, let's call it detail work. It can get overwhelming."

Tony nodded. "My cousin started his own business a few years back. Was working something like a hundred hours a week. His wife never saw him, so she decided to get herself a new husband."

Niemeyer snorted. "We're past that point, thankfully. But I have to remind myself from time to time that delegation is a good thing. That's why every now and then I bring in someone I think has the potential to be a genuine asset. Someone who can handle those kind of details."

"What kind of details are we talking about? Because yeah, I'm an accountant, but I was really hoping to get away from tax law."

Niemeyer laughed and reached for Tony again. "No, no. Simple stuff, really, but worth your time. Monitoring shipment quality, mostly. We can talk about it more later, if you're interested."

"Oh, I am very interested."

"Good." Niemeyer squeezed Tony's neck, then let go. "We're having a meeting in 1205 in half an hour. Why don't you come up and meet everyone?"

"I'll be there with bells on." He held up his bag. "I'd better go take care of this, I guess."

"Of course. I'll see you in a few."

Tony practically collapsed once the elevator doors closed, sagging against the gleaming metal behind him.

"Nice job, DiNozzo," Gibbs murmured.

"Thanks, boss. You in the observation room?"

Gibbs snorted. "You need to brush up on your observation skills, Tony. I was sitting behind the palm trees the whole time."

"Oh. I knew that. I was just--"

"Testing me?"

Tony grinned as he stepped off the elevator and headed towards his room. "Something like that."

"You need to be on your toes going into this, Tony. We still don't have anything concrete on these guys, and I don't like that."

"Your gut says trouble?" he asked--quietly, even though he didn't need to now that he was behind a locked door.

Gibbs sighed. "It says you need to be careful."

"Oh, believe me. I will be a granny on ice, a mouse in a knife store, a--"

"I get the picture. Just make sure you do it."

"Right, boss." Tony unrolled his garment bag, wrinkling his nose at the mess he'd made. He'd just stuffed his shirts in, not really worrying about how they hung, and most of them had slipped off and wound up tangled up in the foot of the bag. The maroon silk had escaped unscathed, but the cotton were hopelessly wrinkled. He'd have to send them out tonight or wear one of the more casual henleys tomorrow. Or iron it himself.

Hopefully they'd have something on Niemeyer before it came down to that.

He brushed his fingers over the silk shirt, thinking. It was Italian, slightly extravagant and one of his favorites. He'd brought it on a whim; it didn't exactly fit the profile of a slightly nerdy accountant trying to climb the vitasnack pyramid. It did, however, fit the profile of a confident gay man who was looking to pique the interest of a potential partner, business or otherwise.

Decision made, Tony stripped off his shirt and khakis, trading them for the silk shirt and a pair of tight jeans.

"I do so love this job at times," Ziva purred.

Crap. He'd forgotten about the mirror. "Needed a refresher on what a real man looks like?"

"Not at all," she said, obviously recovered from the serious 'moment' they'd shared earlier. "But I am always entertained by the placement of that mole right below--"

"Do either of you have any concept of the word 'work'?" Gibbs snapped. He must have returned to the observation room they were using, because he certainly wasn't trying to keep his voice down. "Or do you need a refresher on that?"

"All set, boss." Tony checked the drape of his shirt in the mirror, smoothed his hair, and did a quick pit sniff. Passable, but another spritz of cologne wouldn't hurt. He headed to the door, but paused before opening it. "Listen. If this goes like I think it's going to go, you may need to send in McGee."

"Already planned on it, Tony."

"Right." He took a deep breath, and headed out the door.


He was surprised to find the hall in front of 1205 empty, none of Niemeyer's giant 'assistants' lurking outside. They were, however, on the other side of the door, bracketing him like a couple of linebackers when he stepped inside. They didn't search him, thank God, just stared him down until Niemeyer crossed the room to give them the all clear.

"I'm glad you came, Anthony," he said, cupping the back of Tony's neck once again and using that hold to guide him into the rest of the room. It was a suite, the bedroom presumably behind the closed French doors to their left. The rest of the room wasn't overly large, not with about a dozen guys in it, but it wasn't cramped either. Neimeyer led him to the small bar opposite the French doors, urging him towards the last empty stool. "We're running a little behind, so I'm afraid the introductions will have to wait."

After one last charming smile, he was off, taking a spot in the center of the room where everyone could see him. He didn't sit, merely propped one foot up on an ottoman and rested his elbow on his knee. "So, Paul. Tell me about our west coast penetration."

Paul, a grey-haired guy in an oatmeal turtleneck that did nothing for the age catching up to his face, started rattling off percentages and numbers. Unfortunately, he never mentioned percentages of what, or to where or to whom, and by the time Lawrence (mid-thirties, redhead, glasses) started on their east coast numbers, Tony's head was spinning from the effort of matching something, anything, up with what they already knew. He hoped to hell that the rest of the team would be able to decipher the intel they were getting, because otherwise this whole operation was a bust. The wrong kind of bust.

"Okay, boys. Thank you very much," Neimeyer said maybe half an hour later. Tony blinked, feeling like he was coming out of a really good drunk, the kind where you don't even realize you're tipsy until you start to lose the buzz. The lights seemed a little too bright, the noise in the room sudden and loud, and he had no idea what he was supposed to do now.

Niemeyer took care of that question, though, heading straight to Tony with Lawrence in tow. "This is Anthony," he said, and then nodded to someone behind Tony. "The one I was telling you about earlier."

"Lawrence," the guy said, holding out his hand.

Tony shook it and put on his best company smile. "Great to meet you, Lawrence. Sounded like business is booming, at least on your side of things."

Lawrence smiled. "So you were paying attention."

"Anthony's an accountant," Niemeyer said, reaching past Tony's head to accept a glass of something. It was clear, but Tony could smell a faint whiff of alcohol. Vodka tonic, maybe. "Or at least he was, isn't that right?"

Tony nodded. "I can crunch the numbers, but it's not really what I want to retire on."

"We've got the number crunching under control," Lawrence said--and then he had a drink in his hand, too. Tony almost looked over his shoulder to see who the magic booze dispenser was, but if he did that then he'd be setting himself up for faking his way through a glass the rest of the night.

"Great," Tony said, and his smile was completely real. "Because I am really, really sick of making sure every little thing lines up with the law."

Lawrence and Niemeyer exchanged a look. "Joe Franklin brought you in, is that right?" Lawrence asked.

And here was where things got tricky. It was always a risk, using someone you didn't know as an in, but a dead guy made it even more complicated. "Yeah," Tony said. "I did his taxes, and we got to talking about what you guys do. Couldn't pass up the opportunity when it fell in my lap like that."

"I thought Joe did his own taxes," Lawrence said.

Tony shrugged as nonchalantly as he could manage. "And that's why he paid out the ass the year before last, instead of getting a thousand dollar refund."

"Ouch," Lawrence said, and then he shook his head. "You know, I offered, but he is a stubborn, stubborn man."

"Well, he suffered the consequences," Tony said, successfully keeping the wince inside.

"He was supposed to be here this weekend," Niemeyer said. "At this meeting. But nobody's been able to reach him. Have you heard from him recently?"

Tony shook his head. "We don't really keep in touch, other than the monthly emails he sends out."

Tension flared up, though Tony didn't think it was because of what he'd said. Lawrence and Niemeyer were staring at each other, having some kind of silent argument or discussion. Tony really wanted to crack a joke, but he waited it out, and finally Lawrence turned to him with a smile.

"Well, Anthony, it was good to meet you. I'll leave you in Gary's hands for now, but I'm sure we'll be talking soon enough."

"Right," Tony said, waving as Lawrence flitted away.

"He'll be your supervisor," Niemeyer said quietly. He'd taken the seat beside Tony, whoever'd been sitting there before giving over to the boss man, and he leaned in close, shoulder brushing against Tony's. "If you're still interested in that detail work I was talking about."

"Absolutely," Tony said. The juice started flowing, his heart speeding up a bit, because this might be his last chance to get what they needed. "Just...what is it that you want me to do?"

"It's so simple you'll laugh," Niemeyer said, smiling. "I'm not sure if you know this, but a great deal of our herbal supplements come from outside of the country. We prefer to process them here, however, because that way we can guarantee the quality."

Tony nodded. "Makes sense."

"The problem is that our suppliers insist on sticking everything in one package. The guarana, the cat's claw, you name it. And it all has to go to different factories." Niemeyer shook his head like it was the most ridiculous problem ever.

"Doesn't it all end up in the same stuff in the end?"

"Some of it does, yes, but if it were that straightforward, everyone would be doing it, right?" Niemeyer winked.

Tony laughed lightly. "Right, duh."

"It's annoying, but I need someone to separate out all the different packages and see that they get to the right destination. I tried using cheap labor, but you'd be amazed at what people will steal." He laid his hand on Tony's thigh, just above the kneecap. "So even though it's an easy job, I need people I can trust. People I will absolutely reward for doing a trustworthy job."

"They're using the stuff," Ziva murmured, echoing Franklin's suicide note. Tony raised his chin ever so slightly in agreement. He wondered exactly what was in those herbal combinations; it had to be something potent to confuse a drug dog's nose.

"You're right," he said, shooting Niemeyer a flirty smile. "I do kind of want to laugh. That easy?"

"That easy. So, what do you say?"

"Are you kidding? Of course I'm in."

"Great! Lawrence will work out the details with you later." Niemeyer slipped off the bar stool. He stood looking out at the rest of the room, but his hand was warm on Tony's shoulder as he leaned in. "I need to talk to a few more people, make sure everything's ship-shape. You'll stick around for a while, won't you?"

"Wouldn't dream of leaving," he said through a smile, even though right now he just wanted to get out of here and see if the team had put enough together to take these guys down. Neimeyer slipped away, which left Tony in a room full of drug-running health nuts--and how did that even work, anyway?--without being able to indulge in an adult beverage of his choice.

He spun around, finally spotting the guy handing out drinks. Not one of the hotel staff, but another of Niemeyer's goon squad. Tony bobbed his eyebrows. "You got any cranberry juice back there? Got a little plumbing issue, if you know what I mean."


Something like two hours later, Tony was ensconced on the long stick of an L-shaped couch, desperately wishing for one of those really huge fishbowl Margaritas, the ones that came with half a dozen umbrellas and enough alcohol to make even uplines and downlines fascinating. He hadn't minded so much when he'd been dragged into a conversation about saw palmetto's benefits, even though the words 'prostate hypertrophy' made him want to stick his fingers in his ears. This, though... Tony sucked his last ice cube into his mouth and blinked a couple times, trying to remember this guy's name. Jack. Or John. One of those ubiquitous WASP names that said nothing and absolutely everything about the guy carrying it.

"Don't you think?" John--George?--said.

"More or less," Tony answered, not even attempting more at this point. The guy was handling the conversation pretty well without much help from Tony, anyway.

"Could you excuse us, Jim? I have something to discuss with Anthony." And that was Niemeyer coming to his rescue, swooping in like Superman. Only without the cape. Except that would make Niemeyer Clark Kent, and he wasn't very Clark Kent-ish at all.

Tony, though. He was the one with the glasses, after all, and Clark Kent was basically Superman undercover...

Niemeyer snorted, watching Jim walk away before he turned back to Tony with a knowing smile. "How did you ever wind up in accounting?"

Whoops. "That obvious, huh?" Tony said, smiling. "I told you, I'm desperate for a change."

"I'm glad that I'm able to help you out, then." He took the seat Jim had vacated, crossing his ankle over his knee and propping his elbow on the back of the couch so he was fully turned towards Tony. A pretty clear signal to everyone in the room that this was a private conversation, Tony thought. After just a few short conversations with the man, it wasn't hard to see how Niemeyer had built such a following. It was a shame the guy was a drug kingpin on the side.

"You have no idea." Tony shook his head. "I have nightmares with numbers stalking me. You've heard the joke about why one through six are all afraid? Well, seven ate more than nine in my dreams."

Niemeyer laughed, with a kind of surprised sincerity. Score one for DiNozzo absurdity, Tony thought. "But seriously," Niemeyer said. "Why?"

Tony shrugged. "It's what the old man did." He looked down to his glass, but there wasn't any ice left to suck on. "I wasn't going to go into it, no siree. Was all set to be an officer and a gentleman--right up until the day I had my leg broken on the fifty-yard-line." It wasn't exactly the story he'd passed off earlier, but he didn't think Niemeyer would be gossiping with Carmine any time soon. This was closer to the truth, and thus easier to spin into something believable. "After that-- Well. The easiest path was the one dear old dad set out."

Niemeyer sighed. "Yet somehow those easy paths are always the hardest to walk down in the end, aren't they?"

Tony swallowed. Staring into Niemeyer's eyes made his gut squirm, but he couldn't look away. It wasn't that Tony was attracted to the guy, attractive though he was. It was the sense of understanding that got him, the feeling that he could up and confess everything--including the fact that he was a cop--and Niemeyer would just offer up a slice of wisdom with a sad smile on the side.

It unnerved him.

"Something like that," he murmured. He smiled a smile that would probably get him into trouble, but flirting was what he did when--well, flirting was what he did. "What about you? Born with a passion to start a health food company?"

"Something like that," Niemeyer parroted back, but with a sparkle in his eyes. "My father always wanted me to make something of myself. A doctor, preferably. But not a business man--that was far too risky for his tastes."

Tony snorted. "Guess you proved him wrong, huh?"

"Yeah." Niemeyer frowned down into his drink. Tony'd touched a nerve, obviously, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. He'd gotten as much out of the evening as he thought he was going to get, and it was just about time for him to hightail it out of here. But then Niemeyer was shifting forward, closing the distance between them until their forearms were knocking together and Tony could smell the alcohol on his breath. "Listen, Anthony. I like you. I really like you. I--"

Somebody cleared a throat. Somebody right in front of them. Normally Tony would find that kind of thing just plain nasty, but right now he couldn't think of a nicer sound. Especially when he looked up to see McGee was the source of said sound.

"Ah, excuse me, sir. I'm sorry to interrupt." McGee's tone was pleasant enough, but there was something in his smile that wasn't very waiterly. Maybe it was the fact that he wasn't wearing the jacket and vest now, just one of the gold nametags on his shirt. No bow tie, either, his shirt open at the neck. He was an off-duty Tim, even if he wasn't actually off-duty, and it made him look...not very subservient. Not subservient at all.

Tony lifted his empty glass to his lips and tried to suck down a piece of non-existent ice.

"Yes?" Niemeyer said, and he sounded a little less than his usual charming self, as well.

"The manager asked me to make sure that you have everything you need." Tim--McGee--waved in the direction of the bar. "Perhaps a few more bottles of our house red?"

"I think we're fine, thank you." Niemeyer raised an eyebrow. "I didn't expect quite this level of attention tonight."

Tim shrugged. "We like to make sure to follow through on all our promises," he said, still smiling, but his gaze was on Tony.

Tony could recognize a lifeline when he was thrown one. "Uh, yeah." He coughed like he was incredibly uncomfortable--which wasn't all that far from the truth. "So when I said I was going to be free later--"

"I obviously misunderstood," Tim said, and wow, Tony knew that he could pull off pissy, but he'd never heard it combined with that possessive cattiness before.

"No, listen," Tony jumped in. "I really do want--"

"I think maybe this is a discussion you two would rather have by yourselves?" Niemeyer said. He'd straightened away from Tony, and if this was a real flirtation there'd be no question that Tony had just crashed and burned faster than the Hindenburg.

Tony's wince was real. Gibbs would kick his ass if they still needed an in with Niemeyer. Hopefully Tim's presence meant that he was okay with however it played out, though. "I'm sorry," he told Niemeyer. "This whole evening kind of took me by surprise."

"No, no, don't apologize! I can see that you made quite an impression on the young man." Niemeyer winked up at Tim, whose smile now had an air of smugness to it. "I have business to attend to anyway. Go. Have fun. We'll talk tomorrow."

"Thanks, Gary." He shook Niemeyer's hand and then stood up. Tim opened his mouth, but Tony dropped his hand to the small of his back and then practically shoved him through the room and out the door.


They didn't say anything to each other the entire way back to Tony's room. Tony was paranoid that one of Niemeyer's goons would pop up behind him at just the wrong moment, and Tim--well, who knew what hamsters were running the wheels in that geek brain of his, but he stayed quiet even after the door was shut and barred behind them.

Tony's concerned glance bounced off of Tim without making a dent. He sighed and headed over to the bed, collapsing backwards in a full-body flop.

"Man, was I ever glad to see you," Tony said, watching Tim roam around the room like he'd never been in here before. "Things were getting a little intense with Niemeyer. And I don't even mean in the grabby-hands kind of way."

"Hey, Tony?" Ziva said in his ear. "I'm going to sign off. Gibbs said to keep McGee with you tonight, just in case anybody's snooping around."

Tony opened his eyes. Tim nodded once, indicating he'd heard, too. "K, Ziva," Tony said. "Talk to you tomorrow."

"Sleep well," she said, and then the tiny whine of transmission cut off before he could decide if there was any innuendo in those words. Tony popped out the earwig and set it on the nightstand next to the glasses.

Tim sat down on the opposite side of the bed and started unbuttoning his cuffs. He still hadn't said anything, and it was starting to get a little awkward inside Tony's head.

He cleared his throat. "So, hey. Your acting has really improved. I totally bought the whole jealous twink act back there."

Tim sighed. He swung his legs up on the bed and laid back, draping his arm across his eyes. Tony rolled onto his side, propping his head up on his hand so he could see better. Tim's cheeks were flushed, and he was breathing kinda harsh, like his allergies were acting up or something. Tony poked him in the side, right in the ticklish rib zone, but he barely even flinched.

"Okay, now I know you're ignoring me."

"I'm not ignoring you." Tim moved his arm enough to scrub his hand over his face, but then he left it covering his eyes. Something was definitely up. "It's just..."

"What?" Normally, Tony's instincts would be screaming at him to go in for the kill, to not let McGee off the ropes of whatever was bothering him. Except he had a bad-tuna knot in his gut telling him that he already knew what was bothering Tim. Yeah, sure he'd seemed fine playing gay earlier, but this was the first time he'd been stuck alone with Tony since then. Awkward city. Tony swallowed the bile-tinged spit in his throat and forced out the words he needed to, for the sake of their working relationship. "You know that earlier I was--"

"I wasn't acting, okay?" Tim dropped his hand to the bed and pushed himself up into a half-seated position. His face was flaming now, looking somewhere in between mortified and furious. "It looked real because it was real. And now you know. You win. You finally got me to admit that I'm bi-curious, and now I'm sure you're going to--"

Tony cut him off the only way he could think of. It was awkward, lunging from the position he was in, and he thought he heard McGee's head thump against something hard, but he didn't really care. He muscled them around until they were in a position that worked, until their mouths fit together like they had earlier, but so much more open and forceful and needy.

Tim broke the kiss, sucking in a breath to say something. Probably something Tony didn't want to hear. Before Tim could get those words out, Tony rolled them, pulling Tim on top of him, one thigh pushed up between Tim's legs as he coaxed his head down for another kiss. They kissed until they were both hard, gently rocking against each other's thighs, and then Tim lifted his head, breathing hard and licking his lips as he watched Tony with his big green eyes.

Tony really liked green.

"So, wait. You--" Tim frowned. "This isn't--"

Tony clapped his hands to the top of his head. "Gaaaah! You drive me crazy!"

He'd meant it as an exasperated comment on Tim's inability to get it for once and for all, but the giant smile that threatened to eat Tim's face said that he hadn't taken it that way at all. And, well, that was okay. The other meaning wasn't exactly a lie, either.

"Ditto," Tim said, then kissed him again.

"I hate that movie," Tony said, his words garbled as a consequence of the fact that he was using his mouth for a higher priority action at the same time. He was just about to try to recreate the tingly effect it created when Tim pulled away again.

"Wait. What do you mean you hate that movie?" Tim's eyebrows were knitting up a sweater. "How can Tony DiNozzo hate that movie?"

Tony sighed. "I can't believe I'm about to say this, but: This is so not the time to be talking about movies, McSidetracked."

"Oh. Righ--" Tony cut him off by lunging up for another kiss, and Tim went with it this time. Went with it so much that Tony's brain pretty much melted right into the pillow. Who'd have thought that the McGeek would be such a good kisser? Well, okay, maybe Tony had spent a lot of thought on that very idea, but up until the demonstration in the bar earlier, he'd thought those thoughts were the thoughts of pure fantasy. But Tim was all about the kissing. Taking the lead, giving it back, sucking on Tony's bottom lip before going deep. He kissed like he wanted Tony, which should be obvious, but Tony'd long ago discovered that you didn't have to be kinky to have more than two people in a bed. It really wasn't all that fun to compete with the image that got you there in the first place, but hey, at least you both got off in the end.

The uncomfortable thought intruded that Tim might be the first person he'd kissed in a very long time who really knew him as him, Tony DiNozzo, Very Special Agent and Not Altogether With It Guy, and not the Tony DiNozzo he tried to be with the women he dated.

Tim raised his head, pulling away from a very nice, albeit kinda lazy, kiss. "Who's getting sidetracked now?" he asked softly.

Tony opened his mouth, possibly to confess something ridiculously sappy, but at the last second he remembered the kissing had started because he was avoiding that kind of thing. "Sorry," he said instead. He took a deep breath and then rolled them in one quick, slick move--and wow, those Pilates classes were so worth it, even if he'd crashed and burned with the instructor. He shifted to the side just enough so that he could start unbuttoning Tim's shirt. "I was just thinking about all the ways I'm going to take you apart."

Tim visibly swallowed. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah." Tony grinned as he pushed the lapels of Tim's shirt open. He ran his hand up Tim's side, noting the little flinch as he coasted over Tim's ribs for later, and then over the slope of his pecs. "You been working out again?"

"Some," he said, shrugging against the pillows behind him. "I got a new trainer."

"Is she hot?" Tony asked as he went in for one of those pretty pink nipples that had driven him crazy since the first time he'd seen them. Tim gasped and went rigid under him, pushing his chest up against Tony's mouth. Tony rewarded him by sucking a little harder, but then he pulled off because he really wanted to know. "Hmmm?"

"What?" Tim asked breathlessly. God, Tony loved it when he caused that lust-stupid look in anybody, but in Tim it was even more impressive.

"Your trainer," Tony reminded him. "Is she hot?"

"He," Tim said. "And yes."

"Oh." Tony shook off the stab of jealousy. The dude was probably some steroid-bound Arnold wannabe, anyway.

Tim pushed himself up on his elbows. Tony wasn't sure if the glare aimed his way was mock or not. "If I admit he's not as hot as you, will you go back to what you were doing?"

"Is it true?" The words were out before Tony could stop them. He dropped his head to Tim's chest. Closing his eyes didn't really black out how needy he'd sounded, but it was better than keeping them open.

Tim stroked his fingers through the hair at the back of Tony's head. It felt sinfully good. "Yeah, Tony. Yeah, it is."

Tony cleared his throat. "Well, okay then." He opened his eyes and snuck a look up at Tim, who had a barely-there smile on his face. "Just as long as we've got that straightened out. So to speak."

Tim rolled his eyes. Before things could get derailed any further, Tony dipped his head and went to work again. Tim's nipples were deliciously sensitive. Whatever he tried--licking, blowing, biting, sucking--it got a response. Tony half-wondered if Tim could get off this way. He'd been with women who could, but never a guy. That was a question for (hopefully) another time, though, because right now Tony was a starving man at a Vegas buffet, and he wanted a taste of everything. Like the soft skin of Tim's belly. He rubbed his nose against it, which got a skin-shiver and a gasping whine from Tim.

That just reminded him that Tim's mouth was up there, needing attention. He swooped upwards for a long, deep kiss, and then smiled down at Tim. "Having a good time?"

"Not too bad," Tim said, but the quirk of his lips ruined his flat delivery. "Someone keeps stopping, though."

"Right." Tony clambered off the bed and started stripping off his clothes. Not too graceful, but he was more concerned about speed at the moment. Tim watched him the whole time. Tony ignored the way that made his skin tighten and his cock bob with need, and crawled back onto the bed so he could start on Tim's clothes. Tim was already unbuckling his belt, so Tony worked his fingers under his and undid the button and hook, then slowly pulled down the zipper. He got a little distracted by Tim's cock, all hot and hard and right there, next to his hand, but after getting in one good grope he was back to business. He shucked Tim like an ear of corn, slacks and boxers both, yanking hard enough that they cleared his shoes without too much difficulty.

He couldn't help snickering a little at the sight of Tim, naked but for his socks and those awful, black, waiter shoes.

"Oh, gee, thanks, Tony. You really know how to stoke a guy's ego."

"Oh, I'll stroke your ego," Tony said, sliding his hand up the inside of Tim's thigh.

Tim squeezed his legs together. "Come on, man. Shoes."

"Not the kind of guy who makes love with his boots on?" Tony asked as he tugged on the bow in the right shoelace. "Like Paul Newman in Blaze. With Lolita Davidovich. Talk about blazing hot."

Tim wrapped his now bare foot around the back of Tony's thigh and pulled. Tony went with it, liking where he ended up, cradled between Tim's thighs. "I thought you said this wasn't the right time for movie talk."

"Oh, I think it's the perfect time for a little one-on-one," Tony said--directly to Tim's cock.

"You're terri--," Tim started to say, but he broke off when Tony took as much of is cock in as he could on the first go.

Tony lifted his mouth off of Tim's cock. "You were saying?"

"You're fantastic," Tim said in a rush. "Oh, God, please don't stop this time."

"Your wish is my command, O Mighty Elf Lord." Tony shifted so he was on his knees, leaning forward with most of his weight on one hand. He wrapped his other hand around Tim's cock and then took him as deep as he could--which, granted, still wasn't all that deep. It'd been too many years since he'd gotten any practice at this. Tim clutched at his hair, though, so obviously it was good enough.

Tony didn't go for rhythm at first. He might have lost muscle memory, but he very much remembered the art of a blow job, being both a maestro and a connoisseur. Play around with the sensitive head until it was too much to take, then calm things down a little with slow, teasing strokes. Rinse and repeat. Maybe go for a little sensation play with his breath, alternated with hard, sucking pulls. Tony kept it up until Tim was breathing like a racehorse in the home stretch. Then he got down to business. He used his hand and mouth both, fast and relentless.

"Tony, I'm--" Tim gasped out--and that was all she wrote. Tony backed off enough that he could swallow without gagging, but swallow he did. His face heated at how much he enjoyed it, but it didn't matter; there was no way Tim was paying attention to anything but coming right now.

"Tony," Tim said, and it was a hiccuping, needy little sound that made Tony smile and rub his face against Tim's belly. Tim's hand found his head again, fingercombing his hair. Tony stayed there for a moment, enjoying Tim's afterglow, but then he had to move for the sake of his knees and cock both. He pushed himself up and flopped over onto his back. He started stroking his cock, just to let it know he hadn't forgotten about it, and watched Tim slowly gasp and blink his way back to himself.

"You okay over there?" he asked.

Tim swallowed, then rolled onto his side to face Tony. "I think I'll survive," he said, grinning. He reached down and stripped Tony's hand off of his cock by replacing it with his own. Kinda pushy, but then, Tony liked that in a guy.

"This okay?" Tim asked softly.

"Perfect." Tony tried desperately to keep his eyes open, wanting to watch Tim do this, but it was too good. You'd think that any guy could give a half-decent hand job, but in Tony's experience, you'd be wrong. Some guys just didn't get that everybody was different. Or they just didn't care. Tim, though. Tim was paying attention. He started out with a loose grip and then slowly tightened it, until Tony groaned and nodded.

"Faster?" Tim asked.

"You're good," Tony said, because, oh, yeah, that was so doing it for him. Maybe some other time it wouldn't be enough, but he was more than wound up after a weekend of flirting recklessly with Tim.

"You've done this before," Tim said, right before he leaned down and bit at Tony's shoulder.

"Gotten off?" Tony's laugh was more of a groan. "Uh, yeah."

Tim bit him again, harder this time. If it'd been higher, more on his neck, Tony probably would have come, but as it was it just made him a little cranky with want. "That's not what I meant," Tim said, and great, now he was all rational and conversational. Next time Tony was so getting off first. "You've had sex with a guy before."

"Some of us aren't as oblivious about ourselves as you are," Tony said, and then, "hey!" when Tim stopped stroking him. He glared at Tim, but Tim just stared back, one eyebrow raised. Tony huffed. "I didn't change jobs every two years because I was incompetent, okay?"


"Oh, my God, you're killing me," Tony said. He wrapped his hand around Tim's and got him moving again, a little bit faster now, and then he let go, flopping his arm up over his head. He curled his hand into the pillow that was right there, his whole body clenching. He was so close.

Tim leaned in close, nose nuzzling right under Tony's ear. "I've never thought you were incompetent," he said, and then he bit Tony's earlobe. Tony came, hips bucking up into the air and feet digging into the mattress. Maybe he was the one who needed boots in bed. Or hell, an oxygen mask, because he was going to need it after this. Tim kept stroking, until Tony shuddered one last time and his whole body just...quit. All his muscles relaxed at once. Poof.

"You okay over there?" Tim asked, parroting back Tony's earlier question with a very smug grin. Tony really would have liked to kiss that smugness off of his face, but he was too busy trying to figure out how to move his middle finger.

"Fnnnfff," he said.

Tim laughed. "Whatever you say, Tony." He got out of bed and did something in the bathroom. That something turned out to be collecting tissues and washcloths, which was pretty awesome.

"You're a genius," he said, and was particularly impressed with the fact that it wasn't slurred at all.

"I know." Tim grinned. He set about tugging at the blankets until they were both underneath. He didn't exactly cuddle up close to Tony, but they were touching pretty much everywhere from shoulder to thigh.

"S'nice," Tony said, and then fell asleep.


Tim was gone when Tony woke.

The bed was cool beside him, and it didn't take a trained detective to figure out there wasn't anybody hiding in the bathroom. Tony rubbed his hands over his face and then shook it out, shook his whole body out like a kindergartner giving in to a sugar high. He should have known better. He'd talked too much last night. Teased too long. Pushed too hard with a guy taking his first walk on the DiNozzo side. Asked for too much. He definitely never should have said that thing about his history. Knowing McGee, he'd probably find some way to use his computer magic to ferret out every last rumor. Well, okay, knowing McGee, he'd never even think of doing something like that. But still. Tony should have kept his mouth shut last night and just enjoyed what he had in front of him.

"Rule number twelve," he muttered. He glared up at the ceiling. "Sometimes I hate that you're right all the time. You know that, boss?"

His cell phone started ringing. Tony jumped, then clutched the sheet around his middle as he stared over at the nightstand. The ring was coming from his work phone, the one he kept in the drawer and stuffed behind the Gideon Bible. He fumbled it out and answered without checking the caller ID. There was only one person who could make an inanimate object that insistent.

"Hey, boss," he said, and just stopped himself from tacking on I didn't mean it like a guilty perp.

As always, Gibbs wasn't one to waste any time. "We're taking down Niemeyer's team in twenty," he said.

"Twenty?" Tony grabbed the last clean pair of boxers out of his bag and headed towards the shower. Twenty was doable, though his hair would suffer for it. "Where are we staging?"

"We aren't, DiNozzo." There was the sound of shuffling in the background, a voice he thought might be Ziva's. "You are staying put. We don't know how far this thing goes, and until we get Niemeyer to trial, I don't want anyone to know who their mole was."

"I could wear a mask." It'd solve the hair problem, anyway, even though he hated those things. Itched like crazy, and nobody ever remembered to wash them. "You need me there to--"

"Can it, Tony. You're sitting this one out."


"I'll send McGee to sit on you if I have to."

That put all kinds of pornographic images into Tony's head, and by the time he'd blinked reality back in front of his eyes, Gibbs had hung up.

Well. At least he had time to get his hair looking good. He tried really hard to ignore the voice in his head that pointed out the extra time would just give him plenty of opportunity to dissect where exactly he'd gone wrong last night.

Maybe he'd hurry through his shower after all. Just because Gibbs didn't want him in on the take-down, it didn't mean he couldn't keep tabs on the team from a distance.


By the time he got out of the shower and pulled on some jeans, it was coming up tight on the twenty minute mark. Every time he'd told himself to hurry it up in there, some little memory would take hold of his brain and slow his hand back down. He'd started sudsing up his chest, only to be hit by a vision of Tim's nipples, peaked and the pinkest of pinks. Even his feet weren't immune; all that time talking about shoes and he hadn't found out if Tim was ticklish or not. He wound up shampooing his hair twice, because he was so busy asking the Tim in his head why he'd snuck out this morning that he forgot he'd already done it the first time.

Tony dragged the towel over his head one more time, and then headed over to the nightstand without bothering with a shirt. The rest of the team would probably be on radio, but there was a chance Abby would be bored and monitoring his feed. Maybe she'd be able to work a little of her magic and get him patched into the situation.

Tony'd just settled the earwig into his ear when there was a knock on the door. "I don't actually need a babysitter," he called as he headed towards the door. There wasn't a reply from the other end of the channel, not even an Abby giggle--either no one was monitoring, or they weren't interested in his opinion on the matter.

"Yeah, yeah, keep your pants on," Tony called as the knock came again. Or not, his brain supplied ever so professionally. He took a deep breath, told his speeding heart to calm the heck down, and opened the door.

It wasn't Tim.

"Hello, Anthony." The sun shining through the room reflected off Lawrence's glasses, hiding the expression in his eyes, but the tight, forced pleasantness of his smile sent Tony's gut into a dive.

"Hey, Lawrence. Nice to see you." Tony started closing the door--not quite enough to be rude, but definitely enough to give the guy the picture. "I'd love to talk, but I told this guy Carmine I'd give him a lift to the airport, and if we don't get out of here soon..."

"This won't take long." Man. Talk about butter that never melted. "Gary wanted me to go over the details of your new position, remember?"

Tony pasted a smile onto his face while he thought fast and hard. His gut was screaming at him that this was bad news, but if he sent Lawrence on his way, there was a good chance he'd get away since the team was otherwise occupied at the moment. And the guy was one of Niemeyer's top accountants.

"Right! Of course, how could I have forgotten?" Tony smacked his own forehead, then started pushing the door a little further closed. "Just let me grab my wallet, and we can head down to the cafe. I gotta tell you, I'm starving, and I've been having this craving for the egg-white omelet--"

Lawrence smacked his hand flat against the door, stopping it with hardly any effort at all. Damn Marines. Even the nerdy kind had muscles coming out the wazoo. "This is a closed-doors kind of discussion," he said, and took a step forward. Tony had to either let him in or take him down, and they weren't there yet.

Or at least they hadn't been. The second the door snicked shut, Lawrence reached into his jacket.

"Oh, hey," Tony said--loudly--as he held up his hands. "That's a really big gun."

There was no response in his ear. Lawrence dropped the forced smile altogether and went straight to stone-faced. "Who do you work for?" he asked.

"You guys, I thought," Tony said. "Look, if this is you being worried about me angling for your job, I promise you, I'm done with accounting for good--"

"Yeah, I don't think you ever got started." Lawrence waggled the gun, and Tony shut his mouth tight. "What's Section 179 depreciation used for?"

Tony shrugged and put on his best stupid smile. "Look. I'm really, really not good with all the forms and laws and stuff. That's why I'm getting out of the profession."

"And here I thought you were supposed to be some kind of guru. Helped Joe Franklin out, right?"

Crap. "I didn't say I was incompetent. It's just really hard to remember those kind of things when a crazy guy is waving a gun in my face!" He pretty much shouted the last part of that, but there still wasn't any response from the home team.

Lawrence finally smiled for real. It reminded Tony sickeningly of Gibbs, right before he delivered the gotcha line to a suspect. "Joe was a paranoid son of a bitch," Lawrence said. "He never, ever let anyone look at his finances. Especially not anyone on the outside."

Tony swallowed hard. "I'm a very persuasive guy."

Lawrence snorted. "Yeah, he wasn't into your kind of persuasion."

"It wasn't like that--" Tony started to protest, but then his brain rewound and zoomed in. "Wasn't?"

"Oh, I forgot." Lawrence waggled the gun again; this time it drifted slightly towards Tony's right shoulder. "I'm not supposed to know that, am I?"

The lightbulb went on at last. Ducky wasn't going to be happy about missing the call on this one. "You killed him, didn't you?"

Lawrence just smiled.

"Was it about money, or because he was going to do the right thing?" Tony pressed. The dumb act hadn't been working all that great for him, anyway. Lawrence's eyes sharpened with interest--but before they could play out the whole Bond villain confessional, somebody started knocking furiously on the door.

"Room service!" --and shit, that was Tim.

Lawrence glanced over his shoulder. "Let me guess. Your little butt-buddy?"

Tony took his chance. He threw himself into a flying tackle, hand up to catch hold of Lawrence's gun. Lawrence stumbled but didn't quite go down, his shoulder bouncing into the corner wall. They grappled for the gun. Lawrence's grip was too strong for Tony to pull the gun away, but with one good smack against the wall, he was able to knock it loose.

Lawrence didn't try to go after it. Just bunched up his fist and let loose with a flying right hook.

Wow, that's a really big ring, Tony thought--and then he was out.


He woke up to the worst smell ever. Smelling salts, part of his brain supplied, but the rest of it was busy with trying to get his face as far away from that nastiness as possible.

Somebody snorted.

"And yet, that is still more attractive than when he wakes up on his own."

"Funny, Ziva," Tony mumbled. He worked on opening his eyes, but his head was killing him and the light in the room was really, really bright. The first thing he saw was a cluster of white shirts around a guy on a gurney. He would have started panicking, but he caught a glimpse of red hair.

"Is he dead?"

"No," Ziva said. "McGee just winged him good. That is the right word, yes? Winged?"

"Yeah. Good." He raised his head, trying to spot Tim, but there was a flurry of activity from the paramedics, and Ziva stepped back, right into his line of sight. Normally he would have appreciated the view, but his head felt like it was going to fall off and he really just wanted to make sure Tim was okay. It took what felt like forever, but was probably only a couple minutes, for the paramedics to clear out and for Ziva to step away from the bed Tony was lying on. Tim was in the opposite corner of the room, watching the open door.

"The medics said you're going to have a hell of a shiner, but nothing's broken," Gibbs said as he took Ziva's place. "Should probably have someone around to keep an eye on you, though."

Tony wrinkled his nose at the thought of the rest of the day sacked out in the bullpen, even if he was able to squirm his way out of the paperwork. "Yeah, okay. Please don't make me ride with Ziva, though."

Gibbs snorted. "I figured you could stay here until you felt well enough to drive yourself. Unless you're in a hurry to work on your report?"

"Uh, no. That sounds good. Thanks, boss."

Gibbs smiled. "That was good work, DiNozzo. Next time, though, try not to get caught alone in your room with the killer."

"Bad habit," Tony agreed, resisting the urge to nod fervently. "Trying to do my best to break it."

"See that you do." Gibbs patted him on the shoulder, then left the room with Ziva in tow.

Which meant Tim was his assigned keeper.

"So, uh, hey." Tony pushed himself up until he was mostly sitting, rearranging the pillows so that he could let his head loll back to where it didn't feel so heavy. Tim shut and locked the door, then sat down beside Tony. He looked okay, for the most part. A little flushed in the cheeks, his eyes a little wide, but he didn't look freaked out too badly by the shooting. "You okay?"

Tim nodded. "When they say it doesn't get easier, they're right, gets easier."

Tony got that. "Yeah. And, uh, at least..."

"I didn't kill him? That, too. And it helps that he was trying to kill you."

"I'm going to take that the way I think you meant it," Tony said, pleased when Tim smiled and ducked his head shyly. His eyelashes were really pretty against his cheeks like that.

"How did you know to come?" Tony asked, his investigator's curiosity overcoming the cheesy swoop of his heart. "Weren't you busy taking down Niemeyer?"

Tim shook his head. "Gibbs wanted me out of sight, too, since Niemeyer could link me to you."

"Oh, right." Tony should have figured that out. This whole op had really messed with his head.

Tim obviously caught on to his befuddlement. "I was monitoring the take-down from the observation room," he explained. "I just happened to notice your transmitter was on line. I was going to say something to you, but then Lawrence started talking, and I couldn't think about anything but getting down here in time."

"Yeah," Tony said. He was lucky, really lucky, but right now he was really more interested in how clear Tim's eyes were. Clear, but full of worry. "Thank you."

"I'm just glad I made it."

"You've always had great timing." Tim's smile was a little bit naughty, which made Tony frown. Yeah, he'd earned the naughtiness, but it wasn't fair for him to be smirking like everything was fine and dandy. "Except, by the way, this morning."

Tim frowned back at him. "What exactly was wrong with my timing this morning?"

Tony really wanted to smack Tim on the back of the head, but just the thought of doing it gave him a sympathy ache. "Uh, I don't know. A little thing called you weren't here when I woke up?"

"Oh." Tim flushed. "That."

"Yeah," Tony said. "That."

Tim shrugged, but it was the shrug of the desperate. The 'don't look at me' shrug. "I'm here now."

Tony arched an eyebrow. He knew the morning-after evasion when he heard it. "You have to be here now. Gibbs said so."

"That's not why--" Tim huffed. "I had to get ready, okay? You know how Gibbs is if we're late, especially when there's going to be a bust."

"And you couldn't have woken me up before you left?"

Tim sighed. "Fine! I might have freaked out. Just a little."

"Knew it," Tony sing-songed. And God, he loved that pissy frown it earned him. He was in so deep it was ridiculous.

"So what, you didn't freak out at all?"

Tony shrugged. The real kind of shrug, not the McWeasely kind at all. He wasn't sure how the conversation had gotten turned around to him, but at least Tim wasn't saying that last night was a huge mistake and that they could never work together again. Tony watched him warily, his body hurting too much to be keyed up, but unable to relax, either.

Tim stared back at him, eyes narrowing. "Wait. You freaked out because I wasn't there, didn't you?"

"Only because I thought you were freaking out!" That was way to energetic for his head. He dropped his head back down to the pillows and crossed his arms over his chest. "Which, I might point out, was exactly what you did, so my freakout was totally justified. So there."

Tim rolled his eyes, but he was starting to smile in a way that made Tony want to kiss him. A lot. "Whatever, Tony. In any case, I'm done freaking out."

That cleared the headache right up. Long enough, anyway, for Tony to lift his head so he could meet Tim's gaze straight on. "You are?"

Tim nodded. "Yep."

Something...odd was stuck in Tony's chest, right below his sternum. He hoped it wasn't something deadly like a blood clot or a heart attack, because man, talk about sucky timing. "Does that mean what I think it means?" he asked, and oh, never mind, his heart was beating just fine, fast and strong like a rock and roll song.

"I have no idea what you think it means," Tim said, smiling. He stretched out beside Tony, elbow sinking into the pile of pillows as he propped his head on his hand.

Tony licked his lips. The something in his chest was opening up, spreading through his whole body. It raced up to his face, taking over the muscles there and making it impossible for him to do anything but smile. "Wanna clue me in, then?"

"If you insist," Tim said, and leaned in for a kiss.